JUANIE GET YOUR GUNN: MARX & THE PARADOX OF GENERALITY

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Thu Sep 7 10:42:47 MDT 1995


JUANIE GET YOUR GUNN, OR

MARX, PHILOSOPHY, AND THE PARADOX OF GENERALITY

I still cannot stop laughing after reading Zodiac's satirical
masterpiece.  I also stand accused of punking out on my promise to
deal with Juan Inigo when time permits, a typical academic ruse
employable even by the academic (abstracted) souls of non-academic
folk such as myself to avoid intellectual engagement.
Nonetheless, to deal with such a formidable subject does require
time and effort which must go into other endeavors right now.  So
I will confine myself now to a few abstracted generalities.

About the last Marxist book I even had time to read was OPEN
MARXISM. VOL. II: THEORY AND PRACTICE, ed. by Werner Bonefeld et
al.  I think it is pretty much worthless from beginning to end,
but perhaps some more enlightened soul can lead me out of my
abstracted darkness.  The one essay in the book that presents a
daunting intellectual challenge, though perhaps much more
infantile in the final analysis than all the others put together,
is Richard Gunn's "Against Historical Materialism: Marxism as
First-Order Discourse".  The heart of Gunn's argument seems to be
that as Marx historicizes all philosophical categories, his
fundamental method renders impossible all types of generalizations
about the world transcending a given social formation, hence any
general notion of historical materialism itself.  Hence those
works which adumbrate a historical materialist perspective, such
as THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY, must be seen as aberrant detours from
Marx's truly revolutionary perspective.  If you can believe this,
there's a bridge in Brooklyn and I've got a deal for you ....

Now we've got Juan Inigo claiming that Marx -- nay citing Marx --
to the effect that there is no such thing as a general logic.
Juanie has quoted many a chapter and verse depicting Marx's
opposition to Logic and Philosophy.  Now why is it that I remain
unmoved by such displays?  I have stated once or twice that I find
such argumentation tautological.  In every instance I see Marx
criticizing Philosophy as a Whole in a very specific context: when
Philosophy's idealist abstractions prove an obstacle to social
analysis, Philosophy has to be cut down to size.  Philosophy as it
existed in Marx's time and place and its role in putting the
brakes on the development of scientific social analysis that
occupied 99% of Marx's attention is the scenario that confronts
our interpretation today.  I am surely not arguing that Marx did
not mean what he said; I am wondering if he also meant what he did
not say.

Say what?  Well, here we go, Gunn, Juan, and I'm sure others,
making claims about Marx's relation to general notions,
philosophy, logic, all of science which must mean the natural
sciences too, which go beyond the specific context in which Marx
was operating to more universal claims about Marx's attitude
towards these subjects.  Now people think I am crazy for trying to
speculate about what Marx did or could have thought about
chemistry, physics, set theory, whatever.  But whether my
questions can be answered or not, they are nonetheless important
questions for determining, insofar as humanly possible, the real
extension of Marx's positions regarding logic, science, and the
rest.  If we understand why Marx made the remarks he did, in
reference to what, we shall be in a better position to deal with
these questions, even if they remain unanswerable for lack of
conclusive evidence.

Then there is the peculiar matter of Marx's mathematical
manuscripts.  Maybe he was old and senile when he occupied himself
with mathematics as an escape from his troubles, and we can safely
dismiss him.  However, it doesn't seem he was so crazy, even if
his mathematical knowledge was essentially late 18th century (as
still reflected in contemporary textbooks).  Marx seems to be
interested in logical questions of a very general nature, as one
engaged in mathematics would have to be, abstracted from any
specific historical context.  I shall have to acquire a copy of
the English translation to be sure, but in all discussions so far
I have not seen any reference to calculus as an alienated
determination of capital's potency, though Marx does divide the
approaches up into three categories, the first of which is
mystical.

It seems to me that thought is impossible without raising it to
the level of general categories, including general notions of
logic.  It is not at all self-evident that Marx rejected such
general conceptions.  Aside from the correspondences that have
been found from Hegel's logic in Marx's work,  general notions of
scientific method, epistemology, and ordinary Aristotelian logic
-- all the tools of abstract thinking -- can be found in Marx.  It
is inconceivable that Marx would have rejected any discussion of
such abstract notions in the abstract.  If he had, he would have
jumped on Engels' philosophical projects from the gitgo.  Look at
all your citations again, and precisely how and why Marx attacks
all the ontological obfuscations he does, and why he makes the
comments about a general logic that he does.

The paradox of generality is that contemporary critics seem to
generalize beyond the specific context in which Marx himself
operated, to make general claims about the impossibility of
generalizing according to Marx.

I think Inigo has done us a great favor, in forcing us to define
these issues and to settle them, or prove them insoluble, once and
for all.  I still think he is a conceited snot, a narrow
dogmatist, and a person whose insufferable style betrays the
limitations of his substance, but such things don't worry me.  In
his remarks to Lisa about the reality of atoms he has already
betrayed the limits of his methodology, and by the time he is
through he will himself have provided all the rope needed to hang
him with.


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