[OPE-L:4138] Vorstellung & the status of "picture-thinking" in Marx

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 4 Feb 1997 11:05:52 -0800 (PST)

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Tony explains in his _The Logic of Marx's Capital: Replies to Hegelian
Critics_ (Albany, State University of New York Press, 1990) the crucial
difference between *Vorstellung* and *Denken* in Hegel's system (Ch. 1,
Section B, Subsection 4: "Idealistic Supersubjects and
Picture-Thinking"). Vorstellung, Tony writes, may be translated as
"imaginative-representation" or "picture-thinking" (p. 11).

The question I want to pose is: what is the role of "picture-thinking" in
Marx's _Capital_ and the analysis of capital-in-general?

As we all know, _Capital_ is filled with many long historical sections.
As important as those sections may have been to Marx for _political_
reasons, how important are they from the perspective of conceptualizing
the capitalist mode of production in thought?

In a couple of letters, we get a clue about this. For instance, in his
February 10, 1866 letter to Engels, Marx writes:

"The most disgusting thing for me was the interruption of my
work, which had proceeded splendidly since January, when my liver
illness went away. Of course, there was no question about my
'sitting.' It still inconveniences me now. But I have drudged
on, lying down, even if only at short intervals during the
day. I could not proceed with the theoretical part. The brain
was too weak for that. Hence I have enlarged the historical
part on the 'work day,' which lay outside the original plan.
This 'insert' of mine now forms the supplement (sketch) to your
book [_The Condition of the Working Class in England_, JL] up
to the year 1865 (which I also mention in a Note), and the
complete vindication of your evaluation of future and present
reality." (Saul K. Padover ed. _The Letters of Karl Marx_, p.

It should be clear from the above that Marx's poor health had a role in
shaping the _content_ of _Capital_. That is, since the "brain was too
weak" for proceeding with the "theoretical part", he instead spent more
time on the "historical part." It seems that Marx considered the writing
of the historical part to be "easier" than the writing of the
"theoretical part." Given the above, how important are the historical
sections to an understanding of the "theoretical parts" of _Capital_? Or,
expressing this question somewhat differently, were the historical parts
an _unnecessary_ addition from a _theoretical_ perspective and an
example of "picture thought"?

Elsewhere, Marx wrote in his April 30, 1867 letter to Sigfrid Meyer:

"*Volume I* contains the *Production Process of Capital"*. Next
to the general scientific development, I present in detail,
from the hitherto unused *official* sources, the conditions of
the English -- agricultural and industrial -- proletariat
*during the last twenty years*. You understand as a matter of
course that all this serves me only as *argumentum ad hominem*
[an evasive argument]" (Ibid, p. 229, emphasis in original).

In the above, Marx makes a distinction between those parts that concern
the "general scientific development" and the statistical/historical
sections. In his expression "argumentum ad hominem" is implied the
suggestion that these historical and statistical sections were not
essential for his theory. Is this an example of "picture-thought"? What
is the status, then, of "evasive arguments" in Marx?

Even if these historical and statistical sections were not necessary for
the _presentation_, weren't they an essential part of the process of
_inquiry_? That is, wasn't it necessary for Marx to _investigate_ these
concrete realities before it was possible for him to reconstruct the
capitalist mode of production in thought? Yet, how many empirical
realities have to be grasped before one can then construct the theory?

In solidarity, Jerry