In our previous seminar I tried to illustrate the mode of being of the multitude, beginning with the dialectic dread-safe haven. Today, I would like to discuss the classical division of human experience into three fundamental spheres: Labor (or poiesis), political Action (or praxis) and Intellect (or life of the mind). The goal here is still the same: to articulate and to investigate in depth the notion of multitude.
As you will recall, "multitude" is a central category of political thought: it is called into question here in order to explain some of the salient features of the post-Ford mode of production. We do so on the condition that we understand "mode of production" to mean not only one particular economic configuration, but also a composite unity of forms of life, a social, anthropological and ethical cluster: "ethical," let us note, and not "moral"; in question here are common practices, usages and customs, not the dimension of the must-be. So then, I would like to maintain that the contemporary multitude has as its background the crisis of the subdivision of human experience into Labor, (political) Action and Intellect. The multitude affirms itself, in high relief, as a mode of being in which there is a juxtaposition, or at least a hybridization, between spheres which, until very recently, even during the Ford era, seemed clearly distinct and separated.
Labor, Action, Intellect: in the style of a tradition which goes back to Aristotle and which has been revisited with particular efficacy and passion by Hannah Arendt (Arendt, The Human Condition), this tripartitioning has seemed clear, realistic, nearly unquestionable. It has put down solid roots in the realm of common sense: it is not a question, then, of an undertaking which is only philosophical, but of a widely shared pattern of thought. When I began to get involved in politics, in the Sixties, I considered this subdivision to be something indisputable; it seemed to me as unquestionable as any immediate tactile or visual perception. It was not necessary to have read Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics to know that labor, political action, and intellectual reflection constituted three spheres supported by radically heterogeneous principles and criteria. Obviously, this heterogeneity did not exclude intersection: political reflection could be applied to politics; in turn, political action was often, and willingly, nourished by themes related to the sphere of production, etc. But, as numerous as the intersections were, Labor, Intellect, and Politics remained essentially distinct. For structural reasons.
Labor is the organic exchange with nature, the production of new objects, a repetitive and foreseeable process. The pure intellect has a solitary and inconspicuous character: the meditation of the thinker escapes the notice of others; theoretical reflection mutes the world of appearances. Differently from Labor, political Action comes between social relations, not between natural materials; it has to do with the possible and the unforeseen; it does not obstruct, with ulterior motives, the context in which it operates; rather, it modifies this very context. Differently from the Intellect, political Action is public, consigned to exteriority, to contingency, to the buzzing of the "many;" it involves, to use the words of Hannah, "the presence of others" (Human Condition, Chap. V, "Action"). The concept of political Action can be deduced by opposition with respect to the other two spheres.
So then, this ancient tripartitioning, which was still encysted into the realm of common sense of the generation which made its appearance in the public scene in the Sixties, is exactly what has failed today. That is to say, the boundaries between pure intellectual activity, political action, and labor have dissolved. I will maintain, in particular, that the world of socalled post-Fordist labor has absorbed into itself many of the typical characteristics of political action; and that this fusion between Politics and Labor constitutes a decisive physiognomic trait of the contemporary multitude.
4.2. Juxtaposition of poiesis and praxis
Contemporary labor has introjected into itself many characteristics which originally marked the experience of politics. Poiesis has taken on numerous aspects of praxis. This is the first aspect of the most general form of hybridization which I would like to address. But let us note that even Hannah Arendt insisted on denouncing the collapse of the border between labor and politics — whereby politics does not mean life in some local party headquarters, but the generically human experience of beginning something again, an intimate relationship with contingency and the unforeseen, being in the presence of others. Politics, according to Arendt, has taken to imitating labor. The politics of the twentieth century, in her judgment, has become a sort of fabrication of new objects: the State, the political party, history, etc. So then, I maintain that things have gone in the opposite direction from what Arendt seems to believe: it is not that politics has conformed to labor; it is rather that labor has acquired the traditional features of political action. My reasoning is opposite and symmetrical with respect to that of Arendt. I maintain that it is in the world of contemporary labor that we find the "being in the presence of others," the relationship with the presence of others, the beginning of new processes, and the constitutive familiarity with contingency, the unforeseen and the possible. I maintain that post-Fordist labor, the productive labor of surplus, subordinate labor, brings into play the talents and the qualifications which, according to a secular tradition, had more to do with political action.
Incidentally, this explains, in my opinion, the crisis of politics, the sense of scorn surrounding political praxis today, the disrepute into which action has fallen. In fact, political action now seems, in a disastrous way, like some superfluous duplication of the experience of labor, since the latter experience, even if in a deformed and despotic manner, has subsumed into itself certain structural characteristics of political action. The sphere of politics, in the strictest sense of the word, follows closely the procedures and stylistic elements which define the current state of labor; but let us note: it follows them closely while offering a poorer, cruder and more simplistic version of these procedures and stylistic elements. Politics offers a network of communication and a cognitive content of a more wretched variety than what is carried out in the current productive process. While less complex than labor and yet too similar to it, political action seems, all the same, like something not very desirable at all.
The inclusion of certain structural features of political praxis in contemporary production helps us to understand why the post-Ford multitude might be seen, today, as a de-politicized multitude. There is already too much politics in the world of wage labor (in as much as it is wage labor) in order for politics as such to continue to enjoy an autonomous dignity.
4.3. On virtuosity. From Aristotle to Glenn Gould
The subsumption into the labor process of what formerly guaranteed an indisputable physiognomy for public Action can be clarified by means of an ancient, but by no means ineffective, category: virtuosity.
