it is a matter of living despite debt

Brett Neilson, Associate Professor of Cultural at the Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney (where i am doing my PhD), has an article published on metamute and on his blog with a nifty image.

Some extracts:

The magic of debt is to make labour disappear. It is here that the analysis of debt must begin and end, particularly in the context of current finance capital. […] This is where the inherence of debt in life meets the abstract functioning of contemporary finance capitalism – in the fiction of value without labour. In the classic Fordist economy, it was the value of fixed capital (e.g. factory machinery) that could not be generated by labour, or, at least, that part of the value of fixed capital consumed in the process of production could not be created by the living labour engaged in this same productive activity. […] As Christian Marazzi argues, with the advent of post-Fordism, the place of the machine as fixed capital in the factory has been substituted with the worker’s body itself:

The dematerialisation of fixed capital and service-products has as its concrete correspondent the ‘putting to work’ of human faculties such as the linguistic-communicative and relational capacities, the competencies and contacts acquired in the workplace and, above all, those accumulated in the non-work environment (knowledge, emotions, versatility, reactivity, etc.) – in short, the combination of human faculties, which interacting with autonomised and informatised systems of production, are directly productive of value-added. In the model of the ‘production of man through man’, fixed capital, if it disappears in its material and fixed form, reappears in the mobile and fluid form of the living. ([Brett’s] translation)

I like Brett’s invocation at the end linking debt to home ownership and a refusal:

‘It is even part of my good fortune not to be a home owner’, wrote Nietzsche in The Gay Science.[12] Adorno remembers this in Minima Moralia: ‘Today we should have to add: it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home’.[13] In the current moment of financialisation, it is perhaps necessary to go beyond this ethical preoccupation. Today we should have to add: it is part of politics not to be at home in the oikos. It is not a matter of finding the great outside to debt, as if one could heed Nietzsche’s injunction to exist beyond, above or untouched by debt. Rather it is a matter of living despite debt – of refusing its time, its subjectivation, its measure. And this means unmasking the magic of debt, its smoke and mirrors. It means the invention of a politics in which labour reappears.

It certainly resonates with my own calls for a death to the home, lol.

But Brett’s essay is mainly about an initial foray into the subsumption of labour to the machinations of debt in post-Fordist capitalism. I have mentioned debt on here before a few times (here, for a laugh). In the recently published translation of the ‘Political Entrepreneur’ essay, Lazzarato discusses Silvio Berlusconi and Benetton. The Berlusconi example attempts to get some traction on the immaterial work of capitalising on political opportunities, while the Benetton example is an elucidation of what Lazzarato calls the ‘enterprise’.

The fact that this new entrepreneur uses communication as a strategic mode of command and organization can only lead us to understand that we have entered into a new paradigm, in which the relationship between the economic, the social and the political is turned upside down. In order to comprehend this passage and to eliminate any misunderstanding, therefore, it is useful to refer to another Italian entrepreneurial experiment—one that, far from controlling the media, establishes itself over the control of flows: flows of labor, flows of consumption, flows of communication, flows of desires. We are referring to that entrepreneurial “anomaly” that bears the name Benetton. […]
For it, the extraction of surplus-value is no longer the result of the direct exploitation of labor; on the contrary, exploitation is organized by the small and medium-sized units of production, or self-exploitation is self-organized by “enterprise-individuals,” called “autonomous labor” in Italy. Surplus-value derives from the production and control of flows, primarily financial and communicational flows. Within this framework, a flow can be captured only by a more powerful flow. Only at the conjunction of different flows (of production, circulation, consumption and desire) is there production of surplus-value, and only there does this production become visible. The function of the entrepreneur is thus to encourage the flows and capture them. (88)

