Monthly Archives: January 2012

Train Research Group

This Wednesday 1st Feb, 4pm G3 Laurie Grove Baths is the second Goldsmiths meeting of the Train & TubE Research Section (ahem, I am not really suggesting we call the group ‘tatters’! Its just that the abbreviation TRG also does not scan).
all welcome.
The following few things sent in may also be of interest:
The Olympics Premium (aka buying off the workers with Uncle Tory’s fast cash bribes):
Russian art group Voina have done the ‘lunch on the metro’ stunt too (you need to scroll down to the third image):
Also, in Belgium they are making the point somewhat more directly.  This is the latest and most dramatic action on the Brussles Metro following an unpopular fare rise:

And a few things circulated from the UFSO:

 – here’s some inspiration – AD Block Sweden:

Here is a link to a documentary about the struggle of tube cleaners from a few years back,
if you haven’t seen it:

And here is a great Hungarian Metro thriller ;)

Perspective Society : Marx, Ford, Jobs.

An outline for a block course as part of “Theories of Modern Society” at Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen in Feb-March 2012:
Perspective Society : Marx, Ford, Jobs.
This 3-part discussion takes Theories of Modern Society as a research problem in the tradition of workplace Inquiries. In part one, by examining the Blue Books and Factory Inspector reports that Marx used for the Working Day chapter of Capital Volume one, we will look at the Industrial Revolution in the mid 18th Century. In part two we will consider Fordist Production systems and the global advent of assembly work, then in part three the co-research tradition of Autonomist Marxism and Kolinko permits us to look at processed work and the alienations and precarity of net-life.  Each of the sections coheres around ideas of workplace or social inquiry and co-research. Each section will also include some topical film analysis and discussion (eg: Germinal and Hard Times for mid 1800s, Tucker and Modern Times for 1920s, and Clerks and The Social Network for processed work for late 20th early 21st Century). Assessment will be your own inquiry into your own conditions of work, broadly defined.
Feb 24-25 Read ‘The Working Day’ chapter of Marx’s Das Kapital (chapter 8) or in English as Capital (chapter 10). This is about 90 pages. (you may of course read the earlier chapters if yu wish, but these are not compulsory, though they will be referred to in class, alongside illustrative films for discussion).
March 23-24 Read Part 4 of Marx’s Capital (chapters 10-13 in the German or 12-15 in the English). Again there will be films, discussion and additional reading in class.
April 20-21 Read ‘Hotlines’. Available online in English and German:
The class will be in English, but reading can be German or English. Additional resources on the blog
All welcome.
Professor John Hutnyk
Goldsmiths College,University of London

Bees again

Nothing can be understood, as Adorno said of Hegel, in isolation from the whole:

‘in the context of the whole, but with the awkward qualification that the whole in turn lives only in the individual moments. In actuality, however, this kind of doubleness of the dialectic eludes literary presentation’ (Adorno 1963 Hegel: Three Studies – in the third one)

But the thing is that we can also cite Adorno’s aphorism from Minima Moralia that ‘the whole is the untrue’, and be sure here that although Marx now reveals the secret of value, this is, also, untrue. It is neither correct except insofar as a great numb of conditioning factors are held aside, nor is it incorrect, but it certainly is in need of supplementing. Without Hegel, and I would say without Adorno to guide a reading of Hegel, there is no chance of getting Marx. Lenin says as much as well.

Adorno’s Hegel is important for example when he says that Hegel does not fall for the uncritical facade:

‘there are good reasons why the dialectic of essence and appearance is moved to the centre of the Logic. This needs to be remembered at a time when those who administer the dialectic in it’s materialist version, the official thought of the East Bloc, have debased it to an unreflective copy theory’ Adorno Three Studies p8

We should be wary of appearances for sure, but also of essences. The essentializing character of seeking out value, or the tool, or the primitive instinct, over against the essence of human creative labour as architect, even the worst architect. Mediation has to be kept alive here, as perhaps a labour of thought. It is not a middle term, but it brings thinking to life between essence and appearance, and it is a permanent confrontation, this dialectic. It is not a world view (Adorno Three Studies p9)

Marx had said of the Phenomenology, as Adorno notes, that in it Hegel had grasped the nature of labour and man as the result of his labour. This labour is social, labour as something for something, or someone, else (Adorno Three Studies p18). This is quite a thing, to suggest Hegel’s spirit is social labour

 ‘the crucial connection between the concepts of desire and Labour removes the latter from the position of a mere analogy to the abstract active of the abstract spirit. Labour in the full sense is in fact tied to desire, which it in turn negates; it satisfies the needs of human beings on all levels, helps them without their difficulties, reproduces human life, and demands sacrifices if them in turn’ (Adorno Three Studies p22)

But idealism is mistaken to turn the totality of labour into something existing in itself as metaphysical principle, as if social labour could be conceives as separate fro nature on which it depends. No nature as such either, of course, and no abstract desire. We do not talk of human nature, nor think there are universal needs.

Adorno quotes Marx on nature and labour from the Critique of the Gotha Programme, ‘labour is not the sours of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use-values’ (in Adorno Three Studies p23) even as Marx notes this is both ‘correct’ and a bourgeois children’s book phrasing that cannot be left without a comment or two about the way in which humanity works with nature and that any suggestion that nature is a basis for subordinating those who only have their labour power to sell to be compelled to sell it ‘as a slave of other men who have made themselves the owners of the material conditions of labour’ (in Adorno Three Studies p 24)

This is followed by a critique of Hegel,s idealism in which labour is detached and becomes ideology as an inherent value. Adorno mentions the section on lord and bondsman but passes quickly rather to Hegel’s comments on religion and ‘spirit as artificer’, as labour, as an instinctive operation ‘like the building of a honeycomb by the bees’ (Hegel in Adorno Three Studies p24). To this inclusion of labour in spirit Adorno suggests ‘only a little more would be needed – remembrance of the simultaneously mediated and irrevocably natural moment of labour – and the Hegelian dialectic would reveal its identity and speak it’s own name’ (Adorno Three Studies p25)

Still, at least we can see where Marx got his interest in bees.

Hegel, in Phenomenology of Spirit, in the section on The Artificer, writes:

‘SPIRIT, therefore, here appears, as an artificer, and its action whereby it produces itself as object but without having as yet grasped the thought of itself is an instinctive operation, like the building of a honeycomb by bees

The first form, because it is immediate, is the abstract form of the Understanding, and the work is not yet in its own self filled with spirit. The crystals of pyramids and obelisks, simple combinations of straight lines with plane surfaces and equal proportions of parts, in which the incommensurability of the round is destroyed, these are the works of this artificer of rigid form. On account of the merely abstract intelligibleness of the form, the significance of the work is not in the work itself, is not the spiritual self. Thus either the works receive Spirit into them only as an alien, departed spirit that has forsaken its living saturation with reality and, being itself dead, takes up its abode in this lifeless crystal; or they have an external relation to Spirit’ p421

Leonard Horner Hall

Since one of the first (positive) mentions of a really existing individual in Marx’s Capital is Leonard Horner, we should find out a little about this fellow who will not be forgotten…: ‘Leonard Horner was one of the Factory Inquiry Commissioners in 1833, and Inspector, or rather Censor of Factories till 1859. He rendered undying service to the English working class. He carried on a life-long contest, not only with the embittered manufacturers, but also with the Cabinet’ (Marx)

Patrick Corbett (Heriot-Watt University) recently took part in the Society’s Chartership programme as a scrutineer. Interestingly, the Society had chosen to host the meeting in the Leonard Horner Hall at Heriot-Watt University ….

Geoscientist 20.4 April 2010

Leonard Horner entered Edinburgh in 1799 at the age of 14 and learned, among other subjects, mineralogy – which stimulated a lifetime interest in geology. After leaving university he spent a quarter of a century as a linen merchant, travelling extensively and keeping up his intellectual interests. During this time became a fellow of the Geological Society (in the second year of its existence, 1808), was Secretary (1810-14) and twice President (1845-46, 1860-61). His first paper to the society was “On the mineralogy of the Malvern Hills”. In 1835 he helped initiate the Geological Survey of Great Britain. In his obituary W.J Hamilton, then President, recorded that Horner possessed a “cautious manner in which he avoids a too hasty generalisation” and concluded that he had laid the foundation of the principles that Murchison and Sedgwick subsequently applied to understanding the Palaeozoic rocks. Charles Lyell was obviously influenced by Horner, as the former married the latter’s daughter, Mary. He did much to promote a wider public interest in geology. After he retired as “the Inspector General of Factories” at age 74 in 1859, in the five years before his death, he spent time rearranging and cataloguing the Society’s museum collection.

In 1821, Horner founded the Edinburgh School of Arts (the first ever Mechanics’ Institute – for training skilled artisans) to promote high academic standards for the élite while extending useful knowledge to the labouring classes. Its prospectus stated the objectives “for the purpose of enabling industrious Tradesman to become acquainted with such principles of mechanics, chemistry and other branches of science as are of practical application in several trades”. Classes were held in the evening and included mineralogy for tradesmen working in the textiles industry for use in dye-making.

Karl Marx admired the work of Horner as a reforming factory inspector and eulogised that “his services to the English working classes will never be forgotten. He carried on a life-long contest, not only with the embittered manufacturers, but also with the cabinet”. In 1827, Horner was also invited to be the warden of the new University of London. He was effectively both Vice-chancellor (Principal) and Secretary of the new University. From this position of patronage, he was able to invite Charles Lyell to the chair of mineralogy at King’s College London in 1828.

The Edinburgh College of Arts was the progenitor institution from which Heriot-Watt University was created in 1966. Today the University retains the ethos of teaching practical subjects in a way that people in industry can participate, through international distance learning programmes – very much in the style of Leonard Horner – one of the founding fathers. I suspect Leonard Horner would have approved of the idea of professionalism (which is now embedded in Chartership and rather more evidence-based than in his day!) and the need for Continuing Professional Development .

Further reading

O’Farrell, P.N., 2004 Heriot-Watt University, An Illustrated History, Pearson Education, 511pp. Watch out for Patrick’s next book, a biography of Leonard Horner, the research for which has involved him in many happy hours in the Burlington House Library.;jsessionid=3990B0009259ABF0F9F646D2EB19AC74
If the past is the key to your present interests, why not join the History of Geology Group (HOGG)? For more information and to read the latest HOGG newsletter, visit the HOGG website at:]

Horeners letters –

Market Project on Banks(y)

Alistair Gentry: To me it relates pretty closely to the banks being “too big to fail”, I think in this country-

John Hutnyk: Banksy is too big to fail.

Alistair Gentry: Yes, Banksy IS too big to fail.

Julie Freeman: He’s actually very short.

Alistair Gentry: He’s not a big man… in any sense.

Julie Freeman: Allegedly.

From part four of the transcript of the Market Project Too Many Artists debate:

MA Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy at Goldsmiths Centre for Cultural Studies

Vijay Prashad’s most excellent course rubric


(1) 300 level course. This is a 300 level course. That means that its purpose is to push you beyond introductions to this or that part of the world, and into an investigation of how to theorize the world, how to do an analysis of problems and opportunities in the world. I expect very high standards from students. You will be expected to do all the work on time, to miss no classes and to allow yourself to be challenged, and to allow yourself to challenge each other (and me).

