Author Archives: dstrgru

Notes on “Taking Care: Migration and the Political Economy of Affective Labor” by Sandro Mezzadra

Mezzadra says that “What seems characteristic of contemporary migration … is that within that experience complex systems of belonging and identity construction are experiencing deep transformations, are constantly undone, challenged, and rebuilt. This is a particular kind of “affective labor.” If this is so, then Mezzadra is extending the analysis of affective labor’s rise in OECD countries to a rise of affective labor in countries from which mass migrations typically occur, peripheral countries. But how is what Mezzadra describes affective labor? Michael Hardt writes, “Affective labor is itself and directly the constitution of communities and collective subjectivities” (“Affective Labor,” 89).

Hardt writes, “On one hand, affective labor, the production and reproduction of life, has become firmly embedded as a necessary foundation for capitalist accumulation and patriarchal order. On the other hand, however, the production of affects, subjectivities, and forms of life present an enormous potential for autonomous circuits of valorization, and perhaps for liberation” (“Affective Labor,” 100). Mezzadra echoes Hardt’s concluding remarks saying that there is a bivalence to the political importance of the “subjective behaviors, claims, desires, affects, imaginations structurally exceeding the objective and structural causes” of migratory movements – it is by regulating and disciplining these subjective conditions that the “new technologies of domination and new modalities of exploitation are forged, while only in valorizing it a politics of the multitude can reinvent the concepts of liberty and equality.” It seems that what she is saying here is that though this affective labor is being harnessed, being channeled into the creating the new forms of domination and exploitation, but it, this intense and unique moment of identity, desire, and community formation, represents a potential political power to imbalance the International Division of Labor and the hegemony of conditions it creates.

Affective laborers of “dominant countries” and those who are migrants from non-dominant countries do not necessarily have a common interest in dismantling the International Division of Labor, since the precariousness of affective laborers in the former is of a far lesser degree than that of the migrants and the communities and subjectivities they are forced to create in the “receiving countries” and in transport (for instance in the Moroccan refugee camps awaiting entrance to Spain but most often being dispersed by law enforcement with dogs and most often murdered in this way). Thus, first world formation of desires, affects, subjectivities and communities which are in solidarity with those who are also in the constant execution of a similar yet completely alien form of affective labor (forming their own communities, subjectivities, desires) is problematic and difficult to conceive. And yet regardless of the difficulty, this solidarity is necessary and perhaps less difficult than at other times in history for the very reason that Mezzadra and Hardt point to (from opposite sides of the issue it seems): the rapid pace which community and subjectivity or identity formation takes place, the increasingly apparent ridiculousness and throw-away quality of these hasty productions, creates an opportunity for either increased disparity in the IDL as well as “at home” by the powers wishing to manage and exploit these affective labors or to find a way to share in processes of formation. Since affective labor is a constant rebuilding and transformation, it would mean that people of dominant countries would take responsibility for who they are becoming and what communities they are creating, and by what means of communication. Franco Berardi says that this “is also a task for therapy, understood as a new focalization of attention, and a shifting of the investments of desire” (The Soul at Work, 142), and in being responsible this reorienting of desire will critical. If the primacy in the hierarchy of production has situated affective labor at the pinnacle, depending on its flexibility of desire and its ability to change the community it can fit in based on the needs of many different economic interests, then it seems that there is a great power to be harnessed in making decisions about our desires and what we will form. To bring this back to the plight and opportunity of those on the other side of the IDL migrating to the dominant countries, it seems that the new communities we form must be done by working with them.

I know I’ve gone off into an abstract account of how different forms of affective labors can “unite” or at least why they should or maybe my point was more that we in the dominant countries who caught in this process of continual formation should include the other, especially the other of affective labor (as I’ll call migrant labor for now), in any new formation of desire and community and subjectivity – yes, and why can we speak of unity? Mezzadra writes sidelong to this – “we can talk for example of migrant labor (that is, a general attitude to mobility an flexibility, the subjective counterpart of the “flexible regime of accumulation” …) without for this reason on the one hand sacrificing the subjective and objective peculiarity of the experience of mobility by migrants, and without on the other hand forgetting the radical diversity of migrants’ experience itself” (2).

