The Metaphysics of Capital
Author: Nicholas Ruiz III
Publisher: Daytona Beach, FL: Intertheory Press, 2006
Review Published: December 2007
Ranging across subjects as diverse as biology and biotechnology to critical theory and genetics, and back again, Nicholas Ruiz's 2006 book, The Metaphysics of Capital, attempts to overcome some of the dominant paradigms that have shaped Western thought in an attempt to formulate a new conception of culture and capital. Through notions of biopolitics and technology that sees the function of "Code" operating in the world through our genetics, Ruiz re-imagines the project of Western metaphysics as a function of human genetic capitalization, through the lens of (mostly) French critical theory.
Ruiz builds his argument by conflating the notions of capital with that of genetics as his main starting point: "Capitalization is a function of our genetic Code" (2). It is important at the outset to understand that genetic replication orders our world through replication and capitalization; Code necessarily exploits the environment that it finds itself in order to reproduce and maintain itself. Ruiz goes on to tell us that his use of the term capital functions on a protocol of sequestration and distribution. From these two seemingly disparate areas a "subjective metaphysics" is created. This is a conception of Capital that attempts to move beyond Marx: "It is not Capital as 'C' in an equation that we are after here; nor the redifferentiation of jargon like 'use-value,' 'exchange value,' 'proletariat politics,' 'commodity structure,' and so on" (10). Rather, this Capital is a "conceptual thing." What that conceptual thing is, however, remains unclear for some time, which in fact becomes one of the major problems of this book, as Ruiz seems to struggle with the notion of Capital, revisiting and redefining it throughout the course of the book, until one is no longer sure what Capital really is or what it is supposed to represent beyond servicing the function of Code.
The first chapter, "The Passion of the Code," outlines what the Code is constructed of and how its "replication" occurs. The operation of genetic Code manifests itself in all areas of human life. We are functions of Code and operators of Code for one purpose which is to reproduce: "The Code has no destiny. No fate. No plan. Put simply (and anthropically), it adapts -- an unconscious operation; an evolving adaptive protocol that has one general goal: to replicate" (6). This bio-determinist realm indicates a problematic shift that removes human agency from Metaphysics, for no matter how one thinks or maneuvers, our agency only comes from our adaptability in the face of problems. Response is genetically coded, rather than influenced by anything social. If there is a social, it plays a small part and is really a result of Code's survival.
The second chapter, "Global Capital: The Currency of the Code," examines how culture and its Code is disseminated and traded globally. Because Code is inherently capitalist, it must distribute itself in some fashion and by and through any means that it can possibly take. Thus, globalization is a natural product of the human project whereby differences are ultimately effaced and culture will eventually become homogeneous. Obviously, this is one fear that we have to contend with, as it seems that homogenization of culture is occurring throughout the world. However, one must contend with the human need to differentiate and to actively resist homogenization, for it is in actively opposing and resisting homogeneity that change can occur. Capital may itself be fluid enough to encompass and resist this supposed inevitable march towards the facile same. Adaptability is a strange phenomenon with few rules.
In the final parts, "The Metaphysics of Capital" and "The Sovereignty of the Code," Capital is analyzed as the force that gives shape to how we mediate and create the world that we know and navigate. In the end, we cannot resist Capital for to do so is to resist ourselves. Resistance comes through a utilitarian function as we defer our biological epistemological and ontological conditions to and through culture.
This raises a number of contentions at this point. First, one must question whether or not it is responsible and ethical to reduce Culture to biological determinist notions and, further, whether or not capital can be reconfigured in such a way, as we seem to be in the realm of some of the most unsavory parts of sociobiology. Through a total overthrowing of Religion and Marx (and presumably all other narratives), Ruiz paints himself in to a corner that has little space for culture other than as a theory and servant to Code. Furthermore, if this is the case, then Capital as it is reconfigured becomes empty of meaning, and even more crucially empty of struggle, which seems to inherently contradict the nature of Capital, whether Marxian or Deleuzean.
In Ruiz's formulation, Code functions deterministically. As the author notes, "living forms are vessels by, for and of Code. Skin is Code, hair is Code, thought is Code, blood is Code ... Homo sapiens, the species -- is merely one macrologic embodiment of what we might call the micrologic replicative passion of the Code" (18). Code is pure information "without thought of ethical or moral redress" (38). If Code operates truly and only in this fashion it seems that we teeter dangerously on the ledge of being biological automatons, our bodies solely at the service of genetic continuance, without any kind of free will or choice. This is not to deny the affect and importance of our biology, but it does seem important to resist the type of totalizing narrative being presented here.
Is Culture a possible exit here? Ruiz posits Culture as a Copy of Code: "They purvey the intent to remember, to simulate, to communicate to oneself and perhaps one another, and to extend themselves through space and time, hence they are the beginnings of the prosthesis of our Code -- as Copy" (160). Conflating human activity with "bees and their honeycombs, beavers and their dams, or ants and their mounds, we project our Code onto the space around us" (161). This is presumably achieved through Culture. It is important to pause here and ask whether or not we can compare and are comfortable with that comparison of humans with bees, ants and beavers? This is not to deny our animality, but more to oppose the sociobiological thrust of this argument. I suspect that Ruiz would deny this thrust to his arguments, but it seems undeniable given his formulation of Code, that he is privileging a determined Nature over Nurture.
Another contention arises through the notion of Capital -- one that takes away its political edge and replaces it with being merely a process of Code propagation. By removing the political element of Capital as a tool for engaged political class struggle, Ruiz is attempting to overcome not just Marx, but the entire project of Marxism itself. While acknowledging Marx's contribution to the theory of Capital, Ruiz states that "Marx's license on Capital has expired, in concept and in theory. In fact, Marx has departed, despite the Marxists" (59). The point of the gesture is well taken, as fundamentalist Marxism, like religion, may benefit from critiquing (presumably the project of all theorists after Marx). However, it seems premature to dismiss the entire Marxist project as having expired. Where can resistance be inhabited and articulated within this structure? Is politics possible, necessary, or even desirable in this system? The reason to bring this question up is because it seems unreasonable to suggest that Code is everything and call for a political project as Ruiz does: "The political is so important. The political is our only means for attenuating the voracity of the Code, and the resultant material accumulations it desires, and the sequestering of material hordes it portends" (97). But what is the point of engaging in politics in a system that "has no destiny. No fate. No plan" (6)?
Finally, mistakes in spelling and grammar, as well as layout glitches, distract the reader and detract from the flow of argument. A little digging reveals that this was Ruiz's PhD thesis, which is not in itself a bad thing until one realizes that there was likely no editing done from defense to publication. This may also account for the language, which is both obscure and opaque and clearly intended for a specialized audience: the committee. Clear writing is not the hallmark of many Post-Structuralist writers, particularly the ones cited consistently here (Baudrillard and Deleuze) but Ruiz sometimes hits new heights of obscurity.
In summary, one gets the sense that there is important work being done in the pages of The Metaphysics of Capital, however contentious or disagreeable one may find it. There are important questions asked and some sacred cows brought to slaughter. But with the lack of clarity in its presentation, and the minor distractions throughout, it is sometimes difficult to dig out the meaning and be sure what exactly is being said, frustrating the reader in the process.
David Christopher Jackson:
David Christopher Jackson is doctoral student in the department of Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. His current research examines the roles various media have in constructing and expressing meaning and identity in people's everyday lives, particularly through the use of popular music, copyright regimes, and noise as political action. He is also proud to have been a Librarian and is involved in information activism through the Librarian Activist blog. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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