Intersubjectivity

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Sun Jul 23 15:29:08 MDT 1995


OK Jon, lets try to argue this out a bit more. You and I are
unlikely to get into a flame war with each other, and I accept that
if I find others at times unclear it is more than possible I can
be unclear myself.

On rereading my post, however of course it seemed clear to me, even though
I covered a lot of ground.

I think some of the frustration comes from just how complex the
subject is we are trying to tackle. As you know, I think you are on
to something important when you explore concepts of value that
embrace the marxian law of value but are not limited to it.

My problems are that

a) I am almost totally ignorant of the
more recent continental writers you refer to (you and I are from a
different cohort and I feel a bit vulnerable about that)

b) the style of argument appears to draw connections that are very
tangential. By contrast I was trying to track down *one* author who had
written about intersubjectivity, and used the word, to anchor the
discussion. If there are other writers who have specifically used the
word intersubjectivity, it would be helpful if we could identify them
and clarify whether they use it in the same way as Merlau-Ponty.

What I am afraid of is that we just exchange impressions on
what we individually might take the word "intersubjectivity" to mean,
though I did like your concrete discussion of the 35-Up programme.

You found the passages from Merlau-Ponty somewhat dry and banal and
were not convinced that they would do the job I wanted of them. I
don't want particularly to champion M-P, I was just quoting him as
a point of reference. I do not have the cited works myself, and I
think they are phenomenological and are unlikely to extend to
political economy.

You have more difficulties with the way I expressed my opening
remarks, which tried to signal a lot of ground quickly about my
perspective and interests. Rather than work over them again, perhaps
a common focus might be the brief summary that Kerry gave arguing that
a theory of subjectivity is implied in marxism, which Jukka found
wanting in some respect. You liked the gist of it, but found the wording
and even the syntax confusing.

I liked it, but it is a very brief passage, and I might have liked it
as far as Kerry is concerned for the "wrong" reasons. I almost certainly
read into it aspects from my own experience and understanding. We must
hope that Kerry will come back again and explain the TRUTH about his
passage!

> "It would seem to me that Marxism has an implicit theory of
> intersubjectivity - materialism.  As meaning and intent are grounded and
> arise out of the relations between people who are situated in particular
> locations of their material reality which constitute their
> "consciousness", the theory necessarily is implied, IMO."

Strictly, I can only say why I liked the passage.

I liked the reaffirmation of the materialist basis of marxism. I liked
the boldness and simplicity of seeing an inherent connection between the
talk about intersubjectivity and the materialist basis of marxism.

I liked the reference to meaning and intent being grounded in relations
between people. This chimes for me with the systems approach I see as
relevant everyday in the psychology of individuals, who react so
strongly to patterns in the psychology of their relations. I think too
it echoes good marxist priniciples about social-being conditioning
consciousness. And it is consistent with the marxist approach that
social-being is again grounded in the material reality of how people
as a people, reproduce themselves from the material in the
natural environment.

It is true the passage made no explicit reference to neurones. I did,
and I assume that no marxist would disagree violently with the
proposition that the material substrate for thought, feeling, inspiration
and interaction is the brain, consisting of a complex network of
10^11 neurones. This was true too of William Blake's brain inspired though
he was to think his mind was infinite, despite the fact that he was
a small craftsman engraver living on the edge of capitalist society
at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and seeking patronage from
the old landlord class.

[It's OK, I am in love with Blake too, but one of the things that makes
him so attractive for me, is the intensity of the struggle to break out
of the material confines of any one social location for him and reach
the infinite possibilities of human consciousness. How can that be done?
And here we come to the interconnecting nature of human consciousness:
our minds are all in potential communication with every other mind, past
and present. Blake, who heard voices to help him on the way, represented
this with religious symbols of an unusually eclectic nature for his
time and place. We do it now by dabbling in the internet, and allude to
ether and cyberspace. Anyway that's my materialist view of the recurrent
spiritual yearnings of human beings.]

Now the "marxist theory of reflection". I thought I was sticking my
neck out a bit on this, but I recall the phrase and it sounds sound to me.
All our thoughts and all science at best reflect only partially the
complexity of reality, and that reflection can be *only* partial.
Wonderfully complex as our brains are their patterns cannot equal the
complexity of reality.

It sounds as if you do not immediately resonate to this.  You will recall
electroencephalogram patterns of the electrical patterns in our brains.
They look like electrocardigrams multiplied a thousand fold one on
top of each other. This electrical activity is going on all the time. Of
course we just do not think about it. You think at this moment you are
sitting in front of a very clever computer with intricate micro-electrical
circuits. It is not the only electrical apparatus in the room with you.
It is far, far outclassed in complexity as an electrical object by the
brain with which you are interpreting all this.

Technically recent research is breaking down further the
Cartesian dichotomy between mind and body, that is always a risk. It is
doing so by suggesting that thoughts or experiences are encoded in our
brains not in terms of one chemical at one locus, or in terms of one
neuronal dendrite connection to one axon, but in terms of the fluctuating
patterns within circuits of neurones, that then interact with other
circuits.


Now intersubjectivity ("this" in my sentence you found unclear) and
the marxist theory of reflection. I believe we introject powerful patterns
not just of our mothers and fathers but of all important relationships,
including social relationship [this would be my marxist amendment to
classical psychodynamic psychology]. In our continuing interaction with
others as apparently autonomous atomised internally coherent human beings,
we actually at every moment trail behind us vast clouds of previous
experiences and assumptions.

If you were an out of work graduate student
offering to mend my hi fi for me, your initial offer of a price would
be conditioned by your guesstimate of the relative interest I have in
getting my hi fi mended compared to all the other things I value doing
more than listening to my hi fi *and* your estimate of *my* estimate
of the relative availability of a comparable hi fi commodity at a
relevant price, within five miles of me. That is intersubjectivity and
that is how the law of value *manifests* itself through conscious
consideration of price, as a force within the whole social body,
equilibrating the distribution of productive labour time in relation
to valued use values circulating as exchange values.

Your references to continental writers of the 70's and 80's. I am out
of my depth here, but it is clear to me this is an area of writing
that this list ought to embrace. I am glad if I see others arguing over
and clarifying their relevance to marxism.

As for myself, what I cannot do is get into each one. Should I buy a
reference summary [did I hear that Jameson has a book on post-marxists?].
OR, Jon, if I compile 5 FAQ's on the law of value, could you do
five five-line summaries of the most important late twentieth century
continental marxists. Now that is an offer neither of us could refuse [?]


Regards,

Chris B.




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