Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Friday, February 20, 2015

NEXT WEEK IN MY COURSE


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.

1 comment:

classtruggle said...

THE INTERPRETATION OF CAPITAL: AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL HEINRICH:

"We have to distinguish between individual persons and the possibilities of individuality. To make this more clear we can use an example which also Marx used in Capital in a footnote in the section on “Commodity fetishism,” where he pointed to Don Quixote, this famous figure of Cervantes’ classical novel. Don Quixote is living in the early 17th century and he has read so many novels about knights and their adventures (which he takes for the truth) that he himself wants to become a knight and finally travels around Spain riding on a horse with the armor of a medieval knight. His adventures, which sound very funny to us, mainly rest on misunderstandings. Why does it sound so funny? Don Quixote tries to realize a form of individuality which belongs to the medieval society. What he did would make at least some sense in medieval society, but in the post-medieval society of the 17th century his behavior looks crazy and stupid. The structure of society defines the forms of a usual, normal individuality. And the persons living in this society consider such forms mostly as quite “natural.” But two or three hundred years earlier the forms of individuality were very different because the society was different. I’m not saying that every person is determined by society, as persons can choose, and Don Quixote tried to realize a different form of individuality than the form which was usual for his times. But society reacts in a certain way, you are considered to be stupid or even mad and you become an outsider. When you want to avoid this, you have to restrict yourself to the usual forms of individuality

When we want to analyze society in a scientific way we have to start with its basic structures, its social forms and from this we can learn which possibilities individual persons have, which forms of individuality are possible (at least when you don’t want to be counted as crazy) and how persons can act. When you look at the first two chapters of volume I of Capital then you can see very clearly how Marx did this. Chapter 1 has the title “The Commodity” (and not the commodity-owner or the commodity-producer). In the first chapter Marx didn’t analyze the actions of persons, he analyzed the commodity-form as a specific form of the labor product and he comes to categories like use-value, exchange value, value-substance and so on. The second chapter starts with its famous sentence: “Die Waren können nicht selbst zu Markte gehen und sich nicht selbst austauschen. Wir müssen uns also nach ihren Hütern umsehen, den Warenbesitzern” (MEW 23: 99), “Commodities cannot themselves go to market and perform exchange in their own right. We must, therefore, have recourse to their guardians, who are the possessors of commodities” (Capital, volume I, Penguin edition, p. 178). Marx made it very clear, that first he analyzes relations (chapter 1) and then in chapter 2 he analyzes human actions according to these relations. Also here you can see the difference to the analysis of Smith and Ricardo or modern neoclassical economics: they start with actions, an analysis already at the level of abstraction of the second chapter of Capital. An analysis which you can compare with Marx’s analysis of the commodity, an analysis of the commodity-form, of the value-form, you will find nowhere else."

p.715-16

http://www.cssn.cn/upload/2013/02/d20130220095249180.pdf