The Corporate Form & Capitalism: The Cloister

There is something wonderous about Graeber’s (sardonic?) reformulation of the origin of capitalism:

“The main difference between European firms of this period and commercial enterprises in the Islamic world or East Asia seems to have been that they were not family firms. Especially with the development of the corporate form – the idea that capitalist enterprises were immortal persons free of the need to be born, marry or die – the economic domain was effectively excised from the domain of transformation and the mutual shaping of human beings and came to be seen as something transcendent. This might suggest:

Thesis 5: Capitalism’s unlimited demand for growth and profit is related to the transcendent abstraction of the corporate form. In any society, the dominant forms are considered transcendent from reality in much the way value forms tend to be and when these transcendent forms encounter ‘material’ reality, their demands are absolute”

Graeber D (2006), ‘Turning Modes of Production Inside Out: Or, Why Capitalism is a Transformation of Slavery’, Critique of Anthropology; 26.1

Such immortal institutions had long existed – in the form of monastries & religious places – all over the world and it is interesting to compare this to the discussion on the ‘spiritual gift economy’ in d’Avray [Medieval Religious Rationalities. Cambridge University Press, 2010] & then on to Benjamin in The Arcades Project to consider the interaction of society, culture & discourse..


The Labour of People-Making in Death: Hagiography & Gender

“It seems to me that even beyond the labor that is constantly creating and reshaping human beings, a key unacknowledged form of labor in human societies is precisely that which creates and maintains that illusion of transcendence. In most, both are performed overwhelmingly by women. A nice way to illustrate what I’m talking about here might be to consider the phenomenon of mourning. Rarely do the political careers of important individuals end in death. Often political figures, as ancestors, martyrs, founders of institutions, can be far more important after their death than when they were alive. Mourning, and other acts of memorialization, could then be seen as an essential part of the labor of people-making – with the fact that the dead person is no longer himself playing an active role simply underlining how much of the work of making and maintaining a career is always done by others. Even the most cursory glance at the literature shows that the burden of such labor, here, tends to be very unevenly distributed. This is in fact especially true of the most dramatic forms – cutting off one’s hair, self-mutilation, fasting, wearing drab clothes or sackcloth and ashes, or whatever is considered the culturally appropriate way to make oneself an embodiment of grief, as, essentially, negating oneself to express anguish over the loss of another. Social subordinates mourn their superiors and not the other way around. And pretty much everywhere, the burden of mourning falls disproportionately, and usually overwhelmingly, on women. In many parts of the world, women of a certain age are expected to exist largely as living memorials to some dead male: whether it be Hindu widows who must renounce all the tastiest foods, or Catholic women in the rural Mediterranean who are likely to spend at least half their lives wearing black. Needless to say these women almost never receive the same recognition when they die, least of all from men.”


Graeber D (2006), ‘Turning Modes of Production Inside Out: Or, Why Capitalism is a Transformation of Slavery’, Critique of Anthropology; 26.1  


the interiorisation by each of the group … whose sole existence is each person’s interiorisation of it

“The group looked at from the outside comes into view as a social object, lending by its appearance and by the apparent processes that go on inside it, credence to the organismic illusion.

This is a mirage; as one approaches closer there is no organism anywhere.

A group, whose unification is achieved through the reciprocal interiorisation by each of each other, in which neither a ‘common object’, nor organisational or institutional structures, etc. have a primary function as a kind of group ‘cement’, I shall call a nexus.

The unity of the nexus is in the interior of each synthesis. Each such act of synthesis is bound by reciprocal interiority with every other synthesis of the same nexus, in so far as it is also the interiority of every other synthesis. The unity of the nexus is the unification made by each person of the plurality of syntheses.

This social structure of the completely achieved nexus is its unity as ubiquity. It is a ubiquity of heres, whereas the series of others is always

elsewhere, always there. The series is a circular flight. It is elusive. It is never here and now; never in my thinking, always in what I think the others think. The nexus exists only in so far as each person incarnates the nexus. The nexus is everywhere, in each person, and is nowhere else than in each. The nexus is at the opposite pole from the series, in that each person acknowledges affiliation to it, regards the other as co-essential to him, and assumes that the other regards him as co-essential to the other.

‘We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.’ (Chesterton)

In this group of reciprocal loyalty, of brotherhood unto death, each freedom is reciprocally pledged, one to the other.

In the nexal family the unity of the group is achieved through the interiorisation by each of the group, and the danger to each person (since the person is essential to the nexus, and the nexus is essential to the person) is the dissolution or dispersion of ‘the family’. This can come about only by one person after another dissolving it in themselves. A united ‘family’ exists only as long as each person acts in terms of its existence. Each person may then act on the other person to coerce him (by sympathy, blackmail, indebtedness, guilt, gratitude, or naked violence) into maintaining his interiorisation of the group unchanged.

The nexal family is then the ‘entity’ that has to be preserved in each person, and served by each person, whom one lives and dies for: and which in turn offers life for loyalty, and death for desertion. Any deflection from the nexus (betrayal, treason, heresy, etc.) is deservedly, by nexus ethics, punishable: and the worst punishment devisable by the ‘group men’ is exile or ex-communication.

The condition of permanence of such a nexus, whose sole existence is each person’s interiorisation of it, is the successful re-invention of whatever gives such interiorisation its raison d’être. If there is no external danger, then danger and terror have to be invented and maintained. Each person has to act on the others to maintain the nexus in them.”

R. D. Laing, Series And Nexus In The Family, New Left Review I/15, May-June 1962

Graeber: Foucault/Marx/Laing

“Always, the production of wealth was seen not as an end in itself but as one subordinate moment in a larger process that ultimately aimed at the production of people. Neither does he suggest that this was just a subjective illusion that we have only learned to see through now that we have developed the science of economics; rather, it is quite the other way around. The ancients had it right. In The German Ideology, Marx had already suggested that the production of objects is always simultaneously the production of people and social relations (as well as new needs: 1970[1846]: 48–50). Here, he observes that the objects are not ultimately the point. Capitalism and ‘economic science’ might confuse us into thinking that the ultimate goal of society is simply the increase of national GDP, the production of more and more wealth, but in reality wealth has no meaning except as a medium for the growth and self-realization of human beings.”

“This emphasizes that just about always this process of realization of value involves some form of public recognition, but this is not to say that people are simply battling over ‘prestige’; instead, the range of people who are willing to recognize certain forms of value constitutes the extent of what an actor considers ‘society’, in any meaningful sense of the term, to consist of (Graeber, 2001).”

Graeber D (2006), ‘Turning Modes of Production Inside Out: Or, Why Capitalism is a Transformation of Slavery’, Critique of Anthropology; 26.1  

Culture is that which is left behind in society’s wake.

Culture is the products (conceptual & physical; subjective and objective) of society (i.e. human action and intersection). It is always being swept into the past by the procession of ‘nows’. If it is remembered, if it is a part of history (n/b here with h not H), then
it is available to us. It becomes “a possible pattern of meanings inherited from the immediate past, a canopy for the interpretive needs of the present”, it haunts us, and it is that which we can study. If it does not survive, if it is silenced, if the relations-of-power implicated in culture production and the production of cultural survival are turned against it then it will haunt History & only History (not society more generally) and it will not be studied because History cannot (will not) comprehend absence. History can only see the silencing of the padt when it has not been successful. So that something partial still remains to haunt us. So that we can know that it happened but not any specifics. It is for this reason that the poor and the critically-resisting are lost to History until the advent of modernity.