Saturday, February 17, 2007

Dialectical sentences

Paul Hill of The Rotten Elements has posted a defence of the 'dialectical' prose style Adorno learned from Karl Kraus, along with a sentence which exemplifies this style. Frankly, the sentence reminds me of the bowling of legendary Black Cap Chris Harris, who has just missed out on selection for what would have been his fifth World Cup. Harris, who must be pushing forty by now, was decribed by one commentator as 'bowling so slowly that he passed his own delivery in his follow-through'.

Here are my nominations for best dialectical sentence:

The straw that broke the camel's back
(source: pop. proverb, supposedly relating to Richard Taylor's 'accident' on the jungle gym at Panmure Park)

I don't wanna get stoned, I don't wanna not get stoned
(source: Evan Dando)

Show me all the mysteries of the world, and get me home in time for tea
(source: George Harrison)

One does not step into the same river once
(source: Cratylus)

Old houses were scaffolding once and workmen whistling
(source: TE Hulme)

The downpour outside: the ladybirds in the museums
(source: Arthur Cravan)

Heraclitus was only talking about rivers,
or about when a shallow creek running over stone
begins to think that it’s a river.
(Source: Kendrick Smithyman)

Put your own nominations in the comments box.

For the best introduction to dialectics in English or any other known language, go here. Trotsky is also worth reading:

Dialectical thinking is related to vulgar in the same way that a motion picture is related to a still photograph. The motion picture does not outlaw the still photograph but combines a series of them according to the laws of motion.


Anonymous slog said...

Come on Maps, Trotsky's ABC is light years ahead of Ollman.

Ollman is academic, expository, boring. Trotsky is alive, political, succulent. He even says somewhere that if you don't know dialectics it knows you, or some such words.

Does Ollman understand that dialectics happens independently of the philosophy of internal relations?

Trotsky says straight out, dialectics is a science. Marx's abstractions were scientific. He abstracted the commodity/cell, then its dual nature, embedded in which was the real contradiction of use-value and exchange-value, which in turn drove capitalisms laws of motion. Marx's was a scientific not a philosophical method.

Ollman needs to explain WHY production is determinate, while part of circulation, distribution and exchange, and conditioned by them. But he doesnt because he does not speak of dialectics as of the real world.

The only motion I can see in Ollman is one which passes or fails.
Wheras Trotsky fought to rescue dialectics from the petty bourgeois opposition in the SWP (US) who wanted to do a cut and paste job on why the SU was no longer a workers state.

And that's the vital aspect of dialectics. Trotsky takes as read the existence of a Marxist party that can APPLY dialectical materialism in it program and practice. Where is Ollman's party, program and practice?


2:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suspect that, for all his dialectical fervour, comrade Slog has, in the course of passing judgment on Ollman, resorted to a syllogism:

1. Bertell Ollman is an academic
2. Academics are boring bourgeois types, and in all respects inferior to Marxist revolutionaries
3. Therefore, Bertell is a boring etc etc

I think that the great strength of Ollman's later work on dialectics is that it highlights the technique of abstraction, and shows people how they can actually learn to think for themselves by mastering this technique. But that's all there if you follow the link I povided - judge for yourself.

I've already disagreed with the notion that Marxism has no need of philosophy in the comment boxes under another post. Philosophy and social science are not the same thing. Just as the law of induction is not the same as the books of Adam Smith, so dialectics is not the same thing as Das Kapital. If it were then Marx would hardly have expressed a desire to write a guide to philosophy and dialectics to help readers of Das Kapital, nor reread Hegel for guidance while writing the rough draft of Das Kapital in The Grundrisse.

The notion that dialectics can be reduced to propositions from the social sciences is wrong-headed anyway, but the idea that it reduces to a claim that the economic base determines the superstructure, or that capitalism is subject to laws of motion and crisis, makes even less sense. Dialectics applies to the natural as well as social world, and how does the law of value impact upon the movement of the planets or the migration of birds?

Those who want to claim Lenin and Trotsky for the school of anti-philosophy need to explain why, in the midst of the desperate situation of the Russian Civil War, Lenin urged the translation of Hegel into Russian, and the creation of a philosophical journal which discussed Hegel and a range of pre-Marxist philosophers.

The claim that philosophy has no place in Marxism is actually a residue of Stalinism - it largely dates from the purging of the Leninist-Hegelian school of philosophers around Deborin in the early '30s and their replacement with party hacks loyal to Stalin.
Stalin had no use for dialectics, except in the thoroughly dumbed down version of the 'Short Course in the History of the CPSU', because it undermined the mechanical view of the inevitable victory of socialism in one country, through the relentless growth of the productive forces in the Soviet Union, which he wanted to promote at home and abroad.

