Letters: Marx-Engels Correspondence 1869

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Marx-Engels Correspondence 1869

Letter from Marx to Engels
In Manchester


... To-day I have discovered by accident that we have two copies of the Neveu de Rameau [1] in our house and am therefore sending you one. This unique masterpiece will give you fresh pleasure again. Old Hegel says about it: " The mocking laughter at existence, at the confusion of the whole and at itself, is the disintegrated consciousness, aware of itself and expressing itself, and is at the same time the last audible echo of all this confusion. ... It is the self-disintegrating nature of all relations and their conscious disintegration.... In this aspect of the return to self the vanity of all things is the self's own vanity, or the self is itself vanity ... but as the indignant consciousness it is aware of its own disintegration and by that knowledge has immediately transcended it....Every part of this world either gets its mind expressed here or is spoken of intellectually and declared for what it is. The honest consciousness (the role which Diderot allots to himself in the dialogue) takes each element for a permanent entity and does not realise in its uneducated thoughtlessness that it is doing just the opposite. But the disintegrated consciousness is the consciousness of reversal and indeed of absolute reversal; its dominating element is the concept, which draws together the thoughts that to the honest consciousness lie so wide apart; hence the brilliance of its language. Thus the contents of the mind's speech about itself consist in the reversal of all conceptions and realities; the universal deception of oneself and others and the shamelessness of declaring this deception is therefore precisely the greatest truth....To the quiet consciousness, which in its honest way goes on singing the melody of the True and the Good in even tones, i.e., on one note, this speech appears as 'a farrago of wisdom and madness'" etc. (a passage from Diderot follows).

More amusing than Hegel's commentary is that of Mr. Jules Janin, [2] from which you will find extracts in the appendix to the little volume. This cardinal de la mer [sea-cardinal] feels the lack of a moral in Diderot's Rameau and has therefore set the thing right by the discovery that all Rameau's contrariness arises from his vexation at not being a " born gentleman." The Kotzebue-ish rubbish which he has piled up on this cornerstone is being performed as a melodrama in London. From Diderot to Jules Janin is no doubt what the physiologists call regressive metamorphosis. The French intellect as it was before the revolution and under Louis Philippe!...


[1] Le Neveu de Rameau [Rameau's Nephew], a satirical dialogue by Diderot (1713-1784), one of the leading French materialist philosophers of the 18th century, editor of the Encyclopédie and a brilliant man of letters. The passage from Hegel quoted here by Marx is from the Phänomonolgie des Geistes (Phenomenology of Mind), [Ed. Eng. ed.]

[2] Janin, Jules (1804-74) French bourgeois author and literary critic with a popular reputation in bourgeois circles.