Archive for February, 2017

Marshall Brown “I Think, Therefore I Feel”

February 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Brown, Marshall 2017. I think, therefore I feel. In: Brodsky, Claudia; LaBrada, Eloy (eds). Inventing Agency. Essays on the Literary and Philosophical Production of the Modern Subject. Bloomsbury Academic

Latin usage limits the meaning of “cogito” to judgments, excluding anything that might be considered mere intuitions or reveries. A thinking thing – res cogitans – is a rational animal. Being stands in some sort of relation of implication to judgment. But judgment must stand in some relationship to a judging mind. If thinking could be merely daydreaming, then it might be lodged almost anywhere. Animals might think, or (as some ecocritics now assert) even plants.

Kant’s Copernican revolution put the question of identity front and center. The Kantian world of experience is constituted by transcendental conditioning – by the pure forms of sensible intuition governing perceptions of space and time and by the categories of the understanding that make consciousness possible. It is not clear whether the conception of the transcendental ego defined being or simply displaced it into an indefinite intellectual region. But in any event it turned Descartes upside down by beginning philosophy with beings rather than with thinking. And what Kant posits as a starting point becomes – or, indeed, had already become – a focal point in imaginative writings. Selfhood is a mysterious, indefinite or even infinite “I am”; it is known before being understood. It dawns; it does not result.

The sentiment of being is nothing without a sensing self, and for Wordsworth it entails specifically not Rousseau’s thoughtlessness but a feeling thought that recovers what, otherwise, might be “lost”: the lost cannot be found in knowledge, that is, not in cognition, but rather in a feeling thought that touches the heart. And while Rousseau denies taking the trouble to think, he opens the Reveries by asserting his unique existence – “Me voici donc seul sur la terre” (“here am I, then, alone on earth”)  – and, a short paragraph later, his existence as a thinker: “et plus je pense à ma situation présente …” (“and the more I think on my present situation”).

As Michel Serres has reiterated more poetically than anyone else since, everything flows, panta rhei, and thought is, by consequence, “steeped”, that is, immersed, were it only in being surrounded by “steep and lofty cliffs” that willy-nilly impress “thoughts” in a self that dreams of merely feeling.

Sense, life, and joy mingle to constitute the intellect that links our existence to the world. Feeling is linked to thinking, but thinking remains an anti-Cartesian state that is independent of judging. “An intellectual charm” is not cogitation. (of Wordsworth)

Well before Wordsworth, in fact barely a year after the Reveries appeared, Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic had echoed Rousseau’s feeling of self. Kant here restates the Cartesian principle as follows: “Nun scheint es, als ob wir in dem Bewusstsein unserer selbst (dem denkenden Subjekt) dieses Substantiale haben, und zwar in einer unmittlebaren Anschauung” (“Now it seems as if we have this substantial [self] in the consciousness of ourselves [in the thinking subject], and indeed in an immediate intuition”). But then a footnote defining “das absolute Subjekt” (“the absolute subject”) turns the tables on Descartes: it says that the absolute subject or the pure apperception of the self, is “ein Gefühl eines Daseins ohne den mindesten Begriff” (“a feeling of an existence without the slightest concept”). This sounds like Rousseau trumping Descartes. However, the note turns back on Rousseau to claim that the feeling of self is, after all, “nur Vorstellung desjenigen, worauf alles Denken in Beziehung (relatione accidentis) steht” (“only a representation of that to which all thinking stands in relation”).

The ground of thinking both is and is not itself a thought. Thinking and feeling are two sides of one coin. Indeed, and essay a decade later, “On a Recently Emergent Superior Tone in Philosophy”, heaps scorn on a “Philosophie aus Gefühlen” […] and on the demand of “die allerneueste deutsche Weisheit …, durchs Gefühl zu philosophieren” (“the very latest German wisdom, to philosophize through feeling”). While I cannot think without being steeped in feeling, feeling is not independent of thought. Hence the implicit new syllogism: I think, therefore I feel.

In the Cartesian syllogism, the “I am” and the “I think” are mutually self-confirming. But they are so only under the condition of presupposing an enduring I that is the thing that thinks, and that is. Thinking and being are nothing in themselves; they must inhere in something. But that ego is a mystery. In terms of Descartes’s early remark that he ascended the stage of the world masked, the person is a persona. To be at thing, it would have to have a separate existence or nature. But Descartes is clear that the being of the ego is coterminous with its thoughts. The syllogism is true, as he says in the Meditations, “quoties a me profetur, vel mente concipitus” (“each time I utter it, or conceive it in my mind”), but only so long as he is uttering or conceiving it.

