I’ve started re-reading TLSD for reasons outlined in the last post. Since Postone’s book wasn’t the first value-form theory work I read it didn’t have the impact on me that it had on some. So whilst i’ve always been of the opinion that the book earned its reputation more because of the context it appeared in– where it was received as a sui generis fundamental re-interpretation of Marx and not as something that came out of the New German Reading of Marx or after the translation of Rubin, Backhaus, Reichelt or even several decades after pioneering English articles by Arthur and Banaji–rather than its own merits, i’m quite surprised by how many problems I’ve had with it whilst re-reading it. Here are a few.
1) The general style, structure and tone of the book make it seem more like a thesis than something published by Cambridge University Press. The style is repetitive and vague. (i’ll get to how this affects his analysis later.) The structure is also odd. In the preface Postone makes numerous claims about the relevance his interpretation of Marx will have to everything from the structure/agency problem, to the analysis of NSM to radical democracy. Although I haven’t finished re-reading it I don’t remember him substantiating any of these points. Then he presents his criticism of traditional marxism and critical theory before he has offered his reinterpretation. Finally he moves to his reinterpretation but its primarily abstract labour and his own category of abstract time, finally he tries to tack these categories onto his theory of capital and money, which only cover ten pages. Admittedly I haven’t got there yet in the re-read, and they may be amazing, but it still seems odd to structure and focus his reinterpretation of Marx in the manner. It seems to me like it would have been better to put his interpretation before his criticisms of traditional marxism and critical theory and to devote more time to capital. But this way it might be argued that it makes him easier to get away with criticizing traditional marxism and critical theory for relying on the standpoint of labour, since we haven’t seen that his notion of the standpoint of labour and abstract labour are problematic and partial.
2) His vague style also causes problems with his interpretation of Marx. The use of terms like ‘quasi-objective,’ ‘intrinsic historic dynamic’ and his bandying about of Hegelian phrases like mediation don’t really give a clear sense of what capital is or how or why it is a form of abstract social domination.
3) This is also the case with the big deal that he makes about the standpoint of labour. I’m sure someone has pointed this out before but it seems likes this throws together a few things with this term. You can talk about standpoint in the sense of the standpoint of class consciousness but I don’t think this is the same thing as the way in which capitalist valorization is socially constituted or the means by which Marx argued it should be overthrown. It seems to me Postone does treat these difference things as the same thing which he calls the standpoint of labour. What’s worse is that like in point 2 he too often treats his point that social labour in capitalism is socially specific for an account of how it is socially specific. He only provides a partial account of the later in his treatment of abstract labour, as Arthur and others have pointed out this puts the cart before the horse, downplaying the role of money and ultimately undermining any account Postone can give of how or what the intrinsic dynamic of capital is.
Perhaps the remainder of the book will prove me wrong.