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Towards the beginning of Capital, Marx writes:

Human labour-power in its fluid state, or human labour, creates value, but is not itself value. It becomes value in its coagulated state, in objective form. The value of the linen as a congealed mass of human labour can be expressed only as an ‘objectivity’, a thing which is materially different from the linen itself and yet common to the linen and all other commodities. (Fowkes trans, 142)

Exhaustion prevents me from commenting at length on this passage, so I just wanted to draw attention to certain turns of phrase Marx employs, detaching them from their immediate context with regard to questions about the origins of value, and situating them in a broader philosophical context. Throughout Capital terms such as coagulation and the congealed perpetually appear in Marx’s thought. Indeed, alongside concepts such as relation, exchange, and differentiality, the congealed and coagulated seem to be key concepts at work in his thought, even if these concepts are never explicitly thematized for their own sake. While Marx does not himself use the term, the concept of differentiality is perpetually at work as it is one of the necessary elements in the value-relation. As Marx likes to point out, 100 yards of linen does not, in itself, have a value, but rather it takes on value only relatively in relation to the coat that it can produce. In short, for value to be produced, there must be relations of exchange and difference. One would not, for instance, conceive of exchanging 100 yards of linen for another 100 yards of linen. There must be a difference between the commodities for value to emerge.

To put the matter very crudely in a way that does not at all do Marx’s account of exchange-value justice, the comparatively higher value of the coat made of the linens is greater than that of the linens themselves, while nonetheless being made of these same linens, by virtue of the labor that goes into transforming the linens into the coat. Despite the fact that the matter present in the coats and the linens is identical, this process of production engenders a transformation of value. There is thus a morphogensis, a process of individuation, through which exchange-value is produced as an effect. This effect is the result of a transformation of a multiplicity into a specific form through labor.

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These processes of morphogenesis can be seen at work everywhere in the world, whether we are talking about natural processes such as the erosion producing the Grand Canyon, the development of a living organism, the manner in which labor takes a particular material multiplicity (clay, metals, gases, etc) and re-arranges them into a particular form, teaching in the classroom (hence the advisability of resuscitating the ancient Greek term paideia which has connotations of formation, or the German term Bildung), or any sort of theoretical activity whether in philosophy, mathematics, or science that both excludes certain elements (when speaking about numbers we’re no longer concerned with the number of any particular think, but a pure mark, a pure differentiality, that can only be formed in thought through a smoothing and simplifying operation). These processes always take place in the world and are of the world such that, for example, when humans labor upon the world transforming a multiplicity into a formed matter, it is, in effect, the world acting upon itself. Humans are not other than the world, but are of material reality like anything else. For this reason, I cannot agree when Brassier accuse Deleuze and Guattari of idealism. In Alien Theory: The Decline of Materialism, Brassier writes (warning pdf):

The hyletic reduction effected by Deleuze & Guattari is idealizing… because it reduces transcendence on the basis of an immanence which is irreducible precisely insofar as it is self-presupposing or causa sui; a self-presupposing immanence that is fundamentally indissociable (because posited as presupposed and presupposed as posited) from the self-positioning of the philosophical Concept. The hyletic reduction operates by isolating its pure transcendental residue in that point of indiscernibility between supposition and pre-supposition; Concept and plane of immanence. That point, that indiscernible residue, is nothing but the plane as synthesis of synthesis; inclusive disjunction of positing and pre-positing. And this indiscernibility ultimately coincides with that between the supposition of thought and its unthinkable pre-supposition; for the plan of immanence is also characterized as “at the same time, that which must be thought and that which cannot be thought. It is the non-thought within thought… the most intimate within thought and yet the absolute… outside… the non-external outside and not-internal inside” (WiP, 59). Consequently, the philosopher thinks on the basis of an unthinkable exteriority which lies at the heart of thought; an unenvisageable immanence upon which the anomalous image of philosophical thinking is deployed in the Concept. (64-65)

In response to Brassier, I would argue that the situation Deleuze and Guattari here describe with respect to the concept is exactly analogous to that of exchange-value in Marx. The whole reason that exchange-value can manifest itself as a mystery is that I look in vain among the positive qualities of the object for that physical quality that renders the object valuable. The exchange-value of the object is not to be found among the physical properties of the object, but is a result of the labor through which the object is produced. As a result, exchange-value could be described in terms analogous to those of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept: as self-positing. It requires an outside, but cannot be reduced to that outside. Once it becomes operational, it takes on a life of its own. This does not an idealism make. The point here with regard to the concept is that the world undergoes a morphogenesis with regard to the concepts we forge. We look in vain among the objects themselves for the qualities of the concept, rather the concept posits its own object, its own field of experience (Deleuze and Guattari talk about the philosopher becoming her conceptual persona, not the reverse; thereby denoting a transformation of experience one undergoes as a function of the concepts that come to haunt us), that is not unlike the way in which the linen is transformed by the tailor.

