Although one might think that I have been obsessed with the primary contests in recent days, in fact most of my time has been spent brooding about the idea of writing a major book bringing together in an integrated fashion all the work I have been doing on the thought of Karl Marx and associated subjects in the past forty years. I am reminded of a story I have told before. In the late sixties, when I was a member of the Columbia Philosophy Department, I was asked to speak to a seminar that met from time to time at which members of the faculty addressed guests from the larger New York intellectual community. I chose to deliver a scathing left critique of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Hannah Arendt was in the audience, and she came up after the talk to say hello. She was quite polite, but it was obvious she had not been thrilled with my remarks. After a bit, she asked what I was currently working on. “I am writing a book on Kant’s ethics,” I replied. She broke into a broad smile that split her face, and said with a satisfied sigh, “Ah, it is so much more pleasant to spend time with Kant!” After thinking for months about Trump and Clinton, I can say emphatically that is vastly more pleasant to spend time with Marx.
The book project poses for me several unusual problems. I would need to incorporate into the text many, many pages of books and essays I have already published, and in an odd way that says a good deal about my unconscious motivations, that feels to me as though I would be cheating, asking to be approved of, as it were, for something I have already done. The larger problem is that this book would be quite unlike the other books I have written. My books are almost always clear, spare linear arguments, with a natural beginning, middle, and end. I think of arguments, as I have elsewhere observed, as being rather like stories – Jack and the Beanstalk is my favorite example. But this book would range widely, incorporating and expanding on my two books and articles specifically on Marx, while also drawing on such associated but different materials as the article “Narrative Time” and the 16,500 word serial blog post on The Study of Society. I would probably conclude with the essay, “The Future of Socialism.” Inevitably, it would be a big book, longer than either Moneybags Must be So Lucky or Understanding Marx.
The more I think about the project, the less likely it seems to me that I could find a good publisher for it, but that fact does not disturb me, because I think I might actually win a larger audience by using my blog as a vehicle.
My visit to Brown and MIT alerted me to a deeper problem to which I must give serious thought: Even in those extremely friendly and supportive venues, there seemed to be a fundamental lack of understanding of why I was trying to find a way to unite the literary criticism, philosophy, and mathematical economics that I had brought to bear in my effort to understand Capital. If even so sympathetic and knowledgeable an audience found this difficult to grasp, I realized, I would have to do a much better job of explaining my core insights.
Because the book would not be a simple linear argument, its organization would pose problems that I must think through before I begin to write.
The idea of doing a series of YouTube lectures on Marx has also been in my mind, but I do not think I want again to lecture to a camera propped up on my desk. I thought I was a good deal more relaxed and – dare I say it --- personable in the Brown talk, clearly because I was talking to real people. I have not yet figured out how to replicate that sort of setting down here in Chapel Hill.