Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

From Something, Nothing Comes

I’m not sure whether to classify this post as a contribution to the reading group discussion on Hegel’s Science of Logic, or instead to treat it as part of the series on Marx. The theme is one I’m trying to work out how to discuss in my current chapter draft, but I’m pointing my argument in that chapter back to these concepts in Hegel, so perhaps these things have become too interpenetrating to distinguish clearly.

In the chapter draft, I’m working on a specific tension. On the one hand, Marx criticises, for example, the political economists for exempting their own position from their analysis – for treating the categories of other economic systems as artificial and as socially and historically conditioned, but treating the categories they use to grasp capitalism as “natural”. This critique shows up in passages such as this one, originally from Poverty of Philosophy, but replicated in a footnote to the first chapter of Capital:

Economists have a singular method of procedure. There are only two kinds of institutions for them, artificial and natural. The institutions of feudalism are artificial institutions, those of the bourgeoisie are natural institutions. In this they resemble the theologians, who likewise establish two kinds of religion. Every religion which is not theirs is an invention of men, while their own is an emanation from God. … Thus there has been history, but there is no longer any.

Given that Marx finds it relevant to replicate this comment in two works quite dispersed in time, and given how this critique dovetails with other sorts of critique Marx offers, evidently this is an abiding and somewhat central concern for Marx. My impulse is to take from these sorts of comments the notion that Marx does not intend to engage in this sort of political economic manoeuvre himself – that he is not simply, so to speak, criticising the political economists for being wrong in viewing their specific position as an emanation from God, but is instead arguing that it would be wrong to regard any position as such an emanation: I take Marx’s argument, in other words, to be that critique should be reflexive and provide an account of its own position of enunciation (I take Marx, in other words to share some of the sorts of concerns with abstract “philosophical” forms of critique that Sinthome has raised this morning over at Larval Subjects).

The challenge for my reading is that Marx also often makes statements that seem to jar with this notion of reflexivity – statements, for example, that compare what actually takes place under capitalist conditions of production, with what appear to be something like “essential” categories that Marx seems to claim would apply to any sort of production. The form of critique here looks very similar to what Marx objects to in the political economists. When, for example, Marx makes a claim like, e.g., the substance of wealth is always use value, and then appears to criticise capitalism for the way that it imposes additional conditions on what gets to “count” as wealth, that go beyond this unavoidable “material” requirement – this structure of argument looks rather similar to that used by the political economists, who argued that, e.g., the feudal guild system imposes additional conditions on the organisation of production, that distorted the “natural” institutions of capitalist society. Marx may offer a different version of what counts as “natural”, but this doesn’t change the apparent structure of the argument, which still involves the criticism of some set of social institutions against a standard that purports to be more “natural” than those institutions. This approach does not appear to correspond to the concept of immanent critique I’ve argued is at play in Marx’s work.

Most interpreters, of course, are comfortable with the notion that Marx is a straightforward “materialist” who doesn’t problematise the genesis of his own critical insights. Even Patrick Murray’s very sensitive reading of Capital, which captures the Hegelian subtext of the work quite well, regards Marx to be criticising both Hegel and the political economists for not recognising a difference between “genuine” (asocial) abstractions, and abstractions specific to capitalist society: on this read, Marx’s great critical contribution was to disentangle these two sorts of abstractions, and so clarify what is “essential” to material production, from what is only made to “appear” necessary by the distorted configurations characteristic of capitalist production. This reading, however, leaves somewhat unclear where Marx obtains such clarity of insight into what is truly essential, when such insight has eluded so many others.

