Global shipping

sometimes these maps are so pro-capital its embarrassing. This one is of course, but its also informative. Here are the paths of need and greed, crime and time – the expropriation circuit writ large.

From Visual Capitalist…
https://www.visualcapitalist.com/cp/mapping-shipping-lanes-maritime-traffic-around-the-world/

Its green for money, white light for intensity, no light for where we actually live.

Captain Cook chased a chook…

… all around Australia, he lost his pants in the middle of France and found them in Tasmania.

Or:

Captain Cook rode a chook down the Murray River. Hit a rock, split his cock and left his balls to shiver.

Other variants…?

All provoked today by my son’s interest in rude rhymes (not about colonial plunder) and seeing this bottle on display at Lidl.

Dark days are these. Most peculiar honey…

Emma, Andrew, Jeremy, Bernie and Desmond – with friends like these…

https://www.facebook.com/DoubleDownNews/videos/254114986690397/

Presented by Andrew Feinstein, former ANC, Corruption Watch and anti Arms Trade Campaigner. This is not much about Emma Watson as about Desmond Tutu. Had an opportunity to talk with the archbish before he gave a rousing talk at La Trobe Uni some time around 1990/91 and except for a little silliness about the god-bothering bible, he was as committed and inspired as you could ever expect. No surprise he riled up the establishments, yet that’s just not enough in these times.

It’s on FB I’m afraid, but worth the time – a little over 9 minutes: https://www.facebook.com/DoubleDownNews/videos/254114986690397/

The reserve army of labour – (latent)

Well, this is a new blip on the slow process of getting people paid recognition for work. There are a few other things like this – eg the publons rank graph too, though in all cases I’d prefer cash – even the ‘good old days’* of a couple of hundred dollars worth of books was not actually pay. This, however necessary and part of the business, remains a corvée system. Pretty much all editors, writers and reviewers are massively underpaid for the effort they contribute, and – just for casual comparative purposes – I’d like to see the salaries of the company management. I heard tell it was something near 7 figures. Now, how will I compare thee – a certificate of the recognition or 7 figs. Sigh.

* the good old days entailed some bad next days, like the one where my publisher took me to a NLB party one afternoon, then dinner and on to some boozy ending at 1am at the Alonquin bar tended by Jack and Clarence. Much hilarity, but a sore head the next morning. Some publishing heads surely have integrity, but the consolidation is such that now most (a narrow centralised cabal of conglomerate owners) are too corporate for words.

On Hazzard and White

Two little intro to the author books that I think are absolute gems – and they will get inside your ear to tell you more about the world and Australia than you can usually get, well, anywhere.

Christos Tsiolkas on Patrick White and Michelle de Kretser On Shirley Hazzard

https://www.bookdepository.com/Christos-Tsiolkas-on-Patrick-White-Christos-Tsiolkas/9781721300297?gclid=Cj0KCQjwqPGUBhDwARIsANNwjV7OgBDTZuau4Gk3W-d6abodMf1-x7v-15o_9Yy2lhHfVGrKnv9RfREaAvlcEALw_wcB

https://www.bookdepository.com/On-Shirley-Hazzard-Writers-on-Writers-Michelle-De-Kretser/9781760640194

Du Bois on Communism

I typed this out a week ago on Facebook and it was shared nearly 200 times on the first day. This, I think, indicates that the time is very much ripe…

‘COMMUNISM’

“I have studied socialism and communism long and carefully in lands where they are practiced and in conversation with their adherents, and with wide reading. I now state my conclusion frankly and clearly: I believe in communism. I mean by communism, a planned way of life in the production of wealth and work designed for building a state whose object is the highest welfare of its people and not merely the profit of a part. I believe that all men should be employed according to their ability and that wealth and services should be distributed according to need. Once I thought that these ends could be attained under capitalism, means of production privately owned, and used in accord with free individual initiative. After earnest observation I now believe that private ownership of capital and free enterprise are leading the world to disaster. I do not believe that so-called “people’s capitalism” has in the United States or anywhere replaced the ills of private capitalism and shown an answer to socialism. The corporation is but the legal mask behind which the individual owner of wealth hides. Democratic government in the United States has almost ceased to junction. A fourth of the adults are disfranchised, half the legal voters do not go to the polls. We are ruled by those who control wealth and who by that power buy or coerce public opinion.

I resent the charge that communism is a conspiracy: Communists often conspire as do capitalists. But it is false that all Communists are criminals and that communism speaks and exists mainly by means of force and fraud. I shall therefore hereafter help the triumph of commimism in every honest way that I can: without deceit or hurt; and in anyway possible, without war; and with goodwill to all men of all colors, classes and creeds. If, because of this belief and such action, I become the victim of attack and calumny, I will react in the way that seems to me best for the world in which I live and which I have tried earnestly to serve. I know well that the triumph of communism will be a slow and difficult task, involving mistakes of every sort. It will call for progressive change in human nature and a better type of manhood than is common today. I believe this possible, or otherwise we will continue to lie, steal and kill as we are doing today.

Who now am I to have come to these conclusions? And of what if any significance are my deductions? What has been my life and work and of what meaning to mankind? The final answer to these questions, time and posterity must make. But perhaps it is my duty to contribute whatever enlightenment I can” (Du Bois 1968: 57-8)

Comparative Urbanism and who gets [funded to] compare

In the current conjuncture, with the increasingly complete capture of university research by corporate interests, only the alternative incorporation of research teams that start outside the university seems viable, resisting heavy-handed external oversight but stressing ethics. This is behind this is my current interest in Cora Du Bois’s Bhubaneswar project and her involvement in AAA at a very interesting time, but it also shaped my pre-pandemic attempts at fieldwork teams (stalled, but to be continued):

Click the image, then the pdf tab, to see the full text… here

The Stars in the Universe

Reposted from capitalnctu.wordpress.com

From TDTU amidst the detritus of the pandemic, this amazing work:

Translation Citation

It makes some sense to check the most often quoted, beloved bits, and expand them a little to see what that author might also have been saying Sometimes it is quite a different, more nuanced, thing than the standard citation allows. As a possible example, the third sentence here

From: The Task of the Translator:

“Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like one another. In the same way a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original’s mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel. For this very reason translation must in large measure refrain from wanting to communicate something, from rendering the sense, and in this the original is important to it only insofar as it has already relieved the translator and his translation of the effort of assembling and expressing what is to be conveyed.” Walter Benjamin,

“The Task of the Translator,” Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York, 1969), p. 78.

