The concept of multitude merits perhaps the same treatment which the great French epistemologist Gaston Bachelard proposed using for the problems and paradoxes brought about by quantum mechanics. Bachelard maintained (Bachelard, The Philosophy of No) that quantum mechanics must be understood as a grammatical subject and that in order for it to be adequately thought out, one must make use of many philosophical "predicates" which are heterogeneous: sometimes a Kantian concept is useful, at other times a notion inspired by Gestalt psychology, or even some subtle idea of scholastic logic. This is also true in our case. The multitude must also be investigated by means of concepts derived from different areas of study and different authors.
This is what we began to do during the course of the initial two days of our seminar. During the first day we approached the subject of the mode of being of the "many" by way of the dialectic dread-refuge. As you will recall, we employed key words from Hobbes, Kant, Heidegger, Aristotle (topoi koinoi, the "common places"), Marx and Freud. During the second day, instead, we continued the investigation of the contemporary multitude by discussing the juxtaposition between poiesis and praxis, Labor and political Action. The "predicates" we utilized in this regard were drawn from Hannah Arendt, Glenn Gould, the novelist Luciano Bianciardi, Saussure, Guy Debord, and once again Marx, Hirshmann and others. Today we will examine another group of concepts which will enable us, I hope, to shed light, from a different perspective, on the multitude. The new angle of perspective will come from the forms of subjectivity.
The predicates we will attribute to the grammatical subject of "multitude" are: a) the principle of individuation, that is, the ancient philosophical question which hinges on what enables singularity to be singular and an indi vidual to be individual; b) Foucault's notion of "bio-politics": c) emotional tonalities, or Stimmungen, which define, today, the forms of life of the "many:" opportunism and cynicism (let us note, however: by emotional tonality I do not mean a passing psychological rippling, but a characteristic relation with one's own being in the world); d) lastly, two phenomena, which, analyzed also by Augustine and by Pascal, rise to the rank of philosophical themes in Heidegger's Being and Time: idle talk and curiosity.
5.2. The principle of individuation
Multitude signifies: plurality — literally: being-many — as a lasting form of social and political existence, as opposed to the cohesive unity of the people. Thus, multitude consists of a network of individuals; the many are a singularity.
The crucial point is to consider these singularities as a point of arrival, not as a starting point; as the ultimate result of a process of individuation, not as solipsistic atoms. Precisely because they are the complex result of a progressive differentiation, the "many" do not postulate an ulterior synthesis. The individual of the multitude is the final stage of a process beyond which there is nothing else, because everything else (the passage from the One to the Many) has already taken place.
When we speak of a process, or a principle, of individuation, we should keep clearly in mind what precedes individuation itself. This has to do, first of all, with a pre-individual reality, that is to say, something common, universal and undifferentiated. The process which produces singularity has a non-individual, pre-individual incipit. Singularity takes its roots in its opposite, comes out of something that lies at its antipodes. The notion of multitude seems to share something with liberal thought because it values individuality but, at the same time, it distances itself from it radically because this individuality is the final product of a process of individuation which stems from the universal, the generic, the pre-individual. The seeming nearness is overturned and becomes the maximum distance.
Let us ask this question: what are the components of the pre-individual reality which is at the foundation of individuation? The possible answers are many and are all legitimate.
First of all, the pre-individual is the biological basis of the species, that is. the sensory organs, motor skills apparatus, perception abilities. In this regard. Merleau-Ponty maintains something very interesting (Phenomenology: 215): "I am no more aware of being the true subject of my sensation than of mybirth or my death." And later in his study he writes: "sight, hearing and touch, with their fields, [ ...] are anterior, and remain alien, to my personal life" (ibid., 347). Perception cannot be encapsulated by the first person singular pronoun. It is never an individual "I" who hears, sees, touches; it is the whole species as such. To speak about the senses, the anonymous pronoun "one" seems more appropriate: one sees, one touches, one hears. The pre-individual nature inscribed in the senses is a generic biological endowment, which is not susceptible to individuation.
Secondly, language is pre-individual; it is the historical-natural language shared by all speakers of a certain community. Language belongs to everybody and to nobody. Also in the case of language, there is not an individual "1" but a "one": one speaks. The use of the spoken word is, at first, something inter-psychic, social, public. A "private language" does not exist — in any individual case, and even less in the case of an infant. In this respect one comprehends the full extent of the concept of "public intellect" or general intellect. Language, however, unlike sensory perception, is a pre-individual sphere within which is rooted the process of individuation. The ontogenesis, that is, the developmental phases of the individual human being, consists in fact of the passage from language as public or inter-psychic experience to language as singularizing and intea-psychic experience. This process, in my opinion, takes place when the child understands that the act of parole does not exclusively depend on the determined langue (which in many respects resembles an amniotic fluid or an anonymous zoological environment); rather, it stands in relation also to a generic faculty for speaking, to an indeterminate capacity for saying things (which is never resolved in one historical-natural language or another). The progressive clarification of the relation between the faculty (or capacity) for speaking and the particular act of parole: this is what enables us to surpass the pre-individual character of historical-natural language, pressing for the individuation of the speaker. In fact, while language belongs to everybody and to nobody, the passage from the pure and simple ability to say something to a particular and contingent utterance determines the space of an individual's notion of "my own." But this is a complicated matter and I have time here only to allude to it. In conclusion: we should keep in mind that, while the pre-individual perceptive faculty remains such, without giving way to an act of individuation, the pre-individual linguistic faculty is, on the other hand, the basis for individuated singularity, or the realm within which this singularity takes its form.
