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Saturday, November 25, 2017


There has been an overwhelming demand for my exchange with Richard Wolff forty years ago [well, two people, but in my world, that is deafening.]  So I am going to propose a second-best solution.  Below you will see the WORD conversion of the first page of the .pdf scan of my initial letter to Rick Wolff, Tony Callari, and Bruce Roberts.  It is an unholy mess, but it is readable with effort.  No self-respecting web surfer will pause for two minutes to struggle through it, but perhaps the cognoscendi, the elite insiders, will find this adequate.  Let me know, and if the anwer is yes, then I will fairly quickly produce the rest.

What do you say?  Think of this as archival research or the decoding of the Rosetta Stone.  No one said true knowledge would be easy.

Professor Richard Wolff Mr. AntQn:ino  Callari Mr o    Bruce Roberta
Oentlemen (and  revered colleagues):

I have read your fine paper, nMarxian and Ricardian Economics: Fm14iamental Difference au, with                  great interest and profito I found it enroinously helpful to me, and in   considerable JU measure persuasive as regards the significant differences between the theories of Ricardo and   Marxo I am  not convinced of the   merits of the rather high-powered methodologicli assumptions(regarding "two sciences," etc} through which you express your conclusions,
but   that is an issue that can perhaps await exploration at a later dateo In this communica­ tion, I should like to  focus my attention on two specific, but very fWldamental, po:ints.
With regard to the first, I believe that you have   gone astray, philosophically; with regard to the second, I believe that you are absolutely correct, but that your case can
be made stronger, in wa ·s that I shall suggesto I am c o uc hing    these reflections   in the
fonn of a letter to you three, but     I shall take the liberty of circulating t hem more widely to                                   other members of our community with similar interests and concerwo I might say that availability of such a community is, for me, an experience unique in my intellectual and professional career, and a fringe benefit of incalculable value at UMasso

The two points to which I shall address J'I\YSelf are these: First, your use of the                                                                                                                                                              term "overdetermined,'' which I believe to be confused in non-trivial ways; and Second,  your discussion of the fundamental Jifferences between Marx and the fteo-Ricardians (and Ricardo himself) on the matter of the relationship between circulation and productiono
Io  The 6oncept of Overdetermination
I believe that you are using the   term 11overdetermine11d in    a a  way that deviates  both from the meaning of Freud, who introduced it into the literature, and also (perhapsl) from the meaning of Althusser, who acknowledges his debt to Freud, arrl to whom you in turn acknowledge your debto Now, ordinarily there is not                                                                                       much to be gained from tenninological quibbles.  Macy   philosophers  have   taken  the  position  of  the Caterpiller  in   Alice in Wonderland, who, when he used a word, made it         mean whatever he wished it tomean:-.tzll%eilll Plato appears to have begm1 this practice, and virtually every great philosopher since has fol1owed suito Nevertheless, I intend to quibble about the meaning of the term, for                                               this reason: I think Althusser, clearly or unclearly, was on to a very profound, very powerful, and highly problematical methodological insight when he described social formations or phenomena as " over de t e rmi ne d o11  Your quite different use of              the tenn loses that power profundity, and methodological novelty, reaucing the notion• to a rather familiar one
that has long been known and used in the     social sciences, particularly in functionalist sociologyo It is at       least worth trying to recapture the original meaning, in order to see whether  there is scrnethimJ of philosophical value   in  it worth preserving0 (A  similar fate has been suffered by Durkheim's concept of anomie, as well as by the notion of
x0    ideology).
The notion of overdetermination is introduced  by Freud (as you  note, with appropriate
references), in order   to deal with certain problems in the interpretation of dr e ams 0 As a result of what Freud calls condensation and displacement in the 11dr e am- wor k, " the symbolism or meaning dreams becomes highly compressedo Mxrl Through processes of
association, certain symbols or elements of the dream may take on several quite discrete an<
·      not naturally related meanings; in addition, a certain meaning may turn  up in  several different elements of the dreamo Although Freud on occasion offers some highly tentatiYe peysiological speculations about the mechanisms of association (including, for example, the suggestion that thoughts running along spatially contiguous nerve-pathwro,s may thereby

become associated together), he clearly concluded on the     basis of  his clinical observatioM


David Auerbach said...

Just email me the pdf and I'll convert it.

Ian J. Seda Irizarry said...

Thanks for posting this Prof. Wolff.

The paper by Wolff, Roberts and Callari was initially published in 1982 so maybe this exchange is about a working paper version, any chance you might remember?

I ask because you had mentioned before that you suspected that the exchange might have happened in the late 1970s. Also, it would seem to be a continuation of your questioning of their use of overdetermination that had started when you sat in one of Rick Wolff's classes, which had to be in the late 70s (they get to Althusser via their reading of Hindess and Hirst in the mid 70s, but I think you also mentioned this in your memoir). I'm just trying to help figuring out the dating of this. Again, thanks for doing this.

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Fresia said...

Yes, please continue. Apart from the suspense about where you are going with the concept, I'm enjoying the artfulness of how intellectuals at your level stick the knife into one another - a surgical strike, it appears, tactful, and dripping with enough erudition to make any counterattack difficult. But then there were other independent dimensions that could explain a defense that would give any counterattacker pause: scholar not just on Kant, but on Marx and Freud, not to mention the fact that you were personal friends with at least one of the giants emerging out of the Frankfurt School and obviously steeped in concepts introduced by Freud and ones relevant to a Marxist analysis. Given that your defense was determined by two, if not more, independent explanations, one might say it was ...(ahem) pretty strong.