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<nettime> Maurizio Lazzarato: New Forms of Production and Circulation of
Diana McCarty on Sat, 17 Oct 1998 09:52:47 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> Maurizio Lazzarato: New Forms of Production and Circulation of


Knowledge
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European Cultural Tradition and the New Forms of Production and Circulation
of Knowledge

Maurizio Lazzarato

Not, perhaps, since the printing press's invention has European culture
experienced so much upheaval.  The very underpinnings of the notion of
culture and of its modes of production, socialisation and appropriation
are under attack.  I am speaking, of course, of culture's integration in
the creation of economic value.  This integration process has accelerated
since the beginning of the 1980s through, on one hand, the globalisation
and increasing pervasion of finance in the economy, and on the other, the
onslaught of so-called "new technologies". 

Many have raised their voices in defence of culture, intellectuals and
artists.  The strongest and most organised oppositon to culture's
subordination to economics came together when commercial relations
regarding audiovisual production were being renegotiated, and around the
issue of "authors' rights" -- the very definition of which is open to
discussion once new media are in the picture. 

At least in France, the strategy of cultural defence seems to go beyond
these first forms of mobilisation against large American communication and
entertainment corporations.  That strategy tends to involve protecting the
"cultural exception". 

The artists and intellectuals -- and politicians and governments -- who
demand the right to a "cultural exception" see themselves as heirs to a
tradition of European cultural autonomy and of art and artists'
independence from politics and economics.  The strategy of "cultural
exception" supports seems to be the reentrenchment of the separation
between culture and the economy. 

This position -- which, in my opinion, reflects a larger European point of
view -- is weak and, once scrutinised, untenable with regard to the new
modes of knowledge's production and circulation.  The hypothesis I'd like
to put forward turns the cultural exception strategy on its head; it can
be summarised like this: the modes of production, socialisation and
appropriation of knowledge and of culture are different than the modes of
production, socialisation and appropriation of wealth.  Georg Simmel's
intuition was that it is the modes of production and socialisation
peculiar to culture that must be introduced into the economy -- not
culture's autonomy.  Nor can that introduction be on a volunteer basis,
since -- as Gabriel Tarde has it -- "intellectual production" tends to
shape the direction and organisation of wealth production, and the "need
to know", "love of beauty and greediness for the exquisite" are the main
outlets opened to economic development. 

I will therefore use these two authors, and particularly the "economic
psychology" published by Tarde in 1902 -- nearly a century ago -- to
unpack my argument.  Let us keep in mind that Tarde's remarkable early
insights are not really part of European cultural tradition, since his
theory has been largely forgotten.  Based on the mode of production
particular to culture, and especially knowledge, Tarde proposes a
intriguingly contemporary critique of political economy by inverting
economic analysis's starting point.  Rather than starting from the
production of use-value -- that is, "material production" (the famous pin
factory which went from the Encyclop=E9die des Lumi=E8res to Adam Smith's
Scottish moral philosophy, therein becoming the incipit of political
economy) -- he started from the production of knowledge, that is, books. 

"How is a book made?  It is no less interesting than knowing how a pin and
a button are made." : an unimaginable opening line for economists of his
day -- and, perhaps, of our own -- but far less so for us, since the
production of a book may be thought of as a paradigm for post-Fordist
production. 

Like any other product, "truth-values" (valeur-v=E9rit=E9s), as Tarde
calls knowledge, are the result of a production process.  As apparatuses
develop to make knowledge production and consumption practices more and
more reproducible and homogenisable -- Tarde talks of the "press" and
"public Opinion", while we might turn to television, computer networks and
Internet -- these apparatuses take on a "quantity character that is more
and more marked, increasingly apt to justify their comparison with
exchange-value." Does this make them merchandise like any other? 

The economy does indeed treat them as it would economic wealth,
considering them as utility-value like others.  But for Tarde, knowledge
is a mode of production that cannot be reduced to the "division of
labour": it is a mode of "socialisation" and "social communication" which
cannot be organised by the market and through exchange without distorting
its production and consumption value. 

