Writing Futures: Hardt and Negri's Notation Politics
Writing Futures: Hardt and Negri's Notation Politics
Aron Pease introduces this collection of essays by Linda Brigham, Caren Irr, William Wilson and Nick Spencer with a look at the multitude’s programmability.
The terms “new economy” and “globalization” exploded into circulation in the second half of the 1990s.See Doug Henwood, After the New Economy 3-4, 145-46 These competing descriptions of the post-Cold War situation followed closely on the heels of the “End of Work,” a thesis that became mainstream in the early and mid-1990s, especially when Jeremy Rifkin simply titled his 1995 contribution “The End of Work.” For an overview of End of Work writing, see Nick Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High-Technology Capitalism and George Caffentzis, The End of Work or the Renaissance of Slavery? The terms of my periodization should be read as competing with as much as they are succeeding each other. Whereas the “End of Work” depicts a drastically changing economic realm, in which jobs disappeared by the million per year in the 1970s and 1980s (especially in, but not limited to, manufacturing), through attention to downsizing, structural unemployment, automation, and huge investments in IT, the terminology prevalent in the later 1990s obscured these developments. Talk of the new economy shifted focus away from the implications of machine production toward the promise of the vaguely defined field of “knowledge work,” a term that came to signify the collarless cool of dot com professionals. At the same time, globalization’s confusing myriad of quantitative changes sounded a death knell for the “End of Work” thesis, as theorists struggled to make the different empiricisms fit together.
If today we live After the New Economy (as Doug Henwood has shown), descriptions vying for our attention go under the headings “Empire” and “Terror.” These terms oppose each other in the sense that events gathered under the former pose a challenge to the thesis of the latter for influence of “mass consciousness.” As Don DeLillo’s fictional author Bill Gray may have accurately forecasted, “novelists and terrorists are playing a zero-sum game” (156). For this project, we have begun by largely accepting the thesis of de facto novelists Hardt and Negri that a “supranational” imperial sovereignty has displaced the imperialist project of dominant nation-states. The US’s post-9/11 exertion of power thus looks, as Hardt describes the scene, “like one of those bad horror movies, when they’re buried and then the hand comes out of the grave … but usually, there’s only a few minutes left in the movie” (“An Interview” 141).
The essays gathered here redirect our attention to Hardt and Negri’s transformation of the theoretical terrain, from one centered around globalization to one around Empire. Globalization’s inadequacy as such a mapping is that it fails to “center” anything, but rather has come to stand for a number of disparate observations and empiricisms. As Henwood claims, on one hand it refers to an “internationalization” that already existed, while on the other standing for “everything bad that’s happened over the last decade or two” (145). Responding to the question of what Empire “allows us to think” that globalization does not, Hardt and Negri argue:
Globalization, especially in its economic guise, has often been conceived in quantitative terms - the increasing number, speed or distance of exchanges - rather than in qualitative terms and this has been an obstacle to understanding the real novelty of our contemporary situation. However, this may also be an indication of the limitation of the concept of globalization itself as the marker of our era. Many authors today, particularly on the Left, point out that globalization is nothing new or even that the quantity of global economic exchanges is lower than it was 50 or 100 years ago. This may be true from this limited perspective, but we think it is largely beside the point. We insist on the fact that what goes under the label ‘globalization’ is not merely an economic, financial or commercial phenomenon, but also and above all a political phenomenon. The political realm is where we most clearly recognize the qualitative shifts. (“Global Coliseum” 181)
In Empire and now Multitude, Hardt and Negri assemble qualitative shifts into a narrative mapping of a global system much as their postmodern predecessors, such as DeLillo, William Gaddis, and Thomas Pynchon, once did. Their success demonstrates the primacy of theory as the medium for cultural surveying where once it was the postmodern novel. Yet, as my pairing of terms above suggests, to the extent that “Empire” and “terror” are competing descriptors, Hardt and Negri appear as novelists. Empire and Multitude compete with the narratives under the heading “Terror,” which include the case put forth for the “War on Terror” and the interpretation of this event as a return or re-invention of US imperialism, as shapers of language and sensibility.