Accepting, for now, the normal meaning of the word, by "virtuosity" I mean the special capabilities of a performing artist. A virtuoso, for example, is the pianist who offers us a memorable performance of Schubert; or it is a skilled dancer, or a persuasive orator, or a teacher who is never boring, or a priest who delivers a fascinating sermon. Let us consider carefully what defines the activity of virtuosos, of performing artists. First of all, theirs is an activity which finds its own fulfillment (that is, its own purpose) in itself, without objectifying itself into an end product, without settling into a "finished product," or into an object which would survive the performance. Secondly, it is an activity which requires the presence of others, which exists only in the presence of an audience.
An activity without an end product: the performance of a pianist or of a dancer does not leave us with a defined object distinguishable from the performance itself, capable of continuing after the performance has ended. An activity which requires the presence of others: the performance [Author uses the English word here] makes sense only if it is seen or heard. It is obvious that these two characteristics are inter-related: virtuosos need the presence of an audience precisely because they are not producing an end product, an object which will circulate through the world once the activity has ceased. Lacking a specific extrinsic product, the virtuoso has to rely on witnesses.
The category of virtuosity is discussed in the Nicomachean Ethics; it appears here and there in modern political thought, even in the twentieth century; it even holds a small place in Marx's criticism of political economics. In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle distinguishes labor (or poiesis) from political action (or praxis), utilizing precisely the notion of virtuosity: we have labor when an object is produced, an opus which can be separated from action; we have praxis when the purpose of action is found in action itself. Aristotle writes: "For while making has an end other than itself, action cannot; for good action [understood both as ethical conduct and as political action, Virno adds] itself is its end" (Nicomachean Ethic, VI, 1140 b). Implicitly resuming Aristotle's idea, Hannah Arendt compares the performing artists, the virtuosos, to those who are engaged in political action. She writes: "The performing arts [...] have indeed a strong affinity with politics. Performing artists-dancers, play-actors musicians, and the like — need an audience to show their virtuosity, just as acting men need the presence of others before whom they can appear; both need a publicly organized space for their `work,' and both depend upon others for the performance itself" (Arendt, Between Past and Future: 154).
One could say that every political action is virtuosic. Every political action, in fact, shares with virtuosity a sense of contingency, the absence of a "finished product," the immediate and unavoidable presence of others. On the one hand, all virtuosity is intrinsically political. Think about the case of Glenn Gould (Gould, The Glenn Gould Reader; and Schneider, Glenn Gould). This great pianist paradoxically, hated the distinctive characteristics of his activity as a performing artist; to put it another way, he detested public exhibition. Throughout his life he fought against the "political dimension" intrinsic to his profession. At a certain point Gould declared that he wanted to abandon the "active life," that is, the act of being exposed to the eyes of others (note: "active life" is the traditional name for politics). In order to make his own virtuosity non-political, he sought to bring his activity as a performing artist as close as possible to the idea of labor, in the strictest sense, which leaves behind extrinsic products. This meant closing himself inside a recording studio, passing off the production of records (excellent ones, by the way) as an "end product." In order to avoid the public-political dimension ingrained in virtuosity, he had to pretend that his masterly performances produced a defined object (independent of the performance itself). Where there is an end product, an autonomous product, there is labor, no longer virtuosity, nor, for that reason, politics.
Even Marx speaks of pianists, orators, dancers, etc. He speaks of them in some of his most important writings: in his "Results of the Immediate Process of Production," and then, in almost identical terms, in his Theories of Surplus-value. Marx analyzes intellectual labor, distinguishing between its two principal types. On one hand, there is immaterial or mental activity which "results in commodities which exist separately from the producer [...] books, paintings and all products of art as distinct from the artistic achievement of the practicing artist" (in Appendix to Capital, Vol. I, "Results of the Immediate Process of Production": 1048). This is the first type of intellectual labor. On the other hand, Marx writes, we need to consider all those activities in which the "product is not separable from the act of producing" (ibid., 1048) — those activities, that is, which find in themselves their own fulfillment without being objectivized into an end product which might surpass them. This is the same distinction which Aristotle made between material production and political action. The only difference is that Marx in this instance is not concerned with political action; rather, he is analyzing two different representations of labor. To these specifically defined types of poiesis he applies the distinction between activity-with-end-product and activity-without-end-product. The second type of intellectual labor (activities in which "product is not separable from the act of producing,") includes, according to Marx, all those whose labor turns into a virtuosic performance: pianists, butlers, dancers, teachers, orators, medical doctors, priests, etc.
So then, if intellectual labor which produces an end product does not pose any special problems, labor without an end product (virtuosic labor) places Marx in an embarrassing situation. The first type of intellectual labor conforms to the definition of "productive labor." But what about the second type? I remember in passing, that for Marx,'productive labor is not subordinate or fatiguing or menial labor, but is precisely and only that kind of labor which produces surplus-value. Of course, even virtuosic performances can, in principle, produce surplus-value: the activity of the dancer, of the pianist, etc., if organized in a capitalistic fashion, can be a source of profit. But Marx is disturbed by the strong resemblance between the activity of the performing artist and the servile duties which, thankless and frustrating as they are, do not produce surplus value, and thus return to the realm of non-productive labor. Servile labor is that labor in which no capital is invested, but a wage is paid (example: the personal services of a butler). According to Marx, even if the "virtuosist" workers represent, on one hand, a not very significant exception to the quantitative point of view, on the other hand, and this is what counts more, they almost always converge into the realm of servile/non-productive labor. Such convergence is sanctioned precisely by the fact that their activity does not give way to an independent end product: where an autonomous finished product is lacking, for the most part one cannot speak of productive (surplus-value) labor. Marx virtually accepts the equation work-without-end-product = personal services. In conclusion, virtuosic labor, for Marx, is a form of wage labor which is not, at the same time, productive labor (Theories of Surplus-value: 410-411).
