Gimwali. {I}


Teaching without students
writing without fame
is hard.

It's nice to go out mornings
With the freshly written sheets
To the waiting printer, through the buzzing market-
place where they sell meat and appliances
You sell phrases.

- Bertolt Brecht.

No society can for any length of time remain master of its own production and continue to control the social effects of its process of production, unless it abolishes exchange between individuals.

- Friedrich Engels.



I meet a woman at a demonstration - she's involved with a program that sends books to prison inmates, so I show her one of my books and her first reaction is, "What kind of book is this?" Then I tell her about my pricing system; that I adjust my prices according to the buyer's ability to pay: for books, $5.00 if you're unemployed, $20.00 for Institutions, $40.00 if you're rich; free for prison inmates, on demand. And $200.00 for rich assholes, which is going to put me in a bind with Bernie Madoff since he's rich, an inmate, and an asshole to boot.

And the woman grabs my book and says, "I'll pass it on;" And I grab it back. If she doesn't like my book why pass it on to others? Why send the inmates something they may not want to begin with? When I say "free on demand" I mean just that: not just that I don't price my books or lectures based on the reader or the student's ability to pay; I base them on their interest, and how much paying means to them. The jails are full of folks who've learned the price of walking off with something just because it happens to be there; and the best are those who are still trying to figure out what's worth having; trying to break loose from Freedom and Democracy, the Freedom to choose whatever you want so long as whatever you want is chosen for you, but you know, Democratically. Instead, why not help inmates and the others break loose from the fantasy that folks are naturally, spontaneously drawn to goodies like flies to shit? For it is a fundamental law of Capital that folks are spontaneously attracted to getting stuff that someone else says they want. (Eat shit. Fifty billion flies couldn't be wrong.) And it's a fundamental law of capitalist Culture that folks spontaneously like art and books and music, the one exception being poor people and inmates who are poor and inmates because they don't buy stuff and therefore don't go to museums or read or go to concerts. There has to be a better way.



The years immediately following World War One were very good for rethinking the fundamental flaws in the Fundamental Laws of Capital. Could it be the matter of revolutions, attempted revolutions, and the crushing of revolutions that hadn't even begun, in Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, China or the USA? In 1923-24 a French anthropologist, Marcel Mauss, published his master-article, "The Gift," based on anthropological research and historical research but with a very clear message for the present and the future: economic exchanges don't trade cash alone, they're bound to involve a wide, a very wide range of goods: affection, obligations, symbolic capital. Buying and selling: it's not just Economics any more, and never has been.

Because economic exchanges involve a wide range of cultural implications and affects, they, like all the rest of culture, are the place where contradictory cultural and psychic needs are reconciled - balanced, if never satisfied: "Everything engendered by civilisation is double-sided, double-tongued, self-contradictory and antagonistic." [Engels]. Mauss argued that Bolsheviks who tried to abolish oppression by suppressing the outer, economic trappings of exchanges had missed the mark: economic exchanges are part and parcel of something far deeper: "The recognition of a community of interests such as these leads to the growth of emotional ties between the members of a united group of people - communal feelings[gemeinshaftsgefühle] which are the true source of its strength." Those lines are Sigmund Freud's, by the way, for whom, just as for Engels, the ties engendered by culture were in no way ties of love and affection alone; nor, obviously, were "subsistence" and "pleasure," as defined by utilitarian capitalism, the only needs that psychoanalysts recognized. Much of the misreading of Freud's position on Marxism comes from his placing himself, like Mauss, between two extremes: on the one hand the bolshevik call for the immediate abolition of a complex economic system; on the other, the utilitarian capitalist fantasy that the economic system is nothing more than self-interest at work, a denial of culture and the contradictory claims of the self. (For there to be a War of One Against All there has to be a One, nicht wahr? That's always been the hardest part of Freud for positivists of all stripes.) Rather than "abolish" the market economy, Mauss called for "a European market economy that would reintroduce features of a gift economy," just as Freud, later on, would argue that if war could not be abolished at least the psychic and cultural conflicts that led to war could be negotiated in the realm of reciprocal exchanges, cultural, economic, and both. Unknowingly, Freud agreed with Marx and Engels that all forms of cultural behavior, including the economic, are over-determined; and his criticism of Marxism is focused on that particular point, the monist fallacy that if all of social life originates in a single drive then all we need to do is modify that drive in order to change society forever. Freud disagreed with most Marxists as to how that drive or rather, those drives, should be defined; but he was in close agreement with Mauss and other socialists who dismissed back-to-back the utopia of "selfless communism" and the dystopia of capitalist self-interest. "The Eternal War of One against All?" That's Hobbes, not Freud. "War is over if you want it?" That's not Marx, that's Yoko Ono. "All you need is love?" Gimme a break.

- PW.