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Category Archives: Thesis

Thesis Workshop: Personifying Commodities

Okay. Now we get to the new stuff. The argument put forward in this and the remaining chapters, although it has been discussed on the blog in somewhat abstract terms from time to time, will probably seem at least somewhat new – and at the very least much more fully developed than what I have been able to post here before. This chapter begins to unfold what might seem a somewhat counter-intuitive interpretation of moments in Marx’s text where he writes as though he is reducing other phenomena to an economic or material dimension of social experience that he finds more ontologically fundamental – as though he is making a sort of metaphysical claim about the primacy of the economic. My reading of these passages is that they are attempts to make a very different sort of claim – a claim that is very specific to capitalism, and that attempts to pick out the distinctive qualitative characteristics of a form of sociality that Marx regards as unique to capitalist societies. But better to let those who are curious click through to the actual argument, which makes the case as well as I know how – and will therefore make it better than what I could summarise here.

One funny aspect of drafting and re-drafting: I’ve done a number of essentially stylistic revisions since I got the whole argument roughly into the form I was after. I find it interesting the way my evaluation of chapters changes due to the uneven periodisation of the revision process. This chapter, for example, came out of the original drafting process relatively cleaner and clearer than the other chapters. As a consequence, I’ve been focussing my editing energy on those other chapters, and only very slightly revising this one. So now, doing one further edit tonight, I’m finding myself mildly disappointed in this chapter, because the others have (I think…) now been edited into forms that surpass it… More editing to come I guess… ;-P In any event, I think the chapter is in an adequate state to post it here…

[Note: To read the thesis chapters in order, check the full list under the Thesis Tab. I will update the list as I add chapters, and also eventually publish the PDF of the entire thesis when I submit.]

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Thesis Workshop: With What Must a Science Begin?

Another chapter whose contents may seem largely familiar to regular readers: this chapter deals with Marx’s relationship to Hegel’s Logic, and then, since this chapter is already more or less untethered from the text, it offers a number of other clarifications of aspects of Marx’s method. The chapter tosses around the term “real abstraction” quite often, as though readers will already know what I mean by this term. Folks who have hung around here for a while may well have a sense of this, but the reason I’m being so casual with the term in this chapter is because there is a lengthy discussion of this topic in the opening chapter of the thesis – the chapter I haven’t yet published to the blog, because I have to rethink it now that I know what the thesis will actually say… Hopefully it will be clear enough what I’m about without that information…

I’ve been meaning to mention, for those who haven’t yet seen them, that Limited, Inc. has also been posting a series on Marx recently – among other things, riffing on anthropological themes and – among my favourite topics when thinking about Marx – vulgarity. Where my work on Marx tends to inch its snail’s path through the micro-ecology of the text, Roger’s tends to explode small passages of text, chasing the embers to see where they land, examining what they set alight and, wherever possible, fanning the flames. Something about it reminds me of Marx’s comment from the Grundrisse:

…if we did not find concealed within society as it is the material conditions of production and the corresponding relations of exchange prerequisite for a classless society, then all attempts to explode it would be quixotic. (159)

It’s good stuff: go have a look.

[Note: To read the thesis chapters in order, check the full list under the Thesis Tab. I will update the list as I add chapters, and also eventually publish the PDF of the entire thesis when I submit.]

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Thesis Workshop: Turning the Tables

Okay. Another chapter whose contents will be somewhat familiar to regular readers. This chapter suffers from containing some of the oldest layers of the thesis – points that I have now written in a number of different forms, not only for the thesis itself, but for various conference presentations and journal articles. The result is that it’s quite difficult for me now to “hear” this part of the thesis – or to keep in my head whether I’ve used this material to make a specific point in this version, or if I’m remembering some other presentation of the material. I’ve tried to align the voice of this section so that it is adequate to the things I learned while writing the other chapters – and this process has meant that I have introduced some new content into this chapter, trying to weaving this in as seamlessly as I can. I’m not sure I’ve quite gotten there yet. Work in progress and all that…

[Note: To read the thesis chapters in order, check the full list under the Thesis Tab. I will update the list as I add chapters, and also eventually publish the PDF of the entire thesis when I submit.]

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Thesis Workshop: When Is It Safe to Go on Reading Capital?

