Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Virno (week 10)


  1. I think Virno's account of the multitude takes on a lot of meaning for me, most of which is foregrounded by Hardt & Negri (and indeed many parts of their ‘multitude’ are, in many ways, just tailored and particularized for Virno's image of Post-Fordism) given the level of contextualization that runs throughout his seminars here. Namely, the particularization of bio-politics to that of living labor (the very potential to produce) seems to encompass the totality of his (re)positioning of the multitude. Virno asks why it might be dangerous or sexy to invoke bio-politics in this particular historical moment, but cautions against it without scrutiny. He suggests that the level of control-management systems takes place at the level of life under the nation-state not for controls’ sake, but because, in an age of Post-Fordism, which is increasingly marked by the confounding of labor production and life, potential (not even actual production, but unshaped potential, dynamis, the potential to produce) is synonymous with the existence of the body, or the “life of the mind” so to speak—because Capitol, in the age of Post-Fordism, harvests and remunerates the immaterial productions which reside at the level of the existence of life, potentiated by living labor. (I found, too, Virno’s position that increasingly remuneration and non-remuneration, appear kind of identical, feels strongly related to his position of bio-politics.)

    In my estimation, despite explicitly clear statement of thesis on several occasions on his part, Virno wishes to suggest three things ultimately: a definition of multitude fit for Post-Fordism, and one that builds from and then furthers the many; a creation of a lexicon fit for multitude, which he suggests is partly why praxis of a multitude and its political mobilization might still be unclear; to supplant the people with multitude, and to mark a clear break in their histories and a shifting out of one in relation to the nation-state for sake of the other, which might respond more readily to the task of our historical moment, whether that be Post-Fordism or Empire (frankly, I’m not sure yet if these two things are necessarily opposed, interchangeable—although I understand the terms respective of two distinct domains…perhaps they mark contextual frameworks for the usage of multitude as a term?—in some ways mutually-exclusive, or inter-related….)

    “…if we really want simplicity at all costs, all we have to do is drink up a bottle of red wine.” This guy is funny, fluid, and kind of vulnerable in some ways. Maybe that’s the nature of the talks, here, but I think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the content of the argument, specifically related to the way these frameworks produce subjectivities, not the other way around: “the prophet produces his people…” Still, I have questions: 1) I’m not firm just yet on common places and general intellect, although I’m almost there—but mainly, what are the specifics of the conditions which produce “evil effects?” I felt like I misunderstood this part of the text. 2) I’m really interested in some of his Freudian tendencies, particularly the condition of “not feeling at home.” I love that as a concept related to the multitude, and again, I’m almost there, but I may be missing certain assumptions he’s making about subjectivity…but to his point, it seems like a terminology of becoming-multitude, not a recognizable relation just yet in our pre-existing frameworks.

  2. Virno’s assessment of the multitude as a “mode of being” and therefore it is “ambivalent…it contains within itself both loss and salvation, acquiescence and conflict, servibility and freedom” and therefore the move to not replace the One with Multitude but rather redefine the One as the Multitude is a valuable one – in doing so he cautions the optimism of H&N’s liberatory multitude. However, it seems to me that Virno overstates the power of the solidarity of the multitude and the uniform socialization – in the same way that H&N do – that once again causes me to question the viability of the multitude as a mode of being. From what I understand, Virno believes there is the blurring of lines between different groups – in H&N globalization has removed these lines, in Virno this common, and shared condition is that of “not-feeling-at home.” Out this homelessness and stranger condition the multitude is formed – we are all uncomfortable but we are all uncomfortable together. This assertion (like those made in H&N) seems to ignore the division lines drawn by identity politics (for instance the blurred line of fear/anguish and the perpetual state of uncomfortableness comes about because of different circumstances due to gender, sexuality, race, etc.) in favor of an abstract understanding of the human condition that would lend itself towards uniform socialization. To this extent, I am confused about Virno’s response to the labor class misunderstanding on page 44.