Subhas Chandra Bose in HCMC

For several years I have been taking people to see the house in which Subhas Chandra Bose stayed in Vietnam before allegedly crashing on the airport in Taiwan (no recorded crash etc) …

At present though the House is desperately in need of renovation before we lose it forever. Not only important because its the last place Bose stayed etc… [before he became a Sadhu in Varanasi where he still lives on, as some people say, though some also say he was Ho Chi Minh’s advisor in the Paris peace talks etc etc… ha! myth and miracles] but because the building on a prominent street in HCMC is an example of architecture not much found and the character of the city needs to preserve something other than French colonial and high rise glass. As I said, its now a bit of a wreck, though still lived in, it is apparently still owned by descendants of the fellow who invited Bose. As you can see in the pics, taken by various freinds on visits, the yard has become home for street-food cafes and the front is covered in hoardings for a surely fairly easily removed flower shop (with due compansation of course).

I imagine bose in teh hexagaonal building in the back, making plans for a resurgent INA and getting the Brits out of India once and for all.

Background you say? There are roo many things – do a search. Here are a couple of things to start…

In 2020 Shrawanti Saha added some great detail in her FB post on the house and its owner (it is still in the family I believe): “

Netaji – the symbol of courage, valour and patriotism, my mind takes me back to my holidays in Vietnam couple of years back. While browsing through the various museums, war remnants, palaces, French colonial landmarks and the food stalls lining the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, (Saigon), I had the good fortune of visiting the mansion, where Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, was last seen in Saigon in 18th August, 1945 before he mysteriously vanished from the face of earth. This sprawling villa in the posh ‘white town’ of Saigon belonged to Leon Prouchandy, one of the most prominent and affluent Indian Tamil, originally from Pondicherry, living in Saigon.

Like many Indians living abroad, he too, supported Netaji’s bid for armed liberation of India and donated handsomely to the fund of Indian National Army. This mansion on Hai Bha Tung Road, Ho Chi Minh City, once 76 rue Paul Blanchy, Saigon, used to be Prouchandy’s abode before he gave a portion of it away to serve as the secretariat of Indian Independence League. This was the mansion, where Prouchandy bade adieu to Netaji before flying out in the Japanese plane on the fateful morning of 18th August, 1945. It is said that the two spent the previous night together discussing about his final destination and the whereabouts of the cash, jewellery and gold donated by the Indians to INA. Soon after the 2nd World War ended and Japan surrendered, the British authorities arrested Prouchandy infront of his entire family from this same mansion.

It took me little time and effort to spot this once palatial villa on the busy Hai Bha Tung Road as I could never imagine a place of such historical importance could house dirty shacks selling momos and street food, the sprawling lawns used as parking spaces for two wheelers and the porch in front could have a florist shop!! It was painful to see how this historic building is in a dilapidated state and lacks minimum maintenance.

However, in case you are still wondering about the whereabouts of Leon Prouchandy, then you sure are in for some shock. He was imprisoned and subjected to inhuman torture to extract information about Netaji and his treasure trove. Those 3 months of barbaric torture left him shattered and broken. He had lost his memory, senses and speech, when he was brought back to Pondicherry, where he lived another 23 years of his life in a vegetative and debilitated state. This was the price Leon Prouchandy, paid for his patriotism and supporting Netaji Bose. Thus one of the prime financiers of INA died a death of anonymity.”

My own earlier post on this was to promote/critique the film The Forgotten Army :

“I know its a dangerous thing to even mention Subhas as it seems to get me entangled in long ‘conversations’ with those who think he’s due to return any moment – a sprightly 123 year old jogs past and I wonder, doesn’t he look a little… – but I want to write something about “The Forgotten Army – Azaadi ke Lite”

“The Forgotten Army’ is the dynamic story of Lt. Sodhi and his daredevil band of men and women who fought a heroic battle for the independence of India as part of the Indian National Army which was forged out of British defeat in Singapore during WWII and led by the charismatic, indomitable Indian leader Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose”

Starring Sunny Kaushal, Sharvari Wagh,

I am not sure how to get into it, but I’ve collected Bose trinkets since 1987 – when he will have been 90, so might still have turned up at one of the expectant vigils – cue every Sadhu spotting hyper-mystery mulcher ever. I do at least have the chance to sit and write this, or at least sketch a plan, in the last house he lived in here in Sai Gon (as it was then, Shashwati Talukdar) before, probably, being carted off to the nearby, still extant, police lock-up (though not a lock-up anymore, and the dungeons are totally flooded, thanks Tim Doling). Many thanks also to Joe Buckley for first taking on the mission to find the place when I was stuck in District 7.

Now, how to track the INA through the Malay Peninsula and up to Imphal. Planning random trips in lockdown may be a little perverted though. Challo Delhi!

You like unrequited love stories? This series has it too – Shah Rukh Khan’s influence perhaps 🙂

And a critique of Amazon to boot.”

First time is best with friends…

“Reading Marx, however, is a joy, and not just because his critique of capitalism is unsurpassed. His thought is fundamentally concerned with human freedom, and his writings go well beyond the detail of economic exploitation under capitalism — they challenge all forms of social domination. He was a brilliant stylist whose oeuvre spans political journalism, philosophy, history, and political economy. His interests in literature, linguistics, science, mathematics, and anthropology fed into his major ideas and enrich his writing. While there is more than one way to approach Marx, it does help to have an overview of his key texts as well as their political, historical, and intellectual context.”

