Sunday, April 13, 2014

On Capital

Save for Dr. McCloskey’s talk, I cannot recall an optimistic take on “what we unfortunately call Capiltalism.”  I cannot recall when or even how, but throughout our readings this the semester I’ve come to personify Capital (perhaps in close association with the capitalist) as the ever-present villain in a long narrative. 
Of course, I can sympathize with this notion in so far as exploitation has been part of the equation.  For years I was a factory worker well familiar with the assembly line—better known as “the line” (pronounced with dreadful tones, as in a place no employee wanted to be assigned for the day).  Indeed, at times I felt proud to hold my own against those ladies with so-called “nimble-fingers”.  Still, I cannot recall fleeing the factory workforce because I realized the exploitation of labor-power-value.  (The assembly line has a way of conveying life as both static and in constant flux.  Till this day, I find running on the treadmill to be as comforting as paradoxically dreadful).
So, I ponder, are we reading Capital as the villain?  Though we don’t necessarily acknowledge it (perhaps we don’t need to), I feel this to be the general consensus.  I am reminded of a recent discussion of Othello in class where a brave student went against the grain by questioning: “is Iago really a villain, the villain? Is he not simply there to expose the savageness within Othello?”  As fond as I was at this student’s interrogation of the text—Othello’s racial complex is mostly internalized, so why should Iago be condemned for being a catalyst?—I don’t know that my views of the play stretch as far as to acquit “honest Iago”.
There is a point here: Iago’s numerous motives/reasons for hating the Moor, no matter how richly performed, do more to cancel each other out than they provide an explanation for his constant instigation.  Whether motivated or motiveless, his deeds don’t make him more or less a villain, nor will they satisfy our judgments.  But if Iago produces so much suffering for the sake of producing it, how do we treat Capital’s constant flow?  Is Capital the “bad guy” here whose “evil” doings know no bounds or is devoid of a guilty conscious for its mode of production?

Hardt’s and Negri’s discussion of Capital (and the struggle over Common Wealth) further illustrate the complexity of the villainous Capital, especially in the context Bio-politics.  If, as Hardt and Negri point out, capital can be said to include labor and social life itself, especially when life is “both what is put to work in biopolitical production and what is produced” (142), how is Capital at fault for what we are so willingly (if wittingly) to produce?  As Hardt and Negri further suggest, we are best to understand production not so much in terms of the producing subject and the produced object, but rather both producer and product as subjects.  On the other hand, Hardt and Negri point to biopolitical labor-power as “becoming more and more autonomous, with capital simply hovering over it parasitically with its disciplinary regimes, apparatuses of capture, mechanisms of expropriation, financial networks, and the like” (142).  Were it not for the increasingly autonomous biopower, this so-called parasitical aspect of Capital  projects a villainous entity whose mere presence threatens.


  1. Our emotional response to capital takes up interesting binaries in your discussion, Eder. We are either evil/good, Iago/Othello, Exploiter/Exploited, Capitalist/Laborer.

    Yet, if we ascribe to the theory that Iago is motivated by his jealousy of Othello’s advancement over his own, it is precisely the “exploitation of the worker” that inspires Iago to “get-back” at Othello. A stretch? Yes. But it is labor practices that ultimately bring about this conflict.

    The conflict, too, is demonstrated on stage by the labor practices, in that the entire stage business with the handkerchief and the pillow represent the material work of the women in the play. The strife that the men bring from the workplace uses that products of the women’s workplace to create the drama of the play.

    So, whether Capital is Good or Bad, Iago or Othello (or some exchange there in between these binaries) ultimately depends on where you are within that system.

  2. I guess I have a hard time personifying capital as a villian. H&N write that "Marx reveals that capital is really a process of the creation of surplus value" and that he "develops this insight one step further to discover that in its essence capital is a social relation..." (Metamorphosis of the Composition of Capital, 136). So capital itself is a process, not an entity. For me, anyway, that doesn't lend itself well to personification or describing capital as an entity. I do, however, believe that exploitation (the process) is itself evil.


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