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Showing posts from December 20, 2009

Marx, Gogol and the principle of the ludicrous

Marx, in the Holzdiebstahl articles, allows himself to speak of the “poorer” class - ärmere Klasse – which, for those of us who’ve done our time on the Marx job, followed the old man’s routines, read the letters, tapped the secondary literature, written our reports, know the drill – is an indication that we are in the early stages of the man’s career here, in this text. The Marx of 1860 knows that the class of the poor misconceives class – which describes levels within the system of production, not something as contingent as income. The class of workers may be poor, but their class status is defined by what they do. Meanwhile, as those covering the classical and neoclassical economists know, the poor remain fixed as a primary economic unit in their schemes and dreams, in crude opposition to the ‘rich’. For class has dissolved as an organizing property among the economists, and economic units are determined outside of their place in the system of production – outside of their productive

dead wood, dead souls

Its very hard to find anything in Gogol, right up to the meaning; Gogol somehow shrinks from your touch, wriggles away. He hides, and when you finally find him it won’t be right, it won’t be him: it isn’t that you have found him, but that he thrust himself out where you didn’t expect him, where there was no place for your ideas of him, where he wasn’t yesterday. That Gogol is no longer where you remember him; this one is not where you expect him. – “Being Burried Alive, or Gogol in 1973 – Andrei Bitov On the one hand, it is a mere coincidence that, as Marx was writing about windfallen wood in 1842, in Russia, a novel named Dead Souls was passed by Nicholas I’s censors and published. On the other hand, no Gnostic historican can afford to turn up his nose at mere coincidence – for are we not the slaves of intersignes? And surely this must be an intersigne, an exchange happening in the basement below universal history, where all the dealers in codexes are busy cutting them up and mashing

where does private property come from, Dad?

Wood theft, according to the two scholars who have studied it in the German context (Blasius and Mooser) was one of the central crimes against property in the 19th century, from the 1830s to the 1860s – over about a generation. Marx’s five articles about the laws concerning wood theft are not, then, about an eccentric issue. And, as much as wood “theft” is an issue in the history of crime, it is also an issue in the creation of property –which is how it opened Marx’s eyes, as much as they were opened in his classes in property law at the University of Berlin. It is here that we find Marx dealing with the kind of enclosures that were central to Polanyi theory of the Great Transformation. Private property was not, on this account, merely guarded by the state – the still reigning liberal myth. Rather, it was through the state that private property was defined. To separate the state from the private sphere is to move from historic fact to ideological myth. Why that myth is important is an

one-sided world

…der Verstand ist nicht nur einseitig, sondern es ist sein wesentliches Geschäft, die Welt einseitig zu machen, eine große und bewunderungswürdige Arbeit, denn nur die Einseitigkeit formiert und reißt das Besondere aus dem unorganischen Schleim des Ganzen. – Marx “…Understanding is not only one-sided, but it is its essential business to make the world one-sided, a great and marvelous labor, because only one-sidedness forms and rips the particular out of the inorganic slime of the whole.” James C. Scott begins Seeing Like the State with an emblematic story, a parable of one-sidedness, concerning the rise of scientific forestry. That rise occurred in the late eighteenth century, when the Prussian state intervened in the assessment, preservation, and reproduction of forest properties, all in order to create a more efficient natural resource. The German forestry service cleared out many features of the ‘old’ chaotic forests – the ‘weed’ species, the unnecessary ground cover, the poaching


My sister blog, News from the Zona, just won third place in the 3 Quarks Political Blog contest. All my heteronyms are happy.