Political economy is forced to treat truth-values as it does other goods.
This is first because it knows no other method than that which it
elaborated for the production of use-value.  Second, and more importantly,
however, it must treat these truth-values as material products, or else
overturn its theoretical, and especially political, underpinnings.  In
fact, the "lumi=E8res" (beacons), as Tarde sometimes calls knowledge,
exhausts political economy's notions of economy and of wealth, founded on
scarcity, lack and sacrifice.  Like political economy, then, let us start
with production -- but of books, not of pins.  With the production of
books we are immediately confronted with the need, in principle, to switch
modes of production and property regimes with regard to what economics
theorises and legitimises. 

"The rule in the matter of books is individual production, while their
property is essentially collcetive; for "literary property" has no
individual meaning unless works are considered goods, and the idea of the
book does not belong exclusively to the author beore being published, that
is, when it is still a stranger to the social world.  Inversely, the
production of goods becomes more and more collective and their property
remains individual and always will, even when land and capital are
"nationalised".  There is nothing suspicious about the fact that, in the
matter of books, free production is vital as the best means of production.
A scientific organisation of labour which would regulate experimental
research or philosophic meditation through legislation would produce
lamentable results." 

The large multinationals of the information economy are prepared to
recognise the impossibility of organising production according to
"scientific management".  They are insufferable, however, regarding
property regimes. 

Is the notion of property applicable to all formes of value, from
utility-value to beauty-value to truth-value?  Can we own knowledge as we
own a utility-value?  Perhaps, responds Tarde, but not in the way that
economics or legal studies understand it, that is, as "free disposition". 

"In this sense, one is no more owner of one's glory, nobility or credit
[toward society] than he (sic) is of his limbs, which, as living things,
he cannot relinquish to others.  He therefore has nothing to worry
regarding expropriation for these values, the most important of all, and
the most difficult to nationalise." 

In order to avoid the necessity of the new mode of organising production
and the new property regime implied by the nature of knowledge, political
economy is obliged to turn "immaterial products" into "material products"
, that is, into goods like others, for book production problematizes the
exclusively individual property and discplinary production upon which the
economy is based. 

Let us move to consumption: can the consumption of wealth be compared to
the consumption of truth-values and beauty-values?  "Do we consume beliefs
by thinking of them, and the masterpieces we admire by gazing upon them?"
wonders Tarde.  Only wealth, as political economy defines it, affords a
"destructive consumption" which, in turn, supposes trade and exclusive
appropriation.  The consumption of knowledge, on the other hand, supposes
neither definitive alienation nor destructive consumption. 

And to deepen the specificity of the "consumption" of knowledge let us
analyse the mode of "social communication", truth-value's form of
transmission, of which economists cannot conceive except under the form of
the "Market".  Tarde first tells us that knowledge does not have to be
exclusive property in order to satisfy the desire of knowing, and do not
require the definitive alienation of the "product".  He then adds that the
transmission of knowledge lessens neither he who produces it nor he who
exchanges it.  On the contrary, the diffusion of knowledge, rather than
depriving its creator, augments his value and the value of the knowledge
itself.  It is therefore not required that they be an object of exchange
in order to be communicate. 

"It is by metaphor or the abuse of language that we say that two people in
dialogue are 'exchanging their ideas' or their admiration.  Exchange, with
regard to beacons [knowledge] and beauty, does not mean sacrifice: it
means mutual influence, through the reciprocity of gift, but of a special
class of gift which has nothing to do with wealth.  Here, the giver
deprives himself by giving; with regard to truths and beauty, he gives and
retains at the same time. In the matter of power, he sometimes does the
same thing (. . .) For the free exchange of ideas, as for religious
beliefs, arts and literature, institutions and morals: between two
peoples, neither may in any instance be reproached as those engaged in the
free trade of goods might be reproached -- of being a cause of
impoverishment for one of them." 

The statement "the value of a book" is ambiguous, for it has both a venal
value as something that is "tangible, appropriable, exchangable,
consumable", and a truth-value as something that is essentially
"intelligible, unappropriable, unexchangeable, unconsumable".  The book
may be considered both as a "product" and as "knowledge".  As a product,
its value may be defined by the market - but as knowledge? 

