We ended our previous discussion with the situation where within both consciousness and production we are faced with a contradiction. On the one hand, the desire of the producer within political economy and alienated consciousness is the desire for autonomy, to be in communion with oneself, or, in other words, the need for unity because the other (anything that is seen to be independent of oneself) is perceived to be a threat. On the other hand, consciousness is tormented by the isolation that it had imposed on itself (“this violence at its own hands”). Similarly, the producer, despite his wish to preserve his sense of ego by retreating to his narcissistic sphere, must return to the realm of wage labor and exchange because it is only within that realm that he realizes his social being. The producer feels at home with himself during consumption but must remain productive, by going outside of himself, in order acquire whatever it is that allows him to enter the state of a consumer. What we begin to see is that these two movements of being-in-oneself and coming-out-of-oneself constitute, for Marx, the moments of circulation which are both indispensable but nonetheless remain exclusive and contradictory to one another, “…the exchange of commodities implies contradictory and mutually exclusive conditions.” (Capital, 198) It is the contradictory state where one wishes to resist the world and remain within the “state of unthinking inertia”, and yet cannot help but be part of the world that one wants to deny that gives rise to representation. Representation, whose function is to act as the mediator, is needed to resolve the contradiction between the two poles of being by keeping them apart and, more importantly, to reconcile and reconnect them so they can continue to circulate. The role of the mediator is to provide a path of movement for both sides without letting them come into contact. “The further development of the commodity does not abolish these contradictions, but rather provides the form within which they have room to move. This is, in general, the way in real contradictions are resolved. ” (Capital, 198) When Marx says that the opposite poles are allowed to move, that is another way of saying they become accessible to one another. Hence, as we shall see, representation, as the catalyst of movement of what are otherwise static constituents and the reunification of separated parts, marks the birth of capital by serving as the ideological blueprint for the commodity form by its function. To make the connection clear between representations and commodities, the conclusion that we will come to is this: commodities are simply material representations.
Kant himself recognizes and his transcendental idealism takes into account of the distinctions between different sets of opposites and notably the distinction between understanding (concepts) and sensibility (intuitions) and, while intrinsically distinct, they are both crucial for cognition or knowledge. In this way, Kant moves beyond Descartes and his distrust of the external world which, for Descartes, is an obstacle to absolute certainty—to the kind of certainty that Kant is not willing to accept. It is a certainty that is meaningless, and if it is meaningful, then it is uncritical and dogmatic. Kant acknowledges the need to be receptive to what is outside of us since this provides content to our empty concepts.
“Now the object cannot be given to a concept otherwise than in intuition, and, even if a pure intuition is possible a priori prior to the object, then even this can acquire its object, thus its objective validity, only through empirical intuition, of which it is the mere form. Thus all concepts and with them all principles, however a priori they may be, are nevertheless related to empirical intuitions, i.e., to data for possible experience.” (Critique, A 239).
However, Kant removes the possibility of ever having a direct knowledge or direct contact with the other or anything external to us. Even though Kant emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the other, he still accepts that the distinction between oppositions (subject/object, understanding/sensibility, etc.) is absolute. As a consequence, the relations between opposites are transcendental and not dialectical.
As Kant puts it, we cannot have an intuitive understanding. Our sensibility is merely receptive and, the contents of our knowledge is strictly given and not creative. As such, our knowledge is limited to the sphere of appearances and representations and not things-in-themselves.
“The transcendental use of a concept in any sort of principle consists in its being related to things in general and in themselves/ its empirical use, however, in its being related merely to appearances, i.e., objects of a possible experience.” (Critique, B 298)
The division of objects into appearances and things-in-themselves also leads to the division of the world into the phenomenal sphere and noumenal sphere. (The world as experienced by schizophrenics)
“Appearances, to the extent that as objects they are thought in accordance with the unity of the categories, are called phaenomena. If, however, I suppose there to be things that are merely objects of the understanding and that, nevertheless, can be given to an intuition, although not to sensible intuition (as coram intuiti intellectuali), then such things would be called noumena (intelligibilia).” (Critique, B305-A249)
“All our representations are in fact related to some object. Through the understanding, and, since appearances are nothing but representations, the understanding thus relates them to a something, as the object of sensible intuition: but this something is to that extent only the transcendental object. This signifies, however a something = X, of which we know nothing at all nor can know anything in general (in accordance with the current constitution of our understanding), but is rather something that can serve only as a correlate of the unity of apperception for the unity of the manifold in sensible intuition, by means of which the understanding unifies that in the concept of an object. This transcendental object C cannot even be separated from the sensible data, for then nothing would remain through which it would be thought. It is therefore no object of cognition in itself, but only the representation of appearances under the concept of an object in general, which is determinable through the manifold of those appearances.” (Critique, A 250-1)
Nonetheless, things do not stop there. First, Kant made sure we notice that reason (human beings as rational creatures) is not merely passive but active and characterized by spontaneity. Although contents are given to us, we are not mere bystanders, but we act upon the given contents—we legislate them.
