To paraphrase Horkheimer, if one' wishes to speak of metaphysics or ontology, one must first speak of capital'.
Monday, 13 July 2009
Notes on Historical and Speculative Materialism
I can highly recommend N. Pepperell's 'What's the Matter with Marx? Notes on Marx's Immanent Critique of Materialism', from the 'Immanence and Materialism' conference. With economy and elegance Pepperell established the essentially reflexive and historical nature of Marx's immanent critique of capital and indicates the explicit or residual Kantianism of existing critical Marxisms. The issue here is how Marx constructs, for example, a critique of labour not based on a transhistorical category of labour, but rather on capital's revelation of the form of labour as real abstraction that then allows a retrospective resignification of labour as a crucial form to social formations. The result is a 'presuppositionless' critique, which does not depend on transhistorical or transcendent 'material' categories, but on the analysis of abstractions that are created in practice and produced as social realities. Marx is concerned with 'how this specific kind of materiality [real abstraction] is actively produced by historically specific forms of interaction between humans and other objects'. We therefore don't have a constrast between real material categories and 'merely' socially-specific materiality, but rather the historical determination of social and material determinations.
Of course from the position of speculative materialism / realism all this may sound (or be) highly correlationist. The difficulty it raises, however, is how to be materialist (or realist) if one cannot grasp the 'reality' or 'materiality' of real abstractions, precisely as historically-generated forms that both undercut or 'deconstruct' the usual distinctions of material / immaterial or real / unreal, and which also play determining roles in our thinking of materiality or reality. In that sense Marx does privilege one form of 'materiality' or 'reality', because these real abstractions shape thought and practice itself under capital, not because they are always and everywhere (more) true or (more) real. Of course, as Pepperell notes, this not just to build a better theory, 'but rather to articulate theoretically, insights that arise from a practical process that makes available certain concepts and certain practical realities which have the ability to explode capitalism from the inside.'