Certain kinds of theory – Habermas would be the obvious example – try to answer this latter question through a strategy I tend to call “appealing to the historical realisation of the natural”. Here, what is “essential” is not treated as contingently constituted in social practice – the essential is thematised, either explicitly or tacitly, as always having been “natural”, at least as a latent tendency or necessary step in a developmental logic or similar – while an explanation is offered for why we have only recognised or discovered the essential in recent history. This approach still possesses the basic structure of the political economists’ argument, as Marx criticises it above: it positions the approaches being criticised as artificial, and treats its own position as natural. In the process, it treats critique as an abstract negation – as something that is left behind, when everything artificial has been stripped away. Essence is not constituted – at least not in any contingent way. Even where essence is treating as arising in human practice, it is treated as non-contingently arising. Critique takes the form of a criticism of appearance from the standpoint of essence.

I have tried to argue that Marx is doing something quite different – that he is attempting a form of theory loyal to the precepts of his critique of political economy – that he is not simply saying that the political economists are wrong in the specific thing they take to be “natural”, but wrong in adopting a whole structure of critique that does not address its own conditions of possibility. How, then, can I make sense of moments in Capital where Marx himself sets up a contrast between what material production “essentially” is, versus the specific form material production takes under capitalism? How, even moreso, can I make sense of passages in which Marx suggests that it is possible to look back through history, making sense of the changing configurations of social relations with reference to concepts like a “mode of production”?

My full answer to these questions is the subject of the chapter I am working on now, which I will post here for comment when it’s sufficiently complete. That chapter both acknowledges genuine tensions and inconsistencies in Marx’s own work, and also argues that there is a way he could be consistent to his critique of political economy, while still wielding very abstract and seemingly asocial categories like “use value” – so long as he provides an explanation for how those seemingly asocial categories are the categories of a specific form of society. This argument requires a turn to Hegel.

Part of the answer, I suspect, lies in one of the passages in the in-person reading group selection for today. At the beginning of Section One: Determinateness (Quality), Hegel makes the interesting point:

Being is the indeterminate immediate; it is free from determinateness in relation to essence and also from any which it can possess within itself. This reflectionless being is being as it is immediately in its own self alone.

Because it is indeterminate being, it lacks all quality; but in itself, the character of indeterminateness attaches to it only in contrast to what is determinate or qualitative. But determinate being stands in contrast to being in general, so that the very indeterminateness of the latter constitutes its quality. It will therefore be shown that the first being is in itself determinate, and therefore, secondly, that it passes over into determinate being… (130-131, bold text mine)

Hegel is not concerned with social theory, but the argument he makes here suggests the line I follow with Marx’s apparently asocial “materialist” categories: that the indeterminacy of these categories – their apparent detachment from any specific social configuration – is their specific determinacy. In other words, the specific social character of certain categories of capitalist society, consists in their apparent asocial character. This theme, I would suggest, runs throughout Capital.

The development of this argument, which I attempt in the chapter itself, at least as a preliminary sketch, involves an argument about real abstractions. A real abstraction is an abstraction that involves more than simply a conceptual stripping away of determinate content. A real abstraction is effected in social practice, and involves (in my appropriation of this concept) a process of mutual constitution of conflictual dimensions of practice – one of which renders particular forms of qualitative determinacy socially meaningful, while another is actively indifferent to those specific forms of determinacy. In Marx’s argument, for example, a category like “use value” – which appears to be nothing more than a catch-all conceptual abstraction that generalises from any sort of useful thing, and seems transparently capable of extension to the analysis of any human society – is actually effected in collective practice in capitalism, as the value dimension of the commodity must appear in some use value or another, but is structurally indifferent to how it appears. In this sense, an apparently asocial category like “use value” – which presents itself as a substance of wealth, indifferent to social form – is in fact closely tied to value as the social form of wealth in capitalism, which generates at the level of social practice “use value” as a meaningful, socially-immanent category. This doesn’t mean that we can’t then take such abstract categories, and apply them to the past – or, more important for Marx’s purposes, apply them to the critique of capitalism, to assist us in thinking alternative organisations of production. It does, though, provide an immanent account of such categories, and also situates the categories socially and historically, making it possible to explain why these categories are part of the “in and for itself” of our society, but did not emerge in other historical eras.

