postmarxism and postmodernism

Rahul Mahajan rahul at
Sat May 25 14:02:30 MDT 1996

Jon, I'm going to presume to answer that what Doug actually meant was that
if Ross had a slightly better grounding in the realities of capital's
domination, he wouldn't make such preposterous, absurd, and profoundly
insulting statements.

"Capital, or rather our imaginary of Capital, still belongs for the most
part to a demonology of the Other."

How much stupidity and arrogance can you pack into one sentence? First,
let's remove the appositive phrase, which presumably was meant merely to
slightly refine the statement:

"Capital ... still belongs for the most part to a demonology of the Other."

If this can conceivably be meant to mean anything, it means that capital is
primarily or most importantly not a social relation most seriously grounded
in economic reality with profound physical effects on people and society,
but rather part of an ill-founded typology that some misguided souls try,
for sinister motives of their own, to foist off on society.

Consider the first part: "Capital, or rather our imaginary of Capital ..."

This means that capital itself can basically be taken to be our "imaginary"
of capital, whatever that means. I suppose it's a jargonistic way of saying
our mental image of capital. From this would follow that if we can change
our image of capital somehow we would necessarily be changing the economic
reality created by capital. Equivalently, we proletarians are not dominated
by capital, but rather by our own mental constructs, so really our
situation is our own fault.

Perhaps what he really meant was simply:

"Our imaginary of Capital still belongs for the most part to a demonology
of the Other."

In this case, what he is saying would merely be jargonistic, uninteresting,
and profoundly simplistic, since whatever "demonology of the Other" that
Marxist intellectuals (certainly he's wrong if he claims that most people
or even most intellectuals consign the concept to any demonology, instead
of an angelology) use in their depiction of capital is at best a small part
of the whole complex of ideas that has gone into it, which includes much
that is highly analytic and some even that is admiring. Certainly,
"demonology" not only cannot characterize the view in question, it's not
even a reasonable starting point.

More important, though, is the point that although what was "really" meant
was the last sentence, there was incorporated a probably deliberate
(depending on how smart Ross is) aggressive act against any idea of
rationality, truth, or logical argumentation, which is not only to conflate
capital and "our imaginary of capital", two things which are obviously
wildly different, but to do so in an offhand, unexplained way, as if the
conflation is self-evident. To find similar dishonesty in Marxist
intellectuals, you have to go into the depths of Stalin apologia.

I hope one day Ross says something like this around some peasants or
workers in the Third World who are fighting to keep capital from squeezing
the life out of them, and gets what he so richly deserves.


>> At 2:24 AM 5/25/96, Jon Beasley-Murray wrote:
>> >Why should Andrew
>> >Ross (say) write about daily caloric intake in Chiapas?
>> Because if he did, he might have a harder time making statements as
>> preposterous as this:
>> "[T]he left's view of Capital iteself as a supremely rational and
>> monolithic, domination producing system has tended to remain in place...
>> Capital, or rather our imaginary of Capital, still belongs for the most
>> part to a demonology of the Other. This is a demonology that inhibits
>> understanding and action as much as it artificially keeps alive older forms
>> of ressentiment that have little or no purchase on postmodern consumer
>> society."
>> [from Andrew Ross, ed., Universal Abandon? The Politics of Postmodernism
>> (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), pp. xiv-xv, quoted in
>> David Hawkes, Ideology (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 8.]
>Doug, please explain this connection.
>It may (though it may not; I guess it depends upon the amount of his
>sabbatical time) be true that were Andrew Ross to be writing about the
>daily caloric intake of Chiapan peasants, he would not have the time to
>write about the left's view of Capital.
>But how would writing about the daily etc. help Andrew Ross (or anyone
>else) write more persuasively about a) the politics of postmodernism or
>b) the left's view of Capital within postmodern (or even contemporary)
>consumer society--Ross's stated intent.
>Or perhaps you think that these topics are insufficiently worthy.
>If so, why?


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