Thirdly, the prevailing relation of production is pre-individual. Thus, we face also a pre-individual reality which is essentially historical. In advanced capitalism, the labor process mobilizes the most universal requisites of the species: perception, language memory, and feelings. Roles and tasks, in the post-Ford era, correspond by and large to the Gattungsgwesen or "generic existence," which Marx discussed in The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. The entire realm of productive forces is pre-individual. It is social cooperation in the form of action in concert, the totality of poietic, "political," cognitive, emotional forces. It is the general intellect, the general, objective, external intellect. The contemporary multitude is composed of individualized individuals, who have behind them also this pre-individual reality (in addition, naturally, to anonymous sensory perception and to the language of everybody and nobody).
An amphibian Subject. An important text by Gilbert Simondon, a French philosopher and dear friend of Gilles Deleuze, is about to be published in Italy (by the publisher DeriveApprodi); this is a text which has hitherto been rather ignored (even in France, mind you). The book is entitled L'individuation psychique et collective (Simondon). Simondon's reflection on the principle of individuation presents other conceptual "predicates" to apply to the grammatical subject at hand, the multitude.
Two of Simondon's theses are particularly fitting to any discussion of subjectivity in the era of the multitude. The first thesis states that individuation is never concluded, that the pre-individual is never fully translated into singularity. Consequently, according to Simondon, the subject consists of the permanent interweaving of pre-individual elements and individuated characteristics; moreover, the subject is this interweaving. It would be a serious mistake, according to Simondon, to identify the subject with one of its components, the one which is singularized. The subject is, rather, a composite: "I." but also "one," unrepeatable uniqueness, but also anonymous universality.
While the individuated "I" cohabits with the biological basis of the species (sensory perception, etc.), with the public or inter-psychic characteristics of the mother tongue, with productive cooperation and the general intellect, we must add that this cohabitation is not always a peaceful one. Quite to the contrary, it engenders crises of various kinds. The subject is a battlefield. Not infrequently do pre-individual characteristics seem to call into question the act of individuation: the latter reveals itself to be a precarious, always reversible, result. At other times, on the other hand, it is the precise and exact "I" which appears to endeavor to reduce for itself, with feverish voracity, all of the pre-individual aspects of our experience. In both cases, there is no shortage of the manifestation of dread-panic, angst. pathologies of various kinds. Either an "I" that no longer has a world or a world that no longer has an "I": these are the two extremes of an oscillation which, though appearing in more contained forms, is never totally absent. This oscillation is prominently signaled, according to Simondon, by feelings and passions. The relation between pre-individual and individuated is, in fact, mediated by feelings.
Incidentally, the not always harmonious interweaving of pre-individual and singularized aspects of the subject, upon close examination, concerns the relation between each one of the "many" and the general intellect. On the first day of our seminar we emphasized as much as necessary the harrowing physiognomy that can be assumed by the "general intellect" in the event that the general intellect is not translated into a public sphere and ends up, instead, oppressing in the form of an impersonal and despotic power. In such case, the pre-individual becomes menacing and overwhelming. Twentieth century critical thought — above all, the Frankfurt School — maintained that unhappiness derives from the separation of the individual from the universal productive forces. We imagine an individual confined to a cold and damp niche, while, far away from this individual, there gleams forth the anonymous power of society (and of the species). This is a totally erroneous idea. Unhappiness and insecurity do not derive from the separation between individual existence and pre-individual powers, but from their absolute interweaving, when this interweaving manifests itself as disharmony, pathological oscillation, and crisis.
Let us now turn to the second of Simondon's theses. It states that the collective, the collective experience, the life of the group, is not, as we usually believe, the sphere within which the salient traits of a singular individual diminish or disappear; on the contrary, it is the terrain of a new and more radical individuation. By participating in a collective, the subject, far from surrendering the most unique individual traits, has the opportunity to individuate, at least in part, the share of pre-individual reality which all individuals carry within themselves. According to Simondon, within the collective we endeavor to refine our singularity, to bring it to its climax. Only within the collective, certainly not within the isolated subject, can perception, language, and productive forces take on the shape of an individuated experience.
This thesis allows us to have a better understanding of the opposition between "people" and "multitude." For the multitude, the collective is not centripetal or coalescent. It is not the locus in which the "general will" is formed and state unity is prefigured. Since the collective experience of the multitude radicalizes, rather than dulling, the process of individuation, the idea that from such experience one could extrapolate a homogeneous trait is to be excluded as a matter of principle; it is also to be excluded that one could "delegate" or "transfer" something to the sovereign. The collective of the multitude, seen as ulterior or second degree individuation, establishes the feasibility of a non-representational democracy. Conversely, we can define a "non-representational democracy" as an individuation of the historical-social pre-individual: science, knowledge, productive cooperation, and general intellect. The "many" persevere as "many" without aspiring to the unity of the state because: 1) as individuated singularities they have already left behind the unity/universality intrinsic to the diverse species of the pre-individual; 2) through their collective action they underscore and further the process of individuation.
