Transcript: Postone’s Lectures on Capital [2/8]

These objects are the same.

YouTube lecture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1PBtLJvrRo

Cont. Theses on Feuerbach + The German Ideology

Just as a review, again what you have here is an opposition he’s trying to overcome, in this case the opposition of materialism and idealism. He does NOT take the ‘side’ of materialism even if he calls his own theory materialist, it’s materialist in a different sense. The way he puts it, materialism understands that people are the products of circumstances, but there is no conception of the active side of people as subjects. Idealism focuses on the active side, but abstracted away from the real world. Each is one-sided, and you can’t simply bring them together, you have to go beyond them in a way that incorporates both. And what we’ve done is we’re back, on a slightly different level, to this issue that I earlier formulated as that between structure and action. So that, this becomes quite explicit in, I think it’s the third thesis, where in criticizing materialism he says that materialists understand that people are the product of circumstances, but they forget that people change circumstances also. And then he adds that it’s important to educate the educator. Now, this isn’t just a pedagogical statement, it’s an epistemological one. The educator — presumably, the social critic — has to be able to understand themselves with reference to their circumstance, and if they can understand themselves with reference to their circumstance, they can also understand the conditions of possibility of transformation. What Marx is doing is he’s intrinsically linking the possibility of a critical theory of society and the possibility of its transformation, trying to ground both and their relation to one another.

He then, in discussing Feuerbach a little further, he also emphasizes the importance of a very determinate kind of social analysis. He says Feuerbach claims that religion is a projection of what exists in this world; it projects into the heavens what is really worldly. Marx doesn’t disagree, but he says this is really insufficient. It’s not enough to say that, what you have to do is you have to be able to explain — what is it about this world that is generative of that kind of projection? And so you see, he’s putting a lot of demands on himself. He is also heavily critical of Feuerbach — and certainly not only Feuerbach — for speaking of the human individual outside of time and space, for speaking of the essence of the human. Now, to go back one step, you’ll recall when Marx is discussing species-being in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, one of the ways he characterizes human labor is that it has no pre-given form — human labor is protean. And he draws this contrast between human labor and the activities of various animals in their own ecological niche, as it were. They can’t really shift gears completely the way humans can. And it’s this non-givenness of human labor that allows humans to interact with the world in ways that are much more — he uses the word ‘universal’ — than any other species. And this is precisely because labor is not pre-given. So, in a sense, there is no given human nature; humans make themselves.

Here, we have a slight derivation on that. In this thesis on Feuerbach, he says that what Feuerbach claims is the human essence is actually the ensemble of social relations. So, we have two discourses, and we’ll see that for Marx — what I want to make plausible — is they are two sides of the same thing: the protean character of labor, and that the human ‘essence’ is the ensemble of human relations. Which means that there is no transhistorical human essence, other than the fact that there is none. In other words, the abstract individual which Feuerbach analyzes belongs to a particular form of society.

And I think at this point, we can move on…

The Communist Manifesto

The Communist Manifesto, I think, can be very misleading. It was written as a pamphlet, as a revolutionary pamphlet on the eve of the revolutions of 1848, as you may or may not know, following this tremendous period of ferment in the 1840’s, all of Europe exploded in 1848. There were revolutions in every country, I believe, with the exception of the UK, where there is a charter presented to parliament signed by millions of workers. So, the Chartist Movement — I’m being a little unfair, but… so on the one hand Britian doesn’t have a revolution in 1848, on the other hand London actually does serve as a refuge for all of the revolutionaries after the revolutions have been crushed everywhere in Europe. You know, the Germans, some of the French, the Russians, they’re there in London. So it’s not a revolution, but it’s kind of liberal, certainly compared to the rest of Europe. And Marx gets himself a desk at the British Museum and starts to do serious research… (video jump).

It’s written as a polemic. It’s brilliant as a polemic. It also loses much of the apparatus I’ve been trying to build up, so there’s a problem here. In the meantime, before we get to the problem, let’s see what this pamphlet does and does not do. What does it do in the first few pages? Or, if you wish by negation, what does it not do in the first few pages?

Student: It doesn’t list the offenses of the bourgeoisie.

It doesn’t list the offenses of the bourgeoisie. It is the case, as you pointed out, that in the 1840s you have mass starvation in various places in Europe, but you notice they don’t talk about it. And that’s important. Not because they’re indifferent to it, but let’s see — as a political pamphlet, what does it do and what doesn’t it do? It does not begin by saying the bourgeoisie are thieves and murderers, look at how many people are starving in Ireland, or in Silesia, or in any other place. It doesn’t start that way. Why not? How does it start? What point are they trying to make? So it’s not an expose, yeah?

