Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough


I’ve banned myself from substantive writing until I finish the remnants of my marking, but wanted to point to interesting things happening elsewhere.

First, for those who haven’t seen, Praxis is heading into blogging hiatus – I suspect very much not in order to enable greater laziness, as claimed. 🙂 A medium-term blog holiday, Praxis suggests – so a return to look forward to, in the longer term.

Second, Drew over at Contaminations has a beautiful post up, riffing off some of the ideas Praxis and I have been bouncing around about Derrida’s elision of the “hands” from Marx’s fetish discussion. Drew suggests the hands in question might be Heidegger’s:

the hand, which is intimately caught up with the thought and speech for Heidegger, and therefore thought is the primordial handicraft, that is production and the source of all technics (and Derrida notes that Heidegger refers to Marx here). The hand, so emphasised by Heidegger, is caught up in all the metaphysical themes, according to Derrida, that Heidegger wants to think beyond. Derrida traces all of this in interesting directions to do with national socialism and animality and sexual difference (the resonances of geschlecht).

This seems right to me – but just to double check a point with Drew, while I’m thinking about it: Derrida has scattered through the text various sorts of references to the spectrality of technics – of production. Part of what I hear in his critique of Marx is a criticism of a position that is quite common in certain forms of Marxism: Marx is heard as a theorist who believes that “in reality” labour determines material reproduction in capitalism, but capitalist social relations (the market and private property) obscure this role. When Marx is read this way, the fetish passage sounds like a critique of (in Derrida’s terms) the spectrality inappropriately imposed by the market, on relations that, absent this spectrality, could become fully transparent. Marx is then understood as wanting to exorcise this spectrality – to reveal the truth that has been obscured by capitalist social relations, so that what is already an underlying reality – the centrality of labour – can be allowed to come into its own, and structure social life openly. I take this to be the sort of Marxism – or the particular spirit of Marx – that Derrida finds in the fetish passage.

Against this, I hear Derrida as both asserting that the spectral cannot be separated from technics or production in the way this reading of Marx suggests – that production is always already haunted, such that the abolition of exchange value could not abolish the spectre. And I also hear a critique, not just of this particular attempt to abolish the spectral, but also a critique more generally of attempts to ground critical standpoints in some ideal of a fully “transparent” or “intelligible” social reality – a critique of the notion of critical standpoint as something that emerges from a process of “unveiling” or of stripping away of the artificial, in order to reveal some more fundamental reality underneath.

So Derrida… hides the hands – exorcises the specific move through which Marx, in Derrida’s reading, claims to be able to strip aside the veil of exchange value, to reveal the underlying reality of labour. Derrida takes away this gesture toward an “underlying reality”, in order to preserve the ghost that haunts the non-identity of the context – and in order to selectively inherit Marx in a form different from that manifested in the Soviet inheritance.

Happy to be corrected on any of this – just my working thoughts on the kind of Marxism (the particular spirit of Marx) Derrida sees in the fetish passage. My question for you (Drew, that is 🙂 ) is: how compatible is what I’m writing, with the claims you are putting forward about the dialogue with Heidegger? In other words, I don’t see our points as at all incompatible – I agree that the Heideggerian referent is there, although it’s not what I’ve been trying specifically to tease out – but I’m curious whether you see a tension – whether the specific way you see Derrida to be speaking to Heidegger, suggests a different sort of critique in play when he hides the hands? Or just another layer to that critique – a layer directed (as I think it clearly is) more broadly than just at Marxism or Marx? Just curious, if you have time, if you’d like to comment specifically on this.

And third: Nate over at what in the hell… has a fantastic post up – covering a great deal of ground but, of particular interest to me, reflecting on the issue of continuity and epochal shifts, with specific reference to post-operaisti theory. A taste:

Lotta Continua dissolved in part over an incident I forget when, maybe 1973 or 1974, where men from their group got into a physical confrontation with an all women’s feminist march. Leaving aside moral outrage (which is sufficient for me, but is not the terrain of marxist analysis), if reproductive labor is value productive by this point – as Negri et al say it becomes in the passage to the new epoch – then this was at best a serious error with bad results for the interests of the working class/multitude. If reproductive labor was not then value productive, then the act was wrong (a tactical miss-step and patriarchal bullshit) but the analysis which said that the women’s movement was a distraction may have been more right.

