Animal Spirits – A Bestiary of the Commons

Matteo Pasquinelli

Hoe groter de geest, hoe groter het beest.

[The greater the spirit, the greater the beast]

Traditional Dutch saying



What constitutes the common? While I was exploring the dark sides of digital commons and culture industry, the awakening of the animal spirits of the financial crisis during 2008 became in fact the horizon of the political debate. The idea of investigating the animal spirits of the commons was actually conceived a few years earlier, when the global mediascape following stock indexes were fed by the pornography of war terrorism. Yet the irrational fears and forces struggling behind media networks were never illuminated by critical thinkers and politi- cal activists or, more specifically, considered as a productive component of economic flows. John Maynard Keynes once defined ‘animal spirits’ as precisely those unpredictable human drives that influence stock markets and push economic cycles. Similarly, in his recent work, Paolo Virno has underlined how all institutions (from the nation-state to contemporary digital networks) represent an extension of the aggressive instincts of humankind. In this reading, language and culture form the basis of the common (networking), but also new fields of antagonism and chaos (notworking).

While the playground of Free Culture is celebrated and defended today only on the basis of copyright legalese like Creative Commons, a vast bestiary of conflicts is propagating beneath the new factory of cul- ture. In this book, while avoiding any reactionary position on such phe- nomena, I explore how animal spirits belong to the contemporary notion of multitude and also positively innervate the production of the common. Against the ‘creative destruction’ of value characteristic of stock mar- kets that has become the political condition of current times, a redefini- tion of the commons is needed and urgent. Besides the familiar mantra of supply-and-demand, a purely imaginary fabrication of value is today a key component of the financial game. What might occur if the urban and network multitudes enter this valorization game and recover a common power over the fragile chain of value production?

The common is not an independent realm. It is a dynamic object that nevertheless falls into a field of forces surrounded and defined by the laws of value and production. The new parasitic forms of network econ- omy and monopolies of communication (from IBM to MySpace) can easily exploit, for instance, the generous stock provided by Free Culture without imposing any form of traumatic enclosure or strict regime of intellectual property. To debunk a fashionable and superficial politi- cal posturing, this book pursues a spectre, a sub-religion of separation that has come to dominate media culture, art critique, radical activism and academia over the last decade. The chapters of this book point to three different but contiguous domains that have been conceptualized and celebrated as autonomous spheres or virtuous economies: digital networks and the so-called Free Culture, the culture industry and the European ‘creative cities’, the mediascape of war terrorism and Internet pornography neutralized by intellectual puritanism.

The separation of these media domains is patrolled by a legion of postmodern thinkers, that are widely employed by cultural theory (especially in the field of art criticism). Authors such as Jean Baudril- lard and Slavoj Žižek are taken here as a symptom of a typical Western language fetishism that locks any potential political gesture in the prison- house of Code. In this confinement, any act of resistance is inhibited as fatalistically reinforcing the dominant ideology. The Empire is suffering its own diseases, but postmodernism indulges its curious claustropho- bia. An investment in this critique, however, does not mean a naïve return to good old materialism, but on the contrary, aims to illuminate the frictions and conflicts in the interstices between material and im- material, biological and digital, desire and imaginary. Each sphere of separation cultivates its own inbred languages: digitalism and freecultur- alism in the circuits of network economy, the hype of creativity for the culture industries and new city policies, the hysteric left-wing puritanism against ‘warporn’ and ‘netporn’. Each sphere hides its peculiar kind of asymmetrical conflict. Undoubtedly, as Giorgio Agamben suggests, the profanation of these hidden separations is the political task of the coming political generations.

Crucially, these three separated spheres are coextensive with three forms of commons, whose glorious autonomy is haunted and infested here by three conceptual beasts: the corporate parasite of the digital commons, the hydra of gentrification behind the ‘creative cities’, the bicephalous eagle of power and desire ruling the mediascape of war pornography. This bestiary is introduced to advance a non-dialectical model for media politics and radical aesthetics. In particular, such beasts represent new biomorphic concepts to replace the binary abstractions of postmodernism, such as simulacra and symbolic code. Moreover, they are not necessarily evil creatures: an alliance with them is the un- told of radical thought. The parasite discloses, for instances, the tactical alliance of Free Software with media corporations; the hydra reveals the conflictual and competitive nature of labour in the culture industries; the bicephalous eagle incarnates the fetishism for power and desire that seduces any political imaginary. Together, they constitute a primary bestiary for the age of neo-archaic capitalism, and can hopefully inspire a generation of new political animals.

