Tag Archives: community

George Eliot – Silas Marner (1861)

PLOT: Silas Marner, a weaver living in Lantern Yard, is excommunicated after he is framed for robbery by one of the religious elders in his town, who eventually marries the woman Silas had been intending to marry. He leaves and goes to Raveloe, where he weaves on the outskirts of town, amassing a fair amount of gold in the process. Meanwhile, Godfrey Cass (son of Squire Cass) is in a monetary pickle after leading to his dissolute brother Dunsten. To get out of the bind, he lets Dunsten try to sell his horse, but he manages to kill it in the process. Desperate, he robs Silas Marner and goes out into the night. Silas comes home and is stricken with loss–his gold having been his sole comfort and companion. He goes into town, but the thief cannot be found. Meanwhile Godfrey sets about wooing Nancy, the town belle. There’s a big New Year’s party that’s interrupted when Silas comes to announce that a woman has collapsed outside and that a baby has crawled into his house, etc. The woman turns out to be Molly, Godfrey’s first wife that he has tried to hide. He is relieved, and deos not claim his child, who has telling golden hair. Silas raises Eppie. Sixteen years pass. Godfrey has married (no children) and Eppie has grown up. Godfrey finds the skeleton of his brother in the Stone Pits outside Silas’ house. The money is returned. Godfrey confesses all to Nancy, tries to go reclaim Eppie but she refuses. She marries a rustic boy from town named Aaron after her and Silas visit Lantern Yard and see that it has been replaced with a grim factory.

Written between Mill on the Floss and Romola, but it shares, strangely, many of the the mythical preoccupations of the latter historical novel. It is a short, concentrated portrait of rustic life, that is deliberately a-historical (as opposed to Middlemarch)

Gold: the golden coins get replaced by Eppie’s golden hair. The coins allowed him to withdraw from society, whereas Eppie forces him back into social “circulation.”  Connect to the “golden” water at the end of Mill on the Floss: the pastoral can only be accessed through the protocols of the aesthetic: in Silas Marner, deployed as myth and myth-making.

Myth: Not located in a particular time or space. Employs the “sixteen years pass” trope, recognizable from The Winter’s Tale, etc.

History: It consists of the breaking of brown pots and their reconstruction as memorials–c’est tout–or can consist of artistic intervention, plotting, etc (the novel as such). The intrusion of historical time at the end of the novel (factory churning out workers) stands in stark contrast to the de-historicized world of craft and agriculture (Eppie wants to be a gardener). Compare to the ending of Mill on the Floss.

Work: Silas’ work, the act of weaving, has meaning-making capacity. Talk about in terms of craft: Ruskin, William Morris, etc.

Double-plot: a paired down version of a device that will be exploited more fully in Daniel Deronda.

Repeated image of the rivulet: Silas’ mind is likened to a rivulet, which contracts and expands throughout. As Eppie grows up, his mind begins to unfold into things like memory and the social.

Catalepsy: why does Eliot need Silas to be cataleptic? Discuss as plot device.

Short-sighted: Silas is also literally short-sighted. Why these physical disabilities?


Friedrich Schiller – On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794)

Inspired by Schiller’s disenchantment with the violent fallout of the French Revolution, these Letters seeks to articulate how aesthetic education is only way in which true political freedom can be achieved–whereby a human can be both fully man and fully citizen.

Letter by letter summary of argument:

