value + structural law of value

value + structural law of value
  ---- by David B. Clarke
  The term 'value' has currency not only in political economy - use value, exchange value, surplus value - but also in terms of 'the great humanist criteria of value, the whole civilisation of moral, aesthetic and practical judgement' (SED, 9). Value's stratagem is to arrange the world into 'distinctly opposed terms between which a dialectic can then be established' (PW, 15). Aesthetic value establishes an opposition between the beautiful and the ugly; moral value between good and evil; and so on. Such oppositions appear symmetrical - no beauty without ugliness; no ugliness without beauty - but this symmetry is deceptive. The positively charged term asserts and controls the distinction, defining its opposite as lacking what it possesses, anticipating its demise in a generalised system of equivalence. All systems of value postulate 'the possibility of balancing out value, of finding a general equivalent for it which is capable of exhausting meanings and accounting for an exchange' (PW, 9). Value, then, 'grounds our morality, as does the idea that everything can be exchanged, that the only thing that exists is what can assume value' (PW, 73).
  On this basis, Baudrillard is as interested in what value excludes as in value itself: 'there is in our system of values no reversibility: what is positive is on the side of life, what is negative is on the side of death; death is the end of life, its opposite' (PW, 16). Death, in our society, is afforded no value and no meaning: we would be better off without it. Yet life and death are characterised by reversibility rather than opposition. 'In the symbolic universe, life and death are exchanged. And, since there are no separate terms but, rather, reversibility, the idea of value is cast into question' (PW, 15). However much a society predicated on value might attempt to eliminate the individual causes of dying, it cannot escape the fact that 'Death is an aspect of life' (SED, 188). Insofar as it is premised on the resolution of opposed terms, value can only ever feign its status as a self-sufficient principle. By attempting to force that which cannot be exchanged to disappear, all systems of value are destined to see their ambition humiliated: 'All that lives by value will perish by equivalence' (P, 4). Just as all forms of physical energy dissipate into the state of maximal entropy known as thermic death, a kind of metaphysical entropy has led everything to dissipate into the value-form, and thence to the dissipation of value itself. 'The great Nietzschean idea of the transvaluation of all values has seen itself realized in precisely the opposite way: in the involution of all values . . . For the transmutation of values we substituted the commutation of values, for their reciprocal transfiguration we substituted their indifference to one another and their confusion' (P, 2).
  Evidently, Baudrillard's conception of value and its fate differs starkly from Marx's. From the perspective of symbolic exchange, Baudrillard sees Marx's critique of political economy as a woefully inadequate reflection of its object, already caught in the mirror of production through which 'the human species comes to consciousness [la prise de conscience]' (MP, 19). The imaginary, 'through which an objective world emerges and through which man recognizes himself objectively', is determined solely by 'production which is assigned to him as the ultimate dimension of value and meaning' (MP, 19). Production, however, is blind to the challenge of seduction, which draws us 'beyond the reality principle' (EC, 58). It is in this context that Baudrillard's identification of a 'structural' law of value assumes its significance. For Marx, it is the additional dimension of exchange value, over and above use value, that defines the commodity. Unlike use value, exchange value is marked by the relativity of its form. Yet as far as Marx was concerned, this does not detract from the sense in which the value form expresses an underlying substance - 'a congelation of homogeneous human labour' (Marx, 1954: 46). Abstracting from use value, Ј10 of cheese is worth ten times more than Ј1 of chalk. How much cheese or chalk one gets for Ј1, however, is determined by the abstract social labour 'congealed' in the commodity. Such is the classical law of value: the abstract labour time socially necessary to produce a commodity under prevailing social and technological conditions is conserved in the sphere of exchange. Drawing on Ferdinand de Saussure's analysis of linguistic value, however, Baudrillard historicises Marx's concern with the substance of value. Marx privileged the role of use value as 'the horizon and finality of the system of exchange-values' (SED, 6), failing to detect that use value is subject to precisely the same 'logic of equivalence' as exchange value, and mistakenly 'maintaining use value as the category of "incomparability"' (CPS, 134) when it is merely the alibi of exchange value and subject to the same law of equivalence.
  For Saussure (1959: 115), 'To determine what a five-franc piece is worth one must . . . know: (1) that it can be exchanged for a fixed quantity of a different thing, e.g. bread; and (2) that it can be compared with a similar value of the same system, e.g. a one-franc piece.' The first dimension corresponds, by analogy, to the functional capacity for a linguistic sign to refer to something; the second corresponds to the structural system of differential terms capable of allowing such reference in the first place. Saussure held that language as such inheres in its structural dimension, in purely differential terms, defined by 'their relativity, internal to the system and constituted by binary oppositions' (SED, 6). The substance happened upon by language - vocal chords and sound waves, paper and ink - is wholly incidental. Yet under 'classical' conditions, the structural and functional dimensions of language mesh and cohere. Just as 'the commodity law of value is a law of equivalences, . . . it equally designates . . . equivalence in the configuration of the sign, where one signifier and one signified facilitate the regulated exchange of a referential content' (SED, 8), presiding over a dialectic between the sign and the real. Yet 'a revolution has put an end to this "classical" economics of value, . . . Referential value is annihilated, giving the structural play of value the upper hand' (SED, 6). Such is the structural revolution of value, which entails that, 'from now on, signs are exchanged against each other rather than against the real' - indeed, 'the real has died of the shock of value acquiring this fantastic autonomy' (SED, 7). It is in this technical sense that Baudrillard intends the term 'simulation'.
   § ambivalence
   § death
   § production
   § reversibility
   § semiotics
   § simulation

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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