A Commentary on the “Remarks on Marx’s Mathematical Manuscripts” together with a Key to their Understanding

Your Intrepid Reporter has moved — from 3003 N.E. Weidler Street to 2925 N.E. Weidler Street, if you really want to know — and the move has shaken the dust off his, which is to say my, collection of old manuscripts.  The following is something from the late 1980s.

It refers to the Remarks I wrote to provide a frame of reference to my [Charles Aronson had the idea, and he wrote the introduction; I translated and wrote out longhand what Marx said; we share credit as translators on the title page] translation, brought out in 1983 by New Park Publishers of London, England, of the Mathematical Manuscripts of Karl Marx.  The last is long out of print; the Remarks remain unpublished, in manuscript form, buried a few layers underneath the one containing  this “Commentary”.

Some appreciation for the artistry of the composition might be gleaned by a reader without access to the original “Remarx”.

The author of these lines is taxed with having required too much, either of special knowledge or of sympathetic insight into the aims of the writer, of the uninitiated reader to allow the essays to be read with understanding; so by way of explanation of what is attempted in the succeeding pages the self-contradictory effort to explain my own worthless scribblings by increasing the number of pages of tendentious sentences the bewildered reader is confronted with is hereby undertaken.

The promised Key to Understanding of the esoteric nature of the celebrated Remarx on Marx Mathematical Manuscripts lies in the name of their author.  M. Mieow was born an ethnic Chinese by the accidental treading by one of the numerous sons of Han on the tail of a cat.  He attempted to conceal his true origin, however, and facilitate his illegal entry into this country by changing the spelling to the simple M-E-O, thereby suggesting a rural Laotian origin and clandestine ties to the notorious C.I.A.   The major drawback has been an interminable succession of befuddled clerical workers, all of whom request repeated spellings of the name by its bearer, in the justifiable expectation that he would admit to the existence of several more letters in the name, and confess to the underhanded assumption of Laotian tribal membership.

[With respect to the Chinese connection at the root of the re-discovery of MMM, your Intrepid Reporter inserts here without comment the account which appeared in Darryl E. Brock, et al., ads., Mr. Science and Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, published in 2012, on pp. 88-89: 

[In 1980] Saunders Mac Lane, then Vice-President of the National Academy of Sciences . . .  assessed [recent Chinese] publications in mathematics.  He found that Acta Mathematica Sinica, which disappeared during 1966 and resumed in 1974, reflected a greatly diminished number of articles in almost every topic . . . .  At the same time, the resumption of publication also entailed new categories of articles in the areas of ‘applications.’  Mac Lane noted many of the lead articles explicitly linking mathematical research with Hegelian dialectics, and also with Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, with such titles as “Karl Marx’s Mathematical Manuscripts III: On the History of Differential Calculus.”  “These manuscripts,” [concluded] Dr. Mac Lane . . . “had little influence at the time; also they did not use the discoveries made in his lifetime on the foundations of calculus.  It would therefore seem that the careful study of his manuscripts by Chinese mathematicians is primarily an act of revolutionary piety.”]

It is needless to add that the latter-day attribution of the name to a Sicilian family dwelling in the northeastern fishing village of San Pierniceto is an equally implausible, equally transparent subterfuge, easily penetrated by the author’s numerous East European friends, all of whom sagely identify the author, thanks to his Levantine appearance, as an adherent of the religion of the Twelve Tribes, by the simple expedient of politely inquiring what synagogue he chooses to attend.

The dedication page conceals a wealth of compressed references, all in need of equally specious amplification.  The “I. Dietrich” identified as “Wife No. 1” is in reality Ms Inge Dietrich, a German-born former graduate student of Chinese language and linguistics studying under the late Russian émigré scholar of Sinitic language, Budberg of Berkeley.  She attributed to the writer of these lines a resentment of her intellect being superior to his own, as the primary cause of the ending of Marriage Number One: a charge to which the author returns a stubborn Not Guilty, since he is of a diffident personal character which would bask in the reflected radiance of being Mister Margaret Mead or something like that — but denials only indicate how much the accused secretly realizes the truth of the charge.  Surely.

