Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Now That’s Gotta Hurt

So Nate’s book meme pointed me back to a work Mike Beggs had recommended to me ages ago – the volume Value: The Representation of Labour in Capitalism, edited by Diane Elson (1979). As often happens in the midst of PhD research, I had gone through the book really quickly, decided I wanted to go through it more carefully as there’s a lot in it that is potentially valuable for me – and then of course left it sitting by my computer for several months, staring at me, a high enough priority to be the “closest book” to me when Nate’s meme hit – but without quite getting around to doing that more careful read…

It’s really a fantastic collection. I’m meant to be writing on Diane Elson’s piece, which is very good, and which a number of people have mentioned in relation to my work, as she also uses a formulation I tend to use – that Marx is not presenting a “labour theory of value”, but something more like a “value theory of labour”. There are overlaps and also differences of emphasis in our respective arguments – and I will try to write a post on those points of contact and disjunction soon. Now that I’m looking at the book again, though, I’m finding myself drawn to some of the other articles in the collection.

This morning I was looking at Jairus Banaji’s “From the Commodity to Capital: Hegel’s Dialectic in Marx’s Capital“, which sketches a very good account of Marx’s appropriation of Hegel, while sparring along the way with other readings of Marx that fail to recognise the Hegelian subtext. Althusser receives particularly pointed criticism for his suggestion that readers just skip over the first part of Capital on an initial read – a recommendation that, I must admit, does somewhat send the shudders through anyone who reads Capital as an appropriation of the Hegelian concept of “science”. Banaji probably sees Marx as a more consistent Hegelian than I do – and he may well be correct in this view – I’ve tended to read more critical intention into Marx’s use of Hegel’s method, and I also read a stronger practice-theoretic argument about the formation of subjectivity into Marx. So my Marx (to formulate this point quite anachronistically) has a fair bit of Durkheim mixed in with his Hegel. Regardless, Banaji’s article is an excellent presentation of the textual evidence for the “Hegelian” structure of Capital – making very similar arguments about the first chapter, and also casting a quick net over the whole three volumes, which I’ve barely had time to wink at in my writings here. This article does a lot of work in a very short space.

It also – and this, I have to confess, is what actually motivated me to write this post – flings some very funny barbs at opposing readings. This volume as a whole is a bit on the snarky side, and I find myself often laughing at the way the snark bursts out the seams of what are often otherwise fairly careful, well-developed, academic presentations – I find the disjoint very entertaining, even where the barbs occasionally land in my general direction… ;-P But the closing sentence of Banaji’s piece saw me burst out laughing on the tram, coming into work. How’s this for a concluding image:

…one of the most striking manifestations of the underlying crisis in the movement as a whole is the contemporary state of Western Marxism – the ecstatic leap from the uppermost floors of an imposing skyscraper of immobilised dogma to the granite pavements of confused eclecticism. (40)


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