‘I am another’: Marx’s Objective Subject



Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (pp.336-338)

Whenever real, corporeal man, man with his feet firmly on the solid ground, man exhaling and inhaling all the forces of nature, posits his real, objective essential powers as alien objects by his externalisation, it is not the act of positing which is the subject in this process: it is the subjectivity of objective essential powers, whose action, therefore, must also be something objective. An objective being acts objectively, and he would not act objectively if the objective did not reside in the very nature of his being. He only creates or posits objects, because he is posited by objects—because at bottom he is nature. In the act of positing, therefore, this objective being does not fall from his state of “pure activity” into a creating of the object; on the contrary, his objective product only confirms his objective activity, his activity as the activity of an objective, natural being.

Here we see how consistent naturalism or humanism is distinct from both idealism and materialism, and constitutes at the same time the unifying truth of both. We see also how only naturalism is capable of comprehending the action of world history.

(Man is directly a natural being. As a natural being and as a living natural being he is on the one hand endowed with natural powers, vital powers—he is an active natural being. These forces exist in him as tendencies and abilities—as instincts. On the other hand, as a
natural, corporeal, sensuous, objective being he is a suffering, conditioned and limited creature, like animals and plants. That is to say, the objects of his instincts exist outside him, as objects independent of him; yet these objects are objects that he needs—essential objects, indispensable to the manifestation and confirmation of his essential powers. To say that man is a corporeal, living, real, sensuous, objective being full of natural vigour is to say that he has real, sensuous objects as the object of his being or of his life, or that he can only express his life in real, sensuous objects. To be objective, natural and sensuous, and at the same time to have object, nature and sense outside oneself, or oneself to be object, nature and sense for a third party, is one and the same thing. > Hunger is a natural need; it therefore needs a nature outside itself, an object outside itself, in order to satisfy itself, to be stilled. Hunger is an acknowledged need of my body for an object existing outside it, indispensable to its integration and to the expression of its essential being. The sun is the object of the plant—an indispensable object to it, confirming its life — just as the plant is an object of the sun, being an expression of the life-awakening power of the sun, of the sun’s objective essential power.

A being which does not have its nature outside itself is not a natural being, and plays no part in the system of nature. A being which has no object outside itself is not an objective being. A being which is not itself an object for some third being has no being for its object; i.e., it is not objectively related. Its being is not objective.  A non-objective being is a non-being. Suppose a being which is neither an object itself, nor has an object. Such a being, in the first place, would be the unique being: there would exist no being outside it—it would exist solitary and alone.

For as soon as there are objects outside me, as soon as I am not alone, I am another—another reality than the object outside me. For this third object I am thus a different reality than itself; that is, I am its object. Thus, to suppose a being which is not the object of another being is to presuppose that no objective being exists. As soon as I have an object, this object has me for an object. But a non-objective being is an unreal, non-sensuous thing—a product of mere thought (i.e., of mere imagination)—an abstraction. To be sensuous, that is, to be really existing, means to be an object of sense, to be a sensuous object, and thus to have sensuous objects outside oneself—objects of one’s sensuousness. To be sensuous is to suffer. Man as an objective, sensuous being is therefore a suffering being—and because he feels that he suffers, a passionate being. Passion is the essential power of man energetically bent on its object.

<But man is not merely a natural being: he is a human natural being. That is to say, he is a being for himself. Therefore he is a species-being, and has to confirm and manifest himself as such both in his being and in his knowing. Therefore, human objects are not natural objects as they immediately present themselves, and neither is human sense as it immediately is—as it is objectively—human sensibility, human objectivity. Neither nature objectively nor nature subjectively is directly given in a form adequate to the human being.>

And as everything natural has to come into being, man too has his act of origin—history—which, however, is for him a known history, and hence as an act of origin it is a conscious self-transcending act of origin. History is the true natural history of man (on which more later).

Thirdly, because this positing of thinghood is itself only an illusion, an act contradicting the nature of pure activity, it has to be cancelled again and thinghood denied. Re 3, 4, 5 and 6. (3) This externalisation of consciousness has not merely a negative but a positive significance, and (4) it has this meaning not merely for us or intrinsically, but for consciousness itself. (5) For consciousness the negative of the object, its annulling of itself, has positive significance—i.e., consciousness knows this nullity of the object—because it alienates itself; for in this alienation it knows itself as object, or, for the sake of the indivisible unity of being-for-itself, the object as itself. (6) On the other hand, there is also this other moment in the process, that consciousness has also just as much superseded this alienation and objectivity and resumed them into itself, being thus at home in its other-being as such.

