Sunday, October 14, 2012


  Out of Marx’s first Parisian residence, there survives a set of notes and excerpts, which were discovered in Holland and published in 1932 by the Soviet scholar, David Ryazanov (who was shot by Stalin for his pains).  Christened by the Soviet Institute of Marxism-Leninism  Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, the Pariser Manuskripte were widely read in Germany after the war and left a profound impression on the generation that reached its political maturity in Berlin and the West German cities of 1968.  They are early drafts, of course, of the great compendium to out-Hegel Hegel that survives in its most lengthy form in Capital.   Their focus is money, rather than, as in later works, its anterior or underlying reality, which Marx thought of as alienated or stolen labour.  Yet they preserve, in the freshest and most affectionate form, the kernel of Marx’s view of society, which is close to that of Proudhon:  that a social system that evaluated men and women in terms of money and made morality a function of credit was unworthy of the human being.  Society is quite simply deranged:

“Private property has made us so stupid that an object is only ours  when we have it, when it exists for us as capital or when it is directly eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc., in short utilised  in some way . . . . All the physical and intellectual senses have been replaced by . . . .  the sense of having.”

  Or from the same manuscript, numbered 3 by the editors:

“Man becomes increasingly poor as a man; he has increasing need of money  in order to take possession of a hostile nature; and the power of his money  diminishes exactly in inverse proportion to the increase in production:  in other words, money  increases his neediness.  The need for money is therefore the real need created by the modern economic system, and the only need which it creates.  The quantity  of money becomes increasingly its sole important attribute.  Just as it reduces every entity to an abstraction, so it reduces itself in its own development to a quantitative entity.  Excess and immoderation become its true standard.  The expansion of production and of needs becomes an ingenious and always calculating subservience to inhuman, depraved, unnatural and imaginary appetites.  Private property does not know how to change crude need into human need; its idealism is fantasy, caprice and fancy.”

  In these manuscripts, one hears, not for the last time from Marx, the authentic voice of the Quixote:  that the world of money is a phantasmagoria, and one must ride out to break lances with it, astride the bony charger of philosophy and helmed with political economy (though the helmet appears, to the philistines, to be a barber’s basin.)"

James Buchan, Frozen Desire – The Meaning of Money, New York, Farar Straus Giroux, 1997, pp. 200-01.


Reading this passage in Frozen Desire prompted intense and odd feelings of nostalgia -- very odd because nostalgia is something I rarely experience.  I remember college dormitory rooms, lecture rooms and friends' voices.  I remember knowing little, fearing much, and not knowing what fear really was.  I think I had sound instincts concerning quality, worth and value, but I couldn't tell walls from bridges.  

The Pete Seeger song below, which I've always loved for its broad applicability and click-clack-slotted-in train sound, seems appropriate here, but I wish I could lighten the mood by including Peter Blegvad's song of innocence and experience Card For Bernard.  Unfortunately, along with Crumb de la Crumb and most of this fine artist's recorded work, he remains largely ignored by the youtube community.  Oh well -- I'll include Special Delivery instead.  Although I experienced it much later than the schooldays memories it summons, it is pertinent.  And it does mention Vincent Price, a relevant touchstone, fine actor and great man.

Pete Seeger: Waist Deep In The Big Muddy (Link)  

Peter Blegvad: Special Delivery (Link) 


  1. Curtis,

    Brilliant post this. And...

    Well, my own independent research project of over seventy years' duration has yielded the inescapable conclusion that society IS quite simply deranged.

    So it seems the lot of us (Karl, you, me, the Don) are on the same page and under the same cloud, here, in Dogpatch.

    Now that I have been rendered a helpless cripple (well, even more helpless than before, if that were possible) by the irreparable blunt force trauma incurred when run over just outside our house by a motorist (quite simply insane, but with a Chinese family efficiently closing around her to ward off liability -- never underestimate the adversarial intelligence of our historical and cultural superiors!), I have learned all over again that I understand NOTHING about money and its meaning and use.

    Multiple agencies are squeezing me like a spent lemon for every thin dime to pay off gigantic bills incurred when helpless in public "hands", so I am looking more closely than one probably ought, at those thin dimes.

    Tonight a public transit driver rejected a soiled and torn dollar I had attempted to enter into the maw of the fare box on the grounds that it was ripped.

    Once I had staggered home and lain down long enough to mount the energy, I scotch-taped the dollar back into one piece, an exercise that yielded ample opportunity to reflect upon my total and incurable (too late now) ignorance as to the meaning and nature of money.

    BUT what I REALLY meant to say was that after 84 minutes of intense searching for the Peter Blegvad tune to which you so intriguingly refer, I ran up against the same conclusion as yours re. its nonavailability.

    Though -- and what would Karl think of this -- one CAN acquire it from something called E-tunes.

    For forty-nine cents.

    And now I find I cannot detach either torn half of my reject dollar in order to spend it on that tune. Don Quixote will never learn. But at least he's got a horse, however slow and old -- anything at all that could provide locomotion of any kind would beat this dysfunctional East Bay bus "system".

  2. Hi Tom. So much so distressing in your news. But thank you for liking this. I really should have thanked you in digital print for the James Buchan introduction. Lately (for the past couple of months) I've been beset and self-besieged in a new round of job hunting and just trying to scare up opportunities and then collect payment. It's had me in a bad humor, despite all sorts of countervailing factors, which have helped a bit. But I shouldn't get started on that now -- I will later and for the mean time will continue to abstractly blogspeak. Card For
    Bernard is a droll, really uplifting Blegvad tune whose lyrics are probably available (for free) online. Or I'll send you the cd it appears on, Downtime, which is tremendous and a testament to what an "industry-marginal" artist can accomplish during the "remnant" midnight-and-post hours in a recording studio. I appeared in the early 1990s after his superb King Strut release on Silvertone and prior to Just Woke Up, which is also excellent. The last track on Downtime is Crumb de la Crumb, another examination of the life and fate of the industry-marginal artist and his work. It's a great record and I'm happy probably to know the only 15-year old Peter Blegvad fan in the world. Curtis

  3. Curtis,

    Well, thank you very much.

    It's so rare these (or any) days to discover a well turned comic lyric, and even rarer when the minstrelsy and the humour actually seem to get better with age. But there you have it. Peter Blegvad.

    Enjoying Downtime very much indeed, and also being kept engaged by what I've now turned up of the man's work down through the years.

    I love, for instance, the wonderfully intelligent rhyming on "Cote d'Azur", here.

    And I had thought these were lost arts!

  4. I can fill you in further on Peter Blegvad's music and artwork from Slapp Happy days to the present. He's terrific. Years before I discovered Blegvad's work for myself, the English musician Kevin Ayers stayed with us for extended periods on several occasions at our apartment in Brooklyn Heights, which had sort of a guest room. Blegvad, who was back in the US for a couple of years, would occasionally call our place trying to reach Kevin, whom he knew from London. Kevin's pretty anti-social and had a sort of self-destructive set of pecking order values and often didn't choose to be reachable, which I found funny; Peter was so polite and pleasant-sounding. Anyway, once I asked Kevin, whose work I admire unreservedly (especially the Shooting At The Moon lp) what he thought the best record ever made was. He replied immediately Desperate Straights by Slappy Happy, Blegvad's band. So life was and is funny. (And I personally prefer Acnalbasac Noom.) Andy the dachshund's coming home from the hospital today, so I'm going to try to keep things on an upswing here. With luck it won't be windy and I'll be able to blow the leaves away without them blowing back in my face. Curtis