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<nettime> revenge of the concept
McKenzie Wark on Thu, 23 Jan 2003 22:24:43 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> revenge of the concept


I found Brian's paper very interesting. Here are a few thoughts:

Gift exchange and commodity exchange seem to me to be mutually
implicated in each other. No commodity system exists without the
gift. Economic doctrine treats the commodity system as 'pure' when
a good deal of the production of use values occurs in a gift exchange
form. Not surprisingly most of what women caregivers and others
who work within the home do is excluded.

Likewise, the commodity was always implied in the gift form. This is
Deleuze and Guattari's argument in Anti-Oedipus, that the commodity
form stalks the gift economy as a possibility, as a potential for
abstraction.

I would like to reverse their formula. I think we have reached a 
technological
threshold where the gift stalks the commodity. We have arrived at the
posibility of the abstract gift. Having abstracted information from any
particular material support, information becomes (potentially) a new kind
of gift. One that economists can only describe with an oxymoron: a
'non-rivalrous good'., i.e. not a good a all.

The utopian promise of a universal gift economy strikes me as romantic, at
best, Stalinist at worst. But the possibility of an atopian information gift
economy is very real and within our grasp.

The vigorous struggle of the vectoralist class to use extraordinary legal 
and
technical means to commodify information, 'against its will', is the great
unheralded struggle of our times.

I very much like Brian's idea of the 'flexible personality', which seems to 
me
related to the commodification of information, and hence the transformation
of all relations into subject-object relations. The vectoralization of 
information
has taught us all to be 'subjects', i.e. consistent nodes in a network of
property relations.

I don't find the concept of 'real subsumption' that Negri takes over from 
Marx
at all adequate. It makes of capital a transhistorical essence. As if 
commodity
exchange were not as transformed by what it subsumes as the cultural world
was by its subsumption! It is a way of thinking that is, ironically enough, 
dated
precisely because it is unhistorical.

Rather, we need to think the historical phases of commodification. Then we 
can
discover why Benkler's 'commons-based peer production' is romantic when
applied to the production of things, but progressive when applied to the
production of information. The new social movement has yet to think through
this hetereogeneity in its thought.

There is indeed something of interest in Situationism and Conceptual Art, 
which
at the moment is not strongly integrated into Brian's argument. A topic for
another time....

Just as we must distinguish information as non-rivalrous gift from other 
gifts, one
must distinguish gift from potlatch. The gift is a temporality, an exchange 
that
implies a future and a past, woven together by obligation. Potlach as it has 
come
to be practice in the overdeveloped world is more like Bataille's bonfires 
of pure
consumption. Potlatch is a singular moment, spectatcular and final.

I think it worth distinguishing commodity exchange also from capitalism. 
(Some
will remember Marx's two formulas: C-M-C = commodity echange, M-C-M =
capitalism, or the use of money to make money.) A long line of 
petit-bourgeois
argument accepts the value of the former but attacks the monopolization of
exchange under capitialism. DeLanda revived this position, among other 
places,
here on Nettime, in 1996. Ironically, for all its up to date theorization, 
De Landa
was reverting to 19th century petit-bourgeois thinking -- commodity yes, 
capital,
no. Its still a powerful force in the movement, not surprising given its 
class
origins,

Keith is right to insist that we re-evaluated liberalism. The liberals were 
in
favor of commodity exchange and against the state. But there is a wrinkle. 
They
were opposed to a state that was in partnership with a previous stage of
monopoly over the commodity system -- the  agrarian landlord class.
Ironically, it is the opponents of 'neo-liberalism' ( a badly chosen name)
who best embody this aspect of the liberal program.

The vectoralization of commodity exchange seems to me the missing object
of analysis. 'Globalization' is only one aspect of it. The other is a 
micro-vectoral
extension of the commodity form into everyday life (hence flexible 
personality).
It strikes me as entirely symptomatic that there should be an as yet 
somewhat
incoherent new social force opposed to vectoralized commodity relations, and
their monopolization by an emerging new ruling class formation. Follow the
line of resistance and you find the new line of development.


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