Saturday, December 25, 2010


From "The Threshold of Exchange: Speculations on the Market" in Radical History Review 1979, Jean-Christophe Agnew:

It is worth remarking that Marx' language is never more richly figurative than when he sees himself stripping away the veils of market relations. Figures of the player, the alchemist, the vampire suddenly appear on the stage of his thought. Commodities betray their thoughts in that language in which they alone are familiar and cast "wooing glances," in the form of prices, at money - money which circulation "sweats...from every pore." All told the imagery points to a sphere of life in which the categories of animate and inanimate, natural and artificial, are fundamentally confused, if not inverted. It is a rhetorical caricature of capitalist contradictions.

Yet even as the profusion of Marx' metaphors draws the reader more deeply into the complexities of the market - its antithesis of values, it paradoxes of accumulation, its inversion of causality - there lingers the suspicion that Marx' own "language of commodities" is itself a veil behind which lie concealed the hard-edged historical realities of production and class-conflict.Capital never makes entirely clear, in fact, where the market as a mode of organization ends and the market as a mode of mystification begins; where the analysis of capitalist production leaves off and the critique of political economy resumes.

For Marx, of course, no fixed line is possible between one sort of analysis and the other because the rise of capitalist production is inseperable from the forms of mystification by which its characteristic system of surplus-extraction is concealed. Moreover, the forms of mystification (or fetishism) are neither arbitrary nor capricious but are in a sense symptomatically related to the mode of production they seem only to obscure. What commercial crises reveal retrospectively, Marx' analysis - with its diagnostic kit of metaphors - aspires to demonstrate beforehand: that within the market-place, the production of commodities and the fetishism of commodities define and in effect empower one another. Marx' spectral imagery reproduces the animism implicit in the categories of 19th century political economy but in such a way as to display its spuriousness, its mystification. His figurative language operates, in effect, as a literary antidote, countering with its own selective incongruities the misdirections of market culture.

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