The invisible hands of capital and labour: Using Merleau-ponty’s phenomenology to understand the meaning of alienation in marx’s theory of manual labour

Philosophy and Social Criticism 31 (1):53-67 (2005)
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Abstract

This essay argues that Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological description of gestural motility in his Phenomenology of Perception contributes to, and in a material way carries forward, not only (1) the account of alienation that Marx proposes in his writings on the condition of manual labour, but also (2) the reflections, at once critical and utopian, that Marx set out in his 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts , evoking in terms of praxis the realization and fulfillment of our sensuous nature as embodied beings. It is also argued, here, that Merleau-Ponty’s critique of the philosophical accounts of gesture formulated by intellectualism and naturalism shows that, in spite of their differences, they are both ideologically constituted systems of thought that uncritically reflect, and consequently reproduce, the alienations and reifications to which Marx calls attention in his critique of capitalism. Thus, as long as the invisible hand of capital rules, the hands of the worker that exploitation has damaged - and indeed the fully realized hands of which Marx in his early years dreamed - will remain invisible. Key Words: alienated labour • Marx • Merleau-Ponty • motor pathologies • phenomenology • reification.

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