Another set of items for the exotica files (link below), is a set of documents held in the national Archives of Japan and I think very useful for the next time we get to visit Hoi An (soon I hope):
The image below is Sataro Araki’s junk. He was a successful trader from Nagasaki who married one of the Nguyen clan daughters, and in Nagasaki she was revered as ‘Aniou’ – seemingly a derivation of the Vietnamese phrase used by a wife to get the attention of her husband – ‘Anh Ơi.
Pretty happy to see this taken seriously. Its like I was waiting for someone to reach for the falling penny. When it happens, its come with a whole new angle, or several, but most importantly Robyn Marasco finds new ways to displace the trivialisers and poseurs. The reading via Jose Esteban Munoz has a lot to teach us, and opens up new paths for research and I hope new readers or at least writings and ways to understand how and why to (sometimes) get out of the library. That the point is to find more ways to do this is, well, the point. Another, that I was already more familiar with, is through the sustaining work of comrade Alberto Toscano, but in general, the scope and fluency here – and sense of inquiry – is why Marasco is refreshing. Perhaps the coverage of, and the the need to excuse, associations with critical theory could be a little less. I’m not sure that it is best to comprehend Bataille this way, too many have been chaining him to some misplaced stash of Benjamin’s horde – whereas Siegfried or Teddy would have been better interlocutors in the 30s, if they could be dragged along to meet with Souverine. Imagine. Nah, maybe we have to agree with Michael Taussig that only Benjamin could get us to pay still more attention to the craft of writing – to get us to carry some of the paragraphs to the page and set them just so – but to complain that we have more critical theory is a minor and insignificant quibble about an anyway fluent text. Maybe, finally, we could ask if we need all the associations that are only reminders of much already done – but I am anyway happy to be implicitly contrasted to Nick Land [once invited him to talk at Manchester and he came and sat under the seminar able to deliver his bits – of course I don’t remember what he said]. Anyway, everyone should take the time to read this, its worth much and there seems to be more to come, and there’s a book on Hegel, and …
This is an actual event – by which I mean an important discussion that makes important moves, negotiates languages and ambiguities of the decolonial/postcolonial/colonial. There is good material here that moves us past the documentary and first steps of critical orientalism – to recall a longer complex anti-colonial history through to … well, travel with Saurabh through the intersections and dynamics past poco and antihumanist debates to, well on and on past the subalternists and teaching us how to travel in the new terrains of thinking the globe, the scandal of the west, the ontological, epistemic and ethical…colonial modernity and nation as contingent interplays – criss-crossed by the promise of freedom and calls to decolonise
Best not to take my word for it, but listen to this, well worth your time. Including the initial minutes in Spanish which, are in fact necessary to start the reterritorialisation of the future.
Die Komödie des Despotismus, die mit uns aufgeführt wird … Der Staat ist ein zu ernstes Ding, um zu einer Harlekinade gemacht zu werden. Man könnte vielleicht ein Schiff voll Narren eine gute Weile vor dem Winde treiben lassen; aber seinem Schicksal trieb’ es entgegen eben darum, weil die Narren dies nicht glaubten. Dieses Schicksal ist die Revolution, die uns bevorsteht (Marx in March, 1843 – letter to Ruge in the Deutsch Französische Jahrbücher) MEGA III(1) 1975: 47)
The comedy of despotism is dangerous … state power is a serious thing, and we cannot leave it as a game for clowns. A ship of fools might drift in the wind a while, but these fools do not know which way the wind blows. Their fate is the revolution, which stands just ahead us.- Marx’s critique of cartoon politicos.
Please check my loose translation (I know there is already an English trans I can check, but later, as I don’t have it handy): (This letter to Ruge was written 4 years before the 1848 revolution was thwarted by Boneparte’s bribes and corruption).
OK, looked it up and here is the Marxists.org version – they keep ‘haliquinade’ which is fair enough:
“The comedy of despotism that is being played out … is … dangerous … The state is too serious a thing to be turned into a kind of harlequinade. A ship full of fools could perhaps be allowed to drift for quite a time at the mercy of the wind, but it would be driven to meet its fate precisely because the fools would not believe this. This fate is the impending revolution.”
But I think ‘impending’ is a bit cold for ‘die uns bevorsteht’ – which awaits us. Maybe omitting the self-reference erases revolutionary involvement and urgency?
