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Three provisional theses on Marx’s concept of value

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“Could commodities themselves speak, they would say: Our use-value may be a thing that interests men. It’s no part of us as objects. What, however, does belong to us as objects, is our value. Our natural intercourse as commodities proves it. In the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange-values.”

–Marx, Capital, Volume I


Value is not transcendental. It is born only when it discovers itself in and through the historical accident of exchange. But the birth of value, which follows its discovery of itself, amounts to it being instituted as that which is a presupposition of exchange so that exchange is its realisation as value. Consequently, exchange ceases to be an accident of history to be transformed into an expression of its systemic principle, which is value. This is precisely the dialectic of history of logic and logic of history that Marx demonstrates while mapping the unfolding of value from its elementary or accidental form to its general form and money-form through the intermediate moment of its total or expanded form.

However, it is precisely the failure to closely attend to this rigorous dialectic of history of logic and logic of history that has often led scholars – mostly post-Marxists, but also a good number of Marxists of various kinds – to erroneously claim (and affirm) that for Marx value begins with exchange. Such an error renders value trans-historical and/or has disastrously reformist political consequences.

Essence, of course, becomes accessible only when it appears. But that does not mean appearance precedes essence or that the latter is an effect of the former. All those who insist that value – or the dialectic qua the principle of mediation – begins with exchange are falling precisely into such an error: it’s only in exchange that value is accessed so exchange precedes value. As a result, they mistake Marx’s demonstration of the historical precedence of exchange over value as the former’s logical priority over the latter.

Qualitative equalisation of (qualitative) difference — valorisation — is not the effect of exchange. Rather, it’s an integral dimension of the mode of organising of production (in its hidden abode) that must be logically prior to exchange in order for it to be realised in exchange. Had that not been the case, there is no way “mental”, “ideal’ or “imaginary” money-form as the measure of value would precede, and be distinct from, the tangible money-commodity as standard of price that really changes hands as definite quantities of metal money in the actuality of exchange. Marx in demonstrating this draws our attention to the logical priority of measure of value (and thus value) over standard of price (and price qua exchange-value). In other words, Marx is emphasising, implicitly or otherwise, how value precedes exchange-value with the latter realising the former.

Besides, if in Marx’s conception value did begin with exchange why would he then need to dwell at length (in Capital, Volume I) on Aristotle’s historical incapacity to come up with a conception of value when the latter is faced with the historical fact of exchange?

Therefore, the assertion that value begins with exchange is a complete and correct statement of things only if one is thinking of value merely in terms of its accidental creation. However, if one is dealing with value in terms of it being the logic of organising production — which is the mode of mobilising labour through quantification of respectively different socially necessary labour times for various qualitatively different concrete labours through a process of reducing them to human labour in the abstract — then this statement is incomplete and perhaps even wrong. In such circumstances, one will do well, instead, to state the following: exchange realises value-relationality (or the dialectic) precisely because the latter presupposes the former. So, instead of saying dialectic begins with exchange one should say the dialectic (value qua value-relationality) appears (or is realised) in exchange (exchange-value qua exchange-relation) precisely because the former is presupposed by the latter as its principle.

To not grasp the dialectic qua the law of mediation, and exchange in those precise terms is likely to lead one into the serious error of conflating and confounding the function of price (and its standard) with that of value (and its measure). Both being distinct functions of the one and the same money-form or money-commodity. That would compel one to erroneously insist, one way or another, that the market is the be all and end all of capital.


Marx’s exposition on value in Capital reveals two things at once. One, value is not transcendental. Two, value in being instituted, however, conceives of itself as being transcendental. This thinking of value by itself, which renders it transcendental (value qua value), is precisely the systemic operation of capital. Marx’s articulation of critique of value is intimately bound up with demonstrating what commodities say about themselves – or what value thinks of itself. In fact, what is important for the Marx of Capital is, first and foremost, the demonstration of what value says about itself. (See the citation with which this post begins.) Hence, Marx demonstrates how value is, in its own thinking, transcendental. He needs to do this because his critique of value is a deconstruction of precisely the transcendentality of value – or value as transcendental.

Marx’s critique of value begins by showing how value is, in its instituting, the abstraction of use-value, which is the irreplaceable, uncountable one (the singular). In other words, value, in thinking itself as being transcendental, is negation of this singularity of use-value. When Marx tells us that exchange-value – which is expression of value – has not an atom of use-value, even as use-value is the “material depository” of value/exchange-value, he is underscoring precisely that. He is drawing our attention to how value conceives of itself, or operationalises itself, as transcendental through a process of abstraction of use-value that is, therefore, the latter’s negation or disavowal.

Therefore, in terms of value conceiving of itself as transcendental – something that Marx demonstrates in the process of developing its critique — use-value is an absence or lack in value/exchange-value. But to the extent, that this negation, which renders that which is negated a lack, is made possible precisely by that which goes lacking the lack in question is constitutive of that which renders it a lack. In other words, Marx demonstrates how use-value is, in terms of value conceiving of itself as transcendental, a constitutive lack.