Continue reading “First time is best with friends…”

Kathleen Gough

I could not find a single volume biography, which seems like a gap, but this special issue of Anthropologica from 1993 is a welcome find. Since it is hard to get hold of the articles, I’ve embedded the files for easy access. Read and be inspired.

Dear Anthropologists that I know.

Dear Anthropologists that I know.

It is 100 years since Bronislaw Malinowski’s “Argonauts of the Western Pacific” began the terror of enforcing the participant observation fieldwork model upon postgraduates (even if Bronio didn’t live up to the ‘model’ himself and probably anyway lifted it from Gillen’s letters to Baldwin Spencer). Just now I’m reading about Cora Du Bois going to fieldwork in Alor, Indonesia, and the limited advice she got from Kroeber and Mead (while Bateson seems to have been more useful, advising her on camera care) and I am wondering what ‘advice’ is given now. Do you get your pre-fieldwork candidates to read that first chapter Argonauts? What else do you advise!? Given everyone has email etc, is Malinowski’s method, however modified with tech and multisite, all that relevant still, except as a quaint throwback akin to Tylor’s survival? What of collaboration? Teams? Language learning (the lost art?) Kinship diagrams (are they not important for a study of urban art policy or museums and heritage?). I’d like to put together a selection of comments from the great and the good, and will cite your work alongside quotes if you’d be so kind as to send 100 or more words on the above. Or better yet, your best anecdotes from famed anthros. Mine is Malcolm Crick explaining in a lecture that he was not that keen on people (as a species) when he did fieldwork on tourism in Sri Lanka and so mostly stayed in the guest house lounge area for the whole 7 months. Not a particularly sensational story, but there was some honestly in the way he told it, lecturing as he did with his eyes closed, as if reading an internal script, on semantic anthropology. Please DM me your answers. Much appreciated.

  • The pic of Cora is from her Alor fieldwork ‘hut’. She went on to run research in WW2 and after for OSS (precursor to the CIA), falls out with Mead, advises against US involvement in Vietnam, is investigated for 10 years, and blocked for jobs, by the FBI, eventually becomes first woman to win full prof with tenure status at Harvard, and is head of the AAA just as it was debating the ethics of anthropologists working for CIA and Rand in Vietnam. Pretty great, even if we still don’t get the names of the kids in this snap

Update: Lia beat me to it, but I was going to add another version of this to ask the ‘advised’ how it was for you? What was your fieldwork expectation, (the expectation on you and the expectations you had), how did that relate to the advice you received, your preparation, your familiarity with what Malinowski was up to, your tent (how long is it since anyone had a tent? – I may still have a bit of big Mal’s canvas somewhere)? How about your well-honed professional preparedness, and what do you make of the whole branded ethnographic method that Anthroplogy sells as its USP?

a piece of cloth in a red frame (ethnographically speaking)

Immensely facilitated

VLUU L210 / Samsung L210

A scrap from a 1996 notebook, it was sent to the aut-op-sy listserve:

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels formulated a paragraph that can be read in many contexts, but deserves certain emphasis here immensely facilitated means of communications:

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all the instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communications, draws all, even the most barbarian nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In a word, it creates a world after its own image (Marx and Engels 1847/1952: 47)

Interestingly, the ‘immensely facilitated’ means of communications of the English translation might also be rendered with a stronger affirmation when translated as ‘infinite release’ – the ‘unendlich erleichterten’ (Marx and Engels 1847/1970: 47) suggests also the release of a never-ending opening of communications that already anticipates the continually developing communications environment character of the information order today [1996]

Another Kind of Concrete

Another Kind of Concrete by Koushik Banerjea



Started reading: I’ve been editing other people’s writing for a living for years, but the best writer with whom I’ve had the pleasure, an active tornado / aficionado of mixed metaphors that needed only a very light sweep, has now perpetrated a massive novel. As if crushing Rudyard Kipling’s assassin into Fred Perry fashions with a John King inspired Hobson Jobson tattered globaloid South Londonium Times. The relevance of decades past is still present in the farcical form of politics now, but the evocation and detail of growing up then is rendered in sentences packed with explosive meanings. I’ve only started it today – birthday reading – but it does not disappoint.

Updated: This is a partition novel, but only in the way that Ritwik Ghatak or more recently Moinak Biswas’s films are partition novels. Nothing of the cod Imperialism of Freedom at Midnight or Viceroys House here (those two anyway are the same elite-prejudicial Rolls Royce chauffeured India ‘tour’ schlock).

It is a novel you’ll read and worry that there is no way your kids can survive school. The only glimmer of hope would be to turn all schools into libraries, with a caged ball pen outside for soccer fanaticism for those who won’t read. Teachers are uninterested, overworked, and only the librarian has the time to even look and see who her students were, So Rachel wets herself through stress, K negotiates that national front and sweaty red-faced headmasters. The caretaker of the school almost the lone conduit of common sense in the first half of the book – K adding letters [co and ide] to spell confide where the caretaker was failing to wash off the NF graffiti.

