10/30 – A Rhetoric of the Multitude

In Uncategorized on November 20, 2008 at 5:18 pm


Text: A Grammar of the Multitude

Presentation: Derek on Multitude

  1. In his book A Grammar of the Multitude (2004, Virno describes the migration of the political from the public sphere into the realms of production. Political agency moves into the realm of labor through virtuosity. For Virno, virtuosity is any activity that “finds its own fulfillment and its own purpose in itself;” specifically, it does not need an end product, the production/performance is the product. Also, virtuosity is “an activity that requires the presence of others;” it can only exist within the presence of other, not on its own. This is a post-Fordist moment, a post-Fordist multitude. This post-Fordist capitalist system develops through the performance of multiplicity that often does not produce and end product. But, this capitalist system does require a space that is public in nature. Similar to Arednt’s definition of the political/public sphere, this system’s labor runs upon observation, cooperation, communication, and so on. It seems, that similar to Bellar, Massumi, and others we have read, labor has seeped into our every facet of out lives. The state or capitalist system (one) requires the multitude (laborers/us) to perform our labor continuously. We are caught within the ongoing cycle of performance and production; we are Bill Murrey in Ground Hog Day.
    This post-Fordist realm of production requires all of our capabilities and our attention. All of our capabilities, mental, physical, psychological, and so on, are put to work in this new system. Therefore, the capitalist system demands our dreams, our fears, our desires, our free time, our productive time, our brains—everything. Our status as laborer has become increasingly complex and shaky. Job security no longer exists, everyone is replaceable; knowledge and skill has become a mass, a part of the multitude. Our grammar of exploitation, labor, leisure, has changed.
    How, though, does the capitalist system encourage, force laborers to continue to work in this Ground Hog day existence? It is a shared experience. It comes from the continuous interaction with others and a shared knowledge or set of capabilities. If one doubts this, one can simply look to academia (a field that attempts to appear separate from the capitalist industry). Rather than individual skills or knowledge, collaboration and collective ideas circulate. Peer editing, interdisciplinary studies, new media theory which calls for an end to one narrative and a narrative of the multitude. Or, one might look to labor itself. We still have areas in which specialized knowledge is required, but more and more, collective knowledge and performance runs the machine. It is my performance that becomes capital. And, if no one is watching, if my labor is not placed within the public realm, then it ceases to exist. My labor, my leisure is now not only mine, but everyone’s. Therefore, I, along with others, labor in my viewing of Dancing With the Stars or in my role as a teacher. If no one sees me as a legitimate teacher, if students do not view my performance as authoritative, then I am not laboring. Even my sex life becomes part of the multitude through out voyeuristic explorations and proliferation of sex tapes uploaded on the internet. And, this exploitation garners me more capital, more labor.
    Yet, Virno does indicate that one can resist the system. He argues that one cannot become subversive or need to obey. Instead, one can simply place their labor/attention somewhere else. Where that might be, I am not sure. Would this mean that we either become a follower of Thoreau, or as Beller indicates, look to the avant-garde for areas of transgression? Or, should I attempt to become an individual within this mass of the multitude, to become one? How would this happen? Where would my originality come from?

  2. Paolo Virno “A Grammar of the Multitude”

    In the Day One chapter “Forms of Dread and Refuge” Virno uses the example of someone observing a snow slide and feeling an inner sense of pleasing security because, as an observer, the person is confident and thankfully safe from danger. Through Virno’s examination of the relationship between dread and refuge, we can see a connection among the various disempowered groups in America’s capitalism. For example, minority groups, such as African Americans or Latinos are often lumped together with other minority groups, such as people with disabilities. In an attempt to escape the label of being the Other, one minority group will dispel the other: A poor white man might say, “I might be poor, but at least I am not a woman”; a white female might say, “I may be a woman, but at least I am not Black”; an African Americans might say “I may be Black, but at least I am not disabled”; a white man with disability/ies might say “I might be disabled, but at least I am not poor, Black, or a woman”. To be clear, here, I am not arguing the experience of being a woman, an African American, or a person with disabilities is similar. Indeed the Black, Female, and Disabled experience are distinctly layered and diversely complex. Still, the dialectic of dread/refuge can be seen here through the (mis)conceptions of dis/ableism, when compared too closely with the trinity of isms—race, class, and gender. While there is, Virno argues, a “continuous oscillation between different, sometimes diametrically opposed, strategies of reassurance” (35), disability has never been a monolithic grouping, and because the enormous diversity of disability differs from any other “minority” groups, experiences of cultural devaluation and socially imposed restrictions are often more varied and thus distinct from than the historical experience of these other groups, despite our tendency to link them together. Virno’s theory on dread and refuge can be seen through this example in that disempowered groups find refuge within themselves by defining precisely why they are not the dreaded Other.
    Pulling from Heidigger’s theory on fear and anguish, Virno argues “Fear situates itself inside the community, inside its forms of life and communication . Anguish, on the other hand, makes its appearance when it distances itself from the community to which it belongs, from its shared habits, from its well known ‘linguistic games,’ and then penetrates into the vast world” (32). According to Virno, fear is a public feeling while anguish is the feeling when one is ostracized by the public. Connecting Virno’s theory on fear/anguish to the social model of disability, one could argue abled bodies harbor the socially acceptable and quite public feeling of fear when faced with the very real possibility of becoming disabled. Simultaneously, our ableist society (incorrectly) assumes that people with disabilities are consumed with anguish over their existence. In assuming this, abled bodies distance themselves from the disabled community— from the community’s habits and patterns—while simultaneously burying themselves in the ableist society, thereby creating the very situation Virno argues must occur for anguish to exist. In this way, abled bodies both 1) fear the disabled body and 2) assume all disabled bodies live in anguish over their (dis)abled existence. According to Virno, “The permanent mutability of the forms of life, and the training needed for confronting the unchecked uncertainty of life, lead us to a direct and continuous relation with the world as such, with the imprecise context of our existence” (33).

