Notes in the margin

But it is to these flimsy rules, and not to the unshaking character of the external world, that we owe our unshaking sense of realities. To be at ease in a situation is to be properly subject to these rules, entranced by the meanings they generate and stabilise; to be ill at ease means that one is ungrasped by immediate reality and that one loosens the grasp that others have of it.

To be awkward or unkempt, to talk or move wrongly, is to be a dangerous giant, a destroyer of worlds. As every psychotic and comic ought to know, any accurately improper move can poke through the thin sleeve of immediate reality.

Erving Goffman, Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction, New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1961.


Sraffa ‘reformulated’ the Marxist critique of economics in dispute with the neoclassical marginalists (Böhm-Bawerk, Wicksell, Jevons, Walras, etc.) who, in explicit opposition to Marx and to the ‘labour theory of value’, expounded their marginalist theory of the value of capital: residual remuneration between the summation of the existing stock of property, less the salaries and interests on those salaries, and the value of the interest accrued between the consumer good and its transformation into merchandise. According to them, the relative values of commodities and the measurement of the remuneration of the factors of production are determined by the taste of the consumer, the technological means in which technical and scientific knowledge is embodied and the factors of production employed, measurable in their ‘neutral’ sense of technical units of capital and labour.

Roberto Di Fede, ‘Immaterialismo storico’, in La Contraddizione, no. 78, May–June 2000.



But what could a reading of Morelli’s essays have meant to the young Freud, still far from psychoanalysis? Freud himself tells us: it was the idea of a method of interpretation based on discarded information, on marginal data, considered in some way significant. By this method, details usually considered of little importance, even trivial or ‘minor’, provided the key for approaching higher aspects of the human spirit […].

Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Clues: Roots of an Evidential Paradigm’, in Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, J. and A. C. Tedeschi (trans.), Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.


To be on the margin is to be part of the whole but outside the main body. As black Americans living in a small Kentucky town, the railroad tracks were a daily reminder of our marginality. […] It was this marginality that I was naming as a central location for the production of a counter-hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives. As such, I was not speaking of a marginality one wishes to lose – to give up or surrender as part of moving into the centre – but rather of a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers one the possibility of a radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.

bell hooks, ‘Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness,’ in Yearnings: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, Boston: South End Press, 1990.