Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Sublated Confusion

Evidently, I take great pleasure in seeing other people confused by the same things that confuse me. In the library today, where I was not doing research on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, I nevertheless kept finding myself in the stacks, near places where works on Hegel were shelved. As I wandered past, titles would distract me, and I found myself opening books to the sections where they tried to explain the section on Force and Understanding. In most cases, the result was a sort of summary – the sort of move where you can tell that an author has simply thrown up their hands at the text and gone, “Right then! There’s no making sense of this. Time to paraphrase!” (Lest this comment appear critical, I’m sympathetic to this strategy and, in context, think it’s an entirely appropriate response…)

My favourite randomly-retrieved comment on the section, though, comes from Robert Pippin’s (1989) Hegel’s Idealism: The Satisfactions of Self-Consciousness, where Pippin provides a very nice account of the strategic intent of the section, but still can’t resist expressing a measure of exasperation at the form in which Hegel presents his argument:

It is at this point that Hegel summarizes both the realist and empiricist theories of account giving by saying that both of them generate the problem of an inverted world. The worlds in question are the “supersensible” and “sensible” worlds, or what we might more generally call the “empirically independent realities of force” and the “empirically undetermined legislation of law,” versus the manifold of sensible appearances. To the extent that such realities and such legislation are empirically independent, they simply invert the sensible world into something else and do not explain it (the classic case being Plato’s forms and Aristotle’s objections); to the extent that they are not independent, to the extent that the empirical manifold is the sole criterion of knowledge, the sensible world “inverts itself,” is unintelligible without the supersensible world (itself already caught on the first horn of the dilemma).

Now, to claim that the “true” world, whether supersensuous or sensuous, turns out to be an inverted world, “really” sensuous or supersensuous, respectively, is quite an unusual way of framing the dilemma described at the start of this section. But despite Hegel’s extreme formulations of the point (the sweet is sour, punishment is revenge, etc.), I think that that dilemma is what Hegel is talking about, and the inverted world section simply generalizes and restates that dilemma in as paradoxical a way as Hegel can devise. But what the reader is totally unprepared for is Hegel’s quite baffling, extremely compressed account of the origin of such a problem and his sudden, equally baffling, shift of topics.

First, he tells us that, given such an inversion, we must

eliminate the idea of fixing the differences in a different sustaining element; and this absolute Notion of the difference must be represented and understood purely as inner difference, a repulsion of the selfsame, from itseld, and likeness of the unlike as unlike. (PhG, 98; PS, 99)

Such language alone should tell us that we are suddenly deep in Hegel’s speculative waters, a fact confirmed by the next sentence: “We have to think pure change, or think antithesis within the antithesis itself, or contradiction.” From here, somehow in the next three pages, Hegel introduces the notions of infinity, life, and the dependence of consciousness on self-consciousness that will dominate much of the rest of the book. In short, this is as important a transition as any in Hegel, and it is unfortunately as opaque as, if not more so, than any other. (pp. 137-138)

Pippin then goes on to try to make some sense of all this – but I figure it’s best to leave all of you in suspense… ;-P (Actually, Pippin suggests looking forward – both the to discussion of self-consciousness around the corner in this work, and also to Book 2 of the Logic – although, to be honest, I was reading through this last night, with the explicit intention of comparing back to the account in Phenomenology, and I’m not certain I think the version in the Logic is much less opaque…)

By the way, for those who have been wondering what happened to the series on Capital, which I was promising to sum up back in December: it has evolved (or at least taken a brief developmental detour) into the recent posts on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and Science of Logic. This happened because some aspects of Marx’s argument seemed to require a quick refresher on Hegel. While I’ll obviously keep blogging on Science of Logic (and perhaps also a few more bits and pieces of the Phenomenology), I’m now – I think – ready to go back to some of the Marx material, in order to try to recast some of what I was writing late last year. Hopefully I’ll find the time for that very, very soon. For the moment, I’m obviously just happy to know that the parts of Hegel that are still confusing me, seem to be generally confusing by consensus – such that my particular confusion is apparently but a vanishing moment of a much more universal confusion… ;-P

8 responses to “Sublated Confusion

  1. Tom Bunyard January 5, 2008 at 2:07 am

    The point of the inverted world, as I understand it. is that we are being shown that everything has its opposite within it; for something to be truly opposite to something else, that which it is opposed to must be part of its own identity. This revelation leads the Understanding (which corresponds with normal, every day, non-contradictory consciousness of objects distinct from itself) to grasp that when it looks at the objective world it is really looking at itself – and consciousness thus turns into self-consciousness at the end of the chapter.