The ideas of loss and gain are applicable to knowledge, but here the
evaluation of losses and gains demands an ethics, not a market.  A book is
created for or against other books, just as a product is created for or
against other products.  Only in the latter case, however, may competition
be decided by prices.  In the former, an ethics is required.  The
transmission of knowledge has more to do with gift or with theft, which
are moral notions, than with exchange. 

"On the other hand, and by its [the free trade of ideas] very nature as a
reciprocal addition, not a substitution, it arouses either fertile matings
or fatal shocks between the heterogenous things it brings together.  It
may therefore cause great harm, when it does not do great good. And just
as this intellectual and moral free trade inevitably becomes an
accompaniment to economic free trade, the reverse is also true.  Separated
from one another, each would be ineffective and inoffensive: but, I
repeat, they are inseparable, and to last indefinitely, a prohibitive
tariff must be matched by an Index, that eclesiastic prohibitionism." 

According to Tarde, then, the modes of production and communication of
knowledge lead us beyond the economy.  We are beyond the necessity of
socialising intellectual forces through exchange, division of labour,
money or exclusive property.  This does not mean that the relations of
power between social forces are neutralised - in fact, they show up as
fertile matings or fatal shocks beyond the market and the exchange of
wealth.  This means that that unavowed ethical nature of economic forces
resurfaces powerfully as a single mode of "economic regulation" at the
very moment in which economic production is subordinated to intellectual
production. 

Here we find the Nietzschean problem of the "hierarchy of value" and the
"great eonomy", but on different terrain. 

Tarde gives another example, this time on "training", which leads us to a
similar conclusion.  We may establish a comparison between the production
of wealth and the production of truth-value through teaching.  We may
therefore, for pedagogy, define the various factors through which teaching
is produced.  Just as economists distinguish labour, land and capital in
the production of "beacons", so may we distinguish the activity and
intelligence of the student and the knowledge of the professor.  "The
truth is that these essays are not terribly useful.  Above all, the first
condition for good instruction - the teacher's and student's psychological
conditions having been met - is a good school programme, and a programme
supposes a system of ideas, a belief.  Similarly, the first condition for
good economic production is a moral code to which all agree.  A moral code
is a programme for industrial production, that is, consumption - for the
two are interdependent. 

If, as some hold, the "beacons" may be related back to utility-value (they
assume consumption and the destruction of forces and costs for theu
production; they are materialised in the product and have a price), the
production, communication and appropriation of thoughts and knowledge
differs fundamentally from the communication and socialisation of "wealth"
. 

In capitalism, then, all forms of production, even the most incomparable,
can more and more be evaluated in money, yet less and less does knowledge
lend itself to this sort of evaluation.  Here Tarde opens another hidden
door of intellectual production that political economy cannot approach
through its principles of scarcity, sacrifice and necessity.  The problem
posed by "intellectual production" is not only that of defining an
"ethical" measure adequate to truth-value, but especially the fact that it
tends towards a form of production that is more and more free.
Intellectual production exhausts the very raison d'=EAtre of the economy
and its science, economics: scarcity. 

"Civilisation's effect is to push into business - that is, into the
economist's field - a range of things that were previously without price,
even rights and powers.  So, too, has the theory of wealth encroached
incessantly upon the theory of rights and the theory of power, that is,
jurisprudence and politics.  But against this trend, through the
ever-growing freedom of widely distributed knowledge, the border between
the theory of wealth and what we might call the theory of beacons is
growing." 

These few pages almost seem to have been writing the information economy
and intellectual property in an immaterial economy in mind.  "Free
production", "collective property" and "free circulation" or truth-values
and of beauty-values are conditions for the development of social forces
in the information economy.  Each of these qualities of intellectual
production is in the process of becoming a new "contradiction" within the
information economy, for which the challenges represented today by
Internet are but the premises of opposition to come. 

Writing in the same era, Georg Simmel comes to similar conclusions.  "Nor
does the communication of intellectual goods require us to snatch away
from the one what must be tasted by the other; at least, only an
excerabated and quasi-pathological sensibility may truly feel slighted
when objective intellectual content is no longer exclusively subjective
proerty but, rather, is thought by others.  Generally, we may say that
intellectual possession, at least to the extent that it has no economic
extension, must in the end be produced by the very conscience of the
acquirer.  Yet it is clearly a uestion of introducing this conciliation of
interests, which derives here from the nature of the object, into those
economic domains where, because of competition in the satisfaction of a
particular need, noone enriches themself unless it is at the expense of
another." 

