El Salvador has just started mining bitcoin using the energy from volcanoes.
—CNBC headline, Oct 2, 2021
Right now, questions of work, value, money, and exploitation seem particularly lively to many of us. What better time to read Marx’s Capital? Our philosophical inquiry will be organized around a reading of Marx’s Capital, vol. I, in its entirety. We will broaden that project by turning to historical and contemporary readers of Marx, who will help us think in new ways not just about money and capital, but also about labor, desire, art, and culture in order to examine the question of value.
What value is and where it lives, and of course what it lives on, are serious mysteries. (Volcano energy? Seriously?) Money is and always has been a placeholder for that mystery. Right now, the emergence of cryptocurrencies and other “weird” financial instruments is making money’s secret weirdness much more obvious. Here, “weird” means a mystery that is “clearly confusing” right on its surface, without the appearance of normalcy. This program will look to playfully leverage both that weirdness and the historical distance offered by a classical text like Marx’s Capital to create a shared space to think about these questions anew and imagine alternative relationships to value, work, politics, culture, and each other. We will not have expertise in crypto-currencies, or even economics, to rely on, so this will be a contemporary issue for all of us to investigate together, and we will be particularly interested in how it informs our reading of Marx.
Reading Marx’s Capital will help us all become more confident, social, and nuanced readers. If we find big, systematic, historical texts challenging, we will grow more comfortable meeting that challenge. We will learn to incorporate conversation, writing, colleagues, and new resources into the process of reading and understanding. Along the way, we will gain a new vocabulary and a set of complex and rich concepts: use and exchange values, money and capital, surplus value and profit, for example. In addition to Marx, we will engage the work of a couple of key theorists like Sianne Ngai, David Harvey, Moishe Postone, and Aaron Bastani. These interlocutors along will help us achieve both intellectual depth and imaginative breadth with those key terms in Capital and apply our lively concepts to the current moment. They will help us think about what value is for Marx, how dematerialization and fluid circulation impacts both the forms of value and our responses to it; they will also add to the mix a set of playful aesthetic and cultural takes on cuteness and commodities to postmodernism, gimmicks, odd jobs, and immaterial labor, not to mention 'fully automated luxury communism.' Finally, we will pursue our own playful, low stakes (but high yield!) speculative theories of value by researching the emerging field of cryptocurrencies and weird financial instruments in spaces of mature capitalism.
Assignments will range from short academic essays to visual note-taking and concept-mapping, experimental and creative assignments using new forms (like social media posts or even Non-Fungible Tokens that illustrate and “market” central concepts and arguments). The final project, which will span both quarters and should contain both creative and critical elements, will bring together crypto-research with Marx and others to create our own individual pet theories of value (Crypto-Kitties!). Activities will include a weekly lecture, two seminars with associated readings, asynchronous social annotating activities and reading groups, and a writing workshop. The work will be intense and fun, and our philosophical goal will be focused on expanding our skills, our thinking, and our approaches more than on achieving mastery of a given text or concept.
All students will participate in the fall and winter quarter Sustainability, Business, and Entrepreneurship Academy with Tamsin Foucrier. All 16- and 14- credit students will participate in “contemporary readings” groups (researching, reading, and decision-making for a series of student-designed additions to the shared syllabus) in fall and winter. All 16-credit students will also participate in the Evergreen Art Lecture Series.
NOTE: For its first year students, this all-level program incorporates Greener Foundations. Greener Foundations is Evergreen’s in-person 2-quarter introductory student success course, which provides all first-year students with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive at Evergreen. First-year students will register for 14 credits in this program and be placed into Greener Foundations for an additional 2 credits, totaling 16 credits. Once first-year students have been placed into Greener Foundations, they will receive an email confirming their registration status. (The 12 credit option is only available for sophomore - senior students.)
Course Reference Numbers
Course Reference Numbers
humanities, social sciences, creative practice, public service, teaching
$180 fee for overnight field trip to Seattle.