    Having said that, I don’t fully understand this section and am aware that there’s a hell of a lot more going on there – this despite the fact that I’ve read through it many, many more times than any other section of the book. …and, as you say, no one else seems to understand it either (which is a little comforting); in looking for help I turned to Findlay’s comments at the back of the Miller translation, but found that he seemed to be talking about a completely different text at times; got frustrated with Harris’ Phenomenology and System for being far more obscure than an idiot’s guide should be; was disappointed that one of Houlgate’s books brushed over the chapter; tried to extract an answer from Hyppolite’s massive text but quickly realised that it would be quite an undertaking to do so; established that Kojeve views everything leading up to the master and slave as no more than a preamble…all very annoying, particularly as it seems like such a crucial moment in the book.

    However, from having read it through many times I’d like to think that I’ve absorbed some of it purely though osmosis, and as such this is my own summary (written pretty much from memory whilst at work, so very garbled). If you have any comments or corrections do say so.

    we start the chapter having worked through sense-certainty and perception. In perception we saw that that all differentiated objects are particular moments within a universal: that we are only able to establish these particular moments because of their interrelation within and with that universal. Consciousness constructed a universal that united these objects, that enabled their differentiation and identification.

    Each section of the Phenomenology starts off with a new form of consciousness that doesn’t know what’s happened before; it’s only we as observers that are privy to that knowledge. When we start off with the Understanding, this new form of consciousness is unaware of the role played by consciousness in constructing this universal; it sees it as an essence lying behind existent reality. So, we’ve got a form of consciousness here which is aware of the self-identity between being-for-self and being-for-another, as that’s the object that emerged from the previous section, and which it thus starts off with – but it’s unaware of its own implication in this object, i.e. its figured out (or is beginning to figure out) what’s going on with identity in difference, but is as yet unaware of the fact that this is something that also defines itself and its own relation to its object. It thus sees this relation as something distinct from itself, as something governing the world that appears to it.

    This then becomes force, and the play of forces (the expression of universality into particularity, and the return of particularity into universality), and consciousness constructs a static body of laws that govern the play of forces in empirical reality – the first supersensible world. But when these laws are used to explain force, we find that the law is the same as the force: lighting is the same thing as electricity. This means that law, which originally gave a static, stable rule governing the fluxion between between for-itself and for-another, universal and particular, is in fact implicated in just such a fluxion between law and reality. If that’s the case, then the supersensible world, the laws governing reality, is in fact the opposite of the existing world; everything in the existing world is what it is by virtue of being in relation to its opposite, and as such the supersensible world becomes the inverted mirror of the existing world.

    And now comes the really weird bit: the opposite of sweet is sour, of white black, punishment crime, etc. – and as all these opposites are in fact present in the real world itself, the inverted world is seen to be present within the existing world. The claim then becomes that everything has its own opposite within it.

    I can cope with that claim, but the manner in which it’s expressed in this chapter is just bizzarre. I can only think that Hegel wants to get to that assertion, but needs to do so through the immanent unfolding of one stage from another (I find Houlgate’s implications that everything Hegel does really is presuppositionless a little hard to believe); he thus has to take a rather tortuous route at times to get to where he wants to go, and this chapter is more convoluted than most.

    Anyway, having established that everything has its own opposite within it, consciousness thus figures out that if it looks at something other than itself it is in fact looking at itself – and as such it mutates into self-consciousness, which then becomes the starting point for the next section of the text.