The Romantic sense of self teases apart the ego from its thoughts, engendering the mixed feelings of inexpressible satisfaction in autonomous existence with inexplicable sadness or even grief at separation.

“Dubito, ergo sum” has long been considered Descartes’s alternative version of his syllogism. Thinking and doubting are, at bottom, one. “I think, therefore I feel” links the intensity of selfhood to its uncertainty. Uncertainty is anxiety, inscrutability, potential, all three in ever-varying ration. Descartes is unraveled: he is rescued by being overcome. Any change is a transformation, and any transformation a deformation. That is how history moves, and seldom so radically as when the Romantics consumed Descartes, digested him, and transformed him into nourishment for a new spirit.


Vicki Kirby “Autoimmunity: The Political State of Nature”

February 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Kirby, Vicki 2017. Autoimmunity: The Political State of Nature. Parallax 23(1): 46-60.

[…] autoimmunity’s riddle must accommodate the following paradox: the concept of autos, or ipse can no longer be something which is compromised, threatened or even secured, and this is because an identifiable self which appears under attack may never have existed. Given this apparent madness we begin to see why a robust discussion of autoimmunity as something unusual and presumably identifiable must also succumb to this same suicidal logic. (50)

If we entertain the suggestion, however difficult, that autoimmunity places the self (ipse, autos) under erasure, in other words, if this is not simply a suicidal agonism or self divided because there is no self that will anchor such descriptions, then the status of all evaluative terms, whether danger, wellness or benefit, would prove equally problematic. In other words, what foundational reference point can securely anchor these judgements? Or to put this another way, how is the difference between advantage and threat determined and by ‘whom’? (51)

The role of the Enteric System (ENS) in cognition, as well as the involvement of bacterial ‘passengers’ in determining what we conventionally call agency, behaviour, cognition and temperament, certainly complicate the
mind/body division, and in ways that are bewildering to contemplate. In effect we are forced to confront the suggestion that the corporeal residence of an individual – the site of self or ego – includes the bowel, and further, that this ego – this most intimate sense of personal identity – may well ‘be’ an intra-species agent that confounds the human/non-human opposition altogether. Titles in popular science journals in this relatively new research area point us in these provocative directions. In an article by Robert Martone in Scientific American we read, ‘The neuroscience of the Gut – Strange but true: the brain is shaped by bacteria in the digestive tract’,18 and in a report in
New Scientist by Emma Young – ‘Gut instincts: The secrets of your second brain’, we learn that ‘when it comes to your moods, decisions and behavior, the brain in your head is not the only one doing the thinking’. (53)

[…] it seems reasonable to wonder how agency can be dispersed across species and still be described as properly ‘mine’. (54)

I have mentioned the myriad ways in which critiques of sovereignty understand the problem as one of identity that loses integrity; that falls into error, failure and misrecognition. However, what difference does it make if our starting point is a sort of ecological involvement that has not lost its way because there is no proper way; an ecology that is so intricately enmeshed and all-encompassing that even those expressions (of itself) that appear circumscribed, isolated and autonomous, are ‘themselves’ generated by this generality? Referring back to Matzinger, this is not an
ecology among others but ‘One’ whose systemic self-reference is capable of discrimination and individuation. If différance is the life pulse of this ecology, such that difference is and always was différance, then we are not dealing with an aggregation of entities that pre-exist their involvement. Indeed, we could say that this ecology’s internal self-reference and self-recognition, its selfdetermination, undoes the clear division between health and threat, or even heteronomy and autonomy. (56)

[…] if nature is already culture then Cohen’s fears are allayed, at least to some extent, even as it remains true that life, here biology, is argumentative, left and right-leaning, aggressive, ruthless, generous, self-sacrificing, caring … and in a constant state of transition and metamorphosis because its own selfreflections are volatile. It appears that the sovereign has returned as autoimmunity, and ironically, by implication, deconstruction assumes a sort of sovereign status in this ubiquitous animation – this ‘no outside text’ that is life. (56)

Ed Cohen “Self, Not-Self, Not Not-Self But Not Self”

February 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Cohen, Ed 2017. Self, Not-Self, Not Not-Self But Not Self, or The Knotty Paradoxes of ‘Autoimmunity’: A Genealogical Rumination. Parallax 23(1): 28-45.

