[OPE-L:2820] Self-acting subject

rakesh bhandari (djones@uclink.berkeley.edu)
Tue, 13 Aug 1996 11:32:02 -0700 (PDT)

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Hi Andrew

Getting back to Andrew's criticisms of Postone's reinterpretation of Marx's
critical theory.

While Andrew focuses on Postone's putative displacement of abstract labor
from the production process, Andrew has also argued that Postone presents
capital in its fetishized form--as a self-acting Subject. That is, Andrew
argues that Postone fails to appreciate that "self-expansion" only obtains
through the incorporation of its other.

It is important that Andrew provides no textual evidence for this claim. I
think a careful reading of only the first chapter would reveal this charge
to be simply groundless--see for example the discussion on pg. 30ff of
capital as an alienated totality and the result of self-generated
structural domination. Moreover, Postone argues that it is Adorno who has
reduced the social totality to an "identity that incorporates the socially
non-identical in itself so as to make the whole a noncontradictory unity,
leading to the universalization of domination." (185) To put it crudely,
Postone is attempting to show why the alienated activity of alienated
*concrete subjects* engenders an *Absolute Subject* in the form of
self-valorizing capital which appears as the demiurgos of bourgeois

In neither Andrew's comments nor the reviews in *News and Letters* has
there been any appreciation of Postone's critical and underlined
distinction between concrete subjects and the Absolute Subject, which (one
more time) for Postone is a historically specific product of the alienated
human activity of concrete subjects in the determinate relations of
bourgeois society.

Of course it was Marx who attempted to determine why capital appeared as a
self-acting Subject. This raises the question yet again of the relationship
between appearance and essence in Marx's *Capital* (three of the most
interesting treatments of this that I have read are Jacques Ranciere's
essay reprinted in Rattansi, ed. Ideology, Method and Marx; Jairus Banaji's
in Elson, ed. Value; and Patrick Murray's essay in Fred Moseley, ed.).

In this context, I don't think Postone's interpretation can be faulted for
analyzing why it is that capital necessarily appears as a self-acting
subject. In his *Incomplete Marx* Felton Shortall has commented quite
helpfully on an especially relevant passage from the Grundrisse, pp.

As suggested, the more complicated question here is the relationship of
this appearance of capital to Hegel's Absolute Subject. It seems to me
that Postone's (as well as Uchida's and Arthur's)understanding of this
relationship could not be more different that Dunayevskaya's reconstruction
(especially in Philosophy and Revolution). While I have not commented yet
on the argument that Postone has displaced abstract labor from the
production process, I hope that I have indicated that it is simply and
wildly inaccurate to argue that he has not worked beyond the fetishized
conception of capital.