Friday, June 15, 2007

14/06/07 Reading Group

Summary of discussion in 14/06/07 Reading Group:
Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat, pt. I, 3.

This is an attempt to provide a sort of subjective overview. I’ve attributed ideas to members of the group only occasionally, and lots of comments have been either forgotten, half- or quarter-remembered or simply mangled in transition. With that in mind, please revise & extend as you all see fit. To commence:

We began by discussing the opening lines (104/105); Andrew suggested that these seem to indicate that reification possesses a twofold character, involving:

1) An ontological distortion
2) An epistemological failure

Bourgeois critics of science are cognisant of this second aspect of reification (and declaim the various disciplines for "having torn the real world into shreds and having lost its vision of the whole"), but fail to discern that the process is conditioned by an ontological distortion; that is, the 'reified consciousness' that places the epistemological blinkers on science in the first place. (cf. p.110, "but a radical change in outlook is not feasible on bourgeois soil").

The two questions that arose out of this were:
1. On what grounds can Lukács declare that he is able "to look from a vantage point outside" of the reified bourgeois consciousness?
2. To what extent, in Lukács' view, does the inability of reified science to "grasp its own concrete underlying reality" apply to the natural sciences?

1. Ideas raised in response mostly focused on the privileged standpoint accorded to the proletariat in Lukács' writings. This is dealt with in part III of the Reification chapter, appropriately titled The Standpoint of the Proletariat, so detailed discussion was deferred.

2. Andrew suggested the answer was "much less". Daniel suggested the answer was "more". As a referent we spoke of Adorno, & the passage below is the one the I kind of flubbed in the group:

"The system must be kept in harmony with nature; just as the facts are predicted from the system, so they must confirm it. Facts, however, belong to practice; they always characterise the individual's contact with nature as a social object: experience is always real action and suffering. In physics, of course, perception - by means of which a theory may be proved - is usually reduced to the electric sparks visible in the experimental apparatus. Its absence is as a rule without practical consequence, for it destroys no more than a theory - or possibly the career of the laboratory assistant setting up the experiment." (Dialectic of Enlightenment, 83)

One of the arguments here (made less dogmatically than as I recalled) is that the coherence of the system of formal laws is upheld at the expense of receptivity to the content of the occurrence; or, the "concrete" lab assistant goes before the abstract law. This elicited various responses, so I'll restrict myself to the last: while the passage is, prima facie, merely hyperbole, it's typically Adornian hyperbole insofar as it forcibly draws attention to the cost exacted on the concrete by abstract thought in the natural sciences. Lukács seems to believe this also (at least to some extent).

The question of how Lukács feels economic reification leads to other forms of reification was raised: the answer proposed was that the abstraction that produces the monetary form (& the varietous consequences of this) infinitely extends the potential for division of labour in other fields. This also a response to the critique that extremely complex divisions of labour have existed in even ancient societies, i.e. that the division of labour is by no means exclusive to capitalism.


Theory of Marginal Utility:

p.104: ‘It would be a mistake to suppose that certain analytical devices - such as we find in the ‘Theory of Marginal Utility’ - might show us a way out of this impasse.”

How does this sentence relate to what precedes it? Gordon suggested it was a matter of bad translation: I’ll come back to that in a second.

First, an attempt at summary of discussion of the ‘Theory of Marginal Utility’: Use value impinges on the abstract system in which crisis is incomprehensible. For example, butter that is produced and then goes unsold is not taken into account within the abstract systems of bourgeois economics. More money is created in correlation with the increased quantities of butter without necessarily being spent on dairy products at all. This new money instead will go in search of more surplus value, leading in time to an expansion of the capitalist system (expansion by dispossession). But suppression of use values (i.e. the ‘fallow’ butter), in favour of exchange values, leads to the circulation of fictitious capital & ultimately will precipitate a crisis that bourgeois economics cannot comprehend.

"In moments of crisis the qualitative experience of 'things' that lead their lives beyond the purview of economics as misunderstood and neglected 'things-in-themselves', as use-values, suddenly becomes the decisive factor. (Suddenly, that is, for reified, "rational" thought)." (105)
Translation problems: discussed was the Young Hegelian influence evident in both Lukacs's thought and phrasing. See the final sentence of p.104: "It is this that creates the impasse." The implication in the German is of the Hegelian 'bad limit'. A better translation might make clear that the final paragraph of p.104 is an attempt to critique bourgeois economics in Hegelian terms.

There is also an implied connection between reified social sciences and Kantian thought: it was suggested that the equation of "use-values" and things-in-themselves (p.105) is a confusion and gives the lie to the broader equation of Kantian ideas and bourgeois economics.

- We also questioned the idea that bourgeois economics view the material substratum as "immutable, eternal 'datum'": Lukács' utilisation of the Kantian distinction between phenomena\noumena in relation to reified social science seems questionable. Also, is there a rhetorical evocation of Hegel's 'bad infinity'?

- What will philosophy be? Marx's "scientific philosophy". See Nick's post below.

- Issues of translation: the use of "overall knowledge" instead of "social totality" (109) gives the impression that Lukács desires an epistemological unification, whereas in fact the desire is for an ontological unification. This has major consequences for the discussion of theory\praxis a few paragraphs on.

Question that arose:

- Does Lukács merely recapitulate the work of the German Idealists (Schiller to Fichte)?

- Does practice become prior to philosophy? Someone was cited who thought this, but I can't remember who. Lukács, it was agreed, seems to desire philosophy and practice to be identical; that is, the dialectical unification of subject and object. I think it was around this point that the Young Hegelians were mentioned as again, re: their opposition to Kant's claim that the 'thing in itself' cannot be known.

Kant: "if the subject... be removed, all of the relations of objects in space and time, nay, space and time themselves, would vanish." Which of course prevents a priori the subject comprehending the thing in itself.

Attention was drawn to Lukács' citation of Hegel on p. 139: "when the power of synthesis vanishes from this lives of men and when the antitheses have lost their vital relation and their power of interaction and gain independence, it is then that philosophy becomes a felt need." Gordon argued that 'felt need' is a poor translation, and better would be, 'a need of philosophy', which carries the mutual need (of praxis for philosophy, and vice versa) more clearly.

***** I should note here that I have no idea what I'm talking about, so correctives or further clarification might be required.*******

Also Gordon drew attention to Hegel’s "reality cannot hold out" to theory.

- p.110: "The reified world appears henceforth quite definitively - and in philosophy, under the spotlight of 'criticism' it is potentiated still further - as the only possible world, as the only conceptually accessible comprehensible world vouchsafed to us humans. Whether this gives rise to ecstasy, resignation or despair, whether we search for a path to “life” via irrational mystical experience, this will do absolutely nothing to modify the situation as it is in fact.”

- This passage seemed interesting: to what or whom does 'criticism' on the final page refer to? Bergson? The Vienna Circle? Neo-Kantians? Kant seems to be ruled out because the focus is on contemporaneous developments in philosophy (that is, to Lukács).

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said...

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