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Sunday, January 24, 2010

the grimoire of political economics

Damn - in an earlier version of this, I didn't notice that the stuff I wrote didn't copy to the blog. Sorry sorry sorry! The only thing that copied was the translation I made from Marx. Damn. Anyway, this is what the post is supposed to look like.

In the section of the Grundrisse that Marx’s editors – I believe entitled, The Method of Political Economics, Marx asks what it means to look at a nation from the political economic viewpoint.

It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the concrete, thus, for example, to begin, in economics, with the population, which is the foundation and the subject of the entire social act of production. Yet by a nearer observation this appears to be false. The population is an abstraction if I leave aside the classes of which it consists. These classes are an empty phrase when I don’t know the elements out of which they are made, for instance, wage labor, capital, etc. … For example, capital is nothing without wage labour, without value, money, price etc. Therefore, If I begin with the population, it would be a chaotic representation of the whole; and thus I through nearer analysis come upon ever simpler concepts; from this conceptualized concretum towards ever thinner abstractions, until I arrive at the simplest determinations. From there I commence the trip backwards until I finally final arrived at the population again, this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and connections. The first way is that which the economists took historically in the beginning… As soon as these individual moments [R: of value, division of labor, money] were more or less fixed and abstracted, the economic systems began, climbing up from the simple, such as labour, division of labour, need, exchange value, to the state, the exchange between nations and the world market. The latter is obviously the scientifically correct method. The concrete is concrete because it is the weaving together [Zusammenfassung] of many determinations, hence the unity of the manifold. In thought it appears as the process of the weaving together, as a result, not as a starting point, although it is really a starting point and thus also the starting point for intuition [Anschauung] and idea. In the first way, the full idea volatilizes into abstract determination; in the second, the abstract determinations lead towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of thought.”

The path down and the path back up, the way of pins and the way of needs, the negative identity between forwards and backwards – LI has hammered on these ideas until we are afraid that, like a bad carpenter, we have crooked our nail. But it is a pattern we meet all too often among the nineteenth century aliens, who, looking back, have noted with horror that universal history somehow took a wrong turn. The method of political economy, here, looks – not accidentally – not only like an alchemical process a la Faust, but like exploration - and here, again, the epistemic operator that Foucault, strangely, passes over in silence, ‘discovery’, throws around its historical weight. To the source of tears, to the vital liquids, to the volatilized moment – such is the great work. What I’m calling weaving together might be better called, following this metaphoric, concentration as in the standard translation of the Grundrisse.

In a sense, what Marx did was follow Faust’s path of reversal – in the late thirties, writing his articles on windfallen wood, he started out – much like the beginning in this passage – with the state. The great abstraction of the state. Law and philosophy had taught him to regard the state as the fulcrum of society. What he learns, in the forties, is that the path he is on leads him to levels below the state – which no longer, logically, can be the fulcrum. He sinks down to the underworld of daily activity, of production and reproduction, in which the categories of the surface – for instance, of individuality – have no hold. And then he turns – realizing that this is the turn taken by political economists – and makes his way back to the surface. The philosophical mistake was to confuse the way this unrolls in one’s head – for it can unroll in no other social space – for the force that drives the whole. Invention is the tricky doeppelgaenger of discovery.

15 comments:

northanger said...

But this is by no means the process by which the concrete itself comes into being. For example, the simplest economic category, say e.g. exchange value, presupposes population, moreover a population producing in specific relations; as well as a certain kind of family, or commune, or state, etc. It can never exist other than as an abstract, one-sided relation within an already given, concrete, living whole. As a category, by contrast, exchange value leads an antediluvian existence.

huh?

northanger said...

(i should explain my perplexity} the phrase by contrast threw & confused me.

roger said...

By antediluvian - you know, Marx has got to have his fun, he is a writer - he is simply speaking of treating it outside of the historical trajectory that created it, and imposing it on that historical trajectory as a sort of eternal given. Exchange is disembedded from its sense-giving social relationships, and this is useful if you want to understand exchange in terms of ideal models, but not so useful if you want to grasp exchange in its total real function.

It is always good to prick up your ears, when you come upon One-sided in Marx. The One sided world is the world given by understanding - this goes way back to his first articles. If we think of the explorer - or the big bad wolf - moving through the forest path mapping the territory, we have a nice picture of the one sided geni.

northanger said...

i'm circling around you circling your monster: exchange value leads an antediluvian existence (how can you circle one-sidedness?)

Private property has made us so stupid and one-sided that an object is only ours when we have it – when it exists for us as capital, or when it is directly possessed, eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc., – in short, when it is used by us

[If] they give him the material and time to develop only that one quality, then this individual achieves only a one-sided, crippled development. No moral preaching avails here. And the manner in which this one, pre-eminently favoured quality develops depends again, on the one hand, on the material available for its development and, on the other hand, on the degree and manner in which the other qualities are suppressed

northanger said...

As a "symbolic line of awareness" between the two hemispheres of the cyclic process, the opposition brings a new awareness of the objective and social realms, of self and other, of the individual and his unique contribution to the world at large. It is no longer enough to seek fulfillment for its own sake, now increased importance is placed on the universal context and ones place and purpose within it

roger said...

North, I'm a dummy - I didn't notice this post was truncated. I sometimes copy a post from my document, and it doesn't paste. I don't know why. How stupid!!! Now it should make sense.

northanger said...

now you tell me.

northanger said...

wait a sec........ what about the antediluvian‽

northanger said...

now i want the original post back :(

roger said...

O North, don't be mean! Doesn't the post make more sense, now?

northanger said...

of course it makes more sense, you removed all the one-sidedness :)

roger said...

North, making a booby trap for me out of my own tongue! of course, this is the best way to trap boobies.

northanger said...

i, am not a booby trapper.

roger said...

Well, how many boobies could you trap in Southern California, after all?

northanger said...

looking for "The Method of Political Economics"

Individuals producing in a society, and hence the socially determined production of individuals, is of course the point of departure. The solitary and isolated hunter or fisherman, who serves Adam Smith and Ricardo as a starting point, is one of the unimaginative fantasies of eighteenth-century romances a la Robinson Crusoe; and despite the assertions of social historians, these by no means signify simply a reaction against over-refinement and reversion to a misconceived natural life

you know i've not read much Marx, Roger... but the original one-sided post got me thinking that communism isn't perceived (or appropriated) by physical manifestation (= material production, of classical economics) but may be this misconceived natural life? you'd have to tell me if i'm right thinking that.

this may go a little back to that Galbraith article you mentioned elsewhere: what does Capitalism seek to ignore? allowing a "look at a nation from the political economic viewpoint" in order to...