Having read further in Capital I now see how much of Joshua Clover’s lecture was a simple recapitulation of Marx’s theory of surplus value. M-C-M’ as explained by Clover was chapters 5 & 6. Here, Marx explains the contradictions inherent in presumptions of the origin of surplus value. It cannot come simply from exchange, which only changes the distribution of wealth (see 265). My thought experiment for this encompasses products that are historically worth voyaging to get. Value being socially and materially flexible and money as a universal commodity allowing for the exploitation of this flexibility would allow for products of one area to be produced cheaply and sold dearly in another area. For instance, I could grow corn or soybeans in the little tree lawn here in Nebraska—but no one is going to buy them because those giant capital-intensive combines depress the socially necessary labor time for such local products. But no matter how much I labor here I won’t be growing coffee, tea, black pepper or cinnamon. Those commodities sell for a bit more per pound than the Nebraska staples. It appears that motion across space has conjured value out of thin air: “something must take place in the background which is not visible in circulation itself.” But it must be in fact the labor of the person who works to transport those exotic products here to Nebraska that valorizes them. Is this the essence of “merchant’s capital”? I suppose that Marx’s analysis would answer yes.
So then how does this surplus value theory apply to the labor that I am currently doing? Is the socially necessary labor time required to teach college writing really so much lower in value than…oh I don’t know…drafting interstate designs or fracking natural gas out of NoDak? I suppose that I am selling my labor power to the university—which then maintains me by paying me enough for my means of subsistence. My labor power is consumed in the classroom and office when I grade papers (which activity definitely draws down my physical resources). I don’t really know how I am mediating the metabolism between myself and nature (283)—maybe by increasing the value of my students to capital (they will be able to write better ad copy or more effective bank memos). I do particularly like the idea of my unrest becoming being through the activities of my teaching and writing but that’s probably the overactive ontologist in me getting excited about words. But isn’t my labor “of a higher, or more complicated character than average labor” given all the labor that has been invested in the ability? Shouldn’t my labor be of a “more costly kind” (305)? Anyone else want to elaborate on the exploitation of our workplace, and the ways and degrees in which “capitalists” (Harvey) are exploiting our labor? Is it even fair to ask that; am I in the position of a proletarian worker in this analysis?