I haven’t finished the chapter that will become the proper introduction to the thesis – in part because I have a cold (been fighting it off for weeks – my body obviously figured that, since I have finished my major writing, now must be a good time… ;-P). Below the fold, though, is the first substantive chapter. For those who have followed earlier drafts, this is a substantial rewrite of the first part of the old opening chapter (which I gather from various bits of feedback was too long, and so has now been split into two shorter chapters). It’s considerably clearer about the overarching stakes of the argument than the old version, but it’s still not as “new” as most of the thesis chapters may seem to regular readers here.

I keep considering fleshing out the discussion of Hegel’s Phenomenology – I have good draft material that does this, which I could technically splice in. I keep not including it, however, because the finer points of Hegel’s argument aren’t really important to the argument I’m making in the thesis. So I alternate between wincing because I can explain Hegel’s position much more adequately, and reminding myself that the thesis isn’t about doing justice to Hegel’s work, but only needs to talk about the much more limited topic of how Marx uses Hegel…

Since I haven’t put up a proper introduction, I should provide the context that the thesis focusses on a very close reading of the first six chapters of Capital, concentrating on how Marx effects the shift from the discussion of commodity circulation to the introduction of the category of labour-power. The guiding questions are how we should understand the analysis of “simple commodity circulation” in relation to the argument being made by Capital as a whole – and how the introduction of the category of labour-power transforms rather completely what these early chapters of the text seemed to be attempting to say. These quite specific questions, which provide the narrative thread that holds the thesis together, provide a sort of scaffolding for analysing the presentational and analytical strategy in Capital as a whole, interpreting how Marx understands the standpoint of critique in his text, and unfolding from Capital the nucleus of a quite sophisticated metatheory that casts Marx as offering a fundamentally deflationary, practice-theoretic account of phenomena that are usually explained in a far more mystical way. I’ll try to say all this much better in the proper introduction – just wanted to give some sense of what the thesis is trying to do.

One further idiosyncracy: I deal with the literature almost exclusively in footnotes – a habit I seemed to have picked up during my previous theses. The text has a very complex and cumulative argument to make, and one which runs across a great many different literatures: past experience has shown that it is incredibly distracting for readers when I interrupt the flow of the main argument to go chasing how specific topics have been dealt with by other authors. This strategy causes problems, however, when I reproduce chapters on the blog, since I don’t have a good system for managing footnotes here. When I have this thing properly completed, I’ll put up a PDF that includes the full text. Until then, unfortunately, you are just stuck with my argument, stripped of community context…

I don’t want to flood the blog with thesis chapters, so this post will be the first in a series – I’ll try to put up new chapters every few days or so, as I have time to handle the html. I should emphasise that these are still drafts – lots of cleanup left to do. But they are considerably less drafty than earlier posts and – for those who have followed as I’ve tried to work out pieces of this argument in dribs and drabs on the blog over the past 18 months – should be easier to follow and much more systematic than anything you’ve so far seen.

[Note: To read the thesis chapters in order, check the full list under the Thesis Tab. I will update the list as I add chapters, and also eventually publish the PDF of the entire thesis when I submit.]

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If You Try Sometimes…

Somewhat to my surprise, I realised a few days ago that I’ve finished the final structural draft of my thesis. How could such a milestone sneak up on me by surprise, you ask? Because, of course, like an idiot, I was trying to press a megalomaniacal amount of content into the thesis (I’ve been working from something like 300,000 words of draft material). This was never all going to fit into the word length allowed for the thesis – and I know from experience that my drafts tend to grow with revision, rather than shrink, so I was looking forward to this final major revision with considerable dread.