Student: It starts with the technology and achievements of the bourgeoisie…

It gets there by about the third page, but before we get to the third page, how does it begin? It’s history, right? It begins with history. The history — ‘all history is the history of class struggle.’ This is going to be modified later, but we’ll leave that aside. However, after a very short introductory paragraph in which it says that class struggle has been very simplified in the modern period — we don’t have the messiness of Roman society — where does he go from there?

Student: The origins of the bourgeoisie.

The origins of the bourgeoisie, right? So it goes into the historical rise of the bourgeoisie, and that rise at first — and they do this with a very few brushstrokes, but it’s quite masterful — how do the bourgeoisie arise according to the story that we get here?

Student: […] through the antagonisms of feudal society…

No, he doesn’t say that. And it’s very interesting he does not say that. What does he start with?

(Inaudible student question about feudal society)

I know, but what ruined feudal society? The rounding of the Cape…

Student: He starts with the global expansion.

He starts with the global expansion. And there can be an argument made — that I don’t want to get into right now — that that global expansion is contingent. It actually has a lot to do with the rivalry among Italian city-states. I think Giovanni Arrighi showed this very well in The Long Twentieth Century, because the eastern Mediterranean was completely under the control of the Venetians, who then were getting all the trade from Asia, right? The trade from Asia would come to the Levant, Venetian boats would then transport it, and the Genoese were not happy about this. The Genoese bankrolled the Iberians — the Portuguese and the Spanish. It is no accident, as they used to say, that Columbus is Genoese. He doesn’t just happen to be Genoese. These are the people who bankrolled the Spanish and the Portuguese because they’re trying to smash Venetian dominance of the eastern Mediterranean. And in fact they do. Within a few years after the Portuguese establish themselves in India, you have the collapse, really, of Egypt as an anthropole between east and west — some would argue this is the condition of the Turks being able to take over Egypt — and in the meantime the Portuguese and the Spanish are, you know, off and flying in Venice, and settle it into a very long decay.

Be that as it may, the way it’s presented here is: you have this global expansion of Europe that reacts back on production in the metropole, right? The guild system cannot keep pace with this, so you begin to circumvent the guild, the putting-out system, etc. Then, production continues to grow, you have manufacture until that falls apart, and finally you get industrialization. You’ll notice that this is done in very brief brushstrokes, and what you do not have is just a linear development of production. What you have is an expansion that comes into conflict with existing institutions which then crumble in the face of that, you get new institutions which are adequate to that, the expansion continues, those new institutions crumble. There is a political dimension to this — in other words, politics in a sense follows this kind of economic development, that’s what they’re suggesting here.

Alright, so on the second and third page you get a political history of the bourgeoisie, first you have the economic history in two pages, then the political history of the bourgeoisie: they begin as runaway serfs in the cities, then the free communes in the cities against the nobility — you know, the pikemen fighting against the nobility — then the sort of secret partners of absolute monarchy, right? Because what made Louis XIV able to field the largest armies that Europe had seen since the Romans was the fact that he isn’t relying on a feudal army anymore. And he wasn’t relying on a feudal army because there was a de facto alliance between the communes and the monarchy, with the aristocracy kind of caught in the middle — you know, they’d give them generalships in the armies, and they’re no longer the feudal lords, they have to spend time in Versailles looking silly and they can go as generals into war.

Finally, according to this narrative, the bourgeoisie take power. But it’s very interesting at this point — how does he characterize society once the bourgeoisie take power? So they’re living off the fat of the land, I mean the aristocracy had theirs and now the bourgeoisie will have theirs. Yes, no? Is that what he talks about? I mean they are living off the fat of the land, but is that what he’s worried about?

Student (Somewhat audible): He mentions the positive expansion of production to previously unprecedented levels… he said he’s emphasizing […] as a more positive development…

Right — you were going to add something there?