  1. Sets forth a summary. It will be about Art and Beauty. Excuses himself for using intellect even while he will be critiquing it.
  2. Art is distinguished from utility and science.
  3. The realm of nature, within which man lives, does not contain all of man: the work of reason allows man to transcends the bounds of nature by elevating physical necessity into moral necessity, from the state of nature to the moral state–without, however, jeopardizing the realm of nature that nourishes man.
  4. The state of nature works by compulsion, while the moral state works through freedom and rational choice.
  5. The present state is characterized by lower classes governed “animal satisfactions,” while the higher classes exhibit and even more disgusting “lethargy” in the form of unfettered egotism.
  6. Using the ideal of Greece, shows how the present world is characterizes by unrestricted competition. Wholeness has been fragmented, and the world is held together by antagonisms.
  7. Nature offers a way forward: it “points in her physical creation the way we have to take in the moral” (45), because the lower elemental forces needs to be assuaged before the nobeler things can be attended to.
  8. Introduces the languages of “drives” and “force.” Truth must itself become a force if it to compete with these other external forces. But people are too borne down by struggle for existence to develop a capacity for feeling that is the way toward Truth [yes, some jumps are made in this letter]
  9. Art is therefore necessary to develop this feeling. “Even before Truth’s triumphant light can penetrate the recesses of the human heart, the poet’s imagination will intercept its rays, and the peaks of humanity will be radiant while the dews of night still linger in the valley” (57).
  10. People object that beauty’s relationship to pure form, rather than content, could lead soem to reject reality all together. But Schiller says that perhaps Experience as such is not the best place to go looking for positions of judgment.
  11. Taking a step back, he defines the human as the combination of a PERSON and a CONDITION, that former stays the same despite the changes in the latter. Neither can remain in isolation or the man ceases to be man. It is through the SENSES that the “way to the divine is opened up.” Living in time (our condition) is purely sensual. The formal properties of personhood therefore “annul time” via the formal drive. Thus reality and formality are set in opposition.
  12. The sensual drive puts man “beside himself” by making him entirely subject to the vagaries of time. The formal drive annuls time, rendering man no longer a mere quantity, but qualitatively different. [The connection metonymy and metaphor should not be missed]
  13. However, Schiller wants to pose a more fundamental drive, which he works up to by means of the cultivation of the opposing drives: “procuring for the receptive faculty the most manifold contacts with the world…in securing for the determining faculty the highest degree of independence” (87).
  14. Introduces the play-drive, which is pulled rather obviously from the notion of judgment in Kant’s 3rd Critique…it brings together under a single drive the two other drives.
  15. The object of the sense-drive is life and the object of the form-drive is form. The object of the play-drive is living-form, or beauty as such. [One wonders why the sense-drive is not called the life-drive…one more way of dislocating the processes of self-preservation outside of the human apparatus. We can form forms, but we do not live life. We sense it.] Further, the sense-drive gets converted into the material drive, thus further  away from the dynamic processes of life. Also, interesting fn on Burke that say that he consigns “beauty to mere life,” something very similar to Hume and the empiricists]. The dialectic between form and matter, then, is such that beauty renders the burden of necessity “lightweight.” And this playful relationship to necessity is in itself necessary [relate this to Arnold’s The Study of Poetry and Wilde’s Artist as Critic]
  16. Now stuff starts to get weird. There are two types of beauty: melting beauty and energizing beauty, The former “releases” while the latter “tenses.” [Curious relationship to Bataille here].
  17. Interestingly enough, it is not so much that there are different types of beauty, but that beauty discloses its melting or energizing property according to the subject’s needs
  18. Now he steps back, and begins in Kantian fashion to discuss beauty’s relationship to Experience and Reason, between which there yawns a chasm of infinity.
  19. Aesthetic emerges as the middle disposition when sense and reason are both fully active and therefore self-cancelling. Sense-impression determines the human mind, passively. Before we can achieve active self-determination, we must negate the realm of sensation and make way for the realm of active determination. Unlike Hegel, then, Schiller does not attempt to derive the unity of sense and substance out of the nuts and bolts of primary experience; rather, he concedes sensation and self-consciousness itself to the realm of pre-cognitive “mystery.”
  20. The freedom that comes from the collision of these two drives–the formal and the sensual–is itself a product of nature. What one fills the absence of sensual determination with is the “real and active determination” of the aesthetic as such.
  21. The aesthetic differs from mere sensuous feeling in that it is not an empty infinity, but an infinity filled with content. It is not exhausted in its relationship to natural objects; rather, the “life of the aesthetic” restores the potentiality inherent to humanity. It gives the human the ability to be human once again, again and again. This is not separate from Nature: rather, Nature confers on humans the power of becoming-human. In this way, nature is consonant with the aesthetic.
  22. He then gets into the particulars of aesthetic theory–e.g. the perfect work of art is that which transcends its material without utterly destroying those materials. The basic idea is that content limits, while form de-limits, which by now doesn’t seem counter-intuitive at all. Interestingly, though, just when content seems to entirely extirpate content all together, Schiller uses a metabolic metaphor to describe their interaction: the “form consumes his material.” 
  23. He returns to the thread of the main argument by stating, clearly: the sensuous man is made into rational man only by way of the aesthetic.
  24. These three states–the physical (sensual), the aesthetic and the moral-rational, correlate with three phases of man’s relationship to Nature. He first suffers, then emancipates himself, and then attains mastery. 
  25. Further elucidates the “moment” of the beautiful, claiming that both the perceiving subject and the object of contemplation are reciprocally beautiful. He then claims that there should no longer be a question about the transition from beauty to truth, “since this latter is potentially continued in the former, but only a question of how he is to clear a way for himself from common reality to aesthetic reality, from mere life-serving feelings to feelings of beauty” (189). [It seems to me that there is still a really big question about the realization (or not) of potential, since man is supposedly that creature which reserves potential indefinitely.]
  26. Maps out some of the pre-conditions for beauty: the hermit emerging from the hut is the Ideal: he can sense “the exuberance of matter.” Imports Kantian categories of need and satisfaction of those needs: both requirements for the emergence of the aesthetic. Also, the “tactile” sense are relegates to our animal selves. “The object of touch is a force to which we are subjected the object of the eye and ear a form we engender” (195). That which we engender is SEMBLANCE. Aesthetic semblance, as opposed to social or natural semblance, must be both honest (expressly renounces all claims to reality) and autonomous (dispenses with support from reality). Seeing something as semblance (not real or living) takes a whole lot of aesthetic education, supposedly.
  27. In the final letter, Schiller calls for “a revolution in feeling,” which would breech the cycle of our animal needs by way an attention to the formal qualities of sensual experience.This will not come about by having quantitatively more material things; rather, it comes from experiencing things differently.

