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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Some jottings


- Some dates. In 1695, Perrault’s Contes de la mere Oye is published. Mlle L’Heritier’s La Tour Ténébreuse ou les jours lumineux, which contains Ricdin-Ricdon, was published in 1705, though it was in circulation, I believe, earlier. Antoine Galland published Le Mille et une Nuits between 1704 and 1717. And, finally, Augustin Calmet’s Dissertations sur les apparitions, des anges, des démons et des esprits, et sur les revenants et vampires de Hongrie, de Boheme, de Moravie et de Silésie was published in 1746. We will return to all of this later.

- In the introduction to Calmet’s dissertation, he writes that the supernatural has changed even in his native Lorraine in the last fifty years. Each century, each country has its fashions, its diseases, its particular visitations. Once, people made pilgrimages to Rome. Once, the countryside would be flooded, in times of crisis, with flagellants. “At the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth, everybody in Lorraine only talked about witches and warlocks. That has no longer been the question for a long time. When Descartes’ philosophy appeared, what a vogue did it have? One despised ancient philosophy; one only spoke now of physical experiments, of new systems, of the new discoveries of M. Newton which had just appeared; all the intelligences were turned to his side. The system of M. Law, the banknotes, the fureurs of the rue Quinquampoix, what movements haven’t they caused in the kingdom?”
- Calmet’s notion of modes, his mixture of convulsionaires, witches and banknotes, is just in the line of our own thoughts. Of course, Calmet’s dissertation is to inform France of a new mode, a new fashion in the supernatural world, coming in from the East: the vampire. A whole new kind of revenant.
- In our last post regarding fairy tales, we pointed to a similarity between the world of the fairy tale, in which, in a given, unplanned moment, the social totality was subject to the wish – and the presiding spirit of the modern, ilex, the world turned upside down.
- Rightside up society produces within itself the story of how it came, which is inseparable from how its rules and conventions function. Oftentimes, in folk etymologies, a previous word is hypothesized as being the predecessor of some current word. This is, properly, not back formation, but it is often so called. Rightside up societies use a form of back formation to explain themselves to themselves.
- But the modern, as we have noted, is obsessively drawn to the moment of ilex. There are two steps in the modern game. One is to boldly project a vision of rightside up society which shows that, actually, it is upside down. Or, rather, what is makes the society rightside up is just what the society denies. The second move comes later – that is the move that explains how it is that the collective social consciousness could believe about itself theories and facts that are in error. In the Enlightenment, the explanation refers to superstition. For the Marxists, the explanation is the false consciousness. For the Freudians, it is the complex relationship of the superego to the unconscious.
- In Cornelius Agrippa’s work on the incertitude of science, according to his biographer, Prost, Agrippa made a violent attack on the nobility. In fact, he produced a myth, a geneology of society that went like this:

“The separation of the human family into two branches began with the very children of Adam. From the victim, Abel, came the plebians; from Cain, the murderer, came the nobles, whose work will be to hold in contempt the laws of God and those of nature, confidence in their own force, the usurpation of authority, the foundation of cities and empires, the domination over the creature that God had set at liberty, and who sees himself submitted to servitude and iniquity. For such is, from the beginning, the office of the nobility.”

Agrippa was a favorite author of Foucault’s during the time of the writing of the Words and Things. In Agrippa, one gets a strong sense of the Renaissance episteme Foucault hypothesized, one based on similitudes, the infinite search for the signatures in things. It isn’t surprising that Agrippa’s notion of the horror of the nobility extends, then, to noble creatures.

“All nobility, in a word, is in its essence evil [mauvaise]. Among the animals, those that one values as more noble than the others are everywhere the most nuisance causing: these are the eagles, the vultures, the lions, the tigers. Among the trees, those which are reputed noble and consecrated to the gods are those which are sterile, and of which the fruits are of no use, like the oak and the laurel. Among the stones, it is not the millstone with which we grind the wheat, but the gem without utility that is honored.” (Prost 2, 84).

Perhaps Nietzsche read Prost on Agrippa – this passage is almost too perfectly opposed to Nietzsche, down to Zarathustra’s animals.

