Saturday, September 15, 2007

These products, or end results, are also productive

Marx begins Capital with a chapter on commodities...Marx starts from these forms of “givenness”, and then gradually unfolds other, more complex, categories - trying to make the case that the possibility for these more complex categories is already presupposed by the initial forms of “givenness” with which he begins. The strategic intention here is complex. Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 1: Reflections on the “Greatest Difficulty” from by N Pepperell
On one level - and over the course of Capital as a whole - Marx will suggest that the initial, apparently simple and “primitive” categories with which he begins, themselves could not exist - would not be “given” - without the whole complex social structure that Marx proceeds to analyse in the rest of the text. These simple initial categories, from which Marx appears to “deduce” more complex categories in the opening sections of Capital, are thus gradually revealed over the course of the argument to be products or end results of a process of historical development, rather than decontextualised and ahistorical starting points of Marx’s analysis. These products, however, are also productive: the results of this historical process provide the materials (”subjective” and “objective” - practical) to point beyond the process that produced them.
Which brings us to the other strategic intention of this mode of argument: Marx is trying to engage in an immanent social critique - and therefore needs to show that capitalism, in reproducing itself, also generates potentials that can react back on this process of reproduction and therefore ground the potential for transformative practice and critique...
As we will see when we reach the section on commodity fetishism, Marx will suggest that the very notion of a “material world” must be understood as a product of human practice - not in the sense that all of nature can be reduced to a human construction, but in the sense that the intuitive gestalt of “materialism” - of “matter” - of a natural world that exists independently of human cultural and social determinations - is the distinctive cultural and social determination that our society projects onto “nature” (or, more accurately, is the determinate way in which we enact our interactions with nature in collective practice). Marx will try to argue that we do this, of course. But, more importantly (since many theorists will “declare” the notion of “materialism” to be a cultural construct - will assert this position as an “abstract negation” or ungrounded stance), Marx will try to show how we do this. It is this that makes his account a determinate negation of materialism.
[Citational note: Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Capital are taken from the text of Chapter 1, Section 1 available at the Marxist Internet Archive; all quotes from Hegel’s Phenomenology are from the online text here.]

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