[…] the preponderance of contemporary immunological accounts continues to rely, mutatis mutandis, on a theoretical axiom classically formulated in the late 1950s by Frank Macfarlane Burnet’s Clonal Selection Theory. Following Burnet, immunology by and large takes as its shibboleth the precept that the immune system serves to discriminate ‘self’ from ‘not-self’, as Burnet robustly framed it in his seminal textbook, Self and Not Self: Cellular Immunity, Book I. (29)

Given the persistence of this organismic aporia, it seems there might be more to the paradox that autoimmunity ‘is’ than conventional bioscientific thinking about human organisms recognizes. If by virtue of their very existence ‘autoimmune’ phenomena defy basic immunological dogma (i.e., self/not-self discrimination), then might we begin to wonder whether the theory adequately accounts for all the vital facts? Perhaps immunology’s unquestioned appropriation of a logical opposition – derived from and embedded in Western thought’s governing epistemo-political ontology – as a bio-logical axiom unnecessarily limits our capacity to grasp our own complicated nature as living beings.10 Indeed, the tensions and tendencies that the autoimmune illnesses incorporate suggest that as living beings we might not be so ‘logical’ after all. (30)

In fact, from the Roman empire until the end of the nineteenth century, immunity’s primary meanings remained legal and political. Only in the 1880s did a Russian zoologist, Elie Metchnikoff, recruit the juridico-political metaphor to describe how living organisms of radically different scales comingle and coexist. Metchnikoff’s innovation occurred in the context of the numerous pandemics that plagued Europe during the nineteenth century and in the wake of the subsequent emergence of microbiology (under the auspices of such luminaries as Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur) in response to these infectious events.14 Prior to the 1860s, immunity rarely appeared in medical discussions of disease because its juridico-political valence clashed with the humoral theories that informed prevailing medical explanations. (31)

[…] the International Sanitary conference [in 1866, Constantinople] invoked ‘immunity’ for the first time as a simultaneously biological, political, economic, medical and military solution. They decided that while cholera could in fact be transmitted from one person or place to another, not all people and all places were equally susceptible. Hence, places with greater susceptibility (due to hygiene, climate or other environmental factors) might warrant the imposition of quarantines; however, more favorably situated locales need not resort to such (economically) restrictive measures because they possessed natural ‘resistance’. They called this resistance ‘immunity’: “This immunity, as a general rule, when closely regarded, can be linked to good hygienic conditions existing in these localities, or to notable improvements which have operated there for a while. The relative immunity answers to those who are too inclined to commend the safety of nations against cholera exclusively to quarantine measures.” (32)

Thus, when immunity first appeared as a biological – or actually bio-political – concept, it did so not because it explained how individual organisms respond to pathogenic challenge, but rather because its primary juridicopolitical valence enabled a compromise formation among medical, diplomatic, economic imperatives. If a nation was deemed ‘relative[ly] immune’ (in a biological sense) from cholera, then it could remain entirely immune (in a legal sense) from quarantine. (32)

Drawing on his previous observations that the intracellular digestion characteristic of unicellular organisms remains evolutionarily conserved in the ‘phagocytes’ (now called macrophages) of multicellular organisms, Metchnikoff argued that if bacteria ‘invade’ larger organisms this cannot be a one-sided battle, or else we’d all just be collateral damage. Instead, he conceptualized infectious disease as an inter-species struggle in which an infected organism mounts its own ‘defensive’ response and then, mobilizing the juridico-political term that the International Sanitary Conference settled on, he named this defensive capacity immunity. (33)

However, Metchnikoff’s analogy of immunity with host defence contained its own germ of a contradiction: in its original legal sense, if immunity obtains then there is no need of defence – it is literally a moot issue – and if one must mount a defence immunity does not obtain. Nevertheless, despite this conceptual contradiction, Metchnikoff’s hybrid legal-political-military metaphor stuck, implicitly characterizing life as war by other means. (33)

