Thursday, July 07, 2011

A Million Blooms: Tiqqun and Negri on the Actualization of Ontology


With the publication in English of This is Not a Program, Tiqqun brings to light a certain insurrectionist critique of Negri (and Hardt’s) position. Broadly speaking this critique takes two forms. First, there is a critique of the valorization of immaterial labor. This critique does not concern the descriptive accuracy of the term, the continued existence of material production, but its political efficacy. For Tiqqun the valorization of immaterial labor is consistent with the values of the capitalist economy. As Tiqqun write, “Proletarian self-valorization, theorized by Negri as the ultimate subversion, is also taking place but in the form of universal prostitution.” Tiqqun thus joins the chorus of those who prefer the refusal of work, the quotidian negativity of sabotage, to the valorization of the communicative capacity of contemporary labor. Second, and related, Tiqqun argue that Negri underestimates the reality of exploitation. This can already be seen in the argument about immaterial labor, which, for Tiqqun, is less the condition for revolution than subjection, but comes to the front in their critique of biopower. Quite simply, Tiqqun contest the division (Hardt) and Negri make between biopower and biopolitics (itself modeled on the division of potestas and potentia). In a vein similar to Steven Shaviro, Tiqqun contest that such a division, between transcendence and immanence, could be said to make any sense in Foucault’s analysis. Biopower was always already produced from the immanent and contingent ground, that is how it has worked. 
Despite these critiques there is a strange proximity between Tiqqun and Negri, and that is what I want to explore here. The idea of this proximity stemmed from finally getting around to reading Tiqqun’s Théorie du Bloom. Bloom is of course the name of the central character of Joyce’s Ulysses. For Tiqqun Bloom is the name of the contemporary condition, caught between the twin pinchers of biopolitics and the spectacle, twin pinchers that are the culmination of the commodification of existence. Biopolitics wants you to live, and the spectacle wants you to speak, but this activity, this production, takes place through a generalized passivity and indifference. Bloom thus lives permanently outside of itself, socialized in its isolation. Or as Tiqqun write, “The pure exteriority of the conditions of existence takes the form of the illusion of pure interiority.” 

There is, however, a saving grace to this negative condition. Bloom is the intensification of alienation, but this culmination of alienation contains the grounds for its undoing. As Tiqqun write: 

“The Bloom does not experience a particular finitude or a determined separation, but the ontological finitude and separation, common to all men. As well, the Bloom is only alone in appearance: because it is not alone in being alone, all men have that solitude in common. It lives as a foreigner in its own country, non-existent and on the fringe of everything, but all the Bloom together inhabit the homeland of Exile. All the Bloom are indistinctly part of a same world, which is forgetting the world. So therefore, the Common is alienated, but it is only so in appearance, because it is still alienated as the Common – the alienation of the Common only signifies the fact that that which is common between them appears to men to be something particular, their own, private. And this Common originates from the alienation of the Common, and what that forms is none other than the true Common that is unique among men, their original alienation: finitude, solitude, exposition. There, the most intimate merges with the most general, and the most “private” is the best shared.” 

As the traditions and norms of cultures pass away becoming so many commodities, as even the stabilizing world of wage labor gives way to generalized precarity and unemployment, finitude and isolation is laid bare, becomes common. This is the slight but significant point of overlap between Negri and Tiqqun: the historical actualization of a general ontological condition. 

In Hardt and Negri’s writing, this takes the form of the actualization of the multitude. This can be seen in the distinction between the multitude sub species aeternitatis, the ontological multitude, and the emergent multitude produced by the contemporary organization of labor, the political multitude. The first has always been there, even in the various peoples and classes that have obscured its common basis, while the second is its actualization, its becoming manifest. As labor changes, producing culture, knowledge, and affects, the common comes to light as nothing other than its capacity to produce and be produced. 

Both Negri (with and without Hardt) and Tiqqun can be considered variations on Marx and Engels’ point in The Communist Manifesto. The idea that with capitalism exploitation is stripped-bare, seen as the basis of all history. History actualizes ontology, as either common alienation or common production. 

In the case of Hardt and Negri this philosophical theme, history as the actualization of ontology, contrasts with another theme, that of Spinoza’s ontology in which everything is always already actualized, power exists only its action. Vittorio Morfino summed this conflict up nicely by stating, “Multitude is a card that you can only play once.” Morfino’s point, if I followed his presentation correctly, is that the multitude has to be though as a conjunctural combination of affects, forces, and ideas, as something which always is, albeit in different modifications, rather than something to come. This point, Spinoza’s ontology as always actual, has been developed at length by Pascal Sévérac in his book, Le devenir actif chez Spinoza. For Sévérac, the themes of separation (found in Deleuze) or alienation (found in Fischbach) are absolutely alien to Spinoza’s ontology in which every force actualizes itself. 

I have to say that I find the Spinozist (or Althusserian Spinozist) corrective to be useful. The temptation to see the present as the apocalyptic realization of some general ontological or human condition, what Foucault called the “narcissism of the present,” has to be resisted. Alienation and production, the common and isolation, exist in different articulations, different modifications, throughout history. This is not to say that “there is nothing new under the sun,” but that what exists is not the realization of some hidden tendency, just the rearticulation of already existing forces.

5 comments:

Peter Fusco said...

Thanks for this post. I'm in the middle of Program now after reading Intro to Civil War earlier in the year.


Both your posts on Tiqqun are a good companion to the books which can be pretty cryptic (civil war more so)

Another K Among Many said...

Where is Foucault's "narcissism of the present" quote from?

unemployed negativity said...

K, I can't find the specific reference. I know that it was one of the interviews, Foucault is talking about how every age tends to see itself as the culmination or crisis of the previous age. I don't think that he uses the exact phrase, but I do remember the general idea. Sorry.

Such are the perils and benefits of blogging: it is possible to just write about a vague memory of a quote without tracking it down.

jp9196 said...

Hi- I am writing a paper on Tiqqun’s This Is Not A Program… I have to address the following topics and I was hope someone could help out…

Is the Tiqqun critique of Hardt and Negri and/ or of Operaism valid?

How is Tiqqun similar to Hardt and Negri?

What is an ‘apparatus’ and how does it work?

What is the relationship between Bloom and apparatuses?

Are there things that Hardt and Negri describe in Empire that we might consider to be an apparatus?

any help would be appreciated…

jp9196 said...

Hi- I am writing a paper on Tiqqun’s This Is Not A Program… I have to address the following topics and I was hope someone could help out…

Is the Tiqqun critique of Hardt and Negri and/ or of Operaism valid?

How is Tiqqun similar to Hardt and Negri?

What is an ‘apparatus’ and how does it work?

What is the relationship between Bloom and apparatuses?

Are there things that Hardt and Negri describe in Empire that we might consider to be an apparatus?

any help would be appreciated…