    A final note on this criticism – stylistically, Hardt and Negri’s trilogy echo’d their project of the multitude; on the other hand, A Grammar of the Multitude is denser and (I feel like) alienates those who are not in an academic class.

  3. In a kind of response to Emily’s post and the idea of ambivalence, I guess I am willing to make the kind of leap these texts require because, on the whole, I don’t see people who are empowered and individualized working toward anything destructive. In fact, I would bring it back to the idea of the sovereign, and suggest the idea that any group working toward something destructive or further alienating is usually headed by a person or small group calling for such asinine actions.

    Yesterday in four states conducting primaries, there was an exit poll conducted in which Republican voters were asked whether or not they would support a ban on Muslim entering U.S. In all four states, over 60% of those polled said that they would.

    Is this question being seriously asked and then reported on NBC because of the pollers sensitivity to the general will of the public, or is it because a rich madman is being given an unprecedented amount of worldwide coverage to say hateful things in his pursuit of the presidency. With the way that information travels now, is an unfair advantage given to those with money and connections to spread hateful memes like viruses? Do these ideas become plausible because they are first said on TV before being repeated by scared and bored people all over the internet?

    In general, it seems much more difficult for hateful or destructive ideas to gain traction these days without a constant mouthpiece operating under the guise of authority. And sometimes authority and ubiquity become the same thing, as Fox News’ decades long social experiment has set out to prove. But if there was nowhere to invest all of the small prejudices and hatred, no sovereign to hand over our insecurities too, the only real way to exercise these fleeting thoughts and feelings would be to enact them on our own, and we know from our personal daily experiences that, though fear and hate do slip out from time to time, the percentage of time a person can convince themselves to personally harass or attack another individual is minor. In most of the other areas of our lives we are looking to sustain ourselves, and in our moments of empowerment and connectedness our minds usually search for something constructive to contribute, be that something as small as a joke on twitter (that can soothe our feelings of never feeling at home) or a cheap water filtration system invented in a bedroom.

    I guess maybe for a simple example of this, the next time you see some really hateful comment on twitter, just like a “yelling hate into the void type of thing” go ahead and click on that person’s profile and scroll through a bit. If they are willing to post those things once, it’s usually indicative of their tendency to only post things like that. See now that they have twenty or less followers. See that none of the things they post get any response. Now, think about how many times on Twitter you see a good joke or a clever observation about a current event spread, even when it was initially posted by a regular nobody with hardly any followers. It isn’t uncommon for a joke to get retweeted tens of thousands of times in a day.

    But what about all of that hateful stuff that spreads quickly? Well, I would say that most of the time, those initially come from the mouth of some kind of authority, and just as often as not are spread by people who are trying to expose the authority for their hateful misconceptions.

    1. This is obviously all way simplified. What seems to be most infuriating about H&N burying all that love and happiness talk at the end of their long books, or about Virno trying to prescribe methods of being in the world that will make the multitude function and flourish is that it feels like they are treating us like idiots. I think I can see it both ways. They realize that their premises all depend on these sort of airy conceptions of ourselves and our ways of being in the world, and yet they hope to inspire or convince some willing readers to try to hold on to these ungraspable concepts as they move forward. I guess I am saying that I would be more convinced if they showed ways in which these feelings were already unfolding in our contemporary world, if they illuminated the underlying framework of feelings instead of trying to force them on us. But, after all, they’re theorists, and they have no idea how to actually talk about feelings. They aren’t novelists, for godsake!