(2) Regular attendance. If you miss even one class without prior permission, you are liable to fail the course. I am ruthless about this point. Please make sure that you send me an email at least an hour before class (so that I have time to get back to you with my assent). If you have to miss a class (even for health reasons), I expect, by the Wednesday following the class, to have a ten-page paper that lays out the main analytical points in the reading for the Monday you missed. This is non-negotiable. If I do not hear from you before class that you are missing class, or if you fail to get me this paper by Wednesday, you will get an F grade for the course.

(3) Regular reading. I will call on you at will to discuss the reading. If you have not done the day’s reading, I recommend you simply say that you have not done so at the start of class (please hand me a note with your name on it – this will count against your grade, but it will count less if I ask you a question and you have no idea what I’m talking about). If you hand me the card with your name on it, and you do not wish it to count against your grade, you may write a five-page analytical essay on the reading (delivered to me by Wednesday). The reading is not easy. Please be prepared to study hard, and to learn vast amounts. Some of what I assign will need to be read twice. So bear that in mind. Take notes. Be prepared to discuss the readings. Come with questions.

• “Even in a seminar class it seems a little silly to require participation. Some students who are cripplingly shy, or who can’t always formulate their best thoughts and questions in the rapid back-and-forth of a group discussion, are nevertheless good and serious students. On the other hand, as Prof — points out supra, our class can’t really function if there isn’t student participation—it will become just me giving a half-assed ad-lib lecture for 90 minutes, which (trust me) will be horrible in all kinds of ways.” David Foster Wallace (1962-2008).

(4) Regular writing. I will ask you to write about the books and class discussions periodically. You will be given a few days to do these assignments. I do not take kindly to complaints about the volume of work, so be prepared in advance and do not be surprised by my assignments. Every class I teach is a writing intensive class, so please be prepared. If you email me a paper, I won’t read it. I only accept papers in hardcopy, given to me in class (not left outside my office: unless we make special arrangements).

There are four (max. 10 page) papers due for this class on Feb. 24, Mar. 15, April 12, and May 3. You will never get an extension. That I have informed you now of the due dates is all the extension you require. When you hand in a paper, I expect to see alongside it (stapled to it really) the notes you made not for class or for the reading but in drafting the paper. One of the lessons I’ve long learned in trying to express my opinion is to make extensive notes on paper (not on the computer). I would like to see these notes with the final paper. They will help me get a handle on how you have been thinking about the question, and the material in general.

• “If you are used to whipping off papers the night before they’re due, running them quickly through the computer’s Spellchecker, handing them in full of high-school errors and sentences that make no sense and having the professor accept them ‘because the ideas are good’ or something, please be informed that I draw no distinction between the quality of one’s ideas and the quality of those ideas’ verbal expression, and I will not accept sloppy, rough-draftish, or semiliterate college writing. Again, I am absolutely not kidding.” David Foster Wallace.

(5) Regular Speaking. Each student will be asked to write and deliver a “philosophical tantrum” in the manner of Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Each of you will be assigned a section of the reading for the day, in rotation, and then asked to write and deliver in class the tantrum based on the reading, the events of the time, and your own core values. The list for the tantrums will be created before the second class, so that we can begin our intellectual fiesta straight away.

(6) No Electronics at all. My classroom is an electronics free zone. No cellphones to be brought out, no texting, no computers on the desk. If you bring out any electronic equipment, I am given license to borrow it for the week, and you shall get it back on the following Monday. This time, I’m absolutely not kidding.”

Newspeak – Ken Fero

Watch Newspeak:

Newspeak (25minutes/2011/Ken Fero/Migrant Media)

Truth is the first casualty of war and ‘Newspeak’ explores just how media is currently controlled in the UK through power structures like Ofcom. Using poetry and experimental visual techniques the film is a personal journey with filmmaker Ken Fero reflecting on how the radical content of certain images – deaths in police custody, Occupy London the invasion of Iraq, workers uprisings – remain hidden from UK audiences.

The film uses strong political statements to expose the forces seeking to censor the media. The challenging style of ‘Newspeak’ offers a visual essay that unites the mothers of those killed by the British police with the Palestinian children who were victims of Operation Cast Lead, exposes the bloodlust for oil that lead to British interference in Iran and shows how, in all these areas, there is always resistance, always survivors always a memory.

A Migrant media Production for News Anew.

Watch Newspeak:

Re-read Spivak’s Ghostwriting for this week’s lecture on Capital.

Spivak uses the occasion of Derrida saying ‘hello to Marx’ (Spivak 1995:78) to make some key points about women in the contemporary condition of financialised capitalism, and offer a reading of Assia Djebar’s Far From Medina and the ghosts of many women that must be retrieved from this text on Islam. I am not able to engage with Fatima, like Spivak I am no Islamic scholar, and anyway you must read both Spivak and Djebar. I also consider Spivak more interesting on fianacialisation and women than anyone else writing on this. It is curious that few Marxists take this up, as class conscious ‘future socialists’ we cannot ignore the need to work through such questions, as we shall. Spivak insists:

‘According, then, to the strictest Marxian sense, the reproductive body of woman has now been “socialized” – computed into average abstract labor and thus released into what I call the spectrality of reason – a specter that haunts the merely empirical, dislocating it from itself. According to Marx, this is the specter that must haunt the daily life of the class-conscious worker, the future socialist, so that she can dislocate him herself into the counterintuitive average part-subject (agent) of labor, recognize that, in the everyday, es spukt. It is only then that the fetish character of labor-power as commodity can be grasped and can become the pivot that wrenches capitalism into socialism’ (Spivak 1995:67-8)

In Capital, the tale of Robinson is used to show that the operations of use-value are not somehow prior or isolated from exchange as relations of production. Even alone, Robinson calculates. It is not an innate nature, but a social condition (that can be changed).

‘The first example is Robinson Crusoe, to demonstrate that the relations of production can be known even in a situation of “pure” use-value’ (Spivak 1995:76)

Immediately before this, in search of Ghosts, Derrida finds that the translation occludes the literal ghost in referring to the ‘magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour so long as they take the form of commodities’ (Marx 1867/1970:76 L&W Pen-169, Derrida 1993/1994:164). Necromancy substitutes for spuk and Derrida wants to stress the apparition, that the ghost is something like Marx’s familiar, that he wants to exorcise and retain.

But Spivak notes that Derrida ‘goofs a bit’ here:

‘the passage quoted on page 164 [by Derrida] does not directly refer to the socialist future, as Derrida seems to think. Marx’s point is that simply to see the relations of production clearly is no big deal’ (Spivak 1995:76)

The discussion of Robinson on his Island, keeping books, being a proper Englishman, is Marx having his fun. The next moment we are to ‘transport ourselves from Robinson’s island, bathed in light to the European middle ages shrouded in Darkness’ where the hierarchy of serf and lord, compulsory labour, services, payments in kind, entails a society where the social relations are personal, and ‘not disguised under the social relations between the products of labour’ (Marx 1867/1970:77L&W). We need not go back to examine the different forms of common property, though Marx shows he has the scholarship to do this, but we can see the distribution of the work and consumption of produce in the peasant family is not one organized by commodities, but subject to arrangements of age, sex, the seasons, a spontaneously developed division of labour, etc.

Then, suggesting something different, but not yet the only possible difference, Marx asks us to ‘picture to ourselves, for a change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common’ (Marx, 1867/1970:78 L&W), social labour-power and social product, planned distribution, surplus consumed according to – in this, again not the only possible assumption – and distributed according to input of labour-time.

 ‘The social relations of the individual producers, with regard to both their labour and their products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and with regard not only to production but also to distribution’ (Marx 1867/1970:79 L&W)

There may be different forms in which this distribution is organized, according to the level of development of the productive forces, and a future communism would not assume distribution according to labour time but rather to each according to need, yet this scenario where production has stripped off its ‘mystical veil’ [this veil stuff is from Schiller’s The Bell, as Prawler shows, 1976:322) and is ‘consciously regulated’ in ‘accordance with a settled plan’ comes only at the expense of ‘a long and painful process’ (Marx 1867/1970:80 L&W). Marx’s point in the next pages is to show that the commodity as bourgeois form has everything reversed – like Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing who things ‘reading and writing come by nature’ (Marx 1867/1970:83 L&W Pen.177, D.98).

Spivak, 1995 Ghostwriting, Diacritics, Vol. 25, No. 2. (Summer), pp. 64-84

Taussig 27.1.12

Trinket of The Week in Iran

The Lede - The New York Times News Blog

January 17, 2012, 4:48 PM

Iran Offers U.S. Tiny Replica of Lost Drone

Scale models of an American drone are now on sale in Iran.Scale models of an American drone are now on sale in Iran.

While Iran’s government has so far refused an American request to return the C.I.A. stealth drone it captured last month, on Tuesday, an Iranian company that is manufacturing miniature replicas of the drone in several colors offered to send President Obama a pink one.

According to Iranian state radio, the scale models of the drone are one-eightieth the size of the RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance craft Iran’s military proudly displayed on television last month after it either crashed or was forced down.

Thomas Erdbrink, a Washington Post correspondent in Tehran, reports that a local firm, the Ayeh Art Group, is now making 2,000 toy drones a day. Reza Kioumarsi, an official with the firm, told Mr. Erdbrink that since Mr. Obama said he wanted the drone back, “we will send him one.”

The souvenir aircraft retails for about $4, but, like the commemorative “Justice Coin” that Americans can now buy to celebrate the Navy Seal mission that killed Osama bin Laden, the purchase price includes bonus gifts. According to the Ayeh Art Group Web site, the toy drone comes with a plastic stand bearing the slogan, “We will put America under our feet,” a quotation from the founder of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

An Iranian cartoon mocking President Obama.An Iranian cartoon mocking President Obama.

An Iranian Web site displaying more images of the toy drones also features an animation mocking Mr. Obama for losing the surveillance aircraft. The cartoon shows a caricature of the American president enjoying a ride on a drone, until it is taken over and forced to land by an Iranian officer holding what looks like an old-fashioned Nintendo game controller. (While the United States claims that the drone malfunctioned and crashed, Iran insists that its military wrested away control of the aircraft and brought it in for a landing.)

Readers interested in securing one of the toy drones can check Mr. Erdbrink’s Twitter feed on Wednesday, when he plans to give away 10 to winners of a quiz.

Some Like it Hot

Screening monday 23 Jan 2012 7:15pm Laurie Grove Council Room Goldsmith Centre for Cultural Studies.


Other monday films here.

Michael Taussig 27.1.2012

Excelente Zona Social

Anthropologist Michael Taussig talks about the relationship between writing, culture and time.


“I began began doing fieldwork in 1969. I have returned every year” says Mick Taussig. His writing has spanned a wide range of issues ranging from the commercialization of peasant agriculture to a study of exciting substance loaded with seduction and evil, gold and cocaine, in a montage-ethnography of the Pacific Coast of Colombia. His most recent book ‘I Swear I Saw This’ (University of Chicago Press, 2011) records reflections on the fieldwork notebooks he kept through forty years of travels in Colombia. Taussig considers the fieldwork notebook as a type of modernist literature and the place where writers and other creators first work out the imaginative logic of discovery.

Event Information

Location: LG02, New Academic Building
Cost: Free – all are welcome, no booking required
Website: Part of the Real Time Research project
Department: Sociology
Time: 27 January 2012, 18:00 – 19:30

Marx Writing Notes

Two quotes from Theories of Surplus Value Vol 1.