So I started the revision process working on this particular section. And I kept watching the section grow and grow and… grow… And this section just became utterly cancerous. And, more problematic: although I’m generally quite ruthless with cutting things out of my writing, I liked the narrative and content of the section enough that I really didn’t want to cut any of it out. And, in writing it, I somehow made all the general theoretical points I had intended to make in the thesis – points that I had originally assumed would need to be spread over much more content. And somehow the section just grew so organically, in terms of how the argument was developing, that I let it get completely out of control, until it became 80,000 words long, minus an introduction and conclusion. Since my thesis as a whole is not allowed to be more than 90,000 words… perhaps you see my problem…

So I spent a few days frantically considering how to hack this section to bits, to give myself more room to say the other things I had intended to fit in. I generally don’t hesitate to slash and burn through my own text. But I kept baulking at every notion I had for cutting this text, since the argument is clearer than other attempts I’ve made to communicate similar points. And then suddenly, in the midst of worrying over all this, the frame suddenly shifted, and I realised that I wasn’t looking at a section of my thesis: I was looking at my thesis. Anything else I want to say (and from the pile of papers around me, it would seem there is plenty else I want to say… ;-P), can get said somewhere else. This particular piece is fine as it stands – in many ways better, on a narrative level, than the monster I had been attempting to draft.

Of course, I’m exaggerating to say it’s finished. I’m just now completing another stylistic edit of the whole thing – ironing out terminological inconsistencies and generally trying to make sure that everything flows well and I’ve supported the argument as well as I know how. I need a new introduction, since the work has miraculously become much more focussed since the last time I wrote one… ;-P And I need to write the conclusion. And there is one indispensable bit from the original thesis that I now need to interpolate back into one of the existing chapters, since it relates to a major potential objection to my argument, and the chapter where I had planned to take up this objection, now won’t be included in what I submit. And there is all sorts of other minor bits of cleanup to do.

But basically – in terms of hard yards work: done.

Of course, now all the paranoia sets in over whether it’s substantive enough, whether it’s too obvious, whether it’s nonsense: you all know the drill… I’m burying those anxious thoughts in lots of editing busywork, so hopefully they won’t get too much in the way before it formally goes in.

Soon I’ll toss the chapter drafts up for anyone who wants to have a look (when the thesis is properly finished, I’ll put up a PDF of the whole thing, so folks might want to wait for that version, unless they particularly enjoy reading drafts…). I haven’t quite decided how to get the chapters up without suddenly flooding everyone’s readers with a mass of new posts… But I’ll work that out. For the moment, just popping by to half-celebrate…

More soon…

Resolve and Resignation

Mikhail Emelianov from Perverse Egalitarianism has a new post up on New (Academic) Year Resolutions – a post which he has spun mimetically, asking for responses from a few of us who are known to lurk around those parts… Mikhail resolves to (or wishes for the ability to?) include more complex material in his courses, spend more time on research, and wear a bow tie: what more could any academic want?

Since I live in an inverted country, Mikhail’s tap actually hits me in the middle of my academic year, rather than at the start – making me uncertain whether this gives me an advantage, in that, whatever resolutions I make, I only have to keep for something like another seven weeks… Or whether, weighed down as I am from the detritus of this year and this term, it simply makes it more difficult for me to find any resolve whatsoever… I find myself wondering whether I should perhaps make resolutions about what I would like to have achieved… before the next academic year begins?

First… there is a veritable mountain (well… perhaps more an imposing molehill… but still…) of pieces I need to finalise, in order to send them off for review, where kind reviewers will no doubt shoot them back to me with quite a lot more work still pending than I would hope. I consider this a short-term resolution: something I have resolved to do during this term – during, in fact, the next few weeks… Resolution: that I will actually keep my own deadline.

Second… the current draft of the thesis needs to be completed. Notice the lack of agency in that sentence. The thesis is the actor… It needs to be completed. My resolution, evidently, is agnostic about who, specifically, needs to do the completing… Nevertheless. Completion needs to happen. Actually, technically, it doesn’t – not quite yet – I have more time. But I don’t want more time. So my resolution, I suppose, is to stick to my own deadline, rather than waiting for impending administrative doom to compel completion. So: resolution: thesis, by the end of the Australian summer.

Third… to choose something genuinely removed from my control: I would like to know, before the beginning of the next academic year, that I have a “next academic year”… My current contract ends with the proper calendar year, and so I must soon begin sorting through that overwhelming deluge of desperate job offers that immediately confronts all academics from the humanities and social sciences, as soon as they enter the job market… Right. Resolution: that someone else will resolve that I shouldn’t be summarily expelled from academic space.

