[OPE-L] [Jurriaan] Derrida's ghosts

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sun Oct 30 2005 - 13:05:43 EST

---------------------------- Original Message ------------------------
Subject: Derrida's ghosts
From:    "Jurriaan Bendien" <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date:    Sun, October 30, 2005 12:54 pm

Stephen Cullenberg wrote: "You are lucky indeed if you if you can
apprehend, accept, or dismiss any of these ideas so quickly. Think how
lucky many of our neoclassical colleagues are in being able to reject
value theory without reading more than 10 pages of Marx!"

That's worth a comment, although I should be getting on with other stuff.
I don't think anybody can escape from postmodern symbolic interactionism
or deconstruction completely, that is the way life is now. But a lot
depends on your station in life. As a university student and tutor, I
would deal with maybe a dozen concepts or so per day. Now I happen to work
as documentalist, the most recent in a long line of occupations, and I
happen to deal with literally hundreds of "ideas" per day, registering and
routing ingoing and outgoing documents and so on. At the university, I
could brainstorm and theorise all I liked, ponder the "complexity" of
things, and it had little consequence. Nowadays, if I am routing a
document in the wrong way, I get complaints more or less straightaway.
And that reality sets limits on the number of "interpretations" you can
have. It is the same way for most people labouring under the "dull
compulsion of economic relations". They might deconstruct daily, but for
a very practical purpose.  I am still grateful for Marx & Engels though,
without them, I'd be dead now, I mean, human life on earth - seriously
considered -  is mostly a vale of tears really. If you can turn that
around, with some hope, courage and inspiration, at the very least for
yourself, THEN you're lucky. And to me, Marx & Engels had a sort
of modernist optimism, that was grounded in a rational understanding,
that created new meaning and challenging insight into the human condition,
without banale prejudices.

As regards the neoclassicals, maybe they are not so lucky after all,
because insofar as their eclectic theorems do not reduce simply to flat
tautologies, they can actually *explain* very little about economic life.
All they really have, is a commercial ideology about prices, not a
profound theory of social organisation. I was reading recently in Jeffrey
Sach's "The End of Poverty", who's basically on my side, qua aspiration,
but I was left musing "how can an economist with such a tremendous
international experience write such a shallow book?".

To give you an example: page 306: "One of the stunning, and politically
surpirising, aspects of the Bush tax cuts is that they came after a
generation in which the shift in income distribution has been immensely
favourable to the superrich." Well, quite. But, now listen to this: "The
reason for this dramatic shift towards the rich is not really known".

In other words, his theory *cannot* tell him why. A rather "stunning"
comment, from somebody dedicating his life and a book to "the end of
poverty", that's all I can say.

Or how about page 56: "When people are poor, but not utterly destitute,
they may be able to save. When they are utterly destitute, they need their
entire income, or more, just to survive. There is no margin of income
above survival that can be invested in the future. This is the main
reason why the poorest of the poor are most prone to become trapped with
low or negative economic growth rates."

In which case, poverty and economic growth is a function of the savings
rate of individual poor people. Paul Baran exploded this myth already in
1957. The advantage of the Marxian tradition in its best sense, is it can
tell you a bit more about economic choices than the decision abut "whether
to save or to spend".


As an aside, it may be interesting, also to look at what Marx himself had
to say about the "deconstruction" of the first volume of Das Kapital. He
refers with moral indignation to "the depth of degradation" reached by the
intellectual "priests of the bourgeoisie" and claims "while workers and
even manufacturers and merchants have understood my book and made sense
of it, these 'learned scribes' (!) complain that I make excessive demands
on their comprehension".

If there was a problem with "deconstructing" Das Kapital, it seems that it
was mainly that people had not actually read it at all. Isaac Deutscher
provided this historical anecdote:

"Capital is a tough nut to crack, opined Ignacy Daszynski, one of the most
wellknown socialist "people's tribunes" around the turn of the 20th
century, but anyhow he had not read it. But, he said, Karl Kautsky had
read it, and written a popular summary of the first volume. He hadn't read
this either, but Kelles-Krausz, the party theoretician, had read Kautsky's
pamphlet and summarised it. He also had not read Kelles-Krausz's text, but
the financial expert of the party, Hermann Diamand, had read it and had
told him, i.e. Daszynski, everything about it".


As regards Ernest Mandel's  book on "late capitalism", I am not sure that -
as Stephen Cullenberg et al. claim - it "serves as the veritable bible for
those (mostly cultural critics) who are looking to describe and define,
from the left, capitalism's most recent trajectory." In my experience,
very few scholars had actually read it cover to cover, never mind
providing an intelligent critique of it. There was mainly just this slogan
of "late
capitalism". Mandel wrote that Streitschrift very quickly (incorporating
previous researches) in the context of a student radicalisation - too
quickly really. Leaving aside serious theoretical faults, he never really
came to grips with what is now called postmodernism and neoliberalism.
I heard him speak on the topic in 1984, and his main complaint about
Foucauldian postmodernism was the retreat from a serious political
engagement into the subjective aspects of private life. I could sort
of understand it, after all, Mandel knew Foucault when Foucault
was speaking out against French imperialism in Algeria. But Mandel
had no profound analysis of the Zeitgeist. The "subjective factor" was,
in truth, largely a mystery to him, and the progressive contents of
postmodernity - beyond its nihilistic content - escaped him.
The real problem is when a Streitschrift is turned into a "Bible", instead
of inspiring new research and action, and then the "deconstructionists"
and "postmodernists" come along, to invent ever more subtle distinctions
to interpret this "Bible" while losing the original point of it altogether.
While they're "discoursing" about the "semantic contexts" of a text, they
completely overlook the real historical context which gave rise to the
text in the first place. They don't really know that context anyway,
because they were not there. They mull over texts once or twice removed
from the reality that gave rise to them. This gives rise to all sorts of
epistemic claims which in truth are just unwarranted.


Aw get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don't steal, don't lift
Twenty years of schoolin'
And they put you on a day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don't wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don't wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don't work
'Cause the vandals took the handles

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