‘a writer is a productive laborer not insofar as he produces ideas, but insofar as he enriches the book-seller who publishes his work, or insofar as he is a wage-labourer of a capitalist entrepreneur’

Academic Publishing, Libraries, and What Not

I’ll collect various things to come back to regarding alt-publishing here:

First up, a thesis that sets the scene (from Canada, but international in scope) – by Heather Morrison

That thesis was the one linked to in the previous post about big publisher profits

in anticipation of the CCS workshop on questions of academic publishing mid Feb


Which is just after this important meet at INIVA on National Libraries Day

What makes libraries special?

The Stuart Hall Library celebrates National Libraries Day with a talk and display



A talk introducing Iniva’s special Library collection. A display will include exhibition catalogues, journals, monographs, zines and artists’ books, archival documents and ephemera.

Find out more about the Library and get advice on researching visual art using Iniva’s collection.

National Libraries Day will be the finale to a week of events at UK libraries celebrating libraries and librarians, and highlighting the importance of reading.

Book online to register your interest

Book online here. For enquiries contact the Library on 0207 749 1255 or

Cut Flesh from the Bone – big publishing profits

This article is one in an issue becoming quite the popular. Having published a commissioned (unpaid) article with Elsevier – it was called ‘Jungle Studies’, and after proofreading they replaced the phrase ‘For fuck’s sake’ with ‘For God’s sake’ – I know, there are several levels of gah! – I am keen to point out that many publishers are not scum and open access is making some headway, but…

Good material for our forthcoming workshop on publishing and alternative formats for ‘Early Career Researchers’, and I’ve something else coming out on the topic soon.

Read the comments on this piece too – here.

In an article that many of you will now have seen, Heather Morrison demonstrated the enormous profits of STM (Scientific, Technical and Medical) scholarly publishers.  The figures are taken from her in-progress dissertation which in turn cites an article in The Economist.  It all checks out.  I emphasise this because I found the figures so hard to believe.  Here they are again: profits as a percentage of revenue for commercial STM publishers in 2010 or early 2011:

  • Elsevier: £724m on revenue of £2b — 36%
  • Springer‘s Science+Business Media: £294m on revenue of £866m — 33.9%
  • John Wiley & Sons: $106m on revenue of $253m — 42%
  • Academic division of Informa plc: £47m on revenue of £145m — 32.4%

So it’s evident that profits on the order of 35% are pretty typical for commercial STM publishers, and that Elsevier’s figures are not an aberration.  Not only that, but all four of these companies’ profits as a proportion of revenue are still increasing — by 2.4%, 4%, 13% and 3.3% respectively.  The U.K. Office of Fair Trading noted back in 2002 that “the overall profitability of commercial STM publishing is high, not only by comparison to ‘non-profit’ journals (which is not surprising), but also by comparison to other commercial journal publishing”.

I wanted to be sure that I was assessing this fairly, so I looked through Elsevier’s annual reports for the last nine years — happily, they make them available, if not particularly easy to find.  What I found is that they have been consistently bringing in profits in the region of 33% throughout the last decade.  Specifically:

  • 2002: £429m profit on £1295m revenue – 33.18%
  • 2003: £467m profit on £1381m revenue – 33.82%
  • 2004: £460m profit on £1363m revenue – 33.75%
  • 2005: £449m profit on £1436m revenue – 31.25%
  • 2006: £465m profit on £1521m revenue – 30.57%
  • 2007: £477m profit on £1507m revenue – 31.65%
  • 2008: £568m profit on £1700m revenue – 33.41%
  • 2009: £693m profit on £1985m revenue – 34.91%
  • 2010: £724m profit on £2026m revenue – 35.74%

(I have not been through the same exercise for Springer, Wiley or Informa, but there is no reason to expect that the results would be any different.)

What does it all mean?

Yes, publishers have a right to make a living.  Not only that, but they have a right to make as big a profit as the market can bear (though of course when they form a cartel that distorts the market monopolistically, that changes things).

But here’s what it means to scientists that Elsevier’s profit is 35.74% of revenue:

You just have to ask yourself whether that’s where you want your money going.

And though this workshop is open only to Goldsmiths Berlin FU and Copenhagen Doctoral School PhDs (its a training workshop) we’d not be adverse to hearing from interested persons. So here is the cfp:

The piece-rate Worker

Turning our lives into sausage factory grunt work and mere value extraction. This is all too common. Before electronic rights became a standard in publishing contracts I used to scratch out that part (eg for my Calcutta book, and for ‘Dis-Orienting Rhythms’ – only the latter is online for free – see sidebar to download – since scanning the typeset pages of ‘Rumour of Calcutta’ is so far beyond me. Later books other people have made available, and I point to them where I can – also sidebar). Increasingly the clumsy copyright assignment thing seems an issue to fight since there is something truly obscene about making people who work for free for large journals, where those journals are owned and run as sausage factory style conglomerates. Having to sign away ‘rights’ – as if that really was the key concern (not all journals are like this and open access is a real boon) is something tenured profs can take or leave, but anyone else in need of a publication for validation and employment prospects, ever diminishing, has to swallow it whole. Or do they? Sometimes I’ve just forgotten on purpose to send in the rights form – but then some poorly paid staffer, or even unpaid intern, has to chase it up. So I am watching this little episode, described by Steve Shaviro below, since it is a further fold on the sorry tale. Follow the post to the original at the Pinocchio Theory site and watch the comments to see if there is a resolution. Good luck Steve.

Work for Hire?

Here we go again. I was asked to sign a contract for an essay I have written, which is scheduled to appear in an edited collection. Let’s leave aside the fact that I wrote the essay — it was solicited for this collection — in summer 2010, and yet it will not appear in print until 2013. I think that the glacial pace of academic publishing is a real problem. But that is not what is bothering me at the moment. The contract that I was asked to sign, so that my essay could appear in an edited volume published by Oxford University Press, contained the following clause:

WORK-FOR-HIRE. The Contributor acknowledges that the Publisher has commissioned the Contribution as a work-for-hire, that the Publisher will be deemed the author of the Contributior as employer-for-hire, and that the copyright in the Contribution will belong to the Publisher during the initial and any renewal or extended period(s) of copyright. To the extent, for any reason, that the Contribution or any portion thereof does not qualify or otherwise fails to be a work-for-hire, theContributor hereby assigns to the Publisher whatever right, title and interest the Contributor would otherwise have in the Contribution throughout the world.

I found this entirely unbelievable, and unacceptable. Since when has original academic writing been classified as “work-for-hire”? It is possible, I suppose, that things like writing encyclopedia essays might be so categorized; but I have never, in my 30 years in academa, encountered a case in which primary scholarship or criticism was so classified. Is this something widespread, but which I simply haven’t heard about? I’d welcome information on this score from people who know more about the academic publishing situation than I do. But it seems to me, at first glance, that the Press is upping the ante in terms of trying to monopolize “intellectual property,” by setting up an arrangement that both cuts off the public from access and denies any rights to the henceforth-proletarianized “knowledge worker” or producer. I am unwilling to countenance such an abridgement of my ability to make the words that I have written more freely available.
In any case, I wrote back to the Press as follows:

I am unwilling to sign the Contributor’s Agreement for my submission to the Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics as it is currently worded. In particular, I find section 2, defining my contribution as work-for-hire, completely objectionable. I entirely reject the notion that original academic work of this sort can be defined as work-for-hire. I think that this is demeaning to academic scholarship and disrespectful of intellectual labor.

Section 2 of the contract further stipulates that even if “the Contribution or any portion thereof does not qualify or otherwise fails to be a work-for-hire, the Contributor hereby assigns to the Publisher whatever right, title and interest the Contributor would otherwise have in the Contribution throughout the world.” I find this objectionable as well. Even if my contribution to the volume is exempted from being considered work-for-hire, I am unwilling to sign over my own rights to the publisher in this unlimited way. In particular, I insist upon retaining, among other rights, the right to make my contribution available for download on my own website and the right to include this contribution at some later date as part of a self-authored publication.

I guess we will see what happens. I hope the Press backs down and offers more reasonable terms. If that doesn’t happen, I will simply have to withdraw my contribution from the edited volume. At some point, the essay will appear on my website for free download — whether because the publisher backs down and permits me to do this, or whether I give up on print publication.
Not getting the essay into print will mean that I won’t get the credit (or a line in my Vita) for the publication of an article that I am, in fact, rather proud of. This kind of credit matters in academia — salaries, among other things, are based on it. But as a full Professor with tenure I am in a rather privileged position: I can afford to lose the credit. The same is not the case for academics in more precarious positions — who might well be forced to sign away their rights in cases like this, because their jobs heavily depend upon their publication record, and one additional line on their Vita might make a major difference.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 at 11:37 am and is filed underPersonalPolitics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

from G.W.F.Hegel

from The Phenomenology of Spirit - relevant to Marx’s preface comments on coquettery and such-like

draft notes 1.2

draft notes 1.2

lecture notes not for forwarding

Fragment of Kane

Kane collects:

‘Witness the repugnant spectacle of a blind lust for collection … Man envelopes himself in the odour of decay; through his antiquarian habit he succeeds in degrading even a more significant talent and nobler need to an insatiable craving for novelty, or rather a craving for all things and old things; often he sinks so low as finally to be satisfied with any fare and devours with pleasure even the dust of bibliographi- cal quisquilia.’ – Nietzsche

‘No matter how many customers there are, its still an empty building’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:8) – the cinema hall as a place to sell Eskimo pie.

I have been reading Marx in the cinema. To read this way is to tamper with another accumulation that seems a dull dead half-life of narrative. That which surrounds the film Citizen Kane. Orson Welles might be a good choice for this illustration because he is both actor and director, at the same time working to a script and writing that script. Marx of course is famous for saying something similar in the 18th Brumaire – we make our own history but not in conditions that we have chosen (Marx 1852/202:19). Welles is also interesting as an overexamined, already known, and yet little understood, figure – famous and notorious in advance, myths and rumours abound. Kane is a film from 70 years ago but somehow it seems renewed every decade, we still babble on about it, even more than the brilliant Touch of Evil. Welles is much maligned for his politics, he was often attacked for threatening bourgeois norms (or its complacency); his work a coded vehicle for other fears (Japan, Germany, Russia); and, I will argue, never more relevant than now (financial crisis, do-gooder philanthropists as alibi for business as usual). Welles’ character in Kane is possibly useful as semi autobiographical, it is also a critical biographical portrait of the capitalist turned philanthropic campaigning journalist. I want to suggest Kane = Hearst = Gates. Welles of course, in advance, is already known – as dozens of biographies attest, and as the pre-publicity and staged controversy of his most famous film confirms. Perhaps the question to ask is whether it is possible to reclaim such a figure from the vast accumulations of biography and myth. Already in Citizen Kane Welles mocked such ambitions. The first image is of a sign that says “No Trespassing”.

The first time we see Kane we see only a giant close up of his lips, originally planned for the abandoned screenplay Heart of Darkness, ‘the maw of a giant in his castle, ready to gobble up the audience, the cinema, the industry’ (Walters 2004:51). Though we soon discover this is Kane’s death and he eats no more, and Welles himself is unjustly chewed up and spat upon by audiences and industry while he remains alive, ending up as rent a gag guy on celebrity roast shows – however, do see his genre appropriate demolition of Dean Martin which is exquisite car crash television.

