Marx Course for next Year. (draft)

Lecture course 2006-2007 – Centre for Cultural Studies. [draft]

“Cultural Studies and Capitalism”

Lecturer: John Hutnyk, CCS.

This course will take Marx’s Capital Volume One as a core text, reading a chapter a week (Penguin translation), supplemented by more recent commentators and examples prominent in the theoretical and practical corpus of cultural studies broadly defined. A reader of key texts will be provided.

Week 1. Introduction –Trinkets. Commodities. Consideration is given to how we will read “Marx”, and why.

Spivak 1985 ‘Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value’ in Diacritics vol 15 (4).

Week 2. Fetishism, Exotica. The secret of commodities. The fetish is the key concept in the opening chapter of Capital. This mysterious moment has to be contextualized.

Derrida 1994 Spectres of Marx London: Routlege

Week 3. Market and the trick of Exchange – Exchange value leads us to the market, the site of a transaction where labour is sold to capital in what looks like a fair deal.

Bataille 1934 ‘The Notion of Expenditure’ in 1997 The Bataille Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.

Week 4. Production – technology, mechanization, machines, the factory… ‘No admission except on business’.

Penley 1997 NASA/TREK. Popular Science and Sex in America London: Verso

Week 5. Workers – class composition. Marx spends considerable time in Capital documenting the conditions of the factory. Engels did similar work in Manchester.

Wright, 2000 Storming Heaven, London: Pluto.

Week 6. Programme Monitoring Week

Week 7. Time and Technology – There is a general perception that the time of production is dominated by speed.

Heidegger 1955 The Question Concerning Technology New York: Harper Collins 1982.

Week 8. Education – control-reproduction. The workforce has to be trained, taught, brought up. Their runny noses must be wiped.

Fortunati 1996 The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labour and Capital new York: Autonomedia.

Week 9. Circulation, transport, world system, fall of all Chinese walls, compelled to adopt the culture industry,

Adorno 1991 ‘The Culture Industry Revisited’ in The Culture Industry London: Routledge

Week 10. Pre Capitalistic Economic Formations. Marx goes back to origins at the end, but thinks forward. Onwards and Upwards.

Hardt and Negri 2000 Empire Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press

Week 11 – revision. Marx, 18th Brumaire London: Pluto Press.


12 thoughts on “Marx Course for next Year. (draft)

  1. can u plz elaborate on the procedure you’d use in the marx lec series, cos i’m really lookin fwd 2 readin Das Capital(wel 4 that matter i’ve already finshed ‘Reading Capital’ by Althusser)


  2. erm… procedure… ok… – I will ask people to read about 80 pages a week (!) of Kapital (do include the footnotes which can be great), and then one or two short essays by more recent theorists – Spivak, Derrida, Bataille etc. The lecture will set out the plot of Kapital, and make some links to contemporary issues or themes that might – might! – help us think through Marx and cultural studies. But this will be making it up as I go along, so not that much can be anticipated. Some of my favourite themes will come up – trinkets, hollywood ‘demonisations’, Kane, Bougainville, the Police (deaths in custody), racism… more is difficult to say until we get to October. Its going to be on thursdays I believe, probably at 11-1, with seminars after lunch. red salute J


  3. hey, i think i’ve done this course with you before!
    were we guinea pigs then??


  4. yes and no, its different, its just that I keep on and on with the same routine. I’ve not taught Marx this way except with my PhD reading group. But here I am going to drag in the usual suspects – Spivak, Adorno, Bataille + bougainville, Injustice, the war…


  5. One request from someone who was not taught any of these things in a proper manner: please emphasize the rejections of the concept of the labour theory of value from the field of Economics itself.

    I think that anyone who teaches Freud should confront students with why he has been rejected, not just by feminist or Critical Race Studies, but especially by the “harder” sciences for which his work was originally intended (same with Lacan). IMO anyone who teaches Derrida has an obligation to inform students of Noam Chomsky’s objections from the Linguistics (i.e. harder science) viewpoint. Students should know and understand why they must study something that the “harder” sciences themselves have already rejected.

    I feel the same should be done when someone intends to teach Marx. Labour theory of value has been debunked by Economists, and students should be aware of that. No one ever confronted me with this fact prior to this webpage, and that oversight was really embarrassing. I wish I had been warned in advance.

    If something has been proven to be not scientifically valid… well, why is it still on our reading-lists and not in the dust-bin?

    I never received an clear explanation for why I was studying something that the “real” scientists (i.e. economists) had already rejected. This really annoyed me and made be feel like I was engaged in theology (“paying tribute to our intellectual ancestors”) rather than engaged with “real” science (the game of true/false).

    How was I to answer “real” scientists (i.e. economists) who fielded me with “we no longer do Marx, he was debunked long ago”? I must have seemed like a flat earth advocate to those people, and I had nothing at hand to my defense.

    This puzzled me, because when we had to read Kaes’ invocation of Nazi Paul de Man for Media Studies, we were warned in advance that Kaes was using “that Nazi”. Why wasn’t a warning issued for Marx? (Psst, kids, you are reading something that is scientifically invalid). If it’s OK for us to read Kaes as long as are warned that Nazi Paul de Man has rejected by the academic establishment for ethical reasons, why aren’t we warned that we are reading Marx *despite* the foundation of his work having seen debunked by scientists?

