Books Three Things
posted by July 18 at 11:04 AMon
In simple circulation, C-M-C [Commodity-Money-Commodity], the value of commodities attained at the most a form independent of their use-values [satisfying a need—hunger, shelter, warmth, and so on], i.e., the form of money; but that same value now in the circulation M-C-M [Money-Commodity-Money], or the circulation of capital, suddenly presents itself as an independent substance, endowed with a motion of its own, passing through a life-process of its own, in which money and commodities are mere forms which it assumes and casts off in turn. Nay, more: instead of simply representing the relations of commodities, it enters now, so to say, into private relations with itself. It differentiates itself as original value from itself as surplus-value; as God differentiates himself as God and Son, yet both are one and of one age: for only by the surplus-value of £10 does the £100 originally advanced become capital, and so soon as this takes place, so soon as the Son, and by the Son, the Father, is created, so soon does their difference vanish, and they again become one, £110.
In all honesty, I’m more amazed (enchanted) by the manner rather than the matter of Marx’s writing.
Marx must be updated by Manuel De Landa, in the way that Bruno Latour is updating Gabriel Tarde, and António Rosa Damásio is updating Spinoza. Through Damásio, for example, we learn that the mind is in fact “the idea of the body.” The mind is a Spinozistic representation of the whole body. What De Landa can do for Marx, and what Latour is doing for Tarde’s theory of society (which is governed by the laws of imitation), and Damásio is doing for Spinoza’s theory of the body and emotions (the affects), is to connect the best points in Marx’s theory (labor-power, social metabolism, the realization of the world market) to discoveries made in the biological sciences and the growing presence of cyberspace.
Three things I recently learned from Bruno Latour. One, the public as a phantom rather than a body. He got the idea from a book by Walter Lippmann, Phantom Public. The idea works like this: The public is a kind of passing through, a monstrous movement, an uneasy feeling that is not clear or singular. The feeling, the movement, the mood is confused and drifting.
According to Lippmann and to the philosopher John Dewey in response to his book,  most of European political philosophy has been obsessed by the body and the state. They have tried to assemble an impossible parliament that represented really the contradictory wills of the multitude into one General Will. But this enterprise suffered from a cruel lack of realism. Representation, conceived in that total, complete and transparent fashion, cannot possibly be faithful. By asking from politics something it could not deliver, Europeans kept generating aborted monsters and ended up discouraging people to think politically. For politics to be able to absorb more diversity (“the Great Society” in Dewey’s time and what we now call “Globalization”), it has to devise a very specific and new type of representation. Lippmann calls it a Phantom because it’s disappointing for those who dream of unity and totality. Yet strangely enough, it is a good ghost, the only spirit that could protect us against the dangers of fundamentalism.
Another idea is the separation of object from thing. The philosophical tools that make this distinction possible are Heideggerian—Gegenstand/Ding. An object is simply an object—Gegenstand; a thing is something that interests humans—Ding. The ancient world once had many objects—rocks, bones, sand, earwax—that had no value, no human interest. Our world has no such objects. Everything is a thing; everything is interesting. Even things we do not know about are interesting. We want to find them at the bottom of the sea or in deep space and open them and make human sense of them.
Lastly, Latour points out this series in a lab: a rat, the brain of that rat, a neuron in the brain of that rat. Each step or part in this series has no resemblance to the other parts, though they are parts of the same thing, a rat. There seems to be no continuity from the rat to its brain, and from the brain to the cells or a single cell in that brain. Because each part is radically different, Latour proposes to see the transition from one part to the next as a complete transformation. A single thing is in reality a series of complete transformations. The implications of this way of thinking about unity are magical, particularly in the curious light of Ilya Prigogine’s emergence theory.