In Simmel's felicitous phrase, the conciliation of interests which derives
from the nature of the intellectual object is a political programme, for
the logic of scarcity, the exclusive property regime and the mode of
production are imposed upon its products by the new knowledge industries.
But if we do not indicate the new oppositions specific to intellectual
production, if we limit ourselves to demanding the autonomy of culture and
of its producers, resistance to contemporary capitalism's domination of
culture remains nothing but a pious vow. 

And yet the contemporary production of wealth integrates not only
production, socialisation and appropriation of knowledge, but also
beauty-value, that is, aesthetic forces.  As long as needs become more and
more specialised, aesthetic value is one of the basic elements which
stimulate the desire to produce and the desire to consume.  This process,
which had only just started when Tarde wrote these pages, and which was
barely perceptible by the economists of his day, has undergone an
extraordinary acceleration, starting with the blossoming of what we may
cal the information or immaterial economy. 

The "cultural exception" strategy's definition of culture presupposes a
qualitative difference between industrial labour and artistic labour.
Today, following the tendency identified by Tarde, according to which
intellectual production subordinates economic production, artistic labour
is becoming one of the models for the production of wealth. 

We have already seen how the notion of wealth must intgrate knowledge, and
how intellectual labour sketches out the tendency of the development of
"economic progress" according to Tarde.  It only remains to see how
artistic labour might lead to an understanding of this radical change.
According to Tarde, every activity is a combination of imitative and
inventive labour, but also of artistic labour, present in quite unequal
proportions.  Industrial labour does not escape this rule.  What
relationship between industrial and artistic labour?  The clear
distinction he establishes between industrial and artistic labour does not
rule out the continuity of transition. 

The social definition of artistic activity grasped magnificently by Tarde
may inspire several reflections on how, by integrating industrial
activity, it may change the relationship between producer and consumer. 
Of Tarde's definition of artistic labour, let us underline two aspects: on
one hand, the determining role played by the "imagination"; on the other,
the fact that in artistic activity the distinction between producer and
consumer tends to erase itself.  We need not add that, here too, Tarde's
considerations are of great importance in determining the status and
function of the "consumer-communicator" of contemporary society".  Under
post-Fordism, in effect, the client=E8le of any industrial production (and
notably in all production in the information economy) tends to identify
itself with a particular public which, in turn, plays the role of both
producer and consumer. 

Sensation is the non-representative and therefore non-communicable element
which, according to Tarde, is the very object of artistic labour.  "We
have said it from the beginning: the phenomena of conscience are not
entirely resolved by belief and desire, by judgement and intention. 
Lurking in these phenomena is always an effective and differential element
playing the principal role in sensations and which, in the higher
sensations - that is, feelings, even the most quintessential - acts in a
dissimulated way, which does not make it any less essential.  Art's virtue
and its characteristic is to regulate the soul by gripping it through its
sensational side.  As handler of ideas and intentions, it is certainly
inferior to religion and to the various forms of government, politics, law
and morals.  But as an educator of the senses and of taste, it is
unequalled." 

Does this mean that sensations, too, may constitute themselves as a value
that can be measured quantatively and therefore exchanges?  And through
what sort of apparatus, involving which sort of activity? 

"(. . .) the great artists create social forces just as entitled to the
name of 'forces', just as capable of increasing and decreasing with
regularity, as the energies of a living creature." 

Through works of art, it is the artist who lends social consistency to the
most fleeting, most singular and most nuanced of sensations.  By combining
the psychological elements of our soul, where sensations dominate, artists
add a new variety of sensation to the public through their work. 
Sensation and sensitivity are hence the "products" of artisistic labour. 