The prose is like, I dunno, Paella, an old curiosity shop, two million mutinies, trinkets, and your great grandmothers sewing box all rolled into the one jumble: Tales of bundled decay as travellers spill their guts, pens scratch paper, the storyteller’s art leaves the lasting impression of a solitary tear rolling down a rugged cheek. The familiar landscapes of the Postcolonial city made strange by mixing college street and Canning Town, but hardly strange at all. page 91

Finished: On FB I wrote that being ill was my excuse for catching up with novels, but I interrupted the stream of hackery to give a progress report on this as its the best book I’ve read in ages, despite that I am half way through, and despite the book persuading me that no child should ever be entrusted to the English school system (no disrespect for teachers as they have no time to teach – the ancillary roles of school librarian and caretaker the only sites of care, time, hope, as is the case so often). Despite even, maybe because of, the cantankerous voice, so resounding with alliterated simile, each page has its puns, jibes, jabs and jaw, I’m only half way through, but wanted to note the progress (and how mixing College Street and Canning Town makes strange landscapes familiar). The middle section on the mother of K is really astonishing, not just because of the angular history that has been there all through the book – I’ll perhaps later track all that, I could have a guess at most of the missing footnotes – but because of how brilliantly the mother’s inner life has been rendered, intimately understood, lovingly portrayed, so that at present, half way through, I’m thinking contemporary literature here takes a step forward at last from the all fine but almost formulaic earlier epochs of – 123 sounding off down the years: – Rushdie, Kureishi, Kunzru… or Lessing, Coetzee, Smith… for sure beyond, Hornby, McEwan, Self … but don’t take my word for it, I’m still reading it – here is the author himself snapshotting a London bus in Lewisham on a particular day in the summer of ’77 – and this is just a taster…


Kaushik Banerjea’s Another Kind of Concrete, 2020. There is a new one coming later this year.

Wish list – Nihon-go Marx

Authors I would like to read – English or Japanese pdfs please if you have them – (I may have some spellings wrong, I no longer know where I got these names – in an old notebook from when I worked in Nagoya)

Hajime Kawakami (1879-1946) – translator of Capital

Tamizo Kushida

Kazuo Fukumoto

Samezō Kuruma (I have ‘Marx’s Theory of the Genesis of Money. How, Why, and Through What is a Commodity Money?)

Shigeto Tsuru (1912-2006) – several vlumes in English – eg Japan’s Capitalism, but there is much more

Kōzō Uno (1897-1977) – I have ‘Theory of Crisis’ and a few things translated by Gavin Walker that I am reading with much much interest.

Waturu Hiromatsu

Kan’ichi Kuroda – two books in English on amazon at crazy prices :(

Tomanaga Tairako

Yoshihiro Niji – Hegel scholar-translator.

Besides the work of Gavin Walker, and no doubt many otehrs – I am slow on all this – a very impressive (and expensive) book by the brilliant Elena Louisa Lange is out with HM. I typically do not post HM stuff usually, since they are ubiquitous already and, you know, my ill-formed (blame Aussie Maoists) antipathy to anything tainted by Trotsky, but, here below this very important piece is from https://www.historicalmaterialism.org/interviews/start-your-work-place-elena-lange-japanese-marxism:

‘Start at your work place’ Elena Lange on Japanese Marxism

Hagiwara Hideo

Elena Louisa Lange is a Senior Researcher and Lecturer at the University of Zurich, a philosopher and specialist on Japan. She has published in the Historical Materialism journal on ‘Failed abstraction – The Problem of Uno Kōzō’s Reading of Marx’s Theory of the Value Form’ (2014, 22.1, 3-33) and is currently working on her monograph (to be published for the HM Book Series) Value without Fetish – Uno Kōzō’s Theory of ‘Pure Capitalism’ in Light of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy. This interview was updated for the HM website but conducted by Vincent Chanson and Frédéric Monferrand and originally published in French in Periode.

VC & FM: “Japanese” Marxism is not well-known in the French-speaking [or English-speaking] worlds. Except for a study by Jacques Bidet, ‘Kozo Uno et son école. Une théorie pure du capitalisme’ in Dictionnaire Marx Contemporain, a special issue of Actuel Marx (Le marxisme au Japon, n°2, mai 2000) [see also ‘Kôzo Uno and His School : A Pure Theory of Capitalism by Jacques Bidet in Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism (Edited by Jacques Bidet and Stathis Kouvelakis, 2009, Haymarket) and a few other texts, this tradition is missing in contemporary French Marxist debates. Could you briefly introduce its main currents and protagonists?

EL: Generally speaking, there has hardly been an intellectual in post-war Japan who has not at one point ‘flirted’ with Marxism. Influence of the re-shaping of the Marxist tradition after the war was so great in Japan that even conservative intellectuals knew they had to namedrop Marx to be taken seriously in public debates. Needless to say, Marx’s and Marxist theories were suppressed in the early stages of the Japanese Marxist reception, the Meiji (1868-1912), the Taishō (1912-1926) and, mostly, in the early Shōwa period (1926-1945). When in the early Meiji period, the period of «Westernization » a massive and concentrated reception of Western philosophy took place (which mostly consisted in huge translation projects for which the imperial government installed a special ministry), it was of course, roughly speaking, only ‘bourgeois philosophy’, that is, German Idealism, British rationalism and empiricism and French philosophy of life (Bergson) that was supported by the government.

Yet, as a matter of fact, The Communist Manifesto was translated into Japanese as early as 1904 by Kōtoku Shūsui who was a political activist. But the early Meiji socialist movement was constantly persecuted. Also the 1920s saw a rise in publications dealing with Marxian theory, especially of the first volume of Capital which was first translated in 1920, followed by volumes II and III in 1924. But generally a wider response was only possible after Japan was besieged by the US army – who, ironically, at first openly supported Marx studies at schools and universities. But ‘Marx’ was not an exclusively academic topic. Public debates have contributed to the Marxian impact in post-War Japanese society. Those debates, often roundtable-discussion style and taking place in Japanese newspapers like the Asahi Shinbun, which is probably comparable to Le Monde, have for very long been a lively part of the Japanese intellectual tradition. Generally a heavy and concentrated reception of even methodologically elaborate Marxology, especially in the Critique of Political Economy after the war, took place with the same vigour which had been given to the reception of Hegel and maybe Darwin in the late 19th century.

