Friday, September 12, 2008

James, Virno, Bildung

In my last post, I noted that for Virno, as for C.L.R. James, culture (or cultural production) provides the ontological paradigm for production-in-general. As a note, one could, I think, make a similar claim about Hardt and Negri: their notion of “biopolitical production of subjectivity” is, for me, a merely to say that culture and subjectivity is directly included in, and produced through, labor.

The phrase “ontological paradigm for production-in-general” is grotesque, but couldn’t be helped. That is to say, the production of aesthetic/communicative objects or virtuosities (a product without end product, a valued performance) is at once the historically real foundation for the current cycle of production, as well as the philosophical figure for production-in-general. As Virno argues (with Debord’s “spectacle” standing as a metonym for the culture/communications industry):
[Spectacle] is the reigning productive force, something that goes beyond the domain of its own sphere, pertaining, instead, to the industry as a whole, to poiesis in its totality. In the spectacle we find exhibited … the most relevant productive forces of society, those productive forces on which every contemporary process must draw: linguistic competence, knowledge, imagination, etc. Thus, the spectacle has a double nature: a specific product of a particular industry, but also, at the same time, the quintessence of the mode of production in its entirety. (60)
So, culture – as the “common” repository of language, knowledge, imagination, etc. – becomes increasingly integrated into production, not merely as a product, but as a functioning aspect of production itself. According to Virno, the post-Fordist relations of work move in such a direction that base/superstructure arguments are not only dinosaur skeletons best left buried in hard soil, but rendered absolutely absurd. Culture is no longer to be conceived of as a product of the relations of production; rather, production-as-labor comes to be one moment of cultural activity. In this sense, labor becomes a modality of culture:
The general intellect is the foundation of a social cooperation broader than that cooperation which is specifically related to labour. Broader and, at the same time, totally heterogeneous. (67)
There thus emerges a tension between the multitudinous commons, the amorphousness of its presence, and the state and factory: the culture of the multitude exceeds the site of labor, but the factory, through adjusting its mode of production to incorporate and profit from linguistic, intellectual, and cultural training away from the factory, is able to profit. Essentially, socialization that occurs outside of labor functions to train workers for labor in the post-Fordist world:
Since the appearance of the Intellect becomes the technical prerequisite of Labor, the acting in concert beyond labor which it [intellect-in-common] brings about is in turn subsumed into the criteria and hierarchies which characterize the regime of the factory. (67)
The current regime of production, then, incorporates the “whole” of the human: its language, its affects, its knowledge, and so on. The human worker is no longer split from himself when he labors: his entire being, and not merely an abstract quantum of socially averaged brute force, is put to work. There is no longer any concrete distinction between labor in the factory and living in the world; work (labor) and living (culture) mirror one another. The full field of the human, as a cultural being with communicate-social abilities, is put to work:
Labor-power incarnates (literally) a fundamental category of philosophical thought: specifically, the potential, the dynamis. (82)
Of course, the wage- and state-forms channel and determine the flow and actual appearance of this newfound dynamism. The important thing here is that the dynamism of the potential is not predetermined in the form of an abstract social quantum (or, rather, it needn’t be). The entirety of the human enters as a possible input into the production process. In this way, labor as work (in the office, in the factory) becomes a subset of common labor, common knowledge – culture. The problem now centers on incarnation: the sensuous means of presenting a form. Capitalism as a system (pre)determines the specific modalities of incarnation. What James will encourage us to imagine is: is it economically and socially possible to construct a system wherein the mode of incarnation (which will register as genre in the literary sphere, and relations of production in the economic) is not predetermined? That is to say: can we construct a new, as yet unthought mode of incarnation?

This question, the question that James will pose, which I will address in my next post, centers around this network of ideas: If, in Euro-American modernity, theories of development centered largely on the development of potential itself, what happens when potential is developed to its fullest potential, but humans still are not free? The issue centers on the notion of Bildung. Bildung, as development, formation, culture, forming, and image-ing, encapsulates the problematic of Euro-American modernity. For James, as we will see, and for Virno, as I hope I showed, the Bildung of potential reaches its terminal point when the full culture of the human is available for sensuous incarnation in the process of labor. If potential has fully developed itself as potential, the actualization of potential, James will argue, is impoverished due to the capitalist value form itself. Capitalism develops potential but cannot, of itself, develop a means of incarnation, a form of sensuous manifestation, adequate to this potential. In short, the old problematic returns: capitalism limits itself of itself. The intolerable thing, for James, is that now more than ever the disparity between potential and incarnation is more keenly visible and felt than ever. And so James embarks on his impossible project: to develop a form of incarnation adequate to the ever-exceeding, though totally immanent, power of people in associated, culture-d labor.

Key texts:
Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude
C.L.R. James, After Ten Years: On Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed [here]
C.L.R. James, Facing Reality
Pheng Cheah, Spectral Nationalities

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