Value conceives itself as being transcendental (value qua value) that is expressed as and in the empirical (of exchange). This means value as such – that is, as the final instant of determination in its loneliness – conceals itself as the character of its (empirical) expressions. This also means that value as this concealed character of its expressions in and as the empirical (of things)  is also a concealment of the process of abstraction of the concrete (“historical character” of “meanings” as Marx says in Capital) by which it comes to be the (hidden) essence — the transcendental — of its (empirical) expressions, and the concrete as such (use-value as the singularity it is). In such circumstances, when value as the concealed character of its (empirical) expressions is revealed in its hiddenness, its (empirical) expressions come across as the mystifications or fetishisms/fetishes they are.

Therefore, value as this hidden character of its expressions in and as the empirical — which is value conceived by itself as being transcendental – in being revealed thus is not itself a fetish, a mystification or an ideology. It is, instead, the character of fetishism, mystification and/or ideology. Following Adorno’s explication of the dialectic in Negative Dialectics, we could characterise value as the truth of the untrue. Hence, value qua value, which is value conceived by itself as being transcendental, is not in itself an ideology but is the character, or truth, of ideology.

Besides, value in being revealed as this hidden character of its (empirical) expressions — which are themselves, concomitantly, demonstrated to be fetishes or ideologies — is also a revelation of both the process of abstraction of the concrete and its concomitant repression as that process of abstraction.

This clearly implies that revelation of value as the hidden character of its (empirical) expressions – i.e. its revelation as the character or truth of fetishism or ideology – is also a positing of the concrete qua the reversal of the process of abstraction of the concrete. Which means value in its revelation as the character of fetishism or ideology – or the truth of the untrue – must be grasped and envisaged as the division of this truth of the untrue into itself and truth as such.


It is this Alain Badiou points towards in Theory of the Subject, when he writes: “There are two dialectical matrices in Hegel. This is what turns the famous story of the shell and the kernel into such a dubious enigma. It is the kernel itself that is cracked, as is those peaches that are furthermore so irritating to eat whose hard internal object quickly cracks between one’s teeth into two pivoting halves.”

So, it is not simply about extracting the rational kernel of value (dialectic) from its mystical shell – which is ideology qua exchange-value as the (empirical) expression of the rational. Rather, this extraction of the rational kernel from the mystical shell is also the former’s division between itself as the rationality of the irrational and rationality as such. More precisely, it is the transformation of the rational kernel in its extraction. Althusser is quite clear on that score while explaining in an anti-Hegelian register “how”, in Marx, “can an extraction be an inversion?”.  He writes in ‘Contradiction and Overdetermination’: “…the mystical shell is nothing but the mystified form of the dialectic itself: that is, not a relatively external element of the dialectic (e.g. the ‘system’) but an internal element, consubstantial with the Hegelian dialectic. It is not enough, therefore, to disengage it from its first wrapping (the system) to free it. It must also be freed from a second, almost inseparable skin, which is itself Hegelian in principle (Grundlage). We must admit that this extraction cannot be painless; in appearance an unpeeling, it is really a demystification, an operation which transforms what it extracts.”

But what would this demystification – this extraction as transformation of that which is extracted – amount to? On this count Badiou’s Hegelianism against itself in his Theory of the Subject is brilliantly lucid. At any rate, it is more rigorous than what Althusser’s anti-Hegelianism is in ‘Contradiction and Overdetermination’. Badiou writes:

“In the peach there is still a kernel of the kernel, the bitter almond-shaped nut of its reproduction as a tree. But out of Hegel’s division, we will draw no secondary unity, not even one stamped with bitterness.” He then goes on to contend: “…at the heart of the Hegelian dialectic we must disentangle two processes, two concepts of movement, and not just one proper view of becoming that would have been corrupted by a subjective system of knowing. Thus:

“a) A dialectical matrix covered by the term of alienation; the idea of a simple term which unfolds itself in its becoming-other, in order to come back to itself as an achieved concept.

“b) A dialectical matrix whose operator is scission, and whose theme is that there is no unity that is not split. There is not the least bit of return into itself, nor any connection between the final and the inaugural….”

Therefore, unless value in its revelation as the hidden character of its (empirical) appearances – that is, in its revelation as the character of ideology or the truth of the untrue – is also the manoeuvre that divides it between itself and truth as such, which is the concrete as the process of abstraction of the concrete in reverse, it would amount to what “unfree mysticism” – Marx’s characterisation of the Stoics in his doctoral thesis on Epicurus and Democritus.

But what of the Marx of Capital – the one who is supposedly an incorrigible and an incurable Hegelian? In the section on fetishism of commodities, he provides us with his own version of Hegelianism against Hegel — one that indicates in its own way how the revelation of the truth of the untrue must also be a division between itself and truth as such. He writes: “The determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time is therefore a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities. Its discovery, while removing all appearance of mere accidentality, from the determination of the magnitude of the values of products, yet in no way alters the mode in which that determination takes place.”