When talking about Marxist currents in Japan, one would of course have to mention the role of the Japanese Communist Party, its members, the dissidents, and the fights, like the famous debate on Japanese capitalism in the 1930s. But I will leave this out, since as far as I know Jacques Bidet has already introduced the main gist of the debate to the French speaking audience. Instead, I would like to pinpoint « heterodox » Marxist streams, if only to shortly introduce them. The most influential Marxist/Marxian currents were probably literary, philosophical, and cultural Marxism, with political-economic Marxism being the most academic. Well known-figures of the literary stream, especially the proletarian literary movement of the 1920s-1930s, cover writers as Nakano Shigeharu (1902-79), but also Yoshimoto Takaaki (1924-2012) who is the father of the famous writer Banana Yoshimoto, a popular figure of the left-wing student movement in 1968 and a literary Marxist.

As for philosophical Marxism, it is very difficult to pick only one or two names, but probably Hiromatsu Wataru (1933-1994) – Japan’s best kept Marxist secret (since no texts are available in Western languages to date) – must be named. He was especially keen on the idea of reification and explored the term in all thinkable epistemological dimensions. Also Umemoto Katsumi (1912-1974) was a philosophical Marxist whose main reference texts were the Theses on Feuerbach and The German Ideology. He was an important figure in the « Debate on Subjectivity » in 1946-48 that dealt with the question of the individual in historical materialism, often however a very limited discussion, and heavily influenced by Heideggerian-existentialist undertones. It should here be pointed out that often the language in which debates on Marx took place among philosophical Marxists were completely held in an existentialist idiom. Sartre was a superstar in Japan, and even people who were critical of him, talked very often of « being » and « nothingness ».

 In cultural Marxism, Tosaka Jun (1900-1945) must be named. Tosaka is a figure too important to be mentioned only in passing, so forgive my short account. A student of right-wing idealist philosopher Nishida Kitarō, he became very critical of idealism, and very quickly turned to materialism as a philosophical project. He founded the « Research Group on Materialism » (yuibutsu ron kenkyūkai) in 1932 where not only philosophical questions, but mostly problems of high actuality were discussed: the rise of fascism, the role of the media, ideology. He was of course arrested and died in prison in 1945. In my opinion, he was one of the few who took the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach seriously, and he was the only outspoken critic of Japanese society in a time when this was virtually impossible. Other « cultural » critics include the highly influential Maruyama Masao (1914-1996) – who however wasn’t a Marxist. But his line of thought, which included psychoanalytical approaches towards a critique of society, is from its language often reminiscent of the Frankfurt School – without, of course, any acquaintance of it.

As for the Critique of Political Economy, the range of Marxist economists spreads from critics of poverty and capital accumulation in a general fashion to experts on Marxian value-form theory in the more specific sense. Needless to say, Uno Kōzō (1897-1977) was primarily a scholar in the last sense with profound knowledge of Marx’s economy-theoretical work. During his lifetime, Uno had debates with many leftist contemporaries, and his collected works contain a lot of essays entitled « Answering to Prof. X’s criticism », where « Prof. X » often was a rival – like Kuruma Samezō (1893-1932) – but also even his own students and fellow researchers, like, for example, Furihata Setsuo (1930-2009). Today, Uno is still considered a point of reference for many critical economists, and very often critically discussed. Professor Ōtani Teinosuke (born in 1934) who is professor emeritus of economy at Hōsei University in Tōkyō today proceeds the philological criticism that Uno’s rival Kuruma Samezō started, and still holds frequent workshops on Marx’s Capital or the Grundrisse.

VC & FM: From the early 1920’s, some intellectuals, as Kazuo Fukumoto for example, introduced some aspects of Marxist theory in Japan – more specifically some typical “Western Marxism” problematics like “alienation”, “reification”, etc. Do you consider these notions to be central in the Japanese debate? How would you organise thematically the relationship between Western Marxism, in its most Hegelian forms (Lukàcs, Korsch, the Frankfurt School), and “Japanese” Marxism?

EL: Generally, the fetish and value- problem along with an analysis of its reified forms have not been spectacularly featured in Japanese Marxism in general. To be sure, Georg Lukàcs’ History and Class Consciousness had been partly translated as early as 1927. It just had not left such a terrible impact on the reception of the problem of reification. However, there are exceptions. As mentioned earlier, Hiromatsu Wataru has excessively dealt with the notion of reification. For him, there is a radical break between the early “Hegelian” term of alienation in Marx’s early works, and the mature works with its notion of reification as treated in the theorem of the Fetish Character of the Commodities in Capital vol. 1. But the latter one was incomplete in Hiromatsu’s view, since the intra-subjective position was not entirely explored. Next to “Verdinglichung” (“reification”), he problematized “Versachlichung” (“objectification”), a more complete and thoroughgoing process in the act of exchange of commodities, and also between people.

Hiromatsu was however one of the few who clearly problematised value as fetish, and the forms in which social relations are consolidated as relations between things. You see, if the problem had been taken up, it was only considered in philosophical Marxism, not in economic-theoretical Marxism. But even with the philosophers, a materialist conception was often marred by the phenomenologist and existentialist – and often even idealist-Fichtean – idiom. This development may however change with the newly awakened broad interest in value theory, which as a matter of fact, cannot be silent about the fetish problem.

A newly published substantial work by the young researcher Sasaki Ryūji on Marx’s Theory of Reification. Thinking Material as the Critique of Capitalism (2011) is hopefully a step in the direction of changing the neglected discussion in Japan. But it must be admitted that the discussion would have to recapitulate the long tradition that had already taken place in the West, for example in the Frankfurt School. Benjamin, Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse have not been taken too seriously as Marxist critics who intensely theorised the fetish problem. In Japan their texts were at best read as cultural hermeneutics (Benjamin) or sociology (Adorno, Marcuse). The reception of the Frankfurt school and its critical impact had accordingly not been overwhelming. For example, Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s idea of “real abstraction”, however central to recent approaches in value-form theory, has to my knowledge not been discussed at all in Japan.