The social individual. In the "Fragment on Machines" (Grundrisse: 705) Marx coins a concept which, in my view, is central to comprehending the subjectivity of the contemporary multitude. This is a concept, let me say immediately, which is ob)ectively related to Simondon's thesis on the interweaving of pre-individual reality and singularity. It is the concept of the "social individual." It is not by accident, it seems to me, that Marx utilizes this expression in the same pages where he discusses the general intellect, the public intellect. The individual is social because within the individual the general intellect is present. Or also, to return to Marx in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, the individual is social because the individual is an open manifestation, standing alongside the singular "I," the Gattungswesen, "generic existence," the totality of requisites and faculties of the Homo sapiens species.
The term "social individual" is an oxymoron, a unity of opposites: it could appear to be some sort of Hegelian whimsy, suggestive and insubstantial, were we not able to benefit from Simondon in deciphering its sense. "Social" should be translated as pre-individual, and "individual" should be seen as the ultimate result of the process of individuation. Since the term "preindividual" must include sensory perception, language, and productive forces, we could also say that the "social individual" is the individual who openly exhibits a unique ontogenesis, a unique development (with its own different layers or constituent elements).
There is a sort of lexical chain that ties together the being-many, the ancient question of the principle of individuation, the Marxian notion of "social individual," Simondon's thesis on the cohabitation within each subject of pre-individual elements (language, social cooperation, etc.) and individuated elements. I propose calling the combination of "social individuals" the multitude. We could say — with Marx, but against the grain of a large segment of Marxism — that the radical transformation of the present state of things consists in bestowing maximum prominence and maximum value on the existence of every single member of the species. It may seem paradoxical, but I believe that Marx's theory could (or rather should) be understood. today, as a realistic and complex theory of the individual, as a rigorous individualism: thus, as a theory of individuation.
5.3. equivocal concept: bio-politics
Foucault introduced the term "bio-politics" in some courses he taught in the Seventies at the College de France (see Foucault). The term was applied to the changes which took place in the concept of "population" between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. In Foucault's view, it is during this period that life, life as such, life as mere biological process, begins to be governed and administered politically. The concept of "bio-politics" has recently become fashionable: it is often, and enthusiastically, invoked in every kind of context. We should avoid this automatic and unreflective use of the term. Let us ask ourselves, then, how and why life breaks through to the center of the public scene, how and why the State regulates and governs it.
In my opinion, to comprehend the rational core of the term "bio-politics," we should begin with a different concept, a much more complicated concept from a philosophical standpoint: that of labor power. This is a concept discussed everywhere in the social sciences, where its harsh and paradoxical character is however, carelessly avoided. If professional philosophers were to get involved in something serious here, they would have to devote much effort and attention to it. What does "labor-power" mean? It means potential to produce. Potential, that is to say, aptitude, capacity, dynamis. Generic, undetermined potential: where one particular type of labor or another has not been designated, but any kind of labor is taking place, be it the manufacturing of a car door, or the harvesting of pears, the babble of someone calling in to a phone "party-line," or the work of a proofreader. Labor-power is "the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality, of a human being" (Capital, Volume l: 270). All of those capabilities, we should note well. By talking about labor-power we implicitly refer to every sort of faculty: linguistic competence, memory, motility, etc. Only in today's world, in the post-Ford era, is the reality of labor-power fully up to the task of realizing itself. Only in today's world, that is to say, can the notion- of labor-power not be reduced (as it was at the time of Gramsci) to an aggregate of physical and mechanical attributes; now, instead, it encompasses within itself, and rightfully so, the "life of the mind."
But let us get to the point here. The capitalistic production relation is based on the difference between labor-power and effective labor. Laborpower, I repeat, is pure potential, quite distinct from its correspondent acts. Marx writes: "When we speak of capacity for labour. we do not speak of labour, any more than we speak of digestion when we speak of capacity for digestion" (Capital. Volume 1: 277). We are dealing here, however, with a potential which boasts of the extremely concrete prerogatives of commodities. Potential is something non-present, non-real; but in the case o f labor-power, this non-present something is subject to the laws of supply and demand (Virno, Il ricordo: 121-3). Capitalists buy the capacity for producing as such ("the sum of all physical and intellectual aptitudes which exist in the material world"), and not simply one or more specific services. After the sale has occurred, capitalists can use as they please the commodity which has been acquired. "The purchaser of labour-power consumes it by setting the seller of it to work. By working, the latter becomes in actuality what previously he only was potentially "(Capital, Volume 1: 283). Labor which has actually been paid out does not simply reimburse the capitalist for the money spent previously in order to assure the other's potential for working; it continues for an additional period of time. Here lies the genesis of surplus-value, here lies the mystery of capitalistic accumulation.