Student: My impression was that he mostly characterizes it as de-mystifying, which is interesting given the later developments…

Yes, there isn’t a real strong theory of what we will later come to call the ‘fetish’ in this manuscript. What he emphasizes is the dynamism of bourgeois society, right? And in a sense, once they’re doing this — this is kind of a side point — they’re no longer talking about class in a narrow sense, because that dynamism isn’t simply that the bourgeoisie have a lot of energy and move a lot and have an entrepreneurial consciousness; they’re talking about capitalism. We’ll call it, for purposes of the discussion here, bourgeois society, but ‘the bourgeoisie are revolutionary,’ I think it’s a mistake to view this simply as unequivocally positive. It’s not. But they are amazingly dynamic — or, I shouldn’t say “they are.” This society is dynamic on both axes, that is temporally things are moving all the time, the means of production are always being revolutionized, right? All that is solid melts into air — it is not a one-time change, it’s ongoing change as a condition of life. And that’s where, for him, it’s ‘de-mystifying’, it just destroys the ideals of earlier societies. It is also incredibly dynamic spatially, it expands globally. What you have is, for the first time, world society. This doesn’t mean that people weren’t in contact with one another earlier, they obviously were. Rome and China were in contact with one another, however tenuous the contact may have been, although at points economically it actually was important. But that contact changed neither Rome fundamentally nor China fundamentally. That’s why people make a very big mistake when they write about globalization in the 12th, 13th century and they look at China, etc., it’s not the same thing. This is kind of a misplaced idea that if you talk about globalization under the aegis of European capitalism, somehow you are buying into the European self-understanding that It’s under European aegis because somehow they’re just better. You don’t have to buy into that, it’s just silly. Even though, you know, it was deeply believed. You know, it’s like the British in the Sudan in 1885 get massacred, they come back ten years later and this time they have the machine gun, they kill thousands, and they regard this as being a sign of the superiority of the British, not that the machine gun is a much better tool… but we don’t have to buy into that either positively or negatively.

Revolutionary Historical Consciousness in the Manifesto

What they’re trying to do here, is they’re trying to argue that you cannot separate politics from history, including revolutionary politics. I mean, as was mentioned in the report, part of the criticism of the 51 flavors of socialism that they list at the end is that they don’t have an adequate grasp of history, right? So that for Marx and Engels, with all of their differences, if you don’t have a conception of historical development, your politics are going to be futile or even counterproductive. There is no point, in that sense, if you’re really wanting a major social transformation — and I’m talking about within the framework of this pamphlet — you may talk about the peasants being poorly off, the peasants getting screwed, the peasants being oppressed, but don’t put your energy into peasant revolution. Mao of course disagreed, but here, why not? And what does my question have to do with my emphasis 90 seconds ago on history? (Video jump.)

…but that this peasantry is going to be removed historically. So in a sense what you’re doing is fighting a rearguard action, however understandable that might be, and however sort of coldblooded this sounds, that the only adequate revolution has to be a revolution based on an understanding of historical forces. We’re going to try to specify a lot of this later on, okay, because there’s a lot of questions that are raised by this, but certainly what you get here is a picture that — the petty-bourgeoisie is a declining class, the aristocracy is a declining class, the peasantry is a declining class, there are only two classes that are not declining: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, according to Marx.

Student: What do you mean that the proletariat are not declining, do you mean numerically?

It’s being created more and more as a class. It is not bound to the older order of society, it is bound to the newer order, to capitalism. This is the argument in part, and they say this explicitly: If you side with the declining lower middle classes: the petty bourgeois, or the peasant, as understandable as it may be in terms of what is happening to these people, the end result actually is going to be very negative. Not just that you’re going to lose, it’s going to be very negative, and it’s not going to be nearly as humanistic as you think you’re acting. (Video jump.)

Now, there’s a pattern. He’s not just telling us this story, ‘how did it happen?’ — He claims to have uncovered a pattern in the first three pages, and that pattern he then sums up as being an ongoing contradiction between forces and relations of production. So he’s uncovered a pattern, and now he’s going to claim that that pattern is not simply one of the rise of bourgeois society, but that that pattern continues, and what does he then offer as a kind of indicator that there is a contradiction between forces and relations of production even in bourgeois society?

Student: The description of crises?

The description of crises, or the crisis of overproduction. He’s saying, ‘this is crazy, I mean there have been crises in the past, and very frequently — usually — it’s because of drought or flood, but not a crisis of overproduction.’ The way they interpret the crisis is an indicator, they take it as an indicator, that this pattern that they’ve outlined in the first four or five pages continues to exist. That’s the whole point of the first four pages. So that there is a contradiction between the forces and relations of production, and they, they and their 15 buddies, understand… I mean, the difference between what they do and… it’s quite remarkable, but we’re not gonna go there. (Video jump.)