One could open a whole new chapter in the Marxian tradition if one were to theorize it in the Japanese context. This is all the stranger since, as mentioned above, Hegel was the main character taught in Japanese philosophy departments since the 19th century. It however occurred only to very few Japanese intellectuals that there may be a “Hegelian Marxism”, the philosophers Mita Sekisuke (1906-1975) and Funayama Shin’ichi (1907-1994) with his emphasis on “anthropological materialism” being exceptions. But the rule of thumb is that Marxist economists in Japan shied away from theorising reification. It is interesting to see in this context that Mita Sekisuke was also a radical critic of Uno Kōzō. 

VC & FM: Uno Kōzō is one of the best-known “Japanese” Marxism figures in France. Could you give us a synthetic presentation of his theoretical work? One of the specificities of the Uno School is the elaboration of a “pure” theory of Capital. This “transcendental” goal seems quite counter-intuitive and speculative. Could you state its epistemological stakes?

EL: Uno’s idea behind developing a “pure theory” of economy, as elaborated on in his seminal work Keizai genron (1950-2/ 1964), is much simpler than it would seem: to understand the structure of a “commodity society”, one would need to abstain from empirical and historical reflections in order to form a theory that can be valid beyond its application to capitalist society alone. It was Uno’s goal to understand capitalism, but understanding bourgeois society in his view would provide the key to understanding pre- and post-bourgeois societies. To be a working theory of capitalism, however, Uno was determined to leave historical data, as well as data, tables, questionnaires, etc. out. In my view, the most striking difference between Keizai Genron and Marx’s Capital, apart from its method, that I would like briefly to refer to later on, is that Marx’s Capital is, first and foremost, A CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY.

But Uno did not write a Critique of Political Economy. Uno instead took Marx’s criticism of Smith, of Ricardo, of Say, of Quesnay, and so on, for established facts. This is why Uno managed to re-write all three volumes of Capital within a slim 227 pages (at least in the 1964 edition). This is quite a remarkable achievement. But Uno also heavily intervened into the architecture of Capital. The Commodity, Money, and Capital that form the first three sections of Keizai Genron, are regarded as “circulation-forms”. The Doctrine of Circulation (ryūtsūron) therefore is posited at the beginning of Uno’s investigation. Needless to say that Marx starts with The Production Process of Capital. It is within the Production Process of Capital that Marx analyses the commodity and money that seems to be a pure means of circulation. Marx’s purpose was to show what was not obvious, namely, that money is a social relation grounded in the organisation of (abstract-human) labour in capitalist societies. Uno, in contrast, has a rather ‘functional’ understanding of money, money as a means of circulation. All in all, it must be said that Uno’s analysis of the commodity, money and capital in abstraction from the labour process is peculiar.

In my opinion, the least interesting, but probably best known fact about Uno Kōzō is his three-stages- approach (sandankairon) to political economy: where the first stage would be pure theory, the second an analysis of historical stages of capitalism (merchant, industrial and finance capital), and the third stage would have to explore the actual and “real” political events. I don’t think this approach is particularly significant for Uno, because he had neither developed stage two nor three, although he had often conceptualised these methodically. Uno had, in my opinion, wisely abstained from the stages theory, which was so characteristic of traditional Marxists like Lenin or Luxemburg, and a certain fashion in 1950s Japan for the conceptualisation of Japanese capitalism.

Instead, Uno had fully concentrated his endeavours to understand capitalist socialisation within the framework of “pure theory” alone. He stripped down political economy to three fundamental laws: the law of value, the law of population, and the law of the equalisation of the profit rate. Undeterred by questions of fetishism, real abstraction, “objective forms of thought” and other concepts that have a great fascination for more recent Marxologists (including myself), he went the way of the rigid economist and explored capitalism as a process where rather everything happens for a reason. He was not interested in trying to find out why in capitalist societies, “alles mit rechten Dingen zugeht und doch nicht mit rechten Dingen” (Adorno) – everything happens properly, and therefore improperly.[1]

Toshiaki Suenaga painting
Toshiaki Suenaga (1964- )

VC & FM: What are, according to you, the limits of Uno Kōzō approach? Do you consider Value-Form Theory-oriented readings of Marx to be a possible alternative to Uno’s approach on a methodological, critical and political level?

EL: The limits of Uno’s approach, I would see precisely in his dismissal of the “impure” elements of capitalism as a historical form. This not only refers to “primitive accumulation” – in fact, Uno speaks very much about primitive accumulation – but rather questions of the autonomisation of the law of value, of the value form as a historically conditioned fetish, and the complex of real abstraction. In other words, what is missing in Uno is an extended discussion of the qualitative dimension of value. The law of value cannot be explained on the ground of economic data. That would beg the question. The task of political economy would be to explain why labour in capitalist societies necessarily takes on the form of value. Reflections of this kind are in my view indispensable for understanding capitalist economy. Analysing the capitalist mode of production therefore cannot and should not be “pure”.

For example, in my research project, among other things, I am trying to find out if Uno’s view of money and value – you can say, neither a monetary, nor a pre-monetary theory of value, but rather a ‘functional-relational’ theory – owes to Uno’s disregard for the problem of fetishisation and reification. The dismissal of the labour theory of value – or rather, its misunderstanding in the Japanese reception – is very telling here. Uno criticized Marx for developing the labour theory of value within the “sphere of circulation” – in the chapter on The Commodity in vol. 1 of Capital, when it should have been in the sphere of production. This misunderstanding of Marx in my view perpetuated an ever more growing suspicion against Marx’s fundamental theorem, so that we have the peculiar case in Japan that even Marxist economists disavow the labour theory of value as “substantialist”, completely ignoring its critical impetus. It is no wonder that marginal utility theory has again become popular, and along with it, purely quantitative economic research that has given up on criticising the form which labour takes (as, for example, can be seen in the ex-Marxian economist Michio Morishima and his “Theory of Economic Growth”). Wages are again seen as an equivalent for a certain amount of labour, so that, at best, pay increases are discussed, not the wage system as such. Of course, this is a phenomenon to be found in almost all late-industrialist countries.

