Monday, 15 June 2015

Productive or Unproductive: Fear, Anxiety, Insecurity and cognitive works.


On fear, anxiety, productivity, performativity and unproductive labour in the age of semio-capitalism.

Excerpt from: State of Insecurity by Isobel Lorey, Verso 2015

"For Marx, the only relationship that constitutes productive labour is the one with capital. 'Productive labour is exchanged directly for money as capital', and consequently 'counterposes the values created by labour to the worker himself as capital' The services of a doctor, just like those of a cook, signify an exchange of labour 'for money as money', and therefore are not considered productive. Marx also clarifies the distinction between the two exchange relationships of labour with the example of a performer: 'A singer who sings like a bird is an unproductive worker. If she sells her singing for money, she is to that extent a wage labourer or a commodity dealer. But the same singer when engaged by an entrepreneur who has her sing in order to make money, a productive worker, for she directly produces capital'. For Marx then an activity is unproductive when the product is not separable from the act of producing, as with all executant artists, orators, actors, teachers, doctors, clerics, etc. Here Marx describes one of the fundamental aspects of virtuoso labour: it is an activity without work that produces something in speaking and affective performing. Virtuoso labour thus corresponds to a performative activity..... 

But what if the singer becomes  a self-entrepreneur? Does the relation between labour and capital implode in her very self? Is she to be designated "unproductive"in Marx's sense if not only she takes her voice to market, bur also in her artistic independence and with projects subject to time limits, constantly sells her whole personality when singing ' like a bird' serves her to get the next job? Do not performative, communicative knowledge workers -these being the virtuosos of today, simultaneously service-providers, producers and self-entrepreneurs - stand in the values they have created opposite themselves as capitalised forms of life, in a manner that resembles and yet it is totally different from the relationship Marx defined as productive labour?

..... in the post Fordist era of cognitive capitalism, Arendt classifications no longer apply and that Marx's conceptual apparatus clearly does not seem adequate as a means of understanding contemporary forms of production and their related forms of life. For these become intensified in new relations, where productive labour, in its totality, appropriates the special characteristics of the performing artist. In post Fordism, those who produce surplus-value behave -from the structure point of view, of course - like the pianists, the dancers etc. Virtuosity and the components of freedom, and their concomitant insecurities, thus structure - in a way that differs from Arendt's formulation - not just political action today, but increasingly also modes of production, especially in new 'immaterial' labour relations based on a broad concept of creativity, which can by no means be considered 'unproductive'

When performative labour becomes a new form of productive labour, then the activities of the artist and the teacher become the rule rather than the exception. They not only interweave in Marx's sense with "serving" or reproductive labour in the household, but also in general sense with service-provider work, which does not present itself exclusively as servile.
When labour appears ever more frequently as knowledge and service work, and is based to an ever greater degree of communication, then the intellect, thinking and speaking in general increasingly coincide with the realm of labour. What these performative cognitive activities have in common is that in them the entire person, with their knowledge and their affects, becomes part of the capitalist production process, as do their relationship to those who direct or commission these activities and to those for whom they are carried out.  Indeed - and this is not necessarily covered by the concept of 'immaterial labour' - subjectivations and social relations emerge in this production process. Although the materiality of performative labour is not oriented to the traditional production of products, this does not mean that it is without materiality. It is a materiality of not only performative bodies but also of subjectivations and socialites.

The capitalised materiality of the social has repercussions for the public sphere. The post Fordist worker becomes a self-enterprenerial AGENT (i'd say - a bad or good agent instead of 'virtuoso' like Isabel Lorey puts it says) also because she or he must perform their exploitable self in multiple social relations before the eyes of others. The realisation of this self, reduced to labour, requires the performance in public. In post-Fordist production relations, the intellect becomes public - something which would have been unthinkable for Arendt. Being 'exposed to the gaze of others', which was fundamental to her conception of the public, has developed into one of the decisive characteristics of 'virtuoso' working and living conditions. The presence of the other has become both an instrument and object of labour.

In performative cognitive activity, work and social relations are interwoven; producing, acting and speaking coincide.... On the one hand, this post-Fordist form of labour is based on social relations and influences them in a way similar to the ways traditionally attributed to political action; on the other hand, and beyond this, performative cognitive activities are themselves increasingly arranged as social cooperations. Cognitive labour appropriate the characteristics of  the virtuoso political. 

The Privatisation of Risks and Cares

In neoliberal governing through precarization as insecurity, it is generally at the level of self-government that a special mode of subjectivation of anxiety enters the foreground. This happens through a confrontation with the dimension of the precarious that I call precariousness. In the current dynamic of governmental precarization, it becomes increasingly difficult to to distinguish between an abstract anxiety over existential precariousness (anxiety that a body because it is mortal, cannot be made invulnerable) and a concrete fear of politically and economically induced precarization ( fear of unemployment or of not being able to pay the rent r health care bills even when employed); both of these negative cares overlap.

As Virno writes:

What we have, then, is a complete overlapping of fear and anxiety. If I lose my job, of course I am forced to confront a well defined danger, one which gives rise to a specific kind of dread; but the real danger is immediately coloured by an unidentifiable anxiety... One might say: fear is always anxiety-ridden; circumscribed danger always makes us face the general risk of being in this world... The loss of one's job, or the change which alters the features of the functions of labour, or the loneliness of metropolitan life - all these aspects of our relationship with the world assume many of the traits which formally belonged to the kind of anxieties one feels outside the walls of the community.

The social and political link between a frightening precariousness (which a political community is supposed to protect against) and the threat of prbcarized others is no longer capable of establishing social security for most of those within the community. For many, the anxious worry arriving from existential vulnerability is no longer distinguishable from a fear arising from precarization. There is no longer any reliable  protection from what is unforeseeable, from what cannot be planned for, from contingency.

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