Some provisional notes on the materialism of thought, and modernism as “an aesthetics of necessary failure”

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The fundamental question, insofar as modernism is concerned, is what does modernism make its diverse forms say about themselves. Depending on what modernist forms say about themselves — i.e. whether those forms construe, envisage and articulate themselves as myths of non-meaning, non-cogitation and non-thought; or, allegories (in Benjamin’s sense) or symptoms of the same — we need to internally divide modernism into two temporalities, two periodisations and two politico-aesthetic trajectories: fascist (or postmodernist, that is, neoliberal) and critical. And yet, as ‘consumers’ who are already always producers, even the fascistic and/or postmodernist politico-aesthetic temporality of certain modernist forms — something those forms speak as the intentionality of their producers — we need to brush against their own grain.

Brecht brilliantly anticipated that through both his intervention in the famous realism/modernism debate, and through the dramaturgy of his theatrical productions. So, the problem, from where I stand, is not whether a phenomenology of thinking haunts an aesthetic form. The problem for me, instead, is whether or not such a phenomenology is able to found itself in and as its own materiality by finding its own historical index and historicity. This is precisely where Benjamin’s post-phenomenological thinking — contrary to the dominant poststructuralist current that seeks to interpretatively assimilate him to difference-thinking — stands rigorously and radically distinguished from both Husserl and Heidegger’s phenomenology of thought. The ‘Convolutes N’ of his The Arcades Project unambiguously declares that. And it is precisely such post-phenomenological thinking — in its radical separation from the phenomenology of thought — that Badiou, following Althusser, rightly affirms as the materialism of thought.

What, therefore, needs to be stated here unambiguously is the following: post-phenomenological thinking, or the materialism of thought, is not some premature abandonment of phenomenology of thought. Rather, it amounts to the extenuation of what is sheer phenomenology precisely by traversing it to its post-phenomenological antipodes, wherein it stands realised as its own materiality in and as the institution of its own duration and historicity. Conversely, sheer phenomenology of thought in its existence is – from this Benjaminian-Badiouian perspective — the incompleteness of its realisation as the post-phenomenology or materiality of thought, and thus the incompleteness of its own extenuation. [As an aside, it must be said here that this reveals how the line that separates mystified revolution, which is mysticism of difference (Fascism, Bonapartism, social democracy and/or neoliberal postmodernism) from revolution as difference demystified is perilously thin.]

If we attend closely to Badiou’s conception of “fidelity to the event”, we will see that what underlies this conception is precisely the move of extenuating phenomenology of thought by traversing it to its post-phenomenological antipodes, wherein it is its realisation as its own materiality. The event, for Badiou, is not truth, but an interiorised subjective illumination. And yet the event is, for him, indispensably crucial because it enables what he terms fidelity to the event, which in and as its own actuality is the truth of the event in its forcing. That is why, for Badiou, even as the event is not truth; truth is the truth of the event in its forcing. So, for Badiou truth is not the thought of the event. Instead, truth is the event as its own thought in action. And this event as its own thought in action is already the thought or the truth of the event in its forcing. That is precisely why Badiou thinks the event — contra phenomenology of difference and poststructuralism — as neither event of being nor being of event; but as the supernumerary supplement to being that in being identified thus is already always integrated into being. Therefore, for Badiou, the post-phenomenology or materiality of thought is not an out-of-hand rejection of phenomenology of thought. Rather, phenomenology of thought is for him not sheer phenomenology, but is the post-phenomenology or materiality of thought as already always its own limit and thus the already always crossing-of-that-limit.

As a consequence, Badiou’s post-phenomenology or materiality of thought — unlike the post-phenomenology of poststructuralism such as Foucault’s genealogy or Deleuze and Guattari’s machinic ontology – is not a future-anteriority that is retrospectively constructed in, as and through the production of phenomenological effects, which as those effects are no different from the effects produced by Hegelian and Left-Hegelian phenomenologies of identity-as-identity and identity-as-change-of-identity respectively. Badiou’s post-phenomenology is, therefore, clearly, not hermeneutics. Rather, it’s a future-anteriority that is an adventure of construction in being an anticipatory, prefigurative ‘hermeneutic’ thought in action.

Materiality, therefore, cannot be the rejection or abandonment of the idea. That would merely be the inversion of the constitutive diremption — or idealist dialectic — of idea and matter, taking us towards a positivist and vulgar materialism that would continue to confine us within the structure and/or force-field of idealist rationalism. Rather, materiality is the singularising rupture — or rupture as singularity — with that constitutive diremption. This means materiality is the moment of the idea in its emerging as the instantiation of its own absence as the cause of such emerging. In other words, materiality is about the inseparability — and thus singularity — of matter and its idea. Hence, it’s also the movement that is constitutive of prefiguring the overcoming of its interruption by anticipating the limit this movement generates by virtue of precisely being that movement. Materiality then is, as its own (immanent) thought, the already always grasping of its own limit.

