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Re: <nettime> Reframing the Creative Question
Brian Holmes on Sun, 15 Mar 2015 21:15:28 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Reframing the Creative Question


On 02/26/2015 04:47 AM, d.garcia wrote:

>The dialectical relationship between new styles of production, the rise of
>affective labor and the emergence of new social movements are yet to be
>theorised in ways that will help us as to locate the agents of progressive
>change in a control society. 13.

David is quoting me here, and one could ask: But why do I say that, when 
in fact, my comrades at the journal Multitudes developed exactly such a 
theory in the early to mid-2000s?

Our central idea, drawn of course from the Italian Autonomists, was that 
living labor had imposed upon capital the conditions of a knowledge 
economy in which value was increasingly created outside the 
institutional frameworks of control. Therefore, these workers - who had 
after all built the Internet  - could freely self-organize their 
resistance whenever either the corporations or the state sought to exert 
their declining power. The counter-globalization movement, we believed, 
could only grow. As for the Indignados and Occupy, they would obviously 
be victorious.

I was never able to fully embrace this logic and after 2008 it seemed to 
me (but also to Maurizio Lazzarrato) to be frankly wrong. The reason was 
that it dramatically underestimated the forms of social control that had 
developed along with the new technological regime of the network 
society. On the one hand, this control takes the form of surveillance, 
not only by the state but even more importantly by the corporations, 
which can now coordinate workers at a distance by monitoring their 
movements through GPS and electronic badge systems, their keystrokes 
through very simple software, and their actions through video 
transmission. Surveillance, however, is just one half of the new 
paradigm. The other half has to do with heightened subjective 
involvement in work through the magic of creativity. This is the 
Californian Ideology, the Flexible Personality, the type of work that 
Andrew Ross portrayed in No Collar, etc, etc. It is a form of control 
that exploits the fundamentally narcissistic pleasure we all have in 
seeing some kind of objective trace (an artwork, an invention, an image, 
a catch-phrase, a tune, that sort of thing). Call it "the fulfillment of 
personal lifestyle options" if you will. While surveillance is the big 
electronic stick, creativity is the carrot juice of the control society.

Between disciplinary surveillance and subjective implication, 
corporations have been able to "go lean," shrinking down to a core 
strategic team managing both outsourced contract labor and market-based 
supply-chains (this is Castells' networked firm). The precarious labor 
force, unable to make ends meet on contract wages, is obliged to accept 
the ubiquitous offers of credit, and thereby becomes beholden to its 
arm's-length masters, under pain of punishment by the legal apparatus of 
the state. Under these conditions, labor is anything but free. The 
outstanding question is, why in fact do people still revolt?

What we largely failed to theorize at Multitudes was the outright 
violence of neoliberal capitalism, whether in the forms of imperial 
invasion, of rampant environmental destruction, of continuing racial 
exclusion, of mass unemployment, of predatory credit, or indeed, in the 
form of the omnipresent psychic violence that convinces people they are 
fulfilling their lifestyle operations by creatively celebrating an 
economy that is now overtly suicidal and headed directly for climate 
chaos accompanied by planetary civil war. The hidden negative forces of 
the contemporary dialectic are automation and the new international 
division of labor, both of which destroyed the former Western industrial 
working classes while promoting a small percentage of their sons and 
daughters to the new middle-management positions, which in my view 
include the so-called "creative industries," whose major product is the 
manipulation of affect. People find this stuff "fun," because, well, it 
is. Affect is contagious and if you are at the origin of such a 
contagion you feel a bit like a superstar (to use Andy Warhol's word). 
But fun wears thin under today's conditions, and the supply of credit 
runs dry at times as well (only temporarily though, cf. "quantitative 
easing"). Were it not for the extraordinary violence of contemporary 
capital, I think the capture of the cultural creatives would be total. 
Yet it is not, and for the last twenty years we have seen new forms of 
solidarity emerge outside the former sectoral and class solidarities of 
industrial society.

I think David is right that the Left should neither ignore the "creative 
class," nor simply heap a now-conventionalized scorn upon it. It is 
urgent to develop an intellectual/artistic culture and a "structure of 
feeling" (as Raymond Williams used to say) that can turn people away 
from narcississtic involvement in the middle-management functions of 
affect manipulation, and toward the new solidarities. There is no magic 
bullet, no inevitable revolt of the "most advanced" or "tendentially 
hegemonic" sector of living labor, as the Autonomists believed. Instead 
there is a complex, subtle and far-reaching culture of refusal, whose 
adherents slowly learn to aspire to collaborative struggles rather than 
to the narcississtic rush of self-expression validated by money and 
corporate prestige. That culture of refusal itself has to be created, 
especially now that its roots the solidarities of the former working 
classes have all but disappeared. Here's the real work, for any artists 
or intellectuals who want to do it. The creative classes have so much 
affective and intellectual agency that they/we could change the world 
tomorrow - if only it were possible to desire that change today.

 warmly, Brian


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