RE: "A New Reading of Capitol," by Fredric Jameson

It seems that Fredric Jameson has published book that provides a new reading of Marx’s Capitol, which ought to be interesting. I’ve excerpted his introduction to the book below. You can find the full text to the article here.

A New Reading of Capital

Fredric Jameson
My title promises a preview of my forthcoming book, Representing Capital, a commentary on Volume I of Marx’s Capital, which I read somewhat differently than many of the standard interpretations. So I will tell you something about that and then draw some practical conclusions about Marxism today and its political and intellectual mission.

I am anxious that this work of mine not be understood as a “literary” reading of Capital: not only have those few such attempts been either weak generic classifications or fairly obvious notes on style and metaphor: indeed, the very term literary in this context is bound to trivialize the effort and to suggest that those debating the technical details of Marx’s economic analyses will have little interest in cultural epiphenomena like the textual status of the book as such. And it is true that I take little interest in Marx’s facts as he presents them or in the relevance of the laws he is alleged to have deduced from them. What I have wished to emphasize is the representation of capitalism as a totality, as an infernal machine which can only be described dialectically. I regard the truth of the labor theory of value as a metaphysical issue; I find the extrapolation of Marx’s model to the current third or globalized, postmodern, stage of capitalism to be of the greatest interest, but think that so far this can take many forms. And at the same time I consider that Marx’s description of capital is fully vindicated by recent events and remains as valid today as it ever was. Meanwhile, in this reading I limit myself to the only completed work, namely Volume I of Capital, and I claim that it gives a complete picture of capitalist totality. I should add, to justify my formal approach (which as I have said I would not want to call literary exactly, but which some will certainly continue to characterize as formalist in that way) — I should add that for me the central formal problem of Capital Volume I is the problem of representation: namely how to construct a totality out of individual elements, historical processes, and perspectives of all kinds; and indeed how to do justice to a totality which is not only non-empirical as a system of relationships, but which is also in full movement, in expansion, in a movement of totalization which is essential to its very existence and at the heart of its peculiar economic nature. Yet also essential to this structure is a process of perpetual breakdown: so we have here a machine which is necessarily and inevitably breaking down and which must therefore, to remain in existence, constantly repair itself by enlarging itself and its field of control. How such a peculiar and indeed such a unique phenomenon can be represented or made to appear in our mind’s eye is I believe explained by the equally unique and peculiar powers of dialectical thought, which might almost be considered a new type of thinking invented specifically to overcome the dilemmas of representation posed by this unique and peculiar totality called capital: but I will not pursue any more extensive account and defense or apologia of the dialectic here.
So now we begin, and with a scandalous proposal, namely to bracket the whole of Part One: it is of course the most famous section of the whole work, the one everyone reads even if they get no further; nor is my proposal motivated by quite the same concerns as those of Althusser and Korsch, both of whom suggested that the neophyte or working class reader skip these chapters, at least in part because both these thinkers were for different reasons adamantly opposed to the dialectic as such.
My reasons are somewhat different, though I would agree to this extent, namely that readers can become so mesmerized by the commodity form, fetishism and the like that they cease to explore Marxism any further. I remind you that Part One is what the Grundrisse’s editors call “The Chapter on Money”: it is not yet about capital, money has here not yet undergone its crucial metamorphosis into capital, and to that degree Part One stages something like capitalism’s pre-history (as does, in a very different way, Part Eight, on primitive accumulation), so that strictly speaking Marx’s description of capitalism as such can be limited to Parts Two through Seven. Certainly, in a society dominated by commodification, the analyses of Part One are politically more relevant today, just as the dimension of culture more generally is in our third stage of capitalism. Nonetheless in formal terms, I propose that Part One be considered a kind of complete work in its own right, a kind of overture to the main work, or better still a Vorspiel on the order of Das Rheingold, whose fundamental action will then come with the official Ring trilogy.
One of the reasons for doing so is that Part One has proven to be a fausse piste or as Heidegger calls it a Holzweg, a path leading nowhere. Part One is essentially an attack on the very notion of exchange, on the equation which suggests that there can be such a thing as an exchange of equals, or that the equation can be reversible. This means that there can be no such thing as a just price, and with this the whole project of social democracy or of the equitable reform of capitalism falls to the ground. But this result — politically productive — leaves us back at our starting point, with only one acquisition, namely a methodological one, which will now guide my reading of the rest of Volume One and which I will now briefly outline.
I want to understand plot in Capital as the solving of specific problems, the resolution of specific dilemmas. But as capitalism involves many problems and paradoxes, these resolutions will involve a variety of tentative explorations, and they will take the form of overlapping waves. A problem — paradox, aporia, contradiction — will declare itself; then, gradually, its solution will become apparent, but not without raising another problem in its wake. So by the time one wave has subsided, by the time one momentum has run its course, a new wave is beginning, and a new momentum established: a new problem has raised its head, demanding a fresh set of inquiries and chapters and a whole new movement forward. So this reading of Capital will seek to identify the point at which a new conundrum arises and to indicate how it is resolved and at the same time gives way to a new one. There are five or six waves which basically structure Capital Volume I, or in other words, organize that suspense — now how is this question to be answered? — which constitutes the plot of the work. (I hope it will not complicate this view of the text to add that from a dialectical point of view many of these problems turn out to be the same problem, and to involve the same answer — but in a different register, in different terms, from a different perspective.)

You can find the full text to the article here

This entry was posted in Capitalism, Jameson, Marx, Pop Culture Issues, Post Modernism.

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