As we have already seen, the appropriation of what is estranged and objective, or the annulling of objectivity in the form of estrangement (which has to advance from indifferent strangeness to real, antagonistic estrangement), means likewise or even primarily for Hegel that it is objectivity which is to be annulled, because it is not the determinate character of the object, but rather its objective character that is offensive and constitutes estrangement for self-consciousness. The object is therefore something negative, self- annulling—a nullity. This nullity of the object has not only a negative but a positive meaning for consciousness, since this nullity of the object is precisely the self-confirmation of the non-objectivity, of the abstraction of itself. For consciousness itself the nullity of the object has a positive meaning because it knows this nullity, the objective being, as its self-alienation; because it knows that it exists only as a result of its own self-alienation….

The way in which consciousness is, and in which something is for it, is knowing. Knowing is its sole act. Something therefore comes to be for consciousness insofar as the latter knows this something.

Knowing is its sole objective relation.

It [consciousness] then knows the nullity of the object (i.e., knows the non-existence of the distinction between the object and itself, the non-existence of the object for it) because it knows the object as its self-alienation; that is, it knows itself—knows knowing as object—be- cause the object is only the semblance of an object, a piece of mystification, which in its essence, however, is nothing else but knowing itself, which has confronted itself with itself and hence has confronted itself with a nullity—a something which has no objectivity outside the knowing. Or: knowing knows that in relating itself to an object it is only outside itself — that it only externalises itself; that it itself only appears to itself as an object — or that that which appears to it as an object is only itself.

On the other hand, says Hegel, there is here at the same time this other moment, that consciousness has just as much annulled and reabsorbed this externalisation and objectivity, being thus at home in its other-being as such.

In this discussion all the illusions of speculation are brought together.

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Attested Auditor of Books and Teaching Aid by Walter Benjamin


Attested Auditor of Books
Just as this era is the antithesis of the Renaissance in general, it contrasts in particular with the situation in which the art of printing was discovered. For whether by coincidence or not, printing appeared in Germany at a time when the book in the most eminent sense of the word-the Book of Books­ had, through Luther’s translation, become the people’s property. Now every­thing indicates that the book in this traditional form is nearing its end. Mallarme, who in the crystalline structure of his manifestly traditionalist writing saw the true image of what was to come, was in the Coup de des the first to incorporate the graphic tensions of the advertisement in the printed page. The typographic experiments later undertaken by the Dadaists stemmed, it is true, not from constructive principles but from the precise nervous reactions of these literati, and were therefore far less enduring than Mallarme’s, which grew out of the inner nature of his style. But for this very reason they show the contemporary relevance of what Mallarme, monadi­cally, in his hermetic room, had discovered through a preestablished har­mony with all the decisive events of our times in economics, technology, and public life. Script — having found, in the book, a refuge in which it can lead an autonomous existence — is pitilessly dragged out into the street by adver­tisements and subjected to the brutal heteronomies of economic chaos. This is the hard schooling of its new form. If centuries ago it began gradually to lie down, passing from the upright inscription to the manuscript resting on sloping desks before finally taking itself to bed in the printed book, it now begins just as slowly to rise again from the ground. The newspaper is read more in the vertical than in the horizontal plane, while film and advertise­ment force the printed word entirely into the dictatorial perpendicular. And before a contemporary finds his way clear to opening a book, his eyes have been exposed to such a blizzard of changing, colorful, conflicting letters that the chances of his penetrating the archaic stillness of the book are slight. Locust swarms of print, which already eclipse the sun of what city dwellers take for intellect, will grow thicker with each succeeding year. Other de­mands of business life lead further. The card index marks the conquest of three-dimensional writing, and so presents an astonishing counterpoint to the three-dimensionality of script in its original form as rune or knot notation. (And today the book is already, as the present mode of scholarly production demonstrates, an outdated mediation between two different filing systems. For everything that matters is to be found in the card box of the researcher who wrote it, and the scholar studying it assimilates it into his own card index). But it is quite beyond doubt that the development of writing will not indefinitely be bound by the claims to power of a chaotic academic and commercial activity; rather, quantity is approaching the mo­ment of a qualitative leap when writing, advancing ever more deeply into the graphic regions of its new eccentric figurativeness, will suddenly take possession of an adequate material content. In this picture-writing, poets, who will now as in earliest times be first and foremost experts in writing, will be able to participate only by mastering the fields in which (quite unobtrusively) it is being constructed: statistical and technical diagrams. With the founding of an international moving script, poets will renew their authority in the life of peoples, and find a role awaiting them in comparison to which all the innovative aspirations of rhetoric will reveal themselves as antiquated daydreams.