So… two resolutions about keeping my own deadlines, and one… wild gesture of random hope…

Not sure whether Mikhail intends this to be passed along further… I’ll open it to the gallery – feel free to add your own resolutions here and elsewhere, if the mood strikes…

Scratchpad: Peculiar Commodities

Not a lot of substantive writing (or, indeed, writing of any kind) around here lately – apologies. Aside from the struggle to get on top of an unanticipated teaching load, I’ve been trundling through the process of revising various talks I’ve given in the last several months, so that they are in proper form to send off to journals. Since the contents of the talks are generally already available on the blog, and the revision process is not leading to any startling new insights, this process hasn’t been creative for new writing for the blog… Unfortunately, this relatively uncreative period will likely continue for the next few weeks, so things may remain light.

I have been toying, though, with the issue of how to voice the next chapter of the thesis – trying to cash out the narrative line I suggested in the reworked first chapter that was initially workshopped in the Goldsmiths talk. The contents of this second chapter – which follow the thread from the first chapter, to show how Marx introduces the category of labour power – have already been presented here and elsewhere in a different narrative form: my goal at the moment is to try to develop a presentation of this content that hugs the text a bit more closely, drawing attention, as the first chapter of the thesis does, to the voicing and dramatic structure of Marx’s text.

One aspect of Marx’s textual strategy in the early chapters is the constant overt assertion that the commodity is just a “thing”, an object “outside us” – a passive and inert entity. These assertions will come to be inverted with the introduction of the category of labour power – the first major inversion within the text (there are a number of more minor inversions en route to this point – including the “scholastic” demonstrations of dialectical method from the third section of the first chapter: incidentally, for those who have been following David Harvey’s lectures on Capital, I noted that his reaction to what I see as Marx’s critical/ironic scholastic performances of dialectical method, was to comment on how turgid and laboured these passages are – how boring. This stilted “voicing” of the third section is not the only reason I take this third section to be a “character actor”, rather than a straightforward expression of Marx’s position, but it is one of the reasons. Considering the possibility that the different voices or stylistic registers of the text, might themselves be part of the argument being made, at times shifts significantly the sense of the text…)

In any event, for reasons I’ve discussed in various places, Marx cannot begin Capital with the category of labour power – and yet his argument, ultimately, will be that this category has always already been presupposed by the categories he does unfold at the outset. While the text remains largely immanently voiced in these early sections – remaining within the ambit of perspectives that see the commodity as “a thing outside us” – Marx does offer a number of subtle textual gestures that destabilise this perspective, even in the course of presenting it. My rough thought is that the second chapter probably needs to begin with a discussion of these destabilisations, before moving into the material I’ve written about in other places: an outline of the specific argument through which Marx unfolds the category of labour power – that “peculiar commodity” whose characteristics invert those that have been attributed to the commodity to that point – and exception that, as it will turn out, provides the foundation point for the very phenomena that seem to contradict it.

Below is a very rough list – which I almost certainly won’t retain in this form – that begins to play with how I might present these destabilisations…

***

As discussed in chapter 1, the problem of the opening chapter of Capital is how to grasp the wealth of capitalist society. That chapter runs through various options: perhaps the wealth of capitalist society consists in an empirically-sensible, material object; perhaps it consists in some supersensible property that lies behind what can be perceived by the senses; perhaps it consists in a dynamic relation. Each of these options, however, remains within the explicit ambit of considering the commodity to be a thing “outside us”. The purloined Hegelian plot of this chapter suggests already that this will not be a stable assumption – that consciousness, seeking certainty of its object, will be driven to the realisation that it has been its own object all along. By appropriating Hegel’s plot to express his concerns in Capital, Marx foreshadows that the commodity must somehow be… us.

Other hints are scattered through the opening chapters, particularly in footnotes that offer what must, in retrospect if not at the time, be read as deeply ironic commentary on the positions being espoused in the main text. In a footnote to the dialectical section of the first chapter, for example, Marx offers:

In a certain sense, a man is in the same situation as a commodity. As he neither enters the world in possession of a mirror, nor as a Fichtean philosopher who can say ‘I am I’, a man first sees and recognizes himself in another man. Peter only relates to himself as a man through his relation to another man, Paul, in whom he recognizes his likeness. With this, however, Paul also becomes from head to toe, in his physical form as Paul, the form of appearance of the species man for Peter. (p. 144, ftnt. 19).

