Connection Between Balzac's 19th Century Paris and Marx (1360 words)

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Question

In 1000-1500 words, respond to the following prompt:

Balzac and Marx

“But Paris is an immense ocean,” Balzac’s narrator taunts early in Père Goriot. “Drop in your sounding line and it will never reach the bottom. Have a look, try describing it! No matter how carefully you try to see and understand everything, to describe everything… there’ll always be places you never get to, caverns you never uncover, blossoms, pearls, monsters, quite incredible things that every literary diver overlooks” (13).   This prompt asks you to compare the problem Balzac here sets up for himself (and tries to answer in the rest of the novel) with the description of capitalism offered by Marx in the two essays we read. Assuming for a moment that Balzac’s depiction of early 19th century Paris can stand in as a representative microcosm of capitalism, how does his account relate to Marx’s? In what senses is Marx too offering a new description of a vast, complex, interwoven entity we thought we knew? How does Marx select and amplify capitalism’s “key” features? How does he, like Balzac, cast characters in his account as poor seers whose incomplete or simply inaccurate analyses he needs to correct? Perhaps most of all, where and how do Balzac and Marx differ in their analysis of the systems they analyze?

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Assuming that Balzac’s depiction of early 19th century Paris stands in as a representative microcosm of capitalism, his account’s relation to Marx’s is, at least in part, that of explanandum and explanans, i.e. that which stands in need of explanation and that which provides the/an explanation. In a sense, Père Goriot could be seen as the literary transcribing of the capitalist bourgeois world Marx attempts to diagnose and explain. Balzac’s Paris and the story which plays out there are anything but the “fictitious primordial condition” (Marx, 1978, p. 71) which Marx sees as the expedient and mistaken starting points for both political economy and theology – both assume what they are supposed to explain. Rather, the detailed and realistic world Balzac describes—“creates” would be to perhaps over-fictionalize—is, according to Marx, the ongoing manifestation of the “increasing value of the world...

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