    Even the animal world supposedly has this sort of freedom: “The trees put forth innumerable buds which perish without ever unfolding…living things are entitle to squander” (207). [Interesting relation to Bataille]. But this aesthetic “superfluity” does not remain content being “added” to things; rather, “the play-drive as it becomes ever freer finally tears itself away form the fetters of utility all together” (211).

    This turns into a rather unexpected critique of war and violence, and a valorization of “weakness” (213). This is matched by a a tri-partite movement from the Dynamic State (think Hobbes); the Ethical State (Kant); the Aesthetic State, which consummates the will of all in the individual. This is the kingdom of Taste, in which no privilege or autocracy is allowed. A-social appetite renounces itself seeking. Does this state exist? It exists within us.

Hannah Arendt – Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (1970, published 1982)

This is a blow-by-blow summary of Arendt’s argument with some analysis interspersed:

In Kant, nature = history, the historical subject is conceived as the human species, bios and zoe before the emergence of the polis (8). The second critique is directed at man conceived in this way–as man as a creature in the natural world–while the (first part of) the third critique is Kant’s unrealized political philosophy, directed at man as a political, not merely social, being (9). What starts out as a critique of taste (a popular topic in the eighteenth-century) becomes an analysis of what is “behind taste”–i.e. judgment (10). [Already we see Arendt importing categories of modern thought that denigrate taste as such…but more later.] The frist part of the 3rd critique speak of men in the plural, as they really are and live; the second part speaks of the human species (13). [Here we see Arendt hedging, preparing to sideline the problematic entrance of purposiveness, teleology and the divine tout court in the second part.] How is judgment different from reason? Reason tells me what to do and speaks in imperatives; judgment arises from contemplative pleasure and delight (15).