This book attempts a sort of linear Dantesque journey along a steep mediascape: descending from the gnostic plateaux of digitalism and pure peer cooperation to the reptilian unconscious of the metropolis beneath the benevolent totalitarianism of the Creative Industries, deep into the underworld of netporn and warporn, unveiling the shadows of an ap- parently immaculate digital colonization. As an old Dutch-Jewish say- ing puts it, ‘the greater the spirit, the greater the beast’. All immaterial commons have a material basis, and in particular, a biological ground. Seeking a new political terrain for media theory through the concept of an energetic unconscious, I try to incorporate the Zeitgeist of the biosphere (energy crisis, climate change, global warming) into the belly of the me- diascape. This energetic interpretation of technology directly contests the dominant paradigm of Media Studies that reduces and neutralizes the network to a dialectics of two internal coordinates: (digital) code and (desiring) flows. In contrast, I argue that any system should be defined by the external excess of energy that operates it. Similarly, the puritan activist imperative to ‘consume less’ will continue to remain ineffective until the capitalist core of production is questioned. Between code and flow, a dystopian vision of desire and economic surplus is introduced.

In fact, what is the creative gesture that produces the commons? A widespread belief considers creativity as naturally ‘good’ and immacu- late, energy-free and friction-less, untouched by compromise or conflict. A famous slogan shared by the supporters of Free Culture and the wealth of networks alike reads: ‘Information is non-rival.’ In reality, beyond the computer screen, precarious workers and freelancers experience how Free Labour and competition are increasingly devouring their everyday life. Digital commons have become pseudo-commons, an ideal space detached from the material basis of production, where surplus-value and exploitation are virtuously expunged. Indeed, the ‘age of digital re- production’ has accelerated both immaterial commons and competition in a more general sense. Global financialization, for instance, and its volatile derivatives are also made possible by digitalization. The slogan ‘information is non-rival’, therefore, has its doppelgänger: accumulation of information on the one side feeds speculation and new communica- tion monopolies on the other. The new commons are fragile if they are established only from a formal perspective like that of Creative Com- mons licences. This book strives for a stronger political definition of the commons and, in particular, investigates the wider material impact and ramifications of the cultural capital.

The ephemeral Creative Cities rising across the European skyline are the latest attempt to incorporate the collective factory of culture into corporate business and real-estate speculation. The artistic mode of production has innervated the economy of European cities, but more for the sake of gentrification than for cultural production itself. This critique, however, does not lament the malicious nature of the cultural economy. On the contrary, an invigorated cultural scene can only be established by reversing the chain of value generation. By legitimately expanding the notion of ‘creativity’ beyond economic correctness, this book explains how sabotage can equally be seen as creative and productive. Against the old political museum of Fordism, a dynamic and combative definition of the commons is advanced. Neoliberalism first taught everybody the sabotage of value. Sabotage is precisely what is considered impossible within the postmodern parlance (where each gesture supposedly rein- forces the dominant regime), or conversely what Antonio Negri consid- ered a form of self-valorization during the social struggles of the 1970s.In a dynamic world system shaped by a lunatic and an irrational stock market, the power of creative destruction must likewise be understood as belonging also to the contemporary multitudes and the common.

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The Soul at Work – Matteo Pasquinelli

The technological siege on life in the age of social media

A series of debates on biopolitics at Transmediale festival 2011

Prison of the Year 2010 — in an imaginary piece of ‘philosophical journalism’ Michel Foucault could have so named Facebook as a present incarnation of his notion of biopower. Whilst its founder Mark Zuckerberg is declared Person of the Year by Time Magazine, Facebook is contested by a growing movement of internet users as a new type of global surveillance and pervasive colonization of our daily life. Together with Google and other monopolies, Facebook is perceived by many commentators as a ‘state within the state’ that is undermining the very neutrality of the net. Arguably all social networks embody the Zeitgeist so well, as they show how today’s economic value massively relies on the production of social relations and social capital by a multitude of users.