On a fairly different note, c.f. Mezzadra at “f)” with Pugliese on anti-voluntarism of migrants: “I stress the role of instrumentalization here in order to counter claims that the clandestine refugee deaths are solely due to the subjects’ voluntary actions. Effaced in such claims are the larger geopolitical discursive relations of biopower that fundamentally shape questions of voluntarism” (Pugliese, “Civil Modalities of Refugee Trauma, Death and Necrological Transport,” 162).

feminized labor/work

It is clear from these articles that capitalist modes of production have as a precondition the division of labor which is cut along sexual difference; in other words, the marginalization of women as a class, which is the valorization of men as a class, was a necessary condition for the transition into capitalism. Extending Foucault’s definition of racism, biopower (and capitalism) require differences in the field of the managed organism, the species; race, gender, and class seem to be these archetypal, all-important divisions needed for the initial primitive accumulation of capital but also for the perpetual primitive accumulation for whose existence Boutang argues (c.f., John Lennon’s song “Woman is the Nigger of the World” – this song has been really important to me recently because it hits most of my strongest feelings about conceptualizing women as an oppressed class).

Waldby and Cooper echo Boutang (further echoing de la Costa) in their correction to Marx’s theory of primitive accumulation (the “pre-capitalist mode of often violent primary resource acquisition” which is supposedly replaced by the wage contract) in saying that this form of slave labor in which the laborer is not considered to be the Lockean property owner/seller of their labor is not exclusive to the pre-capitalist mode but is in fact one of the primary conditions for the reproduction of capitalist conditions. Much of this slave labor that is necessary for capitalism to function is feminized labor or “women’s work.” One example is from this article, “The Biopolitics of Reproduction”: “Egg donors spend 56 hours in the medical setting, undergoing interviews, counseling, and medical procedures related to the process,” the procedure involves 7-10 days of hormone injections, not to mention the 5% risk of developing a possibly fatal disease called ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome. The hours, the emotional and physical effects of hormone therapy, and the risk of having to treat a disease by your own means which you contracted “on a job,” all are examples of the hidden costs for the women undergoing these supposedly lucrative egg donations. The act of making the laborer pay for certain costs related to or necessary for the performance of a job Immanuel Wallerstein calls externalizing costs of the labor process to the laborer. So the laborer pays to work when the capitalist externalizes costs to them, making the laborer internalize costs. Other examples of this are an employee’s drive to work or an employee having to buy food at the job or even paying for supplies, such as tools. But another example of this is when a family supports one worker and thus all of the costs of reproducing that worker are externalized to the family, which oftentimes means the women of the family. Thus, women “work for free” in this way, and this seems to be one of the main methods of externalizing onerous costs of capitalist ventures to the people: a process of wealth expropriation. This is what Fortunati speaks to when they write that it is by both the extension of the work day to the limits of human possibility and also the conceptualizing of reproductive labor as “natural production” “which has enabled two workers to be exploited with one wage, and the entire cost of reproduction to be unloaded onto the labor force.”

What seems important to me about these insights, starting with Boutang and ending with Wallerstein, is that the “social contract” never extends itself in a linear fashion in which more and more people are brought into the fold. Instead, capitalism depends on much cruder forms of exploitation, as well as the more sophisticated contract form with all of its philosophical technology, to sustain itself.

The ambivalences of being a woman, the multiple modes of existing throughout the world that are signified by being of this class, come to the center in these pieces. It is the emancipated first world woman who puts off child-rearing for her career and then decides to mine fertility from poor, younger women in often poor countries. This is what Waldby and Cooper mean when they write that feminist theorist Kempadoo “makes clear that the sexual division of labour is inseparable from issues of race, imperialism and unequal exchange, including the power relations that exist between women.” (side note: the idea of poor women “gifting” their eggs to mostly business women in the first world, as though there were no other antagonisms between them, is just as disgusting as the idea that women should “gift” their productive labor in the household or their reproductive labor to men, or better, to capital: “[Reproduction] is an exchange that appears to take place between  male workers and women, but in reality takes place between capital and women, with the male workers acting as intermediaries” (Fortunati, 9).) This also makes me think critically of the difference between sex work in the first world and sex work in the post-colonies.

Women, in general, do more work than men, meaning that they are disproportionately exploited. This is a consequence of their having to perform “natural production” (reproductive labor and other domestic work) and most often the production of exchange value which is waged labor, too.

I am at a loss for how to extend support to the hundreds of millions of women being exploited in the post-colonies: how does one reconcile their feminism with the realities of the two papers regarding the conditions of women in countries which have undergone IMF restructuring programs and thus the collapse of their economies? I suppose the indebtedness of those countries to the rest of the world is most painfully embodied by the women performing clinical or biotechnical labor in which parts of their bodies are most explicitly given up in order for them to procure the necessities of living. Just my existence in the first world means that I am a beneficiary of their indebtedness and servitude. At least the women’s issues in America can be helped by responding to points made in the Fortunati piece, for instance. But maybe women’s issues on the national level only seem to be more accessible to leverage, but are they really without attention to the periphery?