DECEMBER 20th to 22nd 1937 Observations taken more than a century ago, these* papers describe many things which are no longer actual, and they are become records. Records not tha word recall long series of volumes edited for the India Office and arrays of thick folios printed and issued by several of the provincial Governments of India V Invalu- able, however, as these are in regard to administration and politics and economics and biography and the lives of British and other European communities, they do not, except in casual gleams, fill the void which is at the heart of Indian history, uaiuily, our failure to conceive with what mind the peoples of India lived through that history. For the Hindu period, though at one epoch each district had its chronicle, its nila-pata of ‘blue-book’, as it was called, we have indeed no records, except one or two formal histones and biographies and a number of genealogies, rdjdvalis or va^dvalis, wh.ch are anything but reliable. But at any rate we have enough of literature through which transpires the genera] mentality ; and from the epigraphical ‘records’ it has been found possible, as we all know, to elicit much information concerning social and economic conditions.
“In the days of Kumaradasa, King of Ceylon, there lived in the city of Southern Madura a ruler Sri Harsha by name. At this time a clever but depraved monk visited the house of a prostitute during the night, clad himself in a blue garb and returned to the Vihara after day-break. His pupils observing this peculiar robe inquired of him whether his attire was not improper. As numerous people had observed his extraordinary dress he stoutly defended it and spoke highly in Its praise. His faithful subordinates who followed his theory discarded the yellow robe and adopted the blue-coloured garb. This heretical leader composed a philosopical work known as Nila-pata Darsaiia praising prostitutes, intoxicants and the God of Love as the’ only three precious gems in the triple world while despising all other “gems” as nothing but mere clay.”
“This great heresy began to spread with much rapidity and the new philosophical treatise reached the bands of the King Sri Harsha who went through it critically. Pretending an approbation of the new doctrine he assembled the followers of the novel philosophy together with their whole literature into a special hall built for the purpose and set them all on fire. The lingering vestiges of this false doctrine had a recrudescence in Ceylon during the, reign of Sena II. In recent times, since the advent of the Portuguese, various kinds of religious teachings began to appear in this land, At the present day the island of ceylon is indelibly contaminated with the poisonous stains of those bygone times”
I am now declared a devotee of the Blue Books of Sri Harsha, and as such I will reconstruct the text forensically from the ash and the blue smouldering smoke of imagination.
There are some crimes that are longer-term than others… As I am finding from spending part of the morning exploring archival images, such as this one. A ‘British propaganda poster from the Second World War, printed in England by A.C. Ltd, listing Britain’s 49 colonies. A soldier from the Ceylon Garrison Artillery takes pride of place in the centre, and the regimental badge of the force is displayed at the foot of the poster’. I am taken by surprise that neither India nor Australia could as a colony in this list, but nevertheless, I think the list is a start for reparation payments. How these can be implemented now that Boris has shifted all the assets to offshore accounts is obviously an administrative issue (armed force to descend upon Bermuda banks and the like with the queen’s bank account number to start).
I was looking something up and stumbled upon a quote of me that I did not recognise – that class ‘does not make much sense’. I am pretty appalled to be called left libertarian and neo-Weberian from a Northern think-tank (!!) – and completely misquoted – in this way by Ebert and Zavarzadeb in an otherwise marvellous chapter called ‘Hypohumanities’ from the 2010 book Class in Education: Knowledge, Pedagogy, Subjectivity, edited by Deborah Kelsh, Dave Hill & Sheila Macrine. I reproduce page 44 from that chapter, as follows:
Ha! – Do our authors think Marx and Engels really do have a bipolar view of class as ‘ossified and simplistic, if not simple’ – rather than this being a caricature that I expose. But no, I am associated somehow with Laclau and Hardt and Negri too – the very people I was critiquing in the book from which these misquotes are taken out of context. Yes, I said something almost like those they attribute, but there are important differences if you read with care. I’m afraid my point is missed and they attribute associations that do not stand up if attention is paid to the actual words, which are relational: ‘as much sense’ and makes ‘less sense’. They might also attend to the context in which these sense are deployed as there is no way that I am erasing production – on the contrary, I am making that same accusation of those who do not see class in the context on international production, outsourced imperialist capital and a brutal immiseration of a more diverse (non cloth cap wearing) global proletariat.
What I actually wrote in a book that spends a lot of time talking about Marx’s analysis of multiple class conflict in the Eighteenth Brumaire is that a notion of class from 1847 used today:
“does not make as much sense if rigidly restricted to a bipolar opposition of the kind necessarily sketched in the polemical opening of the Manifesto nor within rigidly maintained notions of nation. The working-class hero is best thought of as a far more diverse identity than that of the cloth-capped union man. For sure, the idea of class struggle makes less sense today in a national context but retains all its urgency and coherence if the international division of labour is, rather than ignored, taken as a key part of the calculus.”
