Squaring Nietzsche and Marx: language and capital as social ossification (via Aaron Asphar: poetry, critical theory + philosophy)

Marx’s analysis of production ranks amongst the most thorough and forensic in Western thought, yet for him ‘language’ was a relatively marginal concern. It was theoretically addressed, but not subjected to the kind of interrogation he applied to categories such as labour, money and commodity. Other Marxists addressed language more squarely. An early contribution comes from Engels (1972, p.254), for whom “the explanation of the origin of language…[in] labour is the only correct one”. The work of Vološinov (1973) is often cited as the most significant Marxist contribution to language (Eagleton 1977, p.101: Lecercle 2004, p.105: Williams 1977, p.35). It contains a historical materialist re-thinking of linguistics, in which the sign-world is regarded as superstructure, and the sign is understood as a dynamic social phenomenon, constitutive of both language and consciousness (1973, p.11-18). His account goes some way beyond Marx, straying in particular from the emphasis on sentient being we find in Marx’s earlier work, which hadn’t been publised when Vološinov produced his original Russian text in 1929. On the whole, Marxist theorists have tended to regard language as subsequent to more ‘fundamental’ categories – work, alienation, exchange and so forth – or have been interested in it insofar is it conducts economic forces, or mediates hegemonic or ideological processes (Althusser 1970: Gramsci 1971: Barthes 1993). While these endeavors have their merits, it seems possible to go back to Marx’s account of ‘the human’ and develop within this framework a perspective in which ‘language’ is not dissociated from ‘material production’. After all, language is a pre-eminently communal, socially ubiquitous human product, and a pervasive means of production. I want to explore this possibility, and perhaps surprisingly, turn to Nietzsche as my starting point.

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via Aaron Asphar: poetry, critical theory + philosophy

A Conversation Around Nietzsche Between a Stoic and a Sceptic


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