This, in my view, is what one learns from the poems of Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms, particularly Alberto Caeiro’s; Badiou’s rigorously engaged reading of the same, and Adorno’s explication of modernism as an aesthetics of necessary failure.
In fact, it is in this context of materiality being its own (immanent) thought as the already always grasping of its own limit that Adorno’s conception and explication of modernism as an aesthetics of necessary failure needs to be situated and made sense of. Modernist forms as forms of non-meaning, non-thought and non-cogitation, vis-à-vis the forms of historical-realist meaning and sense, do not call on us to approach them in a melancholic contemplation imbued by “aecidia” — something that Benjamin warned against. Such forms call on us, instead, to approach them, as Benjamin would have us believe, by intensifying our contemplation of them to such an extent that such contemplative thought turns into its radical opposite: the thought of historcisation that is, therefore, thought in action. This is thought immanent to being now-time; or, ontological subtraction as its own thought in action. Therefore, to grasp modernist forms in terms of Adorno’s conception of modernism as an aesthetics of necessary failure is to see how such forms call on us – regardless of what the intentionality of their respective producers is or was – to grasp themselves as something that must already always be exceeded.

Clearly, Adorno’s conception of modernism is in line with Benjamin’s deployment of Schlegel’s romantic conception of aesthetic criticism, wherein a work of art is, at once, itself and an articulation of its own criticism. This is also what Brecht, through the conception and practice of his V-effect, points towards, as does Badiou through his “inaesthetic” conception of art as the real of reflection.

Benjamin’s aforementioned approach to the question of art is, admittedly, from the side of the producer. And that is largely true of Brecht too. But do such approaches of Benjamin and Brecht not, therefore, imply that the consumer is already always the producer, and that he/she thus reads forms not as forms, which would reduce the question of form to that of sheer style, but as modes. To read form as mode is to read form as the transparency of its own formation. We would do well to pay attention to Andre Breton’ glass-house in Nadja, the one he wished to inhabit as a writer, and which Benjamin also affirmatively alludes to in his essay on Surrealism. Thus, to read a form as a mode is to grasp it as the determinate excess of form, and subtraction from the abstract logic of formalism that the concrete form, which is being thus exceeded, mediates.

To read form as mode is to grasp a form as articulating its own criticism, and thereby already always being its own excess and voiding. Adorno’s conception of modernism as an aesthetics of necessary failure, not unlike Badiou’s inaesthetics, amounts precisely to that. What Benjamin and Brecht merely imply for the consumer’s side through their insistence that the producer of a form have that form articulate itself as mode, stands cogently formulated as the consumer’s task in Adorno’s conception of modernism as an aesthetics of necessary failure.

Clearly, Benjamin and Brecht on one hand, and Badiou and Adorno on the other, together complete the asymmetrical or singular dialectic of productive consumption and consumptive production that Marx clearly indicated while laying bare that same dialectic as the symmetrical and thus idealist dialectic of capital.

In such circumstances, I don’t feel like quibbling much when I am confronted with a certain heuristically recursive reading of this conception of aesthetics of necessary failure as itself a necessary failure. Nevertheless, I cannot stop myself from saying that this conception as the concept that it already is, operates at the modal, not formal, level of abstraction. As a result, this theory is an affirmation of itself in and as its singular temporality and mode by already always being an articulation of the criticism of its own discursive-formal specificity that interrupts its singularity precisely in instantiating it. So, unless one’s insistence about the Adornoesque conception of modernism as an aesthetics of necessary failure itself being a necessary failure proceeds through such specification, it runs the risk of becoming a theoretical argument for founding a ‘new’ historicist aesthetics – or, an aesthetics for a ‘new’ historical realism.

Of course, I have my share of problems with Adorno. The way he explicates his concepts of negative dialectics and constellation demonstrates the dialectic as the mode of presentation of its own negativity. This clearly points us towards thinking the dialectic as the affirmative mode of determinate presentation of its own void, and thus excess, in its limit.

In other words, Adorno’s concepts of negative dialectics and constellation clearly point towards thinking (and envisaging) a new order of affirmation that is non-productive. And yet Adorno himself is not able to fully see what his concepts point towards, and walk that path of thinking (and envisaging) affirmation as a non-productive order of ‘being’. His concepts of negative dialectics and constellation show he understands that negativity can escape from its Hegelian dialectical inscription only if it’s thought in terms of the uninterruptedness of destruction. And yet he cannot understand how such an (im)possibility can actually happen. That is because he is unable to think of negativity in terms other than that of destruction. In other words, we find him unable to think negativity in terms of adventurous constructionism of subtraction as an actuality, which would be the actuality of destruction in its uninterrupted ceaselessness. It is not for nothing that Badiou conceptualises and envisages subtraction as that which is the articulation of destructive antagonism towards the sublationary force-field of the (idealist) dialectic. This is why Badiou terms his subtractive affirmationism political negativity.

