Day 49: The Unbearable Purposefulness of Noah

I know probably most of you have seen this by now. I am still wondering about something, however. About once a month I watch this thing again and contemplate the problem of teleologies and stable life narratives in present society, as well as the affect that is attached to the idea of purpose and the necessity of articulating the self in relation to, or by means of a  teleological narrative. Can it be this easy? Is this why I want to kill myself every time I watch this?



Day 48: Being and the Event of Badiou


In response to some questions raised regarding Badiou, here a quick post on his treatment of Being.

Regarding skunk’s reference to subjectivity and class:

“Philosophically, the world’s confusion undoubtedly means first of all that it can be explained neither by the One nor by the Multiple. This world is not taken up within the identifiable movement of a meaning (for example, the meaning of history), nor does it fall under the regime of stable classifications, or practicable analyses into significative components (as it did in the conception of those who clearly distinguished the proletariat from the bourgeoisie, or made sense of the games between imperialist, socialist, and nonaligned camps). And it seems, at first, that Deleuze is indeed he who announces that the distribution of Being according to One and the Multiple must be renounced, that the inaugural methodological gesture of any modern thought is to situate itself outside this opposition. (..) More generally, “there is neither one nor multiple.” We only need to heed, paying attention to its enthusiastic vibration even more to its explicit content, the following declaration: “A single and same voice for the whole thousand-voiced multiple, a single and same Ocean for all the drops, a single clamour of Being for all beings.” And let us also remind those who naively celebrate a Deleuze for whom everything is event, surprise, and creation that the multiplicity of “what-occurs” is but a misleading surface, because for veritable thought, “Being is the unique event in which all events communicate with one another.” (…) Deleuze’s fundamental problem is most certainly not to liberate the multiple but to submit thinking to a renewed concept of One. What must the One be, for the multiple to be integrally conceived therein as the production of simulacra?”

As far as the production of the subject within the structures of cognitive capitalism that tap into mechanisms of desire is concerned we should consider this following, quite relevant excerpt:

“For Deleuze, this compulsory correlation between the subject and the (scientific) plane of reference disqualifies equally those who uphold structural objectivism and those who uphold subjectivism. Thinking under the (exalting) constraint of the work of Foucault, Deleuze credits the latter with a diagnosis of the utmost importance, namely, that (scientific) “structures” and the “subject” (as the supposed support of thought and its values) are opposed only in appearance. And it is, moreover, still the case today, particularly today, that the question under debate concerns “the place and status that are those of the subject within dimensions that are assumed to be not completely structured.” We can duly observe that those in favor of an enforced structuring of the economy by the free market (“freedom” that we know, ffrom the admission of its own militants, to be that of a monetary police) and of a single political structuring (representative parliamentary government) are the same who, alongside these monumental necessities, advocate the return to a moral and humanitarian subject. It is certain that, “as long as we continue to contrast history directly with structure, we can believe that the subject conserves as sense as a constitutive, receptive and unifying activity.” (…) The “epochs,” the historical formations, and the epistemes, which are the great unities constructed by Foucault, “escape from both the reign of the subject and the empire of structure.” And it is in the very place that is left vacant by this dismissal of the positivist objective-subjective couple that Deleuze installs the question of the interlacement of thought and Being.”

Both sections are taken from Deleuze–The Clamor of Being.

Day 46: Capitalism 3.0 V. 1.3


Dear all,

wow: it has once again been a while since I wrote something. It is not that I did not find our discussions exciting (I enjoyed them very much). Rather, the things we have been discussing are actually the subject of  the next chapter of my dissertation and I have been confusing myself by not focusing enough on what I am supposed to be arguing right now. Hence, I had to take some time off, focus and at least produce a coherent outline of my current argument and get it started before returning to this. I am hoping to finish the present chapter in about a week and then I can really get into all of this again.

