The Sublime Perversion of Capital

Marxist Theory and the Politics of History in Modern Japan

The Sublime Perversion of Capital

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: Published: March 2016

Author: Gavin Walker

Asian Studies > East Asia, Sociology > Social Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Marxism

In The Sublime Perversion of Capital Gavin Walker examines the Japanese debate about capitalism between the 1920s and 1950s, using it as a "prehistory" to consider current discussions of uneven development and contemporary topics in Marxist theory and historiography. Walker locates the debate's culmination in the work of Uno Kozo, whose investigations into the development of capitalism and the commodification of labor power are essential for rethinking the national question in Marxist theory. Walker's analysis of Uno and the Japanese debate strips Marxist historiography of its Eurocentric focus, showing how Marxist thought was globalized from the start. In analyzing the little-heralded tradition of Japanese Marxist theory alongside Marx himself, Walker not only offers new insights into the transition to capitalism, the rise of globalization, and the relation between capital and the formation of the nation-state; he provides new ways to break Marxist theory's impasse with postcolonial studies and critical theory. 


“Walker leads readers on a theoretical odyssey illustrating the convolutions of contemporary Marxist theory surrounding capital's historicity, and interweaving important threads of a largely forgotten narrative by Uno Kôzô, a crucial Japanese thinker on the problems of capital and the national question during the critical interwar period and postwar 1950s.” — Annika A. Culver, History: Reviews of New Books

"Walker’s book does much to clarify the relevance of Uno’s work for both historical research and studies of the present moment; it occupies a central place in the on-going 'Uno Renaissance.'" — Katsuhiko Endo, Journal of Social History

"The value of The Sublime Perversion of Capital lies in this very point, namely, that the historical and social aspects of nationalism are created and sustained through a romantic repetition of ideas, events, symbols, commemorations, and trivialities that swerve our gazes away from the inherent problems of the nation-state, capitalist accumulation, and, especially today, the unbridled excesses of globalization and perfunctory attempts to (pretend to) roll these back in the name of some 'national interest.'" — Curtis Anderson Gayle, Journal of Japanese Studies

"Walker’s work offers something of value to both economic historians as well as Japanologists: an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the contributions of Japanese intellectuals as you focus on the tensions of Marxism and capitalism for the former and a review (if not (re)discovery) of the essentials of Marxism and capitalist theory while in pursuit of the history of contemporary Japanese social sciences for the latter." — Anthony Rausch, New Books Asia

“Original and erudite. . . . Gavin Walker develops a wide-ranging and densely argued Marxist theoretical account of capital and its (il)logics. The heart of his inquiry is what he calls capital’s “sublime perversion”: its ability to overcome, without resolving, its own contradictions, its 'constant and relentless transformation of limits into thresholds.' Walker’s theorization of this perversion interweaves a set of concepts and approaches derived from Marx and from Walker’s extensive reading (in, by my count, seven languages) of twentieth- and early twenty-first-century thinkers.”  — Derek Hall, Pacific Affairs

"Gavin Walker’s book on the Japanese capitalism debate of the 1920s and 1930s, The Sublime Perversion of Capital, brings this important set of arguments on Marxist theory and history out of the domain of Japanese studies, where it is often cited but scarcely appreciated, and into dialogue with contemporary historiography and political theory. . . . The Sublime Perversion of Capital is an important and singular contribution to scholarship on Marxism and capitalism. It restores the sophistication of interwar Japanese debates on the country’s development and the development of capitalism on a global scale. Walker shows the significance of these debates for Marxism at a time when the Comintern’s dicta were challenged by the heterogeneity of the global political economy. His book thus reinstates the historicity of debates on the nature of capitalism and its historical manifestation, then and now.”  — Christopher L. Hill, American Historical Review

"A truly interdisciplinary work that understands Japanese Marxism as part of a larger global moment. . . .Through Japanese Marxist writings, [Walker] shows how capital needs the state to commodify labor power, leading to a global system of borders and policing. In this light one might compare the book to recent Althusserian readings of Marx that theorize capitalism as comprising class structures related to the market, state, and world system. Walker also gestures in the direction of combined and uneven development and attempts to posit an alternative to the theoretical impasse between universal- ism and particularism by grounding both in a theory of capitalism. The Sublime Perversion of Capital remains essential reading for scholars interested in area studies, Japanese intellectual history, and Marxist theory and helps us rethink the role that capitalism and the nation-state play in shaping the world in which we live.” — Viren Murthy, Monumenta Nipponica

"The Sublime Perversion of Capital makes an important intervention in both Japanese intellectual history and Marxist theory." — Viren Murthy, Journal of Asian Studies

"Walker’s [The Sublime Perversion of Capital] benefits immensely from the profundity and breadth of his truly impressive erudition, which allows him to involve in the unfolding of his argument a plethora of ideas and inspirations also from regions far beyond the horizon of the known Marxist universe and to prepare in turn the ground 'not only for rethinking Japanese intellectual history, but for numerous interventions in contemporary debates on the philosophy of history, in postcolonial historiography, and for contemporary political thought.’" — Christian Uhl, Canadian Journal of History

"What is capital? What is its relation with the 'world' and with the nation? What is its origin, its limit, and its 'other'? Reading the 'debate on Japanese capitalism' in the 1920s and 1930s against the grain of contemporary concerns, Gavin Walker invites us to a breathtaking intellectual journey. He provides a masterful interpretation of a crucial historical debate and makes a landmark contribution to our understanding of global capitalism and to the forging of a new project of liberation."  — Sandro Mezzadra, coauthor of Border as Method, or, The Multiplication of Labor

"Gavin Walker's superb The Sublime Perversion of Capital is a brilliantly imaginative recovery of Marx's worldly vocation and the original premises of historical materialism dedicated to combining the immediacy of local contemporary circumstances with the global reach of capital. He realizes this singularly vital program by reflecting on the writings of the economist Uno Kozo, especially his thinking on logic and history, as they intervened and culminated in the famous Marxian debate on capitalism in Japan's 1920s and 1930s in a context sparked by a rapidly uneven passage into capitalist modernity and its spillover into imperialism."  — Harry Harootunian, author of Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Gavin Walker is Assistant Professor of History and East Asian Studies at McGill University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Note on Translations  xiii

Three Orientations  xv

1. The Sublime Perversion of Capital   1

2. The Feudal Remnant and the Historical Outside  28

3. Primitive Accumulation, or the Logic of Origin  75

4. Labor Power: Capital's Threshold  108

5. The Continent of History and the Theoretical Inside  152

6. "The Ready-Made World of Capital"  182

Notes  195

Bibliography  225

Index  243
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6160-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6141-1
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