Use Value (and Aesthetics)

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at
Mon Mar 27 12:06:52 MST 1995

A couple of questions and the beginning of a contention:

i. Is there any good reason why the consumption or "appreciation" of a
cultural work should not be considered as the use of its use value in the
classical sense?  I can't see any, but I may not be seeing some kind of
wood for the trees.  After all, if I go to see _Shallow Grave_, for
example, I hand over my $4 (for a matinee at Durham's Carolina theater)
and, bingo, that's the exchange value accounted for.  Then I go in, sit
down and what happens next (appreciation, enjoyment, horror, whatever--I
recommend the movie, by the way) is the consumption of the thing's use
value, right?  Same goes for _Madame Bovary_ or _Ziggy Stardust and the
Spiders from Mars_ or whatever--right?

ii. More generally, can anyone point me in the direction of discussions
of use value in Marx(ism) or elsewhere.  Specifically, I would be
especially glad if someone could point me to a discussion of use value in
relation to aesthetics.

iii. The contention?  That the above schema (and therefore *in some way*
the distinction between use and exchange value) doesn't work.  I think
I'm encroaching on Steve Keen's thesis area here (or at least I would be
if I feared edifices crashing down right now?  Maybe not).  Whatever, it
seems to be important that I saw _Shallow Grave_, not (say) _Forest Gump_
(hmm.. tonight's Oscar night, right?), and that in my use of that
particular commodity (rather than the other) a very specific logic of
exchange--perhaps better, *substitution*; whatever, (in)equivalence--is
set up.  A system of "distinction" no less...

If anyone is interested, and if I'm not totally down some blind alley
here, I can continue, and would be interested to hear anyone else's
thoughts.  In case anyone wants to know (or hasn't figured it out), I'm
still trying to work through the idea of Bourdieu's "cultural capital"
(and, while I'm still on the subject of recommendations, I should
heartily recommend John Guillory's _Cultural Capital_ once more, although I
think he's significantly wrong on precisely the points I'm trying to pursue).

(And Rakesh, I'm off to look for Postone right *now*)

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at

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