In such circumstances, Adorno’s failure to think the happening of the (im)possible, which his “negative dialectics” conceptually articulates, can possibly only be ascribed to the limit imposed on his thought by its objective conjunctural location. This failure of his to draw the non-productive affirmative consequences from his own concepts of negative dialectics and constellation is clearly evident in his melancholic conception of the “totally administered society”. Something that then risks generating its own obverse: the Heidegger-like affirmation qua the irrationality of poetic-thinking, and the deconstructive infinite finitudes. And yet, unless we are able to arrive at this criticism of Adorno by showing how his concept of negative dialectics frees negativity of determination from being merely the negation of determination to become its own moment of presentation as negativity, we won’t be able to think and envisage the non-productive order of affirmation in and against the productivity of capital. And that, ironically enough, would make us bring the Heideggerian deconstruction, we strive to throw out of the front door, back in through the rear window.

The heuristic-recursive insistence that we see Adorno’s modernist conception of aesthetics of necessary failure as itself a necessary failure unwittingly risks upholding the ways of deconstruction, and the infinite regress that is concomitant with it. This, as far as aesthetic production within a Marxist field is concerned, could easily compel artists to submit their productive activity, paradoxically enough, to a kind of Lukacsian aesthetic imperative of historical realism.

Alexander Kluge and the dialectic of Galilean heresy

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“It is said that the true reason why Galileo Galilei was summoned before the Holy Inquisition, and had to recant, was not his inclination to the Copernican system, but his thesis that the observed appearance of physical objects tells us what they actually are. Which violates the doctrine of transubstantiation: if the wafer broken at the altar appears to be a baker’s product and if there is no experiment by which one may distinguish between the bread before and the bread after the transformation, then, so Galileo maintained, the bread on the altar was bread and nothing else.

“— Galileo has gone too far. Now he must retreat.
— He has gone no further than the natural sciences today. What he says is one of the core assertions on which science is based.
— But he cannot cut open the holy bread with a knife to see if blood comes out. What would he do, if the bread really does bleed?
— He often did try that at night, in Venice, on extraterritorial soil. There was no blood.
— He could not have known that beforehand. The next time he cuts it open he will find that he has sinned. Then he’ll be burned.
— He did recant, after all.”

–Alexander Kluge, ‘Galileo, The Heretic’ (The Devil’s Blind Spot)

This “novel in a pill-form” by Kluge astutely reads Galilean empiricism as, to use Pasolini’s Epicurean-Marxist concept, “heretical empiricism”. And this, for Kluge, is accomplished first by Galileo’s assertion of empiricism as the natural-scientific truth and then by his recantation of the same before the Holy Inquisition, a theological (and thus metaphysical) tribunal. What these two coupled acts emphasise is the absolutely undeniable importance of effects, but not as expressivist meanings of a prior cause but precisely as instantiations of disavowal of such a hidden cause and its expressivist meanings.

Therefore, even as Galileo’s assertion “that the observed appearance of physical objects tells us what they actually are”, disavows the prior cause of transubstantiation of baker’s bread into Christ’s flesh, his recantation of the same is a continuance of the same disavowal of a priori knowledge that a bread transformed by the Church ritual of Eucharist is only a baker’s bread and hence will not bleed if sliced into. This must be read as Kluge’s brilliant allusion to radical fidelity — or, difficult commitment — to the heretical essence of Galilean experimental science. This is, to all intents and purposes, Kluge’s rearticulation of his teachers’ (Adorno and Horkheimer’s) concept of the dialectic of Enlightenment. One that, among other things, transforms the conception of experimental science and practice from a heuristic process of falsification to a conception of dialectical process of truth and error.

Some random thoughts on the rationalism/irrationalism divide

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If we historicise religion in terms of its pagan provenance we can clearly see religion as unreflexive atheism. That reading is precisely what is at stake in Gramsci’s critical entanglement with the consciousness and culture of what he termed the subaltern. Something that comes across rather clearly in his critique of Bukharin’s manual of Marxist sociology.

On the other hand, the conception of the rational in Hegel’s system of philosophy of history is deeply theological — theology here to be read as the mystification of religion through a hypostasis of its material basis. Albeit, the historical thinking of metaphysics and idealism that is prominently at work in Hegel while he is building his system of philosophy (of history) provides us with the resources needed to reconceptualise rationalism as materialism, against the Hegelian-systemic grain of theology as it were.

One way, my preferred way, of reading materialism off Hegel is provided by Althusserian Pierre Macherey’s deconstructive reading of Hegel’s criticism of Spinoza. He also demonstrates a similar approach when in his affirmative reading of Adorno’s mobilisation of Hegel’s conception of negativity in ‘Negative Dialectics’, Macherey rigorously explicates such Adornesque mobilisation of Hegelian negativity as Spinozist conatus, which is an extensional, and thus non-productive, positivity.

