Valueadded Dogs And Lively Capital

Marx dissected the commodity form into the doublet of exchange value and use value. But what happens when the undead but always generative commodity becomes the living, breathing, rights-endowed, doggish bit of property sleeping on my bed, or giving cheek swabs for your genome project, or getting a computer-readable ID chip injected under the neck skin before the local dog shelter lets my neighbor adopt her new family member? Canis lupus familiaris, indeed; the familiar is always where the uncanny lurks. Further, the uncanny is where value becomes flesh again, in spite of all the dematerializations and ob-jectifications inherent in market valuation.

Marx always understood that use and exchange value were names for relationships; that was precisely the insight that led beneath the layer of appearances of market equivalences into the messy domain of extraction, accumulation, and human exploitation. Turning all the world into commodities for exchange is central to the process. Indeed, remaking the world so that new opportunities for commodity production and circulation are ever generated is the name of this game. This is the game that absorbs living human labor power without mercy. In Marx's own colorful, precise language that still gives capitalism's apologists apoplexy, capital comes into the world "dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt."1

What, however, if human labor power turns out to be only part of the story of lively capital? Of all philosophers, Marx understood relational sensuousness, and he thought deeply about the metabolism between human beings and the rest of the world enacted in living labor. As I read him, however, he was finally unable to escape from the humanist teleology of that labor—the making of man himself. In the end, no companion species, reciprocal inductions, or multispecies epigenetics are in his story.2 But what if the commodities of interest to those who live within the regime of Lively Capital cannot be understood within the categories of the natural and the social that Marx came so close to reworking but was finally unable to do under the goad of human excep-tionalism? These are hardly new questions, but I propose to approach them through relationships inherent in contemporary U.S. dog-human doings that raise issues not usually associated with the term biocapital, if, nonetheless, crucial to it.

We have no shortage of proof that classic rabid commodification is alive and well in consumer-crazy, technoscientifically exuberant dog worlds in the United States. I will give my readers plenty of reassuring fact-packages on this point, sufficient to create all the moral outrage that we lefties seem to need for breakfast and all the judgment-resistant desires that we cultural analysts seem to enjoy even more. However, if a Marx-equivalent were writing Biocapital, volume i, today, insofar as dogs in the United States are commodities as well as consumers of commodities, the analyst would have to examine a tripartite structure: use value, exchange value, and encounter value, without the problematic solace of human ex-ceptionalism.3 Trans-species encounter value is about relationships among a motley array of lively beings, in which commerce and consciousness, evolution and bioengineering, and ethics and utilities are all in play. I am especially interested here in "encounters" that involve, in a nontrivial but hard-to-characterize way, subjects of different biological species. My goal is to make a little headway in characterizing these relationships in the historically specific context of lively capital. I would like to tie my Marx-equivalent into the knots of value for companion species, especially for dogs and people in capitalist technoculture in the early twenty-first century, in which the insight that to be a situated human being is to be shaped by and with animal familiars might deepen our abilities to understand value-added encounters.

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