Prost notes that Agrippa published this diatribe against the nobility in a book which he was careful to adorn with his emblems of nobility. LI is not very impressed with the irony here. Much more interesting is the millenarian energy.


Chuckie K said...

"For the Marxists, the explanation is the false consciousness." Strikes me as an overstatement. Impressionistically, since I was not taking notes when I waded through the docs of the internationals,(mediated) class-based consciousness gets invoked far more frequently than 'false consciousness.' Again impressionisticlly, 'f c' strikes me as a fave of contemporary sectarian argument.

roger said...

C K, you're right. I was striving for the shortest formulation. I could have said ideology, as per the German Ideology. As with Freud, although the moment is presided over by ilinx, the inversions lead to complicated processes.

By the way, I don't mean to imply that any of these explanation is wrong - of course. I simply want to bring out the feature that they have in common.

Chuckie K said...

"theories and facts that are in error" But the class-based approach does not claim that the theories are in error. It says that they are constructed with regard to interests or serve interests that are not shared by all classes. These theories are correct with from the perspective of the interests they regard or serve. At the time of the German Ideology Marx had not analyzed capital to the extent which allowed him to identify a relatively extensive set of its consistent constituent activities and actors. As he progresses in this analysis, the 'vantage points' (as Bertell Ollman calls them) inherent in these activities, the contradictory perspectives of the actors, are the basis for the relationship between actors and accounts. An approach to ideology on this basis doesn't have much common ground with an accounting in terms of 'error.'

roger said...

Well, that is an odd way to talk about the economic system as Marx analyzes it in Das Kapital. Are you saying that Marx is saying that his analysis is only correct from the viewpoint of the class he represents?

That would be an interesting notion. I might agree, actually, but I'd have to see how that argument is made. It would certainly reshape the way we are to take Marx's claim to be scientific.

As for error, well, the language here is about contradiction. Contradictions do imply error - or, if you like, a systematic erroneousness. A systematic failure to see that the logic of the system contains, as it were presuppositions that are in conflict with its suppositions.

In fact, what is happening if I, as a worker in a convenience store making 10 dollars per h., support, say, a tax cut which, in reality, cuts into the ability of the state to make those public investments that will benefit me, while increasing the economic power of those above me, and allowing them, in fact, to use that power to make it much harder for me to "get ahead". I could be operating out of altruism - I could consider that the "more successful" have a right to enjoy the fruits of their success no matter if it hurts me, personally. This altruism could resist the argument that the successful are actually simply engrossing a premium on exploitation by the argument that this is just another way of defining success, and you gotta do what you can do to get ahead in the system, and that one is receiving the benefit of a less onerous state. On the other hand, it might be that this putative philanthropic clerk doesn't understand that the successful are not enjoying the fruits of their own labor, but the fruits of his or hers - in other words, it isn't the boss's hours at work which are being compensated, but the hours of work of the boss's employees which accrue to the boss.

I would say that this is a case in which it would be hard to say that the clerk doesn't believe in a theory or a fact that is in error, but is just entangled in contradictory perspectives in which he seems to have chosen one ill assorted to his circumstances.

Chuckie K said...

Rog, please keep an eye on this thread. I will respond, but it's looking like I won't have the time tonight. Wednesday for sure.

Praxis said...

Well I’m looking forward to CK’s response. But I’m going to ill-advisedly jump in also. All possible provisos about my knowledge of Marx apply. Still working through the texts, baby.

First thing: “Marx’s claim to be scientific”. I’m really not sure that Marx makes a very strong claim of this sort? I mean – there’s some kind of Hegelianism lurking there (obviously) – but Hegel’s ‘science’ really isn’t many people’s science, plus Marx ditches plenty of it anyway. So first up, not sure about the science.

Second: “But the class-based approach does not claim that the theories are in error. It says that they are constructed with regard to interests or serve interests that are not shared by all classes.” Right. I’m much more confident about this than the sciency thing. Marx is pretty clear, I think that fetishised forms of thought, or whatever you want to call them, are legitimate, are accurate, are adequate to their subject, etc. etc. They’re not good, but they’re not wrong. (Or, rather, needn’t be wrong.)

