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Saturday, January 24, 2009

A note on our last Marx post

"But the greatest and the deepest of all the historians of the Slavs is without contradiction Count Jan Potocki. He belonged to the generation of Stanislas-Auguste’s epoch, of whom we have told the tragic end. Having survived the fall of the Republic, he tried to console himself in researching the origins of the history of his country. To this end, he made long trips in Asia, Africa, and tried to penetrate into China. He left behind, it is true, only essays, studies and informal notes. We don’t see the general plan, the final ideas. But he was the first of all the historians of modern Europe to recognize the importance of the oral tradition. Niebuhr asked peasants and old women to explain the story of Romulus and Remus on the steps of Rome. Long before him, Potocki, in the huts of the Tartars, meditated the history of the Scythes.” –Adam Miskiewicz, Les Slaves, 124

That we are trying to read Marx not simply over, in a sense, the system he describes, but horizontal to it – horizontal to the people of the Cauca Valley, for instance – is a strange and probably impossible quest. But we, too, like Jan Potocki, the author of Manuscript found in a bottle in Sargossa, and Niebuhr, are anxious to hear the peasants and old women and Tartars explain the world of labor and money, production and circulation. We suspect that Marx’s dialectical materialism – a dialectics that has been abandoned outside, after having been fed milkbones in an overheated house in Jena, and left to scrounge for itself – will find the world of the classical economists and their successors a funhouse mirror reflection of the world it finds itself in. But what other mirrors are there?

The notion that pulses, vaguely and uncertainly, through this thread – a thread of blood, an artery, a circulation of ideas picked up God knows where and headed towards God knows what, for just as “the circulation of money, like that of commodities, begins at an infinity of different points, and to an infinity of different points it returns,” so does our theme – is that the erasure of being, the famous erased ‘is’, is the erasure of the human limit brought to you by our sponsor, universal history. And that the erasure is enacted in cash registers as well as love lives. But just as the is remains, all the same, potent and portentious, the human limit continues, somehow, to exist when it has been formally once and for all scotched from the earth.

Which leads us to a famous essay, The Problem of the Unseen World of Wealth for the Rich: Toward an Ethnography of Complex Connections by George E. Marcus. To tackle next.

3 comments:

P.M.Lawrence said...

"...the historians of the Slaves...".

I know the terms are cognate, but shouldn't that be Slavs?

roger said...

Yes. Thanks, I'll change it.

Duncan said...

Hey Roger. I'm loving the Marx posts - not giving them the time they deserve; need to clear some headspace to listen to the clashing of the grafs. Apologies. But flicking through Benjamin, just now, I wondered if you were going to write on the Theologico-Political Fragment, as you make your way through the history of happiness - and the history of the relation between happiness and history. No special reason to, of course - just curious...