Whatever the subsequent events, for Welles or Kane, this is a noteworthy start for a film. The lips as fetish object, monstrously large, the mouth of a giant prophesyizing the trajectory of the film, trespass or not. This introduction draws the eye through the forbidden gate, across various panoramas of the same scene, with the window in the same place on the screen. This is a detective seduction, for a film in which the mode of presentation is different to the analysis. Are the lips a fetish? We are to identify the part for the whole, the man, the life, the man’s life for that of the capitalist, the capitalist for that of the system – propertied wealth as destructive, greed as alienation – and rosebud, the innocent flower, the mystery.

Kane is also way in to my particular and contingent reading of Capital because he represents one of the pantomime villains that Marx skewers in his book, and which perhaps we might also want on the barbeque. Alongside Moneybags, we will see the bankers and moneylenders, userers, the executive committee, the state, the factory inspectors and philanthropists – think of Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, but also your well meaning campaigning corporate greens, the bodyshop’s Anita Roddick maybe, and the liberal professors of political economy. Police, politicians, philanthropists and political economists may have reason to be pissed as Marx pounces. Too many p’s.

With Welles, however, the biographers are on the march towards the roasting – dozens and still counting. Simon Callow begins part one of his multi volume biography (part two released 2006) with a quote that might be read as revealing as much about the anxieties of a biographer about to approach ‘the fabulist Orson Welles’ as it does about its subject’s self-consciousness:

 “If you try to probe, I’ll lie to you. Seventy-five percent of what I say in interviews is false. I’m like a hen protecting her eggs. I must protect my work. Introspection is bad for me. I’m a medium not an orator. Like certain oriental and Christian mystics, I think the ‘self’ is a kind of enemy. My work is what enables me to come out of myself. I like what I do, not what I am … Do you know the best service anyone could render to art? Destroy all biographies. Only art can explain the life of a man – and not the contrary. Orson Welles to Jean Clay, 1962 (Callow 1995:xi)

Callow continually takes away Welles’ stories about his life, even the place where he was said to be conceived is labelled a fabrication – much energy devoted to undoing the Welles myth only confirms it. Welles had already anticipated these moves. Seven years earlier in Touch of Evil he had Marlene Dietrich say of his character Quinlan, who had just been found dead, that: ‘He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?’

 “The more we know about the men who wrote [Don Quixote, King Lear etc], the bigger chance there is for all the Herr Professors in the academic establishment to befuddle and bemuse” Orson Welles

Knowingly, Welles is surrounded by myth. Among the routine retinue, it has become commonplace to sort commentators into two camps – defenders and opponents – Pauline Kael who raised the stakes of the controversy over the writing credit for Citizen Kane into an international brouhaha on the one side, Peter Bagdonovich still attempting to finish Welles’ final masterpiece, The Other Side of the Wind (caught up in legal disputes) on the other. In between, sects and factions, a host of divergent positions and jockeying for favour, and a massive publishing culture industry that has made a commodity, franchise and brand out of the good name of the citizen.

Welles himself deserves some praise for this. In cases where there is so much written, this will always be offered with some perspectival bias. Should it matter than that the following highlights are only a selection?:

- 1915 born, his mother a suffragette who once served time in prison for her radical views (Welles and Bogdanovich 1988:326), a ‘brilliant public speaker’, she was the first woman in Kenosha to be elected to political office (Callow 1995:9)

- 1936 an all black production of Macbeth– admittedly there are issues of exoticization here in the move of action from Scotland to Haiti, and where Welles contrives a voodoo withes scene (see Callow 1995: 235). Nevertheless, an important production

- 1938 campaigns for and champions various leftwing causes, including speaking against Franco at ‘Stars for Spain’ – a medical aid benefit. Welles gives a series of talks on the ‘People’s Front’ at the Workers Bookshop and writes for the Daily Worker. Plays Signmund Freud on stage, gets to know Hans Eisler, Count Bassie, Vincent Price, Lucille Ball.

- October 30th 1938 War of the Worlds radio play.

- 1941 Wells is ‘attacked as subversive and communistic by leaders of the American Legion and the Californian Sons of the Revolution in Hearst papers (Rosenbaum 1998:363). The FBI’s J.Edgar Hoover writes a memo linking Welles to various ‘communist’ organizations (Bogdanovich 1998: xxxvi)

“FBI director J. Edgar Hoover writes a “memorandum for the assistant to the attorney general Mr Mathews F. McGuire” stating: “For your information the Dies Committee has collected data indicating that Orson Welles is associated with the following organizations, which are said to be Communist in character: Negro Cultural Committee, Foster parents’ Plan for War Children, Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy, Theatre Arts Committee, Motion Picture Artists Committee to Lift the Embargo, Workers Bookshop, American Youth Congress, New Masses, People’s Forum, Workers Bookshop Mural Fund, League of American Writers [and] American Student Union…” (See James Naremore, “The Trial: The FBI vs. Orson Welles, “ Film Comment, January-February 1991” (Rosenbaum 1998:364).

- May 1st 1941 – Citizen Kane.  In a scene edited out of the film, Kane’s first wife’s son was to have been killed ‘when he and other members of a fascist organization try to seize an armory in Washington’, with the son’s body shown interred in a mausoleum where a wall inscription from the 1001 Nights begins The drunkenness of youth has passed like a fever’ (Carringer 1996:148).

- 1946 Welles gives protest speeches against the nuclear tests on Bikini Atol (Rosenbaum 1998: 397) and uses his ABC program Orson Welles Commentaries to campaign to bring charges against a policeman who had beaten and blinded black war veteran Isaac Woodward. With heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, Welles draws 20,000 people to a benefit for Woodward. The culpable policeman is finally identified in mid August (Rosenbaum 1998:398-9).

- 1955 on a television program Welles speaks out against passport control and immigration bureaucracy, a subject later dramatised in Welles’ film Touch of Evil.

‘the bureaucrat is really like a blackmailer. You can never pay him off; the more you give him, the more he’ll demand. If you fill in one form, he’ll give you ten’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:262)

- 1962 Welles’ film of Kafka’s The Trial in part conceived as a commentary on Displaced Person Camps (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998:281).

- Filming Don Quixote, incomplete, but the Knight is the emblem of a quixotic politics

- 1972, Welles reports that he still wants to make a film of Conrad’s Heart of Darkeness, emphasizing the contemporary political associations (Rosenbaum 1998:512). Seven years later Francis Ford Coppola releases Apocalypse Now.

- 1977 ‘the original Rosebud sled turned up in a prop warehouse at Paramount that used to belong to RKO. (Custom-built in the RKO property department, it was thirty-four inches long, made entirely of balsa wood, and fastened together with wood dowels and glue … three identical sleds were built; two were burned in the filming’ (Carringer 1996:49-50)

- 1973 F is for Fake – if you have not seen this, see it now.

Bogdanovich: ‘well, do you have a theory about possessions, or just an inability to keep things from getting lost’

Welles: ‘Both. The things you own have away of owning you’

B: ‘How about things like letters and books’

W: ‘I’m not laying this down as a law for anybody else. Its just that I feel I have to protect myself against things, so I’m pretty careful to lose most of them’ (Welles and Bogdanovich 1998: 183)

Don Quixote and the unfinished work of tilting at giants/windmills (this sequence exists and is brilliant) is perhaps a better autobiographical imaginary for Welles. It is both unfinished, and heroic misconstrual on the part of a maverick intelligence that is far too good for this world, and is still yet only a jester.

War of the Worlds

Welles is useful here to – as a prankster – his empire takeover expansion story was of a different order, but relevant perhaps. The ‘War of the Worlds’ (1938) was something more than a mediocre Halloween gimmick radio presentation which works through the conceit of a radio programme being interrupted by progressively more alarmist news reports that Martians had landed in America. It is a matter of record that the panic of hundreds of thousands who believed the play led to all manner of incident, with miscarriages and heart attacks and allegedly one woman in Pittsburgh taking her life rather than risking violation by Martians. As Bazin points out, it should be remembered that this occurred just as the world was preparing for WW2 and ‘the day was not far away when an unidentified announcer would interrupt an entertainment broadcast to declare in trembling voice  that Pearl Harbour had just been destroyed by the Japanese. But this time, many Americans who had gone along with Welles would believe it was a joke in bad taste’ (Bazin 1972/1991:49). Curiously enough, many people who saw the images of he twin towers of New York hit by planes in 2001 thought it was just an action movie.

The version recently filmed with the scientologist, betrayer of Nicole, and father to be, Tom Cruise is embarrassing in the extreme. It is impossible not to read the film as one big panic about terrorists attacking America. The hero (Cruise) just wants to protect his kids and the pregnant mum in her perfect home (even if it is not quite a perfect home). He is prepared to reluctantly sacrifice his teenage rebel son to the war effort, and to kill a red-neck type marine. The heroic soldiers still organise disciplined effort amidst chaos. Sure, the special effects are great, but it is so much like a close up view of 100 crashes of the World Trade Towers that I can only hope people reject the film for the tired scaremongering pap that it is. Grrr.

This tells us more than we need to know about our current climate of fear. But isn’t that what H.G.Wells had intended? The book, and the radio play, and the film, all begin with the earth being studied ‘across an immense ethereal gulf’ (Welles 1938) – an anthropological moment that is revealing in itself.

But Welles’s radio play, albeit more subtle, was primarily a prank, not intentional war propaganda. It was rather an attempt to toy with America’s faith in the ‘new magic box’ of the radio. It was an ‘assault on the credibility of that machine’ (Conrad 2003:90). It was also both almost the destruction of Welles’ career, and that which enabled him the opportunity to go to Hollywood to make Kane. Yet considering the immediate aftermath of the broadcast, with looting in half abandoned cities and chaos all over, its hard to imagine it going ahead had Welles know of the extent of this prank’s consequences Was there a plan to create more than a sensational outrage? Perhaps. Astonishingly his radio contract with CBS had been checked by Welles’ lawyer and it left him with no responsibility for any consequence of his plays except for questions of plagiarism. CBS had to deal with over 100 law suits as consequence of the 1938 invasion from Mars (Bazin 1972/1991:49).

Two brief mentions of ‘the Orson Welles broadcast’ occur in Theodore Adorno’s Current of Music (Adorno 2009:47-8, 373). The first time along with the suggestion that ‘It might be worthwhile to study whether children and naïve persons are really thoroughly conscious that radio is a tool’ (Adorno 2009:47). Confronted with authentic ‘voices’ with which they cannot argue, it is not too difficult to see a contemporary significance here – even as it should also be remembered that Adorno was writing for an audience (the Princeton Radio Project Group led by Paul Lazarsfeld) that he did not much respect.

Adorno denounced the Princeton Radio Research Project for being not dissimilar to market research. Its inquiry into the ways the mass media created effects was, he argued, unable to do anything significantly different to just what the programme owners and advertisers wanted. The Princeton Radio Group had been studying the radio play of War of the Worlds in the year before Adorno offered this scathing criticism. They had identified similarities between Welles’ radio panic and the demagoguery of the National Socialists in Germany, but Adorno argues that without and examination of production methods, this research remains epiphenomenal.