This approach repositions Marx’s apparently asocial and “materialist” categories as determinate negations – as negations that emerge out of a specific “something”, and therefore carry the traces of what they negated, in their determinate qualitative form. I’ve drawn attention to such a concept previously, in discussing this passage from Hegel’s Phenomenology:

The completeness of the forms of unreal consciousness will be brought about precisely through the necessity of the advance and the necessity of their connection with one another. To make this comprehensible we may remark, by way of preliminary, that the exposition of untrue consciousness in its untruth is not a merely negative process. Such a one-sided view of it is what the natural consciousness generally adopts; and a knowledge, which makes this one-sidedness its essence, is one of those shapes assumed by incomplete consciousness which falls into the course of the inquiry itself and will come before us there. For this view is scepticism, which always sees in the result only pure nothingness, and abstracts from the fact that this nothing is determinate, is the nothing of that out of which it comes as a result. Nothing, however, is only, in fact, the true result, when taken as the nothing of what it comes from; it is thus itself a determinate nothing, and has a content. The scepticism which ends with the abstraction “nothing” or “emptiness” can advance from this not a step farther, but must wait and see whether there is possibly anything new offered, and what that is – in order to cast it into some abysmal void. When once, on the other hand, the result is apprehended, as it truly is, as determinate negation, a new form has thereby immediately arisen; and in the negation the transition is made by which the progress through the complete succession of forms comes about of itself. (79)

The reading group starts soon, and I need to review a bit before everyone arrives. And ack! Russ has shown up early!! (How dare you, Russ – you know I read material before we meet!!) No time to edit… Apologies…

P.S. Since Russ so rudely interrupted, I posted this before I got the chance to nudge back at Wildly Parenthetical, who has been trying valiantly to make sense of my often opaque use of terms like “abstract” and “determinate” negation – if it weren’t already clear, this piece is intended as (er… yet another?) gesture to that ongoing conversation… 🙂

9 responses to “From Something, Nothing Comes

  1. WildlyParenthetical January 24, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Shush! I wanted everyone to think I’d picked it up with the greatest of ease 😉 (No valiance required, just add random moments of concentration ;-P)

    I think part of the reason I find all this so exciting is that so often when poststructural thought wants to oppose itself to a ‘bad guy,’ it’ll invoke the Marx/ist category of ‘ideology’ as creating precisely such an essence/appearance distinction, and position itself as doing something entirely different (something that, erm, you’re suggesting Marx already does). Indeed, to be honest, I tend to underline the term ‘ideology’ in student essays – it’s so easy to use these days, and tends to demonstrate that they have failed to pick up the central concept in the course (which, now that I contemplate it, I think that *every* course I’ve taught I take as a frame for teaching students to [deep breath] pay attention to the determinateness of the abstract negation. Of course, I tend to use a different terminology (‘the natural’ gets a bit of a beating ;-))).

    In my complete failure to understand Hegel (which of course is *his* fault and not mine – the object and not the orientation is inadequate [tongue,tongue,tongue in cheek!! for those who don’t know me!]) I find something in that last passage a bit troubling. I get that Hegel’s the Progress of the Spirit Grand Narrative Author ;-P and that I’m always already going to have problems with that onwards-upwards movement he adopts/discovers, but it’s pretty clear that the ‘advance,’ which occurs in the “complete [alarm bells ring] succession of forms” is bound up with this conception of the critique of abstract negation. I don’t really know what ‘complete succession of forms’ means (shall I declaim my ignorance once again?) but I’m still troubled by it. My approach (especially when teaching) tends to a kind of lazy ‘opening up of fruitful possibilities’ as the ‘benefit’ of this kind of interrogation (though this is a deconstructive position which understands that this ‘opening up’ has its own consequences which again which require deconstruction), but I don’t really think this is an ‘advance.’ Anyway, I’m just rambling now. My real question, I suppose (and you crazy Hegel-reading folks can pipe up to put me in my place if you like ;-P) is, is the critique of abstract negations (unpicking them as determinate negations, that is) of necessity bound to this progress narrative? If so, why? If not, is it just Hegel’s need for onwards-upwards-ness that institutes it as such? I suppose, in the end, my query is a lame version of a Lyotardian one: does Hegel take his Progress of the Spirit to be an abstract negation? Why is *that* one allowed? (Not to hold you responsible for Hegel. Well, mostly not ;-P)