Arendt helpfully summarizes the relation between the three critiques:

To summarize: Human species = mankind = part of nature = subject to history…teleological judgment: second part fo Critique of Judgment.

Man = reasonable being, subject to the laws of practical reason which he gives to himself, autonomous, an end in himself…realm of intelligible beings = Critique of Practical Reason and Critique of Pure Reason.

Men = Earthbound creatures, living in communities, endowed with sommon sense, sensus communis, a community sense; not autonomous, needing each other’s company even for thinking (“freedom of the pen”) – first part of the Critique of Judgment: aesthetic judgment. (26-7)

Arendt then beings to work up to a theory of general communicability by way of “critical thinking.” Critical thinking is precsiely that which does not succumb to dogmatic metaphysics, on the one hand, or skepticism, on the other. It can never be “caught hold of” by a single institutional thought. Critical thinking is precisely that sort of thought that does nto claim general validity, but rather general communicability. “It is accomplished by ‘comparing our judgment with the possible rather than the actual judgment of others'” (43). In other words, sensus communis does not refer to the lowest common denominator of thought, but to that which is possible for any person to think within a given community. Here we mark the relative limit of taste. Thus the tasting subject becomes the Kantian “world-spectator,” or cosmopolitan, onlooker that assumes a progressive narrative. [This is a convergence of the first and second parts of the 3rd critique, one should note.]

Now some tricky stuff on taste and imagination: Arendt claims that imagination solves the riddle of incommunicability of taste (64-5), by converting, by way of reflection, the merely objective sensual proceses of tasting and smelling into object of an inner sense. By reflecting on its representation, pleasure or displeasure can be aroused and communication is made possible. [That Arendt excises corporeal experience all together from the political potential of taste is disappointing, to say the least.] Imagination makes present what is absent, which means that tasting experience must be converted into a existential absence for the sake of representation: immediacy is sacrificed for the mediated. This is because, in Kant, what pleases is not the act of perception (now indistinguishable from sensation itself), but the operation of reflection. [Some careful parsing of the difference between the agreeable, the beautiful and the sublime is in order.] By removing the object, one establishes the conditions of impartiality (67). Or, as Arendt puts it, cleverly, “the nonsubjective element in the nonobjective senses is intersubjectivity. (you must be alone in order to think; you need to company to enjoy a meal” (67).

There is therefore, according to Arendt, two mental operations that occur in judgment: imagination, which prepares the way for reflection (68). “The sense of taste is a sense in which one, as it were, senses oneself; it is an inner sense” (68). [What about that delicious Burgundy? what happened to it?] And reflection is the operation of actually judging something. [Well Arendt’s division is pretty flimsy, because the excision of the object which supposedly takes place in reflection has already happened in taste and imagination.]

The rest of the lectures are marked by a steady reversion to Smithean forms of sympathy. Ugh. Tastes are to be judged according to their communicability. What? Why? Judgment becomes conditioned on “mental enlargement,” a fully de-corporealized mode of cognitive relation: able to think from the other’s standpoint (74). [As if that were possible.] Then out of nowhere comes the idea of “exemplary validity,” which seems to relegate the modality of the aesthetic’s a relationship to politics to secondary status. More important is the process of simile by which we establish associative properties that can be imitated. A disappointing conclusion that doe snot follow from the very provocative thoughts in the beginning and middle. A postscript follows in which she writes, “The judgment has exemplary validity to the degree that the example is well chosen” (84), which puts us right back at the beginning.


Charles Darwin – The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871)

Origin of Species scrupulously does not mention man (though it could have concluded nicely with such an apogee)…and Descent of Man, formally, seems written in order to make it difficult for any reader to get through it. It withholds the promised clarity of its title. It is introduced as “a collection of notes” (relate to other archival novels, such as Dracula, etc.]

Darwin vs Wallace: the latter turned to superstition as explanation for man’s transcendence of the naimal relam (language, etc.) while the former remained convinced that there were analogs to human life in the animal world. Compare this to Dr. Jekyll vs. his friend Lanyon and contextualize within the discourse of facts.