Teaching Aid

Principles of the Weighty Tome, or How to Write Fat Books
I. The whole composition must be permeated with a protracted and wordy
exposition of the initial plan.
II. Terms are to be included for conceptions that, except in this definition,
appear nowhere in the whole book.
III. Conceptual distinctions laboriously arrived at in the text are to be
obliterated again in the relevant notes.
N. For concepts treated only in their general significance, examples should
be given; if, for example, machines are mentioned, all the different kinds of
machines should be enumerated.
V. Everything that is known a priori about an object is to be consolidated
by an abundance of examples.
VI. Relationships that could be represented graphically must be ex­
pounded in words. Instead of being represented in a genealogical tree, for
example, all family relationships are to be enumerated and described.
VII. Numerous opponents who all share the same argument should each
be refuted individually.

The typical work of modern scholarship is intended tu be read like a
catalogue. But when shall we actually write books like catalogues? If the
deficient content were thus to determine the outward form, an excellent
piece of writing would result, in which the value of opinions would be
marked without their being thereby put on sale.

The typewriter will alienate the hand of the man of letters from the pen
only when the precision of typographic forms has directly entered the
conception of his books. One might suppose that new systems with more
variable typefaces would then be needed. They will replace the pliancy of
the hand with the innervation of commanding fingers.

A period that, constructed metrically, afterward has its rhythm upset at a
single point yields the finest prose sentence imaginable. In this way a ray of
light falls through a chink in the wall of the alchemist’s cell, to light up
gleaming crystals, spheres, and triangles.


Walter Benjamin, ‘One Way Street’, in Walter Benjamin Selected Writings Volume-1,1913-1926. Ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004, pp.444–488, pp.456–458.
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The Ideal of the Broken-Down: On the Neapolitan Approach to Things Technical (1926) By Alfred Sohn-Rethel

I know very little about the origin or original publication of this text, perhaps more about it will turn up with the Brill translation and republication of Sohn-Rethel’s major works. We know Sohn-Rethel spent some time in and around Naples where he seems to have hung out with Walter Benjamin and other German intellectuals associated with the Institut für Sozialforschung. ‘From 1920 Sohn-Rethel was a friend of the philosopher Ernst Bloch, and he met Walter Benjamin in 1921. He came to live in Positano in 1923–24, and Naples: philosophy of the broken recorded his fascination with the relaxed Neapolitan attitude to technology.[2] Between 1924 and 1927 he remained in Italy, “mainly in Capri, where Benjamin and Bloch were staying”,[1] meeting Adorno and Kracauer also at Capri in 1924.’ This text shares Benjamin’s fascination with Naples’ ‘rich barbarism’, a city he wrote on with Asja Lacis in 1925. Sohn-Rethel’s text is indeed Benjaminian itself, recalling One Way Street and the ‘Moscow Diary’ in its attempt to read a city and historical moment through it’s outward signs and objects, attributing to Neopolitan material culture a kind of practical anti-modernism which transforms the rational organisation of the technical world in an impassioned disarray. Benjamin posits as operative in Naples a kind of porosity between building and action which overcomes the rational ordering of other European cities ‘to become a theatre of new, unforseen constellations.’ Sohn-Rethel suggests the Neopolitan attitude to technology, in practice directly subordinates ‘function’ to possession, value to use. Whilst  patronising and colonial in its attribution to the Neopolitan ‘natives’ of an ‘inventive capacity is, like that of children’, S-R’s formulation goes further than Benjamin’s attention to ‘the passion for improvisation’ through which the city’s inhabitants articulate and dramatise built space,to arrive almost at a theory of the brokenness, of the broken-down (which suggests a process and not a state), of technical objects which is a way of life there.

Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Das Ideal des Kaputten. Über neapolitanische Technik [1926], in: Das Ideal des Kaputten (Bremen, 1990), pp.33–38, p. 35f. This version copied from:

In Naples, technical devices are, as a rule, broken: it is only under exceptional circumstances and due to some astonishing accident that something will be found to be intact. As time goes by, one begins to have the impression that everything is already broken before it leaves the factory. What we are not talking about are the door handles, which in Naples appear to be among the mythical entities, and are only fixed to doors for symbolic purposes—which is because the doors of the city are only there to be left open and, when they are slammed shut by the current of a draught, to once again open with a horrified shrieking and shaking throughout their entire bodies; Naples with closed doors, that would be like Berlin without roofs on the houses—no, what we are talking about are truly mechanical devices and other suchlike appliances. Not, however, that they are broken because they do not work: for the Neapolitan it is only when things are broken that they begin to work. Even when the wind is up, he will take to sea in the kind of motorboat which we would hardly dare to set foot in. And although things never go as might be expected, somehow they always go well. As if it were the most natural thing in the world, he manages, for example, although just three meters from the cliffs upon which the surge of the waves threaten to smash him, to remove the petrol canister into which water has penetrated and refill it without the motor cutting out. If necessary, he could even, at the same time, rustle up some coffee for his passengers on the motor. Or, in a display of matchless mastery, he succeeds in restarting his broken-down car by, in some impossible manner, attaching a small piece of wood which just happened to be lying in the street—only, that is, until it soon, and this much is certain, once again breaks down. He detests the very notion of lasting repairs and would rather do without a car altogether. What is more, the whole thing is something of which he is not even aware. He would respond with an astonished gaze if anyone were to tell him that this is, indeed, no way to make use of a motor or, for that matter, any other technical device. A view which he would go so far as to energetically contradict: for him the essence of technology lies in making what is broken work. And in the handling of defect machines he is a master whose capacities go well beyond the mere technical. In his tinkering proficiency, always characterised, as it is, by great presence of mind, and thanks to which, in the face of danger, he can often, with laughable ease, turn the very defect with which he is confronted into the advantage that saves the hour, he does indeed have something in common with the American. But, his inventive capacity is, like that of children, greater, and, like children, he always has luck on his side, and, again like children, chance tends to serve him well. That which is intact, on the other hand, that which so to speak simply works, arouses in him misgivings and doubt, because the very fact that it simply works means that one can never know how and to what end it will work.

True, when it turns out that way and, when tested, the thing does in fact function, and indeed in more or less the way he had assumed, he falls into a fit of often patriotic rapture—Evviva L’Italia!—and readily tends to see his country as the very acme of world civilisation. But he never really trusts this stuff and nonsense; in the course of half a century of service, the railway between Castellammare and Naples might gradually have become something of an everyday occurrence; nevertheless, at the last minute, one can never really be sure where the train will take you. At least, that is, according to the philosophy delineated, upon my enquiry, by the station master. At the end of the day, there is nothing one can do, what works works; which cannot even be credited as a great achievement: force majeure, and the ways of God are unfathomable. In any case, the fact that things do eventually breakdown makes them all the more enchanting. And wherever an opportunity presents itself, it therefore happens with the greatest possible speed, and more often than even the most circumspect of men would find necessary. Which might have something to do with the climate, but whatever, it is all for the best, because it is only when things have broken down that one can begin to contemplate the fact that they will, sooner or later, work again. On the other hand, real danger is posed by elements such as electricity, which are apparently indestructible, and which always leave one wondering if they are even of this world. Of course, Naples has its own very special place for this phenomenon.