Labor-power incarnates (literally) a fundamental category of philosophical thought: specifically, the potential, the dynamis. And "potential," as I have just said, signifies that which is not current, that which is not present. Well then, something which is not present (or real) becomes, with capitalism, an exceptionally important commodity. This potential, dynamis, non-presence, instead of remaining an abstract concept, takes on a pragmatic, empirical, socioeconomic dimension. The potential as such, when it still has not been applied, is at the core of the exchange between capitalist and worker. The object of the sale is not a real entity (labor services actually executed) but something which, in and of itself, does not have an autonomous spacial-temporal existence (the generic ability to work).
The paradoxical characteristics of labor-power (something unreal which is, however, bought and sold as any other commodity) are the premise of biopolitics. In order to understand it, however, we must go through another step in the argument. In the Grundrisse Marx writes that "the use value which the worker has to offer to the capitalist, which he has to offer to others in general, is not materialized in a product, does not exist apart from him at all, thus exists not really, but only in potentiality, as his capacity" (Grundrisse: 26 Virno's italics). Here is the crucial point: where something which exists only as possibility is sold, this something is not separable from the living person of the seller. The living body of the worker is the substratum of that labor-power which, in itself, has no independent existence. "Life," pure and simple bios, acquires a specific importance in as much as it is the tabernacle of dynamis, of mere potential.
Capitalists are interested in the life of the worker, in the body of the worker, only for an indirect reason: this life, this body, are what contains the faculty, the potential, the dynamis. The living body becomes an object to be governed not for its intrinsic value, but because it is the substratum of what really matters: labor-power as the aggregate of the most diverse human faculties (the potential for speaking, for thinking, for remembering, for acting, etc.). Life lies at the center of politics when the prize to be won is immaterial (and in itself non-present) labor-power. For this reason, and this reason alone, it is legitimate to talk about "bio-politics." The living body which is a concern of the administrative apparatus of the State, is the tangible sign of a yet unrealized potential, the semblance of labor not yet objectified; as Marx says eloquently, of "labor as subjectivity" The potential for working, bought and sold just like another commodity, is labor not yet objectified, "labor as subjectivity" One could say that while money is the universal representation of the value of exchange — or rather of the exchangeability itself of products — life, instead, takes the place of the productive potential, of the invisible dynamis.
The non-mythological origin of that mechanism of expertise and power which Foucault defines as bio-politics can be traced back, without hesitation, to the mode of being of the labor-power. The practical importance taken on by potential as potential (the fact that it is bought and sold as such), as well as its inseparability from the immediate corporeal existence of the worker, is the real foundation of bio-politics. Foucault mocks libertarian theoreticians like Wilhelm Reich (the heterodox psychiatrist), who claims that a spasmodic attention to life is the result of a repressive intention: disciplining the body in order to raise the level of productivity of labor. Foucault is totally right, but he is taking aim at an easy target. It is true: the government of life is extremely varied and articulated, ranging from the confinement of impulses to the most unrestrained laxity, from punctilious prohibition to the showy display of tolerance, from the ghetto for the poor to extravagant Keynesian incomes, from the high-security prison to the Welfare State. Having said this, we still have to address a crucial question: why is life, as such, managed and controlled? The answer is absolutely clear: because it acts as the substratum of a mere faculty, labor-power, which has taken on the consistency of a commodity. It is not a question, here, of the productivity of actual labor, but of the exchangeability of the potential to work. By the mere fact that it can be bought and sold, this potential calls into question the repository from which it is indistinguishable, that is, the living body. What is more, it sheds light on this repository as an object of innumerable and differentiated governmental strategies.
One should not believe, then, that bio-politics includes within itself, as its own distinct articulation, the management of labor-power. On the contrary: bio-politics is merely an effect, a reverberation, or, in fact, one articulation of that primary fact — both historical and philosophical — which consists of the commerce of potential as potential. Bio-politics exists wherever that which pertains to the potential dimension of human existence comes into the forefront, into immediate experience: not the spoken word, but the capacity for speaking as such; not the labor which has actually been completed, but the generic capability of producing. The potential dimension of existence becomes conspicuous only, and exclusively, under the guise of labor-power. In this potential we see the compendium of all the different faculties and potentials of the human animal. In fact, "labor-power" does not designate one specific faculty, but the entirety of human faculties in as much as they are involved in productive praxis. "Labor-power" is not a proper noun; it is a common noun.
5.4. The emotional tonalities of the multitude
Now I would like to speak briefly about the emotional situation in which the contemporary multitude finds itself. With the expression "emotional situation" I do not refer, let it be clear, to a cluster of psychological tendencies, but to ways of being and feeling so pervasive that they end up being common to the most diverse contexts of experience (work, leisure, feelings, politics, etc.). The emotional situation, over and above being ubiquitous, is always ambivalent. That is, it can manifest itself as a form of consent as often as it can as a form of conflict, as often with the characteristics of resignation as with those of critical unease. To put it another way: the emotional situation has a neutral core subject to diverse, and even contrary, elaborations.
This neutral core points toward a fundamental mode of being. Now, it is certain that the emotional situation of the multitude today manifests itself with "bad sentiments": opportunism, cynicism, social integration, inexhaustible recanting, cheerful resignation. Yet it is necessary to rise up From these "bad sentiments" to the neutral core, namely to the fundamental mode of being, which, in principle, could give rise even to developments very different from those prevailing today. What is difficult to understand is that the antidote, so to speak, can be tracked down only in what for the moment appears to be poison.
