Liveblogging David Harvey’s lectures on Marx/Capital:
*Capital* is richly referential to Greeks, Shakespeare, Goethe, and the novels of Balzac. After several years of reading Capital yearly, Harvey read Balzac and said, Aha! This is where Marx gets his idea about that.
An English major of little brain, in other words, may possibly approach this Everest — my theory being the 20th century and its wars interrupted our study of Marx, fascist backlash being the 20th century’s perfect demo of Marx’ dialectic thesis/antithesis/synthesis — of world thought with, you know, some tiny vestigial bit of a crampon. Balzac as my crampons? Shit.

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Liveblogging Harvey on Marx: Marx invented a critical theory, here:…
The essence of which is revolutionary fire can be made only by rubbing together conceptual blocs of theory. The three conceptual blocs of theory in *Capital* are 18th and 19th century ideas of [mainly English] political economy [Theories of Surplus Value], German classical political philosophy [Kant, Hegel, Leibniz, Spinoza, deconstruction of political econ theory] extending back to the Greeks [Marx diss, on Epicurus!], Utopian socialist tradition [primarily French, 1830s Acarians, Proudhon, Saint Simon, Fourier, Cabet] — Marx wants to make this project scientific, and must reconfigure what scientific method is all about.
He was thinking about the revolution of 1848, and by critiquing Malthus and negating Fourier, pretty much without citing them, makes great use of thinkers he believed got revolution wrong, or unscientifically. Thus acknowledging the great principle, I would argue of polemic — negative example is a great teacher.
Rootless cosmopolitan indeed. This is what you call a Big Sexy Brain.
Liveblogging David Harvey’s lectures on Marx/Capital.
Marx says his method of inquiry is different from his method of presentation, which makes the first three chapters of *Capital* a notoriously difficult read. When a French publisher suggested serializing *Capital* chapter by chapter in a newspaper, Marx thought it was a great idea as the working class would have it more easily available to them. But he worried that the practical French, seeking application to current events immediately, would be put off by the dichotomy between inquiry and presentation. He starts with his conclusions, about the essential theory and nature of the commodity. How this works in the “real” world doesn’t become *actually* clear until the end of the book. Harvey makes the interesting point that Marx is thus a pioneer of the Freudian method of starting with the surface world of symptoms or appearances, penetrating to the heart of the onion to find out how and why it grows, and then returning the surface world in which you say, ah yes, here are the symptoms, but the real cause is something else. As the result of his deep dive method, Marx starts with the something else, which makes his first three chapters almost impenetrable.
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Liveblogging David Harvey’s lectures on *Capital*:
The three published volumes represent about one eighth of Marx’ planned project, as outlined by Marx in this preparatory essay:
People eager to get to the parts about class struggle or financial crises will have to wait, as volume one is about the mode of production from the standpoint of production (not the market, not global trade), volume two, from the perspective of exchange, volume three, crisis formation, rules of distribution, interest, rent, taxes.
Because the first chapters of *Capital* lay out the conceptual apparatus for the entire work, most of it unwritten, they can be difficult reading. Harvey suggests trying a little Hegel, even more difficult, to dull your pain.
Then comes the other part of the method, important both to method of presentation and method of inquiry: Marx’s dialectic.