In that context, religion needs to be approached not as a closed system of mystification but, like every other thing in modernity (especially, its theologised commodity of secularism), as a terrain problematisable in terms of it already always being internally divided between the materiality that is its emerging or political (re-)emerging, and its mystified, theologised presence. It’s perhaps time now to revive once again the (Marxian) project of reconceptualising reason/rationalism in terms of materialism as constant movement of internal division between idea and matter, and thus as critique, polemicality and politics, rather than get caught in the (Weberian) historicist and positivist binary of rational contra irrational.

Marx: An Epicurean in Hegelian disguise?

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“…the principle of Epicurean philosophy is not the gastrology of Archestratus as Chrysippus believes, but the absoluteness and freedom of self-consciousness — even if self-consciousness is only conceived in the form of individuality.
“If abstract-individual self-consciousness is posited as an absolute principle then, indeed, all true and real science is done away with [aufgehoben] inasmuch as individuality does not rule within the nature of things themselves. But then, too, everything collapses that is transcendentally related to human consciousness and therefore belongs to the imagining mind. On the other hand, if that self-consciousness which knows itself only in the form of abstract universality is raised to an absolute principle, then the door is opened wide to superstitious and unfree mysticism. Stoic philosophy provides the historic proof of this. Abstract-universal self-consciousness has, indeed, the intrinsic urge to affirm itself in the things themselves in which it can only affirm itself by negating them.
“Epicurus is therefore the greatest representative of Greek Enlightenment, and he deserves the praise of Lucretius:

“Humana ante oculos foede cum vita iaceret
In terris oppressa gravi sub religione
Quae caput a caeli regionibus ostendebat
Horribili super aspectu mortalibus instans,
Primum Graius homo mortalis tollere contra.
Est oculos ausus primusque obsistere contra,
Quem neque fama deum nec fulmina nec minitani
Murmure compressit caelum………………………
Quare religio pedibus subjecta vicissim
Obteritur, nos exaequat victoria caelo.”
(“When human life lay grovelling in all men’s sight, crushed to the earth under the dead weight of religion whose grim features loured menacingly upon mortals from the four quarters of the sky, a man of Greece was first to raise mortal eyes in defiance, first to stand erect and brave the challenge. Fables of the gods did not crush him, nor the lightning flash and growling menace of the sky…. Therefore religion in its turn lies crushed beneath his feet, and we by his triumph are lifted level with the skies.”)

“The difference between Democritean and Epicurean philosophy of nature…has been elaborated and confirmed in all domains of nature. In Epicurus, therefore, atomistics with all its contradictions has been carried through and completed as the natural science of self-consciousness. This self-consciousness under the form of abstract individuality is an absolute principle. Epicurus has thus carried atomistics to its final conclusion, which is its dissolution and conscious opposition to the universal. For Democritus, on the other hand, the atom is only the general objective expression of the empirical investigation of nature as a whole. Hence the atom remains for him a pure and abstract category, a hypothesis, the result of experience, not its active [energisches] principle. This hypothesis remains therefore without realisation, just as it plays no further part in determining the real investigation of nature.”
–Karl Marx, ‘Difference Between The Democritean And Epicurean Philosophy of Nature In General’


What do we have here? Marx, the Epicurean affirmationist and anti-dialectician in a Hegelian garb? And was this not who Marx really always was? Is this not the Marx that Althusser and his band of Althusserians, particularly Macherey and Badiou, produce through their detour via the Greek atomists (and Spinoza in Macherey’s case), thanks to the ‘discovery’ of the “epistemological break” between Early Marx with his expressivist human ontology and subject and Late Marx with his antagonism between concrete labour and productive forces on one hand, and abstract labour and social relations of production on the other? Was this not the Marx that was always there, right at the very beginning — this being his doctoral dissertation — and who had only momentarily been obscured by the dross of Hegel’s dialectic and Young Hegelian dialectical anthropology? Did not the Marx of Capital, but especially of the Grundrisse, continue doing what he does in this doctoral thesis of his: mobilise and deploy the dialectical discourse against itself in order to have it break with itself? Is it not this break with the dialectic and its structure — which is tantamount to the universalisibality of the singular — that is evident here when he writes:” Abstract-universal self-consciousness has, indeed, the intrinsic urge to affirm itself in the things themselves in which it can only affirm itself by negating them.”? Sure, he uses the Hegelian-dialectical terminology and conception of negation to articulate this anti-dialectical universal. But is that anything more than his historically given threshold of sayability? So then, is the dialectic of productive forces and social relations of production that Marx elaborates really meant by him to be a dialectic? Or, is the relentlessness of the dialectical machine — that is his magnum opus Capital — not actually meant to indicate the relentlessness of the antagonism of the singular universalising to the dialectical universality? In fact, is that not the direction he unambiguously indicates in his Grundrisse, what with the text tending clearly towards according conceptual primacy to labour vis-a-vis capital and its labour theory of value?