I then do quote, on that same page, Gibson-Graham, and I see my interpreters do also, but it is a funny inverted honour to associate me with those I was saying were unable to even approximate Marx’s developed analysis (and recognise the Manifesto of Marx and Engels as a polemical text, about which their view moves). Marxism and class struggle are to be understood in a materialist international framework where ‘the immiseration of a global proletariat proceeds apace’ where the ‘division of labour prevails’ and ‘not to say the nation has no power, nor military might with heavy weaponry’ (p191)
Which leaves me a big surprised and amused that no matter how much one takes care to ask for at least some attention to the ways Marx’s text is framed and develops over his writing and rewriting and the contexts of that writing and the audiences, and which all the while should not be taken to be as ‘bad’ as so many commentators make out. Bad Marxism was the name of the book after-all, as if that had one single and only referent.
Of course in the end, its all welcome I guess – as I also pointed out on that very same page they quote, where I objected that:
“accusations of ‘bad’ Marxism as a way of silencing debate is an old routine. Divinations of correct line Marxism act as a form of censure and as assertions of correct behaviour or discipline. The use of citation and counter-citation in hegemonic maintenance is not something ever completely avoided, the mystification of authority and pedagogic demonologies are also symptoms – there are so many contests and contexts. Given all this, I am inclined to see debate over the line as evidence of vitality and leave it to the secret tribunal of the central committee to decide in the very last instance where we ‘really’ went wrong, so long as that grim finale never actually comes” (p 192)
Reposted from three years ago because – the stats tell me – at least one copy has been downloaded every day this month. Either its a dedicated bot that won’t give up, or someone put it on a reading list again. I never get royalties for this these days as the addresses had not been updated, and anyway Zed was soled to Bloomsbury who are my current publisher, so I assume it will sort out (and I hope it won’t be a debt :) meanwhile, good to see the digital version, which is a huge file of middling quality for reasons explained below, is getting seen. More power to you. Thanks.
25 years ago my first book was typeset and laid out in the days before electronics – well, an electric typesetting machine was plugged into a wall, but no digital file was produced. Nevertheless, I had crossed out the digital rights clause in my contract with Zed so I own this. At last some kind anonymous soul has bootlegged it and set digital copy free on the nets, though its a large scanned file and the bibliography was left off (I’ve made a rough scan of the biblio but that too is a large file). Nevertheless, notwithstanding, and such like phrasings, the book is still one of which I am proud, if nothing else for trialling a way of citing tourist backpacker-informants, for its stuff on photography and maps and for the reviews it got (and indeed keeps getting discussed, for example on films – see diekmann2012) and especially for its critique of charity and what charity is for. In the context of do-gooder well-meaning hypocrisy, the effort of charity workers serves wider interests as well as their own, and only marginally any individuals they help – who would be better helped in better funded state-run facilities if the funds extracted through business-as-usual colonialism were, you know, made as reparations for the several hundred years of colonial plunder. Ah well, the critique stands up, the charity industry sadly thrives, second only perhaps to weapons in terms of so-called development, writing books does not yet always change the world as much as you’d like (and no, I did not ever think a book would single-handedly stop Mother Theresa, but…).
Compared to prison memoirs, accessibility to the American reconstruction of the war is abundantly available in a series of blockbuster films (besides Rambo, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987), there are too many to list, but we consider the Deer Hunter and Good Morning Vietnam (get refs) as indicative. As mentioned in the case of documentary films such as the 2017 Burns and Novick series The Vietnam War which played to large audiences in the US, but was not popular in Vietnam (as mentioned again in our text below). There is a Vietnamese television series on the war that runs for some 50 plus episodes, so far to our knowledge not taken up by the US networks. We also see a continuity here with Spike Lee’s 2020 cinema effort, Da 5 Bloods, where still-anonymous Vietnamese are subject to another fictional defeat and we see a ‘self-reparation’ pay-out of Black US servicemen via a recovered CIA covert ops treasure – the irony of reparations going to US Black Americans, while perhaps admirable within the US racial narrative, is an abomination given the US administration’s refusal to pay the Paris Accords’ sanctioned reparations to Vietnam for the war. And in any case, a box of gold bars buried in an area of the Mekong Delta, subject to flooding rains and movement of land through shifting sedimentation and silt, could hardly be so easily ‘found’ 40 years later, using metal detectors that are themselves obscene in the context of land mines. It may be that this Spike Lee aside should only be a footnote, but the point is that the penalscape (Fuggle 2019: 31) is bound up with the image of the war and how it is renewed along the same demarcation lines even in 2020.
If you joined the Handbrick of Marxism book-launch with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak last evening you will have seen her talk on citizens as agents, global Marx, supplementing vanguardism and other themes – tagging Ambedkar, Du Bois and Disha Ravi… incalculability, poetry of the future, redistribution, much more. A tour de force – though you need to be on FB to see the replay – Gayatri speaks from 16.35 to 42 50 and then from 1.42 responding mostly to citizen as agent questions: See https://www.facebook.com/Sputnyk/posts/10158743776800211
Huge props to Lucia Pradella for organising and Feyzi Ismail for smooth-as chairing.