Let us try to sum things up. Virtuosity is open to two alternatives: either it conceals the structural characteristics of political activity (lack of an end product, being exposed to the presence of others, sense of contin gency, etc.), as Aristotle and Hannah Arendt suggest; or, as in Marx, is takes on the features of "wage labor which is not productive labor." This bifurcation decays and falls to pieces when productive labor, in its totality. appropriates the special characteristics of the performing artist. In post-Fordism, those who produce surplus-value behave — from the structural point of view, of course — like the pianists, the dancers, etc., and for this reason, like the politicians. With reference to contemporary production, Hannah Arendt's observation on the activity of the performing artist and the politician rings clear: in order to work, one needs a "publicly organized space." In post-Fordism, Labor requires a publicly organized space" and resembles a virtuosic performance (without end product). This publicly organized space is called "cooperation" by Marx. One could say: at a certain level in the development of productive social forces, labor cooperation introjects verbal communication into itself, or, more precisely, a complex of political actions.
Do you remember the extremely renowned commentary of Max Weber on politics as profession? (Weber, Politics as a Vocation) Weber elaborates on a series of qualities which define the politician: knowing how to place the health of one's own soul in danger; an equal balance between the ethics of convincing and the ethics of responsibility; dedication to one's goal, etc. We should re-read this text with reference to Toyotaism, to labor based upon language, to the productive mobilization of the cognitive faculties. Weber's wisdom speaks to us of the qualities required today for material production.
4.4. The speaker as performing artist
Each one of us is, and has always been, a virtuoso, a performing artist, at times mediocre or awkward, but, in any event, a virtuoso. In fact, the fundamental model of virtuosity, the experience which is the base of the concept, is the activity of the speaker. This is not the activity of a knowledgeable and erudite locutor, but of any locutor. Human verbal language, not being a pure tool or a complex of instrumental signals (these are characteristics which are inherent, if anything, in the languages of non-human animals: one need only think of bees and of the signals which they use for coordinating the procurement of food), has its fulfillment in itself and does not produce (at least not as a rule, not necessarily) an "object" independent of the very act of having been uttered.
Language is "without end product." Every utterance is a virtuosic performance. And this is so, also because, obviously, utterance is connected (directly or indirectly) to the presence of others. Language presupposes and, at the same time, institutes once again the "publicly organized space" which Arendt speaks about. One would need to reread the passages from the Nicomachean Ethics on the essential difference between poiesis (production) and praxis (politics) with very close connection to the notion of parole in Saussure (Saussure, Course) and, above all, to the analyses of Emile Benveniste (Benveniste, Problems) on the subject of utterance (where "utterance" is not understood to mean the content of what is uttered, that "which is said," but the interjection of a word as such, the very fact of speaking). In this way one would establish that the differential characteristics of praxis with respect to poiesis coincide absolutely with the differential characteristics of verbal language with respect to motility or even to non-verbal communication.
There is more to the story. The speaker alone — unlike the pianist, the dancer or the actor— can do without a script or a score. The speaker's virtuosity is twofold: not only does it not produce an end product which is distinguishable from performance, but it does not even leave behind an end product which could be actualized by means of performance. In fact, the act of parole makes use only of the potentiality of language, or better yet, of the generic faculty of language: not of a pre-established text in detail. The virtuosity of the speaker is the prototype and apex of all other forms of virtuosity, precisely because it includes within itself the potential/act relationship, whereas ordinary or derivative virtuosity, instead, presupposes a determined act (as in Bach's "Goldberg" Variations, let us say), which can be relived over and over again. But I will return to this point later.
It is enough to say, for now, that contemporary production becomes "virtuosic" (and thus political) precisely because it includes within itself linguistic experience as such. If this is so, the matrix of post-Fordism can be found in the industrial sectors in which there is "production of communication by means of communication"; hence, in the culture industry.
4.5. Culture industry: anticipation and paradigm
Virtuosity becomes labor for the masses with the onset of a culture industry. It is here that the virtuoso begins to punch a time card. Within the sphere of a culture industry, in fact, activity without an end product, that is to say, communicative activity which has itself as an end, is a distinctive central and necessary element. But, exactly for this reason, it is above all within the culture industry that the structure of wage labor has overlapped with that of political action.
