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About

I started blogging over at Rough Theory while undertaking my doctoral research. I’ve now moved over here to try to rework some of the themes from the old blog, and develop several new themes, now that I’m freed from the immediate pressures of producing the thesis.

Off the blog, I am a Lecturer at a university in Melbourne, Australia, where I teach social research methods and social theory.

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11 Comments
  1. Chris Wright permalink

    Two items.

    First, I am an IT person, so if there are issues your PC that I might be able to assist you with, please feel free to let me know. It pains me as a PC gear head to hear your PC problems without giving a shot as helping. Even an older PC can frequently just require some basic maintenance, provided the issue is not outright hardware failures. So feel free to drop me a line (I assume you can see my e-mail from the posts) and describe the issues in as much detail as you can muster, and if the same issues recur, plus what operating system you use and what version (Windows XP, Linux, Mac OSX, etc.) If I can be of assistance, I will let you know.

    Secondly, I thought it interesting, at least for me, to isolate your quotes that capture points of agreement and disagreement between us because I feel that expressing this in your words helps us to avoid misunderstandings based on peculiarities of phrasing and expectations. Plus, on my side, it forces me to think through your formulation more than my immediate response to it. I will put in two thoughts that has occurred to me throughout this (mostly really wonderful and engaging) discussion

    – I wonder how much you see your ironic-comic reading as speculative proposition. To me, there is a sense in which, if we read Marx as speculatively as we read Hegel, then the entire work takes on a different character (I happen to also think that the idea of the speculative reading helps to keep in mind the way in which each concept has its opposite suspended within it.) In any case, speculative proposition and mediation have not generally appeared in what you have written, which I find curious.

    – “Finally (at least for purposes of this typology), Marx is interested in establishing the “social validity” of the claims of competing forms of theory that he criticises in Capital. He does this, I am arguing, by showing what aspect of social experience can be most adequately described by the theory he is criticising at a specific moment in the text.” Helmut Reichelt has a similar discussion, at some length, in his essay “Social Reality as Appearance” in Human Dignity: Social Autonomy and the Critique of Capital, Bonefeld, Psychopedis eds. If you are not familiar with it I think you may find it interesting. I admit that, as an avid reader of the late Gillian Rose, my ears twitch every time I hear the word validity. The diremption of value and validity following Lotze and neo-Kantianism infected many different levels of philosophy and social theory. Weber and Durkheim were both students of the two major neo-Kantian schools (Weber of the Marburg School, Durkheim of the Baden or Southwest School), as were Simmel and Dilthey. The neo-Kantians trained Lukacs, Adorno, Benjamin, Horkheimer, etc. and all of those people wrote their works in part as a critique of neo-Kantianism and neo-Kantian sociology, but in many respects they never escaped its aporias. So when I hear the term “validity”, I admit to being highly curious as to how that is being deployed. Of course, Marx uses the term frequently in the first few chapters. I believe that in Marx as in Hegel there is a rejection of the dualism which posits values or validity as a priori as thus as transcendent or beyond investigation. So I think Marx uses of the term validity are implicated in a reflexive analysis of how the values give rise to their own norms of validity, but how those norms of validity are solely tied to the values they address. Marx gets to the particular and non-transcendent root of this in the social practice as you describe it. Is that what you have in mind as well?

    Thirdly, “(Houlgate’s Hegel is too Cartesian for my taste, but that’s neither here nor there for purposes of pilfering his comment here…)” Absolutely true, though I did enjoy studying with him in the late 1980’s. I had the luck of studying Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and the dramatic theory of tragedy and comedy (three separate classes) with him in Chicago in the U.S. Alas, being a young sectarian Marxist, I got far less out of him than I should have.

    Lastly, I had considered writing an explanation of my own trajectory, but it really is almost impossibly obscure. So let’s not and say we did.