A cruise on the Hooghly will take visitors to Serampore and Chandernagore every Saturday and Sunday.
The 11-hour ride, which will have its inaugural run on February 14, will cost Rs 350 and will have one-and-a-half hour stops at the former Danish (Serampore) and French (Chandernagore) settlements.
The vessel will leave Millennium Park jetty at 10am and return at 9pm. It has a well-stocked library, an open deck and an on-board tuck-shop for quick bites. Tickets can be bought from the Millennium Park jetty.
The “European Settlement Boat Ride”, as the cruise has been named, will halt at Serampore around 1pm after nearly an hour’s journey from Calcutta and offer visitors an opportunity to lunch at The Denmark Tavern.
Located on the riverfront, the tavern was opened in 1786. It provided lodging and meals for “gentlemen passing up and down the river”, as mentioned in an advertisement in the Calcutta Gazette.
One can see Serampore College, established in 1818 by English Baptist missionaries, and visit Serampore Johnnagar Baptist Church, founded in the early 19th century. The other sites to visit are St Olav’s Church, Baptist Mission Cemetery and the Danish Cemetery.
The cruise will leave Serampore around 2.30 pm and reach Chandernagore after an hour. During the hour-and-a-half halt at this erstwhile French colony, tourists will get to see the Strand.
The Strand is a 700-metre-long tree-shaded promenade along the Hooghly with old French mansions and other colonial buildings along the way. One can also visit the Dupleix Palace, which houses the Chandernagore Museum and Institute.
The cruise is being organised by the West Bengal Transport Corporation (WBTC), in collaboration with the Danish Cultural Institute and the Oxford Bookstores.
“The Europeans first came on a ferry. So this cruise will be an ideal way of seeing the European settlement in Bengal,” said Thomas Sehested, the director of the Danish Cultural Institute India.
“The cruise will give people a glimpse into the European history in India which is often undermined,” said Rajanvir Singh Kapur, the managing director of WBTC.
“It’s good to have such initiatives that make people understand history and appreciate global cultures,” said Priti Paul of the Oxford Bookstores.
Writing to a friend I fell down the Stalin rabbit-hole. It started off reasonably for a sunday evening, thinking, because of some translation work I am doing, that we have a lot to learn from the ways Progress Press and the Foreign Languages Publishing House and David Ryazanov in the Marx-Engels Institute set the tone.
Soon after that though I was reading some scuttlebutt (?) about Isaak Illich Rubin and his execution as a Trotskyist – the key source of the Value Form theorists – Backhaus et al. He is accused of implicating Ryazanov in a faked Menshevik conspiracy, which got Riazanov removed from the Directorship of the institute (he had founded in 1921) and also eventually shot. Years of reading the Neue Marxlektüre and I’d forgotten this history, even though Rubin’s book was long before the arrests and show trials, it adds some sort of unresolved sour feeling. What to make of these stories that smell so much of red-baiting as well? I don’t even know if the opening of the archives on these archivists has produced any ‘better’ studies than that of Medvedev – Let History Judge – translated by George Shriver who also translated the volume of Rosa Luxemburg’s letters that is pretty great and edited Bukharin, who I am reading because Rosa’s anthropology volume (lecture course in the Complete works) and Bukharin’s Economics are a sort of dialogue. Of course I cannot do this in Russian, for which I blame my father for assimilationism in Australia – though at least he had me keep the German which he was more comfortable in anyway, even if not his first language it became his main one.
Ackk. I should not be reading about Medvedev, but I wonder about this sort of thing – Medvedev claims Stalin called Ryazanov a clown way back in 1921 (for supporting trade unionism, counter to the central committee). The source for all this is the testimony or memoir of Rubin’s sister… for [everyone’s] entertainment, four relevant paragraphs of the sister’s memoir as glossed by Medvedev. I cannot see if there is any corroboration of this memoir that ‘came into my hands’ (as Medvedev says) but what is tells of Rubin is classic grim reading in the disappeared mode and, well, who to trust? There must be something more from the recent archivists but I can’t find it.
Then, if you like this sort of sordid stuff, the page where Medvedev gives his penultimate assessment of Ryazanov, and it reads as the denouement of the conflict with Stalin already set up way back on page 70 in 1921. Stalin held grudges, but the leap from detail to general Trotsky line is suspect I think. I’ve no candle for Trotsky, but I also don’t trust the narrative here either. Especially as the final mention of Ryazanov says that though he respected Lenin, Lenin also mocked his points – Lenin treated everyone he disagreed with like this, its not unbelievable… what is unbelievable is the implied ‘long memory’ and score-settling that removes Ryazanov, by Stalin and by implication for Lenin. When I think it was more likely some much less calculated but more brutal bureaucratic cleansing… or.. Rubin did also have cancer we are told, and there is no direct evidence he was shot, just disappeared according to his sister.