Evidence for Human Evolution: “[man] still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” He therefore argues against perfect design by way of vestiges. Contrast sharply with Lamarck, who attempted to draw strict causal chains (i.e. Giraffe grew a neck in order to reach tall branches); Darwin, instead, located random variation and mutation at the origin, which was then taken up or not depending on its advantageousness within a particular environment, species, etc. “All variations are the result of and are governed by the same general laws…” Talks a bunch about “rudiments,” such as hair and the coccyx and the increasingly short caecum (a cul-de-sac in the digestive system that can be fatal if food gets stuck there…) Only a natural prejudice and the belief that we are descended from demi-gods keeps us from recognizing the community of descent.

Man and Apes: Associates the move to bidpedism with the rapid increase in cognitive ability. Also, could have been advantageous for man to spring from weak chimp rather than powerful gorilla because it leads to greater sympathy with others—in general, a more intellectual disposition for a species that lack natural wepaons.

Mental powers: no fundamental difference between man and apes, here, either. Instinct vs. Intelligence (indirectly proportionate according to Cuvier. However, there is evidence that animals, sharing the same sensory powers as man, also react similarly to various stimuli (terror, suspicion, happiness, etc.).

Morality: Establishing a sort of “universal moral sense” based not on propriety, but instead on the necessity of the preservation of certain basic social structures (the self, the family, the tribe, etc.) : that is, the natural instinct shared by the lower animals naturally leads to the higher moral demands of the golden rule. Sympathy, therefore, is an instinct. Relate this to Arnold’s The Study of Poetry (1880), where he argues for the self-preserving power of poetry. 

On Civilization: Charity is a vestige, rudiment of sympathy, that persists despite reason. Believes private property is a good thing for the sake of the arts >> believes there should be a class of men who do not need to labor so that they can rule those who do labor. America is the place where the most energetic and restless people go to find wealth and succeed…calls it a “great country.” But all civilized nations are descended from barbarous tribes: clear traces of barbarism in civilized traditions + the ability of the lower races to raise themselves up given the proper conditions. Man is digressing; he is rising!

Compare the affectionate orangutan (Jenny) with the savages from Tierra del Fuego.

Pierre Bourdieu – Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1979, trans. 1984)

Bourdieu’s project, as he describes it, is to perform the “barbarous reintegration of aesthetic consumption into the world of ordinary consumption,” which in turn “abolishes the opposition which has been the basis of high aesthetics since Kant, between the ‘taste of sense’ and the ‘taste of reflection’” (6). He argues that the ability to engage in aesthetic judgment at all depends on a certain amount of cultural competency (“to see (voir) is a function of knowledge (savoir)” (2)). Not only this, but the pure aesthetic is rooted in an ethics, or rather, an ethos of elective distance from the necessities of the natural and social…and takes the bourgeois denial of the social world as its limit” (5). This detachment is the product of “negative economic necessities—a life of ease—that tends to induce an active distance from necessity.” Thus the aesthetic gaze rebounds onto the stylization of life itself: form is privileged over function, manner over matter. “Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier” (6).

One of Bourdieu’s main points is that the object determines its subject:

Any legitimate work tends in fact to impose the norms of its own perception and tacitly defines as the only legitimate mode of perception the one which brings into play a certain disposition and a certain competence. (28)

But he also makes the reverse claim: that the aesthetic point of view can create the aesthetic object. This circle can be explained concretely by looking at two factors: education and social origin, both of which affect the ability to “distance oneself” from the aesthetic object. Thus food can be aesthetic of it is properly distanced. Thus Bourdieu can unearth the subtext of aesthetic language:

Detachment, disinterestedness, indifference—aesthetic theory has so often presented these as the only way to recognize the work of art for what it is, autonomous, that one ends up forgetting that they really mean disinvestment, detachment, indifference, in other words, the refusal to invest oneself and take things seriously. (34)

What Bourdieu calls “the aesthetic disposition, a generalized capacity to neutralize ordinary urgencies and to bracket off practical ends…can only be constituted within an experience of the world freed from urgency” (54). This is not so much a critique of Kant, as an elaboration of Kant. The real difference is that Bourdieu is giving an account of how the aesthetic can be experienced at all—an the answer to that question puts the concept of the beautiful at risk because its universal quality is based on a real system of exclusion and “distinction.”