“Now to the use of a concept there also belongs a function of the power of judgment, whereby an object is subsumed under it, thus at least the formal condition under which something can be given in intuition. If this condition of the power of judgment (schema) is missing, then all subsumption disappears; for nothing would be given that could be subsumed under the concept.” (Critique, B 304)
Appearances are also representations, “…appearances are nothing but representations,” (Critique, 347) because representations signify the implication that they are products of the understanding or human products and this is where the danger of the transcendental perspective lies. Kant gives room for agency and creativity, but this only goes so far as to reach representational knowledge and not absolute knowing—knowledge about things as they really are. Thus, agency and creativity within transcendental idealism are themselves appearances or, to put it bluntly, illusions. Illusion and self-deception are the hallmarks of political economy, commodity production, and capital. We observe within political economy, commodity production and capital that producers are not in the position to truly transform their world unless they have money or wages which only allow them to manipulate the appearance of the world and not the world itself. Capitalism is where the entire world is a representation, Kant’s project fully realized.
The other implication of transcendental idealism and commodity production which is ultimately linked with capital is that, although the goal of transcendental idealism is to place a limit upon reason, it does not eliminate the tendency of reason to transgress limits. What happens as a result is that one will eventually forget that representations are mediators. After the noumena are forgotten, representations are then taken them to be things-in-themselves (this is the same transition from money as money and money as capital). This tendency manifests strongest within religion, specifically idol worship, where representations replace the very thing (God) that they are supposed to represent. When everything is contained within the representation, representation sheds its character as representation and assumes the role of the thing-in-itself.
“Beyond medicine and the army favored terrains of simulation, the question returns to religion and the simulacrum of divinity: "I forbade that there be any simulacra in the temples because the divinity that animates nature can never be represented." Indeed it can be. But what becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra? Does it remain the supreme power that is simply incarnated in images as a visible theology? Or does it volatilize itself in the simulacra that, alone, deploy their power and pomp of fascination - the visible machinery of icons substituted for the pure and intelligible Idea of God? This is precisely what was feared by Iconoclasts, whose millennial quarrel is still with us today. This is precisely because they predicted this omnipotence of simulacra, the faculty simulacra have of effacing God from the conscience of man, and the destructive, annihilating truth that they allow to appear - that deep down God never existed, that only the simulacrum ever existed, even that God himself was never anything but his own simulacrum - from this came their urge to destroy the images. If they could have believed that these images only obfuscated or masked the Platonic Idea of God, there would have been no reason to destroy them. One can live with the idea of distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the image didn't conceal anything at all, and that these images were in essence not images, such as an original model would have made them, but perfect simulacra, forever radiant with their own fascination. Thus this death of the divine referential must be exorcised at all costs.”
“All Western faith and good faith became engaged in this wager on representation: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could be exchanged for meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange - God of course. But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say can be reduced to the signs that constitute faith? Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum - not unreal, but a simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real, but exchanged for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.”
At the same time, due to the reversal of representations into things-in-themselves, representations retain the vulgarity of being human projections, but the fact that they are human creations is concealed. The transcendental limit is kept because representations, commodities, money, and capital are all seen as natural states of the world and of political economy rather than as historical conditions, and that is why they are fetishized and mystified. Hidden within the idea of representation is already the possibility of its eventual autonomy. The path is already paved for representation to transcend as capital. Additionally, because representation is essentially not dependent on either pole of a relation but rather all is dependent upon representation, it already foreshadows its eventual domination—Baudrillard’s hyperreal.
“When the real is no longer what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a plethora of myths of origin and of signs of reality - a plethora of truth, of secondary objectivity, and authenticity. Escalation of the true, of lived experience, resurrection of the figurative where the object and substance have disappeared. Panic-stricken production of the real and of the referential, parallel to and greater than the panic of material production: this is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us - a strategy of the real, of the neoreal and the hyperreal that everywhere is the double of a strategy of deterrence.”
Overall, we have only touched on the idea of a representational world as a potential. With transcendental idealism, we have only witnessed the genetic code of capital, and it is when we confront the commodity form that we begin to see that this hidden potential comes into existence and becomes a reality.