Today, let me add one more facet to our discussions. Following the recent work of Badiou I would like to suggest that the key to understanding the effects of the current stage of capitalism, as well as the work of contemporary philosophy, is the role of the subject (in fact Badiou talks more specifically about Dasein in a Heideggerian sense, but I would like to stay away from that for the moment). This may seem banal, but what Badiou argues for is a return to specific discussions about the subject that depart from all the different “turns” (the linguistic turn, etc.). In order to understand how contemporary capitalism has changed we should look at how processes of subjection and potentialities for developing consciousness have changed. This will allow us to backtrack and get deeper insights into the workings of the new capitalist system. One of these developments on the level of subjection is a greater degree of freedom and participation, i.e. the granting of the wishes of classic postmodern philosophy, that traces liberation in the “nodal points of communication curcuits,” abandoning the much criticized “meta-narratives” that limit a pluralism of life-narratives. This “freedom,” however, has taken on a structural role and is now often perceived as quite totalitarian in nature. The reason for this perception is, I would argue, the necessity of “superseding” the dialectic as the primary process of subjection and of forming consciousness, which results in a quasi-totalitarianism of difference. A great intro into this debate is contained in this section on the new role of the subject:

The problem, however, of subjectivity and its collective form, its constitution and its development, has immediately expressed itself as a clash between social classes within the organization of work. I should point out that what I am describing is not some Utopian vision of recomposition, but the very real terrain and conditions of the conflict between social classes. The capitalist needs to find an unmediated way of establishing command over subjectivity itself; the prescription and definition of tasks transforms into a prescription of subjectivities. The new slogan of Western societies is that we should all “become subjects.” Participative management is a technology of power, a technology for creating and controlling the “subjective processes.” As it is no longer possible to confine subjectivity merely to tasks of execution, it becomes necessary for the subject’s competence in the areas of management, communication, and creativity to be made compatible with the conditions of “production for production’s sake.” Thus the slogan “become subjects,” far from eliminating the antagonism between hierarchy and cooperation, between autonomy and command, actually re-poses the antagonism at a higher level, because it both mobilizes and clashes with the very personality of the individual worker. First and foremost, we have here a discourse that is authoritarian: one has to express oneself, one has to speak, communicate, cooperate, and so forth. The “tone” is that of the people who were in executive command under Taylorization; all that has changed is the content. Second, if it is no longer possible to lay down and specify jobs and responsibilities rigidly (in the way that was once done with “scientific” studies of work), but if, on the contrary, jobs now require cooperation and collective coordination, then the subjects of that production must be capable of communication – they must be active participants within a work team. The communicational relationship (both vertically and horizontally) is thus completely predetermined in both form and content; it is subordinated to the “circulation of information” and is not expected to be anything other. The subject becomes a simple relayer of codification and decodification, whose transmitted messages must be “clear and free of ambiguity,” within a communications context that has been completely normalized by management. Thenecessity of imposing command and the violence that goes along with it here take on a normative communicative form.

