Archive for July 16th, 2009

Your Questions Answered

In response to a reader who asked: the ‘crumpled monstrosity’ tagline is derived from a passage in Capital, in which Marx talks about how manufacture converts the worker into a ‘crippled monstrosity’, ‘by furthering his particular skill as in a forcing-house, through the suppression of a whole world of productive drives and inclinations, just as in the states of La Plata they butcher a whole beast for the sake of his tallow. Not only is the specialized work distributed among the different individuals, but the individual himself is divided up, and transformed into the automatic motor of a detail operation, thus realizing the absurd fable of Menenius Agrippa, which presents man as a mere fragment of his own body’.

There’s a substantial difference between the debilitating effect of the physical exertions of manufacturing work of the type Marx was detailing, and the effect of the mental contortions of having to manipulate signs and symbols that is my lot, and even though I am still transformed into the automatic motor of a detail operation, I am not transformed into a physical cripple, so I use ‘crumpled’ instead, which I consider more quizzical and temporary, and also to prevent people from thinking I really am a cripple.

In the same passage, Marx says that just as the ‘chosen people bore in their features the sign they were the property of Jehovah, so the division of labour brands the manufacturing worker as the property of capital’. However, the point seems to be concentrated on the outwardly visible physical effects of the division of labour.

But it is not only manufacturing workers who are the property of capital. In a police line-up, could you see that I too am the property of capital (leaving to one side the question of whether police line-ups these days might ever contain persons who are not the property of capital)? What mark, in such a line-up, would ever distinguish a worker like me from a hedge fund manager? I doubt there is any. What about distinguishing garments? Previous generations of male industrial proletarians wore peaked caps: a mark of distinction from their bosses. Now, the CEO of the investment bank wants to dress pretty much like me, and I must dress pretty much like him, if I am to continue to sell my labour-power. Now, it appears we are all in this together.

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July 2009
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