Law Text Culture


In the Grundrisse Karl Marx wrote of how what ‘was the living worker's activity becomes the activity of the machine’ and that ‘the appropriation of labor by capital confronts the worker in a coarsely sensuous form; capital absorbs labor into itself – “as though its body were by love possessed”’. Marx drew this metaphorical quotation from Goethe’s Faust literarily describing a poisoned swollen-bellied dying rat. The line mattered enough to Marx (and Engels) to be present too in the first volume of Capital. What work this metaphorization does and how it indirectly relates to Giorgio Agamben’s enigmatic notion of inoperativity (also translated as inactivity, or inoperativeness and referencing human potential as incorporating both the capacity to do and the capacity not to do) is the central task of this paper. The paper argues that the abstracted notion of the emancipated slave who is not inclined to work for money but only works as is necessary was proffered by Marx, and is also proffered by Agamben, as an exemplary metaphorical model for general emancipation. If this is true, it would place the material conditions necessary for both Marx’s and Agamben’s theorisations in the concrete context of the Jamaican Quashees of the 19th Century Caribbean, and neither in classical antiquity (a fact relevant to the charge, unfounded or not, of Agamben’s Eurocentrism), nor in biblical exegesis (a fact relevant to the charge, unfounded or not, of Agamben’s mysticism).