While Jerne himself did not employ the language of self and not-self, Burnet nevertheless lauds him for providing a ‘method of recognizing self from not self’. Moreover, he extrapolates from Jerne’s notion that ‘auto-antibodies’ are ‘removed’ during embryological development, to the notion that this constitutes the mechanism by which self produces immunological ‘tolerance’: ‘Clones with unwanted reactivity can be eliminated in the late embryonic period with the concomitant development of immune tolerance’.23 Yet Burnet’s idiom is somewhat peculiar. If ‘immune tolerance’ refers to ‘the absence of immunological response to “self” antigens’ (and all ‘self’ is potentially antigenic), then self is defined negatively as that which does not react to itself. The choice of ‘tolerance’ to describe this situation underscores Burnet’s curious and somewhat nebulous understanding of self as the absence of self-relation. (35)

The immunological self remains ‘the same as’ itself insofar as it does not respond to itself during the course of its life. It maintains itself as a self by immunologically tolerating itself. Conversely, autoimmunity corresponds to the event in which this self finds aspects of itself intolerable. Consequently, Burnet found the proof of his immune pudding in the autoimmune failure of self-tolerance: ‘It is only when things go wrong that it becomes possible to perceive that there is something in normal function which requires understanding’. In other words, for Burnet, the regular existence of autoimmune pathologies demonstrated that Metchnikoff’s defensive rendering of immunity essentially prefigured and corresponded to his own opposition of self and not-self. (36)

[…] self is predicated on the recognition of not-self as enemy insofar as its self-recognition (à la Hegel) must always be mediated through an other. Burnet’s paradigm hence affirms ‘natural’ hostility as the essential condition of life (or at least of human life, which is what he’s ultimately concerned with). The problem that Burnet defines as fundamental to ‘the new immunology’ – and which immunology has taken as its raison d’etre ever since – is how the organism can properly direct its hostile negativity towards the other. On this interpretation, autoimmunity constitutes a failure of defence ‘intelligence’ and hence manifests an instance of ‘friendly fire’. If it escalates it can turn into ‘a chronic immunological civil war’. (37)

It [the dominant immunological framework] supposes that multicellular life, and especially that of humans, incarnates hostile opposition as its condition of possibility – which means our condition of possibility – as living beings. Finally, by using the Greek reflexive pronoun ‘autos’ (αὐτός) (which refers the action of a verb back to its subject) to modify a Latin legal concept (immunitas) (which it takes to mean the opposite of what its legal valence entails), immunology suggests that autoimmunity represents the inversion of this ‘natural’ defensive hostility back towards the organism itself. (38)

Nick Vaughan-Williams “The Generalised Bio-Political Border?”

February 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Vaughan-Williams, Nick 2009. The Generalised Bio-Political Border? Re-conceptualising the limits of sovereign power. Review of International Studies 35(4): 729-749.

In the context of the theoretical lexicon of International Relations (IR), R. B. J. Walker has diagnosed a dominant spatial-temporal logic of inside/outside.9 Spatially, discourses of international relations presuppose a series of demarcations between inside and outside, here and there and us and them, in order to affirm the effect of the ‘presence’ of sovereign political community. Temporally, these demarcations work to secure a primary distinction between a realm of progress ‘inside’ and a realm of immutable violence, warfare and barbarism ‘outside’. On a preliminary reading, therefore, the concept of the border of the state conditions the possibility of thinking in the above terms and this border is taken to be located at the geographical outer-edge of sovereign territory. (730)

However, despite the imperiousness of the inside/outside model conditioned by the concept of the border of the state, a growing number of critical scholars concur with Balibar’s observation about the paradoxical and complex nature of borders in contemporary political life. Walker, for example, not only diagnoses the logic of inside/outside but also seems to call this logic into question throughout many of his texts. Hence, he argues that, ‘We have shifted rather quickly from the monstrous edifice of the Berlin Wall, perhaps the paradigm of a securitized territoriality, to a war on terrorism, and to forms of securitization, enacted anywhere.’ (731)

[…] the idea of the ‘generalised bio-political border’ as a re-conceptualisation of the limits of sovereign power: not
as fixed territorial borders located at the outer-edge of the territorial state, but infused through bodies and diffused across society and everyday life. (732-733)

[…] whereas Foucault reads the movement from politics to bio-politics as a historical transformation involving the inclusion of zoe ¯ in the realm of the polis, for Agamben the political realm is originally bio-political. On Agamben’s view, the West’s conception of politics has always been bio-political, but the nature of the relation between politics and life has become more exposed in the context of the modern state and its sovereign practices. (734)