I am well down the rabbit hole now. Does this backstory to the Marx archive matter. Ryazanov had done so much to bring out the german Ideology, the Paris Manuscripts and the various collected works, in Russian and in German.
I am wondering who I ask among the post-Soviet archivists for a view on all this.
Edit: Subsequently, the next hour was lost to reading a text that sort of regurgitates Medvedev’s account from Rubin’s sister, with the occasional not exactly corroborating reference to archival sources. Nevertheless, it is worth a look at: Ivan Boldyrev and Martin Kragh (2015). ISAAK RUBIN: HISTORIAN OF ECONOMIC THOUGHT DURING THE STALINIZATION OF SOCIAL SCIENCES IN SOVIET RUSSIA. Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 37, pp 363-386 doi:10.1017/S1053837215000413
I picked out the best bits, so to speak. None the wiser really.
In an essay last term, students Làu Cẩm Tú and Hồ Phạm Ngọc Trân brought out the problems and possibilities inherent in Ruth Benedicts work style – though there is still a very strong prejudice in anthropology that you must go to a place to see for yourself. The argument against this is an elaboration of Benedict just as they have done in their essays – but there is some magic still to consider, or necromancy – if anyone is to do comparative work, it cannot really always entail that go for a look yourself prime directive style of fieldwork since how can someone spend a year in so many different places? Even if it were just to look at several places on a theme, these days maybe, most likely, you can’t travel to each and every one (I’ve tried), you need to trust the anthropologists from that place to tell you something. And then, the idea that only a western anthropologist can do comparative work seems to pop up unexamined, all anthropology is comparative, still, but the Western anthropologist usually does not have to say more than let’s go and they can still claim their have-a-look credentials, whereas someone from ‘elsewhere’ cannot so easily, say, write on some place in the West without someone saying they need to see their perspective is…, their interpretations is…, and why don’t they write about home and so on… A Western anthropologist goes to one or two places, then becomes a comparativist! Ka-pow! A miracle.
This is how to do an announcement!. It is well worth reading for both what it says about translation work (as I work on the difficult texts of Bác Hồ) and for its deeply cautious and researched engagement with the GPCR
“It does not serve the interests of the bourgeoisie to train younger generations outside of their class to think independently and to ask critical questions—complicated questions that require investigation, study, and ongoing reflection to answer in an appropriately nuanced or dialectical way. This can be true of sincere, committed comrades as well. For instance, it’s simpler to read Mao, or quotations of Mao, or Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc. in order to find the evidence we need to “prove” that what we believe is correct, rather than do more in-depth reading and analysis. But the fact is, unless we tear away the lenses that obscure our understanding of the GPCR, ones that condemn it as a violent, chaotic expression of excess, as well as ones that take Mao’s word as gospel, we will fall into the same traps as the red guards of Beijing and Qinghua University, the very traps that Mao pointed out and roundly criticized in many of the articles in this volume.”
“The fact that the factionalism and dogmatism that eventually plagued the Red Guards (and caused Mao to disband them) plays out in Maoist circles today is an indication that we who call ourselves Maoist, have yet to understand and put into practice many important lessons of the GPCR. Some today continue to hold up Mao and what he said as proof of the righteousness of their own actions and the wrongheadedness of others—without real study and research into what he really thought and why. It’s the very practice of which Mao criticized Lin Biao and the Red Guard leaders: shouting that every word was absolutely true, but then disregarding what he actually said, much less trying to understand why”
15 minutes approx per paper, what can we make of the lectures, reading and discussion that offers arguments to challenge readers and convey the relevance of anthro texts for contemporary issues and concerns (still).
From the very first Tecoma Youth CYSS(tem) one to a few neat things already linked here – The Paper, Invisible Finger – I’ve always enjoyed the Zine scene (not too seriously): Monoscop has a pretty handy, somewhat US-ocentric, list of links:
Solidarity! Revolutionary Center and Radical Library. Located in Lawrence, Kansas the mission of Solidarity! Revolutionary Center and Radical Library is to organize as a non-hierarchical collective for the purpose of sharing and distributing information. The collection is compiled of Zines (personal, non-copy written, non-traditionally peer reviewed articles, journals, and art) that were specifically purchased, donated, traded, or created for the Solidarity! Collection. These works cover every topic from Globalization and the Industrial Prison Complex to first kisses.
Chip Rowe (ed.), The Book of Zines: Readings From the Fringe!, 1997. Anthology of pop culture writings from about 80 zines.
R. Seth Friedman, The Factsheet Five Zine Reader: The Best Writing from the Underground World of Zines, New York: Three Rivers Press, 1997, 192 pp.
Tristan Taormino, Karen Green (eds.), The Girl’s Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings from the Girl Zine Revolution, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997. An anthology from zines created by women.
