Thursday, March 04, 2010

James Wood on Marx, money and the moral alienation of greed

In his 1844 manuscripts, Karl Marx writes about money as an agent of inversion. Once I have money, Marx says, I am no longer bound by my individuality: "I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness - its deterrent power - is nuyllified by money. I, in my character and as an individual, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honored, and therefore so it ist possessor." In tone and rhythm, this is a cynical visiting of St. Paul's invocation of charity in I Corinthians, with money substituted for charity (a rewriting pefromed by George Orwell in his money-ridden novel "Keep the Aspidistra Flying"), and it culminates in Marx's most comprehensive reversal: "If money is the bond binding me to human life, binding society to me, binding me and nature and man, is not money the bond of all bonds? Can it not dissolve and bind all ties? Is it not, therefore, the universal agent of divorce?"

James Wood, "The Very Rich Hours"
The New Yorker, February 15 & 22, 2010