If we look carefully, post-Fordism takes advantage of abilities learned before and independently of entrance into the workplace: abilities brought forth by the uncertainty of metropolitan life, by uprootedness, by the perceptual shocks pf technological mutations, even by video games and the use of cellular phones. All of this is at the base of post-Fordist “flexibility”. These experiences outside the workplace become afterward, in the production system known as “just in time,” authentic and proper professional requirements. Great European thought, from Nietzsche to Heidegger, described the “nihilism” that characterizes the forms of life outside the stringent rationality of the productive process: instability, disenchantment, anonymity, and so on. Well, with post-Fordism, the nihilistic mentality enters into production, constitutes in fact one of its precious ingredients. To work profitably in offices and factories, what is necessary today is a great familiarity with the situation and the fragility of every state of things. — Paulo Virno, 2005
My first reaction to this passage was yes! that’s exactly it. Our society produces a nihilistic subjectivity that is pre-adapted to smooth functioning in the post-Fordist workplace. But on second thoughts I find that the traits that Virno lumps together under the term “nihilistic mentality” are more ambiguous than that. Surely a familiarity with fragility, mutability, plurality, fragmentation, uprootedness and uncertainty could also designate greater epistemological and ontological acumen, and if cultivated outside its ordinary limits could be actively life-enhancing? Post-fordist situations are not like a hologram where every component on every scale must embody the same structure. Our society seems equally able to exploit rigid, dogmatic, conservative, and conformist sub-groups at every level, the lowest and the highest. To take a concrete example, does maintaining a blog such as yours reinforce a nihilistic mentality and hyperadapt you to post-fordist exploitation, irrespective of its content? Or does it also contribute to the flourishing of a subjectivity in excess of those relations?
It is worth pointing out this quote is from a discussion, and not a published article/book.
I largely agree with you, Terence. I read the first section of Niezsche’s WTP as isolating an ‘active’ nihilism. The task of which is to fearlessly work towards engaging with and affirming the ‘necessary,’ which is a process without end and is characterised by a terminal instability. My line is from Nietzsche to Deleuze. I admire those who clearly do not will their own ‘innocence’.
On the other hand, Virno draws a line from Nietzsche to Heidegger (and belongs to the Italian Left-Heideggerianism). Central to this interpretation of Nietzsche is the ‘nothing’ of being. (Here I am also thinking of the Italian Difference collection: http://re-press.org/books/the-italian-difference-between-nihilism-and-biopolitics/ ). Nihilism here seems to lose its processual dimension, instead of emerging in response to a particular or historical failure (determined through genealogical method), it is essentialised through its alleged negativity.
For Nietzsche it is the apprehension of the wasted effort of pursuing false ends (the realisation that there is no ‘aim,’ ‘unity’ or ‘being’) posited by a Christian morality where the banalities of everyday life are sutured to the transcendental values of the eternal.
I rather think of the current nihilism as the apprehension of the stupidity of contemporary technics, which involve so much wasted effort. (‘Stupidity’ here in Deleuze’s sense from D&R, as the misapprehension of an ordinary point as singular, or in Nietzsche’s parlance, ‘necessary’.) There is a different kind of ‘weakness’ now as compared to the teleological meekness of Nietzsche’s era. Now life itself is squandered by a quarantined future within which we are encouraged to be fully invested and through which we are assisted in assembling our most enthusiastic subjectivities.
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