Transmediale festival 2011 directed by Stephen Kovats and co-curated by Markus Huber focuses upon this ambivalent nature of the internet: on one side, new media still offer an enormous potentiality of social, cultural and artistic autonomy; on the other side, new techno-monopolies suck nourishment and value from anything we do online. So, what is to be done? Under the title Response/AbilityTransmediale intends to ‘respond’ constructively to both the terms of this dilemma. The nominations for the Transmediale Award, for instance, feature the project Seppukoo ( whose mission is to assist any Facebook user willing to commit ‘virtual suicide’. In few steps Seppukoo makes your online identity disappear from your social network without leaving any trace behind. Privacy concerns aside, projects like Seppukoo unveil a widespread desire for an exodus from the digital saturation of our lives. In sympathy with the need of such exit strategies (specific theme of a panel curated by Daphne Dragona), Transmediale stresses also the need of an affirmative politics of the digital liveness. Indeed as Paolo Virno, one of the philosophers who applied the idea of exodus to the post-Fordist age, has always repeated: ‘there is nothing less passive than the act of fleeing…’

In two keynote lectures with the philosophers Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi and Maurizio Lazzarato, Transmediale investigates the new dimension of bioeconomy, that is the economy of life in the realm of digital networks. Already in the 90s Bifo interestingly defined the mobile phone as the new assembly line: “The cell phone is the tool that best defines the relationship between the fractal worker and recombinant capital. Cognitive labour is an ocean of microscopic fragments of time, and cellularisation is the ability to recombine fragments of time in the framework of a single semi-product. The cell phone can be seen as the assembly line of cognitive labour”. Today we could apply this image to Skype, Twitter, Facebook and the likes. His last book Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy (Semiotexte, 2010) shows how it is not just our brain becoming economically productive but also our desires and the whole sphere of affective relations. However this evolution of capitalism is not linear, symmetrical and virtuous as it appears. When the ‘soul’ is put to work on the assembly line of the digital, new forms of exploitation, alienation and a new whole range of psychopathologies rise. Immaterial labour comes with its dark sides.

What is then a definition of labour up-to-date with the internet age? In quoting Godard on cinema, Deleuze asked why watchers are not paid for watching television, since they are performing a public service. Quoting Deleuze today, we should ask why we are not paid to watch Youtube or sacrifice the whole of our private life on Facebook. “Internet as playground and factory” — as the title of a conference recently organized in New York tried to grasp this paradox ( In political economy this shift was introduced in the 70s as the transition from the material space of the factory to the extended ‘social factory’ of the metropolis as the new place of value production. Lazzarato discovered that vitalist philosophers of the early 20th century like Gabriel Tarde and Henri Bergson already considered the ‘cooperation between brains’ and the role of the public opinion as productive forces. Differently from other media festivals that explored the theme of ‘life’ just from the point of view of biotechnologies, at Transmediale digital liveness is regained as a productive and conflictive ground against the abstraction of Code.

After introducing bioeconomy, a second event at Transmediale discusses about resistance andaffirmative biopolitics with philosophers Beatriz Preciado, Roberto Esposito and Judith Revel. The problem of which form resistance should take in a biopolitical regime was clear also to Michel Foucault who introduced this notion in the late 70s. Since then the philosophical debate on biopolitics have been articulated in opposite ways by authors like Giorgio Agamben and Antonio Negri. In his book Person und menschliches Leben (Diaphanes, 2010) Esposito proposes his own way: the ‘third person’. Esposito investigates how the modern construction of the figure of person and the invention of human rights themselves are instrumental to a specific power. As a political solution he suggests to think new forms of im-personality or trans-personality than may break and flee the field of forces sealed by this dominant normativity. Similar to Esposito but in a more materialistic way, the queer activist Beatriz Preciado in Kontrasexuelles Manifest (Bbooks, 2003) has proposed a counter-biopolitics for sexual identities. Lucidly Preciado has analyzed also pharmacology as a technology of the body that has shaped contemporary gender distinctions. Take for instance the introduction of the contraceptive pill and how it changed hormonal metabolism, female identity and sexual behaviors of the last decades. In fact, biopower is not a force imposed from above but a set of very material practices organized from below: in this case, as Preciado notices, it is something that you literally ingest.