  2. N Pepperell January 5, 2008 at 2:31 am

    Hey Tom – I have the same issues – the link at the top of this post points to my most recent “go” at this section, which seems more or less in line with your sketch above, with some differences more of emphasis than anything else. But, as you’ve described, the maddening thing about this section is not so much that it’s unclear what Hegel is trying to do here, as it is profoundly unclear (to me!!) why he tries to do this, in this way. When I wrote the piece I linked to above, I asked something like: was this way of responding to Kant and Newton just as weird and idiosyncratic, in the period when Hegel was writing – Pippin’s piece seems to suggest that the answer is “yes”… I was, I think, sort of hoping that a better knowledge of maybe the terminology of the sciences of the period would sort some of this out, but I’m not yet seeing any other sources that seem to think it does… [Edited to avoid confusion: I should be clear to say that I’m rather far from having undertaken any comprehensive survey of Hegel commentary around this issue – happy to take suggestions for readings on this and other issues.]

    I like and am sympathetic to the notion that essence arises only in and through the movement of appearance – I see this as the sort of argument Marx is making in relation to the fetish – an argument that, in the first chapter of Capital, has a similar structure: starting, roughly, with Perception, and then moving to the supersensible realm, and then into an argument about the Form/Expression of Value – so Marx is spoofing Hegel there, and also accusing the political economists of doing something roughly equivalent to what Understanding does here: insisting on treating a lawlike quality that arises (for Marx) from the apparently random play of forces, as though it subsists in a separate substance from the play of forces – as though it subsists in a supersensible world or an inner essence, that can only be perceived once you look through the flux of appearance. So the fetish, in that first chapter, is a form of thought that divides form and content, essence and appearance – treating these dualistically, and therefore unable to grasp their immanent connection.

    All well and good – for Marx. ;-P And as a general principle, I like the point in Hegel as well. But it’s what you rightly call “the really weird bit” that… well… weirds me out… and that I struggle to understand. On the one hand, I’m not necessarily troubled by the “everything is its opposite” argument – I can see intuitively what some examples of this might be: in places, Hegel seems fairly clearly to be referring to the gap between intention and act – and I can see how, e.g., a good intention could be said to transform a poor act; I was also wondering whether some of the “sweet is sour” style examples might come from an extrapolation – i.e., thinking of things like the “colour” of objects, where we say that an object “is” the colour that it reflects – but here my intellectual history of science isn’t good enough to know.

    But the rapidfire moves he makes from this point – and particularly the reach for infinity… In my latest stab, I suggested that maybe the argument here involves a kind of regress: that the issue is that Understanding gets trapped in a certain cycle, until and unless the jump to self-conscious is made – that the only way to overcome an intrinsic block was to leap outside any attempt to “substantialise” the essence/appearance distinction in two distinct substances or worlds…

    But as you’ve said: the issue for me isn’t so much the nature of the claims, as the nature of the formulation of the claims (and I have a somewhat similar reaction, unfortunately, to the parallel sections of the Logic – which I was hoping would rework this material in a more intuitive way for me – generally, I find the Logic easier to interpret than Phenomenology, but the material that goes back over some of this ground was still quite opaque to me – although admittedly I haven’t attempted to write on it yet, and sometimes writing clears things up… Sometimes… ;-P).

  3. N Pepperell January 5, 2008 at 2:50 am

    P.S. Sorry – I just realised that you’ve brought up Houlgate to me twice now, without my commenting on him 🙂 It’s been a while since I’ve looked at him – and I haven’t read The Opening of Hegel’s Logic, so I probably have a different set of claims in mind. I don’t have a problem with the argument that Hegel’s intention is to avoid presuppositions – and that keeping this in mind can be useful in deflecting certain kinds of criticisms that are tossed at Hegel, where this intention isn’t understood.