This last kind of thing is a big deal for me, and wherever we set the goal posts we could find a similar situation of ostensibly radical men telling women (or whites telling people of color or …) that the time was not yet ripe for their struggle. The post-operaisti claims to epochal shifts strike me as serving a valuable function in undermining those sorts of “now is not the time yet” claims in the present because the time now is definitely pretty ripe for these cats (this is one of the things I like about that material; incidentally one of the earlier sources for material on the Italian situation was a journal/pamphlet published in Ireland called The Ripening of the Time) and if that’s all that matters then maybe I’m just off base here, but I think it’s an important gap that this material does not help at all in asking previously if other previous moments, “now’s” which are now over, were _also_ the time, as in they had a shot at it. Because lurking in the back of this epochal stuff is a sort of implied “no, then was not the time” kind of moment. Hardt and I got into an argument about this at a conference, friendly but no less an argument, I was trying to push him about the Diggers and other forebears in struggle that I think matter a great deal for us in the present. He finally said “look, then why wasn’t there a revolution in England back then?” with the implication being that it couldn’t be done yet. That’s what most bothers me about all this epoch stuff.

As always with Nate’s posts, much much more in the original.

4 responses to “Elsewheres

  1. Drew June 30, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    Hi NP,

    Thanks for the questions – I’m certainly glad of the chance to discuss 🙂

    The way I have read it thus far is that the general critique takes priority over the specific point about Marx. To me, this seems to fit with the limits of the gesture that Derrida is making towards Marx – the emphasis on inheritance etc.

    But this is also because I am weak on Marx (how did I manage to do a history degree and not learn any Marx?), and playing catch-up somewhat. I’m beginning to see some patterns between the way Derrida reads Husserl, Heidegger, Austin, and now Marx, based around the temporal order (not sure if that is the best way to say it) of the founding of their arguments. This goes back to Derrida’s very first readings of Husserl. I’ll try and flesh these out this week.

    Now, your account seems to chime with my reading pretty well. But the particular exorcism that is in view here, I think Derrida wants to question the limits that Marx puts on ‘production’ here; that is, I think Derrida is eroding the difference that the analogy presumes upon.

    I’ll try and chase this up a bit more shortly.

    A further comment; Derrida obviously wants to transform the meaning of the passage, as you say. Also, I think he wants us to notice the erasure. You don’t talk about the trace that erasure makes, and then innocently leave elipses in the middle of a text. I think you guys have located a significant moment, but unravelling it will prove a task far beyond one conference paper…

  2. N Pepperell June 30, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Hey Drew – Thanks for this. I had emphasised much more strongly in my original post, that I take it that the reader is intended to notice this gesture – it’s foreshadowed heavily, and he also modifies the original lectures so as to underscore it even more in the written form (although, as rob says, it’s complex, as the “point” of the text doesn’t exactly live or die on this particular gesture – nevertheless, a great deal of the text does seem to draw attention to it).

    And: absolutely we don’t intend to claim to unpack this in a single conference paper 🙂 We are currently planning a couple of pieces, tackling slightly different aspects of this – but without claiming that those would be particularly more comprehensive than a single piece would be. 🙂

    Also not trying to suggest that the piece lives or dies on the argument about Marx – it’s clear that there are more general points being made, on Marx’s corpus, so to speak. I am, though, interested in trying to understand this as a reading of Marx, and as an intervention into the question of how we should deal with other appropriations of Marx and with the legacy of Soviet claims to Marx. There are elements of Derrida’s reading of Marx that highlight things that I think are very important, that are often overlooked (the whole issue of the supersensible, for example) – and the central question of how to deal with Marx, given the history of how his works have been appropriated: this is a question that shouldn’t be shuffled aside… (Not that you were suggesting this, just providing some coordinates, so to speak, for my orientation to the text.)

    And I agree that Derrida is contesting what he sees as the boundaries Marx draws between and around production and exchange. My own reading sees Marx doing something much more… deconstructive with these categories than Derrida takes Marx to be – which means that, weirdly, I find Marx more compatible with some of where Derrida is trying to go, than Derrida might realise (which also makes me more sympathetic to Derrida than many Marxist critics of this text). But lots more work still to do (and my background is such that I’m necessarily approaching this via Marx and the intellectual history of Marxism, which will result in a sort of side-on confrontation with Derrida’s text, although I’m trying to work my into a more immanent view of the text as I go…).

    Many thanks for this – nice to work a bit in tandem. 🙂

  3. Nate July 2, 2008 at 4:33 am

    hey NP,
    Thanks for the kind words. Sorry I’ve been mostly MIA/much less responsive these days. While I’m happy about the whole historian thing I find the training is really exhausting and hard for me to manage, makes it hard to write blog posts and have online discussion in the way I’d like to. Many, many things that I want to return to, having never given them the attention I want to. If I can find my copy of the Derrida I may respond a bit on that stuff.
    Hope you’re well.
    take care,

  4. N Pepperell July 2, 2008 at 7:48 am

    Would welcome your responses, if you have the time – I know what you mean, though, about how difficult it can be to find the time. I’ve been thinking about what I need to juggle, to write what I write now, versus what I juggled when I was doing more social historical work: there’s just a vastly greater amount of stuff, when you’re writing on social history, to keep track of and to try to integrate…

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