Also this for research

Wiki site for a Brown University “workshop” that has a lot of overlap with our seminar and is happening currently. fyi: Franco Berardi was the visiting lecture and suggested a lot of the readings for the workshop. Almost tempted to contact them…

Notes on Franco (Bifo) Berardi’s “Biopolitics and Connective Mutation”

Bifo is concerned with the ‘mutation’ of the ‘psychosphere’ or the “contemporary psycho-political catastrophe.” So he is talking about a parallel changes in the environment of the contemporary person alongside the contemporary political and social environment. He analyzes the same shift that Deleuze and Guatarri analyze except from the ‘point of observation’ of the psychopathologies born in the wake of the new communicative and technological inventions/innovations. Of particular importance for his argument is the techno-linguistic dispositifs facilitation of a dissolution of the ability to perceive ‘temporal depth,’ causing unique psychopathologies such as dyslexia, lack of empathy, automatism, and general desensitization; for Bifo, creation of subjectivities has become creation of ‘lived temporalities,’ of lived rhythm.

“Franco Berardi (“Bifo”) is a writer, media-theorist and media-activist.  He founded the magazine A/traverso (1975-1981) and was part of the staff of Radio Alice, the first free pirate radio station in Italy (1976-1978). Like other intellectuals involved in the political movement of Autonomia in Italy during the 1970′s, he fled to Paris, where he worked with Felix Guattari in the field of schizoanalysis. In 2009 he published The Soul at Work (Semiotext(e), Los Angeles). (Bio from Diacritics)

He is teaching social history of communication at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan and is co-founder of the e-zine and of the telestreet network.  Currently he is working to the launch of a new Internet-magazine title Lotremond essentially dedicated to thera-poetry.”

p. 1 – Bifo writes that for Foucault, “Biopolitics is a modeling of the biological body and of the social body by what Foucault defines as disciplinary dispositifs,” clearly identifying disciplinary power with biopower in an equivocation similar to the one Nikolas Rose makes. But in Society Must Be Defended, Foucault distinguishes between the two, saying that “[Biopower] does not exclude [disciplinary power], but it does dovetail into it, integrate it, modify it to some extent, and above all, use it by sort of infiltrating it, embedding itself in existing disciplinary techniques” (242). Disciplinary society is not separate from biopower, it is what biopower seizes on as its instrument. So what should we make of Bifo following Deleuze’s proposal in Postscript on the Societies of Control that disciplinary society is replaced by a ‘control society?’ Assuming Foucault is correct in his general historical determination concerning the infiltration of biopower into disciplinary power, and biopolitics is the organizing principle of the current world-system (or at least, as Bifo writes: “biopolitics … implies an evolution that goes beyond the classical form of mechanical discipline in the industrial age”), then why must we rethink the contemporary in terms of ‘control’ instead of ‘biopolitics?’ After all, Foucault’s original conception of the biopolitical is one which complements the anatomo-political. It is possible that biopower is taking on a “life” of its own, but a fuller understanding of this transition may be that biopower is developing new instruments which will replace the disciplinary power which it cut its teeth on all the while maintaining its primary telos, the homeostasis of man-kind or the human-as-species. This is commensurate with Deleuze’s epitaph for the disciplinary institutions in his Postscript: “But everyone knows that these institutions are finished, whatever the length of their expiration periods” (4).

Bifo claims disciplinary institutions have a molar character whereas the new control society has “essentially molecular features.”

Bifo claims we are in the ‘mutagenic age,’ that we are in the society of ‘cabling’ not control: “By cabling we mean the insertion of dispositifs inside the biologic, genetic, cognitive routes of formation in the age that comes after modernity.” Bifo then sites the psycho-pathologies which are created by the new “communication technologies and by techno-linguistic and techno-perceptual disposifs.” As Foucault pointed out in his genealogies, what the disciplinary society created were new individuals, a new person. This is what I think Bifo is getting at – the new society of control/cabling is creating a new individual through disposifs which are increasingly invasive and internal as compared to those which “externally predispose.” This age, the mutagenic age, is mutagenic because mutations, “stochastic, fragile, and probabilistic,” seem to occur increasingly in formation of subjectivities (“Processes of mutation are in general highly volatile”).

