Friday, January 15, 2010

I have in my possession (smug old me...) a life size photocopy of Marx's 3rd 1844 manuscripts. This was part of research I started around 1981 (I published an essay in Rethinking Marxism journal on this research in 2004). Long ago I backed each page together and stuck them, and then turned them all into a big booklet. They are large pages and the faces are divided by Marx into (generally) two columns on which he has scrawled his characteristic hard to decipher writing (with his strange descending characters). You must read the text landscape with the hand sewn binding at the top.

I used to handle this and stare at it. It is not as unusual in structure as the 1st MS, but it is still unusual. A while ago I noticed the ink blots. Marx's pen left quite a few pools of varying densities, as well as swipes where he has wiped them, usually by accident.

Sometimes the blots went completely through the page and stained the other side. These blotches proved to me something empirically which I also thought from the rationale of the subject matter. Marx wrote this text in this way as it was planned and not in a haphazard manner just adding columns one after the other. The columns were meant to meet up and be juxtaposed at certain points given what was being stated by the words in each of them.

This has become a moot point in scholarship on Marx. You might say it is even repressed. Marx's works are meant to be taken like Bibles, as a long story in conventional form (at least). So publishers prefer to ignore this aspect of the MS and repeatedly put the text into conventional pages. It is also difficult for them to do anything else logistically, of course.

But some comrades say that this is after all easier for 'practical political purposes'. I disagree. The 1844 manuscripts are not, after all, minor election pamphlets, they are works of profound insight into the fundamental workings of capital and society and its philosophical view of itself. They are also a 'working out' and contain a kind of 'eureka' moment. It is necessary to understand Marx especially at this crucial point. What's more, the 1844 MS maintain a mystique precisely because of their poetic and unusual nature. Why the effort to diminish this and render it 'practical political'? If being 'practical political' means to dissolve this radical and deep aspect into the sea of the ordinary? To hell with it! for it is not really very practical or very politically aware to do that, is it?

I will take this opportunity to point up that I have recently been rushed (a bit) by an upsurge of this attitude to bring out the hypertext EBook version of Marx's 1844 Manuscripts (which I made freely available on the web here years ago

…). This new text reveals, probably in a better way, the columnar structure and pagination, but it can also be read conventionally, yet without prioritizing which column comes first (which is very important). EBooks have this capacity, which at least is a benefit for that mode of reading. It is available for the mobipocket reader but is best seen on a PC because it needs a wide screen. See here:

A materialist philosophical position means that we ought to take more note of such cultural objects as, yes, material objects, not just as repositories of 'floating meanings'.