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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Saturday, September 12, 2009


1. In less than two weeks, I shall be back in Chapel Hill, beginning my course, at the Duke Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, on The Thought of Karl Marx. As part of my preparation, I sat in Le Metro, our cafe in Place Maubert, and re-read THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. It struck me that it has literally been decades since I last read it -- possibly, as many as four decades! Once again, its sheer brilliance stunned me. And yet, I had never before realized how much it is a young man's cri du coeur. It breathes with confidence, defiance, a sense that this is our historical moment. "Bliss was it that dawn to be alive, but to be young were very heaven." Perhaps I never saw before this distinctive character of the MANIFESTO because when I last read it, I too was young [though not, I imagine, as young as Marx when he wrote it.] CAPITAL is very much a mature author's creation -- fully as brilliant, filled with excoriations of Capital, but measured, less certain that the moment has arrived and is upon us. I wonder whether I shall be able to communicate something of that brilliance and excitement to my students, all of whom, I rather expect, will be my contemporaries.

2. Herewith an account of my latest passage at arms with the bizarre French banking system. Susie and I have a bank account in a French bank, BNP Paribas, which we opened in the big Place de l'Opera branch. [Never mind that in order to gain the right to give them my money, I must maintain an 8,000 Euro savings account in the bank that I may not access.] We need this account because all our bills for the apartment are paid in Euros -- electricity, condo fee, taxes, telephone, cable, internet, insurance -- but all of the Americans who rent the apartment for short periods when we are not there pay us in dollars. There is a BNP Paribas branch in Place Maubert, across rue Lagrange from the cafe, and it even has an atm machine outside where my Bank of America card works. So that is fine.

However, periodically, I must deposit Euros in the account to cover the on-going costs of maintaining the apartment. I do this by taking Euros from the atm, and then entering the bank and depositing them in the account. Simple, right? As if!! Three days ago, after accumulating a little horde of 2000 Euros [I can only take about 600 a day from the atm machine], I walked into the bank to make a deposit. Now, I had a problem, which was, I admit, my fault. I had left my bank book at home, and hence did not have ready to hand my account number. But I had my passport, and I figured that with some fractured French explanation, all would be well. Good luck. The lady behind the counter told me that I would have to go to the branch at which I had opened the account to carry out this transaction. They are branches of the same bank, but that seems to count for nothing.

So, Susie and I took the metro to Jussieu, transferred, and went to the Opera stop, which -- it being the ritzy part of town -- even has an up escalator [but not a down escalator -- one can try the legendary French bourgeois penuriousness only so far.] We went in to the bank and asked to see Mlle Phincth, who, it seemed, was on an extended lunch break. She could see us in an hour and a half. So we crossed Place de l'Opera [always a risky operation] and sat in the famous Cafe de la Paix, drinking kir and watching the traffic go by. [I logged ten different bus lines passing through the Place -- extraordinary.] At 3:30, we were ushered in to see our conseillier. I counted out my 2000 Euros, and was then told that I needed the atm withdrawal slips, to prove where the cash came from. Of course, I hadn't kept them. Who does? This one time, she would make an exception, since I had my passport, but the maximum amount of cash that the bank would accept in any case was 1500 Euros. She took me to a teller, who led me down a flight of stairs, and through two locked doors, to a secret room [where downed American fliers were hidden from the Nazis in WW II, maybe?], equipped to receive -- cash. Back through two locked doors, up the stairs, and finally I was given a receipt. But it was made clear that BNP Paribas did not approve of cash, and in the future all transactions would have to be electronic.

Marx was too pessimistic, thinking it would take a revolution to overthrow capitalism. If he had only been a bit more patient...

3. I have committed myself. Today, at the market, I bought four pounds of beef, cut up into large cubes, a healthy portion of lardon, reduced to cubes, enough mushrooms to sink a canoe, carrots, leeks, and a lovely huge bouquet garni, and I am ready to try my hand at a true French boeuf burguignon. This will either be a spectacular success, or the largest pile of unusable detritus I have ever accumulated. I shall report on the outcome of the experiment.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

I'm sure your Marx class will be amazing! I only wish I was somehow able to participate in it...

By the way, I'm not sure if you are familiar with David Harvey, the Marxist anthropologist at City University of New York, but he has been teaching Capital for something like 30 years, and now has a series of video recordings of his lectures up on his website This is excellent, because the aspiring student can read along and watch the lectures at her own pace, lacking only the usual seminar element of face-to-face communication. Have you considered trying something similar with your course?