    Also, how amusing to link *this* post to one on cosmetic surgery. Now you’re just making me look shallow, Ms. N. ;-P

  2. N Pepperell January 25, 2008 at 12:12 am

    Also, how amusing to link *this* post to one on cosmetic surgery. Now you’re just making me look shallow, Ms. N. ;-P

    Why Wildy – I would never have expected this kind of appearance/essence distinction from you!

    when poststructural thought wants to oppose itself to a ‘bad guy,’ it’ll invoke the Marx/ist category of ‘ideology’ as creating precisely such an essence/appearance distinction, and position itself as doing something entirely different (something that, erm, you’re suggesting Marx already does)

    It is of course possible that this aspect of my reading of Marx is more reinterpretive – there are moments of the text where I’m certain he sees this implication of his argument, and moments where I’m sure he doesn’t… 😉 But certainly I think this argument is there – and is also the only “adequate” way to follow up on some of the sorts of criticisms Marx makes of other thinkers, and to do justice to some of his own meta-commentary on Hegel – whether Marx was always consistent with this impulse in his work, or not.

    Hegel’s the Progress of the Spirit Grand Narrative Author

    This issue is actually much more ambiguous in Hegel than his language would sometimes lead you to suspect. Tom and I were discussing this issue a little bit in the comments of another thread. It’s possible to read Hegel (and, I think, necessary to read certain analogous passages in Marx, in a work like Capital) to be talking more about a sort of “logical advance” – as in, within some existing system or from some existing standpoint, it might be possible: (1) to suggest that one can logically derive other positions, in a way that (2) allows those other positions to be logically ordered, such that (3) the presentation then involves a kind of “advance” from one position to the “next”, where the “advance” is understood in terms of something like how well each concept allows you to do some specific thing.

    In Capital, for example, Marx starts out with what looks like an “object” and from a position that says “capitalism is about producing things like this“. That position, though, can’t grasp or make sense of certain other important dimensions of capitalism, and so Marx “advances” to the next category, etc. So we might not be talking about, say, an historical progress narrative, but more something like “how can we make sense of what’s going on around here, around now” – in someone like Marx, “so that we can change it”, in someone like Hegel, perhaps, “so that we can work out how to hold our time in thought, without recourse to dogma”.

    So I definitely don’t think the notion of an abstract negation is bound to a progress narrative. I do, though, think that this concept can potentially be wielded in what I would regard as an inappropriately metaphysical way – in other words, I don’t think we can take for granted that something like a determinate negation should always be possible – in a sense, it is only when you hold in a hand a specific theory of how certain positions are determinate negations, that other positions come to be revealed as abstract ones – I wouldn’t personally wield this concept of theory as an abstract methodological principle (in other words, I would be reflexive even with my concept of reflexivity ;-P). Otherwise, as you note above, this methodological principle itself amounts to a sort of foundational exception.

    Both Hegel and Marx provide justifications (more explicit in Hegel’s case than in Marx’s, actually) for why this method is the method of their object. Something about the properties of the object (which, in both cases, are properties interpenetrating with subjects reflecting on those (social) objects) makes this kind of approach possible – and also requisite in the sense that both would argue that you haven’t actually grasped at least one key aspect of the object if you omit this approach – to whit, that the object involves the sorts of intrinsic connections among its moments that enable it to be conceptualised this way. It shouldn’t be a dogmatic foregone conclusion that this sort of theory is possible…