  3. My question begins with Virno’s use of Bianciardi’s metaphor on page 57 that tertiary workers are Vasoline. He starts with defining the primary workers (farmers who produce something from nothing) and secondary workers (factory workers who transform one thing from another); and then he categorizes journalists, priests and politics as tertiary (they are “neither instruments of production, nor drive belts of transmission”) So he measures their “excellence” on how quickly they get to the top and how long they stay there. However, journalists do produce something from scratch ie a journalist takes some facts and mold these facts into a product that is sold and they also transform one thing from another basic facts can be transformed into a full story, so doesn’t the journalist need to be removed from the Vasoline metaphor?

    My second question deals with Heidegger’s presumption that idle talk was a poor experience and should be deprecated which was refuted by Virno who said idle talk directly concerns labor and social production. Virno noted the post-Fordism brought language to the workplace. My question is probably directed at Dr. Pruchnic, Why did this change take place? Was it a movement to bring back the workers lost during this movement? Was language now viewed as a benefit to the labor market?

  4. Although I’m interested in Virno’s suppositions concerning innovation, especially as they are tied to the very bio-linguistic capacities of the human animal, it remains a little uncertain as to where the exodus leaves the multitude. This is to say, that I’m particularly interested in where the multitude is left when this plurality actually decides to leave: Quite simply, where does this collective of individuals move afterwards; after the current, perhaps oppressive, forces of the institution or state? Surely, in Virno’s terms, the very drives or capacities that differentiate humans from non-human animals predicate the development of a different (and one can assume Political) system. Unfortunately, it seems that second state, if one can call it that, will be little different than the first. You might be able to change the grammar, or exchange one type of grammar for another, because without, you are essentially, in Virno’s very human terms, a non-human animal, but I’m having difficulty reading how this changes anything more than just temporarily.

    Is it that Virno is calling for a complete, continual, and frequent uprooting? What about the digital or contemporary technological practices? Though Virno hardly seems interested in technologies, as he prefers to focus on linguistic conditions, one can see that certain technologies might exert an incredibly influence on the type of movement that Virno describes. Basically, I would just like to hear some conjectures to this end.

  5. I thought we were just supposed to come up with two questions for class, so my post is going to look a bit weak in comparison. My misunderstanding … I blame the kid.

    Questions: A Grammar of the Multitude

    1.) What is the New Media aspect to Virno’s argument? Is it in Virno’s discussion of “idle talk” and “curiosity,” which could be linked to the explosion, through Internet and communications technology of the enhanced performativity of “creative free time?” And if so …

    2.) If the post- Fordist mode of production allows for the performativity of idle talk, curiosity and virtuosity, could this be interpreted as a jump to a culture of production based more on orality?

  6. I shared CS-D’s understanding, and I also blame the kid.

    1) If the multitude is defined (in part) by contingency and opportunism (see Virno 86), is there a way to effectively mobilize it for political or social action? That is, how does one use the multitude?

    2) As a kind of general question about the ontology of the multitude: Is the multitude best understood as an objective category or a subjective state-of-being? In Heideggerian terms, how do we describe the multitude’s being-in-the-world? Is it at-hand or is it Dasein? (Or, to riff on the Killers’ latest hit, “Are we multitude or are we Dasein?”)

    3) And, a more broadly ontological and philosophical follow-up to that: Is the subjective the same as the agentive? Or, if the multitude is a subject (or a subjectivity) is it also an agent? Or vice-versa?

  7. I second or third the understanding that questions were to be posted from last week — but I will not partake in blaming the kid!

    1.) Virno’s section on the emotional tonalities of the multitude is intriguing because he lists the requirements of workers today, but states that these qualities such as adaptation and mobility “are the result of a socialization that has its center of gravity outside of the workplace” (85). How can we examine social talents in relation to labor that originate in the “extra-curricular” arena of experience?

    2.) Virno’s “concise thesis” on p. 40 states, “if the publicness of the intellect does not yield to the realm of a public sphere, of a political space in which the many can tend to common affairs, then it produces terrifying effects.” Freud’s study of people who are mentally ill and the experience of a seance are cited as examples of a publicness without a public sphere – where thoughts become externalized, fearful, oppressive, and nullify the self. But here is where I would like clarification because I’m not quite sure if I understand Virno’s claim about personal dependence on others and labor: is the act of sharing through speaking and thinking the crucial element in subduing the person/laborer within the public sphere/political community? So, if a person does not share publicly (via communication and linguistic, cognitive capacities) then he/she is a threat to the multitude?

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