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Rough Theory


February 22, 2011

Talk: “The Higher Realms of Nonsense: Unpacking Capital’s ‘Greatest Difficulty’”

By Nicole Pepperell, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Time: Tuesday 6-8 pm

Place: The New School, Room 529, 80 Fifth Ave., NYC


“The Higher Realms of Nonsense: Unpacking Capital’s ‘Greatest Difficulty’”

Marx argues that the reproduction of capital also necessarily reproduces the possibility for a more emancipatory form of social life. But how does this happen? And how can we use an analysis of the reproduction of capital, to develop an analysis of emancipatory potential?

In this paper, I explore some of the reasons these questions have proven unexpectedly difficult to answer. Concentrating on the opening chapters of Capital, I analyse how Marx understands capitalism as a complex, unintentional system – one that generates an accidental order that political economists mistake for evidence of Reason operating in history. Marx positions the political economic theorisation of capitalism as a kind of intelligent design – and mocks it mercilessly, structuring the opening chapters of Capital as a burlesque parody of common forms of political economic theory. Where these chapters are read “straight”, interpreters assume that Marx endorses the very positions he sets out to criticise, and either read him as wildly contradictory, or miss his own theoretical claims outright. By highlighting the parodic character of Marx’s text – and repositioning political economy as the butt of Marx’s convoluted joke – it becomes easier to see Marx’s answer to the serious question of how the reproduction of capital could also generate emancipatory possibilities.


Nicole Pepperell is Program Director of Social Science (Psychology) and Lecturer of Social Theory in the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning at RMIT University in Melbourne Australia. She publishes the blog An introduction to her work on Marx, Disassembling Capital, will soon be published as part of the Historical Materialism books series. This talk is presented as a prelude to the forthcoming Historical Materialism conference at the New School (May 6-8th 2011).

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