The Metaphysics of Capital
Author: Nicholas Ruiz III
Publisher: Daytona Beach, FL: Intertheory Press, 2006
Review Published: December 2007
Nicholas Ruiz's The Metaphysics of Capital is a sweet book, both because of its hip, contemporary nature and because of its ability to sugar-coat the trope of the day: capital. Capital comes alive in this book, not necessarily through Ruiz's connection between "market expansion" and the genetic code of human beings, but more through the healthy parade of continental theorists deployed to rethink the concept. For some, it might be sickeningly sappy to jump back and forth among these broad (and, ironically, overly capitalized) concepts. It is, indeed, dizzying and often suffocating in a cotton-candy sort of way to relate Credit to the anti-Christ, Nature to the 401K, or HTML to the human genetic code. For others, perhaps our more generous and open-minded readers, Ruiz's work promises to stimulate some rarely used taste buds, bringing an almost mystical and epic flavor to the story of capital.
Capital here draws, as it must, from a Marxist theory of surplus value, labor exploitation, and the alienated subject, but in Metaphysics it takes a dramatic turn toward an intricate combination of worship, ritual, biology, and the human "code" in the fullest sense of the term. Baudrillard and Jameson help Ruiz situate the omnipresence of Capital beyond the real, beyond the instrumental, beyond the potential manipulations of social reform or benevolent regulation. Deleuze and Guattari help Ruiz reframe Capital as an inevitable movement toward the replication of the human DNA sequence. In other words, the desires producing capital are not human subjects, but DNA-machines propelling themselves onward through exchange and duplication. "The very Code within us becoming BioCapital" (98) and "the push for global standards of identifying personal Code" (99) are both indicative of Ruiz's ultimate argument that evolution and ownership share the same process of machine-like duplication and expansion.
This is a fresh take on the way the human genetic code and the expansion of capital are linked together. Not only does Ruiz make the human code and the code of capital inextricable from one another, he explains much of their incestuous attraction by turning to faith and the forces of religion, contending that belief in the market has replaced belief in God. Ruiz writes: "Capital has supplanted the Deity as our metaphysical ideal" (146). This point makes for an outstanding critique of Capital's ownership of human DNA, but other than a defense of social movements working against corporate control of biogenetic resources, Ruiz's alternative to the omniscient configuration of worship and consumerism centered on the replication of (the) Code is not apparent and often not available.
Despite the lack of a clear path forward, The Metaphysics of Capital does justify a full read, if only to witness the way a series of contemporary social critics can create an ideological wall premised on negation and exposure. To pull one example from a list including Bataille, Foucault, Zizek, Badiou, Hardt & Negri, Virilio, Agamben, and others, Jean Baudrillard has rested much of his analysis on the rise of the object and the enslavement of subjectivity to an array of object-positions, a process he calls the "revenge of the crystal" or "the perfect crime." The objects that absorb our agency could be consumer items, plastic surgery, oil, the fetus, an automobile, an i-phone, or, as Ruiz asserts, the dollar bill. However, how far can we go with this position, given the very need for human agency in labor movements and struggles for human rights, a torture-free world, basic living standards, etc.? Regardless of the Deity trope and the worship transfer, some of the discussion concerning capital should be about equity -- who has access and who does not -- the gap between the wealthy and the impoverished. Ruiz side-steps some of these issues in an attempt to make Marx more contemporary, but his focus on biogenetics and the human Code has the unsettling effect of displacing the struggles of actual laborers across the planet fighting for fair wages and working conditions, not to mention the more elemental struggle for food, water, and a conflict-free environment facing millions of human beings every day.
A standard critique of globalization from a Marxist perspective is not what Metaphysics is after, however, choosing instead to paint some wonderfully vivid scenes of the ways the Code inscribes its own sovereignty, noting that "biotechnology tells us that life is Code -- a textual message -- a technical Capital" (52). This sovereignty is also dangerous, more so because we cannot wait for a revolution to de-Code our lives, let alone rely on legislative extensions of health reform and welfare. These attempts to appease or contain disaffected members of society give both the government and corporate power more mechanisms for control, an argument reminiscent of Hardt & Negri in Empire merged with the figure of the "magician-emperor" or the "jurist-priest" in every continental theorists' Bible, Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus.
Thus, what Ruiz expands is the argument that liberal reforms can actually bolster the same oppressive structures that are being challenged in the first place. This argument allows Ruiz (and many others) to borrow from Marx to isolate the dehumanizing effects of capitalism, but to stop short of expecting or relying on a revolution to promote change. Taking a theme from Foucault's Remarks on Marx (1991), Ruiz contends that, "manning the intellectual bastions against conceptual relationships between the market and human nature -- or the Code and its currencies (e.g. Capital) for a sort of 'last stand' of Marxism, is bound to yield nothing but more of the same" (89). It is not difficult to attach the vast array of human agency to the faith of the Code, bowing to the "DNA God within" as the vessel of both globalization and the surge of the Code's colonization. But what are the possible alternatives, if any, toward at least a limited space for human ethics? How is Ruiz able to conclude with this hope for an ethical and democratic space when part of his overall argument is that ethics and alternatives are merely masks for replication and capitalism?
Maybe we should accept this discomfort to take stock of the forces Ruiz has aligned here. The problem, though, is that the decision to rethink capital through a genetic and religious prism is not purposeful in its complexity. Indeed, Ruiz is performing the baptismal chain of critical theory -- the latter day saints of philosophy -- while criticizing the ways religion works through and as Capital. Should we buy the holy water or is it already pulsing through the veins of our resistance? When a reader sits down to a meal touted as metaphysical, let alone a meal featuring the flavors of capital, it is certainly wonderful to experience a world-class dessert, but far from sufficient.
Foucault, M. (1991). Remarks on Marx (New York: Semiotext(e)).
Kevin Douglas Kuswa:
Kevin Douglas Kuswa teaches in Rhetoric and Communication Studies at the University of Richmond where he also directs the debate program. He received his PhD from UT-Austin and has recently offered classes and published in the areas of "critical pedagogy" and the "rhetoric of terrorism." Previously, Kevin reviewed Global Encounters: Media and Cultural Transformation and New Terror, New Wars for RCCS. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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