Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Upside To Being Thrown Off A Train (or: A Reading of Marx)

A philosophical critique of Marx's youthful '44 Manuscripts might seek to expose the ways in which Marx assumes the existence of a reality in and of itself that is proper to Man. For that matter, a philosophical critique of these texts might also call into question what appears to be an implicit gendered designation of the masculine as the neutral universal--thus, "ontologically" man is the species-being who produces his own world: a man's world? A philosophical critique of these strident and earnest analyses might also synthesize these two lines of approach and ask if the reality of man that is ontologically secured is more than this appearance--namely: a world where the reality of man is created by man (or men) for himself, for himself as the neutral universal.

Thus, what is at the heart of the matter is the assumption of an implacable ontology befitting for Man. But, precisely because Marx designates this real-being as the real-being of Man the heart of the matter seems to demand a necessary supplement, a distinction between Man and...?

There are two (at least!) possibilities that stand in for the Other to Man when thinking seriously of the ontological claim that Marx makes in the essay "Estranged Labor". On the one hand is the animal, and on the other is Nature. In the first instance the trope of consciousness infects Marx's thinking: as much as man is the animal that labors, that produces actual objects in and of the material world, Marx can only value this doing by making it a conscious doing, a Hegelianly reflected upon doing; a doing that reflects the distinction between need and desire, immediacy and mediation, animal slavishness and human freedom.

The other Other is Nature, which houses Marx's text like a womb, like the world of the species-being that lives-on Nature by consuming and destroying it, and forcibly manipulating it into his image. Marx wishes to say that this labor on the inorganic body of Nature--which is his own body insofar as "intercourse" with Nature is necessary for survival; yet which is also Nature acting on itself (herself?) as man is "part" of nature--is the reality of the ontological status of species-being, of man as the universal. Yet precisely because Marx holds to such an ontology of the species-being Man as reality he effaces the power of his own assertion that man is a producer, an artificer, an artistic creator--perhaps: a narcissistic idolator? The reality of man ontologically, on Marx's terms, and the very "property" that makes him potent, is his imagination: Man is the animal that forcibly renders Nature in his image, thereby making it real.

This capacity of man, to be distinguished from an animal by his consciousness, is why man lives on Nature, as if over-against Nature, and not in Nature. To live in nature, to be an animal, is to live immediately, to live with no image of nature--to be in reality? Marx positions man on Nature, superimposing himself on nature, enframing nature, into reality. Man has reality by living on nature. Man has universality from the vantage of being on nature.

Man in relation to nature, is like money in relation to man. Money extracts from man his properties, renders the real an image, and an image into reality. "I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore, I am not ugly, for the effects of ugliness--its deterrent power--is nullified by money." I am an animal, but I can produce for myself the most useless of objects. Therefore, I am not an animal, for the effect of animality--its unmediated power--is nullified by frivolous production. Man overpowers Nature with the hostile image of his world, just as money overpowers alien being with the image of its possession of propertied properties.

What, then, does Marx identify as the true power of money if not its inverting power; that is, its power to superimpose an image onto the image of the reality species-being has superimposed onto Nature? An image onto an image that does not reflect the "reality" of the image of species-being.

Money, Marx writes, is the alien, external, indifferent, hostile force that establishes the tenor of human life. Alien, external, indifferent, hostile--antithetical. Have we already arrived in Hegel's civil society? Money as the negation--the Freudian negative--of species-being's position on Nature: in a word, competition.

Marx plays the game by decrying the rules. He knows the rules: "We address ourselves not to other men's humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. (Wealth of Nations, Bk I, Ch. 2, cited in Marx, '44) To accept the rules, after all, is to cede to the image of reality money produces a reality as real as the image of reality produced by labor. Marx positions the reality of "humanity and necessity" as the negation of the reality of "self-love and advantage": the position of the image of reality (or the reality of the image) shifts: the position is the negation (or the negation is the position of the image of reality)---the choreography of this production is really poorly imagined!)

The ontological reality of species-being is thus haunted by an image, a specter, that threatens to expose species-being as itself a product: a specious-being.

