Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Marx and foundering reading projects

Or, hey, how's that plan for reading Capital coming along?

Not so well. I read Harvey's The Limits to Capital earlier this year and had high hopes for moving on to Marx's great work. Attention spans and sleep patterns being what they are, these hopes have come so far to nothing. But I do take the book down at intervals, thinking maybe today? maybe tomorrow? No, I want to have my energies.

This post has been prompted by my reading of this entertaining post at Rough Theory, about Marx's dismissive handling of Malthus in chapter 25 of Capital (link via BLCKDGRD). A sample:

Marx goes on to “remark… in passing” that Eden “was the only disciple of Adam Smith to have achieved anything of importance during the eighteenth century” (766). The comment appears casual, trivial, and beside the point – a curiosity we could surely skip lightly past on the way to the substantive material in the next paragraph. Except that a massive multi-page footnote blocks our way and, when we decide that a footnote of such prodigious length might be important, finally locate the footnote marker at the end of the “passing remark” above, and cast our eyes down into the marginalia, we discover that special circle of textual hell into which Marx has decided he will deposit Malthus...

Malthus is therefore introduced into this chapter with an insult: Eden is the only disciple of Smith to amount to anything – making Malthus a disciple of Smith who... didn’t...

Heh: "special circle of textual hell". Note to self, when finally reading Capital, along with listening along to David Harvey's lectures, remember to go back through the archives at Rough Theory.

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Blogger stuart said...

Hi Richard,
Have you read Marshall Berman's review of Capital in "Adventures in Marxism"? I'm sure you'll be impatient to start it after reading that.
I did read Capital first time through in a reading group, which does help. The first chapter is quite painful.
I know the feeling you describe. I have a copy of Ulysses with a really interesting introduction. I've read the introduction about ten times, and each time I say, "This sounds really brilliant, I"m going to read this right now!" And then I put it back on the shelf for another few years....

October 15, 2009 6:05 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Hi Stuart, thanks for commenting (also for commenting to that origins post; I meant to reply, but time got away from me...).

Yes, I have read the Berman. In fact, it was a post by you that led me to it (plus the fact that we happened to own a copy of Adventures in Marxism). It did make me want to read Capital right away, but so far I still haven't. I would love to read it as part of a reading group.

I also haven't read Ulysses. For both, I want to be sufficiently awake, which has been a problem.

October 15, 2009 9:19 AM  
Blogger stuart said...

Yes, it's the feeling of hard work coming up, isn't it? As if us wage workers don't have enough bloody work forced on us! Cheers

October 16, 2009 5:17 AM  
Blogger Mathew Toll said...

I’ve referenced Das Kapital in numerous essays. But I’ve never read the whole thing. I always find myself skipping the first couple of chapters and reading the more historically layered material. Transition to capitalism, primitive accumulation, the law of concentration of production and capital…that kind of thing.

October 19, 2009 6:17 AM  

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