The E. Rabben of the second, as yet unterminated legal matrimonial contract, is a lady of Russian Jewish extraction, cruelly burdened with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a statuesque figure, who holds it against her husband that he is attracted to her nonJewish good looks, a taste in feminine pulchritude which she is sure conceals unplumbed depths of anti-Semitism; and although the writer professes to believe that physical attraction to a soft-spoken beauty of gracious manners and inestimable virtues is no evidence of hostility to any ethnic minority, his pathetic protestations of pure intention are easily seen to rest on an absurd claim that libidinous motives dominate his political affiliations, unthinkable in a Marxman.  I mean Marxeck.  Or Marxist, if you must.

The S. A. Yanovskaya who is hailed as a departed colleague is the same S. A. Yanovskaya who edited the definitive Moscow edition of the Mathematical Manuscripts of Marx.  Of her personal attributes I know nothing but that she edited and directed the translation of Marx’s mathematical manuscripts; in the introduction to the Moscow edition one is informed that she departed this life after 34 years of preparation of the manuscripts, two years before the work finally saw the light; this intelligence is imparted with authority of the Tsentral Komityet of the Kommunist Party of the Ess-Ess-Ess-Air. All the same, you do understand, dear boy, the latest issue of the Soviet history-of-science journal (whose title, translated, is) Questions in the History of Science and Technology contains footnote citations of a book by her which appeared in 1972, and an article bearing the date 1973, six and seven years, respectively, after our dedicated documentress’s departure, documented by a source not to be doubted.  Like all things, the closer one examines the topic of S. A. Yanovskaya the more questions arise: why was publication of Marx’s mathematical manuscripts delayed for so long?; did she really die or was she instead relegated to a sharashka, like Solzhenitsyn and Lev Kopelev? — ah, but what a marvelous image, to think of her dispatching her works from some great history-of-mathematics seminar in the sky.

And while we’re in the mood or, perhaps, mode of putting fishhooks on paper, does the IFF to which the Soviet pilot said there was no response from the Korean plane signify an intraorganizational signal in use within the Soviet military, which the pilot of Flight 007 had no opportunity to know, or rather an international conventional signal which it would follow he would be criminally negligent not to have answered? — both interpretations have appeared in apparently authoritative accounts of the accident published in the leading American newspaper of record.  Does the fact that these both cannot be true require us to conclude that on at least one occasion we poor American dupes have been intentionally misled by the unattributed sources of the great New York Times?  But I digress.

It is significant that the first three dedicatees are all three women, and women with whom my association is in some sense a thing of the past.  The Christian god after all comprises three persons in one God, and like many another freethinker with long acquaintance of and previous intellectual apprenticeship to the Christian intellectual universe, the author harbors suspicions that God is a woman.

The thorny theological thicket of whom to assign to the initially patriarchal Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost can be set aside by entertaining a time-rotational system, somewhat as follows: if the selection parameter is nominated that assigns seniority on the length of time the particular incarnation of the Godhead has been acquainted with the schizophrenic writer of these lines, then Dietrich assumes the position of Father, Rabben, that of Son, and Yanovskaya the Holy Ghost: just as the Holy Ghost is perennially distributing divine grace through the institutional successors to the See of Peter and qualifies as the most intimately involved Personality of the Trinity with our day-to-day life on earth, so just in reverse Yanovskaya is personally completely unknown to the scribbler of these words.  The selection parameter of personal acquaintance spontaneously permutes, perhaps because of the failure of parallelism, to another criterion, perhaps best left unspecified, under whose rules Rabben becomes the Father, Yanovskaya the Son, and Dietrich the Holy Ghost; and so on.  Very like the three resonating double bonds in the benzene ring molecule, incessantly probabilistically rotating around without a fixed location, just so does the Triune God of this theological crackpot alternate Personalities: all of which goes to show, you see, that you can do virtually anything with dialectics.

And why is the writer of these lines dabbling in one-liners under the guise of explaining his unpublished and unpublishable Remarks on Marx’s Mathematical Manuscripts?  Look, I told you at the beginning.  Any attempt by a writer of the unreadable to explain same will share the quality of his previous writings.

