New Economy - Lecture: report

Report by Nadia Palliser about the New Economy series of lectures

Thinking about modern economy, politics and culture is still closely connected to the notion of the autonomous individual. However, current technological and social shifts suggest the development of a new economic framework and thus undermine the position of this social ideal.


Globalisation of production and distribution, mass labour migration, the decrease of employment because of automation etc., create a new social situation where cultural and political functions of the public domain change, and where the place of the individual and groups have to be reconsidered. What will this new economy and these new forms of subjectivity look like, and how will they be shaped?


Rhizomatic abstraction dynamically crossing political conviction, the philosophical, political and cultural outlook of this evening revolved around the heated questions of liberation, urbanism and the subject. Are we bordering a period of new cultural economics and a new social aesthetics due to the new technologies which are permeating our daily life? And if so what will become of the autonomous subject? Does the subject have to invent new forms of agency and participation just because his media have changed?


According to Michael Hardt the critique of power has never really been approached in traditional artistic production. This is because the individualistic form of artistic production has always taken priority over social production. This is changing, however, and new forms are becoming evident which combine artistic production with social production. Following his own line of thought, he states that the critique of power will be unable to manifest without a critique of labour. The greatest potential for labour is subversion, undermining power. Quoting Anni de Franco "Any tool is a weapon if you hold it right". "The Will to be Against" is a strong potential manifesting itself in different ways. Desertation, Exodus and Nomadism are three categories of refusal, forms of barbarism whereby positions of power are undermined. Nomadism, however, is a positive barbarism, as Walter Benjamin termed it, finding new ways everywhere, without boundaries and always at crosspoints. Looking for new forms of power, which include nomadism, Hardt turns to the decentralizing flexible hierarchy of the Empire. Is the new form of network nomadism compatible with Hardt"s notion of power structure of the Empire? Can a post-modern Empire exist in the society of today or is this Roman metaphor just a Star Wars Fantasy?


The will to be against also manifests itself on a more bodily level. Hardt positions Cyberpunk and piercings as anthropological exodus, continuing towards a bodily nomadism of corporeal transformations. Yet, here it all becomes ambiguous, tools first being protheses and now becoming poetic, liberating the human body and stripping physicality of its usual borders. Seeing these in terms of form and order is beside the point. Only by defining a change in the potential of labour itself can we begin to understand how new potentials of liberation, of bodily nomadism through technology relate to society, creating new social facets and different subjectivities.


"Nowadays, everything is becoming detached, intelligence connects to the machine" (Musil). Has society become a factory? Is production of the soul defined in terms of mechanism or is this anthropology of cyberspace taking the terms of humanity a little too far? Relating this question to a critique of labour, Hardt discusses the paradigm of "immaterial labour". He defines three types of immaterial labour related to information and communication: industrial production, service production and affective labour. Factory production is informationalised in industrial production. Service production, a richer model, produces immaterial goods using immaterial labour. Immaterial labour has two sides: computer orientated creating computer-like activities and on the other side affective labour (the third type) which concerns human contact and interaction and can be seen as "Labour in the bodily mode". The affective mode of immaterial labour imposes cooperation. Hardt states that the qualities of economic and artistic production through immaterial labour may therefore be closer together than we think. Is this then a mode of labour that fits new forms of artistic and social production, a form of labour which matches Hardt's power structure of the Empire and maybe even rids the will to be against of its ambiguity? Imagining a society where coorperation permeates all, the question arises: is there a will to be against, once everything is co-opted, can one be against anything when nothing is outside to be against?


After Michael Hardt's soft-spoken critique of labour, the discussion turned to urban subjectivities, as Henk Oosterling took us on a tour of Rotterdam, probing for agencies of enuniciation in the central station, Kruiskade, down to the river and past the harbour. Now the traditional subject has disappeared (over-identified as western, healthy, hetrosexual, monogamous, working... etc, etc) what are we looking for in this digitalized and virtualized public space? Are all these urban subjectivities, running around minding their own business, agencies of enuniciation or just a talkative pain in the ass and what is the urban anyway?