  2. Chris Wright permalink

    feel free to delete that after reading it, I didn’t realize it would get post here rather than sent to you… sorry…

  3. Hi Chris – no worries about posting here – although I can delete and move this to backchannels if preferable. My email address is on the old blog, if you click any of the links to my name in posts. I’m not sure why your other comment was held in moderation – links? too many comments in a period of time? But it’s through now…

    The computer unfortunately is a university-supplied one, which means it suffers under the strain of a large amount of bloatware that I can’t remove, as I lack administrative access to the machine – it runs Windows XP and is set to load a mind-boggling number of things on boot… This makes the machine slow and annoying, but I’ve been living with that for a few years and am used to it. The problem of the moment, though, seems to be hardware based – the machine has started overheating very very quickly, and very predictably, if the temperature in the room gets above 19 degrees, even if I’ve taken care to make sure it has air circulating around it. It’s been hanging on through the winter months – I’m often posting with the window open to make sure the room is cold 🙂 – but the weather’s now gotten mild enough that the room where I’m working is just generally too hot for much of the day… As we move into spring, I’m getting a bit worried… 🙂

    On this:

    In any case, speculative proposition and mediation have not generally appeared in what you have written, which I find curious.

    The very first draft of the thesis, written in early 2008, actually used this sort of language very heavily. It was also just generally more “Hegelian” in its framing. I moved away from it basically because I felt the language wasn’t communicating to people who didn’t have a strong background in Hegel – or even people who did have a strong background, but who understood Hegel quite differently from the way I do.

    So I’ve shifted really radically in the sort of vocabulary I use to communicate the argument, seeking out, I guess, something that might be more accessible to a broader audience that isn’t steeped in a particular kind of engagement with Marx and Hegel. But in the first draft, I was presenting the thesis in terms of how Marx inflects Hegel’s speculative philosophy, into a critical analysis of a very different sort of object. I was also emphasising much more heavily than I do in the current draft the concept of inversion and the inverted world, which I think is really important to understanding the text – this latter will probably come back to greater prominence in the book, since I think it’s probably accessible enough, and really helpful for understanding how the earlier and later chapters relate to one another, and how Marx understands certain competing theorisations of capitalist production as reversals or mirror images of how he thinks capitalist production ought to be understood…

    On your comments on “validity” – absolutely. If it weren’t how the text is conventionally translated, I wouldn’t be using the term. In the first draft, I was sufficiently averse to the term that I used to substitute the phrase “social plausibility” in order to communicate the rough point, without the Kantian baggage – it’s just absolutely essential to avoid dualistic approaches to Marx’s work – this is something he takes directly from Hegel, and knowing that he takes this from Hegel profoundly affects whether specific passages can be taken literally, or whether they need to be understood as a presentation of a form of argument he’s trying to criticise. Ultimately – again for accessibility reasons – I’ve decided to follow the vocabulary that will be familiar to people reading standard English translations of the text, and just hope I can be clear enough about the uncommon sense that needs to be applied to vocabulary of this sort…

  4. (As you can tell from the length of the comment above, it’s currently 19 degrees in my room…)

  5. inspired permalink

    Absolutely wonderful! Thank you all for the inspiration.

  6. inspired permalink

    I would also be interested to know what you think about this often quoted statement from a letter written from Marx:

    “I applaud your idea of publishing the translation of “Das Kapital” as a serial. In this form the book will be more accessible to the working class, a consideration which to me outweighs everything else.”

    Does he emphasise the importance of the plight of the working class and actual revolutionary activity? Does this resonate with you and your work in anyway or is the working class movement something you are not interested in at the moment.

    Marx famously responded to his daughter’s question ‘what is your idea of happiness” with the answer ‘to fight/struggle.’ Perhaps this is notable in someway as well.

    Thanks!