    This isn’t the same, though, as thinking that Hegel succeeds in doing such a thing – for me, there are many “moves” that appear arbitrary, in the sense that you mention above: you can see where he wants to go, and often can see why he needs to move through certain positions in order to get there, but some of the steps are… strange… I find myself often wondering whether they might have been more intuitive at the time – which at least would help me make better sense of the text, but which wouldn’t support the claim that Hegel is doing something presuppositionless…

    My tentative sense of this issue in Marx is that there’s an argument being made that capitalism suggests the possibility for this form of self-grounding critique – which isn’t the same as making an argument that this form of self-grounding critique actually is possible. I take Marx to be making the argument that capitalism enables a sort of immanent critique of itself, because it generates determinate possibilities for transformation – but that this is essentially a bounded and located sort of potential, rather than a general ontological claim.

    (Apologies for sidestepping so often into Marx, which might or might not interest you in this context: I’m focussing on these particular sections because I’m working on a particular problem in Marx at the moment, so I’m finding myself working out things in both authors, by comparing similar moves, teasing out the differences across those similarities, trying to get a sense of what those differences might mean – and then sort of working backwards to a sense of the strategic intention of the text. Apologies if this is just kinda distracting – it’s a product of what I’m working on right now, and hard for me not to bring in to discussion…)

  4. Tom Bunyard January 5, 2008 at 4:52 am

    Talking about Marx is hardly a problem; I got interested in Hegel in the first place because I wanted to understand Marx and Hegelian Marxism (incidentally, John Hutnyk is my supervisor, and directed me towards your site yesterday). As regards Houlgate – I think he has an amazing talent for making Hegel intelligible, and when you consider just how opaque Hegel himself can be that’s pretty impressive. That said, he can come across as a Hegel defender rather than a Hegel critic; there’s a line somewhere between pointing out the errors of an interpretation of Hegel and being uncritical of Hegel himself, and I think he wobbles over that line here and there – not least when arguing for the genuinely presuppositionlessness of the Logic. According to Houlgate, philosophy after Hegel can only point out where Hegel’s dialectic fails to be truly presuppositionless. …which doesn’t sound like much fun at all.

    Anyway, as regards identity in difference making sense: it doens’t really click for me in terms of the bad outcome of an action arising from its good intention, or such like. I find it easier to think about in terms of his claims about infinity, which as you note comes up in this chapter. Basically, I find Hegel much, much easier to deal with if I think of him as a Christian – as someone who really takes the assertion that one should know God deadly seriously. (I’m sure you know the following already, but I’m still at work and still very bored, and it does me good to rehearse this stuff:)

    When a subject knows an object we tend to think of this as involving a distinction between the two – but Hegel wants to know God, wants to be one with his God, etc., and as such he wants to know this object whilst being one with it. Further, if my object is God, who is infinite, and if that infinity is limited in a sense by my own finitude as a subject, then God is no longer infinite. So, Hegel needs to come up with a way in which he can relate the finite to the infinite, or rather God to man.

    So if infinity is something absolutely distinct from the finite, and thus limited by it, then the infinite is no longer truly infinite. Infinity must therefore include the finite within itself. Further, Hegel thinks the infinite cannot be thought of in terms of an endless sequence (i.e. 1+1+1+1+1…etc.), because he thinks that this is just a linear collection of finite elements, each determined by the last, and none of which determine themselves. This he calls ‘bad infinity’. True infinity must be self-determining and cannot be such an endless sequence – and that’s why he thinks of it as a circle in which a) something determines itself to be what it already was to start off with, and b) is a return to self from otherness: identity in difference, being distinct whilst simultaneously being identical, an infinity of becoming other and overcoming that otherness.

    Consequently, when we start getting to identity in difference in the Force and the Understanding chapter Hegel starts to get very excited indeed, and starts talking about infinity and the ‘pulse of the universe’ (or something like that). This notion of identity in difference is why self-consciousness is such a big deal for his philosophy: knowing oneself in otherness.

    As regards the commodity fetish, appearance and essence: ummm, don’t know. The whole thing about getting past immediacy to arrive at a mediated conception of the totality is obviously key for Marx, but I’d never really thought about trying to relate the supersensible world stuff to his account (its later echo in the chapter on alienation in culture is obviously relevant, however). Dunno, but your comments are intersesting – although the office is about to shut, so I’ll get back to that and your other Marx comments either later or tomorrow.