Scene of Labor
Immaterial labor, the form of “that indomitable Dionysus” living labor that emerges in post-Fordist capitalism, and is characterized by the immeasurable productive power of communication and cooperation, is central to Hardt and Negri’s ontology throughout their co-authored texts. Their theorization of immaterial labor follows a tradition of Italian Marxism that has drawn from the Grundrisse’s “Fragment on Machines,” in which Marx describes the capitalist process of replacing living labor with machinery as tending toward an autonomous productive power of technology and scientific knowledge, or the “general intellect.” General intellect thus refers not only to machines, but also to linguistic production, formal languages, local knowledges, and so forth. In Empire, Hardt and Negri describe it as “collective, social intelligence created by accumulated knowledges, techniques, and knowhow” (364).
In Multitude, however, Hardt and Negri first describe the contemporary “scene of labor” in the opening section titled “War.” This seemingly disjunctive placement must be explained without recourse to the military-industrial complex, which belongs to Keynesian planning and the dominant nation-states of modern sovereignty. In part, Hardt and Negri justify this embedding through reference to biopolitics. Today the military defines a strategy of “full spectrum” dominance that goes beyond control of borders or conflict with sovereign enemies. In part a response to the emergence of guerrilla struggles in the 1960s and 70s, the military now applies biopolitical strategies to entire environments, including that of its own population, actively creating relationships in these spaces. At the same time, the realm of immaterial production expands out of the economic domain, encompassing both productive and reproductive spheres. Much like the US military has in the “War on Terror” and counterinsurgencies, capitalist command must move to a “gray strategy,” relying not just on negative techniques such as arrests of protesters, but positive techniques like establishment of free speech “zones” that create relationships and environments, and thus subjectivities (52-53). In short, recent events of war are not evidence of mere “reactionary revolution” (25).
What kind of subject emerges amidst this biopolitical blurring? Nation-building strategies signal the emptying of positive essence from the idea of the nation, in effect recognizing the nation-state as a subjectivity to be invented (23). Another subjectivity, the restructured network combat unit, makes military operations into a “system of systems,” linking smaller individual units through communicative systems (42). This technological development arises in part out of the ideological necessity of “risk free” war, but has profound implications for both the subjectivity of the soldier and that of the laboring subject of peacetime as well.The work of Paul Virilio, Friedrich Kittler, and Manuel De Landa on the influence of military technology on the organization of perception and so-called peacetime technology would be a welcome addition to the “War” section. Linda Brigham brings out the ambiguity of Hardt and Negri’s network theory in “Networking the Multitude,” while making concrete the biopolitical blurring between military and social fields that makes recruiters not only out of officers, but “even social workers.” Hardt and Negri describe network struggles in terms of the relationship between war and production, observing a transformation in the organization of guerrilla movements of the 1970s in “the relationship between the organization of movements and the organization of economic and social production” (82). New guerrilla forms of resistance employ post-Fordist technologies and adopt such technologies as models for organizational structures, leaving behind hierarchical relations. But Brigham writes that “networks that result from the transformation of modern forms of production are more ambiguous than Hardt and Negri acknowledge.” The network, after all, not only describes activism against corporate exploitation, but also post-Fordist teamwork, in which knowledge workers equal so many super-informed nodes laden with the knowledge and tasks of downsized workers and managers.This is how Alan Liu describes teamwork in The Law of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information. Indeed, as Brigham concludes, there remains the question of how exactly the network form corresponds to the complexity of actual “social existence.”