“These theories are correct with from the perspective of the interests they regard or serve.” My take on this is that Marx makes a stronger claim. He thinks the theories are correct from the perspective of the interests they don’t serve, too. Which is why they have coercive power – or why the social forms these theories express & describe have coercive power.

Not sure I’ll be able to put this well. Take your convenience store clerk. This is, I think, a horrifying complicated example (which is melting my brain right this second). But however inadequately - there are various levels here. There’s the basic level of exploitation which we can theorise without bringing on concepts like value (or justice, for that matter). Boss has basic power over me, clerk. To tell me what to do. To hurt me. If I clerk am in favour of things that benefit Boss, I may be altruistic, or I may be an idiot, or I may be entangled in false consciousness, but at a very basic level, we can see that something odd is going on.

As soon as we make this specific to capitalist exploitation, however (which of course it always already was, so go figure…), things get nightmarishly complicated (at least in my brain.) “On the other hand, it might be that this putative philanthropic clerk doesn't understand that the successful are not enjoying the fruits of their own labor, but the fruits of his or hers - in other words, it isn't the boss's hours at work which are being compensated, but the hours of work of the boss's employees which accrue to the boss.” Here we have a whole load of categories specific to capitalism: labour; labour time; fruits of labour (because labour, in this sense, is a capitalist category, surely?) Fruits of labour, under capitalism = money, basically, right? That’s what capitalism’s about - making work into a wage-relation. (There’s also the joy of status, of domination or (indeed) submission, golfing events, employee of the month awards, etc. But basically it’s the wage.) & then, connected to this, value.

As I say, I’m not putting this well. But as soon as you say something like “it isn’t the boss’s hours at work which are being compensated, but the hours of work of the boss’s employees which accrue to the boss” you’ve already accepted something like the labour theory of value, and you’re already well within a social-theoretic space produced by capitalism (as again yes you already were). I.e. – the concepts of labour & of value, and the connection between these concepts…. & more important than that, the social realities which these concepts accurately describe… are enacted by capitalist social relations.

Again – there’s no way round that. Your economic categories are always going to be capitalist, obviously (as long as you’re part of capitalism). Nonetheless, the relations that produce these categories are the objects of Marx’s critique. Which is to say: on my admittedly possibly slightly left-field read, Marx is not saying that the my rightful hours-of-work-compensation is accruing to the boss – because Marx is (fundamentally) critiquing this whole schema, especially the very idea of hours-of-work-compensation (or whatever the fuck; I’m tired). Marx is saying that this form of valuation, and thus also the idea of attacking the ruling class on the basis of such a form of valuation, is capitalism’s greatest achievement. This idea of compensation, or of valuation, is fundamentally pernicious – because this form of valuation is the most basic means of exploitation the ruling class wield. “We deserve to get fully paid for the work we do!” And how is the value of this work to be judged? By the value of what you produce. (Marx would have shot himself over the idea of marginal productivity.) & how is the value of that to be judged? Through the law of the marketplace.

I’m putting it extremely badly. But as soon as you start wielding concepts like ‘value’ & ‘labour time’ you’re entangled in social forms produced by a social system oriented towards the exploitation of the working class. There’s no alternative. Marx knows this, obviously. But this is why his deployment of these tropes is highly, let’s say, sardonic. To deploy the labour theory of value is to lift the veil on capitalist justifications of income-inequality. But it does so using concepts that serve the ruling class in that very perpetuation of inequality. & so this can only be a provisional step, even if an unavoidably massively dominant one.

So Marx says both ‘all this stuff is right’ and ‘all this stuff is pernicious’ – because the social realities economic concepts accurately represent are pernicious. Marx will happily use concepts both right & ultimately pernicious in his critique of capitalism because in a more limited sense they’re not pernicious at all. As they aren’t in your example. But (IMO) it’s pretty important that we understand that these concepts are produced by the systems we use them against, and don’t have any kind of more general validity.

Okay. That’s enough. I now await the mother of all smackdowns. Sorry to have ruined your site with words, Roger.

roger said...