As regards “production,” Benetton’s principal preoccupation is not to manage it but to federate it, to structure the productive networks that
already exist independently of it. Its relationship with the networks is political in the sense that its basic function is no longer that of organizing the “time and method” of factory labor, or establishing differentials of productivity by means of productive innovation (as did the classical entrepreneur of Schumpeter), but to ensure the “social construction of the market” within an autonomous productive fabric. The characteristics that today best identify the specific character of the enterprise’s function seem to be social participation, the fluidity of networks, and the permanence of circuits. The localization of production is only of limited importance. Instead, insertion into the tertiary circuits of finance and services is decisive (see Brett’s comments); insertion into the networks of communication and high technology is ultimately necessary. But here we must pay close attention: the systematic relativization of all components takes place in a temporal dimension that traverses and occupies social space and realizes a concrete valorization. (89, ital. added.)
[…]
[W]e must emphasize that what is demanded of citizen-consumers is genuine “labor” since the actions of the consumer (her desires and values) are directly integrated, as a creative moment, into the social network of the enterprise. The flows of desire are directly convened, tested, verified, and stimulated by the post-Fordist enterprise’s communication. Marketing reveals its true nature here: it constructs the product and solicits forms of subjectification. The consumer is no longer the passive mass-consumer of standardized commodities, but the active individual involved with the totality of her persona: to this end, it is necessary to “know” and solicit her ideology, lifestyle and conception of the world. One cannot criticize marketing from a humanist viewpoint (“politics is not the selling of a product,” the beautiful souls complain) since it is the very essence of contemporary capitalism. Capitalism is no longer the capitalism of production, but of the product. Marketing is no longer merely a technique for selling, but a mechanism that is constitutive of social relations, information and values for the market—one that integrates the techniques and “responsibility” of the political. (92)
[…]
If we now make up a balance sheet of the different functions that the new entrepreneur exercises, we will understand even more readily the roots of the phenomenon of delegitimization that the political is undergoing. In practice, all the political functions (the construction of the social conditions for production and the market as well as the forms of mediation between production and the social, the production of subjectivity and the organization of public space) are assumed by business. There is no longer any autonomy possible for the social, the political or communication. They are completely subordinated to the logic of the enterprise. The Benetton production cycle is coextensive with the production of society, and exploits it. Social, productive and communicative relations are traversed and set to work by the political
entrepreneur. The production of surplus-value and of society are tightly connected. This is the sense in which “the entrepreneur freed from the political produces the political.”

As I wrote yesterday I have been working on a chapter where I try to construct a concept of valorization better suited to such social structurations of ‘federated labour’ in the context of enthusiast cultures (which cultures, I might ask when taking onboard D&G’s argument in AO regarding people willing their own submission, are not enthusiast cultures?). So far I have ‘articulation’ (in the sense derived from Foucault and developed in cultural studies by Stuart Hall and others) + affective relations = valorisation of the tendential elements of the ‘articulation’ so they resonate with the affective complex.

The ‘federated production’ of the ‘enterprise’ is a useful way to talk about the way enthusiast labour transformed in the 1980s from being organised around the militant social stratifications that encouraged and protects the production and appreciation of amateur skill to becoming the labour that produced the spectacle. So within the enthusiast cultures I am looking at emerged an ‘enterprise’ that cannot be located with a single name or capitalist interest (i.e. Benetton), but becomes the ‘big business of street machining’ (as one State director of the now-defunct Australian Street Machine Federation described it in 1987). In this context, the ‘enterprise’ is an abstract machine, that is, defined by the diagrammatic mapping of its singularities that exist only as virtual tendencies, but which are evidenced within this particular cultural milieu by the enterprise’s dual functions in the production of spectacle-events (Summernats): as social factory (federated labour) and as communicative apparatus of capture. The complicating factor is that this work of the ‘enterprise’ is distributed across the event promoters (organise the spectacle), the magazines (produce a communicative apparatus of capture), and the enthusiast and professional labour of enthusiasts and others (federated production). This all gets complicated again (!!!) with the rise of the internat-based online car clubs and groups. They short-circuit the dynamic architecture of spectacle-events by organising their own local-level events. However, these enthusiasts still draw on the discourses and valorisations that circulate within the magazines’ communicative apparatus of capture…

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