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Showing posts from January 25, 2009

Rough Theory's Marx - a comment.

N. Pepperell is unfolding her dissertation chapters on Marx’s Capital on her blog. LI is finding them extremely helpful. We are, of course, all down and shit with N.P.’s framework of seeing Marx in terms of an “anthropology”: “many of these passages [in the first book of Capital] can be better understood as anthropological depictions of peculiar qualitative properties that are specific to capitalist societies – and often specific to quite limited dimensions of capitalist societies – but that present themselves to social actors in a decontextualised and apparently asocial form.” And we sign on the dotted line for this: “I suggest that the form of the first chapter expresses what I take to be a substantive claim about the way in which capitalism itself possesses a theatrical character, due to its constitution of a set of social relations that are peculiarly disembedded from the human agents who enact them, rendering these agents into social actors in a particularly literal sense – into

Marx and vulgarity, take two

In a comment to LI’s last post, Amie pointed to Kant’s notion of the sublime in the Critique of Judgement as one way – a back way – into what is going on in the passage from Marx’s Grundrisse that presents us with a curiously familiar semiotic of the ‘leveling’ that characterizes the transition from the ancient to the modern. Curiously familiar in that many of the canonical critics of modernity – Flaubert and Nietzsche, to name two – spoke in this same language, and were often roundly drubbed for it by twentieth century Marxists. I’m thinking in particular of Lukacs. Surely there is something to Lukacs’ thesis. There is definitely, in Marx’s texts, a certain scorn for those who take the romantic point of view about capitalism’s disenchanted world. Marx, with his curious dialectical lucidity, a lucidity that sees the double in sentimental, the sophisticate in the naïve, thus saw through that hopeless rentier nostalgia accompanying the bourgeois point of view – Don Quixote and Sancho

Marx and vulgarity, take one

“They ought to take this Kant and give him a three year stretch in Solovki for such proofs! Ivan Nikolaevich plumped quite unexpectedly.” One problem with trying to deal with Marx in a blog, or in the fragment form of my The Human Limit , is that Marx is a whale and LI, by design and ability, through all possible worlds, is a minnow. Thus, my analysis of Marx takes on the appearance of a conjuring act, similar to Houdini’s legendary trick of making an elephant vanish. A trick which may never have happened, and has certainly never been explained to any magician’s complete satisfaction. The minnow shall, in one tremendous bite, eat the whale, ladies and gentlemen. As a proof positive, we will then x ray the minnow, and you will be able to discern the whale’s peculiar skeleton within its sad little stomach. So then, to return to the rules of this thread, the goal, here, is to shine a light on Marx’s idea of the romantic viewpoint. He puts it in terms of a nostalgia, of sorts, for th

Updike RIP

Updike is dead, and now he is being obituarized past all scandals and humors. This is from Rabbit Redux: "Take off your clothes here." The command startles her; her chin dents and her eyes go wide with fright. No reason he should be the only scared person here. Rich bitch calling his living room tacky. Standing on the rug where he and Janice last made love, Jill skins out of her clothes. She kicks off her sandals and strips her dress upward. She is wearing no bra. Her tits tug upward, drop back, give him a headless stare. She is wearing bikini underpants, black lace, in a pattern too fine to read. Not pausing a moment for him to drink her in, she pulls the elastic down with two thumbs, wriggles, and steps out. Where Janice had a springy triangle encroaching on the insides of her thighs when she didn't shave, Jill has scarcely a shadow, amber fuzz dust darkened toward the center to an upright dainty mane. The horns of her pelvis like starved cheekbones. Her belly a ch

a parable from Potocki

Consider this a parable. Consider, too, that where there are parables, there is wisdom. For the parable is the preferred genre of the wise. And finally, consider the status of the parable in a world in which the wise have become as extinct as the dodo or the passenger pigeon. Shouldn’t the parable follow? In 1797, the ever mysterious Jan Potocki set off from Moscow on a journey that would supposedly take him to China. On the 27th of May, he passed from Europe into Asia, although the two continents are not clearly demarcated by any particular geographic feature. At this point, he was in the territory of the Kalmucks. He had become part of this expedition as a scholar, researching the pre-history of the Slavs. He was thus continually reminded of his reading of the ancient historians and geographers, Herodotus and Strabo. “My dog created a great sensation among them. I was told, in reference to this subject, that they attached to this animal ideas of metempsychosis, and that f

Employment,efficiency and bullshit

LI has been pushed over the edge, a bit, by Matt Yglesias’ link to University of Chicago economist Kevin Murphey’s “best anti-stimulus argument I’ve seen.” Of course, meritocratic liberals love to be entangled in a discourse full of lambda’s and “model” talk. It is like being a smart sophmore again. The professor’s favorite! But of course it is all bullshit. Unfortunately, this bullshit is increasingly setting the agenda – that is, it is being answered in its own terms. I’ve seen this happen before – it happened with Clinton’s health plan. We are in a much worse place, but it is worth noting that any conversation with bullshit has to call bullshit correctly, otherwise we go into the Laocoon dimension where liberal pundits flail and weep. Here’s the truth. Since WWII, the government has gone from employing about 13 percent of the workforce to close to 17 percent. At the moment, according to the Bureau of Labor, there are around 22 million Americans employed by local, state and fe

Ghost dances of the superrich

George Marcus begins his comparison of the world of the Kaluli, in New Guinea, with the world of the rich, in Texas, by making a comment about the binary that has defined the modern project since the enlightenment: “This paper is an effort to outline a major challenge (as well as opportunity) for a developing ethnography of modernity within anthropology through ironic reference to a traditional anthropological problem in the traditional arena of traditional society.” Why an ironic reference? Because, since the philosophes, it is through irony that we understand the irrationality of dualisms – or perhaps I should say, their fundamentally conventional nature. The irony, for the philosophe, can both attack the superstitions upon which established power erects itself and, at the same time, distance itself from the rituals and schemas of the folk. When Forster writes about the frozen revolutions that have kept the serfs at an animal level, he is saying, on the one hand, that all non-de