Marx’s Grundrisse is a set of notebooks. Sometimes the sentences themselves are merely short points, in the way we all make notes at times. There are digressions into detail which may be ignored. It is the substance which is of great interest and discovering how Marx worked out his ideas.
There are moments while reading of profound illumination. Great questions arise from what on the surface appear to be simple things; for example, what is money?
When Marx writes:
‘If I must pay 24 livres 12 sous, then accounting money presents 24 units of one sort and 12 of another, while in reality I shall pay in the form of two material pieces: a gold coin worth 24 livres and a silver coin worth 12 sous.
A vivid mental image was conjured up of Marx’s hand, in which he held a gold coin and a silver coin. And then placed them on his desk, observed them once more and continued with his writing.
Perhaps it was the introduction of the first person into a book of intense theoretical abstraction, dipped into a sea of Hegelian ideas, that momentarily changed the whole tone and voice.
This first reading is the quarrying of stone. Big lumps are being broken off the mass of stone but it will need chisel and hammer to knock those lumps into shapes that will start to have meaning. The process of quarrying is visible and physical.
This is being accompanied by a recurring thought that is also difficult to understand. Someone has recently died.
There was a lot of death around the time of Covid. It felt difficult to process all those deaths at the time, to come to terms with funerals without friends, no last goodbyes, the general disconnection of the fragility of some social relationships.
This particular death has got inside me. If they had lived one more day they might be listening to The Personal History of David Copperfield on the radio. It felt as if we were half way through a conversation that now will never finish.
If they had lived a little longer we could have walked along the shore by the sea, listening to the waves thumping onto the shingle beach, hissing as the water races back into the ocean. Watching the creamy foamy surf making kaleidoscopic patterns in the slowly swirling water before the next wave crashes in.
The active consciousness of life isn’t taken seriously within capitalist society. There is constant pressure to reduce sensory existence to fast food, junk consumption, the extraction of labour-power, the despotism of money, the scatter gun intensity of rapidly moving images, petty rules and regulations, property-protective law, screaming, shrill, lying politicians.
It’s worth sticking with the intensity of the Grundrisse. As always with Marx, he is not just discussing ‘economic’ categories; he is really talking about life itself.
I went to the supermarket and looked at the prices of the commodities on the shelf. Thinking about how much money I had in my pocket, and then at the check-out the exchange of the money-commodity for the food-commodity.
It only took a few moments. The check out worker and I chatted about the weather. I exchanged £11.05 but we didn’t talk about that, or what it represented, other than its description as a measure.
But a measure of what exactly?