And although all of this is couched in class terms, you’ll notice that on page 485, the second from the bottom mini-paragraph indicates that there is something else on his mind as well: “In bourgeois society, living labor is but a means to increase accumulated labor. In communist society, accumulated labor is but a means to widen, to enrich, to promote the existence of the laborer. In bourgeois society, therefore, the past dominates the present; in communist society, the present dominates the past.” I want to suggest that that goes beyond just a straight, in the narrow sense of the word, class analysis, and that there is in the back of his mind something else. Now, whether one sees the way the Communist Manifesto was written as a difference between exoteric and esoteric — if we can borrow from an unlikely figure, and this is exoteric except for the aficionados who know that this is really about time — or whether it also indicates just a real tension in Marx himself — and it’s not something that I’ve pursued, but I think it’s a legitimate issue, between Marx who is this theorist trying to grapple with the nature of capitalist modernity and the possibility of its fundamental transformation, and Marx the very impatient (student giggles) — no, I mean that seriously, the very impatient revolutionary. And you know, if this was a course on Marx, I would be trying to emphasize these kinds of tensions and breaks much more than I am, okay?

Introduction to the Grundrisse

He hasn’t really worked out the fully developed apparatus of his critique of political economy, and that comes later. The Grundrisse is written ten years later… actually, it’s written in a way that should inspire all of you in terms of its work ethic. He didn’t want it to interrupt the research he was doing during the day at the British Museum, so he wrote it in a half a year at night.

Student: This is before cable television.

This is before cable television, it’s also before word processing. You know, I told some undergraduates this, sometimes you run into someone like Marx, or someone like Max Weber, and you think that fundamental socialization really was different. It’s like, you know, Weber in 1905 during the first Russian Revolution, not being satisfied with the way in which the events in Russia were being covered in the German press — and I hope this isn’t apocryphal — taught himself Russian in three weeks so that he could follow the revolution in the Russian press. I don’t know, it’s like a different species.

Anyway, Marx writes the Grundrisse in 1857–58, he’s been in exile in London since the failed revolutions of 1848, and he’s spending a lot of time, putting in his 8 hours of library research every day in the British Museum, and he comes up with this massive manuscript that in many respects, I think, serves as an extremely important key to understanding the book Capital, and it can be seen really as a very rough first draft. There are some things that do change between 1857 and when Volume One of Capital is published in 1867, nevertheless there are some very basic ideas we have to get a handle on which serve as an important corrective to various readings of Capital.

The Grundrisse: The Method of Political Economy

Well maybe we’ll start with that. This section, pages 236 to 244, what’s it about? What is the large question that he’s raising for himself? This is once again, we’re in a manuscript. What question does he keep on asking the first couple pages?

Student: Where to begin?

Where to begin, okay. Why is this a problem? He devotes a lot of attention to it. As you may or may not know, Hegel devotes a lot of attention to where one begins a science of logic. Now, the problematics they’re dealing with are slightly different — why does Hegel spend a lot of time worrying about where to begin a science of logic?

Student: How do you ground your initial axioms?

Okay, how do you begin a logic that doesn’t presuppose the logic that you’re going to be trying to show, right? So how can you have a real point of departure?

Student: When I was reading I noticed a difference between the sort of logical priorities and the temporal priorities…

It’s an important question that I hope we’re going to address; another way of rephrasing it is ‘what is the relationship between history and logic?’ And this is something he’s thinking about. Now, although I can only give you a sort of partial indication based on the reading so far, when we were doing The German Ideology, Marx insists that thought is contextual, right? It’s historically contextual. What are the implications of the idea that thought is historically contextual? In terms of where you begin, think about it.

Student: You’re in a system where everything is contingent on what’s come before, there isn’t really a core basis…

Okay, let me take what you said and turn it just a little. If thought is historically contingent, what is, once you accept that, what is illegitimate?

Student: Transhistoical a priori axioms.

Right. Transhistorical axioms are illegitimate. You don’t have a universally valid methodology that you can just apply across the board to a huge range of different social phenomena. For Marx, that means what you’re doing is, even if you say that everything is historically contingent, your mode of presentation belies that position. So there’s a problem. How do you begin an account that is historically specific? Given that Marx is navigating getting beyond the opposition of truth claims as being transhistorically valid, and the kind of position that says — which I think is really just the flipside of the same coin — if they’re not transhistorically valid, then it’s catch-as-catch-can.