Such inscrutable spiritual beings as these flow together uninhibitedly with the nimbus of the religious powers, and the festive Osram bulb is united, in Neapolitan saintly images, with the Madonna’s aureole—much to the fascination of reverential spirits. However, one would have great difficulty finding anything more lamentable than the common, that is the actually intended, utilisation of electricity in Naples. One’s heart is seized by positively cosmic pity when faced with the wretched light bulb which, as it in its deathly woe dangles sadly from the ceiling, finds itself ridiculed and derided for its hopeless endurance. Nor is there any explanation for the iron law, according to which, every couple of days or so, the tramscome to a standstill due to a power cut: La corrente non c’è is the simple phrase usually preferred to explain this divine intervention. It is possible that the telephone would work very well indeed if the numbers did not go their own way and the official phone book, or at least telephone enquiries, could somehow be let in on the secret of these numbers. Well, whatever the details of the matter might be, in Naples all this no longer belongs to the realm of the purely technical. What is conceived as technical is that which really begins where man makes use of his veto against the closed and hostile automatism of machines and plunges himself into their world. And when he does, he proves to be leaps and bounds ahead of technical laws. For he does not take control of the machines by studying the manuals and learning how to use them, but by discovering his own body inside the machine. To begin with, he has destroyed the misanthropic magic of intact mechanical functions, but he then installs himself in the unmasked monster and its artless soul and enjoys this literal incorporation: ownership which gives him limitless power, the power of utopian existential omnipotence. He now shuns the technical presumptuousness of the instruments thus incorporated; with his incorruptible gaze he has seen through the illusion and deception of their mere appearance: he knows a piece of wood or some old rag does the job just as well. Of course, the violence of incorporation has to be acted out every hour in a victorious crash. With hair-raising verve he races around in his car, and if this recklessness does not result in something being smashed up, a wall along the side of the street, or a donkey-cart, or even his own car, then it has all been a waste of time. One never really owns something until it has really been knocked around, otherwise it is just not worth it; it has to be used and abused, run down until there’s practically nothing left of it. But by and large the Neapolitan’s relationship to his machines is well-meaning, if somewhat brutal: just the same, in fact, as his attitude to his donkey.

Freed, for the better part, from the limits imposed by their intended purposes, technical devices take the most extraordinary diversions and,with an effect as surprising as it is convincing, assume entirely new raisons d’être. The role of the Osram light bulb in the higher glory of the Madonna has already been mentioned. A further example would be the wheel-motor, which, liberated from the constraints of some smashed-up motorbike, and revolving around a slightly eccentric axis, whips the cream in a latteria. It is, in these unexpected ways, that modern technology is of the greatest service to the practices of this strange throwback to the seventeenth century, surviving, as it does, with the help of electric trams and telephones; of the greatest service also to the freedom of this life, and, what is more, most reluctantly serving as a foil to it. Mechanisms cannot, in this city, function as civilisation’s continuum, the role for which they are predestined: Naples turns everything on its head. In Naples modern technology fares just about as well as that forlorn pair of rails which, lonely and rusty, run down the street on Monte Santo. The battle-cry of bold plans, which, God only knows when, was uttered here,of all places, is now long faded and forgotten. But, with the incomparable energy of a fully-functioning system, jets of water leap out, are channelled along the rails, and spray, to their sheer delight, into the mouths of street urchins, and the neighbourhood rejoices in this more-than-welcome source. This is how, in this city, the most complex technical creations are united to perform the simplest tasks, hitherto considered inconceivable. To this end they are, against their will, completely remodelled, rendering them entirely redundant for their proper purposes.

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Mauss’ Gift


The war of 1914–18 […] almost wiped out the team of brilliant younger scholars whom Durkheim had taught, inspired and gathered around him […] [Mauss] took over the labours of his dead colleagues.’, pp.v–vi

[Mauss] not only wrote about social solidarity and collective sentiments. He expressed them in his own life. For him the group of Durkheim and his pupils and colleagues had a kind of collective mind, the material representation of which was its product the Année [Sociologique]. And if one belongs to others and not to oneself, which is one of the themes, perhaps the basic theme, of the present book [The Gift], one expresses one’s attachment by subordinating one’s own ambitions to the common interest. On the few occasions I met Mauss I received the impression that this was how he thought and felt, and his actions confirmed it. He took over the labours of his dead colleagues. Most unselfishly, for it meant neglecting his on researches, he undertook the heavy task of editing, completing and publishing the manuscripts left by Durkheim, Hubert (who died in 1927), Hertz and many others. — Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1954, pp.v–vi.