The emotional situation of the multitude in the post-Ford era is characterized by the immediate connection between production and ethicality, "structure" and "superstructure," the revolutionizing of the work process and sentiments, technologies and the emotional tonalities, material development, and culture. Let us pause for a moment to consider this connection. What are the principal requirements of dependent workers today? To be accustomed to mobility, to be able to keep up with the most sudden conversions, to be able to adapt to various enterprises, to be flexible in switching from one set of rules to another, to have an aptitude for a kind of linguistic interaction as banalized as it is unilateral, to be familiar with managing among a limited amount of possible alternatives. Now, these requirements are not the fruit of industrial discipline; rather, they are the result of a socialization that has its center of gravity outside of the workplace. The "professionalism" which is actually required and offered consists of the abilities one acquires during a prolonged sojourn in a pre-work, or precarious, stage. That is to say: to the period of waiting for a job, those generically social talents are developed, as is getting in the habit of not developing lasting habits, all of which, once work is found, will act as true and real "tools of the trade."
The post-Fordist undertaking puts to good use this practice of not haying routines, this training in precariousness and variability. But the decisive fact is a kind of socialization (and by this term I mean the relationship with the world, with others, and with oneself) which essentially comes about outside of the workplace, socialization essentially beyond work. These are the urban shocks which Benjamin was talking about, the proliferation of linguistic games, the uninterrupted variation of rules and techniques, which constitute the arena in which we find the formation of abilities and qualifications which, only later on, will become "professional" abilities and qualifications. A closer look reveals that this outside-of-the-workplace socialization (which then combines with the "official duties" in job descriptions in the post-Ford era) consists of experiences and sentiments in which the great philosophers and sociologists of the last century, from Heidegger and Simmel on, have recognized the distinctive traits of nihilism. Nihilism is a praxis which no longer enjoys a solid foundation, one made up of support structures and protective practices upon which one can rely. During the twentieth century, nihilism seemed to be a collateral counterpoint to the processes of rationalization both of production and of the State. That is to say: on one side, labor, on the other, the precariousness and changeable nature of urban life. Now, however, nihilism (the practice of not having established practices, etc.) has entered into production, has become a professional qualification, and has been put to work. Only one who is experienced in the haphazard changing nature of the forms of urban life knows hove to behave in the just in time factories [Author's English term].
It is almost useless to add that, in this way, the model used by a large part of the sociological and philosophical tradition to represent the processes of "modernization" goes to pieces. According to that model, innovation (technological, emotional, ethical) shakes up traditional societies in which repetitive customs prevailed. Philomen and Baucis, the serene farmers whom Goethe describes in Faust, would be uprooted by the modern entrepreneur. None of this, today. One can no longer speak of "modernization" where innovation intervenes with an increasingly contracted regularity upon a scene characterized by rootlessness, by contingency, by anonymity, etc. The crucial point is that the current productive commotion benefits from, and finds its most prized resource in, all those elements which the model of modernization lists, instead, among its consequences: the uncertainty of expectations, the unpredictability of assignments, fragile identities, ever changing values. The advanced technologies do not provoke a "displacement," such as to dissipate a pre-existing "familiarity"; rather, they reduce to a professional profile the experience of the most radical kind of displacement itself. Nihilism, once hidden in the shadow of technical-productive power, becomes a fundamental ingredient of that power, a quality highly prized by the marketplace of labor.
This is the background upon which, above all, two not exactly edifying emotional tonalities stand out: opportunism and cynicism. Let us try to sift through these "bad sentiments," recognizing in them a way of being, which, in and of itself need not necessarily express itself in unappealing forms.
Opportunism: The roots of opportunism lie in an outside-of-the-workplace socialization marked by unexpected turns, perceptible shocks, permanent innovation, chronic instability. Opportunists are those who confront a flow of ever-interchangeable possibilities, making themselves available to the greater number of these, yielding to the nearest one, and then quickly swerving from one to another. This is a structural, sober, non-moralistic definition of opportunism. It is a question of a sensitivity sharpened by the changeable chances, a familiarity with the kaleidoscope of opportunities, an intimate relationship with the possible, no matter how vast. In the post-Ford era mode of production, opportunism acquires a certain technical importance. It is the cognitive and behavioral reaction of the contemporary multitude to the fact that routine practices are no longer organized along uniform lines; instead, they present a high level of unpredictability. Now, it is precisely this ability to maneuver among abstract and interchangeable opportunities which constitutes professional quality in certain sectors of post-Fordist production, sectors where the labor process is not regulated by a single particular goal, but by a class of equivalent possibilities to be specified one at a time. The information machine, rather than being a means to a single end, is an introduction to successive and "opportunistic" elaborations. Opportunism gains in value as an indispensable resource whenever the concrete labor process is permeated by a diffuse "communicative action" and thus no longer identifies itself solely with mute "instrumental action." Or, to return to a theme touched upon during the second day of the seminar, whenever Labor includes in itself the salient traits of political Action. After all, what else is opportunism if not one of the talents of the politician?
