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[xmca] fetishism

Marx says:

   "There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes,
   in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In
   order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the
   mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the
   productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed
   with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the
   human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products
   of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to
   the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities,
   and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities."

It seems to me that if meaning is not an act carried out using an artefact such as a word or gesture, which is then "endowed" with meaning, then, like linguistists we must assume that the word "contains" or "has" meaning, just as a commodity "has" value. (Thanks to good old Moses Hess for this insight.) Then, to use Marx's phrase, we "make language into an independent realm."

In your book, Martin, you do a passably good job of explaining this. When you say that "Marx's method was to take a single but central unit of the society of his time, the commodity form. ..." you seem, like me, to be taking the "commodity form" as a /unit of a social formation/, not of a thing. Can a unit of any social formation be anything other than actions or activities?

Martin Packer wrote:
I'm still not seeing your argument, Andy. A word is not a natural object, of course. No more than is a commodity. I haven't claimed that, nor does Vygotsky. I thought you were trying to argue that word-meaning must be an act. Are you suggesting that the commodity-form is an act?

Think about it this way. We accept Marx's analysis of the commodity, including the fact that it has a form, and an internal contradiction between two kinds of value. It has these characteristics, of course, by virtue of its constitution in human society, in social practices. But a newborn baby recognizes none of these characteristics. Marx doesn't tell us how a child comes to grasp them. That remains an untold developmental story. To tell that story we don't to rehash what Marx's analysis has already made clear. We focus instead on the child.

LSV, similarly, is not directly interested in how human language evolved, or how a language is maintained by a community of speakers. In other words, he does not analyze how words have come to have inner form, or how that form changes historically. He tells us enough to establish the fact that the form does exist, and that it does change. He is focused, rather, on the ways in which a child comes to be a full participant in the world of human language and, in consequence, of human thought.

On Apr 22, 2011, at 7:56 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

You demonstrate my point exactly, Martin.
The commodity form is a relationship between people mediated by an artifact., not a thing.

Martin Packer wrote:

I don't see the logic of your argument. In Capital, the unit of analysis was the commodity, or to be more accurate the 'commodity form.' The commodity is a unit of production, and a unit of consumption. One might say that in it one finds the 'unity' of production and consumption. Production is an activity (leaving aside questions of the definition of that term). Consumption is an activity. But a commodity is not an activity. So how does the fact that LSV read Capital provide a basis for arguing that word-meaning is an act?

On Apr 21, 2011, at 11:38 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

It's 2:30am here so I will be brief and alas leave the discussion for a few hours.

 "LSV nowhere suggests that word meaning is an act."

I really don't know where to go with this. Is speaking an activity, is thinking an activity? Is meaningful speech an activity? Is "word meaning" a unit of verbal thought and meaningful speech? I think all of the conundrums of Kant and Frege and Saussure and everyone else you mention will fade away if you say instead that word meaning is an act (or action). LSV was not a Kantian or a French Structuralist, but a Marxist. You know, he had read "Theses on Feuerbach" and "Capital." I am reminded of the point Anna Sfard mentioned about reification.


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