The text frequently appeals to the image of the commodity as a woman – and as a potential or actual prostitute – to destabilise the notion that the commodity is a “thing” that must therefore passively be brought to market and sold by human action outside it. The reference to Dame Quickly that marks the transition between the empiricist and transcendental voices, and the dialectical voice, opens the space for this metaphor. Marx asserts here in the main text:

The objectivity of commodities as values differs from Dame Quickly in the sense that ‘a man knows not where to have it’.

The Shakespearean play being referenced (Henry IV, Part 1, Act 3, Scene 3) involves a suggestive discussion between Falstaff, who claims, “Why, she’s neither fish nor flesh; a man knows not where to have her”, and Dame Quickly, who replies, “Thou art an unjust man in saying so: thou or any man knows where to have me, thou knave, thou!” Explicit reference to prostitution is more overt in the opening to the second chapter, where the main text tells us:

Commodities cannot themselves go to market and perform exchanges in their own right. We must, therefore, have recourse to their guardians, who are possessors of commodities. Commodities are things, and therefore lack the power to resist man. If they are unwilling, he can use force; in other words, he can take possession of them. (178)

The main text therefore reiterates that commodities are things that “cannot themselves go to market and perform exchanges in their own right” – and yet the footnote hanging from the final sentence of this passage destabilises this claim with a reference to prostitutes selling their services at a medieval fair:

In the twelfth century, so renowned for its piety, very delicate things often appear among these commodities. Thus a French poet of the period enumerates among the commodities to be found in the fair of Lendit, alongside clothing, shoes, leather, implements of cultivation, skins, etc., also ‘femmes folles de leur corps‘. (178, ftnt 1)

The prostitute figures as a sometime tacit, sometime explicit, reference point as Marx draws attention to the corrosive, relativistic practices involved in commodity exchange. So Marx characterises the commodity in the second chapter:

A born leveller and cynic, it is always ready to exchange not only soul, but body, with each and every other commodity… (179)

And then, bringing the reference to the exchange of bodies more explicitly in relation to prostitution, money in the third chapter:

Since money does not reveal what has been transformed into it, everything, commodity or not, is convertible into money. Everything becomes saleable and purchasable. Circulation becomes the great social retort into which everything is thrown, to come out again as the money crystal. Nothing is immune from this alchemy, the bones of the saints cannot withstand it, let alone more delicate res sacrosancte, extra commercium hominum. (229)

A convoluted footnote expands on the content hidden away with the Latin phrase, as Marx makes a somewhat forced connection that:

With the Phoenicians, a trading people par excellence, money was the transmuted shape of everything. It was, therefore, quite in order that the virgins who at the feast of the goddess of love gave themselves to strangers should offer to the goddess the piece of money they received in payment. (229, ftnt 2)

These passages destabilise the presupposition still explicitly structuring the main text, that the commodity can be firmly divided off into a separate world of “objects” that subsists completely independently of the world of humankind. Some “objects” that apparently count as commodities have peculiar properties – they self-evidently can take themselves to market and perform exchanges in their own right. At the same time, commodities and money are portrayed as corrosive entities that recognise no natural boundaries – as categories that desire to spill across and undermine ontological distinctions, to exchange themselves and thus incorporate whatever might persist outside. The text is teasing the reader with the question of how stable, exactly, is the ontological boundary that separates the commodity into some other world firmly distinct from our own.

Like the footnote on Barbon analysed in the last chapter, these gestures have the effect of destabilising the claims articulated by the voice speaking in the main text, hinting at some sort of non-identity between the position being explicitly articulated, and the critical standpoint of the broader text. In this case, these destabilising gestures point toward the direction of the argument that is gradually being unspooled, as the main text traces back the presuppositions of the initial categories: an argument that, in spite of their own explicit claims, these early categories tacitly presuppose the existence of what Marx will call the “peculiar commodity” of labour power. I will quickly sketch the major moves that enable Marx to make this tacit presupposition overt.

