Friday, September 12, 2008

James, Virno, Bildung

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

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

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

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

James and those Italians

No need to begin grandly; let's set ourselves to work. Here's a large chunk of information of dubious importance. Pardon the style; it's a footnote from a recent paper on James, in which I attempt to work out his relationship to Hardt and Negri.
In addition to the theoretical similarities, a history of the exchange of ideas between these revolutionary coteries [Italian workerists and James' Johson-Forrest and Facing Reality groups] would be quite fascinating. In 1972, for instance, George Rawick published with Negri, among others, Operai e stato [Workers and the state] (Milan: Feltrinelli). In 1973, Rawick’s From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community was published as Lo schiavo americano dal tramonto all’alba (Milan: Feltrinelli). The speed of the translation (just one year after its American publication), and its publication with the same house as Operai e stato indicates a tight exchange of ideas. Alex Lichtenstein has documented the importance of C.L.R. James to Rawick’s work; Rawick met James in 1964. Martin Glaberman was another Jamesian, a leader of the Facing Reality Group, and the eventual editor of Marxism for Our Times: C.L.R. James on Revolutionary Organization. In 1976 he published Classe operaia, imperialismo, rivoluzione negli USA (Turin: Musolini). Jame himself was apparently published in Italian, co-writing Da schiavo a proletario with Harold Baron and Herbert Gutman. This was published in 1973, with the same publishing house as Glaberman. These connections of James to Italian workerism, and Negri more specifically, indicate that more work needs to be done in situating James – historically and theoretically – within the major currents of Western Marxism. See Ferdinando Fasce, “American Labor History, 1973-1983: Italian Perspectives,” Reviews in American History, 14.4 (1986); Alex Lichtenstein, “In Retrospect: George Rawick’s From Sundown to Sunup and the Dialectic of Marxiam Slave Studies,” Reviews in American History, 24.4 (1996), p. 712-13.
This small heap of publication data was intended to authorize a more theoretical inquiry. For those who have bothered to read James' (post-)trotskyist theoretical texts, a question quickly emerges: what is the theoretical relationship between James' politico-economico-cultural theory and Hardt and Negri's Empire? The comparison in scholarly work is almost becoming old hat:
In his review of Empire, Tim Watson writes that “Hardt and Negri recall the populist Marxism of C.L.R. James, who had a similar faith in the creative energies of the proletariat of all countries” (emphasis added). The reduction of James’ theoretical position to faith is an odious tendency in writing on James, who provided sustained arguments for his positions. Chamsy el-Ojeili laments the lack of influence that James and the Johnson-Forest had on Italian workerism, even while noting the exchanges (generally mediated through Castoriadis, who published with James as well as European groups) between these groups. Peter Hudis writes that “James’s emphasis on spontaneity can be seen as having influenced a number of currents in autonomous Marxism, including Negri and Hardt. At the same time, in regard to the problem of organization, they seem not to have gone beyond [James’s] stopping point, as seen from the conclusion of Empire.” See Tim Watson, “An American Empire?” Postcolonial Studies, 4.3 (2001), p. 355; “‘Many Flowers, Little Fruit’? the Dilemmas of Workerism,” Thesis Eleven, 79 (2004), especially pp. 114-16; Peter Hudis, “Workers as Reason: The Devleopment of a New Relation of Worker and Intellectual in American Marxist Humanism,” Historical Materialism, 11.4 (2003), p. 290.
So, a relationship clearly exists, both in terms of historical connections and in terms of theoretical positions. Unfortunately, writing on the relationship hasn't moved much beyond the simile: James is like Hardt and Negri. To add insult to injury: what could be worse than hearing that one's theory of the present has already been theorized as the present of a past? The problem cannot be resolved by claiming that Hardt and Negri complete and elaborate James's project (though, of course, such a claim would still require proving). Finally, it is my feeling that Virno (of The Grammar of the Multitude), and not Hardt and Negri, better mediates James' project from the position of the present. For one, Virno restricts himself to post-Fordist societies; the rule(s) of Empire are global in a way that James does not theorize. Secondly, Virno's understanding of culture and media is, as I hope to show in another post, closer to James' understanding. This distinction is important for two reasons: firstly, in both James and Virno cultural apparatuses are introjected into production; secondly, in James' and Virno's texts cultural production works as the ontological paradigm of production-in-general.

In the posts to follow, then, I want to trace the relationship of James to Virno/Hardt/Negri through his theory of culture and its relation to production. I do not have a ready answer to the question of the status of the relationship between James' theoretical work and the current theories of the multitude. In marxism, as ever, the lines between theory-of-history, theory-as-history, history-of-theory, and history-as-theory is too fraught to enable anything but the patient working-through of the texts themselves.

[A note: I do not have any Italian, and have been unable to verify, in any way to my liking, the bibliographic data above. If anyone is in the know, please drop your knowledge on me.]