Cynicism: Cynicism is also connected with the chronic instability of forms of life and linguistic games. This chronic instability places in full view, during labor time as well as during free time, the naked rules which artificially structure the boundaries of action. The emotional situation of the multitude is characterized, precisely, by the extreme proximity of the "many" to the rules which animate individual contexts. At the base of contemporary cynicism lies the fact that men and women first of all experience rules, far more often than "facts," and far earlier than they experience concrete events. But to experience rules directly means also to recognize their conventionality and groundlessness. Thus, one is no longer immersed in a predefined "game," participating therein with true allegiance. Instead, one catches a glimpse of oneself in individual "games" which are destitute of all seriousness and obviousness, having become nothing more than a place for immediate self-affirmation — a selfaffirmation which is all the more brutal and arrogant, in short, cynical, the more it draws upon, without illusions but with perfect momentary allegiance, those same rules which characterize conventionality and mutability.
I believe there is a very strong relationship between the general intellect and contemporary cynicism. Or to put it better: I think that cynicism is one of the possible ways of reacting to the general intellect (not the only way, certainly; the theme of the ambivalence of the emotional situation returns here). Let us give a clearer explanation of this connection. The general intellect is social knowledge turned into the principal productive force; it is the complex of cognitive paradigms, artificial languages, and conceptual clusters which animate social communication and forms of life. The general intellect distinguishes itself from the "real abstractions" typical of modernity, which are all anchored to the principle of equivalence. "Real abstraction" is, above all, money, which represents the commensurability of labor, of products, of subjects. Thus, the general intellect has nothing to do with the principle of equivalence. The models of social knowledge are not units of measurement; instead, they constitute the premise for operative heterogeneous possibilities. Techno-scientific codes and paradigms present themselves as an "immediate productive force," as constructive principles. They do not equalize anything; instead, they act as premise to every type of action.
The fact that abstract knowledge, rather than the exchange of equivalents. provides order for social relations is reflected in the contemporary figure of the cynic. Why? Because the principle of equivalency constituted the base, even though a contradictory one, for egalitarian ideologies which supported the ideal of a reciprocal recognition without constraints, let alone the ideal of universal and transparent linguistic communication. Vice versa, the general intellect, as a clear introduction to social practice, does not offer any unit of measurement for comparison. Cynics recognize, in the particular context in which they operate, both the preeminent role played by certain cognitive premises as well as the simultaneous absence of real equivalences. As a precaution, they repress the aspiration for a dialogue on equal terms. From the outset they renounce any search for an inter-subjective foundation for their praxis, as well as any claim to a standard of judgement which shares the nature of a moral evaluation. The fall of the principle of equivalency, so intimately related to the exchange of commodities, can be seen in the behavior of the cynic, in the impatient abandonment of the appeal for equality. Cynics reach the point where they entrust their self-affirmation precisely to the multiplication (and fluidification) of hierarchies and inequalities which the unexpected centrality of production knowledge seems to entail.
Opportunism and cynicism: without a doubt, "bad sentiments." Nevertheless, we can hypothesize that every conflict or protest on the part of the multitude will take root in the same manner of being (the aforementioned "neutral core") which, for the moment, manifests itself in these rather repugnant forms. The neutral core of the contemporary emotional situation, susceptible to opposing manifestations, consists of a familiarity with the possible, in so far as it is possible, and of an extreme proximity to the conventional rules which give structure to the differing contexts of action. This familiarity and this proximity, from which opportunism and cynicism now derive, make up an indelible, distinctive sign of the multitude.
5.5. Idle talk and curiosity
To conclude, I would like to reflect upon two noted and infamous phenomena of everyday life upon which Martin Heidegger has conferred the rank of philosophical themes. First of all, idle talk, that is to say, a contagious and prolific discourse without any solid structure, indifferent to content, which it only touches on from time to time. Next, curiosity, which is the insatiable voracity for the new in so far as it is new. It seems to me that these are two more predicates inherent in the grammatical subject "multitude," provided that, as will be seen, one uses at times Heidegger's words against Heidegger himself. In discussing "idle talk" I would like to focus upon a further facet of the relationship multitude/verbal language; "curiosity." instead, has to do with certain epistemological virtues of the multitude (it goes without saying that what is in question here is only a spontaneous epistemology, one which has not been thought out).
Idle talk and curiosity were analyzed by Heidegger in Being and Time (Heidegger, Sections 35 and 36). These were singled out as typical manifestations of the "unauthentic life," which is characterized by a conformist leveling of all feeling and all understanding. In the "unauthentic life" the impersonal pronoun "one" dominates uncontested: one says, one does, one believes this or that. In the words of Simondon, it is the pre-individual who dominates the scene, inhibiting any individuation whatsoever. This "one" is anonymous and pervasive. It nurtures reassuring certainties; it diffuses opinions that are always already shared. It is the faceless subject of media communication. This "one" feeds us idle talk and unleashes a curiosity that cannot be restrained.