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Liveblogging David Harveys lectures on Marx’ *Capital*, Volume 1, Lecture 1.
CAUTION: A great deal of this is direct quotes from David Harvey’s copyrighted lectures. Don’t cite it without attribution *for the words* to Harvey.
Marx’s use of dialectic — in dialectic we find a different concept of analysis. Harvey says there’s hardly any causal language in Marx — he doesn’t say this causes that. He says, rather, this is dialectically related to that. A dialectic relation is an inner relation, not a causal relation. Marx claims his dialectic is different from Hegel’s, and opposite to it. He had deconstructed Hegel previous to writing *Capital*, here:…/Marx_Critique_of_Hegels_Philosop…
Marx objects to what he calls the “mysticatory” aspect of Hegel’s philosophy, which had become fashionable in Germany. Marx not only opposed Hegel’s dialectic, he revolutionized the dialectical method. He had to reconfigure it so every historical event was seen to be in motion as well as transient — “all that is solid melts into air.” (I have always felt this to be what I think of as Marx’ raptus, the extraordinarily romantic and sensual Germanic gotterdamerung thing. That capitalism itself is seen to be the engine of this energy is remarkable and worth at least one lifetime’s thought and study.) What this new dialectic means is Marx will establish relations between things while maintaining his enormous respect for the fluidity and dynamics of capitalism.
Marx never wrote a treatise on his dialectic — to understand that it’s not static, as so many interpret “Marx” to be — you have to read *Capital*, in which he demonstrates his dialectic of fluidity.
Dialectic method is contradictory. Children do it naturally and we train them out of it, training them to be “rational”.
For Marx, everything is in motion [and this is a foundational definition of modernity, cloned with quantum physics, of which the former notion Marx is a founding father]. He doesn’t talk about labor, he talks about the labor process. Capital is not a thing. It is a process. It is in motion. Value does not exist unless it is in motion. So some of Marx’ concepts are about relations, transformative activity [raptus! rising to Valhalla from a ring of fire!]
This is like this at this moment, and like that the next moment. Another reason the first three chapters of *Capital* are very difficult. He wants us to understand how motion is instantiated within the capitalist mode of production.
Analytical Marxists, the no bullshit Marxists, as they call themselves, say all this dialectic is bullshit. Positivists ttry to turn it into a mathematical model. But if you’re to understand Marx on Marx’s terms, and not the billion reams of Talmudic dispute, you will grapple with his dialectic, and not theirs. (Good one, Harvey. Keep the amateurs out.)
David Harvey says he’s been teaching this class for 30 years, and every year he learns something new from the text. Marx said ideas have to change as circumstances do, and Harvey, who denies being a Marxist, has used Marx’ dialectic in his own work as idea in his own field of sociology have changed. (This is an idea of the utilitarian philosopher William James: our ideas of what God is change as our needs change.)
Says Harvey, “This text is a wonderful, wonderful exercise in seeking to understand that which is almost impossible to understand.” Thus each student must develop her own lifelong dialog with the text.
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Liveblogging David Harvey’s lectures on Marx’ *Capital*: Lecture 1.
These are lecture notes, often not paraphrased, a mix of direct quotes from Harvey’s copyrighted lectures, and the Penguin Classics trans of Capital. I have not put quotes or attributions around any direct quote. So if you want to cite these notes, you’d better listen to Harvey’s lecture and read the Penguin translation for correct and honest attribution.
Harvey emphasizes the extraordinary content of Capital as drawing on the canons of literature, political philosophy and political economy. He says its value, in 40 years of reading it annually, is in its power to say something new every year, and in its heroic method, an attempt to understand something which may be impossible to understand.
Commodity is the a priori beginning point of chapter 1, volume 1, Capital.
Marx begins by saying wealth in societies employing capital methods of production “appears” as a collection of commodities.
Harvey says always watch out when Marx says “appears”.
Let the games begin.
He also makes clear he’s interested only in capitalist modes of production, not ancient ones, or socialist ones.
It’s a genius beginning point because everybody has had an experience of a commodity. All genders, ethnicities, religions participate in this economic transaction.
A commodity is something which meets a human want or need.
He says he’s not interested in the motives behind the purchase of commodities, the systems invented to measure them or their diversity.
First big concept, use value: the usefulness of a thing.
As a social scientist, Marx says he can’t go into a lab, isolate things, and do an experiment. What he must do to isolate things is use the power of abstraction — and he cuts right to the chase, liberating commodity of history, sociology, political economy by abstracting it immediately.
In a capitalist society, commodities are also the material bearers of exchange value. Please note, a bearer is not the thing itself: commodities are not exchange value, but its bearers. What we see in the world of exchange processes, geogrpahically, temporally, there’s an enormous realm of market exchange, different ratios occuring between shirts and shoes, we see different quantitative relations between bushels of wheat and tons of steel and pairs of shoes and shirts — at first sight, what we see in the world of exchange are values which are incoherent, all over the place. Marx says exchange value appears to be accidental and purely relative (this I pondered age four or five, and I think many children do. Children, Harvey says, are natural dialecticians until we retrain them to be “rational”). Therefore instrinsic value — a value connected to something inherent in the commodity — seems a contradiction in terms.
Everything in this world of exchange is, in principle, exchangeable with everything else. The implication being that the commodity you just received in exchange for something else, can be exchanged for something else. A thing keeps moving, and can be exchanged for all the other commodities at some point.
It follows then, writes Marx, that the valid exchange values of a particular commodity express something equal, and secondly, exchange value cannot be anything other than the mode of expression, the form of appearance of a content distinguishable from it. When I look at a commodity, I cannot discern what gives it value. I can only ascertain its value when it is exchanged, or it motion. It only has value in motion. As it moves, its expressing something about exchangeability — a commensurability in exchange. It means that all things are commensurable in exchange. (Can you see the moral/ethical beginnings here of secular humanism, of which Marx is probably the main progenitor?)
Why are they commensurable and where does commensurability come from? The commodity is the bearer of that something.
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Liveblogging Harvey’s lecture 1 on Marx’ *Capital*.
CAUTION: Do not quote these lecture notes, which are basically direct quotes, unattributed, from either Marx or Harvey’s copyrighted lectures. Go to Marx or the lectures to find out where to put your quotation marks.

