Skip to main content


Showing posts from January 11, 2015

Marx and paradise

In  volume 41 of the old Marx Engels Werke, which gathers together Marx’s scraps and trivia (the stuff he carved on his school desk, the limerick he made about a fellow gymnasium student, the boxtops he sent off for a secret decoder ring, etc.)  there is a passage in a gloss on Schelling which concerns the existence of God. This is one of the rare times Marx explicitly talks about old Noboddaddy.  He does so in the most bored manner possible, showing briefly why no proof for the existence of God has ever or will ever work, with all the passion of a page out of Atheism for Dummies. So: God is not very important in Marx’s critique of religion. Nor, surprisingly, is the church, or priestcraft. If it as if this, too, which had an urgency in the French revolution, is all settled now. Or at least it isn’t primary. What is primary is paradise. Marx is fascinated by the anthropological fact that societies have dreamed up an image of utopia which is the exact negative of society as it is liv

rhetoric and revolution

I have a tremendous future thesis about Marx’s style curled up in my mind, sleeping and issuing yelps like an old  hunting dog dreaming of its glory days. One day, I will eventually write it down in a severely truncated form, where it will flow over three pages max. I’m not a long distance runner, scholarship-wise. Here are the previews of this exciting and never to be completed future project: Marx’s style, as I would like to prove, is where we see the actual form of dialectical materialism in practice. Or, to put it another way, Marx discovered at an early point in his career that reversal is a tremendous power. Turning things inside out and upside down, wrenching the lines of ownership inscribed in the genetive and the lines of power inscribed in the accusative and dative,  one could truly say that in Marx’s work, rhetoric precedes revolution. He sinks into the regimes of ownership and of power that are his target – as he puts it somewhere in the Grundrisse – allows him to come o

Germany: a third world tale

Michael Loewy calls the Critique “pre-Marxist” because it was written before Marx had absorbed the lesson of the French socialists that class struggle was the fulcrum of society. I can see Loewy’s point, but the essay not only carries the essential voice of Marx – his way of mixing the prophetic and the sarcastic in his most characteristic rhetorical ploy, inverting relations – but it also expresses  Marx’s concern about the place of modernity in universal history – a history that he tried to write in the Grundrisse.  For us, one of the great interests in the piece is that Marx treats Germany as a ‘pre-modern’ country – essentially as a piece of the third world. Marx is the spirit that haunts all post-colonial discourse for good reason – he founded it. Or at least, he was one of the people who gave it shape. There’s a historical school that claims that Germany’s history did not travel the path of modernity like other European countries. The Sonderweg school is associated with the ri

Marx's IED: religion, modernity, the west, all that shit...

Out of all the phrases in Marx’s  1844 Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, the one that has stuck is: “religion is the opium of the people.” Careless readers – and aren’t we all? – have a Jack Horner like tendency to stick our thumb in the pie and pull out a plumb, destroying the pie’s structure, the cooking that went into it, its mix of tastes.  In this case, to collapse Marx’s essay into this one plumb is an act of barbarity.  Marx was in his young twenties at the time he wrote the essay – later, as a middle aged man with persistent sores that kept him bedridden in agony, he learned to appreciate the power of opium, which is not a little thing. But the opium crack is only one of the comparisons to which religion gives rise. These comparisons are expressed in the exuberant style favored by a certain Berlin crowd that liked to be  scratchin Hegel and Heine. There’s a study by Bercovitch of the American Jeremiad as an essential American style – the essential style of modernity i