Some of the more interesting parts of Distinction include Bourdieu’s analysis of “Life Styles.” It’s important to take the word style seriously, as the signifier of an artistic act—this connects these sociological analyses with thinkers like Foucault and Merleau-Ponty, both of whom theorize life stylistically: the former in terms of negotiating power structures, that latter in terms of linguistic development. For Bourdieu, any such analysis has a class element:

The art of eating and drinking remains one of the few areas in which the working classes explicitly challenge the legitimate (bourgeois) art of living. In the face of the new ethic of sobriety for the sake of slimness, which is most recognized at the highest levels of the social hierarchy, peasants and especially industrial workers maintain an ethic of convivial indulgence. A bon vivant is not just someone who enjoys eating and drinking; he is someone capable of entering into the generous and familiar—that is, both simple and free—relationship that is encouraged and symbolized by eating and drinking together, in a conviviality which sweeps away restraint and reticence. (179)

The practices of eating, therefore, offer a curious hitch in the scheme marked out by Bourdieu—not because his theory of “artistic living” is wrong, but because food itself, as something that is irreducible “sensual” no matter how reflective one’s relationship to it may be, refuses aesthetic categorization all together. Thus the inability for working class people to take “pleasure” in their food is exactly what enables them to take pleasure in it. That this matches what Adorno would call a “vulgar” identification highlights the pretensions of distinction grounding his concepts of both life and art.

“Plain speaking, plain eating: the working-class meal is characterized by plenty (which does not exclude restrictions and limits) and above all freedom.” Observations like this, however, reveal a blind spot: abundance is not always the norm, and freedom of form is not always accompanied by an abundance of content. But the contrast with the bourgeois meal stands, nevertheless.

 It is the expression of a habitus of order, restraint and propriety which may not be abdicated. The relation to food—the primary need and pleasure, is only one dimension of the bourgeois relation to the social world. The opposition between the immediate and the deferred, the easy and the difficult, substance (or function) and form, which is exposed in a particularly striking fashion in the bourgeois way of eating, is the basis of all aestheticization of practice and every aesthetic. (196)


Postscript: Towards a ‘Vulgar’ Critique of ‘Pure’ Critiques

This final chapter explains why a book about taste and art made no appeal to the canon of vocabulary associated with philosophical and literary aesthetics. The chapter is largely performative—i.e. I could have written this as a dense philosophical treatise if I had wanted to. He argues that if we must now allow for the “return of the repressed, having produced the truth of taste against which, by an immense repression, the whole legitimate aesthetics has been constructed,” then there should be an adjustment of vocabulary such that these two discourses are not allowed to exist as parallel, or alternative discourses—but rather as a unity of discourse on taste.

Pure taste, Bourdieu reminds, us is based on a refusal of the impure. Thus, the originary gesture marking out pure taste is a moment of disgust that cannot be registered as pure affect. This disgust is directed at the facile—associated with the charming and the agreeable, that which is immediately gratifying. He quotes extensively from Schopenhauer to illustrate the distinction: in short, art that inspires appetite defeats the aim of art. Kant’s principle of pure taste, Bourdieu extrapolates, is nothing other than a refusal of that which imposes enjoyment. Disgust is horrifying (passages from Kant and Adorno link disgust and horror repeatedly) because it results from the removal of distance, in which freedom is asserted between the representation and the thing represented, in short, alienation, the loss of subject in the object” (488). [Try to relate this to Marx on alienation in 1844 manuscripts.] Thus the object that insists on being enjoyed cannot be art. This is why Kant cannot give an account of how the aesthetic makes an appeal to the subject.