p.2 –

Resistance – Cabling and Control – And yet this mutagenic formation of individuals (should we follow Deleuze in calling these ‘dividuals’?) is the process in which Bifo sees the greatest point of resistance: “Politics should be reconceptualized as the art of interference in the relationship between the techno-mediatic universe … and the ecology of the mind.” This is an amendment on Deleuze’s formulation that “the societies of control operate with machines of a third type, computers, whose passive danger is jamming and whose active one is piracy and the introduction of viruses.” It is an important addition, since (1) Deleuze wrote his piece at a, in retrospect, primitive moment of the ‘computer age,’ whereas Bifo wrote his piece in 2004; and (2) Bifo is focusing on ‘techno-mediatic’ and ‘techno-communicative,’ though that Bifo saw this and not Deleuze is probably due to Bifo’s time of writing, as Deleuze followed Guattari in anticipating the main use of the new technologies being security purposes (computer-generated barriers created by i.d. cards monitored by a central computer) as opposed to Bifo’s claim of the political primacy of what he calls “cabling.” This is how we can make sense of Bifo’s reframing the societies of control in terms of cabling. Of course, these “two” techniques are co-operative.

One method of interference would be to disconnect from the techno-media. But Bifo is probably not suggesting here that “the art of interference” is tantamount to not using the new technologies since one of his main modes of political activism over the last 10 years has been through his “webzine”

“Technological Hyper Power and psychic fragility are the mix which defines the first videoelectronic generation, especially in its North American Variant.” This “psychic fragility” is certainly due to an “acceleration of productive and existential rhythms,” but Bifo also attributes his fragility to what Nietzsche called the death of God, or what Arendt calls “the ruin of our categories of thought and standards of judgment” (Understanding and Politics, 318). Bifo claims that Columbine has revealed “the normality of humanity that has lost all relation with what used to be human and that stumbles along looking for some impossible reassurance, in search of a substitute for emotions which it no longer knows.” As with Bifo’s turn away from control to cabling, he turns attention to the ‘psycho-sphere’ as the main product of the new ‘techno-mediatic’ devices and the greatest political x-factor because of the “indeterminacy” of their nature.

p. 3 –

Cabling society psychopathology 1: lack of empathy, smoothing human interactions.

Etiology: stimulation too intense (expansion of the inphosphere); lack of time to empathize, to really see other body; reduction/simplification of human and world complexity by methods such as money, stereotypes – we want homogenous sites of ‘connection,’ not heterogeneous sites of ‘conjunction’* (where two different people meet); double movement of “emancipation of women” and the raising of children being depersonalized or made ‘televisual’ – thus effects on children; “millions” of women forced to abandon children in poor countries to work for women who are now workers and can’t take care of children (a sort of child abandonment circuit is created).

Bifo claims the dehumanizing at Abu Ghraib is symptomatic of this new psychopathology. This is an indictment, then, of the child-rearing process these people were raised in, and not just the kids in poor countries, but here as well.

* “Elephant speaks of a cognitive mutation that is unfolding in the context of a communicative transformation: the passage from conjunction to connection.”

p. 4 –

Bifo criticizes the cognitive sciences, which he means as the general position of all practitioners, researchers, and professors of psychology. Claims that cognitivism is based on a stucturalist premise which does not allow for a “dynamic interaction between mental activity and the environment in which minds enter into communication.” Bifo is anticipated in these claims by intersubjectivist psychologists and philosophers such as Rallo May, Hannah Arendt, Heidegger, and Kant in his Critique of Judgment (though one could argue that his “Copernican Revolution” in his earlier work was the real modern formulation of “cognitive ecology”).

It seems that Bifo may agree that there is both a natural human mind and that it is capable (or rather is sub ject) to change. This is a strange assertion, since there is commonly perceived to be a relation between appealing for an object’s or a process’s naturalness is usually done in order to demonstrate its essential, static character.

Cabling society psychopathology #2: autism and dyslexia (crisis of the faculty of verbalization)

Etiology: “The acceleration of information, the mass of information that we receive, decode, digest, and must respond to in order to maintain the rhythm of economic, affective and existential exchanges…”; verbal language being replaced by more rapid and synthetic (artificial?) forms of communication – multitasking;

These new forms of communication, replacing the old ones, are causing a wasting of the cognitive sensibility of “temporal depth,” “the ability to react emotionally to stimuli that are drawn out in time” – this is what causes, for Bifo, dyslexia, since reading requires being able to do this.