On the other hand, for Judith Revel biopower is not something to challenge along new strategies of subtraction, dispersion or impersonality but on the very positive ground of the project of a new ‘common’. In his books on Foucault (the very last one is Foucault, une pensée du discontinu, Fayard, 2010) Revel underlines how resistance to biopower is never defined by negation: the common is not what is left after scratching all the differences but what is made of all the differences. Indeed, Revel notices, the European political philosophy is still caught up in the dilemma of how to fight power without rebuilding forms of counter-power specular to it. However, the current debate around the notion of life is not replicating the vitalism of the early 20th century and its nefarious reactionary drifts. Here there is no original ‘pure life’ to defend. The ‘commons of life’ and the resistance to the biopower of technology are considered something to be imagined and organized anew.


Martha Rosler – Culture Class: Art, Creativity, Urbanism


Jackson Pollock in his studio.

When Abstract Expressionists explored the terrain of the canvas and Pollock created something of a disorientation map by putting his unstretched canvases on the floor, few observers and doubtless fewer painters would have acknowledged a relationship between their concerns and real estate, let alone transnational capital flows.

Space, as many observers have noted, has displaced time as the operative dimension of advanced, globalizing (and post-industrial?) capitalism.1 Time itself, under this economic regime, has been differentiated, spatialized, and divided into increasingly smaller units.2Even in virtual regimes, space entails visuality in one way or another. The connection between Renaissance perspective and the enclosures of late medieval Europe, together with the new idea of terrain as a real-world space to be negotiated, supplying crossing points for commerce, was only belatedly apparent. Similarly, the rise of photography has been traced to such phenomena as the encoding of earthly space and the enclosing of land in the interest of ground rent. For a long time now, art and commerce have not simply taken place side by side, but have actively set the terms for one another, creating and securing worlds and spaces in turn.

My task here is to explore the positioning of what urban business evangelist Richard Florida has branded the “creative class,” and its role, ascribed and anointed, in reshaping economies in cities, regions, and societies. In pursuit of that aim, I will consider a number of theories—some of them conflicting—of the urban and of forms of subjectivity. In reviewing the history of postwar urban transformations, I consider the culture of the art world on the one hand, and, on the other, the ways in which the shape of experience and identity under the regime of the urban render chimerical the search for certain desirable attributes in the spaces we visit or inhabit. Considering the creative-class hypothesis of Richard Florida and others requires us first to tease apart and then rejoin the urbanist and the cultural strains of this argument. I would maintain, along with many observers, that in any understanding of postwar capitalism, the role of culture has become pivotal.

I open the discussion with the French philosopher and sometime Surrealist Henri Lefebvre, whose theorization of the creation and capitalization of types of space has been enormously productive. Lefebvre begins his book of 1970, The Urban Revolution, as follows:

I’ll begin with the following hypothesis: Society has been completely urbanized. This hypothesis implies a definition: An urban society is a society that results from a process of complete urbanization. This urbanization is virtual today, but will become real in the future.3

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Taken from

MANAGING LIFE – Conference and Exhibition

Belgrade 2012

25th of May  /  05th of October  /  07th of December


25th of May 2012 Biopolitics Today

Roberto Esposito, Professor of Theoretical Philosophy, Istituto Scienze Umane, Naples, Italy. For five years he was the only Italian member of the International Council of Scholars of the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris. He was one of the founders of the European Political Lexicon Research Centre and the International Centre for a European Legal and Political Lexicon. Today is one of the world leading philosophers working on biopolitics. He is best known as the author of his books: Communitas (1998), Bios. Biopolitica e filosofia(2004) and Termini della politica. Comunità, immunità, biopolitica (2008).

Matteo Pasquinelli, Writer and academic researcher, member of the international collectives Uninomade and Edufactory. He wrote the book Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons (2008) and edited the collections Media Activism (2002) and C’Lick Me: A Netporn Studies Reader (2007). He writes and lectures frequently at the intersection of French philosophy, media culture and Italian post-operaismo. His current project is a book about the history of the notion of surplus across biology, psychoanalysis, knowledge economy and the environmental discourse. He lives and works betweem Amsterdam and Berlin.

