Karl Marx as Intellectual Magician

The following is an excerpt from Roberto Calasso’s book The Ruin of Kasch

Looking to the origins, Marx regarded the earth in two different ways: it was at once an “extension of the body” of man, and his “great laboratory,” “arsenal,” “working material.” These antithetical modes recur often in his thought. On the one hand, there is an analogical chain of symbolic correspondences, in which the earth is enfolded as soon as it is considered an “extension of the body” of man (and thus we see despite incessant secularization, terms like “heart,” “brain,” “flesh,” remain symbolic poles). On the other hand, there is an Enlightenment-inspired dissociation, an experimental use of the whole, an absence of premises, represented in the image of the “great laboratory.” But Marx’s attention—and passion—is always directed at the second pole. The first, he realizes, obviously exists; but he is clearly too bored by it to specify its characteristics. For him it suffices to posit a state of belonging, both at the origin and (though here it is more problematic) at the end, as well as a considerable number of states of separation, in all that occurs between those two stages. Marx analyzes these states of separation with a kind of tireless, turbulent, sensual pleasure, referring often and eloquently to something lost or to be recovered. But his eloquence fades, and he becomes suddenly distracted, as soon as he has the opportunity to clarify exactly what has been lost and what might be recovered. All this does not imply that Marx has given two incompatible definitions of the “land” of origin. The definitions are indeed discordant and contradictory, but they have always lived side by side in history: one is the latency of the other. Marx reveals his perceptiveness in the very fact that he posits them together. The euhemeristic gesture, the severing of correspondences, also takes place where the order of analogies has been established. Indeed, the order can be regarded as a conciliatory reply, a suturing of correspondences that ritually follows every act of severing.(magic)

 

“Fully developed individuals, those whose social ties are completely their own, who are borne of communal relations which they control collectively—such individuals are products not of nature but of history. The degree and universality of the development of abilities in which this type of individuality becomes possible presuppose production based on exchange value. This production, together with universality, for the first time gives rise to the alienation of the individual from himself and from others, but it also creates the universality and all-sidedness of his relations and abilities (Continuation of magic). In earlier stages of development, the single individual appears fuller, because he has not yet realized the fullness of his relations and established them as an ensemble of powers and social relations independent of him. It is as absurd to regret this original fullness, as it is to think that we must forever remain in our current state of emptiness. The bourgeois viewpoint has never gone beyond the antithesis between itself and this romantic viewpoint, and thus the latter will accompany it as its legitimate antithesis until the blessed end of the bourgeoisie.” This passage exalts the metaphysical function of capital, which stands magnificently apart from everything else we know. Other apologists lack Marx’s far-sightedness, and never can attribute such evocative power to the commerce they are defending. The universal itself, that spoiled firstborn child of the bourgeois era, is here considered the offspring of “production on the basis of exchange values”—and of nothing else. Marx disdains the communitarian connectedness of all prior stages (even though he is ready to shed a hypocritical tear for its lost “original fullness”), because he knows that those stages are inevitably bornes, limited. And for Marx, Borniertheit is the supreme defect, worse than any emptiness. It is a permanent threat, a hostile memory of the ghetto.

 

The “original fullness” is not polutropos, not “all-sided”; this is what Marx means. (But does Ulysses belong to that “origin” or not? A question which remains unanswered.) At the other end of history we see that, in an age when the bourgeoisie is flourishing most successfully, the essence of the bourgeois individual is indeed universal but completely empty, void, hollow, the result of an inexorable process of emptying. The anthropological question must then be posed in these terms: How are we to deal with that “total emptying” without yielding to some fatuous reference to the lost “original fullness”?

 

At this point the apparatus of dialectic, with all its deceptive aggressiveness, once again seems immensely useful. What development has emptied, development will refill (the magician in action). People will talk about “universal development of individuals” instead of about the relations of production. Thus, instead of speaking of a real emptying, they will use a vacuous expression that nevertheless is tuned to the inclinations of a period which, more than any other, wants to “make it on its own.” One need only avoid certain questions. What if the concrete (the individual) stubbornly refuses? And what if the universal will tolerate continued existence only in conditions of perfect emptiness? Around these same points, some masterly sleight of hand had already been performed by Hegel. Now Marx did the same, though his methods were cruder and he knew much less about the history of philosophy. And such legerdemain would be performed countless more times, with ever more brutal manners, by increasingly nefarious great-grandchildren, travelling cadres of the Third International, or the heirs of some black Byzantium, inhaling the sacrificial fumes of polytechnic schools while waiting to transform their savannah {the leaders of the Khmer Rouse in Cambodia in the aftermath of studying in France and absorbing the tenets of the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser} into a bloody scene a la Raymond Roussel, steeped in slaughter, to baptize a belated entry into history.

 

Marx does not always abandon himself unrestrainedly to the worship of “development.” Behind the word, he sometimes glimpses inevitable divergences. There are passages in which he comes dangerously close to asserting a full break between the two models of development, one perverse (that of capital) and one good (that which comes after capital); and in so doing he lets down his guard…

~ by kotzabasis on August 13, 2013.

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