Another justification for embedding the scene of labor within the “War” section is that real subsumption and the crisis of the law of value demand their convergence. In “The Constitution of Time,” Negri develops an “End of Work” argument less reliant on Grundrisse’s “Fragment” or empirical descriptions of automation and techno-scientific labor. Instead, Negri bases a theoretical analysis on the theory of real subsumption, in which capitalism now directly transforms the productive process itself.Under conditions of formal subsumption, capital exploits labor and productive processes found outside capitalist processes or in pre-capitalist forms. The goal of the capitalist is to organize this production of apparently useful items for the purpose of generating and extorting surplus value. In real subsumption, labor and all productive processes always already exist in capitalist forms. This is another way in which “there is no outside” in Empire. As Negri explains, use-value is a conception Marx “resorts to … in order to explain what is most internal: productive power” (25). Marx’s labor theory of value thus relies on a notion of labor-time that is an abstraction, in which labor becomes a homogenous substance for the purpose of measure. Today, however, our scene of immaterial labor cannot support the distinction required for an external time of measure. When communication, language, and intelligence are directly productive, where does one draw the line between office and home, between time of work and time of life? Under conditions of real subsumption, then, we must think of the working day as a “global flow” of human activity, in which all use-value is pulled into exchange-value, and value no longer appears as something external. This “flattening” of time onto itself makes average social labor no longer an abstraction produced by measure, but an actual “collective substance” (Negri 63). Negri will not define this collective substance effectively until later work, perhaps not until Empire. At this time, the productive insight is that real subsumption demystifies time-as-measure, or the law of value, which must now be replaced with blunt command.
Nearly 25 years later, Hardt and Negri sketch a history of the “dismal science” of economics from this collapse of “natural measures” - recognized by capitalism’s own economists Here Hardt and Negri add work done by economists since the 1971 separation of money from the gold standard to Negri’s previous studies of Keynes and Schumpeter - to subsequent political tactics of adjustment aimed at restoring equilibrium throughout the second half of the twentieth century. For economics to have validity other than command, it “must become a biopolitical science” (157). Such a science would have to reinvent economics, because the hegemony of immaterial labor voids its categories and measures. Immaterial products pose security problems, because their reproducibility undermines the scarcity on which private property depends (180). New forms of bioproperty emerge that require legal innovation in order to establish their property status and protection. For instance, in 1981 the University of California received a patent for the genetic information in a patient’s blood. When the patient sued, the California Supreme Court decided that, although a “naturally occurring organism” could not be patented, the extracted information could be patented (183). Such cases, as well as the examples of the “seed wars,” illustrate how a vast writing machine comes into play to reorganize conceptions of labor, raw material, and property, in effect recognizing the hegemony of immaterial labor. This is how the global north can be rich in patents taken from plants of the global south: an apparatus of scientific journals and legal codes transforms local bodies and knowledge into programmable capital.
Protection of immaterial property does not come without a cost, however, as its recognition implicitly destroys the concept of scarcity altogether. On one hand, private ownership’s reach now grasps “what we previously considered part of nature and thus common property” (182). This development appears to solve a number of problems for the capitalist. The new immaterial property status creates new objects, as in the case above, and endows digitally reproducible items with artificial scarcity. It also re-establishes the necessary labor logic, as property law depends on the link between “the one whose labor creates a good” and a right to own the object itself (186-87). On the other hand, the collaborative character of knowledge production subverts private property’s legal justification. Multitude thus develops what Caren Irr calls a “provocative sub-theme” in Empire: “the world as commons.” In “The Commons and Empire,” Irr contrasts this commons with that assumed by pessimistic versions dominated by scarcity, “whether the bourgeois economists’ tragedy of overuse and neglect … or the anti-capitalist’s tragedy of systemic expropriation.” While allowing for an ideological critique of the scarcity narrative and a historical project to investigate the “real” experience of the commons, she suggests we begin not from private property, working toward its necessary abolition, but from the creative immanence of the commons, affirming private property’s irrelevance.
Such a starting point would lead to a different narrative. Hardt and Negri’s account in Empire of capitalist appropriation of the “common” wealth results in a succession of artificial natures, which supplant an original and mythic commons. As Irr writes, “virtual natures supplant the first nature of the commons and produce as an additional by-product legends about it,” such as Robin Hood’s forest or the nomadic steppes. Provocatively, she asks, “can the immanence of the commons be both utterly present and ordinary, while also being virtualized in a fantastic, romantic past?” In this way, capitalist accumulation and appropriation of the Internet could give way to speculative historical narratives of silicon commons. We may already have examples in Ted Nelson’s dream machines or cyberpunk fiction. In addition, much media scholarship can be read through Irr’s narrative as affirmations of private property’s irrelevance, revealing it as a “blip” in our history exploded by a new media ecology with little concern for “preservation” of the commons, already a loser’s - and a capitalist’s - narrative.
