MARX on Nature

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Here are some thought-in-progress on thinking nature via dialectical materialist histories:

“[N]ature, the nature that preceded human history, … is nature which today no longer exists anywhere” [Marx 1845, The German Ideology, Section/ Ch 2, “Feuerbach’s Contemplative and Inconsistent Materialism”]

What Marx is saying here is simply that there is no “essence” of nature, no primary, originary, discoverable natural ground; nature is nothing more than its engagements through time, with humans and non-humans, its practical and theoretical conjurations. Nature comes to be in, and via, the passage of time, it is not timeless or transcendent. Nature comes to be with and through entanglements with the human, the animal, the inorganic, the artificial, etc, not in opposition to them. It is not to be thought of in a relationship of purity to their impurity, original innocence to their fallen corruption. Nature is never purely, simply, transparently “presented” to our innermost being, as the romantics (the daffodils flashing upon Wordsworth’s inner eye) and transcendentalists (cf Richard grusin, on the American transcendentalists and nature) would have it. Nature does not exist in a timeless present, always spread out and available to the possessing eye of the surveyor, the geographer, the explorer, the tourist. [Here I refer to two decades of feminist work on geography]. Nature is always already entangled; indeed even to talk about a “natural” entangled with “artifice” or a “nature” with “culture” misses the mark, misrepresents the situation, because it suggests that these are at some time pre-formed objects/ concepts which are at some later time brought into interaction, like billiard balls on a Newtonian table-top. Rather, nature, culture, the human, the animal and so on come into being (never statically, always re-becoming) via these entanglements. Nature is always social, but that means different configurations, different conjurations, at different times, and depending on how we are positioned when we look at this process, when we talk about it.

[Canadian marxist-feminist Michelle Murphy works on the politics of becoming, on distributed ontologies.]

[Derrida, in La difference, trans Alan Bass, Margins of Philosophy “what is put into question is precisely the quest for a rightful beginning, an absolute point of departure, a principal responsibility.” Brian Rotman: " ... how are we to escape form the sedimented legitimacy and beguiling immediacy of the "natural"? [Ad Infinitum , p 6]

""He [Feuerbach] does not see how the sensuous world around him is … an historical product … Even the objects of the simplest “sensuous certainty” are only given him through social development, industry and commercial intercourse. The cherry-tree, like almost all fruit-trees, was, as is well known, only a few centuries ago transplanted by commerce into our zone, and therefore only by this action of a definite society in a definite age it has become “sensuous certainty” for Feuerbach.""

[Marx 1845, The German Ideology, Section/ Ch 2, “Feuerbach’s Contemplative and Inconsistent Materialism”]

P 98 in Signifying Nothing, Brian Rotman explaining Derrida: “Derrida’s thesis is that all such binary orderings are misplaced and illusory and that the priorities they take for granted must be dismantled and overturned. His strategy is to deconstruct each of these oppositions, to read texts depending on and structured around them, and show, through a certain mode of textual attention, that what at first appears as the privileged originating term is as secondary and dependent as the minor term it supposedly gives rise to. P 99 .. [what is not said, found :] In the significance of the text’s silences, gaps, hidden denials and disavowals, in its excesses and circumlocutions, in the breaks and continuities of its narrative, in what the text avoids and what it insists on, in its apparently ‘neutral’ choices of metaphor, and so on.”

Rotman reads Derrida’s use of monetary metaphors (devaluation, inflation, etc) P 99 : “where in the field of money signs does logocentrism, that is the metaphysical belief that signs are always grounded in some ultimate originating beginning experienced as a full, self-validating presence, make its appearance? … P 100

“… the myth of presence gold gave to money signs, that is the origin of value, the source of transcendental ‘intrinsic’ worth, the value in kind (specie) and not token, the preciousness incarnate and palpably present, finds its image in, and in fact is, the logocentric fantasy of an originating transcendental presence behind written signs. For money signs the resting place of thus myth, as we saw, was convertible paper money. The US Treasury, by promising the bearer of a dollar redemption in gold, located the absolute value and origin of its money-signs in a material, physical presence stored in Fort Knox. … [paper money promises gold] The specie they promise to deliver is the icon of pure speech, meaning-originating speech, speech that is unmediated, filled, pre-semiotic, real to itself without the agency of signs.”