Skip to main content


Showing posts from February 28, 2010

from Frankenstein to Raskolnikov

I like to think of degrees of separation, of connecting links, that come about because “the production and consumption of all lands have become cosmopolitan” as a result of the relentless bourgeois search for markets. Take, for instance, Pavel Annenkov. It was Annenkov who happened to visit Belinski right as he was reading an ‘extraordinary’ novel, one that, one that, Belinski said, ‘reveals such mysteries and such characters in Russian life as never discussed before.” The novel was Poor Folks, and the novelist Dostoevsky. Pavel Annenkov happened to be in Russia in 1846, which is why a friend of his from Brussels, Karl Marx, was writing him letters there. Poor Marx, of course, had had to move to Brussels at the prodding of the French police, although in truth it was a strange affair. Why should the wrath of the Prussian government – pressuring the French government – come down on him? He was not even involved in the article that was the cause of his expulsion – an article applauding an

note on schools of Marxism

Writing a beginner's guide to Marx allows me the freedom to pretty much not discuss schools of Marxism. Since nothing reminds me so much of Swift’s Tale of the Tub as the disputes between different schools of Marxism, I suppose I should be grateful for this small favor. I have – as the reader can see – a pretty firm view of what is important in Marx. The ideal, for me, in reading Marx, is to combine Nicole Pepperell’s amazingly wise and sophisticated reading of the first book of Capital at Rough Theory with the kind of materialist history that Benjamin believed he was doing in writing about Baudelaire. Unfortunately, one does have to deal sooner or later with schools of Marxism – they do influence us as readers. I am not sure how to do that yet. I do, however, have an idea about where the schools go wrong, which is mainly by following one of two courses. One way is this: they take some thesis about Marx – say Althusser’s thesis that Marx dropped his ideas about alienation in order

Alienation - can't do with it, can't do without it, part 2

Moretto comme ta bouche Est immense quand tu souris Et quand tu ris je ris aussi Tu aimes tellement la vie Quel est donc ce froid Que l'on sent en toi? Arlie Hochschild begins her book, The Managed Heart (1983), by contrasting two stories. One is a story in Capital , about a boy in a wallpaper factory who works at a machine, 16 hours a day. The other is of a training session for Delta stewardesses, who are instructed to ‘really smile” because a smile is your ‘asset’. This was the eighties, and this is what stewardesses did. One of the stewardesses told Hochschild, “Sometimes I come off a long trip in a state of utter exhaustion, but I find I can’t relax. I giggle a lot, I chatter, I call friends. It’s as if I can’t release myself from an artificially created elation that has kept me ‘up’ on the trip. I hope to be able to come down from it better as I get better at the job.” Hochschild defined emotional labor this way: “This labor requires one to induce or suppress feeling in order

Alienation - can't do with it, and can't do without it, part 1

Alienation In the German Ideology (as Duncan pointed out to me last week) there are textual indications that Marx is disowning part of sketch of alienation he made in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. As always, though, 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 perspe


Coming up for air. There is something essential about that expression. George Orwell used it to entitle one of his essay collections, I believe. Hegel was not the first to compare doing philosophy to swimming – complaining that Kant wanted to learn to swim on dry land – and Melville, in one of his great letters to Hawthorne, spoke of ‘deep divers”. The Melville letter is too quotable, so let me paste a little of it here: “I was very agreeably disappointed in Mr Emerson. I had heard of him as full of transcendentalisms, myths & oracular gibberish; I had only glanced at a book of his once in Putnam's store -- that was all I knew of him, till I heard him lecture. -- To my surprise, I found him quite intelligible, tho' to say truth, they told me that that night he was unusually plain. -- Now, there is a something about every man elevated above mediocrity, which is, for the most part, instinctualy perceptible. This I see in Mr Emerson. And, frankly, for the sake of the argument,

the end of brotherhood: Marx in London, 1847

Die Kerntruppe des Bundes waren die Schneider (the militants of the Bund were tailors). – Friedrich Engels, On the History of the Communist League. Where were we? Where were we in 1847? We, the gods of this voice, the gods who float – or so we pretend – slightly above this history. Our divine edge is that we know the fates of the players. Or so we pretend. The godlike pretense that not only do we know these fates, but that we, ourselves, are fate – that our contemporeneity is the secret to history, and don’t you forget it – is, I think a step too far. And yet it is the step too far that is the premise, so often the premise, of our myths about the world. This step too far definitely has a name. Hubris. I would even go so far as to say – foolishly, with no evidence for this argument, that I will not make in this place – that hubris is just the point in the system in which the system generates, behind its own back, its de-systematization. Hubris is a thing fate deals harshly with – and t

top 9 chansons pour Julie

I wanted to do a nine song countdown for a recently arrived Parisienne named Julie. Thise nine songs were meant, ideally, to fit between July 2009 and February 2010. I did a little cheating - but not much! Neko Case This tornado loves you Röyksopp ' This Must Be It' Metric Sick Muse Atlas Sound Recent Bedroom Handsome Furs I’m confused Dominique A – Immortels (OKAY, this came out in March, 2009. I’m cheating!) Jean-Louis Murat M le Maudit Charlotte Gainsbourg IRM Massive attack Saturday comes slow Not a bad 9 months!