“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, February 25, 2010

the flowers of evil in a Brussel's estaminet




I like to think of Marx in Brussels, that capital of compromise, sitting in Le Cygne – apparently his favorite estaminet – thinking about the course of events. The young Marx, who felt that the course of events was going in his direction, rather than the older Marx, aware that events are tricky and baffling things. Both, though, already feel – such is my novelistic intuition – that the scale of their thought exceeds the scale of their audience. This is, perhaps, the great modernist anxiety – exactly at the same time that the popular press brings an unparalleled audience to certain writers, it seems, capriciously, to exile others. And yet, what is the correlation between the embodied work and the scale of the readership? In one domain after another, one sees that intellectual production is standardized and put on a schedule for the widest possible use, while at the same time it suffers an interior trivialization as it is wrenched out of the relationships – that mode, ultimately, of connected friends and allies – in which it used to exist. It is in this sense that I – rather imaginatively – connect Marx’s exile in Brussels with Baudelaire’s later self-inflicted exile in the same city.

It is under such Baudelairian auspices that certain of Marx’s writings from this period have a certain satanic nuance to them. None more so than the litany that ends a draft entitled Wage Labor [Lohnarbeit]. There are reasons that this reminds me of Baudelaire’s poem, Abel et Caïn, which is nobody’s favorite poem from Fleurs de Mal – and yet, somehow, has stuck in my head since I first read it when I was a wet behind the ears fifteen year old (read Baudelaire as a teen and it screws you up for life – I can testify!)

Race d'Abel, dors, bois et mange;
Dieu te sourit complaisamment.

Race de Caïn, dans la fange
Rampe et meurs misérablement.

Race d'Abel, ton sacrifice
Flatte le nez du Séraphin!

Race de Caïn, ton supplice
Aura-t-il jamais une fin?

Race d'Abel, vois tes semailles
Et ton bétail venir à bien;

Race de Caïn, tes entrailles
Hurlent la faim comme un vieux chien.


Marx’s litany is different, but in a sense, it picks up Cain’s complaint and turns it against the bourgeois Abels. I think of it as the dark pole of Marx’s thinking – later, in the Grundrisse, he will return to this with more care – but I believe he never quite saw the error in this litany, which is to define private household relations by direct correspondance to a macrostructure of feudal relations. It is where Marx needs to be corrected by Simmel, and Simmel by recent research on the emotional economy of the household. Dissolving all ties in the money culture – which Marx here posits as Cain’s witchy path to emancipation – has, as we all know now, actually crippled Cain, since the fungibility of all relationships destroys labor’s solidarity and eats into the ability to resist capitalism’s seedy little totalizing gestures. I should point readers, here, to Nina Power’s latest essay for a nice, succinct overview of the conjunction of feminist ideals and consumerist marketing – which of course arises from the destruction not only of the patriarchal, but of the private domain in general, that web of reciprocities, traumas, joys, sweetnesses, tiredness that winds directly into our affectual being.

However, this is not to stint or complain about the dark pole in Marx’s writing - I understand it, rather, as a necessary view point – to use the vocabulary of my last post – from which one can go outward to understand how modernity encompasses different economic systems that cannot so easily be subsumed in an ideology of ‘progress’. The feudal and archaic, to put this in the framework of one of Hirschman’s stories, may rightfully support the intimate. In fact, the destruction of the intimate may just be the destruction of the working class as a class. Which, I hope, reveals my hand in the question of defining class ‘interests’.

Here is Marx’s litany. I’ll come back to this in my next post.



Positive Aspect of Salariat

Before we conclude, let us draw attention to the positive aspect of wage labour [Salariat].
[a] If one says “positive aspect of wage labour” one says “positive aspect of capital”, of large-scale industry, of free competition, of the world market, and I do not need to explain to you in detail how without these production relations neither the means of production — the material means for the emancipation of the proletariat and the foundation of a new society — would have been created, nor would the proletariat itself have taken to the unification and development through which it is really capable of revolutionising the old society and itself. Equalisation of wages.
[b] Let us take wages themselves in the essence of their evil [Kern der Verwerflichkeit – kernal of the reprehensibilness – from such kernels, the flowers of evil grow – R], that my activity becomes a commodity, that I become utterly and absolutely for sale.
Firstly: thereby everything patriarchal falls away, since haggling, purchase and sale remain the only connection, and the money relationship the sole relationship between employer and workers.
Secondly: the halo of sanctity is entirely gone from all relationships of the old society, since they have dissolved into pure money relationships.
Likewise, all so-called higher kinds of labour, intellectual, artistic, etc., have been turned into articles of commerce and have thereby lost their old sanctity. What a great advance it was that the entire regiment of clerics, doctors, lawyers, etc., hence religion, law, etc., ceased to be judged by anything but their commercial value. [And here we seem to miss this note in the German text: [<(von Marx eingefügt) National-Klassenk[ampf], Eigentumsverhältnise> - added by Marx, National class struggle, property relations]

(Thirdly: since labour has become a commodity and as such subject to free competition, one seeks to produce it as cheaply as possible, i.e., at the lowest possible production cost. All physical labour has thereby become infinitely easy and simple for the future organisation of society. — To be put in general form.)

