Marx and Scarface


Unlike his Althusserian readers, I take the early Marx seriously. It is in the early Marx that the trauma that structures his production is closest to the surface. Consider his famous remarks about money in the early manuscripts:

The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness – its deterrent power – is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has power over the clever not more clever than the clever? Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

Money is the “fraternisation of impossibilities. It makes contradictions embrace.” And yet, the limit of money’s power is that it can never actually eradicate the knowledge of the differences it papers over. If this were not so, prostitution in all its forms would be self-eradicating and money would become superfluous. The power of money is similar to that of plastic surgery, to which the rich have privileged access. There is a point where what plastic surgery hides or attempts to hide thereby acquires a monstrous quality it would otherwise lack. In a similar vein, money will buy toadies, but a man surrounded by toadies mutates into a freak . In forcing contradictions to embrace, money highlights, sometimes to a grotesque degree, the very contradictions it mechanically overrules.

It is at the end of the above-quoted passage that what truly disturbs Marx about money becomes evident.  Abruptly, Marx’s thoughts turn to love:

Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over other people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. If you love without evoking love in return – that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person you do not make yourself a beloved one, then your love is impotent – a misfortune.

The disjunction between this paragraph and what precedes it suggests that here what has been tamped down by intellectualization makes its most energetic attempt to be heard.

The power of money reveals to Marx the absence of sexual rapport. The capacity to love does not get you love. You have to pay for your pleasure. You have to participate in a system of heterogeneous, assymmetric exchange that puts in question any assumption of substantiality, of “man to be man.” That money can be converted into erotic capital gives the lie to the belief that  “beyond his symbolic title, there is deep in [a man] some substantial content, some hidden treasure which makes him worthy of love.” [1] Marx here comes as close as he can to apprehending love’s fundamental lack of reciprocity and encounters a “misfortune.” Contrast with the fictional Tony Montana’s perverse enjoyment in propounding the “facts of life” to his brother in Scarface:   “In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the woman.”  For Montana this is cause for hope. It means “the woman” is accessible and knowable. Marx’s structure is obsessional. Unlike the pervert, who insists that everything can be bought and relishes proving the degradation to which the Other can be submitted (i.e. disproving its Otherness) for Marx, the object that can be bought is structurally an object he cannot want. His desire is always for the impossible.

The rest of his life will be spent in an effort to universalize his symptom by way of elaborating a science of capital.

[1] Slavoj Zizek, Woman is One of the Names-of-the-Father, or How Not to Misread Lacan’s Formulas of Sexuation