to be continued…

Thesis Problem of the Day

I have this section of my thesis that is effectively homeless. Or at least peripatetic. I keep moving it around from place to place. Internally, it’s fine. It does its job. It reads okay. But it’s like a picture hanging on a wall that is always just slightly out of kilter – everywhere I try to situate it in the thesis just… irritates me. It interrupts the flow, kills the argumentative momentum. But I think I can’t shake the sense that I “ought” to have this section somewhere in the thesis, it’s too long to tuck into a footnote, and yet doesn’t feel comprehensive enough to justify moving it to an appendix. Basically, the section is really annoying me. ;-P

What it does, is to make a textual case that Marx intends to construct Capital as a sort of Hegelian “science” – a textual case that this was, in some sense, “the plan”. As currently written, it makes this case in a very non-comprehensive way. It takes one illustrative example from the Grundrisse, and one from “Results of the Direct Production Process” – both of which are fairly direct illustrations in full Hegelian regalia of the sorts of claims I’m making – and then talks a little bit about the much more subtle hints in the first chapter of Capital. This is not exactly what you’d call an exhaustive demonstration of the point. I say this because it would be possible to pull together many, many, many more passages across these and other works that can be used to pile up evidence for this argument. So this section is at best illustrative – a sort of demonstration to the reader that my perception that the text is using this strategy, isn’t solely an inference, but also has some more conventional sort of archival evidence to back it up. It doesn’t, however, really seek to mobilise archival material as a major reason a reader should buy into my interpretation of Marx’s method. So there’s a base-covering element to the section – which I think is part of what annoys me about it.

Another part of what annoys me about it is that I read wonderful discussions of archival evidence periodically by people who simply do a much better and more comprehensive job of assembling this evidence than I do. Every time this happens, I think, “you know, my discussion of this is really half-assed”. Then I think, “But I’m not really writing a piece on archival evidence for a particular dimension of Marx’s method, so I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on this issue”. And so I end up keeping my little illustrative bit. But I continue to shove it around, in the vain hope of finding some place I can deposit it, where it doesn’t feel like it interrupts the flow of my argument, which largely tends to move from section to section by setting up some puzzle or problem presented by the reading thus far, which I’ll then try to resolve in the following section. None of these puzzles or problems intrinsically suggest that it would be interesting to go on a detour into a “proof text” for the sort of reading I’ve presented reconstructively, where the thrust of my argument has been “if we read the text with certain assumptions about method in mind, we can open some more powerful and interesting interpretations”. The reconstructive presentation keeps the focus on how the text can help us confront certain theoretical problems – so that those problems are central in my argument. What seems to happen (from my point of view at least) when I shift from reading Marx in a certain way, to trying to put forward evidence that Marx intends certain things, is that the focus of my argument is thrown into something where commentary on Marx becomes the end, rather than a means to something else I’m trying to understand… At the same time, some of the “proof texts” are far more unequivocal than anything I can do reconstructively. It’s difficult, for example, to get past a passage like this from the “Results of the Direct Production Process”, when trying to establish very clearly that Marx has Hegel’s “science” in mind when constructing his argument:

The commodity, as the elementary form of bourgeois wealth, was our starting point, the presupposition for the emergence of capital. On the other hand, commodities now appear as the product of capital.

The circular course taken by our presentation, on the one hand, corresponds to the historical development of capital, one of the conditions for the emergence of which is the exchange of commodities trade in commodities; but this condition itself is formed on the basis provided by a number of different stages of production which all have in common a situation in which capitalist production either does not as yet exist at all or exists only sporadically. On the other hand, the exchange of commodities in its full development and the form of the commodity as the universally necessary social form of the product first emerge as a result of the capitalist mode of production.

If, in contrast, we consider societies where capitalist production is fully developed, the commodity appears there as both the constant elementary presupposition of capital and, on the other hand, as the direct result of the capitalist production process.

And:

[We proceed from the commodity, this specific social form of the product, as the basis and the presupposition of capitalist production. We take the individual product in our hands and analyse the formal determinations it contains as a commodity, which mark it out as a commodity… commodity circulation, and money circulation within certain limits, hence a certain degree of development of trade, are the presupposition, the starting point of capital formation and the capitalist mode of production. It is as such a presupposition that we treat the commodity, since we proceed from it as the simplest element in capitalist production. On the other hand, the commodity is the product, the result of capitalist production. What appears as its first element is later revealed to be its own product, and the more this production develops, the more do all the ingredients of production enter into the production process as commodities.]