Would you believe that while writing an essay entitled “The Theological Significance of the Most Recent Researches in Astrophysics” on the patio of The Landing Restaurant on State Street Wharf in my birthplace of Marblehead, Massachusetts, I was arrested?  And without being charged with any criminal conduct, was confined, involuntarily, for “observation” to two successive public psychiatric hospitals?  Stripped, drugged, beaten? If you did believe it, then you would have to judge the author a self-pitying boor to bring it up at such an inappropriate moment; but it is relevant because the famous psychiatrist — famous because the model for a comic strip with a psychiatrist for a cartoon character — whom I subsequently consulted about regularizing my mental hygiene once asked, “Writing an essay with a title like that is a sure way to go crazy, isn’t it?”  Can you see the blanket negative feedback this organism receives for theological speculation, from academe, from society, from the medical profession and otherwise sympathetic friends?  To look for God in everything, to propose that She is a woman and that her prophet was Marx, it’s just too much, nowadays.  My not entirely joking imitation of Woody Allen is less than felicitous.  Ah, Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard!  Who is left to guard the church if antagonista sunt complementa ?

It is an effort at synthesis, infinitely generalizing the particular.  That is what it is, Remarks on Marx’s whatever-it-was.  It is the precipitate of my whole mental universe while doing, thinking, living the translation into the world’s present-day universal language of the one work of the history of science written by a man who died 100 years ago.  Thoughts live in another human head, thoughts which might never have appeared but for the lifework of Ms. Yanovskaya, thoughts which were rendered into English by this humble bag of protoplasm with the three-letter name.  And thoughts live altered by the head in which they form, so that my self-revelation as displayed on the dedicatory page is, in addition to the exhibitionism which it surely is, simply a starting point for a guided tour of the intellectual architecture of the mind of the commentator, one who is not a neutral machine for taking a text from one language and rendering it into another, but a speculative intelligence, wondering why there is death and poverty all around him in this the richest, greatest country in the history of the world (if one is to believe Fourth-of-July rhetoric).

We then come to the fourth woman to whom the Commentary of which this is a commentary is dedicated, the one who is hailed as Recapitulation Incarnate.  The author of these lines, as Remark No. 5 illustrates, is constrained to view Marx through the eyes of an Einsteinian world view: just as much as all physicists are now Einstein’s disciples, so all dialectical investigators of the course of the sciences are to some degree Marxists :  they live since Marx and must come to terms with his imperishable thought.  And was not this genial nineteenth-century German intellectual to a certain extent simply the most successful historian to grace the modern world?  Is not his approach almost always a historical one, recapitulating how this alienating, alienated, inhuman world oppressed by the Moloch of Capital came to be?

It is in recapitulating our search for the divine in this world, by evoking in words the sensations and perceptions of our experience, that we minstrels of the muse become at once most human and begin to participate in the ages.  Long life to thee, Herodotus!

Just so, it is my requirement to tell Ms Rubene all about it; and should she find the tale obscure and full of references that sound without echo within her intellectual empyrean, why than the tale must be told again.  The author cannot rest until he fashions his frustrations into a form which both originates within himself and finds entry into the sympathetic ear of a multi-lingual librarian of Eastern European origin and lively literary imagination.  Not that she, perish the thought, would or could ever be satisfied with any reformulation of the author’s thoughts, for it has been my assumption that any labor worth undertaking is Sysiphean.

What follows on the remainder of the title page is a string of disconnected evocations, carefully chosen, which by tying together the reader can use to circumscribe the scope of the following synthesis.  They appear to be thoughts which strike out in different directions, and so they remain unless an integrative, syncretic effort is applied to relate them; but the initially disparate mental directions, far from being lost in this exercise, serve to mark the variety and the extent of the ideational syncretism.

It is assumed that the reader and the writer share a certain element of discourse, namely commercial American television.  You too have seen the familiar tower on a verdant hill, shared the anticipatory silence broken by the cry in the high-pitched tones of the dwarf, “The plane!  The plane!”  Is there a more evocative scene in all of the vast wasteland of commercial television?  The great technological flying machine of our century, invented and developed by our countrymen, is arriving in the world of the imagination!  What is more fantastic than that people should fly?  Yet is it not true?  Why, we have flown to the Moon!  The future is glorious, comrade.