Lorenzo Chiesa, Philosopher, Reader in Modern European Thought, The School of European Culture and Languages, University of Kent, UK. His research interests are in the area of contemporary French thought, contemporary Italian thought and culture, Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxist theory. He is member of the editorial board of Journal of European Psychoanalysis and member of Association Franco-Italienne pour la recherche sur la Philosophie Française Contemporaine. As well he is member of the editorial board of the journal and member of the Circle for Lacanian Ideology Critique. He is the author of two books: Antonin Artaud. Verso un corpo senza organi (2001) and Subjectivity and Otherness. A Philosophical Reading of Lacan (2007). Chiesa recently completed the translation of Agamben’s Il Regno e La Gloria: Homo Sacer, II, 2 for Stanford University Press as well as a special issue of Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities on the notions of bio-economy and human nature in contemporary Italian radical thought. Now he is finishing two books – For Lacan: Science, Logic, Politics (2012) and The Virtual Point of Freedom (2012) – and a special issue of Journal of European Psychoanalysis on recent philosophical approaches to Lacan. He co-edited The Italian DifferenceBetween Nihilism and Biopolitics (2009).

Maurizio Lazzarato, Internationally known Paris based philosopher and sociologist, co-founder and a member of the editorial board of Multitudes, specialized in studies of relationships of work, economy and society, expert on Gabriel Tarde, works at the University of Paris I. Lazzarato has been specializing in the analysis of cognitive capitalism, and its discontents, hence his work on the P2P-concept of Multitudes, the coordination format in political and economic resistance. His political analysis has been a vital part of the effort of the group of autonomist marxists who have paid sustained attention to the role of language and communication in contemporary  biopolitical configurations of capital.  He has written several research papers and monographs: Lavoro Immateriale: Forme di Vita e Produzione di Soggettività (1997),Videofilosofia. Percezione e lavoro nel postfordismo (1997), Tute Bianchi. Disoccupazione di di Massa et reddito cittadinanza (1999), Post-face à Monadologie et sociologie (1999), Puissance de l’invention. La Psychologie Economique de l’Gabriel Tarde contre economie politique (2002) and Les Revolutions de capitalisme (2004), Etude statistique, économique et sociologique du régime d’assurance chômage des professionnels du spectacle vivant, du cinéma et de l’audiovisuel (2005).


05th of October 2012 Bioethics: Science, Biopower and Life

Thomas Lemke, Heisenberg Professor of Sociology with Focus on Biotechnology, Nature and Society at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Goethe University Frankfurt/Main, Germany. He is partner in the PRIVILEGED project – »Determining the Ethical and Legal Interests in Privacy and Data Protection for Research Involving the Use of Genetic Databases and Bio-banks«, funded by the European Commission. He is member of the editorial board of the journal Foucault Studies, co-editor of Distinktion. Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, and member of the International Sociological Association (ISA), the Research Committees »Sociological Theory« and »Sociology of Science and Technology« and the Working Group »The Body in the Social Sciences«. In 2011 Thomas Lemke published two books – Biopolitics. An Advanced Introduction appeared at New York University Press, Foucault, Governmentality, and Critiqueappeared at Paradigm Publishers, and republished new edition of his famous book  Critique of political reason. Foucault’s critique of modern governmentality (Argument Verlag, 5th edition).

Joanna Zylinska, Cultural theorist writing on new technologies and new media, ethics and art, Reader in New Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK.  She is the author of three books – Bioethics in the Age of New Media (MIT Press, 2009), The Ethics of Cultural Studies (Continuum, 2005) and On Spiders, Cyborgs and Being Scared: the Feminine and the Sublime (Manchester University Press, 2001) – she is also the editor of The Cyborg Experiments: the Extensions of the Body in the Media Age, a collection of essays on the work of performance artists Stelarc and Orlan (Continuum, 2002) and co-editor of Imaginary Neighbors: Mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust (University of Nebraska Press, 2007). Zylinska has a new book on the idea of mediation, Life after New Media (with Sarah Kember) forthcoming from the MIT Press. Together with Clare Birchall, Gary Hall and Open Humanities Press, she’s just launched the JISC-funded project Living Books about Life.