  7. Moe permalink

    Dear Nicole

    Apologies for posting this here Nicole —

    http://www.SA351.Forummotion.com

    I have set up a new discussion board for the purpose of discussing Volume One of Marx’s Capital. I have not yet had a chance to mention it to the other students taking the course (SA351 at Simon Fraser University with Gary Teeple) but I am hoping that as the semester progresses, students will use the forum and dsicussions will take place more frequently (there are no posts yet). Would be great if you contributed.

    Best for now,
    M.

  8. curious permalink

    Thought this might interest you. The following excerpts are taken from Robert Wolff’s ‘The Thought of Karl Marx’

    “Although, as I have remarked, Marx wrote at least 5000 pages of economic analysis [and maybe more, as one commentator noted], everyone, I think, will agree that the central text is Volume One of CAPITAL. When we open the pages of this extraordinary book, we are immediately confronted by a problem of great complexity and difficulty. Marx purports to be writing in the tradition of Smith, Ricardo, and dozens of lesser lights, but his language bears almost no relation to theirs. It is complex, convoluted, rife with metaphors, ironies, literary allusions, and metaphysical crochets. Ricardo’s language is recognizably like that of Smith, and Smith’s language looks not very different from that of Quesney [although it is, of course, English, not French], but Marx’s language is absolutely nothing like that of any of his predecessors. What on earth is going on?
    In my opinion, this question is of such importance that it needs, and deserves, an entire book devoted to it. So I wrote one. MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY is my attempt to confront, engage with, and answer the question. Each writer must choose a language whose syntactic and literary possibilities are adequate to the complexity of the object of his or her discourse. The classical political economists were children of the Enlightenment, and believed that when the fog of superstition was blown away, what would remain was a simple, clear transparent world whose structure could successfully be captured by a plain, non-metaphorical prose. To them, the marketplace was a transparent world of rational calculation and exchange.
    But Marx believed that capitalist economy and society is deeply mystified, presenting itself as transparent when it is in fact opaque, as rational when it is in fact irrational, as the end of history when it is in fact just one more stage in the unfolding of history. What is more — this is really difficult and important — he is convinced that although we can, by great effort, see through the opacity and the irrationality, we and he as inhabitants of that world can never entirely rid ourselves of the effects of the mystifications. To express the full subtlety of this insight, he needs a language that can, at one and the same time, reproduce that surface opacity and irrationality, analyze and explicate it, and yet acknowledge our bondage to it, with full and appropriate intensity of emotional articulation of each level. His solution, unique among social scientists of any discipline or persuasion, is a complexly ironic discourse, rich with cultural allusions and resonant with overtones and implications. No one had ever written social science like this before, and no one has since, or perhaps ever will again.
    This is not the customary view of Marx’s language, of course. The reaction of the British, as exemplified by Joan Robinson, has been to subscribe to what I elsewhere call the childhood polio view of Marx’s writing style. This is the notion that when he was young, he contracted a nearly fatal case of Hegelism, which nearly destroyed his ability to move gracefully from the beginning to the end of a sentence. Long years in England facilitated a partial recovery, but the effects lingered, with the result that he never succeeded in achieving the limpid clarity of a David Ricardo. Never mind that this view is offered with respect to the man who wrote THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, arguably the most powerful piece of political prose ever penned. We know for a certainty that the theory is wrong because while Marx was preparing Volume One of CAPITAL for publication, he wrote, in ENGLISH, an exposition of his views, published as the pamphlet VALUE, PRICE, AND PROFIT, which is as transparent a piece of Ricardian prose as one could ask for. Clearly, Marx chose to write as he did because he believed that only thus could he communicate his richly complex ironic vision of capitalist society and economy. And, I am quite convinced, he was correct.”

  9. Chris Wright permalink

    I wanted to cite your dis on Rought Theory for a reviiew of Werner Bonefeld’s new book, is that okay?

    • Hi Chris – the dissertation is in the public sphere (as is the blog) – always fine to cite either. (Now racing back offline… Will hopefully be in circulation again next year…)

    • Please teach the rest of these internet holiagons how to write and research!

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