Jen Angel (ed.), Zine Yearbook, since 1997. Annual anthology of zine writing.
Ethan Clark (ed.), Stories Care Forgot: An Anthology of New Orleans Zines, Last Gasp of San Francisco, 2006, 149 pp. Reproductions of a dozen punk zines. Also includes author memoirs of their experiences during and after Hurricane Katrina.
Fanzini Sa, dir. Siniša Dugonjić, 2011, 41 min. A documentary on the underground and DIY fanzine culture in Serbia during the 1980s and 1990s. EN subs.
Nigel Fountin, Underground: The London Alternative Press 1966-74, New York: Routledge/Chapman & Hall, 1988. History of the underground press in the UK.
Counter Intelligence: Zines, Comics, Pamphlets, Flyers: Catalogue of Self-Published and Autonomous Print-Creations: Articles! Reviews! Contacts!, eds. Jason Skeet and Mark Pawson, London: 121 Centre, 1995, 24 pp. Catalogue of an exhibition held throughout Oct 1994 at 121 Centre, Brixton, South London.
Pagan Kennedy, Zine: How I Spent Six Years of My Life in the Underground and Finally Found Myself–I Think, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995, 184 pp. Review: PW.
V. Vale (ed.), Zines! Vol.1, San Francisco: RE/Search Publications, 1996, 169 pp. 
V. Vale (ed.), Zines! Vol.2, San Francisco: RE/Search Publications, 1997, 137 pp. 
Francesca Lia Block, Hillary Carlip, Zine Scene: The Do It Yourself Guide to Zines, Los Angeles: Girl Press, 1998.
Alex Wrekk, Stolen Sharpie Revolution: a DIY Resource For Zines and Zine Culture, 2002, 96 pp; 2nd ed., 2003; 3rd ed., 2005. 
Elke Zobl, “Persephone is Pissed!: Grrl Zine Reading, Making and Distributing Across the Globe”, Hecate 30:2, 2004, pp 156-175. 
“La richesse des sociétés dans lesquelles règne le mode de production capitaliste s’annonce comme une «immense accumulation de marchandises1». L’analyse de la marchandise, forme élémentaire de cette richesse, sera par conséquent le point de départ de nos recherches.’
Marx Le Capital 1872
The first sentence of Marx’s DasKapital rendered in French (by Marx) has the riches of the societies in which capitalist production reigns announce itself (s’annonce comme) as an accumulation of goods. Given that later Marx will ponder what would happen if commodities could speak, this announcing is perhaps better than the spirited multi-referent German ‘erscheint als‘ (alternatingly ‘presents itself’ or ‘appears’ in the competing english translations by Penguin or Progress//Fowkes or Aveling). The attached article discusses the latter, but I wanted to add this French tone as I prepare to discuss another translation problem (in the Working Day chapter) in my anthropology course lectures tomorrow (they are collected here – the next one – tomorrow’s – will appear in a subsequent post on that site).
Suffice to say, I will resist a bit at least spending too many hours on the wrinkle this French accent gives to the much discussed First Sentence. To announce itself – which both moneybags and capital in general too often and too portentously does all the time – is a ventriloquist’s trick of course. Tomorrow, the Working Day lecture, is about the voices in that most ethnographic of chapters, and indeed the first appearance of the worker’s voice, individually and then in a group. Let’s see how it goes on the day.
But for a long time I kept coming back to tinker with the article below on the first sentence, since it was originally published in Tom Bunyard’s 2008 book The Devil’s Party. In the meantime, it has been a while. So just now, for as I went to download the 1867 edition of Das Kapital to check the first version of the Working Day, I decided to grab the French version too. This is the one serialised and approved by Marx from 1872-1875.
This came up again last week, where in another discussion there was cause to recall that the French edition was the last edition published under Marx’s hand. He rewrote it extensively in French as it was serialised across 1872-1875. Rewritten in order to speak more clearly to the French workers who had recently risen up as the Commune (1871). Some say it is the most authentic version, and some 60 pages did not make it into the subsequent German editions (though some of it did) edited by Engels. Nor did it all make it into the English translation by various friends of Engels, a group which included Eleanor’s dubious husband Edward Aveling (fake double suicide ploy while he was married to another, apparently) . Of course this does not mean you should read the French, which was subsequently published in 2 volumes (so would not make an ideal pillow for Bac Ho [who allegedly slept with a copy under the sheets]). There are otehr versions too – when Marx died Engels or perhaps Eleanor also found that in his library there was a copy of volume 1 with annotations in his own hand which I show here: https://hutnyk.wordpress.com/…/marxs-own-copy-of-kapital/
Anyway, got to prepare. Here is the older earlier (2008, 2011, 2015) article brought forward again and again, from here. But for fun also see the 2006 hijinks here –
John Holloway has a thing in the latest HM Journal on the first sentence, but I had not seen it before writing these notes. See a link to his – or at least another verion of it, I dunno if exactly the same – via here. Meanwhile, these notes are the 2011 update of a text published in 2008 in Tom Bunyard’s “Devil’s Party“:
The first sentence
Starting with the difficult scene of commodity exchange, this is nonetheless a very clear and accessible read. Marx’s presentation differs from the mode of inquiry. The commentary on 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 1867/1976)
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…
Marx wrote his analysis of capital not only because he wanted to set down the answers, but so that the working class would have the wherewithal to make their own analyses, to read the world. We can have issues with this metaphor, which privileges text as unproblematic transcription, but Marx himself would not have difficulty here.
