November 13, 2005

Odds and ends

Adam Kotsko replies to my posts on unemployment from last week....


Two, closely related, posts by Steven Shaviro... the first on use-value, the second on Kojin Karatani’s Transcritique, which aims to bring together Marx with Kant. (I'm very sympathetic, incidentally, to Steven's call, contra Zizek, for a reading of Lacan through Kant rather than Hegel. Zizek's review of Transcritique, incidentally, can be found here, on Jodi Dean's site).

In the post on use-value, Steven rejects what has calcified into an orthodoxy in certain areas of French theory : the view that Marx nostalgically resisted the vertiginous implications of exchange value (the ultimate example of the delirial play of signs without a referent) by retreating into the notion of a pre-commodified and unmediated utility. (I must confess that I have in the past been guilty of uncritically endorsing and propagating this attack on Marx.) Steven points out that usefulness is something quite different from use value, and that the latter only comes into effect precisely by reference to exchange value. Far from being originary, use-value is only ever retrospectively posited from the point of view of exchange value, so 'it’s not Marx, but the neoliberal, free-market economists, who make the mistake of hypostatizing use-value, of endowing it with fundamental meaning, of attributing to it a transparent, “direct relation of utility for a subject.”'

The Karatani book, which I look forward to reading, apparently makes a similar move. Importantly, Karatani says that is not Marx but Ricardo that is the advocate of the labour theory of value. According to Karatani, Marx treated the relationship between the labour theory of value and its opposite - Bailey's idea that value was purely relational - as a Kantian antinomy. In his piece on Transcritique describes antimonies in terms of the parallax, 'the reality exposed through difference'. Like many of Kant's concepts, the antimony is mind-meltingly destabilizing: at one at the same time, it is a both-and relation (value is generated both out of labour and purely relationally) and a neither-nor relation (neither labour nor pure relationality are sufficient to account for the genesis of value). The truth of the antimony lies in its irresolvable tension, not in any solution to it (not that any solution is possible in any case).
UPDATE: Bat mails in defence of Baudrillard. Bat pointed out that the rejection of the idea that use-value was primordial had been made by Baudrillard in For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. I replied that this is indeed so, but Steven's point was that Baudrillard thinks he's deconstructing Marx when in fact this is what Marx himself says. To which Bat answered as follows:

'Hmm, I wonder about this. People are always a trifle too quick to
pronounce on what they think Baudrillard thinks he's doing.

What strikes me about For A Critique... is that Baudrillard's reading
of Marx is blatantly (ie too blatantly) "unfair" – he selectively
quotes the sections of Capital that back his reading, eg over
anthropocentrism, Crusoe.

My take on this is that JB is gunning at Marxism, or rather the
Stalinised academic Marxism that dominated French intellectual culture
at the time. But he deliberately avoids the standard "no no, /this/ is
what Marx was /really/ saying" strategy – which would represent yet
another "return to Marx", yet another futile attempt at shoring up
Authenticity, and consequently be inconsistent with JB's peculiarly
Evil version of logic of the signifier.

Instead he reverses things by saying, "yes, yes, Marx /is/ the use
value fetishist you secretly take him to be – and much more so..."'

If you haven't seen this clip - a trailer for The Shining recut to completely change the meaning of the film - brighten up your day and take a look. This should become a standard in Media Studies class as an instant tutorial in how meaning is generated through editing and anchorage... The trailer isn't wholly misleading, however. It reveals a certain truth about The Shining, which, as Walter Metz argued, is not a straightforward Horror film, but a meta-generic exploration of the relationship between Horror and the family melodrama. The clip also reminded me of Jameson's observations in 'Culture and Finance Capital' that the film trailer is the art form most symptomatic of our phase of capitalism. In trailers, Jameson claims, the images are 'fully satisfying in themselves, without the benefit of the laborious threads and connections of the ... plot. At this point it would seem that the preview, as a structure and a work in its own right, bears something of the same relationship to its supposed final product as those novelized films, written after the fact of the movie and published later as a kind of xeroxed reminder, is to the filmic original it replicates. The difference is that, in the case of the feature film and its book version, we have to do with completed narrative structures of a similar type, structures both equally antiquated by these new developments'.

Posted by mark at November 13, 2005 11:53 PM | TrackBack