Commensurability — everything is in principle immediately exchangeable with everything else. A thing keeps on moving. As it moves, a commodity expresses something about exchangeability. Why, and what is this commensurability made up of? Where does it come from? How is it defined? The commodity is the bearer of that something, which is not inherent in the commodity itself, but borne by the commodity, a relation inside the commodity. Each commodity, as far as its exchange value, must be reducible to this third thing. It is not a physical quality. Here, says Harvey, we see the fallacy in calling Marx a grubby materialist.
As use values, Marx writes, commodities differ above all in quality. As exchange values, they can only differ in quantity, and therefore do not contain an atom of use value. Commensurability is not constituted out of the utility of something. If we disregard the use value of commodities, only one property remains — there are all properties of human labor. That is what commodities have in common. What exchange and use values commodities bear are the products of human labor.
What kind of labor is it? Human labor in the abstract, not variable rates of labor whereby you exchange more of your labor for the same shirt it took a lazy worker 15 days to make, than you exchange for a shirt a fast worker made in three days. Abstract.
In four pages (Penguin Classic) Marx has laid out three fundament values: Use value, exchange value, value. Value is what is passed on in the process of commodity exchange. Value is what makes all commodities in principle exchangeable with each other. Exchange value is a necessary form of expression, or form of appearance, of value. “Appearance”. There is something mysterious about the exchange of all those commodities, the way all those commodities could be commensurable with one another. The mystery is that they’re values, but they’re represented now by exchange values, what I can get for it in the market, is a representation of value, and a representation of labor.
At the supermarket, you can’t see the labor in a commodity even though it has an exchange value.
To say something is a representation of something is not to say it is something. Marx will spend a great deal of time talking about the gap between value and its representation. Something has use value only because abstract human labor is objectified, or materialized in it, says Marx. A process — a labor process — becomes objectified in a thing. This idea is very important in Marx. What is the relation between the process and the thing? Marx returns to this question many times.
The thing is a representation of the process.
Value is always in motion.
That means that a process is objectified in a thing. It’s the thing that’s sold in the market, and not the process — the pot is sold in the market, and not the potter’s process of making. The process must be objectified into a thing or commodity. (Incarnation! Yeah, baby.) Inside of that thing, the quantity is measured by the duration of the labor, which itself has measures — hours, days, etc. There’s a coded message here in which the capitalist mode of productions sets up a certain system of temporality. How does the capitalist mode of production structure time?

“They [values] can no longer be distinguished,” writes Marx, “but are all together reduced to the same kind of labor, human labor in the abstract….Let us now look at the residue of the products of labor. There is nothing left of them in each case but the same phantom-like objectivity.”
Here, Harvey points, out, we get the first hint of Marx’s love of Shelley, Frankenstein, werewolves and phantoms, who will reappear with great regilarity throughout the text.

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