Indeed, Hardt and Negri argue that we should consider nature and life as “always already artificial” (183). This advice is scarcely necessary now, as the legal system in effect has admitted as much. Legal decisions in favor of patenting information in bioproperty articulate a case for living labor’s presence in all materiality. Although the patents create an object, the key fact becomes the derivation of a useful pattern in an object, rather than the thing itself. These recognitions emerge from common knowledge that not only accumulates over centuries in our archives and in living labor itself, but shapes the natural world the capitalist calls “raw material.” The same transformation goes for the finished products of knowledge work. Value no longer resides in the commodity as an object, but in our perception of it. To an extent, this has always been so. Money originally heightened awareness of objects, as their possessors sought properties that would make the objects valuable to other potential owners. Today, however, information’s primacy intensifies this process. Properties no longer adhere to the object, having acquired a free-floating character, like money in high finance. Moreover, our conception of objects such as algorithms in part determines our perception of an entire range of objects. It is unclear whether such information resides in the object or in the awareness of the viewer whose perception organizes its object.
This is the sense in which I read William Wilson’s description of art in “Irreducible Innovation.” In opposition to Hardt and Negri’s “utilitarian” approach to art, Wilson suggests, “the painting that can yield more, later, is a model for the experience of an object that transcends our perception of the object.” The value of a work of art is not reducible to its material totality, or to its utilitarian or ideological uses, but must include the force of “non-material illusion that subsumes physical materials.” The work of art thus possesses an immaterial value that, while present in its materiality, requires a selection of information from its “non-material interrelations among parts” in order to create a sensible pattern or communicated meaning. We might follow Niklas Luhmann and say that what matters in the work of art is the difference between information and utterance, which is the starting point for new communications or the search for meaning (24-25). The legal creation of immaterial forms of property seems to me like the creation of “the painting that can yield more, later” in that meaning is irreducible to an object’s properties or utilitarian ends, but instead is constructed collaboratively in circulation. Hardt and Negri write an ideology critique, taking up the appropriation theme of, “New York stole the idea of modern art” (qtd in Wilson). In doing so, they miss an opportunity to write another legend about the commons, this time about one of literary theory’s recently favored objects: hypertext. As Joseph Tabbi has argued in a case for the “page that begins life only in circulation,” we need a new media object or new text less than we need “a more robust hypertext collectivity.” Hardt and Negri’s scene of labor thus leads to a literary theory of the commons.
Machines and Flesh
After the “Multitude” section calls for the reinvention of the science of economics, the final section, titled “Democracy,” calls for “The New Science of Democracy.” Following the analogy, then, we remember that the “multitude” first emerges from the economic realm. Our “hypertext collectivity” must emerge from the working class standpoint in order to grasp the multitude’s composition amidst the diagram of forces that bring it into being. But if we follow the scene of biopolitical labor sketched above, we can see that the “working class” no longer has the same meaning. Real subsumption blurs productive and reproductive spheres and explodes the previous site and subject - the factory and the skilled worker - for such a standpoint. Yet, capitalism’s increasing ability to computerize labor makes it difficult to identify an essence of human labor inseparable from machines that could provide a new site and subject.
George Caffentzis’ “Why Machines Cannot Create Value; or, Marx’s Theory of Machines” demonstrates this dilemma. Caffentzis describes how Alan Turing’s machine theory breaks down the distinction between manual and intellectual labor, because it shows all positive aspects of labor to be programmable. Consequentially, the capacity of human labor power to create value must lie in a negative aspect. Otherwise, machines could create value, “a reductio ad absurdum for Marxist theory” (53). Value-creation must lie in human labor’s ability to refuse work, which, presumably, machines cannot do. And this negative power, Caffentzis argues, is aptly demonstrated by Turing’s own suicide.
