Friday, March 05, 2010

Deflationary Critique

Recently at Rough Theory:
I have tried to make an extended argument that Capital needs to be read as a deflationary text – meaning that, where other forms of theory tend to presuppose certain “givens”, on the basis of which they then conduct their analysis, Capital tries not to do this. It tries, instead, to show how the major tools in its analytical toolkit – including foundational categories like “society”, “history”, or “material life” – are actively produced by specific forms of human interactions, and therefore reflect the distinctive sensibilities that are primed by particular forms of collective practice.


The core of Marx’s deflationary critique of political economy is that, as soon as a theory starts presupposing or treating as given the constitutive moments of its subject matter, it has failed to examine how that subject matter itself came into being. When it loses the ability to examine how the subject matter came into being, it naturalises its subject matter – it becomes blind to the contingency of the subject matter itself, and therefore cannot conceptualise how the subject matter itself could be abolished or transformed.

Normally Marx keeps this squarely in view. Sometimes... not so much.
As David Harvey stresses, though many mischaracterize Marx as arguing such givens, his method is much more fluid. He is describing a process, the various aspects of which are themselves not fixed in place, so his method must remain in motion, and generally does. I admit that I am increasingly interested in what Marx may have missed, for example in the context of the all-important feminist critique of Marx's analysis (I hesitate to say "Marxism", though the critique is of that too); I tend to believe that Marx himself would have encouraged this. It is this very open-ness, this fluidity, which keeps me coming back to Marx himself and which means that a serious engagement with Capital especially is still very much in the works.

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