    It can be difficult for me to capture this element in my writing, I find – partially because often this sort of thing is asserted in a somewhat metaphysical way (and, of course, there are sorts of ontological claims lurking in the back of my presentation as well – I just try to keep them non-exclusionary – to keep them claims of the form “this can exist”, rather than of the form “only this can exist”; by the same token, I’m probably more pragmatist, in the philosophical sense, than either Hegel or Marx on the justification for this sort of approach – i.e., it doesn’t trouble me to justify the approach with reference to what it allows us to do, with the potentials it opens). But because this is all very meta-meta ;-P, it’s easy to lose track of it, when I’m writing and just trying to make clear enough what the concepts are in the first place – since much work is still quite comfortable doing “abstract negations” and may not know what it would mean to do something else, so the little meta-dance where I explain what many people do, and then what I do instead, sometimes stops short of the step where I explain that people shouldn’t take for granted that what I (claim to) do instead is even viable.

    Not sure whether this helps 🙂

  3. WildlyParenthetical January 25, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    Hmmm… well, as you know, I’m all for giving authors their own monstrous children, and I’m not even sure you’re doing that (at least with Marx)… more like showing (some) Marxists the monstrous side to their own child ;-P. So don’t understand me as insisting on a reading that would keep the child pure, if you like (and then denouncing it). It’s more that when I see purity, I want to sully. Yes, I know, terrible of me, I’m sure. But I want to unpick the spaces that are meant to be pure in others, I suppose.

    I understand what you’re saying about the specificity of the ‘advance.’ I think that part of my problem is that ‘advance’ always seems to imply… well, a kind of implicit teleology. When I say this, I do understand that Marx – and even you or I, with our ‘fruitful’ opening-ups and ‘achievement of particular aims’ – need not necessarily understand us as moving towards, say, some utopic space. But it does easily fall into a kind of presumption of progress, especially when Hegel links critique so firmly to this idea of ‘advance,’ even if that’s not specifically what’s going on. In the end, I suppose that when you use the term ‘logical advance,’ I want to say, first, why do we presume a forward movement? does this not reiterate a rather problematic conception of time which is what tends to reproduce a teleology (whose telos may not be specified but is implicitly characterised and often dogmatically clung to?) And second, if such ‘advances’ occur simply through logic, well, I want to query what that logic means, as well, and more specifically, what it will and will not permit to be said/thought/done. I know that much of your work is aimed at how these conditions for the possibility of thinking otherwise are developed, and so I wonder how you think about this particular issue. This is not to say, of course, that I disagree with the use of such a technique in *this* context – which is what I take you to be saying when you point to the reflexiveness. But there’s something of the Levinasian/Derridean in me that has to ask: do we simply wind up reproducing ‘logic’ in and through this kind of critique, if we’re talking about logical advance? And what does that close off? Actually I think I might be being a little unfair here; I tend to think we actually agree about these things a lot of the time… but I cannot help but wonder about the consequences of particular kinds of terminology. I suppose: does the ‘logical advance’ really allow the possibility of, to go all poststructural on yo’ ass, differance? alterity? are these ‘permitted’ space to affect the development of critique and, well, all else?

    In (more) other words, I suppose that I agree with the ‘what it makes possible’ kind of reflexive ‘assessment’ of critique; but I wonder whether there might be more space if our ‘logic’ and our ‘advance’ took a little more account of what they disavow in order to be constituted… alternate conceptions of time, of ‘logic’… but now I’m being wearyingly poststructuralist ;-P and so I shall stop. Stop.