Negri also develops a negative definition of labor in an earlier formulation of the shift from the mass worker to the social or biopolitical worker. In “Archaeology and Project: The Mass Worker and the Social Worker,” he writes:
Labour is the essence of capital. It has always been so. It is also the essence of man, inasmuch as man is productive activity. But capital is real - while human essence is only a dream. The only human essence of labour which approximates to the concreteness of capital is the refusal of work. Or, rather, that kind of productivity which, for capital is purely negative. (226)
While still identified as a refusal of work, Negri’s conception of “negative labor” differs from Caffentzis’ in its suggestion of a positive productivity that exceeds capital.And, to clarify, Caffentzis’ argument does not necessarily preclude Negri’s argument, except that the exemplification of Turing’s suicide makes a suggestion of equivalence between the two theories problematic. Negri thus goes beyond what Friedrich Kittler calls Turing’s “politics of suicide.” “Turing was suicidal” not only in his death, but also in his life’s work, in which he developed “a mathematics that could in principle be delegated to machines” (GFT 245). Turing’s suicide, in short, is not a spontaneous refusal of work, as Caffentzis would have it, but further demonstration of work’s refusal of him.
Turing’s machines advance the breakdown of skill into general abstract labor, but in doing so they flatten a working day previously differentiated into a hierarchy of use-values into an immanent mobility. This mobility constitutes the flesh of the multitude and the source of Hardt and Negri’s attempt to define a “human essence of labour” in positive terms. In Multitude, they propose the poor as the “paradigmatic subjective figure of labor today” (212). This is not a negative definition based on abstract “refusal,” as if Hardt and Negri were satisfied to point out that today we are all un- or under-employed. Instead, it is the poor who “embody” productive life (133). Poverty is the “ground zero of human activity” and as such reveals the “general possibility” of living labor conceived as immanent activity and social cooperation, rather than a hierarchy of job functions operating in discrete units of time and space.
Although “we are the poors” is a call they make in Empire, this formulation in Multitude marks a change in emphasis for Hardt and Negri, as Nick Spencer makes clear in “Machinic Multitude.” Hardt and Negri’s previous attempts to define this paradigmatic subjectivity rely on the cyborg figure, and thus, Spencer argues, tend to reduce machinery to hardware. Consequently, when they “posit the fusion of the machine” with the proletarian subject, that subject is no longer necessarily collective. Spencer sees this blockage largely overcome in Multitude through greater attention to “social machinicity.” By more closely relating general intellect with social cooperative labor (e.g. social production of language, rather than “technological interactivity”), Hardt and Negri develop a richer figure of proletarian subjectivity.
If we begin from this “ground zero,” what is the place of machinic hardware in bringing the multitude as a political and collective figure into existence? How is a “machinic multitude” to appropriate post-Fordist machinery for its own inventions or its own constitution of time? Spencer brings to our attention two seemingly opposed terms often used by Hardt and Negri to define this organization: machinicity and poverty, or machines and flesh. In Empire, machines are an ally: “This is a new form of exodus, an exodus toward (or with) the machine - a machinic exodus” (367). Although they cite Anti-Oedipus, Hardt and Negri clearly are more interested in machines in the more usual sense of hardware, more often focusing on Marx’s insights about the worker’s relationship to machinery, and the need to “distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital” (367). In Multitude, however, Hardt and Negri commonly use the term “flesh” to describe the organization of their laboring subject, citing the “monstrosity” and the “performativity” of this collective substance (160). While the term does not signify a return to nature for Hardt and Negri, it does signal a certain de-linking from technological hardware. The flesh of the multitude consists less of machines than the “common condition of poverty and productivity” (212).
I want to be careful here to avoid developing an antagonistic opposition between machines and flesh. Ultimately, I want to amplify the media murmurings of Empire that have become diffuse in Multitude. The “machinic exodus” of Empire constitutes a useful - and joyous - alternative to Caffentzis’ somber conclusion. Everywhere in Multitude we have communication and the production of language. The worldly common is “based on the communication among singularities and emerges through the collaborative social processes of production” (204). Yet, a materialist study of media and its technologies, and of programming and its hardware, is missing. When Hardt and Negri describe media studies, they refer to ideology critiques and sociological studies of corporate media, contrasting the latter’s apocalyptical tone with the Birmingham school’s more sensible recognition that public opinion - the new civil society - is a cramped space defined by relations of power but potentially traversed by two-sided communication. In short, these studies remain at the level of content. Missing from Marxist theories of immaterial labor and post-Fordist technologies, like Multitude or Paolo Virno’s A Grammar for the Multitude, is a media theory.