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How to Art Criticism

Beauty is not a semblance, not a veil covering something else. It itself is not appearance but purely essence-one which, of course, remains essentially identical to itself only when veiled. Therefore, even if everywhere else semblance is deception, the beautiful semblance is the veil thrown over that which is necessarily most veiled. For the beautiful is neither the veil nor the veiled object but rather the object in its veil. Unveiled, however, it would prove to be infinitely inconspicuous [unscheinbar] . Here is the basis of the age-old view that that which is veiled is transformed in the unveiling, that it will remain ” like unto itself” only underneath the veiling. Thus, in the face of everything beautiful, the idea of unveiling becomes that of the impossibility of unveiling. It is the idea of art criticism. The task of art criticism is not to lift the veil but rather, through the most precise knowledge of it as a veil, to raise itself for the first time to the true view of the beautiful.

— Walter Benjamin, Goethe’s Elective Affinities’, in Walter Benjamin Selected Writings Volume-1,1913-1926, (Eds.) Marcus Bullock and Michael W Jennings. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004, pp.297–360, p.351.

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On Paper and the City by Lewis Mumford

To believe, therefore, that human culture has reached a marvelous final culmination in the modern metropolis one must avert one‘s eyes from the grim details of the daily routine. And that is precisely what the metropolitan denizen schools himself to do: he lives, not in the real world, but in a shadow world projected around him at every moment by means of paper and celluloid and adroitly manipulated lights: a world in which he is insulated by glass, cellophane and film from the mortifications of living. In short, a world of professional illusionists and their credulous victims.

The swish and crackle of paper is the underlying sound of the metropolis. What is visible and real in this world is only what has been transferred to paper or has been even further etherialised on a microfilm or a tape recorder. The essential daily gossip of the metropolis is no longer that of people meeting face to face at a cross-roads, at the dinner, table, in the marketplace: a few dozen people writing in the newspapers, a dozen or so more broadcasting over radio and television, provide the daily interpretation of movements and happenings with slick professional adroitness. Thus. even the most spontaneous human activities come under professional surveillance and centralized control. The spread of manifolding devices of every sort gives to the most ephemeral and mediocre products of the mind a temporary durability they do not deserve: whole books are printed to justify the loose evacuations of the tape recorder.

All the major activities of the metropolis are directly connected with paper and its plastic substitutes; and printing and packaging are among its principal industries. The activities pursued in the offices of the metropolis are directly connected with paper: the tabulating machines, the journals, the ledgers, the card-catalogues, the deeds, the contracts, the mortgages, the briefs, the trial records: so, to, plioo, the prospectuses, the advertisements, the magazines, the newspapers. As early as the eighteenth century Mercier had observed this metropolitan form of the White Plague. Modern methods of manifolding have not lessened the disease: they have only exchanged easygoing slipshod ways, which often sufficed, for a more exact record, whose elaboration and cost are out of all proportion to the value of what is recorded. What was a mere trickle in Mercier’s day has now becoming a ravaging flood of paper.

As the day’s routine proceeds the pile of paper mounts higher: the trashbaskets are filled and emptied and filled again. The ticker tape exudes its quotation of stocks and its report of news; the students in the schools and universities fill their notebooks, digest and disgorge the contents of books, as the silkworm feeds on mulberry leaves and manufactures its cocoon, unraveling themselves on examination day. In the theatre, in literature, in music, in business, reputations are made on paper. The scholar with his degrees and publications, the actress with her newspaper clippings, and the financier with his shares and his voting proxies, measure their power and importance by the amount of paper they can command. No wonder the anarchists once invented the grim phrase: ‘Incinerate the documents!’ That would ruin this whole world quicker than universal flood or earthquake, if not as fatally as a shower of hydrogen bombs. That life is an occasion for living, and not a pretext for supplying items to newspapers, interviews on television, or a Spectacle for crowds of otherwise vacant bystanders these notions do not occur in the metropolitan mind. For them the Show is the reality, and ‘ the show must go on!’ This metropolitan world, then, is a world where tears and blood are less real than paper and ink and celluloid. It is a world where the great masses of people, unable to achieve a more fullbodied and satisfying means of living, take life vicariously, as leaders, spectators, listeners, passive observers. Living thus, year in and year out, at second hand, remote from the nature that is outside them, and no less remote from the nature that is within, it is no wonder that they turn more and more of the functions of life, even thought itself, to the machines that their inventors have created. In this disordered environment only machines retain some of the attributes of life, while human beings are progressively reduced to a bundle of reflexes, without self-starting impulses or autonomous goals: ‘behaviourist man’.