Within the sectors where communication is produced by means of communication, responsibilities and roles are, at the same time, "virtuosic" and "political." In his most important novel, La vita agra [Bitter Life], a distinguished Italian writer, Luciano Bianciardi, describes the splendors and miseries of the culture industry in Milan during the Fifties. In one remarkable page of this book, he effectively illustrates what distinguishes culture industry from traditional industry and from agriculture. The protagonist of La vita agra, having arrived in Milan from Grosseto with the intention of avenging recent job related deaths that took place in his region, ends up becoming involved in the budding culture industry. After a brief time, however, he is fired. The following is a passage which, today, has unmistakable theoretical merit: "[...] And they fired me, only on account of the fact that I drag my feet, I move slowly, I look around even when it is not absolutely necessary. In our business, however, we need to lift our feet high off the ground, and bang them down again on the floor noisily, we need to move, hit the pavement, jump up, create dust, possibly a cloud of dust and then hide inside it. It is not like being a peasant or a worker. The peasant moves slowly because the work is so related to the seasons; the peasant cannot sow in July and harvest in February. Workers move quickly, but if they are on the assembly line, because on the line there are measured out periods of production, and if they do not move following that rhythm, they are in trouble [...]. But the fact is that the peasant belongs to the realm of primary activities and the worker to the realm of secondary activities. One produces something from nothing; the other transforms one thing into another. There is an easy measuring stick for the worker and for the peasant, one which is quantitative: does the factory produce so many pieces per hour, does the farm yield a profit? In our professions it is different, there are no quantitative measuring sticks. How does one measure the skill of a priest, or of a journalist, or of someone in public relations? These people neither produce from scratch, nor transform. They are neither primary nor secondary. Tertiary is what they are and what's more, I would dare say [...] even four times removed. They are neither instruments of production, nor drive belts of transmission. They are a lubricant, at the most pure Vaseline. How can one evaluate a priest, a journalist, a public relations person? How can one calculate the amount of faith, of purchasing desire, of likeability that these people have managed to muster up? No, we have no other yardstick in this case than the one which can measure one's capacity to float above water, and to ascend even higher, in short, to become a bishop. In other words, those who choose a tertiary or quaternary profession need skills and aptitudes of a political kind. Politics, as everybody knows has for a long time ceased to be the science of good government and has become, instead, the art of conquering and maintaining power. Therefore, the excellence of politicians is not measured according to the good that they manage to do for others, but is based on the swiftness with which they get to the top and on the amount of time they last there. [...] In the same way, in the tertiary and quaternary professions, since there is no visible production of goods to function as a measuring stick, the criterion will be the same" (Bianciardi, La vita agra: 129-32; Virno's italics [note: English translation from the original Italian by the translators]).
In many ways, Bianciardi's analysis is clearly dated, since it presents the functions of the culture industry as a marginal and outlandish exception to the rule. Moreover, it is at best superficial to reduce politics to a pure and simple overthrowing of power. In spite of this, the passage which I have just read shows exceptional intuition. In its own way, this intuition recalls and rehashes Arendt's thesis on the similarity between virtuosos and politicians, as well as Marx's notations about labor which does not have a separate "end product" as its goal. Bianciardi underscores the emerging "political dimension" of labor within the culture industry. But, and this is crucial, he links this dimension to the fact that in the culture industry there is no production of labor independent from activity itself. Where an extrinsic "end product" is lacking, there lies the ground for political action. I should clarify: in the culture industry (as is the case, after all, today in the post-Ford era for industry in general) the finished products which can be sold at the end of the productive process are surely not scarce. The crucial point is, though, that while the material production of objects is delegated to an automated system of machines, the services rendered by living labor, instead, resemble linguistic-virtuosic services more and more.
We should ask ourselves what role the culture industry assumed with relation to overcoming the Ford / Taylor model. I believe that it fine-tuned the paradigm of post-Fordist production on the whole. I believe therefore, that the mode of action of the culture industry became, from a certain point on, exemplary and pervasive. Within the culture industry, even in its archaic incarnation examined by Benjamin and Adorno, one can grasp early signs of a mode of production which later, in the post-Ford era. becomes generalized and elevated to the rank of canon.
To clarify, let us return, for a moment, to the critique of the communi-ation industry leveled by the thinkers of the Frankfurt School. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment (Adorno and Horckheimer: 120-167) the author maintain, roughly, that the "factories of the soul" (publishing, cinema, radio. television etc.) also conform to the Fordist criteria of serialization and parcelization. In those factories, also, the conveyer belt, the dominant sym-bol of automobile factories, seems to assert itself. Capitalism — this is the thesis — shows that it can mechanize and parcehze even its spiritual production, exactly as it has done with agriculture and the processing of metals. Serialization, insignificance of individual tasks, the econometrics of feelings: these are the recurrent refrains. Evidently, this critical approach allowed, in the peculiar case of the culture industry, for the continuation of some elements which resist a complete assimilation to the Fordist organization of the labor process. In the culture industry, that is to say, it was therefore necessary to maintain a certain space that was informal, not programmed, one which was open to the unforeseen spark, to communicative and creative improvisation: not in order to favor human creativity, naturally, but in order to achieve satisfactory levels of corporate productivity. However, for the Frankfurt School, these aspects were nothing but un-influential remnants, remains of the past, waste. What counted was the general Fordization of the culture industry. Now, it seems to me, from our present perspective, that it is not difficult to recognize that these purported remnants (with a certain space granted to the informal, to the unexpected, to the "unplanned") were, after all, loaded with future possibilities.
These were not remnants, but anticipatory omens. The informality of communicative behavior, the competitive interaction typical of a meeting, the abrupt diversion that can enliven a television program (in general, everything which it would have been dysfunctional to rigidify and regulate beyond a certain threshold), has become now, in the post-Ford era, a typical trait of the entire realm of social production. This is true not only for our contemporary culture industry, but also for Fiat in Melfi. If Bianciardi was discussing labor organized by a nexus between (virtuosic) activity-without-end-product and political attitudes as a marginal aberration, this has now become the rule. The intermingling of virtuosity, politics and labor has extended everywhere. What is left to question, if anything, is what specific role is carried out today by the communication industry, since all industrial sectors are inspired by its model. Has the very thing that once upon a time anticipated the post-Ford turning point become entirely unfolded? In order to answer this question, we should linger a while on the concept of "spectacle" and "society of the spectacle."
4.6. Language on the stage
I believe that the notion of "spectacle," though itself rather vague, provides a useful tool for deciphering some aspects of the post-Ford multitude (which is, in fact, a multitude of virtuosos, of workers who, in order to work, rely on generically "political" skills).