The commodity as it emerges from capitalist production is determined differently from the commodity as it was at the starting point, as the element, the presupposition, of capitalist production. We started with the individual commodity as an independent article in which a specific quantity of labour time was objectified, and which therefore had an exchange value of a given magnitude.

Henceforth the commodity appears in a dual determination:

(1) What is objectified in it, apart from use value, is a specific quantity of socially necessary labour, but whereas in the commodity as such it remains entirely undetermined (and is in fact a matter of indifference) from whom this objectified labour derives, etc., the commodity as the product of capital contains in part paid, and in part unpaid labour…..

(2) The individual commodity not only appears materially as a part of the total product of the capital, as an aliquot part of the amount produced by it. Now we no longer have in front of us the individual, independent commodity, the individual product. It is not individual commodities which appear as the result of the process, but a mass of commodities in which the value of the capital advanced + the surplus value, the appropriated surplus labour, has been reproduced. Each of these individual commodities is a repository of the value of the capital and the surplus value produced by it. The labour applied to the individual commodity can no longer be calculated at all – if only because this would be a calculation of the average, hence a notional estimate….

(3) The commodity now reveals itself as such – as the repository of the total value of the capital + the surplus value, as opposed to the commodity which originally appeared to us as independent – as the product of capital in reality as the converted form of the capital which has now been valorised – in the scale and the dimensions of the sale which must take place in order that the old capital value may be realised, along with the surplus value it has created. To achieve this it is by no means enough for the individual commodities or part of the individual commodities to be sold at their value.

And so on… On one level, these sorts of passages illustrate the claims I’m making about Marx’s appropriation of Hegel’s method in a clear and definitive way. On another level, these passages also introduce other sorts of (extremely interesting) issues, but prematurely, with reference to what I’m trying to discuss in the early chapters, where I’m making preliminary claims about Marx’s relationship to Hegel in order to get the narrative underway. So there’s a problem created by the need to draw a reader’s attention to how these texts support the claims I’m making about Marx’s method, without getting distracted into interpreting these passages themselves… And there’s simply the problem that introducing a section that talks about textual evidence of Marx’s intentions, seems to me to keep interrupting the flow of my argument…

I’ve been toying with the question of whether I can deal with this problem with a slightly more elaborate version of what I did for the conference paper. There, I said that I would leave aside the whole issue of textual evidence for Marx’s intentions, and instead ask what difference it would make for our reading, if we approached the text with certain key assumptions in mind (assumptions I had derived from an interpretation of Hegel’s method). I’m toying with the idea of doing something similar in the thesis, via pointing to the various works whose express purpose is to demonstrate this sort of connection between Hegel and Marx – so to include just a couple of sentences or a paragraph in transition from Hegel to Marx, mentioning that better scholars than I had done wonderful work on this issue, and so I’ll presuppose certain things as given, based on their work, and focus instead on how the text opens up, when we confront it with those premises. My hesitation here is that there are differences – sometimes slight, but sometimes significant – between how I personally read both Hegel and Marx, and the readings that inform other attempts to demonstrate the Hegelian underpinnings of Marx’s work. So, while I think it’s been fairly well-illustrated that Marx intends Capital as a “science” in a certain Hegelian sense, and a few of the authors who think this also share a similar conception of how the derivation of categories works, at least in a general sense, any works I might cite will also be making claims about Marx, Hegel, or both that don’t entirely jibe with my reading – and I don’t want to act as though I’m implying that other scholarship supports what I’m doing, more than it actually does. And, of course, launching off onto a long digression about how, exactly, I differ from a number of specific works that address this issue, carries much the same disadvantages as just outlining my own textual evidence: it distracts from the flow of the argument into a side issue…

I’m sure this all makes scintillating reading… ;-P Just depositing the problem here to see if the process of complaining about it, helps me work out a better strategy for writing my way around it…

Scratchpad: The Greatest Difficulty (No Kidding…)

all work and no play makes jack a dull boyOkay. Below the fold, one substantially – substantially – revised version of my previous attempt to develop a sort of programmatic chapter, outlining the broad brush-strokes of how I’m attempting to approach Capital in the thesis. This version sucks much less than the previous version – it’s decent enough that I would even post it to the main page, except that it’s simply too long (@12,000 words, for those tempted to peer below the fold). This time around, I managed not to forget my main argument while writing the piece. Hopefully this version comes a little closer to addressing some of the fantastic questions Alexei raised in relation to the previous iteration – it’s impossible for me to express how valuable such thoughtful, sympathetic critiques are in the formation of this project, particularly when, as Alexei did, someone takes the time to offer such criticisms with reference to an incredibly crude and… er… speaking frankly, deeply problematic version of the argument I was trying to make.