  5. Tom Bunyard January 5, 2008 at 8:39 am

    Back again

    OK, your comments about Marx: your first point is rather similar to Lukacs’ claims about the nature of bourgeois thought (for Lukacs this involves an essentially ‘contemplative’ dichotomy between subject and object that treats history as irrational and noumenal, opposed to which is the proletariat as the identical subject-object of history). I mean that in rlation to your claims about bouregois political economists with their static realm of ‘laws’ (something Lukacs takes great exception to).

    As regards the rest of your claim I’m not sure; I’m not convinced that Marx is arguing that ‘essence arises only in and through the movement of appearance.’ That would imply that the reality that the fetish obscures is generated by the fetish, when in fact the opposite is the case. A said above, however, I certainly agree that this attempt to develop a mediated truth from that which is immediately given is certainly reminiscent of what Marx is up to.

    Marx’s own dialectic is absolutely not presuppositionless; it takes a s avery real and present presupposition empirical reality, and a particular problematic within a particular real, concrete historical moment. As you say, he is talking about the possibilities opened up by a definiite historical moment, and this can indeed be called an immanent critique – but his dialectic, such as it is, is certainly not self-grounding, as that would mean that it quite happily validates itself independently of any material reality or practical historical action.

    In the postface to the second German edition Marx talks about his debt to Hegel, and explains the distinction between the mode of analysis and the mode of presentation. The mode of analysis means sifting through mountains of empirical data (factory reports, Hansard, census information, tedious economic information, hours, months, years spent in the British Library, etc.) and collating this and analysing it in a way that makes some kind of sense. The mode of presentation, on the other hand, means taking this material and arranging it in such a way that the interconnection between the material can be shown, in such a way that the “…life of the subject matter is…reflected back in the ideas [i.e. in the exposition].”

    In other words, the mode of analysis and the mode of exposition are very different. The former is a case of doing empirical research, and the latter is a case of presenting the resulst of that reserachg through a mode of exposition that shows the interconnection and historical movement of the subject matter. It could thus be argued – and I think it probably should be argued – that in this respect Marx’s ‘dialectic’ is not that of Hegel.

    That sounds like a statement of the obvious, as any fool should be able to tell you that Marx’s dialectic is different from Hegel’s – but in this respect the difference is not just a case of taking the unfolding of the Concept and placing it in real concrete history, but rather a more fundamental one in which Hegel’s unity between analysis and exposition (e.g. the immanent unfolding of the Logic, the Phenomenology’s series of thought experiments) is split. If a dialectic involves presuppositions it is not truly Hegelian, and some (e.g. William Maker in his book Philosophy Without Foundations – worth a look if you haven’t already) suggest that it’s not really worthy of the name ‘dialectical’ at all.

    But so what if Marx’s dialectic is based on presuppositions? So what if it’s not Hegelian? Why is that supposed to be a bad thing! This is only an issue if we’re a Hegelian, and if by virtue of being a Hegelian we’re likely to get upset about the identity of form and content; after all, as was gently suggested to me by someone trying to wean me off my Hegel fetish, ‘perhaps one can’t be a good Marxist and be a good Hegelian at the same time’.

    …but we do however have what might seem to be a problem, as from what I’ve just said Marx’s ‘dialectic’ is no more than a mode of exposition – just one possible mode amongst many others, a form with no more than an arbirtrary link to its content. This sort of thing really upsets some Marxists, who want to argue that Marx thinks reality is dialectical ‘in-itself’ (Engels for one, and Lukacs for another). Others take the opposite position, and there’s a whole school of Engels-bashers who argue that dialetical materialism was imposed upon Marx’s work after his death (Terrel Carver’s book is worth a look, can’t remember any other names off hand). Personally I’m not sure what the answer is; I get equally uptight when people try to reduce Marx to Hegel as I do when others try to purge Marx of his Hegelianism.