Today, the dialectical shift of course necessitates recognition that we all very well know that the production process of the media (news, critique, scholarship even) is all ‘tool’ and that authority is a function of style, carefully calibrated through presenter fashion and product placement. And yet it still works. We are naïve children even when we know it. We shop knowingly, even ironically, for books about Marx, for example. As we vote, we watch, we turn in at the prescribed hour, we know that even a critical appreciation is factored into the calculations of the under-assistant west coast promo executive.

The snow dome is a way into the start. An object, collected by many, contemplated, pondered, shaken. It is not always frozen, its kitsch relevance to the everyday and its souvenir quality make it both domestic and profound, familiar, but also strangely remote. Miniaturized. I am fascinated by these domes, as have been many before.

I want to develop this as an introduction to Capital, through a contrary incarnation in the figure of moneybags Kane, and begin to get at commodities through a focus on the kind of obscure, miniature, almost irrelevant and  insignificant of objects to hand – those baubles and trinkets that mesmerize us all. When the film opens, Kane’s life is over, the story ends before it begins – the ‘No Trespassing’ sign raising questions at the beginning to flummox would-be explanations of a man’s life, or – since we know the ending – to dissuade us from thinking that Kane’s life can be referred back to the primordial snow globe scene where he is wrenched from his sled, and his mother, and catapulted into education, the news, the world… abundance and loss.

Kane is a collector – and one thing he hangs onto is the snow globe. The first sequence of the film has him dropping it as he dies, it shatters.

My friend Joanne collects snow domes. I borrow one from her each time I do this Kane lecture. I like to think of this as the cinematic scene. The snow globe shakes up conventional souveniring versions of cinema – stars and cameos – in favour of miniature worlds and mis-en-scene. A glass ball into which all manner of interpretive occult effects can be projected. The snow globe can be thought of as a miniature TV, a time machine for memory, for second sight. It records and replays the past in newsreel fashion. In her book Film Cultures, Janet Harbord notes Adorno’s elegant phrase for capturing Benjamin’s fascination for ‘small glass balls containing a landscape upon which snow fell when shaken’ – an example of the ‘frozen image’ (Harbord 2002:34 London: Sage). I think this glass ball occult theme also gets at what fascinates in the globe – the world miniaturized, yet pointing in other directions, evocative, aspirational, and leading us elsewhere. In her next section Harbord explores the increasing importance of ‘ephemeral’ consumption of the ‘dematerialized commodity’, she writes: ‘The experiential economy is characterized by time-based goods, simultaneously used up in the moment and extended in souvenir-like ancillary products’ (Harbord 2002:48 ). The film is ephemeral, the snow globe souvenir you buy afterwards is the material residue (as is the DVD on the shelf).

Despite the No Trespassing sign, Kane, and I guess Welles probably, is fixated on childhood, so no doubt Freud should be called, but just in case he is busy we might look into that crystal ball, and take the snow globe as a vision machine, not just that which Bazin describes as a ‘childish souvenir’ which Kane ‘grasps before dying’ a ‘toy that was spared during the destruction of the dolls room belonging to his wife Susan’ (Bazin 1950/1991:65 ‘Orson Welles’). He also reports that Welles had described the style of Kane as ‘bric-a-brac’ in comparison to his less famous ‘Magnificent Ambersons’ (Bazin 1950/1991:59), but Bazin also provides an excellent analysis of the single shot which presents Susan’s suicide attempt, contrasted with the six or seven cross-cut shots that ‘anyone else’ would have used (Bazin 1950/1991:78).

Melanie Klein wrote extensive notes on Kane but these were not published until 1998, not only, I think, because they were not written up, but also because the film outdoes psychoanalysis before the letter – another Wellesian prank perhaps, snooting his nose at those who’d second guess. (see Mason, A. (1998). ‘Melanie Klein’s Notes on Citizen Kane with Commentary’ Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18:147-153).

Klein notes that the snowdome Kane drops as he dies is obviously a breast, and that Kane though lonely at the end, is not ill and has always pursued manic progressive goals:

‘in his youth, Kane has strong social feelings and purposes. The underprivileged, the poor are to be helped. He is going to devote his powers, his money, his capacities to this purpose’ and later, after failing in politics because of the scandal  when he marries Susan the opera singer it is in part to ‘control multitudes’ through her voice (Klein, in Mason 1998:148)

Kane merely collects, oblivious to what this means. He is after all a distorted capitalist, the wealth he made is base on an originary accumulation, the Colarado Load, that he does not work for. He continually feels he should do something worthy – his petronizing charitable impulse is not, we might thing today, unlike certain other tycoons, who also collect. But Capital is not just a collection of commodities.

Not that I want to pursue a psychoanalytic enquiry, the point is just to do away with the idea that the beginning is the key to the whole. That said, when Klein identifies the snowdome as the maternal breast, there is cause to recall it is the one thing Welles keeps with him after trashing Susan’s room. This is more than the ‘time capsule’ that Deleuze identified, and yet like Rosebud, it is kind of cheesy. A cheap trinketization.

Susan herself ends up a maudlin drunk when Kane dies, but she had spent a good part of the film trying to put the puzzle of trinkets together – literally in the case of her jigsaw puzzles in the great hall of xanadu.

If it were possible to understand the Kane snow globe in many ways we might include, and not privilege, it as example of what Guattari called the time crystal. This maybe combines what Deleuze calls the time-image and the movement-image.

Time image because it is memory of a past present made virtual in that crystal ball, a repository in a sense of Kane’s memory, but also – movement image – an invocation of the distances traversed in the many moments of the Kane story.

Hence also using the trick of a biographical introduction to Welles, or Marx, or Quixote as being something of a faux psychoanalytic cinema biopic filmed by Orsen Welles. He was ‘some sort of a man’, says Marlene Dietrich of Welles’ cop in Touch of Evil

Is it possible to reclaim Citizen Kane from all the readings that have passed over it so much? What residue will need to be cleared away so as to see this film anew? Is that even possible? So many biographies of Welles, but an oblique angular take on this overwritten film can perhaps still reveal something about our perspective today.

‘I still wonder why film students babble on about Orsen Welles … Even the worst films of Russ Meyer and infinitely more interesting than Citizen Kane’ (Waters 2005:12)

I still believe we can learn a lot about the world as it appears to us today from an old movie from another time – Citizen Kane – for those of you who have seen it, think of why he is “Citizen”. Citizen of where? OK, this is a much worked terrain – the search for meaning in Kane, Welles’ nuanced and complicated text that tells us at the start there should be ‘no trespassing’ on the childhood drama that motivates Kane, yet the film of course does so trespass, tells us about Kane’s childhood, shows that not all can be explained by the sled.

Kane, and Welles probably, is fixated on childhood so no doubt Freud should be called, but just in case he is busy we might look into that crystal ball, the snow dome, which Bazin describes: Kane ‘grasps this childish souvenir before dying, this toy that was spared during the destruction of he dolls room belonging to his wife Susan’ (Bazin 1972/191:65).

The different windows on the story of Kane also offer an allegorical way into reading Marx’s Capital – the initial newsreel section something like the commodity fetish chapter, a platform that warns, as does the very first sentence, that things are not what they appear, that the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails only presents itself as an immense collection of commodities

Although the film begins and ends with the No trespassing Sign, it is Welles I think who does want, and wants us, to trespass. His camera passes through the chain mesh, and again through various windows and signs to examine and inquire. This is something like the metaphoric architecture that governs the presentation of Das Kapital. The theatrical references to drawing back curtains (before the wizard of Oz, duex ex machina), the ocular, vision and camera lucida that ‘at first look’… implies always a second, and third, look, the ghost commentary so beloved of Derrida, and much more.

Unsurprisingly the psychoanalysis of the US in the 1930s and 1940s become a salacious mystery hunt for mommy daddy. Some say of course that Kane can be taken as (unconsciously) modelled also on Welles himself.

Kane has an ego of some considerable proportion and his personality dominates his workers for sure, but he is Citizen Kane, not only Hearst-moneybags. He has personal ‘needs and wants’ that accord to a ‘degree of civilization’ and a ‘degree of comfort’ (Marx vol 1) but these are not far from, at least aspirationally, the needs and wants of every citizen. Yet, when the successful Kane seemingly has bags of money enough to satisfy any need or want, he remains deeply dissatisfied. I imagine he was only happy as a campaigning political journalist, struggling for his paper’s success, fighting the corner of the ‘everymen’ (sic). Use-values have here relate to exchange-values, and exchange proves insufficient perhaps.

The citizen must be trained to consume, but this is also unfulfilling, a betrayal. Cain.

But it would be worth thinking of Kane as only the personification of a member of the capitalist class at a certain – changing – time in the capital cycle. We see the boom and bust, growth and crisis of the man’s career – this we should consider as an allegory of the cycle. But to be more careful, we can perhaps read this alongside Lenin quoting Marx on the tactics of the revolutionary forces after the defeats of the late 1840s, when Marx has been working on journalism and building the socialist movement patiently. Lenin tracks Marx’s tactical relationship to the bourgeois revolution in Germany:

‘In Germany, Marx, in 1848 and 1849, supported the extreme revolutionary democrats, and subsequently never retracted what he had then said about tactics. He regarded the German bourgeoisie and an element which was “inclined from the very beginning to betray the people” (only an alliance with the peasantry could have enabled the bourgeoisie to completely achieve its aims) “and compromise with the crowned representatives of the old society”  (Lenin 1918/1964:77)

In a kind of aside, sotto voce, Lenin is writing about the peasantry in 1913-1914 surely with a view to circumstances in Russia, or, since the part on tactics was suppressed by the encyclopaedia, more likely he has added this bracketed insertion in 1918 when the published as a pamphlet by Priboi publishers. Understandably he reads Marx through the prism of his contemporary circumstances, as he surely should. We do this as well, even if in any case, we can also read across the bracketed and underline the betrayal of the people that a compact between bourgeois and aristocracy entails, remembering the need to deal with the Czar. What is interesting though is to see Lenin do several things here, one offer an illustration of the materialist dialectic, and two, an assessment of where Marx was politically in the mid 1850s, which I can’t help but think has important resonances for us now. In any case, Lenin continues:

‘Here is Marx’s summing up of the German bourgeoisie’s class position in the period of the bourgeois-democratic revolution – an analysis, which, incidentally, is a sample of a materialism that examines society in motion, and moreover, not only from the perspective of a motion that is backward: “Without faith in itself, without faith in the people, grumbling at those above, trembling at hose below … intimidated by the world storm … no energy in any respect, plagiarism in every respect … without initiative … an execrable old man who saw himself doomed to guide and deflect the first youthful impulses of a robust people in his own senile interests”’ (Lenin 1918/1964:77)

This could easily be a depiction of Kane as personification of the moribund ruling class after the crisis, just as it names the foibles of Prime Ministers Blair and Cameron today, pretending to act with historical import, but this time as farce.

So you might be forgiven for thinking that Kane was schizoid too – we see several versions of the man that do not add up to ‘a’ life. And the mythographer, Welles himself, always took on many roles and seems to have glossed details in a grand style. Peter Conrad cites both Malinowski and Lévi-Strauss to support his contention that Welles’ storytelling – about himself, or of Hearst – did not need to be constrained by the facts (Conrad 2003:34)

The materialist comprehension of the commodity, object, souvenir or trinket (these are not the same) is different to that of the psychoanalytic approach, which takes individuals and their drives, desires and motives into first account. The fetish is not just a deviant displacement, not just a sexual misrecognition (mommy-daddy) but a feint or trick that hides a deeper social malaise to do with distribution and ethics.

