Or rather, what does Marx’s writing accomplish. Some notes written a while ago, written in part as a sort of writing exercise, and which I must admit to being embarassed about, rightly so methinks.

1. Reading is a type of self-making.

Jeanette Winterson’s novel _Written On The Body_ is a reflection on romantic love as people producing themselves in tandem. As the title suggests, a relationship acts upon the body. A love affair is indelible, like a tattoo. Love not only marks the body’s surface, but also writes in the body, not in the sense of an obscured or secret message but in another sense of writing. A relationship writes in the sense of writing a script, a genetic code, or a computer program, setting up routines, habits, which will be enacted in some situation. A less mechanical metaphor is the “secret word” on the children’s television program once hosted by the unfortunate Paul Reubens. Upon hearing a certain word, all the characters scream together. A relationship is the writing of shared habits, conventions. Another metaphor is writing as in fiction writing, creating a character who will act in different ways in different contexts and will have a sense of how that character would behave in a new circumstance. Reading is self-writing.

2. Writing is a type of self-making.

Walter Benjamin writes in his essay “Unpacking My Library” that among the best ways to acquire books for one’s collection is to write them. Writing is a type of reading. One reads the words one puts down on paper. One reads the world, in the sense of interpreting it. One often reads other writing, as in Marx’s readings of English political economy, French socialism, and German philosophy, in order to produce a new work. The reading in writing is also a self-making. Marx’s journalism helped secure his livelihood, an economic production of self. Marx’s long hours in the British Library produced a certain type of self and life in a different fashion. Writing upon, with, or against Marx can also play a self-productive role. Lenin and Lukacs used Marx to produce themselves as in touch with a revolutionary class consciousness which placed them above the mere trade union consciousness which they believed was all the working class could achieve. Those works also served to help produce people who policed the working class, in the way that parents and teachers police children and students, believing themselves to be acting in the interests of those who don’t and can’t know their own real needs.

3. Reading and writing are relationships.

Among another of Benjamin’s favorite ways to acquire books is to borrow them and never return them. Writing on the body that occurs in a romantic relationship and in the act of reading. Writing on the body is borrowing and never returning – what becomes etched into one’s skin and synapses can not be returned – and is the writing of a new work, not the mechanical copying of a work but writing inspired, in the sense in which a novelist tries to write a work that accomplishes the admirable effects of other novels. In this sense, borrowing is not a zero sum game. One can return a work with interest, so to speak, as the writing on the body becomes something else that can be borrowed, read, (never) returned, and which can write. A borrowed work is borrowed from and returned to someone, to many someones. This borrowing is another self-production. Like love, it can have myriad effects and must be considered ambivalent.

4. Changing what or how someone reads shapes their self-making.

One who reads a book and is changed is not always changed in a static sense. One can be changed in the modes in which one makes oneself. Not only can one’s habits change, but one’s modes of habit formation – how one reads and writes (oneself) – can change. The old cliche about people acting how they are treated is true. If one comes to see oneself in the world a certain way, one is likely to act in a fashion in keeping with that picture. This can happen by a portrayal of oneself or a group one belongs to – this is what Mario Tronti wanted when he wrote that the Italian far left should begin to circulate photographs showing workers “as they really are,” as “proud and menacing” – and it can happen by a portrayal of someone else. Antonio Negri and Walter Benjamin both recognize this at times. For Negri, one of the best reasons to read Capital is the sense of class hatred it inculcates. Benjamin wants a similar result from a specific type of history writing. It might be said that some of the time Marx’s work is precisely this type of history writing.

5. Absence of reading can also have a shaping effect.

Umberto Eco in his essay “On The Style Of The Communist Manifesto” argues that the Manifesto demonstrates that a few well written pages, precisely in their literary qualities, can have exert a powerful shaping force upon the world. This is so, and is the only worthwhile meaning to the phrase “literary communism.” It must be noted, however, that these pages are a way in which people exert force on other people. The pages do not produce themselves. At the same time, they do not shape the world in a transparent or straightforward fashion anymore than partners in a love affair shape each other in such a fashion. There are unexpected results. The Communist Manifesto ostensibly aims to produce a powerful working class response, a collective subject or, perhaps, individual subjects who want and are able to aggregate into a type of collectivities. And yet, the Manifesto is as much a love letter to the bourgeoisie as to the proletariat, the latter being merely the gravediggers for the bourgeoisie – gravediggers produced by the bourgeoisie, no less. This is not an impressive active subject position for the proletariat. That is, Marx doesn’t read the proletariat as active subject. Labor may be the living form-giving fire, but the hottest forge is that labor united and disciplined by the capital relation. This absence in Marx, and the looming presence of vampiric capital (without a corresponding Van Helsing), can make Marx stultifying to read as much as emancipatory, Marx writing on the body a tracing or a translation of the many marks which say helpless, abject, object, etc.

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