Steve Fuller, Philosopher/sociologist in the field of science and technology studies, Professor of Sociology at Warwick University, holds the Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology, fellow of the UK Academy of Social Sciences, known for inciting passions and controversial debates over ethical questions. His major areas of research are the future of the University and critical intellectuals, the emergence of intellectual property in the information society, the interdisciplinary challenges in the natural and social sciences, the political and epistemological consequences of the new biology. His major publications are: Social Epistemology (1988),Philosophy of Science and its Discontents (2nd edn.)(1993), Philosophy, Rhetoric and the End of Knowledge (2nd edn) (2003), Science (1997), The Governance of Science: Ideology and the Future of the Open Society (2000), Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History of Our Times (2000),Knowledge Management Foundations (2002) and Kuhn vs Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science (2003), New Frontiers in Science and Technology Studies (2007), Science vs. Religion? Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evolution, and Science (The Art of Living Series, 2010). He is most closely associated with the issues relating to recent developments on the impact of science and technology on the political order, especially concerning our changing conceptions of the biological and what it means to be human.


07th of December 2012 Radical Bioart Practices

Stephen Zepke, Philosopher and independent researcher, teaches Philosophy at the University of Vienna, Austria. He has published numerous essays on philosophy, art and cinema. He is the author of  Art as Abstract Machine: Ontology and Aesthetics in Deleuze and Guattari(Routledge, 2005) and the co-editor of two books: Deleuze, Guattari and the Production of New(Continuum, 2008) and Deleuze and Contemporary Art (Edinburgh University Press, 2010). His research interests are: contemporary aesthetics and (bio)political theory.

Jens Hauser, Art curator, writer and video/film maker, Research Associate at the Institute for Media Studies at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany. He has organised a large show on biotechnological art at the National Arts and Culture Centre Le Lieu Unique Nantes/France, including eleven artists employing biotechnology as a means of expression, and published L’Art Biotech’ (2003). His forthcoming exhibitions and festival programs deal with the paradigm of skin as a technological interface, and with perceptional aspects of technology related art forms in general. He is also regularly contributing to the european cultural channel ARTE since 1992, and is currently involved in two long-term film projects about bioart.

Memefest, International festival of radical communicationBased in Slovenia, but united across five continents by our dedication to spreading alternative theory and praxis, is an international network of communication experts, media activists, academics, professionals, educators and researchers interested in social change trough sophisticated and radical use of media and communication. As a “festival of radical communication”, Memefest nurtures and rewards innovative and socially responsible approaches to communication. The festival is encouraging students, professionals, artists, researchers, educators, activists and anyone interested in socially beneficial communication to contribute their talents to our collective counter-culture. Memefest is completely independent. It operates as a intermediary non formal institution and connects very different spheres as academia, creative professionals, artists and activists from around the globe.

Machinic Capitalism and Network Surplus Value: Towards a Political Economy of the Turing Machine

by Matteo Pasquinell

Gilbert Simondon once noticed that industrial machines were
already an information relay, as they were bifurcating for the first time
the source of energy (nature) from the source of information (the
worker). In 1963, in order to describe the new condition of industrial
labour, Romano Alquati introduced the notion of valorising
information as a link between the Marxist concept of value and the
cybernetic definition of information. In 1972, Deleuze and Guattari
initiated their machinic ontology as soon as cybernetics started to exit
the factory and expand to the whole society.
In this text I focus again on the Turing machine as the most
empirical model available to study the guts of cognitive capitalism.
Consistent with the Marxian definition of machinery as a device for
the “augmentation of surplus value”, the algorithm of the Turing
machine is proposed as engine of the new forms of valorisation,
measure of network surplus value and new ‘crystal’ of social conflict.
Information machines are not just ‘linguistic machines’ but indeed a
relay between information and metadata: in this way they open to a
further technological bifurcation and also to new forms of
biopolitical control: a society of metadata is outlined as the current
evolution of that ‘society of control’ pictured by Deleuze in 1990.

