Monday, November 7, 2011

Yapping Away

The ecstasy that Melville describes in “A Squeeze of the Hand” (discussed here) shows how the labor process can itself generate resistances to the violence of capitalist labor regimes. For Melville, these resistances are embodied and affective: the hands-that-labor take in hand a kind of affective surplus that resists valuation, monetization, and so on. Grace Lee Boggs, long-time James collaborator, recalls something similar of her time as a factory worker during the Second World War: “There was a tremendous camaraderie. While our hands were busy wiring and soldering, our mouths were yapping away.” The phrase “yapping away” is fortuitous. If the profit-oriented labor process generates an affective and discursive surplus, these wayward words and affects are irreducible to pre-given structures of purposiveness—whether these are capitalist profit-making or anti-capitalist organizing. If, as a Hegelian ontology of labor would have it, labor is itself the power of negating the given, these moments of non-purposive sociality (yapping away) ironize the second moment of labor—when the negated given is purposively reconstituted in a new form.

Labor secretes the non-purposive, and intends keeping this secretion secret. The play of labor—squeezing hands, yapping mouths—is always over-coded by the for-structure of capitalism. Marx describes this for-structure in the Grundrisse: “Where money is not itself the community [Gemeinwesen], it must dissolve the community.” Money initially intends something beyond itself; it is used to exchange for use values. But as capitalist modalities of exchange become dominant, the for-structure of money becomes the community itself: “It [money] is itself the community [Gemeinwesen], and can tolerate none other standing above it.” Marx’s narrative seems little more than a Tonniesian narrative in which Gesellschaft replaces Gemeinschaft. But I want to think of Gemeinwesen—which we could translate as common-being, or, indeed, being-in-common—as a third term that gets us out of the unhelpful, nostalgia-laden binaries of an older sociology. We might think of this being-in-common as a non-purposive, factical sociality that indexes less a historical organization of a society that has been lost than an ontological possibility that continually shadows—and indeed is the ontological substrate of—purposiveness, the for-structures that dominate our thought of the economy, the political, and so on. In this sense, Gemeinwesen has not disappeared and cannot disappear. Indeed, in the squeezing hands and the yapping mouths we can see the activation of this Gemeinwesen at the heart of the for-structure of capitalism.

Marx will describe the same dynamic in terms of communist organizing, the “labor process” of political activism. “When communist workmen gather together,” he writes, “their immediate aim [Zweck] is instruction, propaganda, etc. But at the same time, they acquire a new need—the need for society—and what appears as a means had become an end.” The substitutability of ends and means opens the kind of democratic circularity that I discussed in a previous post. This non-purposive sociality is the surplus of communist organizational efforts. He continues: “This practical development can be most strikingly observed in the gatherings of French socialist workers. Smoking, eating, and drinking, etc., are no longer means of creating links between people. Company, association, conversation, which in turn has society as its goal, is enough for them.” Marx describes a freeing of sociality from purposivity: modalities of association (smoking, eating, drinking) are not longer means of association but its enactment. This is, as he writes, “enough for them.” Yet, this “enough,” of simple satisfaction, is not a privation. For Marx, the enough-ness of Gemeinwesen generates a particular mode of appearance: “The brotherhood of man is not a hollow phrase, it is a reality, and the nobility of man shines forth upon us from their work-worn figures.” The reality of this “brotherhood”—a problematic phrase indexing non-purposive sociality—shines (leuchtet), glows, radiates. Sociality here appears as a kind of halo, a para-material surplus that is not a tool, not reducible to technical purposivity, but signifies the completion and being-enough of that from which it radiates.

To ask what Occupy is “for” is to rip halos from heads, to subject the satisfaction of a sociality that is enough to over-coding by a for-structure that saturates the social with dissatisfaction. Even as people attempt this over-coding, at City Hall hands keep squeezing, mouths yapping, drums drumming, and associates eating, drinking, and smoking together. Occupy shines forth a fact scandalous to capitalist society: that sociality needn’t be for anything at all.

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