Issue 2/2001 - Du bist die Welt

Economy and the Production of Subjectivity

The binding of affective powers in contemporary capitalism

Maurizio Lazzarato

Marx saw the key to the solution of the puzzle of work and wares in the relationship of time to subjectivity - in a sort of »crystallization of time.«

Cinema, video, and digital technologies suggest a different crystallization of time: a new type of machine that, in contrast to mechanical and thermodynamic machines, does not crystallize time in general, but the duration of perception, sensitivity, and thought.

Bergson understands »crystallization of time« to mean a process of creation and accumulation of powers. For him, duration is »a specific power.« But what power is in question here? It is neither a kinetic nor a potential power. Bergson fits into the materialistic tradition, according to which power is closely connected to emotion. He adds an important determination to the qualification of affective power: affective power can only be comprehended in relation to time, to duration. In this way, he reveals a relationship between affective power, subjectivity, and time/duration.

The activity implied by image technologies directly affects the specific power that one calls »the feeling of effort« or »attentiveness.« Time-crystallization machines have a direct influence on the process of the »production of subjectivity,« since they join forces with the emotions, perception, memory, language, and thought.

The attentiveness that Bergson speaks of is not individual, psychological attentiveness, but the power that feels and acts by producing the images and various conditions of consciousness.

To be more precise: before images and sounds are produced, the time-crystallization machines produce duration. Only the possibility of its reproduction allows the production of images and sounds. The time-crystallization machines are the »motors« of the synthesis, the contraction, and the creation of affective power. A »new type« of »powerful, non-organic energy« forms the material they work with.

In order to analyze how the affective powers and the production of subjectivity are at the center of the process of adding value to capital, I shall combine the analysis of capitalism developed by Deleuze and Guattari with an analysis of the information economy.

A whole series of categories that served to form a critique of political economy has to be abandoned or reformulated. That is particularly the case with the category of »work,« which has to be compared, without any nostalgia, with the activities and affective powers roused, produced and consumed through the new technological arrangements. The concept of »living work« was at the heart of the critique of »work.« Critical Marxism interpreted it as an expression of the worker's subjectivity, thus making possible a thoroughgoing renewal of the critique of political economy. However, this concept remained directly connected with the qualification of subjectivity as proletarian subjectivity. The Marxist concept of a »global subjectivity« as a characteristic that defines capitalism was thus not able to leave this framework.

The concept of the »production of subjectivity« as developed in French post-structuralist philosophy - with significant differences - allows a radical break with the Marxist definition of »living work« ( and can, at the same time, regain its original intuition from a different perspective): the subjectivity that is »put to work« is simply any subjectivity at all when it can no longer be called exclusively proletarian. In postmodern capitalism, the Benjaminian distinction between work and perception - or the distinction between work and affect that emerged in the '70s - has been made superfluous by the definition of »generic activity« that, from the production point of view, produces »added value independently of any form of work (children, pensioners, unemployed, TV viewers).«

This produces enormous problems inasmuch as it is not just a matter of combining work and subjectivity, work and language, or work and affects. The arrangements and conditions of the production of added value and of subjectivity must be completely redefined in a world in which »there is no longer any distinction between man-nature, society-nature, industry-nature ... (and) ... no spheres or cycles that are relatively independent of one another« (Deleuze/Guattari). This redefinition requires the reconstruction of the concept of »activity,« of the affective »powers,« of »free action,« which was perverted and mysticized equally by both capitalism and the labor movement. Neither point of view has ever freed itself from the theoretical and political subordination of the concept of power to the concept of work.

We are obliged to abandon most of the categories of the »critique of the political economy«, but we shall not abandon the Marxist methodology: that is, the necessity of discovering the genetic, creative, differential element that Marx defined as »living work« within the categories of political economy. Most terms concerned with language, communication, and information hide and mysticize the conditions of the production of subjectivity and the affective powers that constitute it. In fact, language and communication tend to include subjectivities, virtualities and affective powers in the »faculties of the soul«; but once they are so defined, the ontological and political novelty is found there as intersubjectivity, as »the relationship with the Other.«

In this regard, one should treat Habermas, Shannon, and most linguists in a similar way to that in which Marx treated the »classical economists.« Language, communication, and information are, under the new conditions of capitalistic accumulation, the forms in which the affective powers are spatialized. Within »language,« »communication,« »information,« it is impossible to define the genetic, plastic element that alone can explain their constitution and development. »But what are they related to, if the socius were reduced to the facts of language and these latter, in their turn, to series of signifiers able to be expressed binarily, 'digitally'?« (Felix Guattari)

In »Mille Plateaux,« Deleuze/Guattari not only establish that the production of value is no longer based on the »human component in work«; they also provide us with the elements necessary to express the relationship between the production of subjectivity and time-crystallization machines, beyond the categories of utility value and exchange value.

Labor is only productive (in the economic sense) to the extent to which it is able to integrate and discipline desire and the affective powers. Capitalism has always achieved this appropriation through divisions: between factory and society, between proletarian subjectivity and other forms of subjectivity, between productive and unproductive work, between time for working and time for living, between manual work and brainwork. Only under these conditions is the »productive« relationship between subjectivity, body, and time - a relationship produced by capitalism - seen as a the power of capital and labor.

