March 12, 2018

Jordy Rosenberg Quote


Its analysis shows us that the fetish is impenetrable to analysis. (This, incidentally, is also why in our current moment, we cannot simply explain electoral politics with a flat economic rationality that in fact does not align with Marx.) The commodity is and has a supernatural force. This supernatural force has real material effects in the social world, and there’s no rational way around it.

In case you doubted the supernatural force of the commodity, at the very end of Capital, Marx returns to it by way of a speculation about the origins of capitalist production as a whole. “The economic structure of capitalist society,” he announces, “has grown out of the economic structure of feudal society. The dissolution of the latter set free the elements of the former.” Suddenly we are back in the moment of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Eight-hundred-odd pages brings you back to the beginning of the entire system and a set of questions about how capitalism arose in the first place. It’s almost nonsensical. Rather than point forward to some post-capitalist utopia, Marx takes us back to that “prehistoric stage of capital,” when “commodity-owners” (one possessing the means of production, the other possessing nothing to sell but his [sic] own labor) face each other in the marketplace, and the fetishism of the commodity takes hold.

Readers encountering this quirk of Capital for the first time may feel despair or at least bewilderment. After our long slog, we’re returned to the beginning in a sickening loop. Worse: The pre-beginning. But I tell you what, anyone who has ever been traumatized by the obituary for a fatherly hawk in the local paper knows what’s up. Knows that thinking about something, stewing about something, won’t change anything. The fetish represents the absolute limit point of thought, and of analysis. It’s what Marx begins with and at the end nothing has gotten any better. And this is the point, really perhaps the most profound point of all of Capital. We go back to the beginning at the end to make two things clear: nothing has changed and once something did change.

Nothing has changed over the course of reading the book. The fetish is there, and the power of the mind to transcend it is, as my mother would have said, bupkus. But: The fetish was not always there. And this is why Marx gets to the pre-history of capitalism only at the end. Because history does not matter as the fiction of a forward-moving telos. History matters only as a backward-facing reflection so that you can see one simple thing. Things were once different. Not better, but different. And so they might be again, and this time we have to have the wild belief that they could be better-different, not just differently-awful-different. There is simply no getting rid of the phantasmagoric power of the commodity — not in the world and not in thought — unless the conditions that make it so are changed, and collectively. And we know this because the entire text of Capital is arranged around the point at which thought falters: desire, the fetish. There is a promise lying in the shoals of despair — a thought that gets swallowed in the phantasmagoria of the world as it is. A thought that is not yet thinkable.

- Jordy Rosenberg, The Daddy Dialectic


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