  4. I found Virno's (existentialist-feeling) discussion of fear & anguish fun to ponder. (Maybe fun is the wrong word - dreadfully compelling?) He said a number of things which I feel a strong desire to resist - particularly the claim that in the society of post-Fordism, "one can not speak reasonably of substantial communities." Much of what I think about most days involves the influence of community on an individual's subjectivity: a community which involves its own flavor of language-game, its own metrics of judgment and value, its own narratives and teleological purposes. While I have considered the complex interaction between these various communal influences within the individual, I would have been hesitant to say that the idea that the communities which make us is simply a perceptual fiction. After some thought, I still think the "substantial"-ness of communities is fairly open to question. After all, we might ask what the difference is between communities and (proper, singular) institutions, because it would be much more dubious to say that "substantial" institutions no longer exist. (We all in this class affiliate with at least one--UNL.) However, the sort of generalization of intellect and individuation of the multitude which occurs within post-Fordist society does seem to produce a significant amount of leakage in our affiliations to various groups and institutions -- to the point where perhaps our particular affiliations don't especially matter on a "SUBSTANTIAL" level (as though to say -- in the fashion of the precocious teenager who has read Camus for the first time -- we pay our dues to certain administrations, walk around within the walls of certain buildings, but existentially, it's all the same, ain't it?)

    So I suppose this brings to me confirm the negative sort of anguish Virno illustrates as the wrong response to this state of affairs. With the withering of specifically-located/hermetically-contained substances to communities, the specific version of belonging they perhaps once had offered goes out the window as well. And so we have the theme of attempting to belong within the world as such -- a theme which has been consistent in not only Virno, but also Hardt & Negri and Agamben. How do we belong in a place we cannot identify? How do we belong among a multitude with whom we share nothing in particular? I have a hard time finding how we can move beyond the solipsistic individualism of the opportunist and the cynic without falling back on the construction of dangerous versions of communal salvation. Virno at least avoids the vague idealism of loving the multitude by remarking on its ambivalence, and the ambivalence of resistance to capital, but he offers us no move toward a happy belonging-within-the-multitude other than, perhaps, the active self-affirmation a la the cynic. How do we not be lonely?

  5. It seems that the question of reconfiguring the relation between the one and many rather than removing the one is the central issue here. This follows Milton’s 1987 observation that a fundamental error reading Ancient text sis assuming the universal/particular divide found in enlightenment logic. As Agamben notes in The Signature on All Things (2009) and re-iterates in The Heighest Poverty (2014), the paradigm, moving through the logic of example, provides a new class concept, one that has moved beyond the universal particular divide, but finds the am immanent relation between universal and particular. Rather, the universal is the particular considered in its medium of intelligibility. Breaking from the Platonic Paradigm, Agamben locates the paradigm within the set, which is called forth by the paradigm that constitutes the set itself—there is not transcended set that is discovered, but it is an immanent creation. This, whatever this relation would be in full, is the begging of playing with forms that have fallen form use, and in this play, we can find a way to move past the universal particular/divide. Incidentally, Agamben in 2009 and 2014 repudiates his argument in the first 47 pages of HS, which is where he creates the relation between the example and the exception. This seems to take as its target N&H and the idea of the multitude to demonstrate how something like the community of singularities still takes root in the exception. It was a bad argument.

    Here is where it turns to the question of the text for this week. It seems that the multitude should not be thought of as a common noun. The common noun presupposes some unity feature that bins all of a class together, which seems precisely the limiting function that a people has, and the form of individuation much like that of Plato’s Bees at Meno (72 or 74)—if you read Plato through the enlightenment, which I am inclined against, but most do (it seems). Some single and general abstract characteristic that binds the class together (the class).

    The multitude seems more inline with the collective noun. While the dog indicates some category that all dogs have in common, the pack has a different function. Made up a collective of individuals (you cannot have a pack without a multiplicity—or the swam). Something makes the entity what it is, it holds the individuals together in some common, but the individuals—within the common—are not self safe. Or, singular entities exist in some relation such that they form ‘a one.’

    The collective has a ‘common’ that allows the individuals (as, and essentially, individuals) to form together into a ‘one’ that would seem more proper to immance that what the common noun provides.

    It is time for a new class concept: A radical reading of collective nouns outside the universal/particular binary through the logic of exemplarity. This seems the point on which the relation between universal and particular turns.

    Given when this is posted, I doubt this will be read… Also, I am still working through this, but wanted to share. Conversation over coffee and beer on the matter would be ideal.