The »big transformation« heralded by the conflicts of 1968 consists in the fact that the relationship between desire, affective powers, and time no longer has to take the detour via labor to produce wealth. The information economy shows us how capitalism, even in its most advanced forms, organizes the relationship between affects, desires, and time without recourse to the discipline of the factory, and appropriates the affects and desires of each and every individual in an open space (without distinguishing between productive and unproductive, or between »proletarian« or other subjectivities) in order to prepare them for the production of profit.

The analysis of advanced capitalism developed by Felix Guattari in the seventies allows us to understand the increasingly important role that the affective posers and the time-crystallization machines will play in the organization of the economy. In his analysis, Guattari focuses on two complementary aspects which have since been confirmed. Firstly, contemporary capitalism does not confine itself to exploiting labor; it exploits the whole of society. »The concepts of capitalistic business and of jobs can no longer be separated from the entirety of the social fabric, which itself is produced and reproduced under the direct control of capital. The concept of capitalistic business must be extended to include collective institutions, state institutions, media apparatuses, jobs, and the majority of unpaid activities. It could be said that the housewife has a job at the school, the consumer in the supermarket, and TV viewers in front of their screens.« (Guattari)

Capitalism no longer restricts itself to exploiting »work-time«; it also exploits »living-time.« To use one of Foucault's concepts: contemporary capitalism defines itself as a »bio-power« and as »bio-politics.« Putting life at the center of the production of added value implies ? and this is the second aspect of Guattari's analysis - the central position held in the production of value by the affective powers that make up life.

The organization of the production of value thus does not only include the »economically determinable« values, but also the mental and affective values, the faculties of the »soul,« as well as the impersonal affects that are at the basis of the production of subjectivity.

»The capitalistic machinery grafts itself onto this basic functioning of perceptive, sensitive, affective, cognitive, and linguistic behaviors, as individuals are just as 'equipped' with modes of perception or of normalization of desire as factories, schools, territories.« (Guattari)

Capitalism not only »manufactures« the flows of primary material, the flows of energy, the flows of human labor, but also the flows of knowledge, semiotic flows, which reproduce affects, sensations, attitudes, and collective behavior patterns. The mechanisms involved in the production of subjectivity thus increasingly tend to correspond to the processes of the production of wealth.

According to Guattari, capitalism defines itself by a process of deterritorialization of the real, which can only be controlled and integrated by the a-significant semiotic machines and the flow of signs, themselves deterritorialized. On an economic level, capitalism does not produce discourse, but attempts to control the a-significant semiotic machines. Here, Guattari refers primarily to money, the organization of its circulation, and the a-significant grids of the stock market. The deterritorialized flows of subjectivity are thus controlled and integrated by the deterritorialized flows of money.

Contemporary capitalism is defined by a continued enrichment through semiotic components and a-significant semiotic machines of appropriation that are no longer restricted to money and its derivatives. Putting the »socius« and the affective powers to work requires a specific machinery. This is where Guattari sees the increase in what we have called time-crystallization machines (TV, cinema, the electronic networks), which effect a semiotic work process that directly affects subjectivity.

»Capital today manifests itself - beyond hard cash and paper money, credit, shares, title deeds, etc. - in semiotic operations and every kind of manipulation of power by using information technology and the media.« (Guattari)

Turning life into value requires machines that are in a position to integrate the affective powers and the non-organic energy of which they are made up. With the time- crystallization machines, mechanical integration is no longer limited to locations of production, but also develops in all other social and institutional spaces: the media, networks, collective institutions, etc. Our whole work is meant to show how, by using these new machines, capitalism »can gain control, beyond labor and monetarized goods, of a multitude of power 'quanta' that would otherwise remain encapsulated in local, domestic or libidinal economies.«

What is new about Guattari's analysis is that »collective institutions« (among which are the media and digital networks) are, for him, no longer »ideological apparatuses of the state« as proposed by Althusser. For Guattari, they are not mechanisms for the reproduction of ideology, but for the reproduction of the means and relationships of production. The developments of the last twenty years confirm his analysis and radicalize it so far as to state that the information economy today has made these institutions into mechanisms for the direct creation of economic wealth. Through the information economy, they themselves have become the most dynamic, and quantitatively most important, part of post-Fordist accumulation.

Taking Guattari's concepts as a basis, it is possible to put forward another very important qualification of the time-crystallization machines, one that is closely connected with the critique of their function of ideological representation. The time-crystallization machines do not only function through »representations,« but also, and above all, through »affects.« To use a Bergsonian distinction: these machines, through the work of production, of conservation, and of accumulation of duration, graft themselves on to the »affective feelings« and the »representative feelings« in equal measure. These machines function on a double level of a-significant semiotics (of durations, of intensities, of affects) and significant semiotics (of representations, of ideas, of emotions). This distinction is of great importance if one is not to reduce time-crystallization machines to mechanisms of ideological production, and to understand how they participate in the accumulation of energy »of a new type«, as Bergson puts it. Through this double affective level, the time-crystallization machines directly involve desire and the affective powers in the information economy.

While the significant machines and semiotics involve the person, that is, the »easily manipulable« subjective representations (ideas and emotions), the a-significant machines and semiotics arrange »infra-personal, infra-social elements according to a molecular economy of desire that is very much more difficult to put at the heart of stratified social relationships. By thus putting perceptive functions, affects and unconscious behavior patterns to work, capitalism takes possession of a capacity for work and desire that easily exceeds those of the working class in the sociological sense.« (Guattari)


Translated by Tim Jones


This text is the English translation of a preprint from Maurizio Lazzarato's new book »Videophilosophie,« which will be published in the summer of 2001 by b-books in Berlin.