    Anyway, I meant to say somethig about Marx and the Phenomenology, and I got completely sidetracked. I think what I wanted to say was essentially that the Logic seems more pertinent to an understanding of the how Marx wants to arrange the structure of Capital (have a look at the opening page of Volume 3 if you haven’t already), but that the Phenomenology is more interesting if you want to try and understand Marx’s philosophy of experience, action and history, of a subject that knows itself through its actions, that changes through changing the world.

    …enough, I’m going to the pub

  6. N Pepperell January 5, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    Hey Tom – many thanks for this. I want to get to your comments in greater detail than I’ll be able to right now – just a placeholder for the moment that I wasn’t trying to claim that Marx is undertaking a sort of Hegelian project, but rather than he is trying to unfold (among, of course, many other things) an account of why something like a Hegelian project would seem to be a plausible way of doing philosophy from a certain period. In other words, there’s an argument being made in Capital, particularly in the first chapter, that the reproduction of capital has certain qualitative characteristics that are suggestive of what Hegel finds in the geist. If this doesn’t seem immediately plausible, it’s a difficult argument for me to make briefly in any sort of convincing way – happy to be taken with a large grain of salt at this point – but I’ll be putting some things up soon that tackle what I mean in a more systematic way. A less systematic and more provisional sketch of some of what will make its way into this argument has been provided in the posts in this series.

    I realise that it’s much more common to compare Marx’s work in Capital to the Logic than to the Phenomenology – and, for the most part, I think that’s completely fair. However, in some respects these texts overlap – particularly in relation to the sorts of movements Hegel traces between Perception and Understanding. And, in certain respects of phrasing and terminology, the Phenomenology reads a bit closer to the formulations Marx is using in moments in Capital. It’s not specifically important to me, though, that Marx have had one text or the other in front of him as he was writing – this is more an issue for me of how I try, on a presentational level, to make plausible that Marx is undertaking a complex embedding of Hegel (again, among other things) in Capital – and that the argument about the fetish in its structure is walking the same ground as Hegel’s argument about how essence and appearance come to be taken as subsisting in two separate worlds or substances.

    I see Capital as shifting amongst available perspectives generated immanently in the course of the reproduction of capital. Marx does this, not to generate a “presuppositionless” philosophy along Hegelian lines, but rather he appropriates elements of Hegelian presentation to different ends: to show that capitalism internally generates the subjective and material “resources” for its own overcoming. The text of Capital is therefore voiced quite similarly (in certain respects) to Hegel’s “presuppositionless” philosophy, but the strategic intent is different – the argumentative form is mobilised in the service of a claim that you don’t need to criticise capitalism from some standpoint “outside” capitalism, but rather can make sense of the rise of critical ideals and symptomatic forms of political contestation, immanently within capitalism. (Again, there’s much more I’d have to say here – apologies for the inadequacy of these formulations.)

    The first chapter therefore begins with a particular perspective “given” within capitalism – how the wealth of societies characterised by capitalist production “presents itself”. This given perspective, if you pay close attention to phrasing, is similar to the perspective discussed under Perception in Phenomenology – it’s also similar to material outlined in the second book of the Logic. The text then moves – quite explicitly – to a discussion of a supersensible world: not because Marx thinks there is a supersensible world, but because he finds references to something like such a world in the way political economy tries to make sense of Value. The text then moves to a discussion of Value and its Expression.