Draft Notes 1.1

Draft Notes 1.1

[rough word hoard from lecture - not for forwarding - as it really needs editing]

How to start reading that rich book that is Marx’s Capital of which an immense, even monstrous, accumulation of commentary on the Marxist mode of literary production appears to have already shaped its elementary forms?

A great many declarations of the relevance of Marx, asserted again for a long time and now more than ever, are available on the shelves. Bookstores are not quite but almost awash with explanations of why it is that, since Capital is global, Marx too has his global moment (again – ‘workers of the world unite’). Nor are we lacking in texts that explain how twenty years ago the eclipse of sausage-and-three-veg versions of socialism, the renunciation of Stalinism and really existing communism, the decline of bureaucratic left or the orthodox Leninist Party etc., means Marx, and Communism, can at last be freed of its bad reputation (as said by Guattari and Negri, but see also everyone from Jean-Luc Nancy to Slavoj Žižek and back again). I wish it were possible not to take sides, but these texts influence readings – so at least we can agree with Daniel Bensaïd that ‘we no longer have the excuse of his [Marx’s] capture by the bureaucracy and confiscation by the state to duck the responsibility of rereading and reinterpreting’ (Bensaïd 2002:xi).

There are dozens of commentaries and guides and introductions and prefaces on Marx and Marxism. Indeed the history of Marxism is an instructive lesson in how reading is multiple and contested. A fratricidal spectacle even. The Marxism-Leninism of the Bolsheviks, the varieties of Stalinism, Council communism, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, the Maoists, the Surrealists, Bataille, Adorno, Heidegger even, of course the well meaning existentialists, Sartre, the eurocommunists and autonomes, in a certain sense Foucault, and, with flying vaginas and speeding penises our favourite two-headed beast Deleuze-Guattari (a strange echo of the Marx-Engels head-birth, repeated again as farce as Hardt-Negri, then as Badiou- Žižek – and I think by now I’ve heard all the jokes about Badizek, Zizzidou) including a call to a return to reading Marx by Jacques Derrida in the 1990s – ‘when was it time to have ever left off’, said Spivak. After that implosion of communism in Eastern Europe, all manner of declarations that Marx was relevant again, rereleases of the Manifesto on the 150th anniversary, and recently, Harvey’s lectures on Capital – which reorders the book, and Jameson’s very good volume as well as Eagletone’s somewhat annoying, but pint-sized and so welcome response to the ten worst objections – if you think somehow Marx is too ancient to be relevant to contemporary capital, that its good in theory but impracticable and will lead to totalitarianism, has a deterministic view of history, is too economistic, too dry, that the working class is over, or that violent revolution will only bring in a bloodthirsty absolutist state (or that this might be a bad thing) and that Marx has nothing to say to those of ‘us’ moderns, or postmoderns, who are committed to feminism, anti-racism, postcolonialism, environmentalism, gay rights, animal rights, ethnicity, individualism, transindividualism, grass roots collectivism, peace love and all – and assuming you can endure some of the wooden prose and somewhat tedious jokes – then Eagleton’s book is worth downloading from Pirate Bay (he certainly earns sufficient for us not to need to contribute royalties in every case). See also Michael Lebowitz’s Following Marx, and Peter Osborne offers How to Read Marx and Continuum gives us Marx for the Perplexed. More and more texts to read on how to read Marx. It is as if we can never be done with prefaces, never get to actually read Marx, instead to read about reading Marx. Even Žižek, who has voluminous introductions to reissues of the writings of Mao and an excellent volume of essays by Lenin, would seem rather have us read Lacan instead of Marx, or perhaps just Badiou. When Žižek does cite Marx, it seems as if its by memory – he gets the opening line wrong, as we shall see. Jacques Derrida spends a lot of time talking about how to start. We will spend much of the second week discussing his feints and whispered asides to a certain spirit that haunts all reading of Marx. The ontological status of a preface is nothing to be taken lightly, pace Hamlet, as again we will see. But let’s learn at least one thing – we would do well to open the pages up and actually read Marx, instead of all these others.

This is not to say the assembled prefaces are not useful or that they do not teach us many things. For sure they do – they are a growing record of really important and relevant struggles, it is the history and record of Marxism. Why would there be so many intros, prefaces and afterwords to the start of Capital if we were not supposed to be forewarned of certain difficulties- specifically of Hegelian coquettery, dangers of misreading, and the mechanics of abstraction. This deserves close attention, but so also does the words of Marx, and Engels.

Of course Engels also tampers with the text, but by now we know there is no originary text. We cannot read the text exactly as Marx intended.

The context has changed – Like Borges’ Pierre Menard rewriting Don Quixote 200 years after Cervantes but in totally new and profound circumstances, we can imagine a different contemporary context for Das Kapital. You will see Marx refer to shifts of emphasis and plan in Kapital several times, as of course does everyone.

Of course we should, and cannot not, read Marx for our own times. If there is some correspondence between theory and circumstance (economy and thinking, ideas and context, extension and interiority) we must also recognise we try to work out this relation with difficulty because we are already on the way. At least, now, with some hindsight, we can see how we invent a new Marx for our times each decade or so – 1960s Althusserian, which has shaped French thinking ever since; 1970s structuralist; 1980s the rise of autonomist interpretations and a Trotskyite revision, which has harmed English Marxism ever since;1990s and after, Derrida its spectral and naive abstract globalism; 2000s a techno-machine/immaterial/affective care and fear (of terror) – and in the 2010’s it may well be apocalypse, end-times, revolutionary possibilities and ‘interregnum bursting asunder’ and the consequences of austerity and crisis – plus the coming war with China.

The course will offer us a chance to think about the importance of banks for Capital (credit as a force in production), the significance of Education and training, of race and white supremacy as a context for the so-called primitive accumulation (property) and wage labour trade union struggles (of which Marx was critical), as well as how to do research, research materials, class composition and recomposition of capital, time, technology and tactics… I am not sure we can finally decide, in the last instance, which Marx is for our times, but some attention to the way we read and why is a good place to start.

An open reading of Capital can be very important for cultural studies no matter what the time, but also at this time. Open reading requires opening the book, not reliant upon the ‘patina of speculation’ and rumour that surrounds it. Of course we must also read with a view to the dangers of that reading, and the way we too will read Marx through a prism that can become a prison. Suffice to say there is no guarantee that a new kind of quarantine and detention will be in store for Marx given renewed popularity. The primers and guides abound – the danger is that a clerical police countenance, having sought and found the correct attitude and which brave face to put up for the teaching and direction of Marx, may mean we soon suffer from too much instruction.

To which I can only add an attempt to trip up the security guards and try to smuggle in several counterfeit or contraband versions of the text for your edification. Read through the prism bars as an escapade in radical thinking, reading Marx promiscuously, without apology. You need no qualification to read, beyond literacy and a copy of the text, and, the damndest thing of all, a desire to question everything.

We need to prepare to read this book. This cannot be a clean slate, but we can try to trick ourselves into something like that. Hence the trick of a dead poets society moment where it would be possible, and even plausible, to insist on channelling Robin Williams and rip out spurious introductions, for example that of the Secretary of the Fourth International, Trotskyite Ernest Mandel, in the Penguin Edition. Although we should never trust a Trot, there is not much to be gained from this merely theatrical gesture. This is not to say the SWP are not annoying, patronizing, parachuting in on campaigns, etc, but just to suggest this is rather to remind us that all introductions are framing, and we should ask where they are coming from. This includes anything I can say.

For all the interest in Marx, in the past and renewed today, it is at least worth attempting at first to read anew. Yet this vast accumulation of commentary stands before us.

I will offer you my reading, and read with you. Of course perspectival, and sometimes naïvely so. In reading Capital, if anything about beginnings should be considered necessary, it might be good just to start with what is immediately at hand. There are too many prefaces, No ‘one’ book. Even the authorship is a problem, except perhaps for Capital, the major theoretical text that the author Marx released into the world.

There is much discussion and theory about this, and its probably naïve to simply say that materialism might start with things themselves, but why not start with the objects, commodities, souvenirs or detritus of our lives? There surely is enough stuff of which to take account in our contemporary world. Plenty of junk. Marx himself has much to say on waste and shit, that which is slurred off in the process of production gets incorporated again, not just recycling, but a number of circuits – in volume three of Capital this becomes crucial (see

But we are not at volume three as yet, by any means, though it is a key to the beginning of volume one, where Marx starts with an immense or monstrous collection or accumulation of commodities, it is also crucial that materialism as material-ism would have to take account of all this stuff from the perspective of the whole, of totality (Lukacs). This will never be easy or straightforward – an impossible accounting, which must nevertheless be our aim. The collection too is not that of a collector, but the monstrous accumulation of capitalist society. Though even if documentation of all this stuff is forever incomplete, and that in all the varied and multiple efforts, interpretations are, or should be, always contested, to do so still betrays a totalizing ambition. We might also call this a reckoning to come. And perhaps still the collection is messianic, the collector divine (Benjamin).

But that is to get ahead of things a little, the task here is to start to read a text, and then to relate it to our present conjuncture.

There are many possible starts

There are many versions of Marx, and of Capital, and it would be easy but false to say each reader reads anew, and this false-easy is most wrong if it goes on to hope that each reader can fashion their own reading and their own Marx. But how can we think that the vast apparatus surrounding this book – translations, versions, commentaries, pronouncements, parties, revolutions, trials, tributes, reaffirmations, libraries, academia, bookshops, footnotes, conferences, course guides – so as to do just that? And can we recover this book from all that? Of course not, and yet.


Acknowledge that there is no start that has not already started. We come to the book already opened, even before turning a page.


The dedication, for example, of Volume One is to Wilhelm Wolff, co-founder of the League of Communist, an editor of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, and benefactor of Marx. The dedication reads ‘to my unforgettable friend, intrepid, faithful, noble protagonist of the proletariat, born in Tarnau on June 21 1809, died in exile in Manchester on May 9, 1864’ (Marx 1867/1967: preface). Note here the mention of exile and of Manchester – already significant code words in the Marxist lexicon. In a reminiscence Engels wrote of his later years: ‘For several years Wolff was the only comrade I had in Manchester with the same views as myself; no wonder that we met almost daily and that I then again had more than ample opportunity of admiring his almost instinctively correct assessment of current events’ (Engels 1876[1]).


Was Marx writing for Wolff, and old comrade from the German revolution of 1848? Marx has earlier times in mind. The Preface to the first edition – this is a Preface by Marx – tells us this is a continuation of a text from eight years before – Critique of Political Economy. This text is summarized, in part – some thing consigned to later volumes – in chapter one and ‘The Presentation is improved’. The presentation is improved with French and German readers in mind. Marx then reminds us that ‘Beginnings are always difficult’ (penguin p89, Deutsch p11). Well, the value form is simple, but for 2000 years nutting it out has been a task. Some claim this! Then some comments on microscopes and abstraction – which will be important later – before we here another comment directed to us. Marx writes: ‘I assume, of course, a reader who is wiling to learn something new and therefore think for themselves’ (Marx 1867:12, penguin p90)


After this, some varied comments – Medusa’s head… factory inspectors … child labour … magic and monsters, plus a hero with a cap pulled down over his eyes (or are they ours). Various literary allusions – we can read Kapital as literature, or even as high opera.