To explain this paradoxical formulation he introduces a spatial-ontological device used by Jean-Luc Nancy: the ban. If someone is ‘banned’ from a political community he or she continues to have a relation with that group: there is still a connection precisely because they are outlawed. In this way, the figure of the banned person thus complicates the simplistic dichotomy between inclusion and exclusion. (734-735)

Importantly, bare life is neither what the Greeks referred to as zoe ¯ nor bios. Rather, it is a form of life that is produced in a zone of indistinction between the two. Agamben, therefore, argues that it is necessary to identify and analyse the way in which the classical distinction between zoe ¯ and bios is blurred in contemporary political life: ‘Living in the state of exception that has become the rule has [. . .] meant this: our private body has now become indistinguishable from our body politic’. (735)

Guards who stand watch over the detainees in Guantánamo confront a peculiar form of ‘human life’. Stripped of political and legal status, it bears no resemblance to Aristotle’s conception of man as politikon zoon in the public sphere or bios. Yet, importantly as far as the interpretation of Agamben advanced here is concerned, neither does this life in any simple way conform to what the Greeks would have called zoe ¯. Rather, the life confronted by the guards is a life that scrambles these Aristotelian co-ordinates: we no longer have any idea of the classical separation between zoe ¯ and bios in this context.72 It is a bare life produced by the sovereign practices of the camp that is caught in a zone of indistinction between zoe ¯ and bios: a life that is mute and undifferentiated. For Agamben, such a life belongs to homo sacer or sacred man: a figure in Roman law whose very existence is in a state of exception defined by the sovereign. The figure of homo sacer is sacred in the sense that it can be killed but not sacrificed and is both constituted by and constitutive of sovereign power. Moreover, as the state of exception is arguably less anomalous and more a permanent characteristic, according to Agamben we all run the risk of becoming bare life: ‘we are all (virtually) homines sacri’. (739)

Though highly indebted to Agamben, Butler argues that the universality implied by the claim that we are all ‘virtually homines sacri’ exposes an area of weakness in his understanding of political subjectivity. Butler’s chief criticism of  gamben is that he does not tell us how ‘power functions differentially’ among populations.74 Focusing on issues of race and ethnicity, Butler argues that the generality of Agamben’s treatment of the political subject fails to appreciate the ways in which ‘the systematic management and derealization of populations function to support and extend the claims of a sovereignty accountable to no law’. (740)

Connolly advances a similar critique to Butler’s of Agamben’s account of the logic of sovereignty.77 Connolly’s main objections are twofold. First, he argues that Agamben naively and problematically assumes that there once was a separation between zoe ¯ and bios: ‘What a joke [. . .] [e]very way of life involves the infusion of norms, judgments, and standards into the affective life of participants at both private and public levels’. (740)

On the one hand, with its seemingly universalistic pretensions, the notion of bare life might indeed appear too sweeping to allow for nuanced analyses of subjectivity. On the other hand, I want to suggest, the sting of this criticism is largely neutralised once the notion of bare life is untied from the concept of zoe ¯. If bare life is treated as precisely an indistinct form of subjectivity that is produced immanently by sovereign power for sovereign power then the true undecidability of the figure of homo sacer is brought into relief. This move allows for a more differentiated approach to the production of subjectivities under bio-political conditions because it does not fix bare life as some sort of pre-given outside sovereignty. On this reformulation, bare life can be interpreted as a form of subjectivity whose borders are always already rendered undecidable by sovereign power; a form of subjectivity whose identity is always in question. (741)

[…] Agamben draws attention to the way in which the production of zones of indistinction, where exceptional activities become the rule, is more and more widespread in global politics. Indeed, the notion of the generalised space of exception points to the way in which characteristics usually associated with the edges, margins, or outer-lying areas of sovereign space gradually blur with what is conventionally taken to be the ‘normality’ of that space. Whereas the space of the exception was once localised in spaces such as the camps, Agamben implies that in more recent times it has become increasingly generalised in contemporary political life: ‘the camp, which is now firmly settled inside [the nation-state], is the new bio-political nomos of the planet’. (746)

