Marx, Dead and Alive: Reading “Capital” in Precarious Times

REVIEWS, 16 Nov 2020

Andy Merrifield | Monthly Review - TRANSCEND Media Service

Karl Marx saw the ruling class as a sorcerer, no longer able to control the ominous powers it has summoned from the netherworld. Today, in an age spawning the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, our society has never before been governed by so many conjuring tricks, with collusions and conspiracies, fake news and endless sleights of the economic and political hand. And yet, contends Andy Merrifield, as our modern lives become ever more mist-enveloped, the works of Marx can help us penetrate the fog.

In Marx, Dead and Alive—a book that begins and ends beside Marx’s recently violated London gravesite—Merrifield makes a spirited case for a critical thinker who can still offer people a route toward personal and social authenticity. Bolstering his argument with fascinating examples of literature and history, from Shakespeare and Beckett, to the Luddites and the Black Panthers, Merrifield demonstrates how Marx can reveal our individual lives to us within a collective perspective—and within a historical continuum. Who we are now hinges on who we once were—and who we might become. This, at a time when our value-system is undergoing core “post-truth” meltdown.

“This enchanting portrait of Marx at work, with his legendary overcoat and shuffling ways, is brilliant, informative, and beautifully written. Merrifield then puts the insights he derives from reconnecting with Marx’s writing to work to illuminate everything from the writings of Gogol and Dickens to the architectural disaster of New York’s Hudson Yards.”

—David Harvey, author, A Companion to Marx’s Capital and Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason

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Andy Merrifield is an independent scholar and author of a dozen books, as well as numerous articles, essays and reviews appearing in Monthly Review, The Nation, Harper’s Magazine, New Left Review, The Guardian, Literary Hub, Jacobin, and Dissent. He is a prolific writer about urbanism, political theory and literature, with titles credited to him including Dialectical Urbanism (Monthly Review Press), The New Urban Question, and Magical Marxism. He has also published three intellectual biographies, of Henri Lefebvre, Guy Debord, and John Berger, a popular existential travelogue, The Wisdom of Donkeys, a manifesto for liberated living, The Amateur, together with a memoir about cities and love, inspired by Raymond Carver’s short stories, called What We Talk About When We Talk About Cities (and Love).

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