- ..the means of labour passes through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the machine…a moving power that moves itself…consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages. […] The production process has ceased to be a labour process in the sense of a process dominated by labour as its governing unity. Labour appears, rather, merely as a conscious organ, scattered among the individual living workers at numerous points of the mechanical system; subsumed under the total process of the machinery itself, as itself only a link of the system, whose unity exists not in the living workers, but rather in the living (active) machinery, which confronts his individual, insignificant doings as a mighty organism. –Marx, Grundrisse (Notebook VI)
By way of contextualizing the essays of Radical Thought, and autonomist thinking more generally, into our primary course itinerary, the following are five ways that these movements might be taken as responding to the logos/techne complex we have been unpacking this semester; for the sake of simplicity, I lean heavily on the work of Paolo Virno as the most exemplary figure for voicing the shared concerns that have been loosely identified with autonomia.
Heidegger/Foucault: Our seminar itinerary ends with a concentration on two thinkers and their impact on contemporary critical thinking around the question of contemporary techne/technology (Stiegler and Harmon/Latour as writing in the wake of Heidegger, and the Radical Thought contributors and Grusin as writing in the wake of Foucault) . Much as we read Jameson and Badiou at the start of the semester as suggesting “breaks” with the usual ways that logos/techne, infinity/finity, and transcendence/immanence are taken up in contemporary philosophical and critical-theoretical discourse, Heidegger and Foucault present earlier attempts to trouble the Western tradition of thinking logos and techne. Most obviously, Heidegger presents both logos (as it is introduced in the emergence of Platonic metaphysics) and techne (or, more accurately, the “essence” of contemporary technology and the technoscientific “worldview”) as challenges to mid-twentieth century epistemology and ethics. Foucault, for his part, proposed a techne (a series of methodological practices – archaeology, genealogy, asubjective history) for doing the “work” of philosophy that is typically associated with the logos tradition, and, like Heidegger, returned to the primal scene of their emergence in Greek Antiquity to consider the problems of contemporary politics and subjectivity. Matteo Mandarini suggests in his contribution (“Beyond Nihilism”) to The Italian Difference, autonomist thought (and the linking of politics and ontology in Italian intellectual culture) largely got off the ground as a critique/refusal of the “left-Heideggerianism” that had guided European philosophy into the 70’s. In place of the negative or “failed” ontology of the time (in which being if founded on a kind a nothingness), thinkers such as Virno and Negri proposed new (emergent, possible) “positive” conceptions of contermpoary being and (to quote the subtitle of Virno’s Grammar), forms of life (the most famous being their individual takes on “the multitude”). Crucial to this undertaking was, amongst other influences, Foucault’s late work on biopower (and Deleuze’s extensions of Foucault’s work on power) (see, in particular, Zanini’s contribution to Radical Thought). Agamben’s work, though only loosely consistent with autonomist commonplaces, has been a primer in ways that Heidegger (on ontology) and Foucault (on biopower) can be thought together.
Base/Superstructure: One of the most compelling features of autonomist thinking, and perhaps its most potent challenge to more traditional critical/political thought, is a shared insistence on the breakdown between previously discrete categories, almost (?) all of which might be mapped on the legacy of the techne/logos divide; Virno, for instance, refers us to the emergence of “a field of immediate coincidence between production and ethics, structure and superstructure, between the revolution of labor processes and the revolution of sentiments, between technology and emotional tonality, between material development and culture” over the past few decades (14).
(Anti)Foundations: We have had reason, fairly frequently, to relate the terrain of mid-twentieth-/twenty-first-century critical as a an ostensible rejection of the “logocentrism” of Western philosophy that, at the same time, largely kept logos central (as the “negative” center of critical thought). Even more specifically, we have suggested that in this process, contra their traditional antagonistic relationship, logos often became associated with techne (to the detriment of both; cf. “instrumental reason,” “technocracy,” etc.). However, it’s fair to say that present conditions have taken the bloom off of the rose of “trickle-down theory” of critical resistance in which challenging the ostensibly “foundational” nature of social power (or social norms, or capitalism, etc.) was meant to produce ameliorative effects. As Virno writes, “If we still want to talk about a revolutionary destruction of social foundations, we can only mean a destruction taking place where there is no longer any real foundation to destroy (15).”
The Always Already/Just Now (or the Natural-Historical): “socio-political states of affairs which display, in changing and rival forms, some salient features of anthropogenesis” (“Natural-Historical Diagrams” 133)
The General Intellect:
Also Make Sure Your Shoes Match Your Belt as Well as Your Fundamental Conception of Ontological Substance and the Dominant Mode of Contemporary Labor-Production
“From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toiling tread of the worker stares forth […] The artwork lets us know what shoes are in truth.” (Heidegger 159/161)
“…the willed and violent transformation of a drab peasant object world into the most glorious materialization of pure color in oil paint is to be seen as a Utopian gesture, an act of compensation which ends up producing a whole new Utopian realm of the senses, or at least of that supreme sense, sight, the visual, the eye…a part of some new division of labor in the body of capital, some new fragmentation of the emergent sensorium which replicates the specializations and divisions of capitalist life at the same time that it seeks in precisely such fragmentation a desperate Utopian conception for them. […] At any rate, both readings may be described as hermeneutical…” (Jameson 7/9)
“Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes evidently no longer speak to us with any of the immediacy of Van Gogh’s footwear; indeed, I am tempted to say that it does not really speak to us at all. […] Andy Warhol’s work in fact turns centrally around commodification, and the great billboard images of the Coca-Cola bottle or the Campbell’s soup can, which explicitly foreground the commodity fetishism of a transition to late capital, ought to be powerful and critical statements. If they are not that, then one would surely want to know why, and one would want to begin to wonder a little more seriously about the possiblities of political or critical art in the postmodern period of late capital.” (Jameson, 8/9)
Your Moment of Zen:
X-Ray Spex performing “I Live Off You” on The Old Grey Whistle Test, 1978.