The following is a guest post by pomegrenade, a dissertator in Comparative Literature, and state school teacher in upstate New York, who is starting to set foot on the shores outside the academy...
Let me start with the end of the first scene from Jean Genet’s The Screens--as it kept coming back to me while reading Spivak on Marx, for which I had to constantly defer the preparation I had to do for a Wednesday class on Genet’s play. In this scene, Said and his mother, very poor Algerians in the period immediately before the war of liberation, are carrying a suitcase of dough to the house of Said’s prospective wife, for the wedding. The end of the scene comes with a frantic/incestuous(?) dance of mother and son in a state of exhaustion from the long walk carrying the dough in the hot sun:
SAID: Take a look at my mother, see how beautiful and proud she is beneath her sweat and on her high heels! THE MOTHER keeps smiling and dancing. You’re beautiful. I’ll carry the valise. Whee!...
He imitates lightning. He reaches for the valise, but THE MOTHER grabs it first. A brief struggle. They burst out laughing, imitate thunder and lightning. The valise falls to the ground and opens, and everything falls out: it was empty. SAID and THE MOTHER fall to the ground and sit there roaring with laughter.
The scene’s effect appears fully when we realize that the “empty valise” they’ve been carrying all along is the “dough” for Leila, the prospective wife, who is the most “wretched” woman in town, ugly, useless etc., and who only falls to the share of the poor Said. This scene takes us back to exchange, of woman for dough, the "oscillation" and the uncertainty of value, as we can’t see what’s in the suitcase being snatched between the mother and son, till the last moment… when it’s revealed in all its spectrality, as the necessarily empty form of exchange, the burdensome accompaniment to all sociality.
In connection to the rest of the play, the scene is further overdetermined by colonial as well as capitalist relations: Said’s decision to go to France to work in a coalmine to earn a larger sum for the dough (which he cannot earn by working in a French-owned agri-business in Algeria), so he can re-marry a better woman, etc. Not only is there no relation (family or sexual) untainted by exchange value, moreover exchange immediately implies the involvement of the Third World (labor) in the cycle of unequal exchange.
It’s around here that I locate the most radical moment of Spivak’s argument in “Scattered Speculations,” that is, her opening of the “chain of value” to an indeterminate outside, constituted in part by the Third World’s precarious implication in capitalism. Here I’ll try to explore this opening she finds in Marx and subsequently develops further, an opening I call the invaluable.
First, some context: I basically read “Speculations” alongside “Ghostwriting” (which I’d read before) and found the former much more radical than the latter, so chronology is defied in this sense. It seems as though she is keener about the “margins” of Marx when she is reading for herself (and against some Marxists and literary critics, such as ...?) than when her exclusive purpose is to settle accounts with Derrida. In the latter case her attitude is more conservative.
To be more precise, it’s interesting to note the different ways she tackles the same passage from Capital volume 3 that’s quoted in both articles. (I’m suggesting this passage not simply for a comparison, but more for what the comparison leads to.) It is discussed on pages 74-75 of “Ghostwriting” and page 79 of “Speculations”:
If surplus labor and surplus product are also reduced, to the degree needed under the given conditions of production, on the one hand to form an insurance and reserve fund, on the other hand for the constant expansion of reproduction in the degree determined by social need; if finally, both (1) the necessary labor and (2) the surplus labor are taken to include the amount of labor that those capable of work must perform for those members of the society not yet capable, or no longer capable of working--i.e. if both wages and surplus-value, necessary labor as well as surplus labor are stripped out of their specifically capitalist character--then nothing of these forms remains, but simply those bases of the forms that are common to all social modes of production. (Marx 1016)
In “Ghostwriting,” where Spivak gives the quotation in its entirety, she does not really offer an analysis, but utilizes the quotation, like many other examples, to make the case, contra Derrida, that Marx does not think on basis of the duality between use and exchange; that in fact he utilizes the very spectrality or abstraction that the worker goes through in the process of socialization of production which “predicates” him/her as labor-power. In other words, the lesson for Derrida is that Marx’s whole notion of labor power, and hence agency and consciousness, is implicated in the circuit of exchange and the abstraction it involves. Inverting Hegel’s non-sensous sensous, Marx treats labor power, along with money, as the sensuous non-sensuous, or concrete abstract.