So how do you present a theory that is historically specific and is rigorous? The rest of these pages are concerned with this issue of where you begin. Do you begin with the concrete manifold — I don’t know, the United Kingdom in the year of the Crystal Palace? No, because if you start there then what you’re going to do is you’re going to start picking out what is more essential and more essential — this is the route that political economy took — until you finally come up with very simple categories that then serve as your point of departure. Okay, so maybe what you do is you start with simple categories that are historically antecedent. Let’s tell a story of how things come into being, right? On page 238: “Do not these simpler categories also have an independent historical or natural existence pre-dating the more concrete ones?” I mean, he then goes on to say, look, money antedates capitalism, doesn’t it? Yes, in that you can find Roman coins and Athenian drachmae, but what are they not? It looks like a coin, smells like a coin, jingles in your pocket like a coin…

Student: It’s not really a store of exchange value because there’s no […] concept of labor…

But that’s already based on a very specific analysis that it is labor under exchange, etc. etc., that would just be posited. But when is money for Marx — even without going into value — when is money truly money?

Student: When it is a universal means of exchange.

When it is a universal means of exchange. That’s when money is money. You can have different monies, but prior to capitalism, there is no universal exchangeability. For one thing, most people do not live by means of exchange. Peasant societies don’t live by means of exchange — there is exchange that occurs at the fringes. So under what conditions, let’s push this just a little further, when does money start to become really universal? We’ve had money, but when does it become truly universal, what are some of its preconditions? When does it really start to become this universal means of exchange?

Student: Wage labor?

Wage labor. Why? I mean, I think you’re right, but why? What is it about wage labor?

Student: In wage labor you perform… money has to function as a means to acquire all the other things you need in your life.

Right. So with wage labor you get a large segment of the population that works for money, and with that money they’re going to buy their food, their clothing, their shelter, and everything. The universalization of money as a form and the rise of wage labor for Marx are intertwined. So that money is misleading, as a simple universal form, he claims; it’s only valid for capitalist society. But you can’t see it in the coin, you have to know something about Athenian society and say “okay, they’ve got coinage” — they did have coinage and there are people who would argue this is important, but it’s not a universal means of exchange. Most peasants in Attica are not a part of the money economy. There is a kind of money economy, so we’re talking about a partial system. So money is simplest when it’s most general. But then he goes on to argue, and this is for some people very surprising, what’s another example of a simple category that actually is not historically antecedent to capitalism, according to Marx? Starting on the bottom of page 239.

Student: Labor.

Labor. Isn’t that weird? I mean, hasn’t it always been labor? So what does he mean by that? Does that mean people just sort of sat around and things would drip off trees and you open your mouth, life is good?

Student: Labor is constituted in exchange, or, as a modern category, as a relation to […] simple abstraction…

When we talk about labor as simple, what are we implying, what does it suggest about, I don’t know, a wide variety of activity? That somehow they are all the same thing on one level — they are all forms of labor. However, in many societies, activities that we regard as being forms of labor aren’t considered as such, they’re considered fundamentally different activities. Which is why you have certain things this group of people can do, certain things that group of people can do, and depending on the society and the level of taboos, you don’t break it. You know, in some societies the difference between what men do and what women do isn’t just ‘well, you know the guy is lazy, he’ll take out the garbage and that’s about it.’ I mean, there are things you just don’t do, that turn you into a woman if you’re a man. In other words, there is no such thing as labor in general, transhistorically. We can, from our position, look back — and I’m jumping ahead of myself in the text — we can look back and regard weaving and plowing as being labor, but that isn’t necessarily the way it was regarded then, and it isn’t just a matter of subjectivity, it’s a matter also of the way society itself is organized. Which means — I want to introduce another term that is implied by what he says here, but he doesn’t actually say it, I don’t believe — what is another example of a very simple term that according to the Grundrisse now really becomes fully valid only in capitalist society?

Object. That things are objects. To say that things are objects means that, as far as I’m concerned, on a very fundamental level, this [pencil] is the same as this [cup]. These are two objects. They’re different, but they’re also the same. In some societies, things aren’t just objects. You can’t touch certain things, only certain groups of people can handle certain things, it’s not allowed for other groups of people. Another way of putting it is that you can’t just go to the store and buy it, I mean those two are related actually. And as I tell my undergraduates, there are very few things that you can’t buy today, but there are some. And that gives you an indication, really a window, into other forms of social life. To the best of my knowledge you cannot go to Treasure Island and buy communion wafers. You can’t. They’re not for sale, you can’t find them on the internet either. In that sense, they’re not objects.