Smackdown??? Mr. Praxis, you hurt my feelings. Here I thought we were all enjoying ourselves with my cucumber sandwiches, and it turns out I'm giving off a World Wide Wrestling vibe!
The picture of Marx you are painting has something Escherlike about it. Instead of pointing to "errors," what Marx is pointing to is a global distortion of perspective, in your view. Like one of those figures mounting a staircase in an Escher drawing, who is bound to finding himself, as he keeps climbing staircases, advancing to a point behind the point at which he started, the convenience store clerk, by chosing any of the choices offered by a system founded on paying compensation, is going to climb up only to find himself behind where he or she started.

In this way, then, the problem is with the whole picture - which gets us back to one of Marx's favorite trope, that of reversing a vision that was founded on upside down coordinates. Ilinx, in other words. Instead of using the logic of error to diagnose what has gone wrong, here, one needs to posit another dimension.

Well, I don't have any smackdownish things to say about that. I do think Marx takes his science much more seriously than as a vestigial bit of Hegel - he, after all, distinguishes himself from all previous socialists (which include many contemporary socialists, like Proudhon) as the first scientific socialist. That's a pretty big claim. Marx saw the relationship between his work on the natural history of capitalism and Darwin's work, after all -hence his sending a copy of the work to Darwin. Marx did not send a lot of complimentary volumes of his work out to English speakers.

Chuckie K said...

Roger, Praxis, Last night a big ol thunderstorm rolled through town, and a power surge fried my power source. IT can't replace it until tomorrow. But I don't work again until Sunday. I hope you have that much patience.

But I'll squeeze in one word. 'Verkehren' and 'verkehrt' do refer to a formal homology. But that homology results from 'verkehren' as an historical process in social relations. Since I can't elaborate, just let me toss out this Hinwies. If you start with the German Ideologie 'verkehren' or 'traffic' is Marx' cover term for economic processes/relations in particular, and perhaps even social relations more broadly. He later drops it for more specific caterogories, like production and circulation. But it lives on in the terminology of the fetish. Relations that are 'verkehrt' are relations that are 'trafficed.' These relations have transformed into market relations.

Anonymous said...

LI, this post and thread reminded me of something re Ilex and "point of view" in relation to Mr. Marx. I hope Mr.CK will elaborate further on his comment re Marx's use of Verkeheren and Verkehrt. The question of how Marx articulates Verhältnis and Verkehr is a significant question. I suppose Verhältnis can be translated as relation or relationship. Verkehr might be a little more tricky to translate. In French, you have "commerce", which is pretty good. How is it usually rendered in English translations? ( In that post of mine back on LI, I translated it as "intercourse"). The question of translation is not unimportant, from a certain point of view. (For example, point de vue in French is the same as the English point of view, except that it is also where there is no [point] view [vue].)

Anyway, I don't have Marx's texts at hand, so this is an off the cuff comment. Marx writes - and I'm quoting from memory - that in order to get a point of view one has to make the effort of climbing a mountain. As you can well imagine one could say a lot about this and its relation to, among other things, Ilex. I'm not going to try as I'd like to actually read the text before making sweeping comments. But it does remind me of a Thomas Bernhard tale. It's a story about two university profs, who are of course very knowledgeable and who moreover have a bond of friendship. They climb a mountain - Mount Grosslockner - to see the view, which is supposedly incredible. They reach a point where there is a telescope. They wonder who will be the first to grab and look through the telescope. It's complicated to figure out who has the right to look first. They debate, and it is finally the elder of the two who is the first to look, and he is filled with wonder. Then the other one looks through it, utters a loud cry, and falls down dead.

What is this significant difference in their point of view? And who can tell, will ever know, given that one of them is dead?

Ah well, who gives a fuck. One can go take a look oneself, from one's own point of view. But on the path are they not ghosts and their point de vue? Which is perhaps the very experience of reading a text?


roger said...

Well, everybody - I looked up the English translation of the German Ideology, and there is a footnote devoted to Verkehren. Basically what Amie and CD say above, except sometimes, oddly, the translator chose to translate it as association. There's an intercourse in the vocabulary of political economics - a partage between what comes from England and what came from France - but there's also a common element in the way Verkehr, intercourse and circulation all work together.