This point, which is the central argument in “Ghostwriting,” corresponds to only one of the series of moments elaborated in “Speculations.” More specifically, “Ghostwriting” leaves us on the first arrow of the “value chain” that is elaborated extensively in the former essay--namely the relation of “representation” between value and money. The whole point being to demonstrate the full awareness in Marx’s writing of the irretrievability of use value or a notion of labor power outside of the capitalist exchange (which is also part of production) circuit. In “Speculations,” however, the notion of value will be (why future?) dealt with in a way that brings all the notions of “necessary labor,” “surplus labor,” “use value of labor” to question and erasure in a much more radical way.
Even so, and before discarding “Ghostwriting” too quickly, it is worth noting the parallel between Spivak’s text and Negri’s reading of the Grundrisse in Marx Beyond Marx (another ten years back). I read through his second and fourth chapters, where he deals basically with Marx’s chapter on money, with a similar attention and intention to spectrality, which in his treatment is the haunting of the money form by antagonism. The arbitrariness of exchange value, or what Marx calls the necessary “oscillation” as market value tries to equate itself with real value, is the sign of the structurally unequal exchange between labor and capital in Negri’s reading.
Spivak also focuses on the inadequation of exchange value, as well as the super-adequation of labor power to itself, but she never refers this oscillation to a real value, or an antagonism in the real (sounds completely Lacanian to me). I think she agrees with Negri on the point that the proposal by utopian socialists or Proudhonians, to restore use value or set up a “philosophical justice” between capital and labor, is to overlook the implication of the notion of value as such, as measurability, within the capital logic. Value is money, as they both put it.
But the difference comes when Negri carries this to the political implication that all value must be abolished. The passing criticism of Negri’s zerowork in “Speculations” (80) I think is knotted around Negri’s certainty about what constitutes “antagonism in the real.” While Negri is led from the contradictions in the value chain (monetary crisis) to antagonism in the real, Spivak emphasizes that instead of contradictions she finds discontinuity, or indeterminacy, in the value chain, and so makes an argument about the textuality of (economic) value. That textual chain does not directly lead to the antagonism, but opens onto exteriority, or the invaluable, on both sides.
Let’s note in passing how the same quotation Spivak uses to exemplify a “radical instance” in Marx in “Ghostwriting” actually becomes a moment of Marx’s “narrowing down” in “Speculations”:
It is not perhaps altogether fanciful to call this situation of open-endedness an insertion into textuality. The more prudent notion of associated labor in maximized social productivity working according to “those foundations of the forms that are common to all social modes of production” is an alternative that restricts the force of such an insertion [Capital III 1016]. (79)
Though she doesn’t quote the whole passage here she is obviously critical of it, and this becomes clearer further down as she complicates the notion of socially necessary labor (which is at the core of Marx’s passage) by playing it against affectively necessary labor. The latter notion renders indeterminate the predication of labor power such that it “can no longer be seen as the excess of surplus labor over socially necessary labor.” One of the possible concrete references the term affectively necessary labor implies is women’s domestic labor, where care-taking, the invaluable, is both part of and outside the production cycle . (Could one also include intellectual labor, maybe, as well as other forms of immaterial labor involving “forms of sociability” etc.?) The incalculable part of value thus questions “in yet another way” the mere philosophical justice of capital logic “without being refuted by varieties of utopianism and idealism” (80).
So, on one side the chain Value -> Money -> Capital opens onto the heterogeneity of use value as a private grammar. For me this is the text’s most radical moment. Spivak goes on to criticize Marxist feminism for its crude treatment of the relation between the sphere of reproduction and capitalist production. The issue calls for a more intricate move than simple incorporation, or legitimization of the domestic within an expanded capital logic, such as by demanding salaries for women’s housework.
On the other “end” the chain opens onto the realization of money as value, through consumption, which is a process of withdrawal of the commodity from the exchange circuit. Once again, the chain at the side of capital accumulation relates to an outside on which it depends. Or the chain is rendered heterogeneous in its strict dependence on elements that are not part of it for its functioning.
I also find her formulation on page 83 excellent, where she maintains that the question for Marx is not an ontological or phenomenological one of “What is value?” He is not concerned with the coining, or the originary emergence, of value. His concern is rather with moments of separation from the value chain: when and how does labor get separated from capital logic (through reproduction, affective labor, Third World labor, precarious work, etc.)? Similarly, how does the commodity become separated at the moment of consumption as gratification?
Does the precarious or the invaluable haunt capitalism as the specter of a specter?