The concept of "spectacle," coined in the Sixties by the Situationists, is a truly theoretical concept, not foreign to the tenet of Marxian argumentation. According to Guy Debord "spectacle" is human communication which has become a commodity. What is delivered through the spectacle is precisely the human ability to communicate, verbal language as such. As we can see, the core of the issue is not a rancorous objection to consumer society (which is always slightly suspect, the risk being, as in the case of Pasolini, that of bemoaning the blessed cohabitation between low levels of consumerism and pellagra). Human communication, as spectacle, is a commodity among others, not outfitted with special qualities or prerogatives. On the other hand, it is a commodity which concerns, from a certain point on, all industrial sectors. This is where the problem lies.
On one hand, spectacle is the specific product of a specific industry, the so-called culture industry, in fact. On the other hand, in the post-Ford era, human communication is also an essential ingredient of productive cooperation in general; thus, it 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, in a separate and fetishized form, the most relevant productive forces of society, those productive forces on which every contemporary work 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. Debord writes that the spectacle is "the general gloss on the rationality of the system." (Debord, ibid., Thesis 15) What presents the spectacle, so to speak, are the productive forces themselves of society as they overlap, in ever-greater measure, with linguistic-communicative competencies and with the general intellect.
The double nature of the spectacle is reminiscent, in some ways, of the double nature of money. As you know, money is a commodity among others, manufactured by the State Mint, in Rome, endowed of a metallic or paper form. But it also has a second nature: it is an equivalent, a unit of measurement, of all other commodities. Money is particular and universal at the same time; spectacle is particular and universal at the same time. This comparison, though without a doubt an attractive one, is incorrect. Unlike money, which measures the result of a productive process, one which has been concluded, spectacle concerns, instead, the productive process in fieri, in its unfolding, in its potential. The spectacle, according to Debord, reveals what women and men can do. While money mirrors in itself the value of commodities, thus showing what society has already produced, the spectacle exposes in a separate form that which the aggregate of society can be and do. If money is the "real abstraction" (to use a classic Marxian expression) which refers back to finished labor, to labor's past, according to Debord the spectacle is, instead, the "real abstraction" which portrays labor in itself, the present tense of labor. If money spearheads exchange, then the spectacle, human communication which has become a commodity, spearheads, if anything, productive communication. We must conclude, then, that the spectacle, which is human communicative capacity turned into commodity, does have a double nature which is different from that of money. But different in what way?
My hypothesis is that the communication industry (or rather, the spectacle, or even yet, the culture industry) is an industry among others, with its specific techniques, its particular procedures, its peculiar profits, etc.; on the other hand, it also plays the role of industry of the means of production. Traditionally, the industry of the means of production is the industry that produces machinery and other instruments to be used in the most varied sectors of production. However, in a situation in which the means of production are not reducible to machines but consist of linguistic-cognitive competencies inseparable from living labor, it is legitimate to assume that a conspicuous part of the so-called "means of production" consists of techniques and communicative procedures. Now, where are these techniques and procedures created, if not in the culture industry? The culture industry produces (regenerates, experiments with) communicative procedures, which are then destined to function also as means of production in the more traditional sectors of our contemporary economy. This is the role of the communication industry, once postFordism has become fully entrenched: an industry of the means of communication.
4.7. Virtuosity in the workplace
Virtuosity, with its intrinsic political dimension, not only characterizes the culture industry but the totality of contemporary social production. One could say that in the organization of labor in the post-Ford era, activity without an end product, previously a special and problematic case (one need only recall, in this regard, Marx's uncertainties), becomes the prototype of all wage labor. Let me repeat a point I made before: this does not mean that car dashboards are no longer produced but that, for an ever increasing numbers of professional tasks, the fulfillment of an action is internal to the action itself (that is, it does not consist of giving rise to am independent semi-labor).
A situation of this kind is foreshadowed by Marx himself in the Grundrisse, when he writes that with the advent of large, automated industry and the intensive and systematic application of the natural sciences to the productive process, labor activity moves "to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor" (Grundrisse: 705). This placing of labor activity "to the side" of the immediate process of production indicates, Marx adds, that labor corresponds more and more to "a supervisory and regulatory activity" (ibid., 709). In other words: the tasks of a worker or of a clerk no longer involve the completion of a single particular assignment, but the changing and intensifying of social cooperation. Please allow me to digress. The concept of social cooperation, which is so complex and subtle in Marx, can be thought of in two different ways. There is, first of all, an "objective" meaning: each individual does different, specific, things which are put in relation to one another by the engineer or by the factory foreman: cooperation, in this case, transcends individual activity; it has no relevance to the way in which individual workers function. Secondly, however, we must consider also a "subjective" notion of cooperation: it materializes when a conspicuous portion of individual work consists of developing, refining, and intensifying cooperation itself. With post-Fordism the second definition of cooperation prevails. I am going to try to explain this better by means of a comparison. From the beginning, one resource of capitalistic enterprise has been the so-called " misappropriation of workers' know how." That is to say: when workers found a way to execute their labor with less effort, taking an extra break, etc., the corporate hierarchy took advantage of this minimal victory, knowing it was happening, in order to modify the organization of labor. In my opinion, a significant change takes place when the task of the worker or of the clerk to some extent consists in actually finding, in discovering expedients, "tricks," solutions which ameliorate the organization of labor. In the latter case, workers' knowledge is not used on the sly but it is requested explicitly; that is to say, it becomes one of the stipulated working assignments. The same change takes place, in fact, with regards to cooperation: it is not the same thing if workers are coordinated de facto by the engineer or if they are asked to invent and produce new cooperative procedures. Instead of remaining in the background, the act of cooperating, linguistic integration, comes to the very foreground.