Lewis Mumford,The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects, London & New York: Penguin Books, 1961, pp.622-624.

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End of the World of the End by Julio Cortázar


As the scribes will persist, the few readers there are in the world are going to have to change their roles and become scribes themselves. More and more countries will be made up of scribes, and more and more factories will be necessary to manufacture paper and ink, the scribes by day and the machines by night to print the scribes’ work. First the libraries will overflow the houses, then the municipalities decide (now we’re really into it) to sacrifice their children’s playgrounds to enlarge the libraries. Then the theaters will go, then the maternity homes, slaughterhouses, bars, hospitals. The poor use the books like bricks, they stick them together with cement and build walls of books and live in cabins of books. Then it happens that the books clear the cities and invade the countryside, they go on flattening wheat-fields and meadows of sunflowers, even though the Department of Highways manages to keep the roads cleared, even if only between two extremely high walls of books. At times a wall gives and there are terrifying automobile accidents. The scribes labor without let because humanity respects vocations, and the printed matter reaches the seashore. The President of the Republic gets on the telephone with the presidents of the republics, and intelligently proposes to cast the leftover books into the sea, which act is accomplished simultaneously on every coast in the world. Thus the Siberian scribes see their works cast into a sea of ice and the Indonesian scribes etc. This allows the scribes to step up their production as the earth again has space to store their books. It does not occur to them that the sea has a bottom and that at the bottom of the sea the printed matter is beginning to pile up, first in the form of a sticky pulp, then in the form of a solid pulp, and finally a tough though viscous flooring which rises several feet a day and will finally reach the surface. Then much of the water invades many of the lands and there is a new distribution of continents and oceans, and presidents of various republics are replaced by lakes and peninsulas, presidents of other republics see immense territories newly open to their ambitions, etc. Sea water, forced to expand with such unprecedented violence, evaporates faster than ever, or seeks rest, blending itself with the printed matter to make that glutinous pulp, to the point that one day ships’ captains on the great trade routes report that their ships are advancing slowly, thirty knots drops to twenty, to fifteen, the engines sputter and pant and the propellers are wrenched and bent out of shape. Finally the ships stop wherever they are at different places in the sea, trapped by the pulp, and scribes all over the world write thousands of articles and books explaining the phenomenon are filled with an enormous happiness. The presidents and the captains decide to convert the ships into islands and gambling casinos, the public arrives on foot upon the cardboard seas, and on these islands and casinos dance orchestras fill the night and sweeten the air-conditioned atmosphere and the dancing lasts until the early hours of the morning. New printed material is piling up on the seashores, but it’s impossible to put it into the pulp, so that walls of printed matter are growing and mountains are being born on the shores of the old seas. The scribes realize that the ink and paper companies are going to go bankrupt, and their handwriting gets smaller and smaller and they use the most imperceptile corners of each sheet and paper. When the ink runs out they write in pencil, etc. When the paper goes, they write on slabs of wood or rock or on stone tiles, etc. The practice of intercalating one text into another begins to become popular, to take advantage of the space between the lines, or to scrape down the letters already printed with razor blades so as to use the paper again. The scribes are working slowly now, but their numbers are so immense that printed matter now separates the land completely from the beds of the ancient seas. On the earth the race of scribes lives precariously, doomed to extinction, and at sea there are the islands and casinos, or rather the ex-transatlantic liners, where the presidents of the republics have fled to refuge and where they hold enormous parties and exchange wireless messages from island to island, president to president, and captain to captain.


That’s Julio Cortázar’s “The end of the world of the end” from his collection of short stories, Cronopios and Famas.

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Always the Mob by Carl Sandburg (1918)

JESUS emptied the devils of one man into forty hogs and the hogs took the edge of a high rock and dropped off and down into the sea: a mob.

