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Spectres of Marx

17 May

A ‘new international’ is being sought through these crises of international law; it already denounces the limits of a discourse on human rights that will remain inadequate, sometimes hypocritical, and in any case formalistic and inconsistent with itself as long as the law of the market, the ‘foreign debt,’ the inequality of techno-scientific, military, and economic development maintain an effective inequality as monstrous as that which prevails today, to a greater extend than ever in the history of humanity. For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realized itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the “end of ideologies” and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, never have so many men, women, and children been subjugated, starved, or exterminated on the earth.”

—Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York and London: Routledge, 1994), 85.

Karl Marx’s Kitchen

3 May

If the development of food is understood teleologically, the first stage would involve an incongruously large amount of time mashing, pounding and preparing ingredients. It would require perhaps half the day, and it would usually be performed by women. It is a laborious process; indeed, to paraphrase Hobbes, a nasty and (rather less than) short struggle.

The next stage sees modernity enter the stage, promising blueberry pies that can be prepared in a matter of minutes. A world of “no mess, no fuss” recipes and tinned and frozen foods are ushered into people’s newly purchased refrigerators. Despite enjoying great popularity among a time-poor population of consumers happy to exchange pestles and open fires for plastic-packet-opening scissors and microwaves, this sort of new-found freedom – the liberty to spend time on other things – tends to come at a price to one’s health. The consumer population gradually becomes aware that their conveniently packaged food is rife with large amounts of preservatives and artificial flavours.

A reaction against convenience and fast-food takes place. The third stage sees an increased demand for food that is both “modern” (i.e. relatively quick and easy to prepare and consume) and healthy (that is, free of artificial additives). In this stage, food and drinks are regulated in their production so as to accommodate the best aspects of both the preceding two stages. They are healthy, readily available, and do not require too much time on the part of the consumer.

It seems fair to conclude that, had Marx been a food critic instead of a social one, he would probably have been able to return to the world of capitalism far more happy with the outcome of society’s gradual change than otherwise.