The Althusserian conception of materialism of thought — which in Badiou’s conception of “subjective-materiality” finds a more rigorous and developed reformulation through Mallarme, but also Pessoa — is an Epicurean-subtractionist conception. Epicurus is so extreme in his anti-universalising rigorous particularism that it amounts to subtraction from the diremptive horizon of the universal and the particular, and is thus universal-singularity. Marx’s reading of Epicurus’s philosophy of nature points clearly in that direction. In the portion excerpted above he writes: “If abstract-individual self-consciousness is posited as an absolute principle then, indeed, all true and real science is done away with [aufgehoben] inasmuch as individuality does not rule within the nature of things themselves. But then, too, everything collapses that is transcendentally related to human consciousness and therefore belongs to the imagining mind.” The last sentence of this quote is particularly irrefutable as evidence on that count.

And this is the direction Althusser pursues in his later conception of aleatory materialism or materialism of the encounter. Badiou follows that path even further as is evident from his conceptions such as truth as “fidelity to the event”, the “universal-singular” and “subtractive ontology”. Both of them correctly grasp the materialist dialectic as the culmination of Epicurean rigorous particularism and thus subtractive universal-singularity. This evidently makes this materialist dialectic the operation of forcing the truth of the aleatory, the encounter, or the event a la Badiou. In fact, when Althusser articulates his conception of materiality as pure happening (the encounter) sans all matter, it is this Epicurean subtractionist conception of materiality that he strives to affirm.

That Marx himself adopted this Epicurean-subtractive modality of thinking – albeit in the discursive idiom of Hegelian dialectics — is evident in how he envisages and articulates his conception of natural history of capital in Capital, Volume I. Marx’s conception of natural history with regard to his discursive representation of capital as its own immanent critique – Adorno was to later further develop this conception of natural history in his Negative Dialectics — reveals how the emergence and generalisation of productive labour is constitutive of diremption between man, and nature-as-matter. Something that, therefore, renders labour, in its situation within and animation by that horizon of diremption, fundamentally immaterial.

Marx’s conception of capital in terms of natural history, therefore, also demonstrates that labour can emancipate itself from its constitutive condition of immateriality (or ideality) only in, as and through its self-abolition. That is encapsulated in clear programmatic terms in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. And labour in self-abolition would basically be materiality as a rupture with the horizon of constitutive diremption of labour in its immateriality and nature-as-matter, to be an affirmation of the singularity of nature as nonidentitarian excess of identity, or as the negativity of the historical in and as its own determinate presentation.

Clearly, therefore, materiality, a la Marx’s conception of natural history, is not simply nature-as-matter because matter is nothing but the constitutive obverse of the immateriality or ideality of labour. Rather, materiality, in this conception, is the duration and/or historicity of nature as nonidentitarian excess. This is precisely materiality without matter, as materiality should and can only be. In that context, the Althusserian conception of materialism of thought, and Badiou’s conception of “subjective-materiality” is an Epicurean-subtractionist rearticulation of this natural-historical conception of materiality without matter.
We can, therefore, also easily claim that Althusser and, especially, Badiou’s subtractionist rearticulation of the materialist dialectic – something they accomplish by reading the materialist dialectic in Marx through the prism of Epicurus and Greek atomism – is a reformulation of the Marxian conception of natural history in the discursive register of Epicurean and Greek atomism. Can we not?

Nietzsche’s Hellenism: A case of heroic failure

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Is it any longer historically possible to retrieve the non-moral ethics of Classical Hellenic antiquity? For, is the inescapable modern condition of our historical being — not just in the West and the Muslim world, but even in our apparently pagan polytheistic society too — really pagan and polytheistic? Objectively speaking, isn’t the polytheistic appearance of our society not the realisation of a metaphysical pantheism? One where every difference is not singular, as it would be in a situation that is historically and fundamentally pagan, but a particularity of a universal, because each such difference is a placeholder for that universal. Conversely, are societies where monotheism, in some form or the other, determines the religious belief of the majority and gives their respective cultures the appearance they have, really monotheistic?

Wasn’t, therefore, the attempt to retrieve Greek ethics constitute Nietzsche’s most heroic failure? The following passage from Karl Loewith’s ‘Nietzsche’s Revival of the Doctrine of Eternal Recurrence’ — the second appendix of his ‘Meaning in History’ — unambiguously reveals that: “Nietzsche undoubtedly achieved the metamorphosis from the Christian ‘Thou shalt’ to the modern ‘I will’, but hardly the crucial transformation from the ‘I will’ to the ‘I am’ of the cosmic child, which is ‘innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning and a self-rolling wheel.’ As a modern man he was so hopelessly divorced from any genuine ‘loyalty to the earth’ and from the feeling of eternal security ‘under the bell of heaven’ that this great effort to remarry man’s destiny to cosmic fate, or to ‘translate man back into nature,’ could not but be frustrated. Thus, wherever he tries to develop his doctrine rationally, it breaks asunder in two irreconcilable pieces: in a presentation of eternal recurrence as an objective fact, to be demonstrated by physics and mathematics, and in a quite different presentation of it as a subjective hypothesis, to be demonstrated by its ethical consequence. It breaks asunder because the will to eternalize the chance existence of the modern ego does not fit into the assertion of the eternal cycle of the natural world.”