This anonymous "one," chatty and nosy, conceals the salient trait of human existence: being in the world. Take heed: to belong to the world does not mean contemplating it in a disinterested fashion. Rather, this belonging indicates a pragmatic involvement. The relation with my vital context does not consist, above all, of acts of comprehension and representation, but of an adaptive practice, in the search for protection, of a practical orientation, of a manipulative intervention upon surrounding objects. For Heidegger, the authentic life seems to find its adequate expression in labor. In the first place, the world is a world-workshop, a complex of productive means and goals, the theater of a general readiness for entering the world of labor. According to Heidegger, this fundamental connection with the world is distorted by idle talk and curiosity. One who chatters and abandons oneself to curiosity does not work, is diverted from carrying out a determined task, and has suspended every serious responsibility "for taking care of things." This "one," along with being anonymous, is also idle. The world-workshop is transformed into a world-spectacle.
Let us ask ourselves this question: is it then true that idle talk and curiosity remain confined to the realm of free time and relaxation, outside of labor? On the basis of what has been argued throughout this seminar, should it not be supposed, rather, that these attitudes have become the pivot of contemporary production in which the act of communication dominates, and in which the ability to manage amid continual innovations is most valued?
Let us begin with this idle talk which positions itself in the preeminent role of social communication, with its independence from every bond or presupposition, with its full autonomy. Autonomy from predefined goals, from limiting tasks, from the obligation of giving a faithful reproduction of the truth. With idle talk the denotative correspondence between things and words reaches a new low. Discourse no longer requires an external legitimization, based upon the events which it concerns. It constitutes in itself an event consisting of itself, which is justified solely by the fact that it happens. Heidegger writes: "In the language which is spoken when one expresses oneself, there lies an average intelligibility; [...] the discourse which is communicated can be understood to a considerable extent, even if the hearer does not bring himself into such a kind of Being towards what the discourse is about as to have a primordial understanding of it" (Being and Time: 212). And he continues: "idle talk is the possibility of understanding everything without previously making the thing one's own" (ibid., 213).
Idle talk damages the referential paradigm. The crisis of this paradigm lies at the origin of the mass media. Once they have been freed from the burden of corresponding point by point to the non-linguistic world, terms can multiply indefinitely, generating one from the other. Idle talk has no foundation. This lack of foundation explains the fleeting, and at times vacuous, character of daily interaction. Nevertheless, this same lack of foundation authorizes invention and the experimentation of new discourses at every moment. Communication, instead of reflecting and transmitting that which exists, itself produces the states of things, unedited experiences, new facts. I am tempted to say that idle talk resembles background noise: insignificant in and of itself (as opposed to noises linked to particular phenomena, such as a running motorbike or a drill), yet it offers a sketch from which significant variances, unusual modulations, sudden articulations can be derived.
It seems to me that idle talk makes up the primary subject of the post-Fordist virtuosity discussed in the second day of our seminar. Virtuosos, as you will recall, are those who produce something which is not distinguishable, nor even separable, from the act of production itself. Virtuosos are simple locuters par excellence. But, now I would add to this definition the non-referenced speakers; that is, the speakers who, while speaking, reflect neither one nor another state of affairs, but determine new states of affairs by means of their very own words: those who, according to Heidegger, engage in idle talk. This idle talk is performative: words determine facts, events, states of affairs (Austin, How to Do Things with Words). Or, if you wish, it is in idle talk that it is possible to recognize the fundamental nature of performance: not "I bet." or "I swear," or "I take this woman as my wife," but, above all, "I speak." In the assertion "I speak," I do something by saying these words; moreover, I declare what it is that I do while I do it.
Contrary to what Heidegger presumes, not only is idle talk not a poor experience and one to be deprecated, but it directly concerns labor, and social production. Thirty years ago, in many factories there were signs posted that
commanded: "Silence, men at work!" Whoever was at work kept quiet. One began "chatting" only upon leaving the factory or the office. The principle breakthrough in post-Fordism is that it has placed language into the workplace. Today, in certain workshops, one could well put up signs mirroring those of the past, but declaring: "Men at work here. Talk!"
A certain number of standard utterances is not what is required of the worker; rather, an informal act of communication is required, one which is flexible, capable of confronting the most diverse possibilities (along with a good dose of opportunism, however). Using terms from the philosophy of language, I would say it is not the parole but the langue which is mobilized, the very faculty of language, not any of its specific applications. This faculty, which is the generic power of articulating every sort of utterance, takes on an empirical importance precisely in computer language. There, in fact, it is not so much "what is said," as much as the pure and simple "ability to say" that counts.
Let us move on to curiosity. This theme also has as its subject the anonymous "one," the uncontested protagonist of the "unauthentic life." And curiosity, for Heidegger, also takes place outside of the labor process. The "seeing," which in the process of labor is completed at the conclusion of a particular task, in free time becomes agitated, mobile, fickle. Heidegger writes: "Concern may come to rest in the sense of one's interrupting the performance and taking a rest, or it can do so by getting it finished. In rest, concern does not disappear; circumspection, however, becomes free and is no longer bound to the world of work" (ibid., 217). The liberation from the world of labor means that the "circumspection" feeds on any individual thing, fact, or event, all of which are reduced, however, to so many mere spectacles.
