Last Philosophy: the Metaphysics of Capital from Sohn-Rethel to Žižek

In: Historical Materialism
Alberto Toscano Goldsmiths, University of London

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Beginning with his engagement with Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s seminal treatment of ‘real abstraction’, Intellectual and Manual Labour, Slavoj Žižek has repeatedly thematised and excavated the proposition that capitalism is innervated by a kind of actually-existing metaphysics, the scandal of an abstract form external to human cognition. This essay investigates Žižek’s use and criticism of Sohn-Rethel and outlines some of the developments and contradictions in his effort to confront capital’s challenge to philosophy’s self-sufficiency. It problematizes Žižek’s tendency to elide a model of abstraction as a hollowing-out or evacuation of social content (rooted in The Communist Manifesto) with a much more promising conception of real abstraction as its re-articulation or re-functioning, while querying Žižek’s recent efforts to transcend the purported limitations of Marx’s conceptualisation of capital in the direction of a (‘Lacanised’) Hegel.

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