This chapter turns to the problem of equivalence posed in Marx's theory of value. It focuses on the ontological contingency at the core of the concept of general equivalence: that because any object, produced by human labor or naturally occurring, may reveal itself over the course of time to be value-carrying, and thus to work like and as a commodity, any object at hand may step, according to laws not given in the object and not given necessarily, into the role of commodity, and thence into the sovereign role of general equivalent. Herman Melville's “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” written from the center of what would become global capital, Wall Street; and Jorge Luis Borges's translation, “Bartleby, el escribiente,” helps to show how this contingent determination shifts the question of abstraction on which Marx's analysis of equivalence turns toward the figure and dynamics of translation.
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