When "subjective" cooperation becomes the primary productive force, labor activities display a marked linguistic-communicative quality, they entail the presence of others. The monological feature of labor dies away: the relationship with others is a driving, basic element, not something accessory. Where labor moves to the side of the immediate productive process, instead of being one of its components, productive cooperation is a "publicly organized space." This "publicly organized space"-interjected into the labor process mobilizes attitudes which are traditionally political. Politics (in the broad sense) becomes productive force, task, "tool box." One could say that the heraldic motto of post-Fordism is, rightfully, "politics above all." After all, what else could the discourse of "total quality" mean, if not a request to surrender to production a taste for action, the capacity to face the possible and the unforeseen, the capacity to communicate something new?
When hired labor involves the desire for action, for a relational capacity, for the presence of others-all things that the preceding generation was trying out within the local party headquarters-we can say that some distinguishing traits of the human animal, above all the possession of a language, are subsumed within capitalistic production. The inclusion of the very anthropogenesis in the existing mode of production is an extreme event. Forget the Heideggerian chatter about the "technical era"... This event does not assuage, but radicalizes, instead, the antinomies of economic-social capitalistic formation. Nobody is as poor as those who see their own relation to the presence of others, that is to say, their own communicative faculty, their own possession of a language, reduced to wage labor.
4.8. Intellect as score
If the entirety of post-Fordist labor is productive (of surplus-value) labor precisely because it functions in a political-virtuosic manner, then the question to ask is this: what is the score which the virtuosos-workers perform? What is the script of their linguistic-communicative performances?
The pianist performs a Chopin waltz, the actor is more or less faithful to a preliminary script, the orator has at the least some notes to refer to; all performing artists can count on a score. But when virtuosity applies to the totality of social labor, which one is the proper score? From my perspective, I maintain without too manv reservations that the score performed by the multitude in the post-Ford era is the Intellect, intellect as generic human faculty. According to Marx, the score of modern virtuosos is the general intellect, the general intellect of society, abstract thought Which has become a pillar of social production. We thus go back to a theme (general intellect, public intellect, "commonplaces," etc.) which we considered during the first day.
By general intellect Marx means science, knowledge in general, the know-how on which social productivity relies by now. The politicization of work (that is, the subsumption into the sphere of labor of what had hitherto belonged to political action) occurs precisely when thought becomes the primary source of the production of wealth. Thought ceases to be an invisible activity and becomes something exterior, "public," as it breaks into the productive process. One could say: only then, only when it has linguistic intellect as its barycenter, can the activity of labor absorb into itself many of the characteristics which had previously belonged to the sphere of political action.
Up to this point we have discussed the juxtaposition between Labor and Politics. Now, however, the third facet of human experience comes into play, Intellect. It is the "score" which is always performed, over and again, by the workers-virtuosos. I believe that the hybridization between the different spheres (pure thought, political life and labor) begins precisely when the Intellect, as principal productive force, becomes public. Only then does labor assume a virtuosic (or communicative) semblance, and, thus, it colors itself with "political" hues.
Marx attributes to thought an exterior character, a public disposition, on two different occasions. Above all, when he makes use of the expression "real abstraction," which is a very beautiful expression also from a philosophical point of view, and then, when he discusses "general intellect." Money, for instance, is a real abstraction. Money, in fact, embodies, makes real, one of the cardinal principles of human thought: the idea of equivalency. This idea, which is in itself utterly abstract, acquires a concrete existence, even jingles inside a wallet. A thought becoming a thing: here is what a real abstraction is. On the other hand, the concept of general intellect does nothing but advance, excessively, the notion of real abstraction. With the term general intellect Marx indicates the stage in which certain realities (for instance, a coin) no longer have the value and validity of a thought, but rather it is our thoughts, as such, that immediately acquire the value of material facts. If in the case of abstract thought it is the empirical fact (for example, the exchange of equivalencies) which exhibits the sophisticated structure of pure thought, in the case of general intellect the relation is overturned: now it is our thoughts which present themselves with the weight and incidence typical of facts. The general intellect is the stage at which mental abstractions are immediately, in themselves. real abstractions.
Here, however, is where the problems arise. Or, if you wish, a certain dissatisfaction arises with relation to Marx's formulations. The difficulty derives from the fact that Marx conceives the "general intellect" as a scientific objectified capacity, as a system of machines. Obviously, this aspect of the "general intellect" matters, but it is not everything. We should consider the dimension where the general intellect, instead of being incarnated (or rather, cast in iron) into the system of machines, exists as attribute of living labor. The general intellect manifests itself today, above all, as the communication, abstraction, self-reflection of living subjects. It seems legitimate to maintain that, according to the very logic of economic development, it is necessary that a part of the general intellect not congeal as fixed capital but unfold in communicative interaction, under the guise of epistemic paradigms, dialogical performances, linguistic games. In other words, public intellect is one and the same as cooperation, the acting in concert of human labor, the communicative competence of individuals.
In the fifth chapter of the first book of the Capital, Marx writes: "The labour process, as we have just presented it in its simple and abstract elements, is purposeful activity aimed at the production of use-values [...] We did not, therefore, have to present the worker in his relationship with other workers; it was enough to present man and his labour on one side, nature and its materials on the other" (Capital, Volume 1: 290). In this chapter Marx describes the labor process as a natural process of organic renewal between humans and nature, thus in abstract and general terms, without paying attention to historical-social relations. Nonetheless, we should ask whether it is legitimate, while remaining on this very general (almost anthropological) level, to expurgate from the concept of labor the interactive aspect, one's relation with other workers. It is certainly not legitimate as long as the activity of labor has its core in communicative performance. It is impossible, then, to trace the process of labor without presenting, from the beginning, the worker in relation with other workers; or, if we wish to employ again the category of virtuosity, in relation with one's "public."