    Hegel is being spoofed here – or, more accurately, embedded: Marx is gesturing at how he can make sense of what Hegel is doing, how he can “secularise” Hegel and render plausible the emergence of Hegelian philosophy. He is also, though, positioning aspects of political economy as, in a sense, pre-Hegelian – as falling behind Hegel – to the extent that they are still behaving as though there is some separate substance (like physiology or biology) or some separate world (like natural laws of human society as such, distinct from any particular human society) in which they want to locate Value. Marx’s Dame Quickly joke – that “they don’t know where to have it” – is a fairly explicit reference to the ontological complexities of Value as a category: Value is generated in social practice, for Marx, but in a weird sort of social practice – a sort of social practice whose determinate characteristics make it plausible (if also, from Marx’s perspective, wrong) to confuse it with some sort of physical property of things (or people!), or with some sort of “natural law” of sociality as such, rather than determinate pattern of our society. So, when I say that Marx is, like Hegel, critical here of a form of thought that separates appearance from essence, part of what I have in mind is this discussion about where Value comes from: fetishised conceptions of the commodity project Value into all sorts of strange and (to Marx) mystical places; what they don’t do, is link together Value in its determinate relations to other sorts of social practices that are recognised as overtly contingent. So Marx is saying – albeit in a very different way, and with a fundamentally different intention, from Hegel – that a “world of flux” (our quite contingent social practices) generates a “world of order” (the lawlike tendencies of capitalism) without the emergence of this order requiring order to embedded in some genuinely universal physical substance or property of social life, that was only “discovered” in the capitalist era (remembering here Marx’s complaints that the political economists behave toward capitalism as the church fathers did toward religion, treating other forms of economy as “artificial” and their own as “natural”: Marx characterises this as a position that there used to be history but no longer is any…).

    Apologies – this argument doesn’t “blurt” well… ;-P Hopefully it’s not too confusing, presented like this. The earlier series I linked above sets out some of this, although in a clumsy way. I’m in the process of trying to render the rgument more linear so that it will be easier to understand what I’m trying to say. And apologies, as well, that my gestural abbreviations above probably suggested that I think Marx was doing something more thoroughgoingly Hegelian than what I mean. It’s hard to spell out what I mean briefly, and I really shouldn’t try, as I did last night, to provide a precis of this argument at 3 a.m. ;-P

    In terms of Lukacs: this is another thing I’ve been meaning to post on in greater detail… I actually think the translation of the argument about the fetish, into an argument about reification – although brilliant and productive in many ways – misses some of the most interesting aspects of the argument about the fetish (which is more – and other – than an argument about the rise of instrumental rationality – although I like that Lukacs sees that Marx was also making an argument about the rise of instrumental rationality – it’s just that I see Marx’s theory as a bit more complicated than just this point, and as providing a far more diverse notion of shapes of consciousness or forms of subjectivity that become plausible under capitalism). In Lukacs’ specific implementation, I also think there’s a high degree of tacit naturalisation going on – his argument about the development of a “contemplative” stance doesn’t go far enough, for me, in talking about determinate forms of subjectivity. Also – but these days, this probably goes without saying – I would give a very, very different account of what a “critical standpoint” is – of why immanent critique makes sense. Again very briefly: I see Marx unfolding, in Capital a very wide array of often-conflicting forms of subjectivity – at the very least, you don’t have to worry about Marx (as I read him) spiralling into a “one dimensional society” sort of thesis. Marx may stop short of what some critical theories “want” from an argument about critical standpoint – I take fairly seriously his repudiation of making recipes for cookshops of the future… But I’m being much too abbreviated here – apologies if this is simply confusing…

    In terms of your comments on Hegel, which I’ve left hanging: yes, I guess I’m not really trying to claim that Hegel’s account clicks for me, either (although what I had in mind, by mentioning intention, was something more like that way in which we acknowledge that something “counterfactual”, something not expressed in a different in action, might nevertheless affect the “meaning” attributed to the action – or, another sort of example might be the counterfactual character of human law – the gap between “is” and “ought” – I was wondering whether Hegel is reaching for things like this, when he talks about the “inverted world”). But the issue isn’t so much whether I find the account persuasive, but more whether I think I can begin to think within it – to have enough of a feel for how it holds together, that I can sort of begin to have a generative understanding of what it might do. That, and just trying to figure out whether we’ve reached a moment of pure mysticism (and I think you’re right to point to religious element), or whether we’re still on terrain where it’s possible to make sense of what’s going on…

    In any event, I need to start writing for the folks who pay the bills… 😉 Apologies for doing something simultaneously long, that still manages to be truncated… ;-P

    Hope you are enjoying/have enjoyed the pub. Take care…

  7. Tom Bunyard January 6, 2008 at 12:28 am

    Very, very quickly – I’ll try and get back later if I have time:

    I havne;t had time to do much other than skim through your text, but I’m really not sure about this:

    “…the fetish in its structure is walking the same ground as Hegel’s argument about how essence and appearance come to be taken as subsisting in two separate worlds or substances.”

