Self-Quoting in Capital
September 28, 2007
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So now I’m curious: in this discussion below, both Nate and The Constructivist have raised the question of why Marx quotes himself in the first sentence of Capital:
The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,” its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.
The Constructivist has mentioned Keenan’s discussion of the same question, in Fables of Responsibility (around p. 104 in this edition).
I’ve offered my (very off the cuff!) guess here – or perhaps a little self-quoting will make this easier:
I don’t have a definitive take on the issue, but, given that I read Marx as self-consciously putting forward an immanent critical theory, the most straightforward thing Marx might have been doing in quoting himself, was treating himself as he treats the political economists: flagging himself, and the critical perspective he is putting forward in the text, as objects of analysis – hinting to the reader that this starting point is not a priori, but something that will eventually be embedded as the text unfolds. In this sense, he is treating himself symmetrically to how he treats the political economists, whose quotations he footnotes and occasionally brings into the main text, and whom he criticises for their failure to treat themselves as objects of analysis, in the same way that they treat older forms of thought that they criticise. So I would take that initial quotation as a quick signal that Marx is placing himself and his positions on the same plane that he will place the political economists – which means that he has to understand their errors as more than “mere” errors – as errors that were historically plausible given the circumstances in which they were working – and he also needs to position his insights as more than “mere” good thinking – he needs to explain why his insights have become plausible in his own historical period.
I’m curious whether others have an opinion on this question – or whether anyone knows of other secondary sources who have commented on this question.
While I’m posting on Marxian things, I should also mention Sinthome’s interesting post and discussion on “The Utopia of the Commodity– Revolution by Proxy”, and the discussion at Nate’s what in the hell… on a troublesome passage from the section on primitive accumulation.