Day 40: Capitalism 3.0 V. 1.2


Today let me begin by suggesting the following: inherent in many debates about social justice is a problematic kind of temporality. We can see this for example when people mainly focus on discussing communism/socialism in a post-revolutionary scenario, trying to imagine ways of re-distributing wealth and democratizing the production process. Similarly, these are the ways in whch we address issues of immigrant labor, exploitation, unionization, or any other kind of regulatory measure that might counteract the exploitative nature of capitalism as we find it. The problematic temporality here is that we are inclined to talk about capitalism after production has already happened. Hence, we actually talk about capital and its flows, rather than about labor and its fucntion in the production of capital. If there is a flaw in revolutionary theory it is not the inability to imagine a post-revolutionary social scenario, as conservatives so unfoundedly tend to claim. There are plenty of accounts of how to re-structure society and the distribution of capital. However, there are surprisingly few accounts of how to restructure the actual productive apparatus (not structurally, but logically), resulting in the fact that many post-revolutionary scenarios are in fact based on the same capitalist production processes that are just arranged in a more “just” form. I.e. we redistribute wealth, restore rights to the worker etc. What this means in essence, however, is that we locate exploitation logically in the post-productive flows of capital, not essentially in production. Even the Fordist assembly line could be reformed by assigning the worker more control over her product, removing competition between workers and by paying wages “according to her abilities.” This would de facto solve the description of alienation put forth by Marx (division of labor, alienation of worker from product, alienation of worker from herself and others via competition and need to transform human being into commodity, etc.). And this would be after a proper Marxist revolution. Much talk, however, is obviously a lot less revolutionary than this and leaves the production process entirely untouched (again: locating exploitation and alienation enturely in the post-productive flow of liquid capital). Talking about the role of the subject in relation to affective labor and cognitive capitalism does for me one essential thing: it brings back our discussions to the production process and forces us to engage with the possibility that the actual way of producing things and non-things cannot be salvaged and is logicall inherently alienating, hence must be re-thought and completely discarded, or liberated in drastic ways. This for me leads to a lot more rigorous and revolutionary analyses than post-productive scenarios of re-distributing wealth, or revamping labor law–especially in a time where post-Fordist production seems to partially grant the wishes of the proletariat that would seem to counteract Marx’s definition of alienation. Consider this analysis:

Twenty years of restructuring of the big factories has led to a curious paradox. The various different post-Fordist models have been constructed both on the defeat of the Fordist worker and on the recognition of the centrality of (an ever increasingly intellectualized) living labor within production. In today’s large restructured company, a worker’s work increasingly involves, at various levels, an ability to choose among different alternatives and thus a degree of responsibility regarding decision making. The concept of “interface” used by communications sociologists provides a fair definition of the activities of this kind of worker – as an interface between different functions, between different work teams, between different levels of the hierarchy, and so forth. What modern management techniques are looking for is for “the worker’s soul to become part of the factory.” The worker’s personality and subjectivity have to be made susceptible to organization and command. It is around immateriality that the quality and quantity of labor are organized. This transformation of working-class labor into a labor of control, of handling information, into a decision-making capacity that involves the investment of subjectivity, affects workers in varying ways according to their positions within the factory hierarchy, but it is nevertheless present as an irreversible process. Work can thus be defined as the capacity to activate and manage productive cooperation. In this phase, workers are expected to become “active subjects” in the coordination of the various functions of production, instead of being subjected to it as simple command. We arrive at a point where a collective learning process becomes the heart of productivity, because it is no longer a matter of finding different ways of composing or organizing already existing job functions, but of looking for new ones.

What if the departure from the forces of alienation that described the industrial worker in Marx’s time is precisely part of the capitalist logic that informs production today? Would this not suggest that we need to radically re-vamp and adapt our analytical framework? Don’t we then have to assign the affective production and immaterial inclusion of the worker a central role in entirely new formulations of the concept of alienation–and: is the concept of alienation in fact theoretically more helpful to envision alternatives than the concept of exploitation (for the reasons indicated above)?

Day 38: Capitalism 3.0


***EDIT: quickly in response to skunk’s comment and the “fun with Emerson” idea. Here some R.W. I think everyone should be able to quote at random occasions:

“I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the idiotic and maniacal hooting for men. It is a sound admirably suited to swamps and twilight woods which no day illustrates, suggesting a vast and undeveloped nature which men have not recognized. They present the stark twilight and unsatisfied thoughts which all have.”

Yes, the unconscious is productive indeed and nothing yields more productive force for the accumulation of capital than the undeveloped twilight woods of our minds. Let us then surrender our brains to the owls, let’s follow Emerson’s advice and escape the productive agency of misguided hooting and live forever freely in ignorance. Strange logic? Yes/no. Thus here the beginning of the strand on affective labor: ***

As promised, here a brief introductory post on the concept of immaterial labor. I do not have tons of time, so I figured I would keep posting details on the issue (which is rather complex) over the next few days and we can discuss them as we go along. This is something that is very interesting to me and in my dissertation I am trying to formulate an account of the precise effects this change in the economic and social organization of capitalism has had/is having on cultural production.