(#3 is intimately related with #2 as they have overlapping etiologies)

Cabling society psychopathology #3: dis-identification (“if it’s true that identity is in large part what has dynamically settled in personal memory (places, faces, expectations, illusions)”).

Etiology: desensitization to “temporal depth” facilitated by the “thickening of the infospheric crust and the increase in quantity and intensity of the incoming informational material”;

“But what happens when the flow of information explodes, expands enormously, besieges perception, occupies the whole of available mental time, accelerates and reduces the mind’s time of exposure to the single informational impression? What happens here is that the memory of the past thins out and the mass of present information tends to occupy the whole space of attention. The greater the density of the infosphere, the scarcer is the time available for memorization. The briefer the mind’s lapse of exposure to a single piece of information, the more tenuous will be the trace left by this information. In this way, mental activity tends to be compressed into the present, the depth of memory is reduced and thus the perception of the historical past and even of existential diachrony tends to disappear.”

“The things that an individual remembers (images, etc.) work towards the construction of an impersonal memory, homogenized, uniformly assimilated and thinly elaborated because the time of exposure is so fast it doesn’t allow for a deep personalization.”

Is this antithetical to the proposal by Foucault, the Invisible Committee, and Deleuze and Guattari (just to name a few I’m sure) of a technology of individuation? Deleuze and Guattari: “we’ll always find a place for you within the expanded limits of the system, even if an axiom has to be created just for you” (quoted by Read, 136). Or the Invisible Committee: “Mass personlization . Individuation of all conditions – life work, and misery . . . The more I want to be me, the more I feel an emptiness. The more I express myself, the more I feel drained . . . . Sociability is now made up of a thousand little niches, a thousand little refuges where you can take shelter” (The Coming Insurrection, 30). So it seems that these theorists are pointing to one of the driving forces for the proliferation of the techno-mediatic structures, in that it takes the existence of many different emptinesses (and their ever-susceptibility to change with the necessities of the market) for the system to constantly reproduce itself. This is an expression of mass heterogeneity as opposed to the mass homogeneity that Bifo seems to be pointing at – unless, that is, these two concepts meet somewhere; perhaps Bifo’s mass depersonalization and other writers’ mass personalization are co-extensive in some way – relations between people being “smoothed out” by making the connections easy and homogenous may be the similar to how transactions between commodities are smoothed out, and just as this homogeneity of relating between commodities (in dollars and in shipping) is coterminous with the diversification of products it might not be a stretch to think of contemporary individuals in this way as well. Please write if you have any ideas on this.

p. 5 –

Cabling society psychopathology #4: automatism

Etiology: Acceleration and information overload; not enough time to respond in a ‘personal’ way so the automatic, unintentional response becomes preferred.

“[T]he feeling of rarefaction of contact, coldness and contraction are at the core of our contemporary pathologies, particularly evident in the younger generations.” Has Bifo put his finger on contemporary pathologies or are these pathologies and their etiologies constructed in the early 20th century? Kafka understood this, Dostoyevsky even wrote the existential crisis of modernity in the 19th century. What is different about Bifo’s analysis?

p. 6 –

“Time, an indispensible dimension of pleasure, is cut into fragments that can no longer be enjoyed. Excitation without release replaces pleasure.”

This seems similar to the apparent speeding up of historical events and the automatism with which we react to them. As soon as one grabs hold of the essence of events we are compelled to move forward. The life process, unleashed into history (what Foucault terms biohistory) speeds up the occurrence of events; this increase in the rhythm of history is like the increased rate of growth of organisms such as bamboo in a foreign environment, unfettered by the former obstacles which kept it in balance. I see this as the biopolitical subtext to Bifo’s lament for the ability to perceive ‘temporal depth.’

Here Bifo points to the transition from the 60’s and 70’s to the 80’s and 90’s as being the point of mutation he has been analyzing. This presents a problem for my interpretation of his reasons for substituting ‘cabling’ for ‘control’ in his formulation of the latest zeitgeist: if he is writing about the decades before 2000, then his reason for seeing a society of cabling instead of a society(ies) of control may be different than that he was writing in 2004 instead of 1992 like Deleuze. Bifo points to the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s as being the “introduction of electronic communications technologies into the social circuit.” But this couldn’t be all he sees, nor could it be possible for him to ignore the fact that in the last decade the function and prevalence of electronic communications technologies has completely eclipsed the psycho-political significance of the initial introduction of these technologies. The psychopathologies which both shape and are symptomatic of the social sphere and the political reality may have been heralded by punk and the Japanese suicides he sites (etc.), but they have possibly reached a disaster unimagined by Kafka, the existentialist philosophers, and punk consciousness.

biopolitics bibliography

In researching Bifo, I found this site called Lebensformen with bibliography of writings on biopolitics. It might be useful for further research on papers or for going mad, or both at the same time.

