The whole first chapter focuses on the relationship between private individuals (their use and production of material things) and the web of society that acts on the individuals both prior to and after that labor. What society does prior to the individual is provide a meaningful world: it teaches the individual how to understand the things and their uses—what is good to eat, how to make linen or coats, why have coats to stay warm and not snuggies or anoraks or those chemically activated handwarmer packets or whatever. It shows the individual what is useful/meaningful in that culture and place. Then the individual does her magic on the world, takes a thing, applies her specific and particular labor, and objectifies herself as a product: 20 yards of linen, a coat, 100 mass produced snuggies, a few jars of homemade bourgeois applesauce. Then society gets to work again, and starts its free-market weighing of things—exchanging them for other forms of labor, for porridge or mukluks or Beyoncé albums. This is the “world of commodities”—which is really, it seems to me, a world of human uses which is always appearing (Capital 155). Through this process of exchange, the things reveal their dialectic nature: they all contain each other negatively because they can all be exchanged for each other in varying proportions—this is their “two-fold nature” (152). And its because of the people. Money is the realization of that abstract property of equivalence. Prior economic systems mostly functioned by C-M-C exchange and circulation. Capitalists turn money into commodities to turn it into more money, harvesting the worker’s surplus labor.
I find especially interesting the beginning of the section of commodity fetishism where Marx points out some of the “metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties” of things we exchange. He talks about how labor transforms wood into tables, from a sensuous thing into a thing which “transcends sensuousness” (163). To explain this odd occurrence, which is “nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things” he points us to religion and fetishism (165). But doesn’t this whole concept complicate his earlier claim of a material conception of history, and the vulgar Marxist version of history? I know this resonates with our discussion last week, and certainly with the formal qualities of dialectic thinking, but I’m still unsatisfied with the idea of a giving material things primacy, of that being the thesis and social interactions be the antithesis. What about the socialness of the world that Marx keeps acknowledging? How do we know that’s not the thesis and the material world is the antithesis? Am I just being too Heideggerian for Marx? Do my questions here even make sense or am I just importing skepticism as a brainwashed apologist for capitalism? What do you think Jameson say, and is this just me understanding hegemony wrongly?