July 27, 2008

For Max

I could easily post small replies to each of Max's latest posts, but might as well just write another one. I just read through the latest set of his, and each one resonated with me and gave rise to new questions in my mind.

Let's keep it simple and keep it in list format:

Time and Humanism

Regarding the EP Thompson reference, which I have yet to fully read, you're right on that there is a humanism lurking behind the idea that wages and labor-time were an interruption in the otherwise leisurely, pre-capitalist lifeworld of the worker. However, even those writers who do not seek recourse in a mythical, non-alienated past must still make comparisons between the time of capitalism and the time of pre-capitalism. You cite Postone, but Postone famously talks about pre-clock time Europe and China. And Marx himself is always making implicit references to the world before capitalism. What is the alternative?

Perhaps this leaks out into larger questions that continue to pop up periodically in the text and in our posts. What to do about humanism? There are moments where Marx suggests an originary human subject upon which to base his critique, but if we are interested in interpreting Marx in a non-humanistic way, what other foundation is there for this critique? Simply the fair distribution of value to the exploited workers? Or is this even about the working class anymore?


I have a hard time understanding the pairs and pairs of categories Max outlines in Chapter 7 and 8. Perhaps this is just the need for a little clarity. As I am reading it, the dialectic roughly falls along these lines

Use-value Exchange-value
Labor Valorization
Variable Capital Constant Capital
Subjective Objective

Does this look right? And if so, where does this take us? What does it do for our understanding of this process so far? I generally this observation is very, very smart, and I'm impressed by it, but then my second instinct is to ask what is the importance of this reading, which feels so important?

If nothing else it aligns everything back to Chapter one, where use-value seemed to stand in for the subjective, pre-capitalist, pre-objective, pre-exchange historical forms.

Also, I'm not sure why constant capital is treated as part of objective/valorization/exchange-value, however, because if it were to be split along the lines of production and consumption, it would fall on the side of production, no?


Adam said...
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Adam said...

oh, reposting this to correct some confusing typos

I'm very wary about mapping use/exchange onto pre-cap/cap! Instead of dreaded "humanism", is it possible to think of labor, use-value, etc. as part of a "speculative ontology" - reflexive, trans-historical speculation that can take place on the basis of a reading the present (marking the distance between the speculative statement and present structural analysis without turning that distance into a succession from pre-cap to cap). As for Althusser... what exactly disqualifies this kind of philosophical speculation in advance? Is calling a transhistorical concept of labor "humanism" stretching the concept too much?

I mean, you could also read Marx's account of labor as a normative critique of capitalism insofar as it mobilizes a conceptual category generated by the logic of capital against its inherent contradictions (by saying this, I'm not saying that the category is thereby false but that there is a marked difference between the history of the concept of quantifiable labor and those activities including within the history of labor as organized according to a concept that arose after the fact)

Adam said...

my worry is that by to trying to combat all false universals in advance, anti-humanism sometimes descends into a mysticism that upholds the manifold mysteries of existence as a kind of fetish too - human - that thing that can't be named... just trying to figure out if there's a place for valid, political, and entertaining speculation on this point