Instead of viewing the limits of sovereign power as spatially fixed at the outer-edge of the state, Agamben reconceptualises those limits in terms of a decision or speech act about whether certain life is worthy of living or life that is expendable. Such a decision performatively produces and secures the borders of sovereign community as the politically qualified life of the citizen is defined against the bare life of homo sacer. The concept of the border of the state is substituted by the sovereign decision to produce some life as bare life: it is precisely this dividing practice, one that can effectively happen anywhere, that constitutes the ‘original spatialisation of sovereign power’.118 Such a decision is very much a practice of security because the production of bare life shores up notions of who and what ‘we’ are. (746)

An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz: Geopower, Inhumanism and the Biopolitical

February 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Grosz, Elizabeth; Yusoff, Kathryn; Clark, Nigel 2017. An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz: Geopower, Inhumanism and the Biopolitical. Theory, Culture & Society. DOI: 10.1177/0263276417689899

NC and KY: Historically, the inhuman has been posited as a condition that was understood to be against life (Lyotard, 1991) or as a form of bare life rendered through a deadly exercise of biopower. How might the inhuman be rethought as a stratified condition that both supplements and subtends biopolitics? What kind of shift in genealogy does this represent for the conceptualization of the body politic of the human?

EG: If the inhuman is not understood as against the human, its opposite or overcoming, but rather both the preconditions and the excess within the human, if we understand what is creative and inventive in the human as something impersonal, with forces we summon up rather than control, then it is a line that runs through human actions. In fact, it may be part of the explanation for the cultural necessity of biopolitical regulation: there is something in humans (and other living beings) that is beyond conscious control and social regulation. The increasingly microscopic interventions of biopower take as their object smaller and smaller forces and processes of the body as something to be mastered while leaving inadequately addressed the body’s inhuman even quantum forces. Biopower requires as its other precisely the inhuman, which it aims to make an object of regulation. Or put in other words, it is the inhuman in the human that resists biopolitics and perhaps requires some form of it. The inhuman within the human, as resistance, is the creative force that enables (some) humans to transform their conditions of existence, to make, create, invent. Moreover, this inhuman is the gel of a human collectivity that is perhaps best understood through art, which musters both the elements from the earth and from the inhuman effects of the human.

NC and KY: You have suggested that art carves out a relatively safe corner of the earth’s chaos in which to perform experiments. One of the key differences between the spheres of politics and art – at least in a conventional modern framing – is that politics involves justifying our actions or inaction to others (i.e. giving reasons for our decisions), whereas it is presumed that artistic interventions can to some degree speak or act for themselves. So we are wondering what your approach does to complicate or trouble these differences. If a politics worthy of the name calls for trials and experiments whose outcomes cannot be anticipated, is the emphasis on the providing of reasons or giving an account of oneself over-rated? Or alternatively, if art has the capacity to recompose social formations in potentially momentous ways, are we perhaps not being demanding enough of its ethical and political responsibilities?

EG: I think that art and politics do function quite differently, although there is no reason that each mode of practice cannot borrow from or help to develop the other. But the most fundamental difference is that art is very rarely, with the exception of film and performance arts, a collective process (though of course it is capable of collective creation – it more commonly is marketed rather than produced collectively). Art is possible in a relation between a single individual and a small part of the earth. Politics, by contrast, is always collective, always social, completely ineffective if it relies on individuals alone. What both art and politics can share, though this is increasingly difficult in a political order in which the domination of politics occurs through the financial intervention of restabilizing orders (such as the interests of particular industries and the operation of lobby groups), is that at their best, they are fundamentally experimental, open-ended, without a clear-cut goal, but modes of exploration of different possible (or virtual) orders.

David Camfield “The Multitude and the Kangaroo”

February 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Camfield, David 2007. The Multitude and the Kangaroo: A Critique of Hardt and Negri’s Theory of Immaterial Labour. Historical Materialism 15: 21-52.

