Monday, August 04, 2008

Curriculum mortis

One of the more pervasive phenomena in the current cod-neoliberal academic dispensation is CV inflation: as available jobs dwindle down to Kafkian levels of postponement and implausibility, the miserable Träger of academic capital are obliged not just to overfulfil the plan, but to record - with the exacting eye of a Big Other meting out his next-to-last judgment - every single one of their productive acts. The only sins are sins of ommission. It is not that we have moved beyond measure, far from it, rather that, to paraphrase Badiou, the distance between academic representation and intellectual presentation is immesurable - precisely because acts of measuring are everywhere. In this sense, the passage from the RAE to the REF, from periodic and measured measurement (however skewed, prejudiced and instrumental to various hierarchies and supremacies) to permanent and ubiquitous measurement cannot but result in a kind of Stakhanovism of immaterial labour, which like its Stalinist forebear exceeds all rationales of instrumentality, and cannot but generate a permanent undercurrent of debilitating anxiety (since there is no standard, no amount of work will ever make you safe).

As Lyotard presciently noted in Libidinal Economy (courtesy of No Useless Leniency):

Are we, intellectual sirs, not actively or passively 'producing' more and more words, more books, more articles, ceaselessly refilling the pot-boiler of speech, gorging ourselves on it rather, seizing books and 'experiences', to metamorphose them as quickly as possible into other words, plugging us in here, being plugged in there, just like Mina on her blue squared oilcloth, extending the marker and the trade in words of course, but also multiplying the chances of jouissance, scraping up intensities wherever possible, and never being sufficiently dead, for we too are required to go from the forty to the hundred a day, and we will never play the whore enough, we will never be dead enough.

This pathology (not absent from the very act of describing it, bien sur) is especially evident when we experience, sometimes painfully, the gap between the CV & its mortal bearer. The question that creeps up on you is: why do we still need these imperfect bodies, with their nervous stuttering unease? Why this not-so-vanishing mediator between CV and power-point?

In one of his most remarkable texts, 'Historical Materialism', in Il Ricordo del Presente, Paolo Virno comments on Marx's insight that capital seeks in the worker the only thing that it cannot advance itself: non-objectified labour, labour which is still objectifying itself, labour as subjectivity.

Each time that it seeks to procure labour power, capital runs into a living body. This last, in itself, does not count for anything from an economic perspective, but is the ineliminable tabernacle of what certainly does matter: "labour as subjectivity". The living body, without any dowry other than pure vitality, becomes the substrate for productive capacity, the tangible sign for productive capacity, the objective simulacrum of non-objectified labour. If money is the universal representative of exchange value, life is the extrinsic equivalent of the only use value "not materialized in a product". ... Saying that, there remains the crucial question: why is life as such taken charge of and governed? The answer is unequivocal: because it forms the substratum time of a faculty, labour power, which possess the autonomous consistency of a use value. The productivity of labour in act is not in play here, but rather the exchangeability of the potential for labour. By being bought and sold, this potentiality carries the receptacle from which it is inseparable, that is, the living body; more, it shows itself as an accomplished object of knowledge and government (of innumerable and differentiated strategies of power). It remains clear that life, taken as the generic substratum of potentiality, is an amorphous life, reduced to a few essential metahistoric traits. Biopolitics is a particular and derivative aspect of the inscription of metahistory in the field of empirical phenomena; an inscription, we know, that historically distinguishes capitalism.

Rather than a straightforward locus of reappropriation or sensuous expression, the body becomes a privileged placed on which to read the abstract inscriptions and very real pathologies that characterise capital's penal colony. And perhaps among the reasons to struggle against the horror, discomfort and mediocrity wreaked by the current forms of abstractions is also the fact that they force us into such embarrassing and confounding experiences of our own bodies, our own lives, our own potentialities as inhabited by the undead compulsion to overproduce.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ciao compagno,
Nice post. It would be interesting to see if there are any other studies of industries in the past where reputation/CVs were key to securing work and where there was an excess of labor supply. More specifically, I wonder to what degree the same pathologies (psychological and otherwise, individual and otherwise) manifested then as well.

2:19 PM  

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