The concept of cooperation comprises in itself, fully, the communicative capacity of human beings. That is true, above all, where cooperation is truly a specific "product" of the activity of labor, something which is promoted, elaborated. refined by those who cooperate. The general intellect demands virtuosic action (that is, in the broad sense, political action). precisely because a consistent portion of this intellect is not channeled in the machine system. but manifests itself in the direct activity of human labor, in its linguistic cooperation.
The intellect, the pure faculty of thought, the simple fact of having-a-language: let us repeat, here lies the "score" which is always and again performed by the post-Fordist virtuosos. (We should notice the difference in approach between today's lecture and that of our previous seminar: what today we are calling the "score" of the virtuoso, the intellect, in our previous meeting was seen as an apotropaic resource, as shelter against the indeterminate hazards of the worldly context. It is important to consider both of these concepts together: the contemporary multitude, with its forms of life and its linguistic games, places itself at the crossroads between these two meanings of "public intellect.") I would like to go back to, and emphasize here, an important point I have made before. While the virtuoso in the strictest sense of the word (the pianist, the dancer, for instance) makes use of a well defined score, that is to say, of an end product in its most proper and restricted sense, the post-Fordist virtuosos, "performing" their own linguistic faculties, can not take for granted a determined end product. General intellect should not necessarily mean the aggregate of the knowledge acquired by the species, but the faculty of thinking; potential as such, not its countless particular realizations. The "general intellect" is nothing but the intellect in general. Here it is useful to go back to the example of the speaker which we have already examined. With the infinite potential of one's own linguistic faculty as the only "score," a locutor (any locutor) articulates determined acts of speech: so then, the faculty of language is the opposite of a determined script, of an end product with these or those unmistakable characteristics. Virtuosity for the post-Fordist multitude is one and the same as the virtuosity of the speaker: virtuosity without a script, or rather, based on the premise of a script that coincides with pure and simple dynamis, with pure and simple potential.
It is useful to add that the relation between "score" and virtuosic performance is regulated by the norms of capitalistic enterprise. Putting to work (and to profit) the most generic communicative and cognitive faculties of the human animal has a historical index, a historically determined form. The general intellect manifests itself, today, as a perpetuation of wage labor, as a hierarchical system, as a pillar of the production of surplus-value.
4.9. Reason of State and Exit
At this point we can sketch some of the consequences of the hybridization between Labor, (political) Action and Intellect. Consequences which occur both on the level of production and within the public sphere (State. administrative apparatus).
The Intellect becomes public as soon as it links itself to labor; we must observe, however, that once it has been linked to wage labor, its typical publicness is also inhibited and distorted. This publicness is evoked over and over again in its role as productive force; and suppressed over and over again in its role as public sphere (in the proper sense of the term), as possible root of political Action, as a different constitutional principle.
The general intellect is the foundation of a social cooperation broader than that cooperation which is specifically related to labor. Broader and, at the same time, totally heterogeneous. We go back to one of the themes addressed during the first day of our seminar. While the connections of the productive process are based on a technical and hierarchical division of tasks, the acting in concert which hinges upon the general intellect moves from common participation to "life of the mind," that is, from the preliminary sharing of communicative and cognitive abilities. However, cooperation in excess of the Intellect, instead of annulling the co-actions of capitalistic production, figures as its most eminent resource. Its heterogeneity has neither voice nor visibility. On the contrary, since the appearance of the Intellect becomes the technical prerequisite of Labor, the acting in concert beyond labor which it brings about is in turn subsumed into the criteria and hierarchies which characterize the regime of the factory.
There are two principal consequences of this paradoxical situation. The first pertains to the nature and form of political power. The peculiar publicness of the Intellect, deprived of its own true expression by that very Labor which at the same time reclaims it as productive power, manifests itself indirectly within the sphere of the State by way of a hypertrophic growth of the administrative apparatus. The administration, and no longer the political-parliamentary system, is the heart of "stateness" ["statualità"]: but this is so, in fact, because the administration represents an authoritarian coalescence of the general intellect, the point of fusion between knowledge and control, the inverted image of excess cooperation. It is true that people have noticed for years the increasing and determining weight of bureaucracy within the "body politic," the preeminence of the decree with respect to the law: here, however, I would like to indicate a new threshold. In short, we no longer face the well-known processes of rationalization of the State; on the contrary, we must acknowledge the achieved statization [statizzazione] of the Intellect which has occurred. The old expression "reason of State" acquires for the first time a non-metaphorical significance. Hobbes saw the principle of legitimization of absolute power in the transfer of the natural right of each single individual to the person of the sovereign; now, on the other hand, we should talk about a transfer of the Intellect, or rather, of its immediate and irreducible publicness to the state administration.
The second consequence pertains to the prevailing nature of the post-Fordist regime. Since the "publicly organized space" opened up by the Intellect is constantly reduced to labor cooperation, that is, to a thick net of hierarchical relations, the nullifying function of the "presence of others" in all concrete operations of production takes the form of personal dependence. In other words, virtuosic activity shows itself as universal servile work. The affinity between a pianist and a waiter, which Marx had foreseen, finds an unexpected confirmation in the epoch in which all wage labor has something in common with the "performing artist." It is just that the very labor which produces the surplus-value is what takes on the appearance of servile labor. When "the product is inseparable from the act of producing," this act calls into question the personhood of the one who performs the work and, above all, the relation of this personhood to that of the one who has commissioned the work or for whom it is being done. Putting to work that which is common, that is, the intellect and language, renders the impersonal technical division of tasks fictitious, because such community does not translate into a public sphere (that is to say, into a political community); but is also induces a viscous personalization of subjection.
The crucial question goes like this: is it possible to split that which today is united, that is, the Intellect (the general intellect) and (wage) Labor, and to unite that which today is divided, that is, Intellect and political Action? Is it possible to move from the "ancient alliance" of Intellect/Labor to a "new alliance" of Intellect/political Action?
