The tendency toward the denigration of "vulgar materialism" in Marxism explained via apartment tenants being assholes to each other


The position of the contemporary Marxist seems at times like that of a person living on the first floor of a house, who turns to the tenant of the second floor and says: 'You think you're independent, that you support yourself by yourself?  You're wrong!  Your apartment stands only because it is supported on mine, and if mine collapses, yours will too'; and on the other hand to the ground-floor tenant: 'What are you saying?  That you support and condition me?  What a wretched illusion!  The ground floor exists only in so far as it is the ground floor to the first floor.  Or rather, strictly speaking, the real ground floor is the first floor, and your apartment is only a sort of cellar, to which no real existence can be assigned.'  To tell the truth, the relations between the Marxist and the second-floor tenant have been perceptibly improved for some time, not because the second-floor tenant has recognized his own 'dependence,' but because the Marxist has reduced his pretensions considerably, and has come to admit that the second floor is very largely autonomous from the first, or else that the two apartments 'support each other'.  But the contempt for the inhabitant of the ground floor has become increasingly pronounced.

- Sebastiano Timpanaro, Sul Materialismo (1970)

3 comments:

wHaTuP! said...

Who do the ground and 2nd floor residents represent? I need help here lol

Anonymous said...

"But the contempt for the inhabitant of the ground floor has become increasingly pronounced..." Perhaps because, at least these days, the ground floor tenants have a false and skewed sense of entitlement to the benefits of the second floor, yet feel as if they do not have to work or put forth the same amount of efforts to achieve said entitlements as those of the second floor have, but yet, having the audacity to alledge an "uneven playing field", as if the world owes them to cast its pearls before swine. Often the ones who squeel loudest are least deserving.

Did I get it right? Maybe?

-Vince

socialism and/or barbarism said...

Well, Vince's take certainly can hold.

Although in Timpanaro's scheme:

inhabitants of the ground floor = "vulgar materialists"/dwellers of the base structure (which for Timpanaro refers not just to the means of production but also to certain biological conditions and material organizations and limits that can't be overcome), who declare that superstructure (and with it, the imagined autonomy of the human agent and thought) cannot cohere or be understood without reference to this ground floor substrate

inhabitants of the second floor: "idealists" (and, in a different way, those who see the superstructure as not effectively determined by all that lies below)

Of course, as we see elsewhere through his work, we shouldn't take on a false equation of idealist = superstructure, and materialist = base structure. One can obviously have a materialist conception of superstructure. An idealist notion of base structure is harder, as it would have to drop notions of determination and, more importantly, of the capacity for there to be elements of the base (in the sense of the physical ground of the social relations and laboring subjects) that exceed/are indifferent/do not correlate to superstructural forms. The base is a lot wider than its towers, just as those towers can end a lot weirder - and tilting - than any account of determination can declare them to be.