One can of course see how each kind of society corresponds to a
particular kind of machine—with simple mechanical machines
corresponding to sovereign societies, thermodynamic machines
to disciplinary societies, cybernetic machines and computers to
control societies. But the machines don’t explain anything, you
have to analyze the collective apparatuses of which the
machines are just one component. — Gilles Deleuze

1. Industrial machines were already information machines
“The industrial modality appears when the source of information
and the source of energy separate, namely when the Human Being is
merely the source of information, and Nature is required to furnish
the energy. The machine is different from the tool in that it is a relay:
it has two different entry points, that of energy and that of
This insight by Gilbert Simondon on the second
industrial revolution is not meant to underline a continuum between
different technological age, to say that informationalism is the same
of industrialism, but on the contrary to spot, as Gilles Deleuze and
Felix Guattari would record, a bifurcation of the technological
lineage, or machinic phylum.
The subterranean history of information
appears to surface even earlier. Information can be found haunting
also the instruments of the first industrial revolution: the Jacquard
loom (invented in 1801) was in fact a mathematical device controlled
by a punched card almost identical to the one standardised by IBM
as data storage device in the 20th century. George Caffentzis has
remarked that this invention influenced Charles Babbage’s Analytical
Engine itself and that it precedes the invention of the steam engine:

Like it or not, Babbage was working on his Calculating Engines
before Sadi Carnot published his Reflexions on the Motive Power of
Fire (1824)—the beginning of classical thermodynamics—and
certainly by 1834 Babbage had theorized the universal computer
or, anachronistically, the Turing Machine. Consequently, one
cannot say that the theory of heat engines antedates the theory
of universal computers.

In their steam-punk novel The Difference Engine William Gibson and
Bruce Sterling perform the thought exercise to imagine at the time of
the British Empire the rise of information technologies on the mere
basis of mechanical engines (!) instead of electricity. Of course those times were not mature to trig an information revolution and to understand the cognitive component of the new forms of production, as Caffentzis himself notices:

For Babbage and his supporters the connection between the
Jacquard loom and the Analytic Engine was exactly that, a
transposition from an industrial setting to a mathematical one,
instead of an indication of a third, mathematical-industrial space
that characterized the labor process in general.

Caffentzis engages in an interesting history of the first information
devices to argue against Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s
conceptualisation of the so-called immaterial labour. But paradoxically his overview can be used to reinforce their hypothesis of cognitive capitalism in proper Marxian terms, as it will be discussed later. Caffentzis’ article however is important to remind that a common ground is missing between media studies and political economy, Turing machines and Marxism.

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Are you working too much?

By Eva Kenny

E-flux’s new book, Are You Working Too Much? Post-Fordism, Precarity, and the Labor of Art, is a collection of texts from their online and print journal that have, over the past year, dealt with the subject of art as work and art-related workers in the post-Fordist economy.


Post-Fordism is a term that refers to the conditions of contemporary work as it has changed from a factory production line based model. In the latter part of the twentieth century, shifts towards making the workforce more flexible in terms of hours, more specialized in what they do or make as dictated by market demands, and more precarious in terms of rights and benefits as well as an increase in the growth of service industries are generally agreed to be characteristic of Post-Fordist labor conditions. Given that every part of the political, public or civic sphere is now dominated by the economy, it makes sense that the art world be submitted to the same analyses and in fact, the case is made here that art work and art workers are actually paradigmatic of the new conditions of labor.  Occupations that previously would not have been considered artistic, like medicine or governance, have learned from art how to be quixotic and virtuosic or, in Diedrich Diderichsen’s expression, “intense.” This develops the argument made by Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello in The New Spirit of Capitalism: that capitalism has learned from and incorporated many of the critiques directed at it by avant-garde artists and counter-cultural critiques from the 1960s onwards. In the essays by Diedrich Diderichsen, Mariane Von Osten and Hito Steyerl in particular, there’s a historical look at the changes in the roles played by art and by capitalism in the popular imagination. Diederichsen’s text “People of Intensity, People of Power: The Nietzsche Economy,” describes an advertising company in Dusseldorf in the 1970s that employed an ex-Fluxus artist with “the specific task of interfering with business as usual.” The artist’s brief is to show advertising executives how to be intense and nonconformist: intensity, previously the preserve of artists, is brought into the mainstream to disrupt traditionally managerial thinking and encourage a more creative work environment. When there is a stable Fordist father figure delegating and deciding at the head of the company / firm / state, Diderichsen explains, this system works very well, but Boltanski and Chiapello and the essays in this book diagnose the opposite problem, one of the over-identification of capital, from the top down, with its critics. The question posed by this book, on the back cover, is this: what’s good about art when what used to be good about it (“flexibility, certainty and freedom”) is now what’s bad about the capitalist system?