A VERY broad intro into the subject: the concept of immaterial labor is mostly associated with the economic writings of Maurizio Lazzarato, which have recently been picked up and further developed by people such as Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Paulo Virno, or Antonella Corsani. Most of the discussions surrounding this topic are primarily carried out in the Italian and French context, but there are also a few German economists who have begun to write about this. The general argument is that we have transitioned into what could be called the third stage of capitalism (the first two being mercantile and industrial in nature). Lazzarato claims that it is not sufficient to talk about “post-industrial” capitalism. Instead we must also examine this on the level of subjectivity–in other words on the level on which the subject is included in the production process. Lazzarato’s assertion is that we have entered a stage of capitalist accumulation in which the immaterial labor processes are almost more important than the material ones–this precisely has been taken up by Hardt in his formulation of “affective labor,” or by Corsani in her analysis of what she calls “cognitive capitalism.” The realization that the main productive forces are internalized, what D&G would call the desiring machines, as well as the understanding of affect as the primary force behind the positive dissemination of information must the include the necessity to articulate precisely the ways in which the individual subject is (often unconsciously) involved in a production process that is assumed to exist in an exteriorized relation to the subject. Hence here the link to Baudrillard’s assertion that we have indeed passed the age that can be analyzed from a Foucauldian angle, as discipline and surveillance do not serve the purpose of rigorous categorization any more. Instead what we find is the internalization of labor processes and the abolition of centrally regulating structures in the attempt to create a decentralized, anarchic and semi-autonomous production process that should precisely not be perceived as production, but as an exercise in democracy, freedom and rhizomatically liberating information exchange.

Here a short section from Lazzarato that introduces the general concept. Let me kow what you think and we can begin a basic discussion of the implications of this. I will then continue to add more detailed info and theoretical arguments as we go along.

An initial synthesis of these results – framed in terms of an attempt to define the technical and subjective-political composition of the working class – can be expressed in the concept of immaterial labor, which is defined as the labor that produces the informational and cultural concent of the commodity. The concept of immaterial labor refers to two different aspects of labor. On the one hand, as regards the “informational content” of the commodity, it refers directly to the changes taking place in workers’ labor processes in big companies in the industrial and tertiary sectors, where the skills involved in direct labor arc increasingly skills involving cybernetics and computer control (and horizontal and vertical communi­cation). On che other hand, as regards the activity that produces the “cultural con­tent” of the commodity, immaterial labor involves a series of activities that arc not normally recognized as “work” – in other words, the kinds of activities involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes, consumer norms, and, more strategically, public opinion. Once the privileged domain of the bour­geoisie and its children, these activities have since the end of the 1970s become thedomain of what we have come to define as “mass intellectuality.” The profound changes in these strategic sectors have radically modified not only the composition, management, and regulation of the workforce – the organization of production – but also, and more deeply, the role and function of intellectuals and their activities within society.

Day 36: Return of the Living Dead


Dear all, I am reporting back for duty after a long hiatus. I am very sorry for having neglected my virtual home for so long, but I guess I got mine: my virtual plant died and my virtual goldfish, whom I forgot to feed, got really skinny. I will have to find a virtual blogsitter for next time.

What happened? Let’s see: I finished a chapter, sent in some applications for various potential monetary sources for next year (including a research grant), sent out a few abstracts for conferences etc. and attended an Asian-American Studies conference over the last two days. I also attended some lectures, including George Lipsitz. I was looking forward to that talk, as I really enjoyed his books The Possessive Investment in Whiteness and American Studies in a Moment of Danger. Sadly the talk was spectacularly underwhelming. I got another chance to speak with him during a meeting with grad students the next day, but what I got were sadly still more platitudes that could have been broadcast on Air America Radio (which is good fun–don’t get me wrong), rather than any rigorous critical insights. Too bad. I was, however, utterly impressed with the keynote speaker of the conference whose work I am hereby recommending to all of you. His name is Vijay Prashad and he is truly a great example of what it means to be a public intellectual. He is a historian/diaspora studies scholar, political activist, has published several great books (among them The Karma of Brown Folk and Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting), has published an insane number of critical articles, is a community organizer (used to work here in Chicago with Jesse Jackson), lectures incredibly frequently all across the nation (as well as in South Asia), writes monthly columns for Z Net and Counterpunch, has a nine month-old daughter and is only around 40. Truly impressive.