In May 2017, I gave a talk in Tôkyô at the University of Economics – in front of a lot of Unoists, as well as former students of Uno, all self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’. Yet I was stunned how in fact their line of thought is much closer to mainstream economics than Marx. If I were cynical, I’d say, “with Marxists like that, you don’t need marginalists.” But, thankfully, not all Japanese Marxists are secret supporters of Menger.

The “new readings” of value form theory have thankfully helped to reintroduce the theoretical relation between value, money, capital, and labour. They often go beyond Marx, which I think is needed and welcome. At the same time, I feel they sometimes undercut Marx’s critical impetus, often losing sight of the political and concrete everyday struggle. However important I think it is to go beyond Marx, one should keep in mind the maximal gesture that is intrinsic to his project: abolishing the capitalist mode of production and its “objective thought-forms”. Start at your work place.


[1] Theodor W. Adorno, « Introduction », in De Vienne à Francfort, Bruxelles, Éditions Complexes, 1979, p.26

Love Scams

My (online) bank sent me the following five-pointed warning message about people online wanting to scam money from me, but there is something suspicious about this because each of the points they make perfectly describe the way they are in their relationship to me, except the last one where they take a cut every time I go to make a transfer:

These five red flags may mean your new friendship or relationship is not all that it seems:​
• You message regularly but you’ve never met in person or video called them.​
• If it’s a romantic relationship, they tell you they love you very quickly.​
• They’re very interested in you and your personal life. But when you think about it, you don’t know much about them.​
• They have a job, but they won’t tell you where it is, or are vague and say they can’t tell you more for security reasons.​
• They have a sudden sad change in circumstances and need an emergency loan to fix it or so that they can visit family quickly.​

On Bernard Stiegler’s Marx-ish Work

Nice guy as Bernard was, a little self absorbed should never be held against anyone who had to grow up in France, no? But many loved him, and he definitely was cool. Except for his annoyingly lame reading of Marx. For someone who enjoyed reading closely – his own writing for example – his drift from reading Marx can only be regretted.

Nevertheless, getting back into taking another look, I am enjoying Solange Manche’s piece in Radical Philosophy, not least as I get quoted alongside Tom Bunyard:

Pretty sure that is not really what I said, but the paper itself is surely worth a look

And the paper seems to be free to download.: https://www.radicalphilosophy.com/article/the-problem-is-proletarianisation-not-capitalism

Jobs you might not be as keen on despite the feels…

With posts like this postdoc below (at the admirable Claremont network, Pamona Liberal Arts), knowing of course that such jobs are too few and far between, I wonder what they do to negotiate the stain of Rand having participated in the kind of anthropology that pushed the AAA to adopt ethics guidelines back in 69-70 as well as, not to spin it at all, the interrogation of North Vietnamese captives by Rand operatives as is pretty well documented…
Really, is this the sort of thing…

Pomona College
Home Administration  Academic Dean’s Office  Information, General Policies & Forms  Faculty Jobs
Faculty Positions
Continuing Faculty Positions
How to Prepare a Diversity Statement

Temporary Faculty Positions
ONE-YEAR POSITION, RAND POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP IN THE ASIAN STUDIES PROGRAM
One-year position, Rand postdoctoral fellowship in the Asian Studies Program
Asian Studies Program at Pomona College seeks applications for the Rand postdoctoral fellowship, a one-year position, beginning July 2022 with the possibility to renew for another two years.

This fellowship is open to scholars whose work engages pre-modern China that will generate innovative approaches to research and teaching of Asia. We welcome cross-disciplinary perspectives, with special interest in those who treat art and archaeology, environment, geography, philosophy, or religion. Ability to link China with other geographical region(s) will be an asset.
https://www.pomona.edu/administration/academic-dean/general/faculty-jobs

Shopping is Civil War

 Shopping is civil war.

Screen Shot 2022-03-02 at 07.53.58 From No Orient – https://norient.com/video/shopping-is-civil-war

Discussion of videos from:

James Tuovinen 2013 Olimpia Splendid – Jukka Pekka

Eric Wareheim 2014 Ham

Vladimir Gruev 2014 Santa’s Massive Robbery

Sakari Pippo 2014 Siinai Shopping Trance

Gazelle Twin 2014 Belly of the Beast

Animal Mystik 2014 SuperMarket

 

Supermarkets are a popular setting for music videos. The cultural theorist John Hutnyk comments on this and presents a kind of a Marxist theory of shopping. From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here).

Six supermarkets featured in six music videos. In different ways, I can see why these clips go together and it is not merely arbitrary. It worries me that all my life seems headed for the aisles; shopping surrounds me with monstrous collections of commodities. As in Sakari Pippo’s «Shopping Trance» for Siinai (2014), I am wandering, wondering, observing – and lost in commodification, amongst all the other shoppers, also lost. Of course I know this is the space of reproducing labor power. The hard edge of non-work that ends up being work too. So much must be done outside the nominal nine-to-five, and usually it’s a double-shift effort, to bring home groceries, to cook, care for the kids, stay sober, sleep well, get fit, wake up on time, shower, shave, dress in reasonably fresh trousers and more or less ironed shirt, drag a comb across my head, go downstairs and drink a cup.