Who to write for as important as what to say.
So what to say? I would argue that the first sentence is of utmost important because the whole of Capital, in its presentation, is a staged drama. Throughout the literary theatrical code is prominent. Characters when they appear (as personifications, as ‘Moneybags’) perform in Marx’s theatre, even at the very beginning – the ‘immense collection of commodities’ is characterised as something like the World Fair, those mad exhibitions of the produce of the world, before which – in 1851 for example – Marx had marvelled as a visitor at the plunder of the world. The society to be examined is one where the capitalist mode of production prevails – prevails as a kind of monstrous law or power over all (prevails is translated as herrscht , which might be better rendered as rule, govern or controls). And though we are starting with the commodity, the analysis will look to the provenance of all these things, and how production determines exchange, and what follows (see my dispute with Clifford in Hutnyk 2004 chapter 1)
The very first four words of Marx’s Capital are ‘The Wealth of Societies’, surely echoing, as Spivak notes, Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. ‘In the rational plan for socialism’, however, ‘there is no room for nationalism’ (Spivak 2008:100). Against Smith, Marx writes a book that is aimed at overcoming the exploitation and appropriation of wealth that prevails in the capitalist mode of production as a social (class) formation. He writes in order to expose the trick of capital, its deceit and deception.
The wealth of societies is a phrase that should be the first to stop us. Recall that society is not community, think of Tonnies, soon to be writing on this distinction, recall Thatcher, recall Cameron’s big one – the proposal that the support work of social reproduction be further socialized, via all manner of voluntarism, non-remunerated labour, free for all disregard of the hard won concessions that a strong labour movement had wrested fro capital – we will spend considerable time on struggles over the length of the working say, but this is relevant also for family, ethnicity, self-education and a range of other modalities of reproduction, including affective labour in sexual service, family reproduction, marriage and – lets call it compensation dating.
Now, I am not saying we should address each word of Capital with a view to thinking how it is relevant to our circumstances today, to the current conjuncture, etc., though that is pretty much the essay question, but i do think its worth keeping in mind that we read with a contexted eye. This year, of all years, threatens to be interesting and I would like to think reading capital again can help us think differently than we presently do – the only reason to go on thinking at all.
What clinches this argument? The very wording of the opening sentence includes two visual references. In the Penguin edition the German word erscheint is translated as ‘appearance’. The German reads:
‘Der Reichtum der Gesellschaften, in welchen kapitalistische Produktionsweise herrscht, erscheint als eine “ungeheure Warensammlung”, die einzelne Ware als seine Elementarform.’
The term erscheint occurs just the once here, rendered as two instances of the word ‘appears’ in the English (as cited earlier). This is grammatically acceptable; translation is no pure calculus, but I think there is an important significance that is lost. In the Lawrence and Wishart edition the translation is better: ‘The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities”; its unit being a single commodity’ (Marx 1867/1967:35 my italic). Both editions then go on to say that our investigation therefore begins with the analysis of the commodity. Noting that accumulation is perhaps a better translation that collection, my point is that revealed in the gap between the two English translations of erscheint is the entire burden of Marx’s project – to expose the trick of the commodity as social form so as to teach the working class to see into the mechanics of industrial capital. Erscheinung, in German usage, has a double, or even triple sense. It connotes ‘appearance’ both in terms of how something looks, and in the theatrical sense of putting in an appearance, of staging something; in addition, it also has the sense of an apparition (which is what Derrida makes so much of in Spectres of Marx, although not actually from this sentence; it seems he prefers the Manifesto perhaps because it’s a shorter read [‘A spectre is haunting Europe’]). The ‘presents itself’ of the International edition gets closer to the theatrical sense, but does not capture the doubling nor the monstrous spectre, the trick that is perpetrated by the animated commodity – animated by the masses themselves, though they do not see it as such, yet.