Notes on Angela Mitropoulos’ “Notes on the Frontiers and Borders of the Postcolony”

This piece pushes past Agamben’s analysis of the state of exception and homo sacer, stressing the condition of those on the “frontiers” of globalization.  (See Hugh’s notes on the other Mitropoulos piece for more – her blog and some bio)

372 – State of emergency declared over indigenous communities in the Northern Territory of Australia, due, officially, to anecdotal reports of child abuse, but considered by Mitropoulos and others as an excuse “‘to justify the weakening of Aboriginal communal rights to land under the guise of economic development. (Phillips, 2007)’”

373 – Tampa freight ship saves 300 undocumented migrants from drowning, and the Australian government also seizes on this as an opportunity for “authoritarian displays of sovereignty,” just as in the case of the Northern Territory aboriginal community “scandal.” Mitropoulos refers this us to Agamben’s analysis of homo sacer and the idea of a state of exception: undocumented migrants are both the ultimate instantiation of bare life [as Pugliese points out, when people of the global south leave to attempt to access the global north, these people “must instrumentalize their bodies into material adjuncts of the technologies of trade and transport” (“Civil Modalities of Refugee Trauma…”, 162)] and the objects over which the state of exception operates.

Mitropoulos speaks of the Christian missionary tradition of “helping” indigenous communities – then refers to “seductive” pull of the “disposition of benevolence.” Australia “benevolently” attempted to “save failed states” in the Asia-Pacific just as it did the northern parts of Australia. She calls this an “internal re-colonisation.”

374 – Claims we must move beyond Agamben for understanding of these dynamics. Proposes a reposing of question in terms of the relation between border and frontier with the key being the “techniques of the contract.”

Border (contracts) /frontier: the European idea of “contractual peace (i.e., mutually agreed upon borders)” as distinguished from frontiers which is the ‘state’ of “perpetual war,” absent of all contracts and borders, is one of the most important keys to the ideas developed in the rest of Mitropoulos’ peace.

e.g. – Colony as frontier, as site of “total war.” Once this has been established, state is not dealing with civilian/subjects, but “savages,” who thus can be herded into internment camps, and generally organized as objects/animals/savages (for instance the use of cattle prods on Egyptian demonstrators). Further claim that the tactics imposed on citizen/subjects in first world who are acting against state’s norms are subject to same tactics used to manage people of colonies (internal re-colonisation).

374, 5 – Social contract theory puts the frontier/border binary as between state of nature/society (Hobbesian social contract theory is more pessimistic about state of nature, whereas Rousseau is much more optimistic). Claims that optimistic view of frontier as possibility, as horizon, has informed “exodus and empire.” But I think it’s also true that pessimistic view of  frontier is equally informative of the pioneering empire, as it is what justifies the benevolent paternalism applied to savages who cannot organize their own communities or supply their own well-being.

Virno – “The border is stable and fixed, the frontier is mobile and uncertain” – Technique of colonization is to resignify communities as frontier, as savage, in order to impose contractual relations, borders, which are beneficial to the colonizer.

“[T]he frontier is that space into which people carry those borders with them as they might their own personal possessions.” One might think of each person, then, as representing a set of borders enclosing them from, and being their primary mode of relatedness to, the people around them. “…frontier does  not imply escape so much as escape whose sense is exhausted by and as individuation … the ability to enter into contractual relations”

376 – But according to the colonized, the frontier is experienced as dispossession by extreme violence.

“…borders are in fact porous, selectively inclusive (and exclusive),” permeable to certain modes of being and impermeable to others.

And here is where Mitropoulos seeks to distinguish her analysis from an Agambenesque one:

“The measures announced under the recent state of emergency in Australia are not merely sovereign judgments of an exception, but technologies that seek to filter…. Rather, many of the measures are directed toward contractual individuation, as in applying punitive measures (such as cutting welfare payments) where there is deemed to be a failure of individual compliance with certain norms; shifting land tenure arrangements from communal holdings to private real estate; and so on. It is evident that the national government is seeking to squeeze those who live in remote communities into the model of the ideal property-owning, proper bourgeois subject” [my emphasis].