And the protagonists – the capitalist class who has an interest in the development (and exploitation) of the working class – since a developed working class best develops the productive forces – think this dialectically, a model of critique that comes from, yet inverts, reverts, the great Hegel. Marx coquettes with Hegel and distinguishes between method of presentation and method of analysis. This to is important and we should keep it n mind when we as why Marx starts as he does. Why with The Commodity, or rather, in German Die Ware – commodities.


When Marx says collection – in the first sentence – he does not mean someone who collects, but perhaps something like the accumulated display of the Great Exposition.


So not Kane – though something like Kane as ‘personification of the economic category is very much on the cards.


Marx himself was born in 1818, died 1883. A German-Jew in a family converted to Christianity. Student in Bonn and Berlin, met Friedrich Engels in 1844, from which his first important works date, together they wrote The German Ideology, a critique of right Hegelians, and The Communist Manifesto. We all know this.


Manifesto – this was written over the winter of 47-48 for the International Workingmen’s Association. First drafted on the train from Manchester to London, then finished in a frenzy of work by Marx in Brussels in January 48. It influence astonishing, global, relevant still, etc.


Everyone can quote from it: from its first words: ‘Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa’ (1848/1970:41) – ‘A spectre is haunting Europe’, to its last words ‘Mögen die herrschenden Klassen vor iner kommunistischen Revolution zittern. Die Proletarier haben nichts in ihr zu verlieren als ihr Ketten. Sie haben eine Welt zu gewinnen. Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch’ (1848/1970:82-3) – ‘Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of all countries, unite’.


Perhaps most important for us as students is the passage on how the capitalist system forces the bourgeoisie to expand everywhere, to try to extend its mode of production to all lands, to recruit and co-opt all peoples, increasingly, through advances in means of production, communication and coercion, to draw all peoples and all lands into industrial production. Hence colonialism, imperialism, transition…


The Manifesto was written just as Europe launched into a period of revolutionary turmoil. Marx was himself an activist, expelled from Brussels and Germany for political reasons, exiled in Paris then London. He was, apparently, a rebel rousing type, turning up to demos and meetings not always sober, but able, in repartee, to make mince meat of any other ideologues. The printing of the Manifesto in April 1848 preceeded a revolutionary upsurge in Germany by a matter of weeks. Marx moved to Cologne with other revolutionaries from the Communist League entering Germany carrying 1000 copies of the Manifesto, and a list of 17 Demands of the Communist Party in Germany that Marx had paid to have printed – the demands included a State Bank, Nationalisation of the Railways, progressive taxation, Free education and confiscation of the lands of the princes (McLelland 2006:181). Marx published an increasingly agitational newspaper, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, organized meetings, considered running as a candidate, increased activity among factory workers and peasants, raised funds for the cause, met with Bakunin in Berlin, gave lectures to the Workers Association (‘Wage Labor and Capital’) and, with the Prussian State facing down uprisings in Frankfurt, Vienna, and later the Ruhr, Baden and Dresden (where a young Richard Wagner was behind the barricades), radical publications banned, Marx dragged to court on libel charges (acquitted after 300 plus supporters that had come with him, and he had delivered an impressive speech), confrontations with the army, Marx was arrested and expelled. The last issue of the paper printed in red. The revolutionary period of 1848-9, did not deliver freedom. It might be possible to gloss this as meaning Marx’s hope for the situation was disappointed and he thus (re)turned to the library. His whole career seems to move between these two poles – although henever gave up activism – he also was keen to seek an explanation. Writing the 18th Brumaire as an analysis of the struggles in France. His work on economics that begins what would be Capital is taken up some several years later in the context of another crisis. Throughout the 1950s Marx writes often on Colonialism and India, and in 1857 the crisis of capitalism provides him with crucial material for the Grundrisse (see letters on capital for Engels discussion with him including reports from the factory management office of Ermine, Engels and Co). Following Spivak, I want to stress this pattern – the Manifesto, and his other works, including the most theoretical, are written in the context of actual political events – of the type I’ve been emphasising…


Marx’s most important work, published in his 49th year, is Das Kapital, first appeared in 1867. This is so whether you go by his own assessment, evidenced by his allocation of so many years to its writing, or the uses made of the host of Marxists which follow his work in a multiplicity of ways.


Crucial is that Marx writes volume one of Capital as the first part of six projected volumes, that did not appear. Volume one is about the dynamics of simple reproduction of Capital. It will not be an analysis of how things are and it is not a blueprint for action, however much the old 11th thesis excuses all to stupid lurches into adventures. Marx expected his readers to read, and we owe him at least that.


Marx, of course its now boring to even tell this, was the first to announce that he was not a Marxist. The various interpretations and reinterpretations offer good reason for thinking there was never just one Marxism. Interpretation becomes key, much of it done by scholars in sociology, economics, cultural studies, and by some anthropologists, but also done in practical politics and the sometimes violent scene of really existing Marxisms ranged across the globe throughout the previous century.


We will start with Das Kapital, but any introduction to this book is a misconstrual. So often, like perhaps Don Quixote, or the Bible, only the first chapter is read. To read just the section on commodities, even as this is the key to the whole, would be only to begin and thus to misrepresent. Das Kapital though is a fat book.


Various examples and evidence might be offered for this argument. Best of all I think is Felton C. Shortall’s book The Incomplete Marx (1994) which tracks the various et in advance closures of Marx’s various plans for Capital and where you can read of planned but not completed volumes on the state and on foreign trade. Another example, that does not require us to leave volume one, is the notice that Ben Fine and Laurence Harris make that when Marx talks of exchange it is ‘only present to the extent that is necessary for the existence of specifically capitalist production’, and the exchange of commodities amongst the capitalist class themselves is not considered until volume two and more fully in volume three (Fine and Harris 1979:16). Of course any careful reader knows that Marx had already said as much, though the extent to which this has passed people by, especially in English translation, or perhaps I should say paraphrase, is astonishing.



Are we even reading Marx? The first chapter that we read is actually the rewritten version of 1873. Marx was already revising Marxism six years after publication.


Before examining what is changed in the rewriting, and why, it might be worth thinking about rewriting as a mode of work. Marx was always revising – Manifesto, German Ideology, Grundrisse and Capital (volumes 123456). There is also the issue of the mode of preservation versus the analysis – these two construed sometimes as different, but not separate, moments of the writing.


The version we read is not the one of 1867 (acknowledged year of publication).


Engels preface to the English edition noted that he – Engels – had made changes according to notes Marx had left ‘indicating the passages of the second edition [in German] to be replaced by designated passages from the French text published in 1873 (Engels, preface 1886 Lawrence and Wishhart edition 1970:4). A footnote indicates that ‘the latter part of the book … contains considerable alterations in and additions to the text’ (Engels 1886/1970:fn4).


We can speculate as to why the text of Capital was rewritten when it was. In 1872 Marx agreed to a serialised publication of Capital, a year after the Paris Commune, revising substantially. In English we do not get all of this, despite Engels efforts after Marx’s death. What did he change in that first rewrite? Anderson says the ‘omitted or alternate texts cover the subjects of the role of private property in capitalism, alienation and unskilled factory work, capitalist crises, unemployment, and imperialism’ (Anderson 1983:71) but in the absence of a suitable English comparative text, this remains difficult to judge. Certainly, the analysis of commodities as enhanced, and there are changes not only to the latter sections, but important passages in chapter one were added. (Pages xxx to xxx).


In 1998 Anderson gave a summary indication of where the MEGA publication of Capital was then up to, with plans, and funding, to continue:


Series II. Marx’s Major Economic Writings. Of 15 volumes now planned, 10 have been published. Significantly, what has already been published includes all the editions of Vol. I of Capital which either Marx or Engels prepared for publication. Especially important here is Vol. II/10, a reprint of Engels’ 1890 fourth German edition, but with an important addition, an appendix which gathers together 60 pages of text, much of it very significant, from Marx’s 1872-75 French edition of Vol. I. This material was not included by Engels in Vol. I, and has yet to appear in standard German or English editions of Vol. I. (Anderson 1998:


This MEGA Vol II/10 appendix is unavailable in English. In the French, and in part incorporated into the German 4th edition and the extant English edition, it is still possible to see more clearly that the argument proceeds by abstraction, by abstracting the kernel of a wider and more complicated system and showing the workings of the unreal scene of exchange, and then increasingly in chapter and chapter, widening the analysis, adding ethnographic examples and heading towards the – never completed – comprehensive understanding of capitalism as a global system.


Althusser in Reading ‘Capital’ starts with a declaration that we should read Capital letter by letter, line by line, but he also will have us skipping section one until we have read the rest all the way through at least once (Althusser). The issue here is not just to begin, but to ‘begin to understand’ ( One year I may suggest we begin from the end, with the sections on history, since Marx says he wrote this section first (Letter to Shott,  November 3 1877, Letters on Capital p188). Elsewhere Marx advises Kugelmann  to tell his wife to start with the chapter on the Working Day (November 30 1867, Letters on Capital p120). There are many options. And disputes over where to begin, you will be surprised to know, sometimes quite spiteful. Ranciere reacts to Althusser’s reading – the line by line comment – by saying that to read like that ‘we must first be assured that there indeed exists a book, Capital, that Marx wrote’ (Ranciere 2004[1998]:131) Althusser ‘in fact produces and extraordinary theatricalization of the text’ of Capital, (Ranciere 2004[1998]:141). Why is this a surprise.



What do we want to do? – probably we want by now to begin to read Capital. But already we have moved far too fast – an understanding of capital as global system is more than we could hope for. Marx offers several warnings before we read:


In his preface, he writes that he will ‘pre-suppose, of course, a reader who is willing to learn something new and therefore to think for themselves’ (Marx 1867/1970:8, gendered language modified). The implied reader is something to which we might also aspire, since thinking for yourself and learning something new are the criteria for thinking and learning anything at all – as Foucault also wrote, the question of whether it is possible to think differently is the only reason for continuing to think at all.


What are we to think about: Capital as system, but starting with commodity. There are no people at the start. Marx warns ‘individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personification of economic categories, embodiments of particular class relations and class interests’ (Marx 1867/1970:10). But Capital is a social system – the commodity in this use is a social form. The code word that indicates this in the very first sentence, which will be looked at more carefully below, is ‘society’. Margaret Thatcher famously said there was ‘no such thing as society’. I can assure you, she was certainly not a Marxist.


In the preface to Capital, Marx writes: ‘Of course the method of presentation must differ from that of inquiry’ and ‘my dialectical method is not only different from the Hegelian, but its direct opposite’ (Marx 1867/1970:19). I am not going to enter the swamps of spinning Hegels on this occasion (see Tom Bunyard’s forthcoming book from his PhD, Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths), but the question of method, presentation and dialectics is relevant to how we read. So, to stress this – the procedure is dialectical. Yet, not exactly the same as Hegel’s ‘mystified dialectic’, (it is always more complicated than thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis etc). Nicole Pepperell has prepared a useful primer to many of the various feints and staged voices in chapter one (See The Devils Party, essay one – Pepperell 2009) but it might be possible to gloss that set of hesitations in a more progressive way – Marx offers a procedure that allows a stitching back and forth between complex examples and accumulating understanding.


