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Whitehead and Marx

Marx efforts to present fragments of a history of class struggles (especially in France, in his booklets on the years between 1848 and the 18 Brumaire of Napoleon 3rd) were an attempt to illustrate a method in historical explanations. This method could be described as that of avoiding the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. One could explain things in terms, say, of the existing legislation or in terms of the current institutions. Marx urges us to avoid that for the ultimate source of the events is to be found in their class agents - to whom a law or an institution (or a tax, a campaign, a candidacy) is of interest? The method is to track down what happened in terms of class agency. Marx procedures also illustrate something else: that events have a perspective that are intrinsically connected to the way things are perceived by each class. There is no sense of history disentangled from a matrix of importances: Marx's writings have to do with a proletarian (perhaps universal, but universal because proletarian, according to Marx) take on what matters. To use the image made famous by Judith Butler: it is not only about the matters (about the facts of the matter or rather matters of fact) but it is about what matters. (Incidentally, Butler's analyses of the body reflect an oscillation between the agency of the body and what is important for it, and the importance of engaging the body in the material agencements of sexuality - in the latter, matter is not the agent, but the place where the effect of the agents take place.)

The appeal to class agents - and to economic agents in general - is (speculatively) extended by Whitehead to deal also with non-human agents. In Whitehead's picture, agents are always impressed by the determination of facts (where they exercise a receptivity) and a matrix of importances - that is embedded in the nature of experience. It follows that in the history of the universe at large, it would be an episode of misplaced concreteness to provide explanations based on laws or institutions (or spaces, or temporalities, or constraints). Concreteness is to be found in agents and their experience mediated by importance. To be sure, Marx's appeal to class agency is not the ultimate explanans either for classes themselves are formed by economic processes. Marxist analyses of politics would evoke interests (importance) and agents. Whitehead would consider everything from this point of view. It is a point of view that makes a large space for perspectives and their frictions.


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