    Surely the proplem with the fetish is that the value of commodities seems to be an aspect of their own identity, when in fact it arises through their interrelation through production and exchange. There’s that bit in vol. 1 where Marx goes on about examining a commodity to find the chemical composition of value (or something like that); basically, the fetish arises because the relations between human beings appear as those between objects: the labour, activity and relations of human subjects, which gives the commodity its value, appears as a part of the commodities own fundamental nature.

    …in which case surely the problem is not one of viewing ‘essence’ and ‘appearance’ as two separate realms, but rather of a failure to do so.

    I think talking about the dichotomous viewpoint of bourgeois society is fine to point (mainly as I was torturing myself with Lukacs over the holiday); the fetish distances human beings from their own labour. But, paradoxically, it does so by blurring the two together in a sense: labour appears as an aspect of the commodities themselves. As such, I’m not convinced (although I’m very happy to be persuaded) that talking about ‘essence’ is all that helpful in relation to the fetish – and this is why I think focussing on the concepts of mediacy and immediacy might be a little more helpful.

    I may be doing your post a disservice – as admitted above I haven’t had time to work through it all. Will get back to you once I’ve got a few other things out of the way.

    Have fun


  8. N Pepperell January 6, 2008 at 4:29 am

    Tom – Quickly here too 🙂 I’m exhausted at the moment, so nothing substantive at all. The post I’ve just put up might answer some of your questions, although I wrote it offline and, if I had seen your current comment first, could probably have done a much better job addressing your questions more directly. My quick suspicion is that much of any apparent difference may just be terminological and a matter of emphasis – slightly different things we each have in mind in relation to Hegel and/or Marx (and I’d be the first to admit that I have a veritable habit of drawing idiosyncratic associations from texts, so, if someone is making an atypical association from, say, Hegel’s argument about essence/appearance, that’ll likely be me ;-P).

    There may be a more substantive issue in relation to the claim that “the fetish distances humans from their own labour” – and in relation to “the fetish arises because the relations between human beings appear as those between objects” – but it depends on what you’re intending to emphasise with these comments. Marx makes a fairly clear “things appear as they are” statement in the first chapter, and so the question becomes how to interpret this, in terms of how to understand what he’s saying about the kind of critique he’s trying to do. If things appear as they are, then the fetish isn’t a veil that can be stripped aside, but more a kind of positivity – a particular way we enact our collective lives – whose connection, however, to social practice isn’t being fully grasped. But this may not be the sort of thing you were trying to emphasise, and I don’t want to overextrapolate from a brief comment.

    I agree of course that Marx is making an argument about how properties are attributed to commodities as physical, empirical things, when those properties are instead solely social in character. I take the argument about the fetish to relate to a variety of strange attempted ontologisations of value – strange attempts to figure out “where to have it”, entailing a projection of social properties into material objects – but also (and this is where my reading of Marx may be a bit… odd) entailing other sorts of projections, including the specific kind of material nature/society split with which Capital opens.

    All this said, though, I’m far from wedded to any particular narrativisation of what Marx is doing with Hegel’s essence/appearance discussions in this chapter: it’s something I’m still working on. I think it’s clear that Marx has Hegel’s discussion in mind, and makes fairly explicit reference to it – and I take this to be in the spirit of a critical embedding of Hegel: in other words, an attempt to encompass Hegel within Marx’s theory of capitalism, and thus criticise Hegel by situating his insights in relation to an argument about the reproduction of capital. I think also that Marx is aiming for a kind of theory here that can connect up certain things that political economy perceives to exist in arbitrary relation with one another, and that a certain kind of form/content distinction, where these two moments are understood as being only arbitrarily connected, is one of the targets of the critique here.

    But at this time of night for me, I’ll probably be profoundly unclear trying to talk about this – even if my point can be supported. 🙂 Sorry to leaves things so poorly addressed…

    Take care…

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