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The Rhetoric of Value

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Organizer: Sam Samore

Co-Organizer: Seb Boersma

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Value-theoretical readings of Marx have become increasingly popular in the humanities. For some literary critics, value criticism has brought about a new approach to social objectivity via “real abstraction” and the vernacular experience of capital’s logic. Value theory has also renewed academic interest in totality, the conceptual and material unity of historical difference. "Value” helps us describe a world that constantly remakes itself and its social divisions, but never seems to change.

However, while scholars of literature and culture have turned to “value-form theory” or “value criticism,” a body of knowledge largely developed within economics, history, and philosophy, in order to better understand the world in which our objects of study exist, relatively little attention has been paid on our part to the rhetoric of value. Which is to say, while we’ve been eagerly reading value-form theory, we might not have taken the time to read it. Following Christopher Nealon’s call for a “Marxism…more clear-eyed about its character as rhetoric,” this seminar asks us to consider not only the writing of Marx, but also the writing of contemporary Marxists, Marxians, and Marxologists who travel under the sign of value, with such clear eyes.

In order to do so, we want to pose questions that allow us to read “value” comparatively. How does “value,” as an abstract, quantifiable, and totalizing form of social mediation, connect us to aesthetic or ethical values? And would this imply that the measure of value in capitalism requires us to define new metrics of evaluation? Is it possible to use the frame of “value” to expand and deepen the fields of what Robyn Wiegman calls “identity knowledges,” i.e., Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies, Queer Studies, Black Studies, American Studies, etc.? How do “identity knowledges” grasp the unfolding crisis of capitalist social relations? If the radical critique of value has all too often left us gazing into the abyss, what might a comparative reading of value make possible?

In short, we want to figure out what value can do. We therefore invite submissions that address the question of how Marx’s theory of value can help us understand, and act upon, the historical dynamics that determine the fate of the institutions and practices of cultural criticism; and how his theory can connect us to other notions of value such as in aesthetics, ethics, or other critical theories of the long crisis. 
Please direct queries to the seminar organizers, Seb Boersma (, Jake Orbison (, and Sam Samore (

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