Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Capital Against Capitalism

So back in Melbourne after attending the Capital Against Capitalism conference in Sydney over the weekend. The event reminded me that I keep meaning to put up the actual submitted version of my doctoral thesis (the version that has been linked under the “Thesis” tab was the penultimate version). The submitted version of the thesis contains a number of changes, clarifications and improvements on the penultimate version, particularly in the chapters on the fetish character of the commodity, and in the discussion of Capital chapter 2, that will hopefully be a bit easier to read and understand.

The book will offer a much more substantial revision of this text, based on what I’ve learned from examiners’ comments, reviewers’ comments on the book manuscript, and the comments of many people who have listed to talks I’ve given since submitting the thesis, where I have been trying out alternative approaches to presenting the basic argument. Among other things, the book will approach the issue of Marx’s relationship to Hegel a bit differently – drawing out more clearly the way in which the achitectonic of Capital as a whole recurrently presents, and then undermines, idealist dialectical presentations – putting these presentations forward, only to undermine them a short while later with much more contingent historical explanations of the same phenomena previously presented idealistically. At the same time, I’ll focus even more strongly on Marx’s humour and the importance of understanding his humour if we want to unpack his argument – how much the work turns on vulgar restagings of the grand and elevated themes of the grandest and most elevated theory and philosophy of Marx’s own time. Although the book will still focus on these same early chapters, I’ll try to give a much clearer sense of how this sort of argument plays out at the level of the whole of volume 1 than I was able to do in the thesis. And I’ll discuss in a much more systematic way the relationship between this reinterpretation and the interpretations of major figures such as Lukács, Rubin, and Sohn-Rethel, using these discussions to develop more clearly than I think I do in the thesis, the stakes of the argument.

But until that’s in the world, I thought I should at least toss the final version of the thesis out…

6 responses to “Capital Against Capitalism

  1. Shane Hopkinson June 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    The conference was great and I enjoyed your presentation and discussion. Wonderful effort of introducing your ideas in under 20 minutes – no mean feat.

    I’d certainly vote for the seeing the submitted thesis (have been reading the draft from this website and finding it illuminating). So please do.



  2. N Pepperell June 29, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Hi Shane – thanks for the kind comments – it was a real squeeze to get something into 20 minutes, and on the day I didn’t quite even fit in what I’d hoped to say… But the discussion after went really well, from my point of view at least – I’m slowly getting more efficient at getting this stuff across…

    The submitted thesis is now available online in PDF form – it should be a better clearer than the draft that’s been posted here for a while. The book will be a much more substantial revision, although the basic gist is there in the thesis…

    Apologies you were held in moderation – anti-spam feature – you should be able to leave comments in the future without being caught…

  3. Paul Rubner July 1, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Nicole,

    It was good to hear your presentation at the conference, and to have the opportunity to meet and talk with you. I must say I’ve never heard anyone else identify the jokes in Capital and discuss their meaning and serious significance!

    I’m not sure I took all of it in at the time of your presentation, but look forward to mulling over it when I get to read your thesis, and the book when published.

    I also found your highlighting Marx’s distinction between his method of investigation and method of presentation important. One of the things it prompted me to think about was the relationship between his method of presentation in Capital ch.1, and his confession of “coquetting” with Hegelian terminology in “the chapter on value”. I don’t know what you think about that…

    As you know, I’m especially interested in Marx’s critique of the Hegelian dialectic and Marx’s own version insofar as it appears in Capital. As my own views on these topics are at this stage rather tentative, I’m very interested to see what you make of all that in the thesis and book.

    Thanks and cheers,


  4. N Pepperell July 2, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Hi Paul – before I had realised that my talk would need to be 15-20 minutes, I had actually planned on titling it “Flirting with Hegel”, and focusing on exactly that question 🙂 Once I realised the time limit, it wasn’t really possible to do more than nod in that direction, although I was interested in your comments on Arthur from your paper, because I think the key characteristics of what he calls the “new dialectic” interpretations of Marx are that:

    (1) they are more sensitive to Marx’s Hegelian language than many other interpretations – which enhances the sense that Marx is engaging with Hegel quite a lot (although, from my point of view, most of these authors still do miss – or at least don’t find it worthwhile to thematise – many of Marx’s Hegelianisms, which I find much more frequent in the text than you’d gather from most other commentaries)

    (2) at the same time, they assume that, if Marx is using Hegelian vocabulary, he must be using this vocabulary in earnest – so you get interpretations of Marx’s method that leave it completely unclear how critical he is of Hegel, and also – I think – often end up hypostatising elements of capitalist production, so that it’s very unclear how you’d get an actual practical critique (since Hegelianised interpretations of Marx tend to make things seem overwhelming in an ontological sense, rather than just, say, overwhelming because there are real problems with hard power).

    From my perspective, when Marx uses Hegelian vocabulary, he’s often taking the piss – either out of Hegel, or out of someone else. Hegelianisms in Capital are very frequently sarcastic. This doesn’t get recognised because, on the one hand, a lot of interpreters don’t want Marx to be like Hegel, and so they disregard or denigrate the Hegelianisms (or just don’t know enough Hegel to recognise when Marx is using them) or, on the other hand, interpreters recognise the Hegelianisms, and therefore want to take them literally – as though the only reason for Marx to be using Hegelian vocabulary would be because he’s endorsing a Hegelian sentiment.

    My approach is instead to try to recognise when Marx is using Hegelian vocabulary – but then to consider the possibility that Marx isn’t using this vocabulary in an entirely serious way – which isn’t to say Marx isn’t making a serious point when he uses this vocabulary. It’s just that the serious point is often that this vocabulary is a bit ridiculous, and that it tends to mask the extent to which the production of capital is a contingent phenomenon that we can analyse with tools far more secular and deflationary than those applied by many forms of theory and philosophy…

  5. Geoff Robinson July 4, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Listening to your very interesting address and your references to Marx’s equations of coats and other goods was suddenly reminded of Thomas Carlye’s 1834 Hegel parody Sartor Resartus which purports to be a commentary on a fictitious German philosopher who was developed a general theory of clothes.
    Reading the 1861-63 manuscripts and the discussion of value is quite different.

  6. N Pepperell July 4, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    That is an absolutely fantastic association!

    One of the things that I think often doesn’t register when people are approaching Marx, is that there is no standard “social science genre” when he’s writing – and critique is often being expressed via parody and satire, in what would now be regarded as “literary” forms. So when working out a style for expressing the sorts of points he was making in Capital, it’s no less intuitive to reach for parody than for positivism…

    (Sorry you were held in moderation – anti-spam measure which shouldn’t affect you in future comments.)

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