Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

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Friday, January 19, 2018


I have been working on the outline of my Marx lectures, preparing a series of pages that Staples will enlarge to 36 x 24 inches so that they can be displayed behind me during each talk.  As I do this and arrange in my head the order in which I am going to explain things, it becomes clear to me that what I have to say will be way more complex than my lectures on Kant's First Critique, difficult though that was.  My goal will be to capture in these lectures my vision of Marx's thought as an integrated fusion of history, political economy, political sociology, philosophy, revolutionary practice, and mathematics, all articulated in an ironic authorial voice that is indispensable to the expression of his understanding of the mystifications of capitalism.

It should be a hoot.


s. wallerstein said...

I would have said that Kant is more complex than Marx.

I believe that I understand Marx while I don't understand Kant at all. That indicates that Kant is more complex than Marx, for me at least. Kant is definitely "over my head", while Marx is not.

So, why do you consider Marx to be more complex than Kant?

Jerry Fresia said...

Are you doing something new or summarizing previous work. I ask this only because I'm curious: might you be doing your best work now? has a new aesthetic gelled?

LFC said...

@J Fresia
Without meaning any disrespect at all to Prof Wolff, I believe he is summarizing etc. his previous work.

Michael said...

I'm sure you'll have disagreements with this, but I thought this interview with Terrell Carver might provoke some thought
There are a number of different terms for ‘alienation’ in German and they relate to this idea of projecting human qualities into abstract entities. What Marx did was borrow this and suggest that our human relationships of production, consumption, distribution, exchange—where essentially we make the goods and services of life in a human community for each other to benefit from—are projected into alien entities such as money and the market, which come to have a life of their own and become idols in a literal sense. We bow down and worship them, and think that material objects such as coinage, paper notes, and so on, actually have social relationships with each other in a sort of parallel universe. We let these human creations control us.

"[Carver] There is a thesis here not just about otherness, but about investing material objects with human powers, and then, because of this investment, we let them control us. That, in a short outline, is what alienation is about. Marx develops more refined and specific concepts to do this, and goes off the idea of alienation later because it is vague and unspecific and less connected with the literatures and concepts of political economy that he was actually attacking in detailed terms. That, in my view, is why the term tends to drop out of the later Marx’s writings.

[Interviewer] You can see why this concept hooks people. The idea that we become haunted by, and taken over by, things that we project human qualities into is, in essence, a horror story.

[Carver] Yes. There’s a huge amount of that in Capital. If you go through the metaphors— I’ve made a list of them actually—it’s full of occult references. You have vampires, werewolves, necromancy, table-turning (which is material objects coming to life), metempsychosis, the Whore of Babylon — it goes on and on. I developed this idea in the 1980s and published it in the Times Higher Education Supplement and elsewhere. The idea is that he didn’t just use these as colourful metaphors. They make the argument that you, as a rational, atheistic, scientifically-minded reader, don’t accept these fairy stories, so why should you accept the idea that the market rules your life when it’s so clearly a human construction? Of course if you believe in werewolves, then you look for them and you’re afraid. Marx transfers that argument, saying that if you’re worried about market relationships and spend your time phoning insurance companies (and things like that) you should see yourself as a victim of this kind of entity, which is ultimately social and something we should be able to control."

Michael said...

The paragraph starting "there is a thesis" is also Carver, sorry for the typo

Anonymous said...

Bob, will there be anything genuinely original in what you have to say, as far as you know? Why trek through the thought of another fellow long dead, whose corpus has been mapped and remapped ten thousand times? Is this a showy intellectual exercise, a public tour-de-force you aim to undertake, but one that leaves everything the way it is and nothing new under the sun? What can Wolff add to Marx? Why Wolff on Marx/Kant/Freud? Why not just leave them to speak for themselves?

s. wallerstein said...


I can't get your link to the Carver interview to work.

Michael said...

This should work (at least if you copy and paste it):

s. wallerstein said...


Thanks. It looks interesting.

LFC said...

Why Wolff on Marx/Kant/Freud? Why not just leave them to speak for themselves?

This is, at least arguably, trolling. People whose writing is sometimes difficult and whose thought is open to more than one interpretation obviously need expositors -- that's what at least half the fields of the history of pol. thought, political theory, and intellectual history are about.

Ditto literary criticism. Why should anyone write about Shakespeare? Don't the Sonnets speak for themselves? Don't Hamlet and Lear? Etc.

My view is that Prof Wolff is at the point where he can do what he likes. If lecturing about ideas he has already propounded, say in Understanding Marx or Moneybags Should be so Lucky or articles or wherever, is what gives him pleasure, there's no reason he shouldn't do it. Maybe some of his auditors will be prompted to go to (or to go back to) the original -- Marx, in this case -- and form their own judgments and interpretations. That probably can't be a bad thing.

LFC said...

Carver, based on the above excerpt, appears to be partly talking about commodity fetishism, pithily summarized by Marx as "reification of persons, anthropomorphizing of things."

"Investing material objects w human powers" (Carver) is the "anthropomorphizing of things."

David Auerbach said...

LFC said...

...the "anthropomorphizing of things."

This reminds me (totally off-topic) of Morganbesser's great line in response to a lecture by a behaviorist: "so, you're saying we shouldn't anthropomorphize people."

LFC said...

@D Auerbach

That is a good line.

When I was an undergrad (same place Wolff went, but at a somewhat later date), B.F. Skinner was still around (although retired from teaching, I believe) and I went to hear him give a talk and got him to sign my paperback copy of About Behaviorism, which I still have. I went through a (rather brief-ish) period of being interested in Skinner's work and writing. [Well, we were all young once. Cue the violins... or whatever.]

Écrasez L'infâme said...

My mother was a psycholgy student, and took me along to a Skinner public lecture when he visited London. I was probably about nine. Afterwards he came over to speak to us, surprised perhaps to see a child in the audience. He chatted to my mother for some time and was very nice to me. It’s hard to remember but I’m pretty sure I liked him. When I started reading for myself I read Walden 2 and very quickly decided which side of the fence I wanted to be on - not his. Still, I was sorry to see him vilified.

Looking forward to your lecrures, prof.

LFC said...

Skinner was vilified by some, esp. after the publication of Beyond Freedom and Dignity, but some of his work had some useful practical applications and in terms of recognition during his lifetime (honors, awards, etc.) he had a v. successful career. From my standpoint a problem w Skinner's behaviorism (or other versions of behaviorism) is that there are important or interesting questions, philosophical and psychological and other, about which it just doesn't have much to say.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

I haven't read the full interview yet, but this excerpt strikes me as something with which Prof. Wolff would very much agree.