He reads Derrida reading Kant. Derrida basically approaches Kant’s object as if it were capable of producing the sort of pleasure that Kant assigns to the work of art—“making Kant’s object its own objective.” Bourdieu argues that deconstruction as a whole is yet another means of shoring up the circle of membership necessary for “enjoying” Kant’s text. Thus philosophy partakes in the modes of distinction that deny the processes of exclusion upon which they are based.

Empirical interest enters into the composition of the most disinterested pleasures of pure taste, because the principle of the pleasure derived from these refined games for refined players lies, in the last analysis, in the denied experience of a social relationship of membership and exclusion. (499)

Sigmund Freud – “The Return of Totemism in Early Childhood,” from Totem and Taboo (1913)

Published in Imago just before the war, the collection of four essays entitled “Totem and Taboo” attempts to locate the point at which human civilization emerges from the animal kingdom. The final installment, “The Return of Totemism in Childhood” is the most boldly speculative: it links the the universal neuroses of the Oedipal complex to the two principle ordinances of totemism: “not kill the totem and not to have sexual relations with a woman of the same totem,” coincide with “the two crime of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother, as well as with the two primal wishes of children, the insufficient repression or reawakening of which form the nucleus of perhaps every psychoneurosis” (495). Be this is jumping ahead.

Freud points out that children have no problem treating animals as equals, and takes this as a paradigm for primitive man. Children associate animals im later life with the father–a fear of the father gets displaced onto animals. The sacrificial meal, then, involves the ritualistic slaughter of the totem animal (substitute for the father):

Everywhere a sacrifice involves a feast and a fest cannot be celebrated with a sacrifice. The sacrificial feast was an occasion on which individuals rose joyously above their own interests and stressed the mutual dependence existing between one another and their god. (496)

Crucially, the slaughter of a totem animal by an individual was not tolerated–“the whole clan must share the responsibility of the deed” (497). In this way, “the bond is nothing else than the life of the sacrificial animal, which resides in the flesh and blood and distributed among all participants in the sacrificial meal” (498).

The renewal of this bond–it’s materiality makes repetition necessary–is festival: “a permitted, or rather obligatory, excess, a solemn breach of a prohibition” (499). The festive feelings follow from the taking in of “the sacred life of which the substance of the totem is the vehicle” (500). But this momentary disorder is only the means to the ordering of civilization as such:

The totem meal, perhaps mankind’s earliest festival, would thus be a repetition and a commemoration of this memorable and criminal deed, which was the beginning of so many things–of social organization, or moral restrictions and of religion.(501)

Civilization emerges from a an act of substitution and violence, which leads to the production of a symbolic regime. The guilt of the primal act of violence becomes inherent in all religion, and morality is rooted in the penance demanded by this sense of guilt. Throughout history, representations of the killing of animals represent both the death of the father as totemic animal and his elevation to the sacred, which marks his greatest triumph (506).

The final pages deal more generally with Freud’s notion of a “collective mind,” a necessary concept for tracking the historical development psychic states. This grounds his insistence on the “reality” of psychical states that are never “factual.” “We must avoid,” he writes, “a contempt for what is merely thought or wished” (513). For neurotics, thinking becomes a substitute for doing. But in primitive man, Freud believes, thought passes directly into action. And that is why, he famously writes, quoting Goethe, “in the beginning was the Deed.”


Karl Marx – Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844)

Marx takes issue with liberal political economists that naturalize the relationship between the worker and capitalist and the system of private property as incontrovertible facts of human economy. Liberal political economists, like theologians, “assume as a fact in the form of history what it should explain” (323). Through an analysis of the objectification of labor and the self-estrangement of man, Marx historicizes these phenomena.

The worker becomes more and more uniformly dependent on labor, and on a particular, very one-sided and machine-like type of labor…from being a man becomes and abstract activity and a stomach. (285)

Alienated man’s stomach becomes detached from his larger living apparatus, since it becomes the mere means for sustaining the production of more labor.