After the sublime, if it is sublime, comes the ridiculous, if it is ridiculous.  Television watchers will also recall the little black artificial bird, suspended on a string, which served as a signal that Groucho Marx’s quiz-show guests had “said the magic word.”  Do you also remember with what refined boorishness he used to insult his guests?  Is not the sudden launching of this little fake bird — which I for my own reasons identify as a duck — upon their heads proof enough of his hostility, hardly concealed by the fifty-dollar “reward” which followed the supposedly-humerous assault?

There in our minds somewhere between the long-awaited, joyfully welcomed plane hailed by a supererogatory dwarf and the grotesque figure of a black duck plopping before us in the middle of a civil conversation to the chortles of a black-browed cigar-brandishing funnyman — somewhere in there the author of these lines presumes to present his unfortunately not very intelligible Remarks on Marx’s Mathematical Manuscripts.  It may be a tale told by an idiot, by a madman, but it does touch a whole universe of discourse left unsaid by our Cartesian latter-day academics.  It may also be implicit, tortured, not stated clearly, but it is intended to convey something great, something whole, something embracing.  Continuons.

A duck, by the way, quacks.  It is an onomatopoeiac rendition of a bird’s call in the English language.  And if the patient reader does not already know, the logorrheic author is willing to inform him (or her) that present-day theoretical physics supposes the world to be composed of massive little subnuclear particles called quarks.  It is the audacious presumption of the writer of these lines to compare these quarks to quacks, just as in the above Karl Marx is compared, implicitly and equivocally, to Groucho.

Murray Gell-Mann, an American theoretical physicist, first proposed these sub-units of one-third of one electric charge, and he christened them with a quotation from the impenetrable work of the Irish novelist, James Joyce.  From a line in Finnegan’s Wake the Caltech professor selected the name for his new type of particle; that line is reproduced here on the dedicatory page: the author thus quotes Gell-Mann quoting Joyce  as the third of his quotations opening his remarks.  Perhaps the fact that the present author attended Caltech has something to do with it.  Perhaps not.

In the golden years of the youth of the writer, when he first arrived at Caltech and was faced with the decision of awful moment, which student dormitory to join, he first became acquainted with an interesting cryptogram.  You see, student housing at Caltech incorporates many of the social functions of fraternities, and their successive cohorts of residents have developed traditions, legends, slanders, and so on: sort of a personality to each house, or House, as they spell it there.  And in making the rounds of the Houses I found that one of them, Dabney House, prided itself on mature, responsible behavior in its members, suitable for those who considered themselves leaders; Dabney was for snobs, in other words.

The response of their high-spirited fellow students, the Caltech attendees who did not enjoy the blessings of residence in Dabney House, was to ejaculate at every opportunity “Dabney Eats It!”, with the “it” left to the auditor’s no doubt obscene imagination.  Far from suffering embarrassment at this suggestive put-down, the residents of Dabney House considered it a mark of distinction, and your correspondent was seriously assured, nineteen years ago [1964 plus 19 equals 1983 — ed.] sitting before the beautifully-decorated hearth in the Dabney House Lounge, that the initials of Dabney Eats It were employed, somewhat like the Kilroy Was Here of U.S. troops in World War II, as a sort of trademark of Caltech origin wherever in the wide world Caltech graduates had the good fortune to find themselves.  DEI had been printed, so the story went, on the nose cones of satellite-bearing missiles, perhaps launched to the outer reaches of the solar system.

But to return to the main drift of the argument, the writer of these lines emphasizes that the whimsy of naming of the quark is a significant whimsy, and he will expect the reader to complete a 1000-word essay on its significance, of course for college credit, upon completion of the reading of the Remarks.  If the motive of college credit should perhaps leave the reader cold, in the next line the amateur theologian who is the commentator adds the cryptic initials


which to the Jesuit order, that pack of sophists of pliable integrity who as Voltaire reminds us did so much to further education, stands for

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,

“To the Greater Glory of God,” the Latin letters DEI spelling “of God” to the faithful, although the irreverent will now immediately see that on another level it is simply Dabney Eats It avant le mot.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
This entry was posted in Education, Empire, Marxism, Mathematics, Oakland, Pacific Green Party, Spiritual life, Vali Balint and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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