The concepts of coagulation and the congealed express the way in which production veils itself in the product. We take the product as an entity that stands alone in-itself, as it is, and forget the production of the object. As Deleuze and Guattari put it, citing Marx:

Let us remember once again one of Marx’s caveats: we cannot tell from the mere taste of wheat who grew it; the product gives us no hint as to the system and the relations of production. The product appears to be all the more specific, incredibly specific and readily describable, the more closely the theoretician relates it to ideal forms of causation, comprehension, or expression, rather than to the real process of production on which it depends. (AO, 24)

It would be no exaggeration to point out that a good deal of the history of philosophy has been characterized by this form of thinking. That is, there has been a strong tendency to treat entities strictly in terms of substances with qualities, ignoring the manner in which entities come-to-be and pass-away in processes of morphogenesis. A parallel tendency occurs with respect to the subject, that is treated as a self-identical subject with faculties that represent the world. We forget that the subject was once an infant that underwent a process of development that produces differing results depending on what milieu of individuation that infant develops in. The real break in the history of philosophy begins with Hume and Kant, where Hume conceives the subject as a result that must be built out of a multiplicity of impressions that enter into relational networks with one another and argues similarly in the case of the object, and with Kant where the subject is no longer seen as passively representing an independent world, but of constituting that world. Nonetheless, Kant’s perspective remains one-sided as it does not envision the genesis of the constituting subject itself– the categories of understanding and forms of intuition are treated as holding for all times in places, emerging in the world from nowhere; though to his credit Kant hints otherwise in the Critique of Judgment.

Here, in Kant, the subject unilaterally constitutes but is not itself constituted. Yet as we have learned, humans do not simply give form to the multiplicities of matter that populate the world, but are also formed by these multiplicities of matter and by the multiplicities that we have given form to. The computer, the cell phone, the internet might be the result of human activity, yet when these formed multiplicities come to populate the world, humans in turn are formed differently as a result of their transformation of the milieu. The product of our labor becomes a foreign and alien thing, like anything else, that we must now navigate and in relation to which we develop. Vernant gives a beautiful example of this with respect to writing in his pulse-pounding Origins of Greek Thought:

…we can understand the significance of a demand that arose with the birth of the city: the writing down of laws. Setting them down not only ensured their permanence and stability; it also removed them from the private authority of the basileis, whose function was to ‘speak’ the law. Thus they became public property, general rules that could be applied equally to all. In Hesiod’s world, before the rise of the city, dike [justice] still operated on two levels, as though divided between heaven and earth. here below, at the level of the small Boeotian farmer, dike was a determination of fact subject to the whim of kinds, ‘devourers of gifts.’ In heaven it was a sovereign divinity, remote and inaccessible. But as a result of the public exposure provided by the written word, dike— without ceasing to be regarded as an ideal value– could be incarnated strictly at the human level. It could emerge as the law, a principle at once common to all and superior to all, a rational standard that was subject to discussion and modification by decree but which nevertheless expressed an order that was understood to be sacred. (52-53)

Here arche was wrested from its site in either a divine being(s) or the person of the king, and became something independent for its own sake that was a subject of public contest and debate. The Greeks were the first to truly discover immanence, even if they were unable to complete it, precisely because they refused to fill the place of the arche with a king or divinity, but left that place void as a site of contest. We do not yet know what a void can do. That aside, the point to note here is the way in which the simple act of inscription, the simple act of writing in the public space, already transforms social relations. Where before justice was lodged in the mouth of the basileis (kings), which could be variable from basileis to basileis, from day to day, and that disappeared the moment they were articulated like so many wisps of smoke, preserving themselves only in the corruptable memories of witnesses (who didn’t matter anyway as the kings word, no matter how variable, was law), now there was a permanent trace in the public space, something that stood independently of a mouth or person. Not only did this give form to the law, codifying it in a variety of ways, but this human formation also resounded on persons giving form to them by shifting the nature of social relations. The Greeks had to develop in relation to their own labor upon the world. The results of their labor, in turn, fed back on them becomes features of the world to which they then formed themselves.

All of this poses specific challenges to philosophy. It has often been said that all scientific progress has involved getting rid of substances and replacing them by processes and relations. So too has this occurred in philosophy. What must not be forgotten is that the philosopher, too, is a result of a morphogenesis. The philosopher is the coagulation, a result, a product, of a series of operations populating both her own life and all of history. This rules out, a priori, anything like phenomenology– at least in its initial Husserlian formation –as there can be no question of a reduction to pure consciousness that would be free of sedimentations and productions that formed the philosopher, giving structure to her intuition, her intentionality, and so on. Similarly, there can be no question of an object in itself as the object is always in-form-ation in relation to the field of forces and productions that give rise to the object. The ground evaporates in a series of processes. What, then, does a philosophy look like that no longer posits these substantialist assumptions, that no longer falls prey to the fetish of the coagulate, but that discerns both philosopher and world in their process of becoming?

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