Monday, December 09, 2013

Marx and modernity's sensorium

Like any other writer, Marx is not all one block, even though he is often received as one block, labeled Marx. Marx often changes his mind, or at least his perspective, for instance, revamping the way he used alienation in the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts to how he uses the notion in the German Ideology and again in Capital, vol. 1. However,  Marx never simply erases or annuls the conceptual contents he has used in the past – rather, he continually switches from the content to the form and back again to both ironize a content and locate it in a conceptual system that is always at work, one way or another, in the practices of everyday life. It is usual to attribute this method to Hegel, but myself, I think that is being much too philosophisch. Lenin once remarked that “Communism equals Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country” – and I would say, along similar lines, that Marx’s method equals Hegelian dialectic plus the railroad. That may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but Marx was well aware that one of the unintended results of technology was a revolution in perspective. While it is easy enough, abstractly, to dream of going sixty miles an hour in a vehicle from point a to point b, the “industrial experience” (to use Schivelbusch’s term) of being a railroad passenger and seeing something never seen by human beings before – to wit, a landscape going by at sixty miles an hour - was a distinct and disturbing sensation, one that had to be absorbed by nineteenth century populations, along with other industrially created perceptual experiences. The list of technological improvements in the Communist manifesto is also a list of changing sensory models. Thus, if Marx takes over and revamps the technostructure of Hegel’s dialectic, it is in coordination with the questions posed by modernity’s sensorium. 

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