Rescuing political action from its current paralysis is no different from developing the publicness of the Intellect outside the realm of wage Labor. in opposition to it. This matter shows two distinct profiles, between which, however, there exists the strongest complementary bond. On one hand, the general intellect asserts itself as an autonomous public sphere only if the juncture that ties it to the production of goods and wage labor is severed. On the other hand, the subversion of capitalistic relations of production can manifest itself, at this point, only with the institution of a non-state run public sphere, of a political community that hinges on the general intellect. The salient traits of post-Fordist experience (servile virtuosity, exploitation of the very, faculty of language. unfailing relation to the "presence of others," etc.) postulate, as a form of conflictual retaliation. nothing less than a radically new form of democracy.
The non-state run public-sphere is a public sphere which conforms to the way of being of the multitude. It benefits from the "publicness" of language/thought, of the extrinsic, conspicuous, shared character of the Intellect in the guise of a score for the virtuosos. It is a "publicness"-as we have already observed during the first day of our seminar-totally heterogeneous with respect to that which is instituted by state sovereignty, or to quote Hobbes, "by the unity of the body politic." This "publicness," which manifests itself today as an eminent productive resource, can become a constitutional principle, a public sphere, in fact.
How is non-servile virtuosity possible? How do we move, hypothetically, from a servile virtuosity to a "republican" virtuosity (understanding "republic of the multitude" to mean a sphere of common affairs which is no longer state-run)? How do we conceive, in principle, of political action based on the general intellect? We must tread this terrain carefully. All we can do is to point to the logical form of something that is still lacking a solid empirical experience. I am proposing two key-terms: civil disobedience and exit.
"Civil disobedience" represents, perhaps, the fundamental form of political action of the multitude, provided that the multitude is emancipated from the liberal tradition within which it is encapsulated. It is not a matter of ignoring a specific law because it appears incoherent or contradictory to other fundamental norms, for example to the constitutional charter. In such case, in fact, reluctance would signal only a deeper loyalty to state control. Conversely, the radical disobedience which concerns us here casts doubt on the State's actual ability to control. Let us digress for a moment in order to understand this better.
According to Hobbes, with the institution of the "body politic," we force ourselves to obey before we even know what we will be ordered to do: "our obligation to civil obedience, by vertue whereof the civill Lawes are valid, is before all civill Lawe" (De Cive, Chap. XIV Section XXI). For this reason we shall not find a particular law which explicitly dictates that people should not revolt. If the unconditional acceptance of the controlling power were not already presupposed, the concrete legislative presuppositions (including, obviously, that which states "thou shalt not rebell") would have no validity whatsoever. Hobbes maintains that the initial bond of obedience derives from "Lawes of nature," that is from a common interest in self-preservation and security. Still, he quickly adds that this "natural law," the Super-law which compels people to observe all of the orders of the sovereign, effectively becomes law only when we have left the state of nature, thus when the State has already been instituted. Thus, a real paradox takes shape: the duty to obey is both the cause and the effect of the existence of the State; this duty is supported by the very State which depends upon it for the constitution of its own foundation; it precedes and follows, at the same time, the development of a "supreme empire."
So then, the multitude aims precisely at this preliminary form of obedience without content, which is the foundation solely of the gloomy dialectic between acquiescence and "transgression." By breaking a particular law meant for dismantling socialized medicine or for stopping immigration, the multitude goes back to the covert presupposition hidden behind every act of mandating law and taints its ability to remain in force. Radical disobedience also "precedes civil laws," since it is not limited to the breaking of these laws but also calls into question the very foundation of their validity.
And now let us move on to the second key word: exit. The breeding ground of disobedience does not lie exclusively in the social conflicts which express protest, but, and above all, in those which express defection (as Albert O. Hirschman has explained [Hirschman, Exit]: not as voice but as exit).
Nothing is less passive than the act of fleeing, of exiting. Defection modifies the conditions within which the struggle takes place, rather than presupposing those conditions to be an unalterable horizon; it modifies the context within which a problem has arisen, rather than facing this problem by opting for one or the other of the provided alternatives. In short, exit consists of unrestrained invention which alters the rules of the game and throws the adversary completely off balance. While remembering what was discussed on this subject during the first day of our seminar, we need only think of the mass exodus from the regime of the factory, carried out by American workers in the middle of the nineteenth century. By venturing into the "frontier" to colonize inexpensive land, they seized upon the opportunity to reverse their own initial condition. Something similar took place in the late Seventies in Italy, when the young laborpower, challenging all expectations, chose temporary and part-time work over full-time employment in big corporations. Though it lasted only for a brief period, professional mobility functioned as a political resource, giving rise to the eclipse of industrial discipline and allowing for the establishing of a certain degree of self-determination.
Exit, or defection, is the polar opposite of the desperate cry "there is nothing to lose but one's own chains:" on the contrary, exit hinges on a latent kind of wealth, on an exuberance of possibilities, in short, on the principle of the tertium datur. But for the contemporary multitude, whatthis virtual abundance which presses for the flee-option at the expense of resistance-option? What is at stake, obviously, is not a spatial "frontier," but the surplus of knowledge, communication, virtuosic acting in concert, all presupposed by the publicness of the general intellect. Defection allows for a dramatic, autonomous, and affirmative expression of this surplus; and in this way it impedes the "transfer" of this surplus into the power of state administration, impedes its configuration as productive resource of the capitalistic enterprise.
Disobedience, exit. It is clear, however, that these are only allusions to what the true political, and not servile, virtuosity of the multitude could be.