There is No Software, or Notation Politics
Media, when not reduced to either technological hardware or mere (ideological) content, marks the intersection where the figures of machines and flesh come together. In this final section, I want to compare Kittler’s writing on technological hardware and software to Hardt and Negri’s ontology of living labor. Since Kittler told us “There is No Software,” most critics have pegged the statement as evidence of Kittler’s techno-determinism. This is why John Cayley seems relieved to note that Kittler follows this statement with the qualifier that, rather, there would be no software if computers were not surrounded by an environment of everyday languages. Yet, if Cayley had extended the quotation another sentence, we would observe that the software of everyday languages is made up of, in Kittler’s words, “letters and coins … books and bucks” (150). In short, Kittler’s software essays are about real subsumption.
“There is No Software” and “Protected Mode” borrow heavily from a collection of essays written for the fiftieth anniversary of Turing’s “On Computable Numbers,” and Kittler’s survey of this material leads him to lament how far we have come since “the good old days of Shannon’s mathematical theory of information” (151). Research at IBM on “logical depth” rejects Shannon’s notion of value, “appreciated” as a poor measure of a message’s value “from the earliest days of information theory” (Bennett 209-10). Yet IBM’s more modest approach remains within this system of measurement. IBM’s innovation, a compromise concept called “logical depth,” is to avoid the two extremes of Shannon’s axis: the noise of unpredictability and the redundancy of reiteration. Instead, “logical depth” locates a message’s value in its “buried redundancy,” defined as:
parts predictable only with difficulty, things the receiver could in principle have figured out without being told, but only at considerable cost in money, time, or computation. In other words, the value of a message is the amount of mathematical or other work plausibly done by its originator, which the receiver is saved from having to repeat. (210) Also quoted in “There is No Software” p. 152.
Here we have a bourgeois scientist’s striking reformulation of the capitalist tendency to replace variable capital with constant capital, an example readymade for Hardt and Negri’s scene of labor. “Logical depth” is not technological hardware, but rather an extraction from the common knowledge of mathematics made into a machine for extracting surplus value. This much is clear from Kittler’s reading of “logical depth” and similar work by computer scientists and physicists, which he labels as so many one-way functions, “a trend that probably cannot be adequately explained either through technical advances or through the formalities of a theory of models, but rather, like all cryptology, has strategic functions” (“Protected Mode” 158). These strategic functions are functions of capital, as we know from Marx’s study of the material of money in the Grundrisse. Of the traits Marx finds in precious metals, many point toward security’s importance in picking the proper money-subject. This is why Marx notes gold’s gravity, its irretrievability without exchange, and its production only through an art “which requires for its full development the appearance of so many sciences and collateral arts” (179).
Whereas Cayley lays his wager with the rescue of software in human language, Kittler lays his with hardware, implying programmability as a positive trait. In his own language, Kittler suggests a move Hardt and Negri have made in Empire and Multitude. Rather than ride the “End of Work” thesis into Turing-suicide, Hardt and Negri have suggested that, while capitalist command is still to be resisted, work itself should be recognized as overcome. Production previously arranged through the exchange of discrete labor hours and discrete commodities now occurs through the continuous generation of language or affects in the worldly commons. When the common tool is the brain, the productive force is cooperation, and the things produced are subjectivities or relations, to work is not only to be exploited, but also to participate in social life itself.
Returning once more to “Archaeology and Project,” I want to look at the moment Negri pauses where Caffentzis ends, deciding that defining labor’s potential in “negative” terms can only be a transitional stage.