The worker actually receives the smallest part of the product, the absolute minimum necessary; just enough for him to exist not as a human being but as a worker and for him to propagate not humanity but the salve class of workers. (287)

In return, the reciprocity of labor is perverted, the absolute minimum of man’s productive capacity is returned to the worker. This results in the reproduction of laborers, of humans, but no individuals. Interesting connection to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, where the individual and species are divided along similar lines.

Capital is stored-up labor. (295)

Capital is unused reserve, which accrues power precisely to the degree that it is not actualized in material expression. In capital, having supersedes being.

 The object that labor produces, its product, stands opposed to it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labor is labor embodied and made material in an object, it is the objectification of labor. (324)

This is a bad objectification, because the process of externalization has been divorced from man’s objectification of himself into the sensuous external reality with which labor interacts. The worker can create nothing without external sensuous nature, but the paradox of labor under capitalism is that as the worker works (appropriating external nature to “his” ends) nature becomes less and less a means of life in a double sense: it no longer belongs to labor, and it is no longer a means of life in the immediate sense of physical nourishment and subsistence. The end of this is that only as a worker can one sustain oneself as a physical subject, rather than the reverse (325). This reduces man to an animal state:

The animal is immediately one with his life activity. It is not distinct from that activity; it is that activity. Man makes his life activity itself an object of his will and consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly emerges. Conscious life activity directly distinguishes man from animal life activity. Only because of that is he a species-being. Or rather, he is a conscious being, i.e. his own life is an object for him, only because he is a species-being. Only because of that is his activity free activity. Estranged labor reverses the relationship so that man, just because he is a conscious being, makes his life activity, his being [Wesen], a mere means for his existence. (328)

Put otherwise, it reduces spontaneous and free activity to the means for mere existence. The spontaneous freedom is transformed into surplus-value appropriated by an alien man, the capitalist, a property owner:

 Private property is produced through the objectification of labor and the process of self-estrangement. (331)

This is the historical re-writing of the political economist that naturalizes private property. Marx then begins to describe the “solution” to these problems. In short, he maps out a new relationship between subject and object:

It is only when man’s object becomes a human object or objective man that man does not lose himself in that object. This is only possible when it becomes a social object, for him and when he himself becomes social being for himself, just as society becomes a being for him in this object. (352)

This is distinguished from the bad objectification of labor, because man himself can in fact see himself in the work that is made concrete through his labor. This “primacy of the object” become integral to the formation of subjective capcities, sensual existence:

Only through the objectively unfolded wealth of human nature can the wealth of subjective human sensitivity…be either cultivated or created…. The cultivation of the five senses is the work of all previous history.

The narrative of Marxist history as laid out in Cpaital, vol. 3 (the wresting of the sphere of freedom from sphere of necessity, the abolition of capitalism, emergence of communism, and the beginning of history, i.e. end of pre-history) is here given articulation within the confines of the individual human body. Marxist theory in general will lose a robust concept of the subject, but here Marx is imagining a sensory being that is product of history–where the ability to enjoy external nature is a part of the emergence of freedom:

Sense which is a prisoner of crude practical need has only a restricted sense. For a man who is starving the human form of food does not exist, only its abstract form exists; it could just as well be present in it crudest form, and it would be hard to say how this way of eating differs from that of the animals. (353)

Along with music, Marx uses the example of food take make his point. Hunger, conceived in a completely practical sense, does not merely reduce food to a source of nourishment, it also abstracts it, idealizes it. Crucially, want we might call “mere” sense is in fact a defective sense, that has not repaed the benefits of historical cultivation. The truly sensual, which depends on man’s capacity to interact with and transform the sensual object, is an educated, cultivated sense that always goes beyond the demands of the merely nutritive. [This needs to be read in relation to Hegel’s description of the animals that go out into nature and eat appearances, thus teaching philosophers a lesson. ]

Before moving on to an extended critique of Hegelian forms of abstraction (much praise for Feuerbach), Marx makes clear the division between being and having:

The less you are, the less you give expression to your life, the more you have, the greater is your alientated life and the more you store up of your estranged life. (361)