The sheep on the hills of Australia, blundering fourfooted in the sunset mist to the dark, they go one way, they hunt one sleep, they find one pocket of grass for all.

Karnak? Pyramids? Sphinx paws tall as a coolie? Tombs kept for kings and sacred cows? A mob.

Young roast pigs and naked dancing girls of Belshazzar, the room where a thousand sat guzzling when a hand wrote: Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin? A mob.

The honeycomb of green that won the sun as the Hanging Gardens of Nineveh, flew to its shape at the hands of a mob that followed the fingers of Nebuchadnezzar: a mob of one hand and one plan. 5

Stones of a circle of hills at Athens, staircases of a mountain in Peru, scattered clans of marble dragons in China: each a mob on the rim of a sunrise: hammers and wagons have them now.

Locks and gates of Panama? The Union Pacific crossing deserts and tunneling mountains? The Woolworth on land and the Titanic at sea? Lighthouses blinking a coast line from Labrador to Key West? Pigiron bars piled on a barge whistling in a fog off Sheboygan? A mob: hammers and wagons have them to-morrow.

The mob? A typhoon tearing loose an island from thousand-year moorings and bastions, shooting a volcanic ash with a fire tongue that licks up cities and peoples. Layers of worms eating rocks and forming loam and valley floors for potatoes, wheat, watermelons.

The mob? A jag of lightning, a geyser, a gravel mass loosening…

The mob … kills or builds … the mob is Attila or Ghengis Khan, the mob is Napoleon, Lincoln. 10

I am born in the mob—I die in the mob—the same goes for you—I don’t care who you are.

I cross the sheets of fire in No Man’s land for you, my brother—I slip a steel tooth into your throat, you my brother—I die for you and I kill you—It is a twisted and gnarled thing, a crimson wool:
One more arch of stars,
In the night of our mist,
In the night of our tears. 15


From Cornhuskers (1918).

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From ‘Communification’ to Communisation

Today, on the contrary, publicity is achieved with the help of the secret politics of interest groups: it earns public prestige for a person or issue and thereby renders it ready for acclamatory assent in a climate of non public opinion. The very phrase ‘publicity work’ betrays that a public sphere, which at one time was entailed by the position of the carriers of representation and was also safeguarded in its continuity through a firm traditional symbolism, must first be brought about deliberately and from case to case. Today occasions for identification have to be created-the public sphere has to be ‘made’, it is not ‘there’ anymore. Altmann calls this appropriately enough the act of ‘communification.’

— Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992, p.201.


Plenitude is broken, communication is no longer that of separate beings who promise each other recognition in the infinitely distant future of a world without separation, it does not content itself with bringing particular individuals closer, in the intimacy of desire, it affirms itself alone, it does not affirm itself as a movement that affirms what it unites, but negates, a movement itself without fixity, without certainty.

Can we live these two lives? Whether we can or not, we must: one is linked to the future of  ‘communication’, when the relations between men will no longer, insidiously or violently, make them into things, but for this it engages us, profoundly, dangerously, in the world of things, of ‘useful’ relations, ‘efficacious’ works, where we always come close to losing ourselves. The other welcomes communication, outside of the world and immediately, but on the condition that communication be the upheaval of ‘the immediate’, the opening, the shattering violence, the fire that burns without waiting, for that is also, that is first of all, what communist generosity is, this inclemency, this impatience, the refusal of all detours, of all ruses, and of all delays: infinitely hazardous freedom. Certainly, alone, the first relates to a possible ‘truth’, it goes alone — but with what vicissitudes and what pains—toward a world. We can see clearly, however, that it does not take the latter much into account: intimate ‘life’ — because it does not belong to the day — is without justification, it cannot be recognized and could only be recognized by dressing itself up as value. Who is not aware that tragic and possibly intolerable divisions result from this? If there is a tragic dimension specific to our times, it would be found here.

— Maurice Blanchot, ‘An Approach to Communism (Needs, Values)’ in Maurice Blanchot, Political Writings, 1953-1993, Trans. Zakir Paul, Fordham University Press, 2010, pp.5-6.

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Not Peace, but a Sword


Have No Fear

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.[h] 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?[i] And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Not Peace, but a Sword

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.


40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Matthew 10 English Standard Version (ESV)

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