Apart from that nothing really happened in my life and I have to admit that I have no idea what happened in the world, so I will make this a short post today. I will, however, return to the Baudrillard strand I have neglected for too long and write something there. Haven’t been a good host, I must admit. Tea and crumpets anyone?

So: I will try and post daily again from now on, but you might have to deal with thoughts from/on my dissertation for a while, as I have to finish another chapter within the next, well, 10 days (it’s already 50% done, so I hope it won’t be as bad as the other one–you never know, though, the other chapter was also supposed to be shorter and ended up being 90 pages long). Sorry again for the long silence. It was sadly necessary. So everybody who is interested can now meet me over at the Baudrillard strand where I will continue posting while listening to Mainz vs. Bremen on phonostar.

Day 30: Baudrillard and Alienation


I have been writing a lot about Baudrillard lately (in my dissertation, that is) and felt the need to just reiterate one more time that he actually said some pretty important things. It seems as though Baudrillard has two simulated public personae: first, the hero of cultural studies and PoMo hipsters, who still think it is the shit to experiment with the idea of reality in order to appear smart (acting as thought the ultimate horizon of Baudrillard’s work was to make people go “woooh, that is sooo trippy!”), and second, the so-called enemy of traditional Marxists, since he attacked the idea of false needs that lies at the heart of traditional Marxist definitions of alienation and ideology, which, when considered from a rigorous theoretical angle is nothing more than the knee-jerk reaction of orthodox Marxism opposed to rethinking its own system (which is what Marxism is supposed to be famous for), which is precisely why orthodox Marxism has such problems describing the present situation accurately (luckily, there are many very smart non-orthodox Marxists out there who do amazing work–not Laclau and Mouffe, however!).

In order to do some reconstructive surgery on Baudrillard’s public persona I would just like to share with you his theory of contemporary alienation, which, I think, can be extended in very interesting ways in relation to descriptions of “affective labor.”

“Free to be oneself” in fact means: free to project one’s desires onto produced goods. “Free to enjoy life” means: free to regress and to be irrational, and thus adapt to a certain social organization and production. (…) The goal is to allow the drives that were previously blocked by mental determinants (instances) (taboo, superego, guilt) to crystallize onto objects, concrete determinants where the explosive force of desire is annulled and the ritual repressive function of social organization is materialized. The freedom of existence that pits the individual against society is dangerous. But the freedom to possess is harmless, since it enters the game without knowing it. (…) The ideology of personal fulfillment, the triumphant illogicality of drives cleansed of guilt (deculpabilisees), is nothing more than a tremendous endeavour to materialize the superego. It is a censor, first of all, that is “personalized” in the object. (…) This could possibly be a definition of the specific form of contemporary alienation: in the process of consumption internal conflicts or “deep drives” are mobilized and alienated in the same way as labor power is in the process of production.”

First: I did it again. I changed the font and have no idea how to reverse it. Second: I believe this to be a definition of alienation that has dramatic implications when discussing productive processes within an immaterial economy based upon information exchange, forcefully challenging Jameson’s assertion that theories of alienation do not apply to the postmodern condition. Two literary works I just wrote about that in different ways illustrate the force of Baudrillard’s argument are Ellis’ American Psycho and, how else could it be, Pattern Recognition. More on that, however, at a later point. I have to keep this short again today, as I have lots of writing left to do, but I promise to also post something in the future on the significance of this definition of alienation in times of immaterial labor.