    Oh, but apologies if I’m asking obvious and stupid questions… I get a little paranoid hanging out with you and your profound friends ;-P Or is all of that just superficial appearance? 😉

  4. N Pepperell January 25, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    Yes, I have a certain sympathy for monstrous children… 😉

    First just a peripheral point: I very very often comment on and gloss what other authors are doing, without doing those things myself. Sometimes I’ll appropriate vocabulary and take it over into a different use, but often I won’t even be doing that, but just summarising what someone else says. In the case of the Hegel passage quoted above, I’ve actually written on it at greater length at earlier point on the blog, but was (and still am ;-P) too lazy to find where – so I just quoted it without much commentary, just as a note to myself that I want to comment on this passage in the thesis. I don’t personally use the vocabulary of advance in my own work – and the term “logic” (which, again, is something I’ve written on in other places) means something a bit different here than, say, syllogistic derivation – Hegel’s “logic” is a speculative matter, intended as a critique of the forms of hollow proceduralism he thinks are characteristic of traditional logics. So there’s a lot of strangeness going on with the terminology, which I didn’t unpack in this post – and which there’s therefore no reason for you to see in the post, as it ain’t there to be seen 🙂 Just mentioning, in case it looks as though I’m endorsing Hegel’s notion of critique – I’m instead trying to work out how Marx appropriates this notion, which means a sort of complex dance around trying to see how Marx thinks about Hegel, and then what Marx takes himself to be doing – and then, somewhere much later along the line, trying to work out where I stand in relation to all of this.

    More substantively, though: I think there is a legitimate source for… queasiness with Hegel here – but I don’t personally actually attach that queasiness to the term “advance” – as in, there may be a teleology (assuming here that you’re hearing the term “teleology” in the sense of the historical realisation of some essential endpoint?), and sometimes certainly the language sounds as though there is. But on a generous reading, this term may equally simply capture something that is intrinsic to any kind of critique: the assertion that the critical position is… er… better than the positions it criticises 🙂 So, for example, when you write a critique of Cartesian dualism, or of abstract notions of the primacy of the ideal of individual choice, intrinsic to that critique is the claim that something gets suppressed – that something isn’t being grasped – by approaches that remain with the dualism, or that valorise abstract forms of individualism. We may not like to articulate this by saying we have a more “advanced” position than those we criticise 😉 – we are, though, sort of saying this… 😉

    Hegel steps in at this point and asks: why should anyone believe that the standpoint being expressed in your critique, is any better than the standpoint it criticises? How can you defend your claim, without resorting to dogmatic assertion, appealing to some kind of tradition, or claiming some sort of direct mystical access to God – all moves that Hegel thinks have rightly been ruled out by the enlightenment. What he’s trying to do is to figure out how to address these sorts of challenges – how to say that it is possible to do critique, to make judgements, in the wake of the enlightenment critique of premodern metaphysics. The enlightenment itself doesn’t work for Hegel – he takes it to be a sort of dogmatic assertion of Reason – a critique that itself relied on a dogmatism of either empirical experience or reason. He doesn’t, though, accept that this necessarily drives us toward a sceptical spiral. And so he tries to outline a method that allows for nondogmatic but genuinely critical thought.

    In some respects, his method is quite appealing: no one gets to claim privileged access to tradition or revelation; all positions are plausible, in the sense that they express aspects of a common experience; all positions are interpenetrating to some degree, and point to one another in a way that makes positions accessible without reliance on the authority of the theorist. From here… maybe the appeal declines somewhat 🙂 Because Hegel does focus strongly on a “hard” notion of “necessity” (not, however, causal necessity – but a hard notion of logical necessity) – where, on the one hand, there is plenty of “multiplicity” but, on the other, parts of that multiplicity are more equal than others… 😉 Again, there’s an element of this to any form of critique – I’ve never believed in the “cryptonormative” option for presenting what a critical theory is doing: if we’re criticising something, we’re engaged in the game of saying that, at least in some way, that something is “bad” – and so Hegel’s problem of how we explain how we can do this, within a secular framework, attaches to all of us.

    Still, Hegel’s solution involves a notion of totality, in which everything has its place, and in which the “necessity” of the connections between forms of thought is understood as a good thing, within the framework of the theory. Marx, in my reading, takes over this notion of necessity, but treats it as a kind of symptom – as something that would only be possible under circumstances where people are being constrained in ways that themselves should become the targets, not the standpoint, of the critique. So Marx’s critique could be read, from a certain perspective, as both an acknowledgement that capitalism makes possible something like a Hegelian critique, and as a desire to make that particular form of criticism no longer valid, by the overcoming of the system that can be described by that form of criticism.