Capital – we need to read this in several ways, as a dialectical versioning of Marx’s thinking and this first sentence announces the basic premise of critical Hegelian dialectics – that is, a Hegel stood back on his head by Marx after Feuerbach turned him upside down (this will have to  be explained). We can read this sentence with the help of Adorno, for example as a critical Hegelianism that rails against identity. The work of showing that appearances of identity are non-identical. Capital is not an immense collection of commodities. Nor is it exchange, property, circulation, credit or labour. We will also read this sentence according to our time, but of course cannot but be influenced by reads of other times – there are perhaps an infinite number of readers, such that we do not read alone, but we read each time ourselves. Let us try to keep both these things in mind.



Starting with the difficult scene of commodity exchange, this is nonetheless a very clear and accessible read. Marx tells us that the presentation differs from the mode of inquiry. The analysis of commodities was not his first object of analysis, it is an abstracted presentation, a writerly, rewritten, text.


Marx’s introduction anticipates a great many themes that will recur over and over in the text. Readers are forewarned, the wealth of nations is at stake, there be monsters, in this drama, where production rules, and its very elements, and their abstract form, will be examined.


Look at the first sentence of the text (in English, Penguin translation):


‘The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an “immense collection of commodities”, the individual commodity appears as its elementary form’ (Marx 1867/


I think it is crucial that the commodity is the opening scene of a drama that has a wider purpose for demystifying. It is the opening to a work that will provide the ‘implied reader’ of Capital (I follow Gayatri Spivak’s ‘Scattered Speculations’ essay of 1985 in seeing this reader as first of all a member of the German socialist workers party here, and by extension today, you and I) with the x-ray vision to see through the trick of market exchange, control of production, distribution, valourisation, credit, the varieties of subsumption and the crises of capital, so as to sublate the productive power of capital away from the exploitative production for profit of commodity wealth into a more plentiful abundance of life and creativity for all…

[1] Engels, ‘Wilhelm Wolff’ Written: between June and September 1876; First published: in Die Neue Welt, July 1, 8, 22, 29; Sept 30; Oct. 7, 14, 21, 28; Nov. 4, 25, 1876; Translated: Barrie Selman for Collected Works;

We are 99% amazed


David Graeber: On Playing By The Rules – The Strange Success Of #OccupyWallStreet

By David Graeber, who is currently a Reader in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths University London. Prior to that he was an associate professor of anthropology at Yale University. He is the author of ‘Debt: The First 5,000 Years’ which is available from Amazon.

Just a few months ago, I wrote a piece for Adbusters that started with a conversation I’d had with an Egyptian activist friend named Dina:

All these years,” she said, “we’ve been organizing marches, rallies… And if only 45 people show up, you’re depressed, if you get 300, you’re happy. Then one day, 200,000 people show up. And you’re incredulous: on some level, even though you didn’t realize it, you’d given up thinking that you could actually win.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads across America, and even the world, I am suddenly beginning to understand a little of how she felt.

On August 2, I showed up at a 7 PM meeting at Bowling Green, that a Greek anarchist friend, who I’d met at a recent activist get together at 16 Beaver Street, had told me was meant to plan some kind of action on Wall Street in mid-September. At the time I was only vaguely aware of the background: that a month before, the Canadian magazine Adbusters had put out the call to “Occupy Wall Street”, but had really just floated the idea on the internet, along with some very compelling graphics, to see if it would take hold; that a local anti-budget cut coalition top-heavy with NGOs, unions, and socialist groups had tried to take possession of the process and called for a “General Assembly” at Bowling Green. The title proved extremely misleading. When I arrived, I found the event had been effectively taken over by a veteran protest group called the Worker’s World Party, most famous for having patched together ANSWER one of the two great anti-war coalitions, back in 2003. They had already set up their banners, megaphones, and were making speeches—after which, someone explained, they were planning on leading the 80-odd assembled people in a march past the Stock Exchange itself.

The usual reaction to this sort of thing is a kind of cynical, bitter resignation. “I wish they at least wouldn’t advertise a ‘General Assembly’ if they’re not actually going to hold one.” Actually, I think I actually said that, or something slightly less polite, to one of the organizers, a disturbingly large man, who immediately remarked, “well, fine. Why don’t you leave?”

But as I paced about the Green, I noticed something. To adopt activist parlance: this wasn’t really a crowds of verticals—that is, the sort of people whose idea of political action is to march around with signs under the control of one or another top-down protest movement. They were mostly pretty obviously horizontals: people more sympathetic with anarchist principles of organization, non-hierarchical forms of direct democracy, and direct action. I quickly spotted at least one Wobbly, a young Korean activist I remembered from some Food Not Bomb event, some college students wearing Zapatista paraphernalia, a Spanish couple who’d been involved with the indignados in Madrid… I found my Greek friends, an American I knew from street battles in Quebec during the Summit of the Americas in 2001, now turned labor organizer in Manhattan, a Japanese activist intellectual I’d known for years… My Greek friend looked at me and I looked at her and we both instantly realized the other was thinking the same thing: “Why are we so complacent? Why is it that every time we see something like this happening, we just mutter things and go home?” – though I think the way we put it was more like, “You know something? Fuck this shit. They advertised a general assembly. Let’s hold one.”

So we gathered up a few obvious horizontals and formed a circle, and tried to get everyone else to join us. Almost immediately people appeared from the main rally to disrupt it, calling us back with promises that a real democratic forum would soon break out on the podium. We complied. It didn’t happen. My Greek friend made an impassioned speech and was effectively shooed off the stage. There were insults and vituperations. After about an hour of drama, we formed the circle again, and this time, almost everyone abandoned the rally and come over to our side. We created a decision-making process (we would operate by modified consensus) broke out into working groups (outreach, action, facilitation) and then reassembled to allow each group to report its collective decisions, and set up times for new meetings of both the smaller and larger groups. It was difficult to figure out what to do since we only had six weeks, not nearly enough time to plan a major action, let alone bus in the thousands of people that would be required to actually shut down Wall Street—and anyway we couldn’t shut down Wall Street on the appointed day, since September 17, the day Adbusters had been advertising, was a Saturday. We also had no money of any kind.

Two days later, at the Outreach meeting we were brainstorming what to put on our first flyer. Adbusters’ idea had been that we focus on “one key demand.” This was a brilliant idea from a marketing perspective, but from an organizing perspective, it made no sense at all. We put that one aside almost immediately. There were much more fundamental questions to be hashed out. Like: who were we? Who did want to appeal to? Who did we represent? Someone—this time I remember quite clearly it was me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a half dozen others had equally strong memories of being the first to come up with it—suggested, “well, why not call ourselves ‘the 99%’? If 1% of the population have ended up with all the benefits of the last 10 years of economic growth, control the wealth, own the politicians… why not just say we’re everybody else?” The Spanish couple quickly began to lay out a “We Are the 99%” pamphlet, and we started brainstorming ways to print and distribute it for free.

Follow this link to read the full article and the huge – sometimes car-crash – comments discussion is absolutely worth a look too.

Critique of Everything

The fine folk at the Finnish Anthropology Society asked me to respond to Jason Toynbee’s piece ‘The Critical Accomplice’  (issue 3/2011) where he started out by saying: ‘In this piece I focus upon anthropology’s close ally in the contemporary social sciences, cultural studies. I argue that its core concepts and drives – some increasingly shared by anthropologists  are in need of serious critique’ (p60). Jason’s text is well worth a read, but I suspect it would be a copyright violation to repost it here. I will write him to see. In the meantime, you can read my response, which is an oblique one – a re-versioning of a piece written for Tarcisco and previously only available in Portuguese.

Critique of Everthing


What is to be done next monday and tuesday.

  • Where
     Goldsmiths’ Cinema, Richard Hoggart Building, New Cross, SE14 6NW

  • What is critical political economy today? Has neo-liberalism produced a system of domination in which capital has reduced labour not just to an object but to what Heidegger called a ‘standing reserve’,: that is a Marxist reserve army of labour that no longer has a stake in the productive system resulting in conflagrations like Tottenham 2011? Or does a new industrialism driven by technological media open up a possible political space of ‘care’, enabling open relations of bonding between humans and among human and code-driven machines? How would such a political economy address the emerging powers in an age when Obama is destined to be the last president of what will have been the world’s most powerful nation? Is China (India) neo-liberal or is it possible to have the sociality of markets without capitalism? Is Foucault right to counterpose the positivity of a liberalism based in a classical political economy of Smith and Ricardo against the bio-political domination of a neo-liberalism and today¹s neo-classical economics? Do we live in a post-industrial, knowledge society, or instead in the possibility of a new industrial order, in which industrial classes are pitted against the excesses of finance capital? Bernard Stiegler (Paris) and Scott Lash will address these and other issues in an exchange on 9 January in the second in the Goldsmiths’ Centre for Cultural Studies series of Interventions in Critical Political Economy.




Read Marx’s “Capital” at Goldsmiths: everybody is welcome

(unless your name is David Willetts)

Capitalism and Cultural Studies

Lecturer – Prof John Hutnyk

tuesday evenings from january 10, 2012 – 5pm-7pm Goldsmiths RHB 309.

No fee (unless, sorry, you are doing this for award – and that, friends, is Willetts’ fault – though the Labour Party have a share of the blame too).

This course involves a close reading of Karl Marx’s Capital (Volume One).
The connections between cultural studies and critiques of capitalism are considered in an interdisciplinary context (cinema studies, anthropology, musicology, international relations, and philosophy) which reaches from Marx through to Film Studies, from ethnographic approaches to Heidegger, from anarchism and surrealism to German critical theory and poststructuralism/post-colonialism/post-early-for-christmas. Topics covered include: alienation, commodification, production, technology, education, subsumption, anti-imperialism, anti-war movement and complicity. Using a series of illustrative films (documentary and fiction) and key theoretical texts (read alongside the text of Capital), we examine contemporary capitalism as it shifts, changes, lurches through its very late 20th and early 21st century manifestations – we will look at how cultural studies copes with (or does not cope with) class struggle, anti-colonialism, new subjectivities, cultural politics, media, virtual and corporate worlds.


Goldsmiths: Monday night films in CCS

CCS Goldsmiths: Monday night films will start up again from 16 January 2012.

Films have been selected in relation to the ‘Text and Image’ and ‘Cultural Studies and Capitalism’ MA courses:
16 January – The Skin I Live In (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2011)

23 January – Some Like it Hot (dir. Billy Wilder, 1959)

30 January – Bladerunner (dir. Ridley Scott, 1982)

6 February – Lost Highway (dir. David Lynch, 1997)

13 February – Reading Week Double Bill : La Haine (dir. Mathieu Kassowitz,
1995) followed by Injustice (dir. Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmood, 2002) -
times to be confirmed

20 February – Perfect Sense (dir. David Mackenzie, 2011)

27 February – Sammie and Rosie Get Laid (dir. Stephen Frears, 1987)

5 March – 200 Motels (dir. Tony Palmer and Frank Zappa, 1971)

12 March – Avatar (dir. James Cameron, 2009)

19 March – tbc

Films to be shown in the Council Room. Laurie Grove Baths. 7.15pm.

All Welcome. See you there.

Centre for Cultural Studies Goldsmiths MAs and PhD


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,755 other followers

%d bloggers like this: