Franke Seminar: Karl Marx’s Capital
The book, Capital, has arguably accomplished in the last couple centuries more than any other book has. It has taught workers to understand their place in the economy, started (and ended) revolutions, fundamentally changed social forms and discourse about social forms, and illuminated the political thinking of philosophers, politicians, artists, students, and oppressed groups of all kinds in Latin America, Africa, the East, the West, and wherever else you place the global meridians. A more influential book written in the last 200 years would be hard to find.
In the seminar we will study Marx’s powerful analysis, Capital: Toward a critique of political economy, Volume 1, which gives a compelling picture of an international economic and social system, the system, you might argue, within which we live. The book identifies five basic mysteries that shape us and our social world. The mysteries are: why social classes struggle against one another, why people are enthralled by things, how a certain quantity of money turns into more money without adding anything, why some people have to work and the more they work the less they make, and finally, what prevents the world from changing for the better.
Understanding this book means finding answers to these questions, among many others. If you want to know why there is so much scarcity and suffering amid extreme abundance, if you want to know why technology determines your daily life ever more profoundly, if you want to know how our clock got divided into hours, our years into weeks and weekends, and our lives into productive and unproductive sides, if you wonder when the climate disaster got as bad as it did, or why Europeans stole human beings in africa and sold them in the new world, if you are asking how the division of labor in a bourgeois household got established such that women, for centuries and in many places in the world still, and also still in many cases in the US, do the unpaid labor required to reproduce life — all these questions too are raised and answered, in particular ways.
Our work in the class will consist mainly in slow, attentive reading of the text. We will read for basic concepts and think through the controversies around the way Marx formulated those concepts. We will read for the rhetorical and literary gestures and devices that make these thoughts, not least of which is Marx’s ripping irony. Finally, we will not choose among a philosophical, economic, sociological, or historical way of reading, framework, or discipline. For a phenomenon that is too big to understand, the world-system in its interconnections, this book is too big to fit into a single discipline or method. The project will require openness to discourses foreign in style and epoch, and imagination enough to fill in where our understanding, and Marx’s, meet their limits.
Paul North writes and teaches on literature and other media, inental philosophy, literary and critical theory.
He is most interested in the afterlives of Kantian critical thought, deconstruction, literary theory, and poetry and poetics in a variety of languages and traditions. Authors he works on include Plato and Aristotle, Neo-Platonic systems, Nicholas of Cusa, the French 17th century, D. Hume, I. Kant, F. Hölderlin, F. Schelling, the Jena Romantics, British Romanticism, F. Nietzsche, and several clusters from the 19th to mid 20thcentury such as the cluster around phenomenology—Brentano, Husserl, Heidegger, Benjamin, Kafka, Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida—or that around the concept of time—Bergson, Proust, Heidegger, Einstein—or that around “other modes of experience”—Baudelaire, Freud, Benjamin, Huxley, Borges, Juan Rulfo, César Aira—or that around German-Jewish thought—Mendelssohn, Maimon, Varnhagen, Schlegel, Rosenzweig, Buber, Scholem. Theoretical style is an area of interest as well, and Prof. North is happy to work with students in a variety of genres and styles, to expand the parameters of what we call critique.