Contractualization of society as its depoliticization: contract holders are assumed to be equal, impartial to any group allegiance but to that which ensures the validity and enforces their contracts (the state). “In this sense, the contact is the ‘internal border’ par excellence,” because it is only those who accept the conditions (and are in the material/financial/geopolitical position to accept the conditions) of the various norms one must embody (sending child to school or being able to afford health care, etc.) that pass through the filter which separates “frontier” from borderland. Borderland is that which is not frontier; borderland is that space one occupies when one has been deemed worthy of leaving the space of exception of the frontier.

377 – Shifts focus to “internet-as-cyberspace-as-frontier” and to “difference of understandings of exodus, desertion, and refusal,” stating that her questioning will bear directly on readings of Operaismo, Autonomia, and Autonomist Marxism.

Strongest motif in these last two pages is a criticism of these deployments the concepts of “exodus, desertion, and refusal” as radical protest. Mitropoulos’ criticism seems to be based on the difference of understanding of these concepts among the members of the borderlands as opposed to those overtaken by the frontier: at the heart of the call to “re-aquire political advantage by association and in the neutralisation of differences” an understanding of subjectivity which is exclusionary to those who are in a consistent subjection to the state of exception of the frontier?

378 – Thus, cognitive labor (which is her reason for bringing up the problematic idea of internet as frontier) and the opportunity some see in it, the “recuperation of ontological or analytical primacy in the midst of its crisis.” The problem is that this grab for political power is premised on the exclusion of the true homo sacer, on the exclusion of those who have never been able to fit into the model of social liberal contractarianism.

Notes on Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, chapters 42-45

Some background: Arendt’s Jewish identity was central to her thinking, as is demonstrated by the anthology, The Jewish Writings, which includes notably articles she wrote for the American Jewish periodical Aufbau. It is in these writings that we see her develop her thoughts on totalitarianism, modernity, utilitarianism (or life as the highest good as she sometimes puts it), sovereignty, etc. As a refugee and concentration camp escapee, Arendt, who was trained under some of the greatest German thinkers of her time (Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers), turned her attention to politics. Agamben is right in his assessment of Arendt’s originality and courage as a political thinker:

Almost twenty years before The History of Sexuality, Hannah Arendt had already analyzed the process that brings homo laborans – and, with it, biological life as such – gradually to occupy the very center of the political scene of modernity. In The Human Condition, Arendt attributes the transformation and decadence of the political realm in modern societies to this very primacy of life over political action. That Foucault was able to begin his study of biopolitics with no reference to Arendt’s work … bears witness to the difficulties and resistances that thinking had to encounter in this area. And it is most likely these very difficulties that account for the curious fact that Arendt establishes no connection between her research in The Human Condition and the penetrating analysis she had previously devoted to totalitarian power…  (Homo Sacer, 3, 4)

I disagree with Agamben, though, on the point that Arendt makes no connection between her two projects, best represented in The Human Condition and Origins. In describing the subsumption of the public world (the commons) by the private, and thus the transformation of both into the social, Arendt explains, “The end of the common world has come when it is seen only under one aspect and is permitted to present itself in only one perspective” (THC, 58). It is this very death of the central human condition of plurality that is destroyed by totalitarianism – as Arendt often mentions, and one should especially see her Life of the Mind or her Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy for this, the cogito is a flawed formulation of the human; she posits cogitamus (in this, Arendt follows Heidegger’s criticism of Descartes in Being and Time). Decisively, on the issue of whether she is aware of the intersections of her two projects, Arendt writes in Origins,

Isolated man who lost his place in the political realm of action is deserted by the world of things as well, if he is no longer recognized as homo faber but treated as animal laborans whose necessary “metabolism with nature” is of concern to no one. Isolation then becomes loneliness. Tyranny based on isolation generally leaves the productive capacities of man intact; a tyranny over “laborers,” however, as for instance the rule over slaves in antiquity, would automatically be a rule over lonely, not only isolated, men and tend to be totalitarian. (612)

See p. 628 of Origins as well.

Ch. 42: “The Reversal Within the Vita Activa and the Victory of Homo Faber

This reversal within the vita activa only occurs after a previous reversal, the vita activa for the contemplativa. Earlier in THC Arendt claims that the first reversal is in the form of contemplation replacing action (in the ancient Greek and Roman sense), that is, the historical shift from antiquity to the middle ages. The shift from the medieval to the modern age is typified by the shift from vita contemplativa to homo faber, (301) and not back to the “man” of action, bios politicos.