"Yet, in thus building the keyboard to our sensitivity, in extending it
for us, and in ceaseleslly perfecting it for us, poets and artists
juxtapose, even substitute for our natural and innate sensitivity, which
is different in each of us, a collective sensitivity, similar for all,
impressionable to the vibrations of the social milieu, precisely because
it is born in the artist.  The great masters of art, in a word, discipline
our sensitivities and then our imaginations, causing them to reflect one
another and to be aroused by their mutual reflection, while the great
founders or reformers of religions, the sages, the legislators, the
statesmen, discipline spirits and hearts, judgements and truths." 

=46or Tarde, then, artistic labour is "productive" labour in that it
respond= s to a production and consumption need concerning pure sensation. 
We must now analyse how artistic and industrial labour are opposed or in
harmony. The difference between art and industry lies above all in the
fact that the desire or appetite for consumption met by art is more
artificial and capricious then is that met by industry, and requires
"longer social elaboration." 

The desire for artistic consumption is even greater than the desire for
industrial consumption, child of "inventive and exploratory imagination".
Only the imagination which brought this desire into this world can satisfy
it, for its very origin - unlike the desire for industrial consumption -
lies almost exclusively in the imagination. 

"The desire which serves industry - shaped, it is true, by the whims of
its inventors - shoots out spontaneously from nature and repeats itself
daily, like the periodical needs which it translates; but the taste that
art attempts to flatter is attached through a long chain of ideas to vague
instincts, none of them periodical, which reproduce only by changing." 

The desire for industrial consumption preexists its object and, even when
specified or elaborated by certain inventions of the past, asks only of
its object to be fulfilled repeatedly; "but the desire for artistic
consumption expects completion from its very object and asks of its new
inventions that this object provide it with variations of their
predecessors.  Indeed, it is natural that an invented desire such as this
have as object, too, the very need to invent, since the habit of invention
can only give birth to more such habits and increase its appeal."  These
non-periodic and accidental needs are born of an "unexpected meeting" and
require the "perpetually unexpected" to survive. 

But another characteristic of artistic labour is of particular interest.
In artistic production, it is impossible to distinguish production from
consumption, for the artist himself experiences the desire to consume,
searching above all to please his own taste, not only that of his public. 

"Moreover, the desire for artistic consumption is particular in that it is
even more acute and its joy more intense in the producer himself, than in
the mere connaisseur.  In this, art is profoundly different than industry
(. . .) In matters of art, the distinction between production and
consumption begins to lose its importance, since artistic progress tends
to make of every connaiseur an artist, and of every artist a connaisseur." 

And yet these differences and opposition between artistic and industrial
labour are in the process of falling away, one after another.  Instead, a
deepening adaptation has developed between these two types of activity.
Tarde himself sketches out this tendency: beauty-values must be integrated
into the definition of wealth and artistic labour in the concept of
labour, for "the love of what is beautiful, the greed for what is
exquisite" are part of the "special" needs which exhibit great elasticity
and therefore a wide opening for industry.  Tarde even foresees that the
luxury industry which in his day concerned only the upper classes - this
was the only type of consumption which exhibited "special" needs - would,
with the development of social needs, be substituted by "industrial art,
decorative art, which could very well be destined for a most glorious
future."  A few decades later, Walter Benjamin would come to the same
conclusions, analysing tendencies in industrial development and in
productive activity based on cinematic production. 

To close, if we wish to safeguard the specificity of European culture and
its emanicipatory potential, we can no longer rush to the defense of
culture and its autonomy, for truth-values and beauty-values have become
the motors of the production of wealth.  The more we hand off the desire
for production and consumption which satisfy "organic" needs to the desire
for production and consumption which satisfy increasingly "capricious" and
"special" needs - of which one is the need to know - the more economic
activities and even goods themselves integrate our truth-values
(knowledge) and beauty-values. 

"Let us add the the theoretical and aesthetic sides to all goods will
become more and more developed - beyond, not despite their useful side." 

This conclusion might be read as catastrophic, for it demonstrates the
real subordination of cultural and artistic production to economic
imperatives. But it is a historical opportunity, even if we do not know to
seize it. =46or here, perhaps for the first time in humanity's history,
artistic, intellectual and economic labour, on one hand, and the
consumption of goods and appropriation of knowledge and beauty-values, on
the other, demand to be regulated by the same ethics. 

translated by Bram Dov Abramson <bram {AT} tao.ca>


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