But in the supermarket the labor of production and reproduction is also hidden. Vast global circuits of manufacture and delivery, electronically monitored supply and demand chains, and product lines, stacked on shelves, themselves built in the night by shopfitters following plans and designs informed by psychology and survey. The nighttime in the store is not all quiet – nor a place to dance, as cleverly contradicted over a remixed Jay Z track in Vladimir Gruev’s «Santa’s Massive Robbery» (2014). In these videos we are urged to think of the mischievous elves, who we know are fiction, as signifying our understanding that the theft is hidden. The shelves/elves do not stack themselves.

Zeitgeist?

Maybe supermarkets are the arcades of our time. But even Walter Benjamin would be hard-pressed to get excited by block cardboard-printed sans serif font advertising posters and cheap plastic discount displays. Benjamin would be stranded in Ikea, found despairing and indecisive in the desk-lamp section, disheveled in the bookshelf self-assembly unit area, simply unable to assemble. Today when whole supermarkets are dedicated to carton food and frozen produce – the weapon systems in Animal Mystik’s «SuperMarket» (2014) say it all – we have our indictment of the zeitgeist. Each discount is another squeeze by the boss on a co-worker since the «loss» is never simply absorbed. A bargain is always passed on as extortion and extension of the wage-freeze.

There is a desperate nod of recognition in the checked out check-out counter checker in James Tuovinen’s «Jukka-Pekka» clip for Olimpia Splendid. Am I not surprised to be lost in the mall? These downgraded yet privileged spaces of commerce set apart as part of the everyday, taking over everywhere with a declining future. As J.R. Sebastian animates the department store in Ridley Scott’s film Bladerunner (1982), the replicant slaves have seen more than the check-out clerks can ever scan.

At least, perhaps, in the supermarket of today I am free from the egoist clamor of everyone having their fifteen minutes – family fight, trolley rage. I see the similarities between the elves and the grotesque meat battle of Eric Wareheim’s «Ham» (2014). Like the trolley trance, the eruption into violence exposes the mutual agreement of sticking to your trolley lane. In the sanitized and inhuman reality of the shopping world, nothing intrudes but endorsements.

My trolley-rage is recorded with only a receipt stub list as documentary evidence. The constellation of trolleys is the St Vitus’ dance of the commodity, without the death but nevertheless contagious. These clips expose this zombie world, even when Gazelle Twin slows it down to introduce the police within Esther Springett’s «The Belly of the Beast» (2014). Of course we police ourselves, our own internal enemy. Family life is supermarket reproduction. It hides the fratricidal conflict of prices in a rhetorically transparent accounting. It fudges a false economy of bargain and discount that tricks us into competition and has us doing damage to each other. Unreal contemporary life in air-conditioned comfort, crisp vegetables never seen on farms, storage boxes bigger than the desiccated lifestyles they contain, a vast abattoir just out of view.

Protocols of Commerce

Full disclosure. My bitterness is close because I worked as a shopfitter in the night of the supermarket. I know too well that the literary fantasy of products come to life – the puppets in the toy store, the dinosaurs in the museum, the pleasure-bot Pris – is only a cruelly distorted disguise for the tired night shift workers doing the android drudge. Counting down the hours to a meager paycheck with too little sleep. Alienation was never so obvious – and oblivion never so near – as it is to those who stack shelves after twelve.

Some will say we must reclaim the supermarket space for sentiments and characteristics normally excluded from commercial transaction – community care, fun, dance, drama, theater of mystery or the absurd, energy not consumed by wage work… As if this daydreaming at the till or dancing on the display floor could be collected, these little moments stolen from the protocols of commerce in the interest of expression. Then maybe, just maybe, these supermarket videos show that character is not completely crushed. Still working to repair labor capacity, a necessarily critical reproduction is more radical than shoplifting and refuses to affirm, even in contradiction, the logical equations of trinketization against recoupment of value by captains of production. Declaring something beyond the regimented aisles remains plausible, possible even, notwithstanding crazed routines.

At minimum this can be a protest against the discipline of selling labor only to have to buy back at a higher price what we have already made. At best, this suggests an active realization that the battle zone of the supermarket cannot be endured passively, that the bifurcation of the self – in working too much for wages that buy half what the work was worth and the all-against-all war of attrition that turns your discount into my overtime – shall not pass. It must not pass. The parrot is not a dead parrot. Shopping is civil war.

This text was published first in the second Norient book «Seismographic Sounds».

Nagoya 2015

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJA3gQ6jmxc
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hosHmhCCKvU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeBrV4KYZXM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH94d-uw4N8
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULuR2quJ6U0
http://www.muzu.tv/animal-mystik/supermarket-music-video/2284103/

Another Kind of Concrete – Koushik Banerjea

being ill is my excuse for catching up with novels, but I interrupt the stream of hackery to give a progress report on this as its the best book I’ve read in ages, despite that I am half way through, and despite the book persuading me that no child should ever be entrusted to the English school system (no disrespect for teachers as they have no time to teach – the ancillary roles of school librarian and caretaker the only sites of care, time, hope, as is the case so often). Despite even, maybe because of, the cantankerous voice, so resounding with alliterated simile, each page has its puns, jibes, jabs and jaw, I’m only half way through, but wanted to note the progress (and how mixing College Street and Canning Town makes strange landscapes familiar). The middle section on the mother of K is really astonishing, not just because of the angular history that has been there all through the book – I’ll perhaps later track all that, I could have a guess at most of the missing footnotes – but because of how brilliantly the mother’s inner life has been rendered, intimately understood, lovingly portrayed, so that at present, half way through, I’m thinking contemporary literature here takes a step forward at last from the all fine but almost formulaic earlier epochs of – 123 sounding off down the years: – Rusdhie, Kureishi, Kunzru… or Lessing, Coetzee, Smith… for sure beyond, Hornby, McEwan, Self … but don’t take my word for it, I’m still reading it – here is the author himself snapshotting a London bus in Lewisham on a particular day in the summer of ’77 – and this is just a taster…

Opening of Another Kind of Concrete.

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