In the Anglophone countries, especially, the residue of Stalinism has intersected with a native philistinism and empiricism to create a lingering suspicion of the notion of Marxist philosophy. Ollman's book can help to dissolve that.

11:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Aphorism: It is impossible completely to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first Chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!'
- Lenin, 1915

2:41 am  
Anonymous slog said...

No, no syllogism. I read Ollman and arrived at the conclusion that his contemplative reading of Marx represented an academic, non-revolutionary standpoint.

In other words I used the method of abstraction that Marx applied in his critique of the 1001 varieties of bourgeois ideology. Ollman comes out as a petty bourgeois intellectual who reads the dialectic in thought, but not in practice.

To imply that Marxism can be 'social science' is wrong for the very reason that Marx does not make the bourgeois distinction between nature and society. Capitalism is a contradictory relation that includes both 'nature' and 'society' in the forces and relations of production.

Thus use-value is determined by the social relations which harness nature to extract surplus value.
e.g.'natural' sciences are funded to increase labour productivity.

I find it amusing that Mapps defends Marxism as a 'philosophy' when Marx upends Hegel to replace bourgeois philosophy with the Marxist 'science' of historical materialism.

Lenin's statement about understanding Hegel is no more than intervening against 'philosophy'. Marxism had reverted to a 'philosophy' i.e. an idealist, historicist (in Popper's sense only) super-determinist, objective, doctrine.

(It was in that same sense that Marx had earlier deliberately returned to Hegel in writing Capital to bait those Marxists who had turned Hegel into a 'dead dog' i.e. burying his contribution to the formation of Marxist dialectics.)

To explode that petty bourgeois myth, Lenin said: "understand that Hegel was an idealist, and that Marx was a materialist.
But Marx was an 'historical materialist' and only became so by converting the absolute idea of historical necessity (for Hegel representing the Bourgeois epoch, for the mechanical Marxists, the inevitable rise of socialism) into concrete historical conditions of the capitalist mode in which the class struggle is the force for revolutionary change."

Lenin made many such interventions, most famously writing the 'State and Revolution' to counter the revisionists on the state as the Russian revolution approached.

Lenin and Trotsky's method of dialectics was finally 'concrete' which means the fusion of thought and practice under particular determinate conditions. Dialectics is not just a reading of this reality, i.e. a purely scientific method, but a political practice of the revolutionary agent under capitalism, the proletarian party embedded in the proletariat.

Pre-Marxist philosophy was replaced by the party as the collective worker-scientist. The party fused knowledge of the objective and subjective conditions and developed a program to change these, testing and altering this program against these realities.

It is no accident then that the best revolutionary account of dialectics is that of Trotsky applying the method inside the 4th International to show why with all of its counter-relutionary aspects, the Red Army invasion of Poland in 1939 needed to be unconditionally defended as if it were the Soviet Union.

Inevitably 'dialectics' that occurs outside a vanguard party splits the subjective from the objective forces for change and is no more than dial-a-lexus.

12:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So if I'm a climatologist working on El Nino, or a biologist working on the theory of punctuated equilibrium in evolution, I have to work inside a vanguard party and turn my results into political formulations, or my results are bound to be bourgeois tosh?

Here's a quote from Lenin's On the Significance of Militant Materilaism' which you might like to ponder before you argue that Marx and Lenin saw philosophy as something that had become redundant after the 1840s:

'In my opinion, the editors and contributors of Pod Znamenem Marksizma should be a kind of “Society of Materialist Friends of Hegelian Dialectics”. Modern natural scientists (if they know how to seek, and if we learn to help them) will find in the Hegelian dialectics, materialistically interpreted, a series of answers to the philosophical problems which are being raised by the revolution in natural science and which make the intellectual admirers of bourgeois fashion “stumble” into reaction.'

So do you think it's worth reading Hegel (and Heraclitus et al) today?

12:48 pm  
Anonymous slog said...

The Hegel fan club as I see it is no more than an invitation to non-Marxist materialists to 'develop' their materialism by retracing Marx's critique of Hegel.

This is a practical suggestion to help combat the reactionary bourgeois philosophies seeking to own the new theories of matter etc of the time, and encourage a more militant materialism (attacking religion especially) towards dialectical materialism.

If as a biologist or climatologist you feel the need to retrace Marx's steps in critiquing Hegel as a counter to bourgeois philosophy, fine, you might end up joining the vanguard and practicing the dialectic.

8:40 pm  

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