Thirdly: as the workers realised through the general saleability that everything was separable, dissoluble from itself, they first became free of their subjection to a given relationship. The advantage both over payment in kind and over the way of life prescribed purely by the (feudal) estate is that the worker can do what he likes with his money.


ps. Qlipoth has a good rundown of the context of Marx's notes here - plus his disagreement with my reading.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The mysteries of Marx: on secrets

Someday, when historians look back on today’s communication technologies, they will marvel at the lag between our cut and paste technology, which is state of the art, and our sad blog commenting machinery, which gives you small squares and limited amounts of characters to work with. Now, as those of us who are longwinded, garrulous and quarrelsome – in other words, the philosophers and philosophes manques among us– well know, our best arguments tend to get diluted, chopped and lost as we pursue our labyrinthian arguments in this wilderness of faulty mousetraps.

Thus, I’m replying to Duncan in a post. Although LI has long become a blog in which the private language provides all the dim lighting – like a dying lightbulb in a refrigerator, spastically blinking on and off every time you open it – most of the time, I do try to be at least a little clear. But this will make no sense if you haven’t followed our argument in the post before last.

So, Duncan…
I heartily agree with your opening move in reading the German Ideology. It is a mistake that is often made to think that Marx invented ideology critique. Instead, Marx in the German ideology is criticizing the Young Hegelians exactly for their ideology critiques.

But your second step, I think, trips you up. What Marx is not doing is negating Ideology critique as a form. What he is doing here is best seen by comparing it with the critique of the classical economists. He does not say, your labor theory of value is wrong. Far from it. In the case of the labor theory of value, he does want to firmly base the classical economic theory on abstract, or socialized, labor – but this is just the entering shot in Marx’s campaign. Rather, he wants to know why the classical labor theorists go wrong. In other words, he wants to pull out of their models “points of view.” This is the overt language in which the section on the Commodity fetish is cast, until we come to the point of view of the commodity itself – and we end, significantly, on a line from a play. A play, of course, is in its dialogic form the narrative correlate of points of view. My thinking on this, of course, is overwhelmingly Pepperrelian. She has definitely demonstrated this, at least for me.

The usual word for this – immersion, or immanent critique – still tries to bottle up the irretrievably social element – that which constitutes the point of view – in terms of a purer logic. This, I think, is still a bad move. To use an analogy from old technology – you can take the needle off a record a little way or a long way – but the decisive moment is when you take the needle off the record. To get the music, you have to adhere to the text and its moves.

Now, the similarities in the wording of the German ideology and the section on fetishism are striking – as, I would say, are the approaches. Whether one takes the re-editing of Capital as simply pulling out its method, or, like Amie, thinks this signals an effect of the history of the Paris commune, the editorial reworking still gives us a text in which the approach and wording seems to fall more strongly along the lines that Marx laid down in the late forties.

I’m going to take up one of those similarities – the use of the term ‘secret’. But first, to continue the thread about the approach: it is a mistake to think that opposition, in Marx’s text, is the same as negation. While it is easy to say this, it is sometimes a difficult rule to follow. Thus, the object of ideology critique in Germany is, Marx thinks, a sign of Germany’s primitive development. One of the reasons Marx was so attractive, post WWII, was his sensitivity to issues of development – by the by. But the form of ideology critique is, in fact, employed in The German ideology with abandon. It is this that makes it – to use your words – a whacko text itself. As Engels worried, what possible use is this loggorheic settling of accounts with an obscure group of German professors? Especially when one has to challenge the wordy cabinetmaker Grun and his Proudhonist tendencies in the League!
Engels, however, was, in the end, wrong. He sort of acknowledged this in his famous letter to Mehring that Benjamin quotes in Eduard Fuchs:

“Namely, we have all put – and had to put - the major weight upon the deduction of political, legal and otherwise ideological ideas, and the actions mediated through these ideas, from the fundamental economic facts. But in so doing, we have neglected the formal side over the content of them, and the way in which these ideas, etc., emerge. That has given our opponents a lot of welcome allowance for misunderstanding. Ideology is a process that comes to completion in the consciousness of the so called thinker, but with a false consciouness. He doesn’t know the actual motives that drive him, otherwise it would not be an ideological process. He imagines for himself false or pseudo motives.Because it is a thought process, he deduces its content as well as its form out of pure thought, either his own or that of his predecessors. He works with pure thought material that he unconsciously takes in as though produced through thought and otherwise investigates no further from processes independent of thought; it is certainly the case that this is self evident to him, since to him all actions are mediated through thing and even inn the last instance appear to be grounded in thought. The historical ideologue (‘historical’ stands in here the political, juridical, philosophical, theological, and in brief all disciplines that belong to society, and not simply to nature) – the historical ideologue has thus in every scientific field independent material that has been shaped out of the thinking of earlier generations and its complete and proper development has been processed through the brains of the generations succeeding one another. Clearly external facts, that may belong to one or another field, could have co-determinedly affected this development, but these facts are according to his silent premise again simply fruits of a thought process; and thus we remain always in the realm of simple thought, which has happily digested even the hardest facts. It is this semblence of an independent history of conceptions of the state, or the legal system, the ideological ideas in each special field, that do the most to blind people. When Luther and Calvin ‘overcome’ the catholic religion, or when Hegel does this with Fichte and Kant, and Rousseau with his contrat social does it to the constitutional Montesquieu, this is a process that remains within theology, or philosophy, or the political science, represents a stage in the history of these fields of thought, and allows nothing to spill out of the field of thought. And since the bourgeois illusion of the eternity and last instance-ness of capitalist production has come to this as well, the same thing applies to the overcoming of mercantilism by the physiocrats and Adam Smith as a simple victory of thought, not a the cognitive reflex of changed economic facts, but as the finally achieved, correct insight into the continuing and ever present factual conditions.” [My translation – I can’t find the german text of the whole letter, but this much is published in Masaryk’s work on Marx].