[…]Maurizio Lazzarato defines the concept as ‘the labor that produces the informational and cultural content of the commodity’. (22)

However, when Hardt and Negri describe biopolitical labour as ‘labor that creates not only material goods but also relationships and ultimately social life itself’,13 a conceptual slippage occurs. Tis definition expands the concept to encompass labour that produces material as well as immaterial products. (24)

Te rise of immaterial labour has profound consequences. One is the breaking down of the division of time between work and non-work or leisure. This split was clear-cut in the age of the factory, but, under the hegemony of immaterial labour, ‘an idea or an image comes to you not only in the office but also in the shower or in your dreams’. (26)

Co-operative and communicative qualities are ‘internal to labor and thus external to capital’. For this reason, immaterial labour has a great potential for self-management. In fact, its social cooperation outside of capital ‘seems to provide the potential for a kind of spontaneous and elementary communism’. (27)

As immaterial labour defines social production, even the unemployed poor become participants in biopolitical production.42 Empire needs the biopolitical production of the entire population of the world: ‘no group is “disposable”’. Biopolitical production is obviously not confined to a working day with a clear beginning and end. Tus it cannot be measured, and it produces more value than capital can ever capture. Here is another way in which immaterial labour is subversive with respect to capital. Social life is a productive machine, but society is not seen as the social factory of autonomist Marxism. This is because, even though ‘the real subsumption of society under capital’ has taken place, capital is unable to fully harness biopolitical productivity to value production, although it tries. (28)

As Read notes, Hardt and Negri relate their concept of biopolitical production to a historical shift in capitalism and to an ontological shift, ‘a reconsideration of production not simply as the production of things but as the production of relations and subjects, as the constitution of the world’. (30)

It is also worth pointing out that the idea that labour produces social relations and human subjects as well as goods and services is neither novel nor the special contribution of poststructuralism in the vein of Deleuze, Guattari, Hardt and Negri. Marx’s concepts of labour and production are far removed from the narrow notions of many Marxists and non-Marxists: humans ‘have history because they must produce their life’. […]‘Marx’s basic position’, as Raymond Williams puts it, is that “fundamentally, in this human historical process, we produce ourselves and our societies, and it is within these developing and variable forms that ‘material production’, then itself variable, both in mode and scope, is itself carried on.” (32)

Dyer-Witheford, who, as we shall see, attempts to save the concept by revising it, raises a pertinent warning: “analysis that puts under one roof multimedia designers, primary-school teachers . . . and strippers . . . may reveal valuable commonalities, but can also cover up chasmic differences, fault lines of segmentation, veritable continental rifts that present the most formidable barrier for the organization of counterpower.” (34)

Hardt and Negri’s claim amounts to a contention that the real subsumption of labour to capital is retreating, making capital parasitically exploitative of autonomous production. They do not attempt to reconcile this with their contention that the real subsumption of society as a whole to capital has taken place. One reason for their failure to address this contradiction is their ‘neglect [of] the forms in and through which labour exists in capitalism’. Hardt and Negri see immaterial labour as increasingly outside-and-against capital, rather than in-and-against it. (35)

For Marx, industry referred to commodity production organised around a ‘machine system’ operated by ‘associated labour’ and geared to the extraction of relative surplus-value.92 In this sense, industry need not be limited to the production of material commodities; it is also applicable to the production of commodified services, from health care to fast food to finance. The provision of services in contemporary capitalism is often industrial in the sense that workers are organised through a detail division of labour in a labour process to which not just machines but technological systems are central. (39)

But is information technology causing work to ‘become intelligent’? Many jobs that involve computer use involve either what the above-mentioned Australian study calls ‘knowledge handling and service provision’ or merely the routinised and repetitive input of information. (43)

My claim is not that Hardt and Negri ignore commodification altogether; Multitude discusses the private ownership of immaterial products in such cases as the online music file-sharing site Napster, ‘bio-property’ (life-forms), and the privatisation of public transport and utilities. However, even though the message that ‘Our World is Not For Sale!’ has been expressed in many different languages by movements of protest and resistance from Bolivia to France to India, and has had great popular resonance because it connects with people’s experiences, global commodification is not a central theme in their thought. Perhaps this is because acknowledgment of its importance is theoretically incompatible with Hardt and Negri’s commitment to the belief that immaterial labour and its products are increasingly autonomous of capital? (44)

Rather than theorising wagelabour as a tendentially world-historical social form of labour and exploring the diverse unfree and ‘free’ concrete arrangements in which it always exists, Hardt and Negri erroneously posit the hegemony of a self-configuring sociotechnical figure of labour in each historical era of capitalism. (48)

Michael Hardt “Affective labor”

February 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Hardt, Michael 1999. Affective Labor. boundary 2 26(2): 89-100.

