Friday, October 24, 2008


I can't remember who I was talking to, but I'm pretty sure someone said that they wanted to look at Capital in relation to literature or theatre...? If so, there's a reference to Goethe's Faust in the section that we've just read which I thought might be of interest.

On page 302, Marx describes capital as "an animated monster which begins to 'work', 'as if its body were by love possessed'." The quotation comes from a song sung in a a drinking den, and has been translated into English in a variety of different ways; the German is 'als hatt es Lieb in Leibe' which in addition to 'as if its body were by love possessed' has been rendered as 'as if it had love in its body', 'as if his frame love wasted', and, in my own copy - which sounds a bit rude - as 'love consumed his vitals'. Marx in fact liked this so much that he quoted it again in Volume 3 (p.517 of the Penguin edition, chapter 24) when describing interest: "The money's body is now by love possessed".

Faust is great, and you can find it for free on the internet. I found this version of the song here:

Brander [pounding on the table].
Give heed Give heed! Lend me your ear!
You, sirs, confess that I know what is what.
Some lovesick folk are sitting here,
And so in honour due their present lot
I must contribute to their night's good cheer.
Give heed! A brand-new song 'twill be!
And sing the chorus lustily!

[He sings.]

There once in a cellar lived a rat,
Had a paunch could scarce be smoother,
For it lived on butter and on fat,
A mate for Doctor Luther.
But soon the cook did poison strew
And then the rat, so cramped it grew
As if it had love in its body.
Chorus [shouting].
As if it had love in its body.
It flew around, and out it flew,
From every puddle swilling,
It gnawed and scratched the whole house through,
But its rage was past all stilling.
It jumped full of in anguish mad,
But soon, poor beast, enough it had,
As if it had love in its body.
As if it had love in its body.
By anguish driven in open day
It rushed into the kitchen,
Fell on the hearth and panting lay,
Most pitiably twitchin'.
Then laughed the poisoner: "Hee! hee! hee!
It's at its last gasp now," said she,
"As if it had love in its body."
"As if it had love in its body."

As is no doubt evident by now, Capital is full of literary references and it can be quite fun to chase them up. Francis Wheen's short biography of Capital (he's also done a biography of Marx himself, but I'm told it's not that great) stresses these literary references and describes the book as a 'Gothic novel':

"By the time he wrote Das Kapital, he was pushing out beyond conventional prose into radical literary collage - juxtaposing voices and quotations from mythology and literature, from factory inspectors' reports and fairy tales, in the manner of Ezra Pound's Cantos or Eliot's The Waste Land."

My own copy of this book is cicrulating in the second seminar group at the moment, but if anyone else wants to read it do say so. You can find a version of its first chapter here:

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