Another point to be made here is that Marx, in that first sentence, quotes himself. Others have pointed to this curiosity (see Pepperell 2009), but Marx had already quipped in a preface that he was ‘coquetting’ with the presentation style of Hegel in setting out his rendering of Capital. This flirtation, that we do not need to take at its somewhat flippant word, is itself a machine for seduction, for storytelling, repetition, and a gamble that starts with a kind of doubled disguise (self quotation from the start) as a tactic. The wealth of societies is Smith, but not Smith, ‘ersheint’ is Hegel, but not Hegel, the commodity is the elementary form, but social, the monster accumulates.
I will also take up, in this first sentence that has detained us already for a long time, and further holds the rest of the text in abeyance, another translation slippage that I think is significant. Within the self quoted quote, the English renders the accumulation of commodities as ‘immense’. Ungeheure can certainly mean immense, or enourmous, but it also evokes a more Gothic meaning, that certainly fits the context – ungeheuerlich is ‘monstrous’, Ungeheuerlichkeit is ‘atrocity’. Perhaps it would be good, even in this first sentence, not to write out the evocations of Marx’s language – the theatrical and the gothic – a book populated by monsters is not merely comic, it is deadly serious, engaged in combat against demons and death.
Ungeheuer is immense but also monstrous. The demonic inflection is intended in Marx’s language. What today is the most monstrous appearance of capital? No longer a commodity economy but an economy economy, an immense collection of abstract shares, interest margins, affective attachement to interest rates and other markers of well-being, all of course based upon property and privilege still, but somewhat more clearly only the appearance of wealth is mediated through salary and bonus and all that can afford. Good schools, white entitlement, supremacy and privilege have never been less obvious as the marks of accumulated wealth of society types.
Appearance is theatrical, yet also a machine of domination. The point is to see though this trick, to see through the plastic appearances. We are not only talking of how things are, but also of how they are made to seem, and how we put up with them, even smiling as we do so. This needs a storyteller’s skill; so that rhetoric, metaphor, trope, coquetting; nothing escapes its role in the system. It might not even be impossible to imagine Marx as the system thinking itself in some contradictory, reflexive and critical manner (self quotation, doubling, haunting itself), but this is of course a fantastical deceit. Marx delivered a book that was itself a machine for narrative action (and still is, it gets inside your head and rewires thought, the tables dance). Now, the book could be read every time and for everyone as a potentially endlessly reorganized and renewed epic (it is hoped), still true to the project of teaching the implied reader to conjure with theory so as to unpack the real – to unpack the wealth of societies in which the capitalism mode of production prevails. Sure, it is a gamble to set out the analysis in a rhetorical style – inevitably part of the culture industry, the book itself still today engages with this gamble: Capital as a radical text sells more in times of crisis than not, and is sold as a commodity in bookshops for gain. It has its own commodity fetish format, precariously inserted into the DNA of the system of co-option and recuperation, even in the radical must-needs product. But the plastic will not remain forever – the reading of Capital is not merely system noise. We want people to read more than the first sentence, but also we want to read with care – and with a view to changing everything because, well – this is too quick, but we know the co-constitution of industry and exploitation cannot be merely described. The point is to change it. Books are also tools, plastic wealth is a trick, the screams of pain are real.
Note: Hans Ehrbar has prepared a resource that presents large sections of the English (Penguin, but often amended) and German (4th Edition) text of Capital in parallel, with significant explication. (Ehrbar 2009 http://www.econ.utah.edu/~ehrbar/akmc.pdf).
Ehrbar notes that this ‘new’ translation and interpretation of Marx ‘is deeply indebted to Critical Realism, a philosophical current founded by Roy Bhaskar’. He also says, unfortunately, that ‘I did not try to reproduce all ambiguities of the German text. If the German can be understood in two different ways, and interpretation a is, in my view, clearly right while interpretation b is wrong, then my translation will only try to bring out interpretation a’ (Ehrbar 2009 http://www.econ.utah.edu/~ehrbar/akmc.pdf)
My reading of the first sentence, prepared before I found Ehrbar, follows Spivak and attends to what might be called ambiguities, but which I think may be better rendered as dialectical style. The reading of the rest of the book will confirm or deny this assertion.
Marx himself rewriting the first sentence is here (which in turn links to this post, so a circuit metaphor is lurking there somehow… mis-en-about…)
The bit where haunted buildings are mentioned strangely has the sound drop out, but there are some great things to explore still… and the drone and inserts could have been cheesy however they work very well. Credit due.
An article on the malaise that afflicts the UK university system, applicable to the US and Australia too possibly, not wholly tongue-in-cheek and riffing on true stories. Everyone will have their own versions of these tales, no doubt. Links below the screenshot.
Ton Duc Thang University, Faculty of Social Science and Humanities, Faculty Member
Studied and taught in Australia at Deakin and Melbourne Universities; and in the UK in Manchester University’s Institute for Creative and Cultural Research; before moving to Goldsmiths in 1998, and becoming Academic Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies in 2004-2014. I have held visiting researcher posts in Germany at the South Asia… more