It has now become common to view the succession of economic paradigms in the dominant capitalist countries since the Middle Ages in three distinct moments, each defined by a privileged sector of the economy: a first paradigm, in which agriculture and the extraction of raw materials dominated the economy; a second, in which industry and the manufacture of durable goods occupied the privileged position; and the current paradigm, in which providing services and manipulating information are at the heart of economic production. The dominant position has thus passed from primary to secondary to tertiary production. Economic modernization named the passage from the first paradigm to the second, from the dominance of agriculture to that of industry. Modernization meant industrialization. We might call the passage from the second paradigm to the third, from the domination of industry to that of services and information, a process of economic postmodernization, or rather, informatization. (90)

The term service here covers a large range of activities from health care, education, and finance, to transportation, entertainment, and advertising. The jobs, for the most part, are highly mobile and involve flexible skills. More importantly, they are characterized in general by the central role played by knowledge, information, communication, and affect. In this sense, we can call the postindustrial economy an informational economy. (91)

The new managerial imperative operative here is “treat manufacturing as a service.” In effect, as industries are transformed, the division between manufacturing and services is becoming blurred. Just as through the process of modernization all production became industrialized, so too through the process of postmodernization all production tends toward the production of services, toward becoming informationalized. (92)

A first aspect of this transformation is recognized by many in terms of the change in factory labor – using the auto industry as a central point of reference – from the Fordist model to the Toyotist model. The primary structural change between these models involves the system of communication between the production and consumption of commodities, that is, the passage of information between the factory and the market. The Fordist model constructed a relatively “mute” relationship between production and consumption. The mass production of standardized commodities in the Fordist era could count on an adequate demand and thus had little need to “listen” closely to the market. A feedback circuit from consumption to production did allow changes in the market to spur changes in production, but this communication was restricted (due to fixed and compartmentalized channels of planning) and slow (due to the rigidity of the technologies and procedures of mass production). (93)

Toyotism is based on an inversion of the Fordist structure of communication between production and consumption. Ideally, according to this model, the production planning will communicate with markets constantly and immediately. Factories will maintain zero stock and commodities will be produced just in time, according to the present demand of the existing markets. This model thus involves not simply a more rapid feedback loop but an inversion of the relationship because, at least in theory, the productive decision actually comes after and in reaction to the market decision. (93)

[…] immaterial labor – that is, labor that produces an immaterial good, such as a service, knowledge, or communication. (94)

Robert Reich calls this type of immaterial labor “symbolic-analytical services” – tasks that involve “problem-solving, problem-identifying, and strategic brokering activities.” This type of labor claims the highest value and thus Reich identifies it as the key to competition in the new global economy. He recognizes, however, that the growth of these knowledge-based jobs of creative symbol manipulation implies a corresponding growth of low-value and low-skill jobs of routine symbol manipulation, such as data entry and word processing. Here begins to emerge a fundamental division of labor within the realm of immaterial processes. (95)

The other face of immaterial labor is the affective labor of human contact and interaction. This is the aspect of immaterial labor that economists such as Reich are less likely to talk about but that seems to me the more important aspect, the binding element. Health services, for example, rely centrally on caring and affective labor, and the entertainment industry and the various culture industries are likewise focused on the creation and manipulation of affects. (95)

[…] embedded in the moments of human interaction and communication. This labor is immaterial, even if it is corporeal and affective, in the sense that its products are intangible: a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, passion – even a sense of connectedness or community. (96)

Such affective production, exchange, and communication is generally associated with human contact, with the actual presence of another, but that contact can either be actual or virtual. In the production of affects in the entertainment industry, for example, the human contact, the presence of others, is principally virtual, but not for that reason any less real. (96)

Whereas in a first moment, in the computerization of industry, for example, one might say that communicative action, human relations, and culture have been instrumentalized, reified, and “degraded” to the level of economic interactions, one should add quickly that through a reciprocal process, in this second moment, production has become communicative, affective, de-instrumentalized, and “elevated” to the level of human relations – but, of course, a level of human relations entirely dominated by and internal to capital. (Here the division between economy and culture begins to break down.) (96)

By biopower, I understand the potential of affective labor. Biopower is the power of the creation of life; it is the production of collective subjectivities, sociality, and society itself. The focus on affects and the networks of the production of affects reveals these processes of social constitution. What is created in the networks if affective labor is a form-of-life. (98)