Now, imagine a society in which whole classes of things are like that. So money, labor, and objects are related to one another. Now notice what he’s saying. He’s saying that we’re living in a very peculiar kind of society. We’re living in a society that what characterizes it in its specificity are very simple things that seem to be universally valid. It’s not that the Adam Smiths of the world, sneakily just sort of smuggled in bourgeois conceptions, or that they’re Eurocentric, but that there is something about the structure of modern capitalism where what is most contextual appears to be decontextualized. So, in a sense, renders plausible the idea that we’re just talking about human beings, ‘individuals,’ not products of civil society, but ‘natural man.’ Or as Marx put it later in Capital, that everything up to now has been artificial, and now we’ve reached nature. But this isn’t just prejudice and it’s not stupidity, it’s because of the peculiarity of what is specific to capitalism are simple, general categories. Okay? Once you get used to this way of thinking, it’s nice. But it takes a while to sort of get your head around it.

So, in other words, if we take this passage seriously, to jump ahead of ourselves, the way the book Capital is structured, the first chapter is Commodity, then we get Money, then we get Capital. What he is telling us here is that it is a mistake to read this as a historical development, a serious mistake, pace Engels. Because generations of Marxists read it that way, but this is very explicit. Now he begins to introduce history but he does it in a peculiar way. What does it mean to say, as he does, that human anatomy is the key to the anatomy of apes? What’s he saying? (Video jump.)

Do apes, necessarily, become human? No. There’s a reason Marx liked Darwin. He is against teleological history, in spite of a million things that have been said against him. He is against teleological history. History makes sense retrospectively, you can see what did lead up to the present. That’s proposition A. Proposition B, that he doesn’t say here but that I’m saying, jumping ahead of myself, is that what is peculiar about capitalism is that it does have a logic. And proposition C is that post-capitalist society will have no historical logic. What I’m suggesting, and I can’t prove this at this point, but you know I get eager and run ahead of myself… what I’m suggesting is that what Marx is saying here is that ‘history’ is historically specific. So that there is no point in arguing whether human history per se is driven by a logical dynamic or whether history per se is contingent; this is getting beyond, as it were, the dichotomy of Hegel and Nietzsche avant la lettre. History moves, here, from a kind of contingency, to a logic — now the existence of a logic, let me go back to the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. Alienation, we saw, implies that people create a structure that dominates them. Now I want you think about, if there is something like a historical logic of capitalism, what does that say about human agency?

Student: It’s constrained.

It’s constrained. If there was true human historical agency, there wouldn’t be a logic, right? The existence of a logic implies a level of constraint. I want to suggest that central to the analysis of Capital is an attempt to explain the logic, what is central is historical and if I can jump ahead of myself once again, this is the exact opposite of structuralism. Within a structuralist framework, logic is synchronous and change/diachrony is contingent. Within this framework, the logic is the historical development, it’s not the synchronic picture. Too many contingencies. So that logic and history go together, the contingency and synchrony. So the idea of a structuralist Marxism doesn’t make any sense at all, from this standpoint. (Video jump.)

The categories in these pages are described by Marx not as economic categories, not simply as categories of an economic base, but he describes them with two words. One of them is ‘daseinsform’ — forms of dasein, and the other is (German word I don’t know) — determinations of the mode of existence. It is a serious mistake in terms of Marx’s self-understanding to take categories like ‘commodity’ and think that he is using them simply as economic categories, and that then issues of culture and society have to be placed on top. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the method he is trying to develop here. (Video jump.)

Well, that depends on how one understands capitalism. I mean it very seriously and I mean it even in the specifics. If one assumes that capitalism is a kind of a system, a Durkheimian monster, then all you can look for are little spaces — beneath, beyond, on the fringes — where resistance is possible. The whole discourse of resistance is tied to the notion of the unitary character of the society. Whereas that isn’t Marx’s notion of capitalism. Because that idea of resistance cannot explain the theory of resistance. Certainly not if you’re sitting in Paris, it might be if you were sitting in some unknown valley in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. There is the absence of a certain reflexivity there. So, the word ‘capital’ is very complex, and we’re going to have to see how that gets developed. Right now these are simply positions — and I want to emphasize that — they are positions that will guide a reading, but they aren’t really the argument yet. So we’re going to have to distinguish between positions and argument.

Thoughts, gestures, provocations