Marx's dominant literary trope in the opening chapters of Capital is the treatment of things as thought they were people and the treatment of people as though they were things. By this means, he conveys the essential verrücktheit of capitalism. The chapters I am now preparing to lecture on next Wednesday are replete with such passages. I thought it might be fun just to record a few of them here, for your amusement. My emphasis on this dimension of Marx's writing is part of my more general effort to make my students sensitive to some of the complexities and nuances of the human world and the literary devices available to us to capture them. Generally speaking, philosophers write a serviceable prose with neither shadow nor echo, neither depth nor subtlety. [Plato, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard are striking exceptions.] These concerns of mine go hand in hand, oddly enough, with my effort [on my other blog] to analyze the ways in which philosophers use putatively value-neutral logical and mathematical formalisms to conceal unacknowledged ideological presuppositions. At any rate, here are a few of the passages I plan to call to the attention of my students in our next class.
The opening lines of Chapter II, the first of four chapters we shall be discussing: "It is plain that commodities cannot go to market and make exchanges of their own account. We must, therefore, have recourse to their guardians, who are also their owners. Commodities are things, and therefore without power of resistance against man. If they are wanting in docility he can use force; in other words, he can take possession of them." What an inspired way to launch a discussion of commodity exchange! The image of a recalcitrant bolt of cloth, hanging back on the way to market like a rebellious child, is brilliant. And the literary figuring of legal ownership as forced possession captures, in a phrase, the contradictions on which capitalism is erected.
In the next chapter, "We see then that commodities are in love with money..." And later in the same chapter, Marx speaks of "prices, wooing glances cast at money by commodities." This is simply inspired! I love this image of commodities sitting coyly on their display tables, flirting with the money in the pockets of passing consumers. How anyone can imagine that Marx did not know exactly what he was doing when he wrote these passages is beyond my comprehension.
The reading for this week concludes, at the end of Chapter V, with the passage from which I took the title of my book, Moneybags Must Be So Lucky. This should be a fun class to teach. I hope it is as much fun for the students.