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2— Part and Whole
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Metonymy and Materialism

Not unique to Marx, the discourse of part and whole was very much a standard trope in the nineteenth century, a regular feature of its social critique. In a graphic moment in "The American Scholar," for example, Emerson would thrust before the reader a catalog of bodily parts, amputated and randomly assorted, "strut[ting] about" like "so many walking monsters—a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man." With this grotesque image he castigated a phenomenon he found equally grotesque, a phenomenon brought on by the mod-


ern division of labor and amounting, as he saw it, to a metonymic perversion, a substitution of part for whole. Every task is "so distributed to multitudes, . . . so minutely subdivided and peddled out," Emerson complained, that human beings too have become mere fractions of what they might have been.[4] Speaking of human fractions, Emerson's neighbor, Thoreau, was even more emphatic: "It is not the tailor alone who is the ninth part of a man; it is as much the preacher, and the merchant, and the farmer. Where is this division of labor to end? and what object does it finally serve?[5]

Emerson and Thoreau were talking about the same phenomenon which, some sixty years earlier, Adam Smith had reported in thrilling terms.[6] The division of labor for Smith had meant a tremendous gain in productivity, his prime example being the worker who, once upon a time, had been capable of making "perhaps not one pin in a day," but who under modern management "might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day.[7] For Emerson and Thoreau, such increased output could mean only a human loss, only a substitutive violence, by which the "ninth part of a man" was made to stand for the man who, they assumed, was once upon a time fully himself, organic and integral. "A man in the view of political economy is a pair of hands," Emerson had observed in an earlier lecture.[8] This sense of metonymic horror was vividly felt on both sides of the Atlantic. It was the burden of Ruskin's pointed rebuke to Adam Smith in The Stones of Venice (1853), when he complained about laborers being "divided into mere segments of Men—broken into small fragments and crumbs of life; so that all the little piece of intelligence that is left in a man is not enough to make a pin, or a nail, but exhausts itself in making the point of a pin or the head of a nail."[9] And it was the burden of Marx's even more pointed critique in Capital (1867). Capitalism, Marx wrote, institutes a regimen of "partial function" and "fractional work"; it "rivet[s] each labourer to a single fractional detail" and runs a "productive mechanism whose parts are human beings."[10] In so doing, it

converts the labourer into a crippled monstrosity, . . . just as in the States of La Plata they butcher a whole beast for the sake of his hide or his tallow. . . . Not only is the detail work distributed to the different individuals, but the individual himself is made the automatic motor of a fractional operation, and the absurd fable of Menenius Agrippa, which makes man a mere fragment of his own body, becomes realised.[11]


The body of the worker, partitioned and fragmented, thus stands for Marx as a sign, a generalizable figure, for capitalist atrocity. I call this mode of figuration "metonymic," not so much in the sense of Roman Jakobson[12] as in the sense of Kenneth Burke and, more recently, in the sense now current among cognitive linguists, especially George Lakoff. For Kenneth Burke, metonymy is the trope that "conveys some incorporeal or intangible state in terms of the corporeal or tangible"; it is thus a form of reduction, capturing an immaterial order within a material index and an attribute of consciousness within a "bodily equivalent."[13] George Lakoff, meanwhile, links metonymy to what he calls the "prototype effect" in human cognition: the tacit derivation of an overarching, integral, and silently normative category from a term construed to be its part.[14] Metonymy operates most broadly then as a principle of commensurability, the immaterial here being encapsulated by (and equated with) the material in a generalizable relation, a relation of representational adequacy or logical inferability. Deriving a presumptive whole from an actualized part, metonymy not only instantiates but also contains, focusing on a salient detail only to project from it a bounded totality. In this particular example, the bodily parts adduced by Emerson and Thoreau, Marx and Ruskin, would seem to be projections, however monstrous, of a normative wholeness, shadowed in its very loss.

This chapter is an argument against the presumed integrity of such a "whole." It is also an argument against the presumed commensurability of the material and the immaterial. Still, my hope here is not to develop a general critique of metonymy but to challenge one particular instance of its deployment. What concerns me is a quite specific juncture, the juncture at which Marx (like Emerson, Thoreau, and Ruskin) should choose to expose the injustice of capitalism by invoking the ideal of an integral unit—equated with its physical body, here called "the individual himself"—a unit whose current dismemberment he lamented but whose original (and eventual) wholeness he apparently never questioned.

The nineteenth-century concept of a "whole," including Marx's and perhaps most especially Marx's, was thus "materialist" in a quite literal sense, in that it was derived from (and imaged after) the boundedness and integrity of the physical body. What this corporeal derivation made possible was a new assurance about the boundedness and integrity of the world, based on the commensurability between the


material and the immaterial, an assurance I here call "metonymic." Here I also depart from Hayden White, who, in identifying metonymy as a central trope in Marx, has emphasized its opposition to the metaphoric (and thus fragmenting) exchange imposed by capitalism.[15] Yet in its very denial of the fragmented, in its reduction of all differences to a form of the commensurate, metonymy in my view would seem to be instituting an exchange of its own. It was through metonymy, after all, that the idea of the person was here equated with the physical fact of the person, making the bodily subject synonymous with the subject as an epistemological category.

Charles Taylor has referred to this principle of commensurability—this equation of the epistemological with the corporeal—as the "strong localization" of the self. He links it not only to modern individualism but also to modern materialism, the paradoxical union of which, he argues, would usher in the equally paradoxical spectacle of a "radical subjectivity" consorting with a "radical objectivity." Under this new dispensation, this collapse of the immaterial into the material, "we come to think that we 'have' selves as we have heads."[16] it was this equation of "selves" with "heads" that prompted these nineteenth-century thinkers to make the bodily subject a founding unit, an empirical whole, integral not only in physical space but also in the nonphysical space of a polity, an economy, and a morality.

Following Taylor, then, I want to link the preeminence of the bodily subject not only to nineteenth-century individualism but also, more surprisingly, to nineteenth-century materialism, especially its Marxist variant. "Materialism," from this perspective, is something rather broader than the position usually attributed to Marx and summed up in his much-quoted preface to the Critique of Political Economy ("The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness").[17] Understood as a form of economism, materialism has had more than its share of critics. Rather than rehearsing their familiar arguments, I want to give the term a different definitional scope and situate it within a different order of vulnerability. Taking materialism to be above all an epistemology, I want to take issue not with its thematic dependence on the economic but with its cognitive dependence on the commensurate: its dependence on the translatable relation from part to whole, from the tangible to the in-


tangible. It is in this sense that I want to charge Marxist materialism with being "metonymic," metonymy here being not just a style of representation but also a style of cognition. And it is this cognitive style that underwrites Marx's dream of an integral body as an adequate figure for "the individual himself," as well as his dream of a total revolution as an adequate figure for justice, an adequation based on the translatability of the economic into the legal, the political, and the social.

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2— Part and Whole
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