Massumi Interview

Via Ben’s Antipopper blog is this interview with Brian Massumi. Even though the interview is from 1993 it remains very interesting. It also represents some of the issues I have with the ‘dogmatic‘ approach of Mark (over at K-Punk, although his latest post is pretty good).

One of the fatal flaws of progressive movements in the Sixties and early Seventies was the idea that you could simply step out of the system — drop out and attack it from outside. That’s a way of not seeing what you bring with you, because you’ve internalised a lot. The way you stay alive is by having a job and participating as a supposedly productive member of capitalist society; you have to deny that to operate in this framework — as if there’s a kind of purity that you can step out into — and that’s unsustainable, especially when unemployment is most developed countries is running to ten to thirteen percent… most people don’t have the luxury anymore.
Difference is extremely important, but it also becomes the engine of capitalism: the production of new fashions, new ways of inventing new styles, new objects… it has become generative, in the sense that it no longer produces objects — it produces the means of producing different objects. It’s all about difference. But so is resistance. I wouldn’t say that difference is not the key; difference isn’t the same as being Outside or being on the margins; difference is now at the centre, and (in a sense) resistance is also, which means that wherever you are there’s probably a point of tension that could become a point of resistance.
The present Italian post-Autonomist theorists call this theory an “immaterial worker”, where you do “immaterial labour”, because “immaterial labour” — by their definition — is that creation of ways of creating difference, which isn’t necessarily only an upper-class job, because in the way that factories are being reorganised, it is the workers that are being reorganised into teams that do quality control work, that teach management how to become more productive and more profitable, that are involved in the creation or production of new products. So they are creating new modes of productivity — qualitatively different ways of doing things, modes of cooperation and networking.
I’d say that the message is very different: difference is everywhere — find it where you are, and further it. I think it’s self-serving to take these negative stances: “you should not do this, because it doesn’t meet my standards of action”. One of the refrains of traditional Marxist thinking is “the conditions aren’t right — don’t do it”; that’s what was said in Italy, that’s what was said in May ‘68, that’s what was said in the States during the Sixties… there’s a continual refrain: “we have to have a complete, correct analysis before we act” — and that means that they never act, or they act to keep people from doing things. I think what’s important is to keep thinking and acting in the situation you’re in: attempting to connect it with larger situations and global patterns, but never pretending to function on that global or totalising level — because that also is a fiction. It’s only a disciplinarian move; it’s to try to create a definition of the proper kind of action and the proper conditions.
I don’t think it has as much to do with optimism/pessimism as it has to do with desire. As opposed to self interest. Talking in terms of self-interest is maybe a good way you can get at it, because the idea that progressive politics can organise itself — and be content with ideas of self-interest or serving-the-interests — is inherently conservative, because it assumes that there are pre-existing populations that have interests that you can find out, express and then give in to them like a service (or allow themselves to give into themselves). Those interests are really the expression of their complicity with the situation as it is now.
It seems to me that there’s a need to beyond self-interest, but not in the sense of selflessness; I would call the difference between self-interest and desire the difference between conceiving yourself as being complete but somehow stifled and trying to find a way to express what you are and have it recognised and attended to… and the idea that you’re in a world: you’re directly open onto it, you’re under its influence, you don’t necessarily have control over that, but you’re always responding, reacting and acting within it; that you’re constantly being changed, and changing, whether you perceive it at a particular time or not… that the world is a cauldron of change. And that’s beautiful. I guess I would see it more as aesthetic — to put yourself on the side of change, against self-interest — because if you do change, you’ll no longer be that self, and will no longer have the same interests. I see desire as trying to hook up with potential, rather than with interests; I think there’s a difference between potential-to-become-something-different and an interest in being who-you-are to a greater extent.