    So, if I may request something at a student on the receiving end of an (inadequate) introduction to Marxism, please address this issue *explicitly* with your students so that they will not have to face the embarrassment I had to face. I felt so ignorant.



  6. There are points at which I must indeed remind myself it is always worth engaging with conservatives, simplifiers and those looking for the quick fix. My take on this is to try to get people to read more carefully, including myself. Sometimes this means reading slowly, and reading across a number of chapters before rushing to a website to crib a judgement. Unfortunately there is never enough time, but though the method for this course will be chapter by chapter, there will be points at which it is necessary to draw a more convoluted algorithm across Marx’s mode of presentation in order to discern the dynamic of his analysis. As I’ve said over and over, the book unfolds.

    On LTV: I still like the otherwise grizzled Trotskyite FISC figure, Ernest Mandel, who wrote perceptively in International Socialist Review about critiques of LTV and whose argument, made in the 60s, still deserves attention.

    Certainly I am keen to see a working through of the entire argument, and that would have to also take in crisis theory vol 3 and some very detailed working through of the schematics of vol 2, but of course in an 11 week course we won’t get far into the latter volumes (that joy is allocated to my PhD reading group this year).

    I’m also not gonna get too far into your much too fast iteration of unscientific = invalid = nazi = dustbin. This transparently rhetorical turn has nothing to do with thinking, analysis or the kind of critique we know we need – (and we need to just slap the economists who ignore Marx’s contribution, present apologies for capitalist profit taking, torture us with their waffle about margins… in favour of what?). And the opposing armies you set up are easily demobbed – Freud v hard science; Derrida v Chomsky; Marx v ‘real’ scientists; Paul de Man (v Simon Wiesenthal?). The parallels here just do not stand up, its condemnation by association and binary simplification and as unconvincing as the debunking that reads too fast. Slow down – a watchphrase to go alongside the ruthless critique of everything – and a chance to read Marx as an activist-theorist (that rare stance) with an analysis that can perhaps help us see through the tricks of capital today. As Spivak says, Marx’s implied reader of Capital – I have to assume that includes you and me – is hopefully to develop the x-ray specs to see through commodity fetishism; the circuits of production; the ongoing appropriations (ongoing ‘primitive’ accumulation; surplus value extraction); the difference between merchant and commercial capital; credit; technology; education and crisis theory… these will have to be re-designed x-ray specs today I guess [oh, superman], but nonetheless worth trying out for a few weeks, as we will do from October. Red Salute. J.


  7. That’s not *my* iteration.

    Like I said:
    Paul de Man was rejected by the Humanities for ethical reasons,
    Marx gets rejected by Economists for scientific reasons.
    De Man warrants a warning in the class-room,
    Freud warrants a warning in the class-room,
    Derrida warrants a warning.
    Marx not. Why?

    As for slowing down: not exactly an option when one has to graduate within 4 years in order to avoid having to obtain a loan (= debt). As for activist teachers, never saw or met one or was taught by one.


  8. Whaddayamean Tex? – We are warned about Marx all the time. Its the main trade of Govt papers, tv, radio… Martin Amis novels… Oh, and we are warned about beards as well.

    Now Chavez was pretty funny with his warning recently in London:
    I am a socialist, I will infect you

    And on other beards, may I refer you to the comment re today’s NYT on the ‘Nothing to Read’ post. Ha ha.

    Got find yourself an activist teacher – 4 years is too much…


  9. As a female, I’m gonna have to wait till post-menopause before I can start growing a beard. But being Mediterranean, I think I’ll have a good hairy-scary beard going by then.

    But really, I get the impression that you think I posted that long post in order to piss you off or something (i.e. troll). I can assure you that is NOT by I posted it. What I’m trying to say is that while teaching Marxism it is IMHO your responsibility as a teacher to introduce the students not just to the theoretical debates, but also the scientific ones, and that it’s important to warn students about that kind of critique as well as all the theoretical stuff. That was basically the point I was trying to make (and was certainly not implying simplistic shit like “un-sci=nazi”)



  10. Tex – I’m not pissed off. Was good to be reminded again of public perception and scaremongering. Me, I am all for Mediterranean types – I remember the Melbourne drama group “Women with Moustaches” very favourably – but I am especially keen for scary-hairy ones that will frighten off the people I thought you had in mind (and whom I meant) as the simplifiers – the bourgeois economists who think their science is better than our science etc etc. Alongside the Mandel I referred too, an old book by Derek Sayer is well worth a look – “The Violence of Abstraction”. Check that one out.

    Don’t you love the Chavez warning as well though? – “I am a socialist, I will infect you”. I cannot remember who it was at a anti capitalist demo in Melbourne ten years or so ago who, as my friend Ben fondly likes to retell the tale, stood up in front of a “We are living in Heaven” banner and said something like: “We communists, anarchists, feminists, lesbians and gays, are told by the talk back radio jocks and even some mainstream politicians that our practices and ways of life are destroying the family, the nation and common decency. Well, I am here to admit its true!” And we will keep on doing it! And we will succeed! We need to do it, it’s the only way to save the planet…” or something like that…


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