    I’m saying, in other words, that Marx would (on my reading) agree with your Levinasian/Derridean critique – to the extent that he would say that a theory that takes its standpoint to be that of the totality, will tend to reproduce the totality. However, Marx would also think that a theory that fails to recognise that a totality is somehow being constituted, would also tend to reconstitute the totality, simply because they don’t know not to, if that makes sense.

    So Marx wants a form of theory that recognises the totality – that theorises it – but that grasps how it’s not quite as totalistic as it presents itself as being – that its “necessity” exists only to the extent that it is reproduced in its current form – but that this process of reproduction is not inevitable, and a standpoint of critique can be found in the “identity of nonidentity and identity” 😉 – in a perspective that both recognises why a process of reproduction tends to take place, and also how that process of reproduction tends constantly to point beyond itself. Marx’s standpoint of critique actually relies on there being things that sit outside the “logic”, alternative conceptions of time, etc.: it’s in the name of such things that his critique speaks. He just doesn’t think he can speak effectively in the name of such possibilities, without also tackling the process of the reproduction of capital that tends, when left undisturbed, to abridge the potential for more of social life to follow such “illogical” paths…

    Sorry if this is a bit scattered: I got very little sleep last night, and so am not responding in my most coherent form… 😉

  5. Adam Leeds January 26, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    On the particular problem with use-value, my favorite reader of Marx encountered it as well and came to what I think is the same solution as you have. I have the passage still bookmarked from citation in an acerbic discussion about the transhistoricity of the category I once had years ago, so I thought I’d add his formulation to the discussion.

    “…the constitution of the duality of the concrete and the abstract by the commodity form of social relations entails the constitution of two different sorts of generality. I have outlined the nature of the abstract general dimension, which is rooted in labor’s function as a socially mediating activity: all forms of labor and labor products are rendered equivalent. This social function of labor, however, also establishes another form of commonality among the particular sorts of labor and labor products– it entails their de facto classification as labor and as labor products. Because any particular sort of labor can function as abstract labor and any labor product can serve as a commodity, activities and products that, in other societies, might not be classified as similar are classified in capitalism as similar, as varieties of (concrete) labor or as particular use values. In other words, the abstract generality historically constituted by abstract labor also establishes “concrete labor” and “use value” as general categories; but this generality is that of a heterogeneous whole, made up of particulars, rather than that of a homogeneous totality.”
    Postone, pp.152-3

  6. N Pepperell January 26, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    lol! :

    my favorite reader of Marx


    Yes – Postone is the most sensitive to this issue, of the commentaries I’ve seen – to the way Marx can be read as taking the “totality” as the target of his critique, and can also be seen as theorising the genesis, via that “totality”, of something far more diverse and disunified, whose realisation is held back by totalising impulses in the reproduction of capital.

    By the way, have you looked at either Sayer or Murray? Given your interest in Postone, you would probably like them as well. (They’re quite different – both from each other and from Postone – but have very nice readings of Marx that are consonant in many ways with Postone’s.)

  7. Adam Leeds January 27, 2008 at 5:41 am

    Thanks to your continual recommending of them, I’ve placed Sayer and Murray on my to-do list, but unfortunately I’m not able to spend much time on Marxist theory at the moment. When I do get to return to it– a much looked-for time!– I will turn to them. Right now I’m slogging through Economy and Society. Do you know of any sensitive readers of that book?

  8. N Pepperell January 27, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Yeah, Economy and Society is a bit of a slog 🙂 Unfortunately I don’t know the secondary literature on Weber that well – it’s been too long since I’ve looked at him closely (and I’ve tended to focus more on his commentaries on religion, and on responses to those). Maybe someone else lurking around will have a suggestion…

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