Heidegger cites Augustine, who drew a wonderful analysis, in the tenth book of the Confessions, from the notion of curiosity. The curious person, according to Augustine, is the person who indulges in the concupiscentia oculorum, in the greed of sight, longing to witness unusual and even horrible spectacles: "When the senses demand pleasure, they look for objects of visual beauty, harmonious sounds, fragrant perfumes, and things that are pleasant to the taste or soft to the touch. But when their motive is curiosity, they may look for just the reverse of these things [...] from a relish for investigation and discovery. What pleasure can there be in the sight of a mangled corpse, which can only horrify? Yet people will flock to see one lying on the ground, simply for the sensation of sorrow and horror that it gives them" (Confessions: Book X, Section 35). Both Augustine and Heidegger consider curiosity to be a degraded and perverse form of love for knowledge. In sum, a deductive passion. It is the plebeian parody of the bios theoretikos, of the contemplative life devoted to pure knowing. Neither the philosopher nor the curious person has practical interests; both aim toward a learning experience for its own sake, toward a vision without extrinsic goals. But, with curiosity the senses usurp the prerogatives of thought: the eyes of the body, not the metaphorical eyes of the mind, are the ones which observe, search, evaluate all phenomena. The aesthetic theories is transformed into the voyeur's "craving for experience, for knowledge."
Heidegger's judgement is definitive: in curiosity a radical estrangement lies hidden; the curious spirit "lets itself be carried along [mitnehmen] solely by the looks of the world; in this kind of Being, it concerns itself with becoming rid of itself as Being-in-the-world" (Being and Time: 216). I would like to compare Heidegger's judgement with Walter Benjamin's position. in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (Benjamin, Illuminations: 217-251) Benjamin proposes a diagnosis of the "one," of the ways of being of mass societies, in sum, of the "unauthentic life." Of course, he uses different terminology. And he arrives at conclusions that are very different with respect to Heidegger's. That which Heidegger considers to be a threat, Benjamin understands to be a promise, or at least an important opportunity. The technical reproduction of art and of every sort of experience, made possible through the mass media, is nothing other than the instrument which can most adequately satisfy a universal and omnivorous curiosity. But Benjamin praises that "craving for knowledge" by means of the senses, that "greed of sight" which Heidegger, instead, denigrates. Let us look at this in more detail.
Both curiosity (for Heidegger) and technical reproduction (for Benjamin) strive to abolish distances, to place everything within hand's reach (or better, within viewing distance). This inclination towards closeness assumes, howev er, an opposite meaning for the two authors. For Heidegger, in the absence of a laborious "taking care of things," the approaching of what is distant and estranged has the sole result of ruinously canceling perspective: the gaze can no longer distinguish between "foreground" and "background." When all things converge in an undifferentiated closeness (as happens, according to Heidegger, to those who are curious), there is less chance of having a stable center from which to observe these things. Curiosity resembles a flying car-pet which, eluding the force of gravity, circles around at low altitude above phenomena (without taking root in them). With regard to mass-media curiosity, Benjamin, on the other hand, speaks of "the desire of contemporary masses to bring things `closer' spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting" its reproduction" (Illuminations: 223). For Benjamin, curiosity, as an approach to the world, expands and enriches human perceptive capabilities. The mobile vision of the curious Ones, made possible through the mass-media, does not limit itself to taking in a given spectacle passively; on the contrary, it decides anew each time what to watch, what deserves to come to the foreground and what should remain in the background. The media trains the senses to consider the known as if it were unknown, to distinguish "an enormous and sudden margin of freedom" even in the most trite and repetitive aspects of daily life. At the same time, however, the media trains the senses also for the opposite task: to consider the unknown as if it were known, to become familiar with the unexpected and the surprising, to become accustomed to the lack of established habits.
Let us look at another significant analogy. For both Heidegger and Benjamin, those who are curious are forever distracted. They watch, learn, try out everything, but without paying attention. And in this regard as well, the judgment of the two authors diverges. For Heidegger, distraction, which is the correlate of curiosity, is the evident proof of a total uprooting and of a total unauthenticity. The distracted are those who pursue possibilities which are always different, but equal and interchangeable (opportunists in the prior meaning of the word, if you like). On the contrary, Benjamin clearly praises distraction itself, distinguishing in it the most effective means for taking in an artificial experience, technically constructed. He writes: "Distraction [...] presents a covert control of the extent to which new tasks have become soluble by apperception. [...] The film makes the cult value recede into the background [that is to say, the cult for a work of art which is considered to be something unique] not only by putting the public in the position of the critic [deciding what is background and what is, instead, foreground, as we discussed earlier], but also by the fact that at the movies this position requires no attention. The public [or, if you prefer: the multitude as public] is an examiner, but an absent minded one" (ibid., 240-241; comments in brackets by Virno).
It goes without saying that distraction is an obstacle to intellectual learning. Things change radically, however, if sensory learning is put into play: this type of learning is absolutely favored and empowered by distraction; it lays claim to a certain level of dispersion and inconstancy. Thus, mass media curiosity is the sensory learning of technically reproducible artifices, the immediate perception of intellectual products, the corporeal vision of scientific paradigms. The senses — or better, the "greed of sight" — succeed in appropriating an abstract reality, that is to say, concepts materialized in technology; and they do so not leaning forward with curiosity but making a showy display of distraction.
Thus, (absent-minded) curiosity and (non-referential) idle talk are attributes of the contemporary multitude: attributes loaded with ambivalence. naturally; but unavoidable attributes.