Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity

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I’m sitting in LAX after the AAG conference and my computer is about to die, but I wanted to get a post out there about the book I was reading on the plane flying down, the book I mentioned in both the panels I participated in. I’m only halfway through Gerald Raunig’s new Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity, but I think it speaks to posts on this site by Amy and Gene.

Three of the primary points to which I’m currently connecting are as follows:

1) The idea of “gently striating” or “streaking” smooth space. In his elaborations on Kafka’s “Josephine the Singer, or The Mouse Folk,” Raunig tells us that in order to express some sort of solidarity, we need little reterritorializations (“never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us”). In his telling of the story, the mouse folk are constantly on the move, generating smooth space, chattering away. But when meek Josephine sings, they all stop to listen: the chattering subsides, the flows coagulate and the mouse people are together, focused on her performance, temporarily. She is no figurehead, no despot, but rather one who is actualized out of the multitude through her performance. I undoubtedly see connections to Ranciere here (see my previous post), but in this context I’m even more interested in how this idea applies to both our Seattle-based reading group and this little experiment called Nomad Scholarship.

2) In the chapter entitled “In Modulation Mode: Factories of Knowledge,” Raunig discusses the edu-factory, a mailing list that started in 2006. The primary point I want to draw from this discussion is what he calls their central mission: “the struggle for autonomous free spaces in the university and simultaneously self-organization and auto-formazione beyond existing institutions” (49). I immediately turn to what we’re doing here as one instance of this sort of autonomy, and I immediately think of ways to “increase the number and complexity of connections” (I’d love to cite this, but I don’t remember if it’s D&G, Hardt, the Invisible Committee, or someone else?).

For example, one of the participants on the panel Cheryl and I organized told me about the D&G reading group in which he participates at University College London. I told him about this online experiment and he said they’d been struggling with their own sort of virtual home. Needless to say, I’m going to try to get them linked in to this site as well. Another example: our panel, I think, was very well-attended, and I mentioned at the end that people other than panelists who wanted to continue the conversation should send us an email, so we could try and cobble together a sort of D&G/Urban Theory email list. It would be a small step, but after seeing the growing pains through which urban theory is going this morning, I think it could lead to an incredibly rich dialogue.

3) Lastly, and again with similarities in Ranciere’s idea of the ignorant schoolmaster, I’d like to mention Raunig’s investigation of Foucault’s last College de France lecture series, The Courage of Truth. In this lecture, Foucault allegedly outlines three roles of the teacher w/r/t discourses of truth: the teacher as “expert,” “wise man,” and “prophet.” I won’t elaborate on the details here, but Foucault evidently sees a fourth role that goes beyond these three roles and it’s called parrhesia, or “truth-speaking.” Though their are multiple modes of parrhesia, Raunig (or perhaps Foucault) seems to be saying that “ethical truth-speaking as Socratic test and exercise leading to care for the self and others” (58). This, Raunig argues, is a form of teaching that “leads people to take of themselves” (59). Of course, this is much like Deleuze’s remarks about the swimming instructor teaching one not to move like the waves, but rather move as the instructor moves, in his motions that express the truth of swimming. Nevertheless, it’s a compelling argument and I think it speaks to the organization of these autonomous zones and experiments in which we are all participating: the democratic self-organization of the groups, the non-hierarchical organization of the discussions, and so on.

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A Virno Restrospective

Putting Virno in the context of our readings this week on anarchy (Colin Ward, Todd May, David Graeber) raised some questions about his uptake of Hannah Arendt’s categories (which she in turn derived from Aristotle, I believe).  Particularly in the Exodus essay (“Virtuosity and Revolution”), but also in his book (A Grammar of the Multitude), Virno wants to draw a sharp line (following Arendt) between production and politics: politics is a kind of “virtuoso” performance requiring the presence of others but leaving no end-product behind; production is (or was) indifferent to the presence of others and produces a final product.  And his point is that contemporary production not only incorporates aspects of “general intellect” in the form of technology in fixed capital (machinery), as Marx says, but also incorporates aspects of the general intellect in the performance of workers working together alongside the machines (that are themselves “doing” the work).  Post-Fordist work (under real subsumption) thus becomes a kind of virtuoso performance which therefore doesn’t involve an end-product.

But that, to my mind, diminishes the importance of what Marx also, elsewhere calls socialized labor: post-Fordist work does indeed involve virtuoso performance to some extent, in that it requires the presence (indeed, more: the cooperation) of others, responds to unforeseen circumstances, etc., as Virno says.  But that very cooperation (socialized work as a veritable force of production) also contributes value to the end-product, and therefore retains important features of productive activity, which Virno ignores.

And the same is true on the other side of the coin: under capitalism (as well as other circumstances) political action that is supposed to be virtuoso performance and thus produce no end product continues of course to require the presence of others, but it also generates and leaves behind a (more or less) permanent State apparatus as its product – and therefore retains important features of what is supposed to be the sphere of work.

As valuable as Virno’s notion of “exodus” is, his (or really Arendt’s) categorization risks obscuring both (1) the extent to which virtuoso-cooperative production contributes to surplus, and how such production could/should be self-organized rather than remain under the command of capital and (2) the extent to which political activity could/should be devoted to facilitating cooperative production relations themselves rather than constructing a State apparatus to enforce the commands of capital.