What does Nature have to think of all this? Or isn't it so immediately present that Nature is base, unthinking, does not have an image? Only man would bother to imagine such a question: for man, species-being is part of nature, living-on nature, for pro-duction, pro-creation with the inorganic body of the material (maternal?) world. Money is indifferent to Nature as its materials are the products of labor, labor itself: species-being. Money does not care about the object of production because it produces producers as its objects (or does it?). Money sees itself in its duplication--its interest rate--just as the laborer sees himself in his duplication--his objectified production.

Money interrupts the intercourse of species-being and nature, it objects to this image of man's reality. "In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labor tears from him his species-life, his real species objectivity, and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him." Money tears species-being off nature, takes his object, and re-images it: the reality of production is the property of money. Intercourse with nature moves through the valuation of money, and is always deprived of its object, its produce. Labor labors but never can be private with nature, have nature properly again, as his property. The union of species-being and Nature is torn asunder.

Isn't this a mirror image of the reality of the Oedipal drama? Of an image of a union which was always already a re-union insofar as it is an image--of a reality of being on top? The child's fantasy of the mother as always giving, always replenishing, his to fashion. The harmonious symbiosis of species-being as a part of nature such that his imaginary is Nature's imaginary: desire as the remainder of the demand for love once need is satisfied. Money interjects itself into this fantasy, its value, its image is reality: money effects a loss that was always already lost: it insists upon its image, its fantasy, as the mediation of man to nature. Man loses his object and receives the symbol of the object in its place. Thus, labor as jouissance: the always and ever futile pursuit of the Real of species-being, the Real of production (understood through the infantile image of having intercourse with Nature).

That is, Marx writes as the castrated child subject to the prohibition on incest. His defiance--his denial of castration and ambivalent projection of castration onto Money (it makes impossible and impotent imaginations into reality)--does not erase this structural parallel. The economy of the loss of the Real of jouissance circulates in the currency of species-being estrangement.

The alienation of species-being is reconciled through the reflection, the recognition, of the laborer in the object of his production--the happy consciousness. Estrangement through the mediating value of money demands the laborer resolve this alienation through reflecting upon himself under its image, to see himself recognized in the symbol of the lost object. "Estrangement is manifested not only in the fact that my means of life belong to someone else, that my desire is the inaccessible possession of another, but also in the fact that everything is in itself something different from itself--that my activity is something else and that finally (and this applies also to the capitalist), all is under the sway of inhuman power." Whereas species-being resolved the difference between itself and its object by seeing production as a matter of reciprocity--the fantasy of man's doing unto Nature as nothing more than Nature doing unto itself (consent, in a word)--is, under the value system of money denied, barred: species-being is a split subject (always already).

Not that Marx necessarily understands his own negation of money to be a position akin to it, related to it, familiar with it: he maintains the Real of labor. But his critique of the fetishization of money is an unconscious projection, deferral, of the reality that the ontological status of Man qua species-being is guaranteed only by the forcible superimposition of his image onto Nature through labor. Marx remarks of money's inhuman power the way Nature must remark of man's unnatural (mediated) power.

The unconscious projection of an un-negateable position (living on nature) on which to found the ontological reality of man is expressed in this dismay, and allows Marx to (unconsciously) see his own project of ontology in the logic of capital: it produces itself as real and then denies that it was produced: an ideology, an image that frames reality. The ontology of man Marx proposes is an ideology insofar as the productive capacity of man is limited to, stops short of, the affirmation that this ontology, too, is the produced "real image" of the reality of man. Such emphasis on the productive capacity of labor to re-produce itself with variations and slippages (parapraxes?) potentially distinguishes it from money, which only ever appropriates the properties of the property it possesses (and is thereby possessed by).

The trace of labor always marks the real image of money, then, to the extent that there can be no absolute erasure of the real image of production: labor is the specter of money, the imaginary of its symbolic value. To affirm in the inverse, too, is to melt the ideology of Marx's youthful ontology.

To the extent, then, that Marx's critique of money issues from an Oedipal relation it is also possible to read Marx against himself and to thereby recover from the reified ideology of ontology an affirmation of the disruptive power of production insofar as this production disseminates a "real/image" beyond the valuations of capitalism...

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