There are elements with which I’m still fairly uncomfortable. I’ve used, for example, a language of “embodied cognition” in some programmatic bits of the text. While this is a useful shorthand for some of what I’m trying to say about Marx’s argument, it’s also not completely accurate – at least, I don’t think it is… But for the moment, it’s somehow sneaked its way into the text, perhaps to be replaced by something more adequate later on.

There are also elements that are still, essentially, placeholders – the discussion of Phenomenology of Spirit, for example, may well be replaced by a discussion of the treatment of essence and appearance from the Logic – but I haven’t decided yet, and I’m ready to write on these issues in relation to Phenomenology, whereas I’m not quite ready to do this in relation to the Logic, so I’ve written the version that I can include now, in order to give readers at least some sense of what I want to argue in that portion of the chapter.

There is a lot of stylistic chaos in the piece – particularly in the final half, which I still find myself substantially revising each time I look at the text. A few parts have survived relatively unscathed since the previous version: the first two pages are similar, as is the summary of Hegel’s “With What Must the Science Begin?” Everything else is completely new, and therefore as raw, in its own way, as the draft I tossed onto the blog last time. I think this version has a clearer sense of what it’s trying to do, and I hope the internal structure is adequate to render the connections between the various sections clear, and that the piece provides sufficient background along the way that readers aren’t having to struggle to figure out what I am trying to argue. We’ll see…

The text loses something from having the footnotes excised: I write a lot of footnotes, often make substantive points in them, and engage with other literature primarily in this apparatus. It’s unfortunately clumsy to reproduce such things on the blog. As with the previous version, there are heavy debts here to Patrick Murray (for his work on Capital as a Hegelian “science”), Derek Sayer (for his work on Marx’s methodological eclecticism), and Moishe Postone (for his work on Capital as an immanent critical theory), as well as passing references to many others. I’m happy to clarify these sorts of debts in the comments, if anyone is curious.

I owe a very different sort of debt to certain people who have been putting up with my various thesis-related freakouts off the main page 🙂 Everyone who walks within range at the moment gets an earful of speculation about how Marx understands the relationship between essence and appearance. I suspect somehow that most folks don’t find this topic quite as enthralling as I seem to at the moment. I’m therefore particularly grateful to the ones who haven’t yet started running the other direction whenever they see an email from me 🙂 Such support is more deeply appreciated than you can know. You’re welcome to “out” yourselves here if you’d like, but otherwise I’ll keep under wraps that you get sneak peeks of ideas that are too ill-formed even to toss up on the blog. ;-P

Below the fold for the piece itself… Although I am still revising this piece, and working on the following chapter, there is a real sense in which working out what I’ve posted below really has been the “greatest difficulty” for me. I’m going to take a break from the blog and from all forms of writing for the rest of the day, but I will hopefully find time tomorrow at least to update the list of posting related to the Science of Logic reading group, which has seen a burst of inspired reflections over at Now-Times during the period when I’ve exiled myself from blogging to get this other writing done. Read more of this post

Spectral Supervision

karl marxMy office at the university is part of a string of offices that, although private and enclosed, have a section at the top of their walls that is glass, meaning that we can each see into the upper fifth or so of one another’s rooms. The day that I started this round of revision in earnest, a new neighbour moved into the office next door. There is only one spot in their office visible to me when I’m seated writing at my computer. In that spot, they have hung a gigantic poster of Karl Marx.

Whenever I pause in my writing, trying to make sense of what I should say next, I tend to look away from my computer. The automatic direction of my gaze? That poster. Karl stares me down, cheerfully, but insistently, every time I stall in my writing.

And the name of the person occupying the office next door?

Engels.