In fact, that reading within disciplinary lines is depressingly present in most secondary literature dealing with Marx. All too often, it becomes a matter of Marx ‘overcoming’ Hegel, or whatever. One of the things I like about Amie’s putting the editing of Capital in relation to actual events and an actual audience of French workers, who Marx will know, very well, have had a certain experience of revolution, is that it breaks through these disciplinary boundaries. Frankly, here I suppose I should confess that my own libidinal investment in Marx is not in the man who ‘responds’ to Hegel, but in the man who responds to the history happening around him, and is never too stiff to change. That change, however, does I think emphasize – as NP puts it in another great post here – the structure that was always already there in Capital. But I think it significant that to emphasize that structure, the commodity fetishism section is expanded. It is expanded using a rhetoric that casts us back, indeed, to the German Ideology. Indeed, commodities, abound in “metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties” – and if there is one book in which Marx goes into “metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties” with a vengeance, it is The German Ideology. I’m not going to clinch the case by some inexhaustible rundown, cause I don’t have time, but I think the link between the metaphysicians who are critiquing religion in Germany and the Political Economists who are theorizing capitalism in England runs through the commodity fetishism section.

But let’s remember the title of that section: Der Fetischcharakter der Ware und sein Geheimnis. When Secret appears in a title, it has a certain semantic force that shouldn’t be overlooked. Because the English translators didn’t want to make it seem – o double fetish, fetish of a fetish – that the fetish itself has a secret, they translated this phrase, infelicitously, as The fetish character of commodities and the secret thereof. Which acknowledges that a secret is “of something,” and “for some point of view”.

Now, in the “Holy Family”, we have already met some dealers in secrets – “Geheimniskramer”. They happen to be the critics of criticism – o double critique! The whole of the chapter is a catalogue of secrets, which are attributed to the great dealer in secrets – “The secret of the critical presentation of the Mystères de Paris is the secret of speculation, of Hegelian construction.

This is, to say the least, an interesting and –shall we say – ideological use of the notion of the secret. The secret, here, is not found in the substance of the text – as certain actions, in Mysteries of Paris, are kept quiet from the reader and the characters in the novel – but instead, the secret is in the very form of the text. It is, then, a secret instrument. But what is the secret of this instrument? One should remember that the doubleness we have seen with fetishism and with critique seems to reflect the structure of one kind of secret – for secrets possess the Hegelian charm that form and substance, here, intervene on secrecy. A secret of content that is a known secret – say, for instance, a phrase blanked out in a document released by the CIA – is a secret of a different type than a secret in which the fact that it is a secret is a secret – say, the operation that the CIA performed that, until the document about it surfaces, was not publicly known. A secret this is known to nobody, however, is no secret at all. Socially, then, secrets divide us, by definition, into insiders and outsiders.

The moves that Marx makes in the German Ideology mark him as an insider, in that he does understand the Young Hegelian jargon. In fact, here, as with the political economists, one of Marx’s character masks is the whistle blower. He has immersed himself in political economics so that – unlike the dumb French socialists, the crapauds, who don’t know what is happening across the Channel – Marx does. And it is his value as a whistle blower that he does not want to keep the secret.
But it is at this point that Marx ceases to be simply an informer. Both with the critical critics in Germany and with the political economists, his inside experience leads him to a secret that neither the one nor the other know. They can’t decypher it. They can’t read it. It is part of the very structure of their thinking – the form of their thinking. Which, in turn, is part of where they sit in society – their own insider/outsider relationship with entrenched power.
But more later on. I must do some work today!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

d'un pas irrégulier

Readers should check out the comments in the last post, between Duncan and me. One thing we bring up - to disagree about - is Amie's essay on The German Ideology, which LI is especially proud to have published. I hadn't read it in a while, I was impressed not only by the text, but by how much I have taken from it.

Today I believe is going to be a special day for Amie and Michel, so I figure it is time to bring out Les Rita Mitsouko:

..les amants le font de coeur parce que l'union fait la force...
...et leur traits s'uniffiront jusqu'à se ressembler...
...pour le pire et le meilleurs jusqu'à y creuver leur forces...
...ils marchent sans sourcillier d'un pas irrégulier...