295 – scientific progress and manufacture of new tools and instruments intimately linked. C.f. Tronti and Read on transformations of technology. C.f. Foucault, power/knowledge.

Arendt sees this as due to the valorization of homo faber in place of the life of contemplation. Activities of homo faber, building and fabricating.

296 – “In place of the concept of Being we now see the concept of process.” Everything is intelligiblIte in terms of its place in over-all process of life, not excluding people, thus the biopolitical significance. So unleashing of modern modes of production signal shift in importance from end products to the means themselves. Arendt commonly emphasizes modern world-alienation and the destruction and de-emphasis of human, common world of humans (as opposed to Marx’s emphasis on self-alienation). Shift from science’s questions being “why” and “what” to being “how.” C.f. p. 304.

297-299 – The success of homo faber in the modern age is also the success of the idea, championed by Descartes but by no means created by him, that humans can only know what they create themselves.

Arendt delves into a lengthy description of the connection in antiquity between the contemplative life and work or fabrication. It is the eternal form of an object which the work of homo faber instantiates. This becomes important for understanding the shift in modern age from work to labor.

Ch. 43: “The Defeat of Homo Faber and the Principle of Happiness”

306 – rise of utilitarianism, man as measure of all things, and importance of productive capacity seen as indicative of rise of homo faber as these are its main principles. But why then did animal laborans succeed homo faber? Why did history not stop here?

307 – Homo faber is concerned with “fixed and permanent standards and measurements.” Do we need Bataille and Weber before him for us to know that this was due in part to the teleology of the catholic church, and the switch from a focus on the ends of production and a static economy to the continual reinvestment into the productive process itself and thus to a dynamic economy owed greatly to the reformation?

Anyways, labor is just this purely productive process that cares not for the ends and thus is a step beyond homo faber. Earlier in THC Arendt explains that work can, in all languages in which it appears, is both a verb and a noun, but labor is not used as a noun.

308 – criticism of 19th c. utilitarianism. History of utilitarianism’s shift from being a principle of use value which has as its telos a world independent of humans in which humans “appear” and “reveal themselves” to being “the principle of the greatest happiness” as in Bentham or J.S. Mill. The former’s “what this is useful for” is something outside of the production process, the “world,” while the latter’s is the production process itself  at the expense of all else: “the ultimate standard of measurement is not utility and usage at all, but “happiness,” that is, the amount of pain and pleasure experienced in the production or in the consumption of things.” (309)

311 – Bentham’s “utilitarianism” should be looked at in its historical context. True aim was not pleasure or lack of pain but the “guaranty of the survival of mankind.” Bentham’s panopticon design is but one example of the social engineering which typifies biopower – political economics run through and through with further formulations and legislative suggestions. Arendt claims on p. 29 that political economy would have been considered a “contradiction in terms” by the ancients since politics occurred in the public realm and the necessities of life had to be violently transcended through the subjection of slaves and a family in the private realm in order to “rise” to the freedom of the public (see also p. 42 in the notes for more on political economy/Adam Smith). Utilitarianism = “life philosophy in its most vulgar form”

Ch. 44: “Life as the Highest Good”

313-316 – life as he highest good of “man” mediated historically through the Christian “immortality of individual life” creed.

Ch. 45: “The Victory of the Animal Laborans”

321 – “rise of society,” “life of the species” asserts itself politically. Man-kind is defined by Arendt earlier in the book as “man” qua species. Action disappears, which is an individual occurrence but can only happen in the presence of others, of “men” not “man-kind.” Marx is complicit in this process as well, she argues. His dialectical materialism, like Hegel’s dialectics, creates a tension between action and nature/history, as these are viewed as processes with determinate stages and a determinate end. Arendt is highly critical of this totalizing, ideological strand of both of their thinking, though instead of being merely theoretically critical, she also views their positions as being symptomatic of a more generalized historical and cultural shift.

322 – Arendt consistently refers to the modern age’s discovery of the Archimedean point. What does this mean? It means that through our will to know, we have alienated ourselves from the very world we wished to gain knowledge of. It seems to mean that the only way to have power over something is to alienate yourself from it, to estrange the “two terms” the subject and object by in fact creating this division. In this, again, she is following Heidegger in Being and Time in his transcendence of the subject/object dyad, if not following him all the way, applying these thoughts to the problems she’s dealing with. Anyways, this is a very useful concept in understanding the progression of power into biopower; for it takes removal from and a vantage point over and against the life which one wishes to organize which allows the processes to both be created and to be viewed. In this sense, man-kind behaves.