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.



  1. Hey, welcome back!

    So in so far as Badiou discusses “the very real terrain and conditions of the conflict between social classes, (at which point I want to cheer)it seems that he is working with a model of subjectivity amenable to the classical Marxist labor/capital dialectic. Do I have this right?

    Does he relate this dialectic of subjectivity to a historical narrative–do people still write those things?

    Maybe that’s beside the point. This part is terrifying: “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.” In other words, the subject becomes a computer. 01010101.

    By the way, what Badiou is this from?

  2. yea, can you please send me that citation. for once, what you write about is actually relevant to my PhD. 😉 i know that sounded not so nice, but it is an observation not a judgement.

    cheers and love from egoli

  3. Hi there,
    sorry for the confusion! I should have explicitly said that this is again from the same Lazzarato piece I posted sections from before. I just wanted to draw a parallel to Badiou (which I will post on in detail soon). So here the citations: Lazzarato, Maurizio “Immaterial Labor” (widely avaliable on the internet if you just google it, as well as in an edited collection by Paolo Virno).
    For Badiou’s latest exploits see the 2006 updated version of _Being and Event_, which I do not believe has been translated into English yet (hence, see _L’Etre et l’Evenement_). For similar arguments that are indeed translated and published in a very pretty Minnesota book see his reworking of Deleuze in _Deleuze–The Clamor of Being_ (is the predecessor of the Heideggerian logic in the new _Being and Event_, as you can tell from the title–really worthwhile and quite interesting for precisely situating such discussions about immaterial labor within the project of updating contemporary political philosophy–that’s the link I wanted to establish above, but I had to write in such a hurry that I seemingly did not do a very good job–sorry–I’ll be back to this this afternoon and hope to find the time to clarify this some more).

  4. BTW: the middle-section of the post (the sarcastic treatment of classic postmodern theory) is me ripping on Lyotard, as I am sure you noticed, then making a logical critique based on Lazzarato, while situating this in the larger context of Badiou’s writings on Being. Hard to do in only one paragraph, you say? True. I’ll fix this as soon as I find the time. 🙂

  5. oh yes, i do know that piece… I wondered why it seemed so familiar to me. cool. hope you are well. jo’burg still rocks beyond any imaginable dimension!

  6. So glad you still enjoy yourself down there. I am still quite jealous–have a serious case of Fernweh at the moment, which is worsened by the realization that I will not get to remedy that for pretty much the next year due to my work schedule. Just read that Adam’s coming to visit you–hope you have lots of fun. I am reasonably well. My life in Chicago, however, is presently less filled with a rocking than with, say, more of a Kenny G, elevator music kind of tune. Fitting, thus, as Chicago is the city of skyscrapers and elevators.

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