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Towards the Space of the General: On Labor beyond Materiality and Immateriality

by Keti Chukhrov

1. Basic Provisions for the Theory of Immaterial Labor

Hans Hollein, Mobiles Büro, 1969.Austrian architect and designer Hans Hollein created a mobile office in the form of a plastic bubble. Inside, the individualised, nomadic worker was simultaneously shielded from the outside and connected to it by telephone and telefax.


In his programmatic work A Grammar of the Multitude, Paolo Virno describes a number of signs of post-Fordist capitalism that mark radical changes in the First-World production system’s relation to labor over the past forty years. Most importantly, he states that post-Fordism has annulled or complicated the traditional Marxist correlation between the worker’s labor time and the degree of his or her exploitation.1 As labor is dematerialized and the division of labor in industrial production erodes, capital not only occupies the working hours during which products or goods (and its surplus value) are produced; it absorbs all of the worker’s time, as well as his or her existence, thoughts, and creative desires. Products or goods are produced not to be consumed, to be swallowed directly, but as a set of new modes of communication, knowledge, languages, or even worlds.

Labor coincides increasingly with the creative maneuvers of a virtuosic performer, with active memory and an engagement with knowledge. According to Maurizio Lazzarato, the aim of consumption today is not merely the production of goods, but the multiplication of new conditions and variations for production itself.2 The prerogative of immaterial industry becomes the production of subjectivities and worlds—and these are cultural and creative categories, not economic ones. Consumption in turn gives rise to a consumer who does not merely devour, but communicates, is “creatively” engaged. In this way, production activates and occupies life, social and societal space, the intellect, the “soul.” Contemporary material labor only reproduces this scheming of worlds, situations, and events automatically, finding itself on the periphery of strategies of modern production.3 Despite all this, Virno believes a positive aspect of post-Fordist capitalism can be found in its having created the conditions for the emergence of non-private, non-capitalist public benefits—languages, network-based know-hows, systems for informational and cultural dissemination.4 Virno as well as other theorists of post-operaism (André Gorz, Maurizio Lazzarato, Antonio Negri, Enzo Rulani, Antonella Corsani) refer to what Karl Marx called “general intellect.”5 As Virno puts it,

Marx … claims that … abstract knowledge—primarily yet not only of a scientific nature—is … becoming no less than the main force of production and will soon relegate the repetitious labor of the assembly line to the fringes. This is the knowledge objectified in fixed capital and embedded in the automated system of machinery.6

This knowledge is social and general; it is a collective competence that creates a shared common space of production. Although it is true that post-industrial capitalism has blurred the boundary between consumption, information, cognition, and communication, this doesn’t mean that post-Fordist capitalism automatically generates a post-capitalist utopia. On the contrary, when corporations vie for control over the power of knowledge objectified, the space of the commons becomes a real battleground. Slavoj Žižek, in a recent talk at the “Idea of Communism” conference in Berlin, made an apt observation: the wealth of monopolies like Microsoft or Nasdaq derive not so much from their sales profits, but mainly from the fact that they are acting in the name of a universal, nearly Enlightenment-style standard of “general intellect.”7

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Cognitarian Subjectivation

by Franco Berardi

Recent years have witnessed a new techno-social framework of contemporary subjectivation. And I would like to ask whether a process of autonomous, collective self-definition is possible in the present age. The concept of “general intellect” associated with Italian post-operaist thought in the 1990s (Paolo Virno, Maurizio Lazzarato, Christian Marazzi) emphasizes the interaction between labor and language: social labor is the endless recombination of myriad fragments producing, elaborating, distributing, and decoding signs and informational units of all kinds. Every semiotic segment produced by the information worker must meet and match innumerable other semiotic segments in order to form the combinatory frame of the info-commodity, semiocapital.

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