In such circumstances, when pantheistic modernity — and the capitalist mode it is constitutive of — is an inescapable global condition, might it not be, politically and intellectually speaking, a better idea to save the tradition(s) of monotheism from the conformism it has fallen into — one which articulates and construes monotheism in terms of church-like institutionality — by historicising and rethinking the tradition(s) of monotheism as a witness of the messianic eruption of the singular, thereby seeking to practically render such eruption of the singular multiple. In other words, would it not be politically more meaningful not to shun the conceptual in the name of some kind of phenomenology of multiplicity and difference? Something that would not only give rise to the problem of epistemological void but would also result in infinite regress as the only possible practice and thinking of politics. Would it not, instead, be more productive — both intellectually and politically — to re-envision the conceptual in terms of the impossibility of knowledge: that is, concept of the impossibility of knowledge? Adorno in his Negative Dialectics, for instance, gives us precisely such a rethinking of the conceptual when he affirms the concept as one that is orientated towards nonconceptualities.

Some random and provisional thoughts on Marxian conceptions of production

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Production as in capitalist production is, pace Marx, always immaterial. That value, as the realisation of production, is, in Marx, objective and thus immaterial proves that. Materiality would then reside only in the singularity/singularisation of destructive creation, as opposed to and in subtraction from creative destruction that is condemned to be productive. Hence, production, following the Marx of Althusser, is an effect of its own displacement and excess, and thus a symptom of its own negation, or better, absencing. Not for nothing does Marx see the recomposition of social relations of production — or the change/increase in the organic composition of capital — in terms of the liberation of developed productive forces from social relations of production that can no longer contain them. Therefore, the so-called productive forces, when seen in the longee-duree of their action, reveal themselves for what they are — active forces of transformative destruction in their reactive rendition. It’s only by grasping productive forces in this fashion can one think practice in its anti-historicist immanence in and against capital, which is the realisation of the abstraction of historicist thought. In such circumstances, radical transformation — transformation as novelty as opposed to transformation as mere change — can neither be the Hegelian circle of movement that seeks to neurotically conceal the brokenness of its own circularity, nor, for that matter, can it be the circle of Nietzschean/poststructuralist repetition, which is merely the obverse of Hegelianism because it openly embraces the brokenness of the circle and makes the broken circle into a virtue. [The circularity of Hegel’s dialectic is broken, and thus neurotic, because his dialectic is about the negation of the concretely realised absolute as already always being the historically concrete realisation of the absolute. This is what Hegel’s conception of employed negativity — negativity that is always already productively employed — basically amounts to.] In such circumstances, radical transformation can only be the ceaseless indivisibility of Spinozist extension — the conception of conatus at work in Spinoza’s thinking — that amounts to the suspension of both the Hegelian circle and its poststructuralist (‘repetitive’) obverse.

However, some astute Hegelian Marxists (Adorno. Moishe Postone and Zizek particularly come to mind) — to give them their radical due — think the schizz in Hegelian thinking in its extreme by mobilising the brokenness of Hegelian circularity against precisely the Hegelian circle itself in order to emancipate the former from the latter. For instance, Adorno’s conception of the dialectic in terms of its negativity shows us the way forward on how to think negativity (of the dialectic) in and as its own presentation, and thus as affirmative excess of the dialectic. His conception of “negative dialectics” — and constellation — demonstrates how one can think the dialectic as a mode of presentation of its own negativity. As a result, it is aligned, as it were, with a way of thinking the dialectic that sees and demonstrates it as the mode of presentation of the determinate excess and voiding of precisely the dialectic itself as an abstraction. Such articulation, or thinking, of the dialectic in terms of its excessive and antagonistic asymmetry is what renders it materialist. That is arguably why Pierre Macherey, a faithfully committed Althusserian-Marxist, reads Adorno’s concept of “negative dialectics” affirmatively as an elaboration of the Spinozist conception of conatus — the ceaseless indivisibility of extension –, albeit one that is articulated in and through the discursive register of Hegelian-Marxism. Which is why, one is compelled to ask, how much of Hegel there really is in such ‘Hegelian’ thinking? Is this not a way that even as it indisputably passes through Hegel takes us to his antipodes? And is this way, in being more Hegelian than Hegel, not already something entirely different? After all, this Adornoesque move to mobilise the brokenness of Hegelian circularity against precisely the Hegelian circle itself in order to emancipate the former from the latter transforms the former into a quality that is radically distinct from that of brokenness-of-the-circle. This new quality is nothing but Spinoza’s conatus as the ceaseless indivisibility of extension — this is also how Marx thought “real history” as the infinity of beginnings in their ceaseless indivisibility. Hence, one feels prompted to ask, together with Macherey, “Hegel or Spinoza”? And answer with him; Spinoza of course; but the Spinoza who comes to us through Hegel and after him

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