In other words, we have here … a negative form of labour, which has such broad dimensions and is so articulated as to render problematical its very definition as ‘negative’ …. But I prefer to continue calling it ‘negative labour’ … simply because I do not yet feel the strength to be able to call it liberated work (i.e. work that is wholly positive) …. But the fact that we cannot spell it out does not necessarily mean that it does not exist. It exists as a murmuring among the proletariat. Negative work, amid the whispers of everyday life and the noise and shouting of the struggle … (226-27)
From the hushed tone of the Fordist-whisper to the clamor of post-Fordist communication, we have the amplification of the noise of real numbers. Since real numbers refer to continuous quantities, or all points in between integers on a number line (decimal fractions that extend indefinitely), they resist programming as it is commonly understood. Though real numbers are considered computable if an algorithm can predict its digits, in actuality far more real numbers exist than there are algorithms to compute them and even those that are computable depend on Turing’s assumption of infinite tape for their ultimate derivation.
According to Hardt and Negri’s reading of real subsumption (as well as the implications of Marx’s “Fragment on Machines”), a global flow of immeasurable labor replaces discrete units (labor hours, workers) as the source of value. Yet, this transformation takes place at the same time as the computer emerges as the general tool of post-Fordist labor, and the computer works through discrete elements, whose “very isolation” limits possible connectivity between elements. Switching components “pay for their programmability.” But since the goal of structural programming is to minimize noise, this phrase takes on added meaning. Whatever the cost of their lack of computing power, switching components pay it back to the capitalist in the form of control. Connectivity otherwise need not be limited. As it is, structural programming treats a number of interactions that “always already take place” between transistor cells - “electron diffusion … quantum-mechanical tunneling all over the chip” - as noise that must be limited (“There is No Software” 153). Machines, it would seem, refuse labor all the time.
Rather than scorning programmability, however, Kittler sides with it. My argument differs in this regard from that found in an exchange between Linda Brigham and Mark Hansen on these essays, as well as Kittler’s own conclusion. By the end of “There is No Software,” Kittler remains within the terms set up by Michael Conrad’s essay “The Price of Programmability” and thus the opposition between programmable and nonprogrammable. This framing obscures the more interesting argument Kittler makes just prior, that that the “all-important property of being programmable … is an exclusive feature of hardwares, more or less suited as they are to house some notation system” (153). The relationship of nonprogrammable to programmable is not one of a lack to a presence, but rather that of an excess to its constraint. As Conrad shows, the structurally nonprogrammable still programs at a local level; it can set finite rules and parameters. It only gives up the global rule. The key fact is thus not the programmer (everyday language or capital), but the capacity for programmability, and it is this fact of programmability that requires broader definition.
What kind of physical notation system can we find in the global flow of immaterial labor and its networked machinicity? What kind of legend can we write about this common wealth that capitalist programming has appropriated? Hardt and Negri’s suggestions of neurologist models of the body politic (337) and the self-organization of monstrous flesh (190-94) may point us in the direction of a notation politics. Mark Hansen suggests that, in the software essays, Kittler has superposed two tendencies in his work: media ecology and technical dedifferentiation. The result is a temporal mode of future anteriority, in which we await an inevitable digital convergence of media and the perfection of hardware. In his study of Deleuze, Hardt writes that in attempting to locate an organizational movement from multiplicity On Deleuze’s concepts of multiplicity and the virtual, see my review in ebr of Manuel De Landa’s Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy toward unity, Deleuze names two concepts from Henri Bergson, which will be familiar from Hansen’s reading of Kittler: dedifferentiation and the future anterior. The first concept suggests the real is not only that which differentiates according to articulations of nature, but that these articulations can retrace to an original point of departure. Technical dedifferentiation drives Kittler’s so-called Man, a fictional subject created by surrounding objects, whether commodities or media technologies, back toward such a point. Yet, as Hardt notes, that point remains on the virtual plane of multiplicity. Deleuze needs the second concept, the future anterieur, to find an organizational movement that would actualize this virtuality. This actualization inverts Bergson’s movement of memory in which the universal equals founding recollection, and creates a “future memory” that explains living labor’s capability of “burning the plans” of nature and taking control of the process of differentiation (21). The digital convergence, ever-present in the background of Hardt and Negri’s writing, here makes possible the creation of a new machinicity, by de-differentiating so-called Man toward a future anterior notation system - whether social or silicon commons or a hybrid of the two - whose media-technological existence could allow a new, collective programmability to come into being.
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