Oosterling defines the urban as a physical tension between the local and the global, physical actions prefiguring interactions, sharing nomadic qualities. Apart from physical interactions and transactions on the street, he coins a self-made term: "creactions", actions with an aesthetic quality. The aestheticiation of the urban manifests itself in an arty-ficial penetration surrounding us continually. Public life enveloped in "artistic furniture" has become an excess, causing art's disappearance, at least according to Baudrillard. Once the aesthetics of existence has set in, the body becoming media, formed and informed, all is for sale, reducing life to a sheer commodity. The all encompassing aestheticiation and economization of subjectivity probably sounds familiar, caused by the purpetrators of capitalism and affect, leading us all to doom and damnation ...is there still a way out of this depressing mode of thought? Lyotard's Sublime could be a refusal, a will against the disappearance of art. The Sublime as the unrepresentable, the formless that can't be informed or formed, gives voice to uncertainty and can thus be seen as a form of resistance, maybe a liberation of society. So how does this relate to subjectivity? Kroker's Data fleash relates to this idea of the formless which has nevertheless changed into form and design. So how is the truly formless experienced by the subject? Oosterling talks of feeling of affectivity through "Path-a-bility" (pathos): when affected we are formed by the medium at that particular moment or, to put it differently, the media are sensed in between. Here the formless can be experienced, through "path-a-bility" in the "inter." Confused? The problem with the formless is that it can not exist on its own, even though a vague feeling of "path-a-bility" makes us feel affect, the informed and the formed can not be excluded. This is the realm of the "inter", where the informed, formed and formless, cross each other on Deleuzian plateaus, the "inter" being inter-esse. At this point a twenty-minute break seemed a good idea, an "inter" giving the possibility of evaluation as Oosterling concluded. An evaluation within the group of listeners? Maybe some not having a clue what he was talking about and thus formless and others a little formed or informed?


Moving on to a heated discussion, liberation held the key word. Refusal of work, as a political activity seemed all too ambiguous to Hardt. Hybridity as a refusal of identity doesn't necessarily have to be liberating. Hardt's last word on the subject was that liberartion is not a refusal at all, it is a production of an alternative, a new construction of social activity. But what kind of alternative could this be, doesn't this assume an outside, something to be against which is no new form of liberation at all? Or so Oosterling argued, preferring to be more actual. We all now assume we are involved in all our decisions, transactions and interactions, so there is no outside. How can you oppose a system when you are part of it? At this point an interesting point was made from the public, seeing liberation as leaving something behind instead of looking forward constantly (Wim Nijenhuis). Yet isn't this a little chronological for the rhizomatic network nomads of today? Oosterling suggested seeing liberation as movement. As one experiences the "inter" the formless, formed and informed reveal themselves at that particular moment.


Another point coming from the public, questioned Hardt's violent metaphors. Can one talk of these things in peaceful terms? Doesn't this language of rebellion cause unasked for actions of refusal, a blind will to be against without mercy? Hardt considered violence a healthy thing however. That was that, the moderator moved on.


Returning to the theme of this week's lectures, Andreas Broeckmann asked of the possiblity of seeing technology as a form of liberation. Technology, just as any tool, has its own ambiguity however. The substance of the computer is data after all, first nothing, then creating the inform and eventually the mass with which we are working. Could the realm of computer technology be part of an empire? The problem remains that there is no autonomous subject who can create an outside with technology... for there is no outside... by this time (11:15) the doors shut and trapped in the Goethe Institute, there really was no outside...


Van Meggelen consequently accused both Oosterling and Hardt of a misconception of power, a totalitarian one. He saw power himself as being everywhere, making any kind of resistance impossible. So then can only hybridity and ambiguity exist? But just because power is everywhere doesn't mean one cannot go against it. Just because capital is "inside" and all around, doesn't mean one can't resist it. (Hardt's response). Oosterling's idea of there being no outside, is non-historical. It is the idea of being aware of the fact that we are historical people, yet from this point we are able to go from one historical point to another as conscious individuals (Foucault). It is a radiant idea of power, linked to on every side.


Trying to relate this all back to urbanity, the question returns; are there any strategies for the nomad's existence on networks, are we really bordering a new cultural economics thanks to all this transaction, communication and mobility through new technology? Hardt warned that although these urban tendencies may seem thrillingly liberating, these are also the mechanisms through which homogeneous power manifests itself. And according to Oosterling, urbanity is a concept to totalize all the processes we can't conceptualize with the old structures. Urbanity is yet another project to create coherence, even if a different coherence than before... So there is no outside, go interact, transact and communicate and since coherence has not manifested yet, find many "inters" for your own inspiration.

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