About this Event
34th Annual Seaver Lecture: Ari Linden (Associate Professor, Department of German Studies)
"Karl Marx and the Worker in Exile"
The 34th Annual Seaver Lecture is presented by the Humanities Program at the University of Kansas, and co-sponsored by the Hall Center for the Humanities.
Vagrants, beggars, and wanderers abound in Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, most frequently in the final section on “So-Called Primitive Accumulation.” It was during this primal scene of capitalism, for Marx, that the “immediate producers” of pre-bourgeois society—serfs and peasants, but also future slaves and colonial subjects—were forcefully separated from their means of production and uprooted from the earth. Prior to the formation of a working class, that is, the wage laborer-to-be had been “set free” in a twofold sense. On the one hand, they were liberated from feudal or otherwise pre-capitalist relations and free to enter the world of market exchange; on the other hand, they were stripped of their more “intimate” and “natural” relationship to the land and soil and of the protections assured to them under this erstwhile existence. Marx captures this dialectical moment in the legal (German) term “vogelfrei,” which he employs to describe the modern proletariat and which had originally referred to recently emancipated peasants (literally: “free as a bird”). Over time, however, the term came to refer to outlaws, or those who had been effectively exiled from society. The implications of this historical-structural episode in Marx’s narrative are legion and provide the resources for us to conceive of Marx as a thinker of modern exile, a condition, Linden argues, that is not only of central importance to later generations of critical theorists, but also offers a critical framework for understanding the still-living twin fantasies of liberalism and reactionary romanticism.