Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Federici and Arendt

Paolo Virno`s ``Virtuosity and Revolution`` pursues some of the lines I have been trying to draw between Arendt`s take on the ``subjective illusion,`` the contradiction between freedom and necessity, and the Marxist concern with the contradiction within the subjective modes of reproduction and productive to capitalism. Resolving such a contradiction on the side of a productive subject who is resistant, autonomous Marxist theorists such Cesare Casarino, Hardt and Negri, and Virno, posit the notion of the ``common`` as a way of thinking about positive models of subjective resistance. Casarino writes, ``To claim back and seize the common as production entails a drastic reorientation of subjectivity.... It entails the production of a form of subjectivity constituted by a counterdesire. Such a counterdesire is the desire to be in common--as opposed to the desire to be for the common-as-negated-by-capital, the desire to be captive of one`s own negation--in short, as opposed to the desire not to be`` (17). Such theories, which prescribe a mode of subjectivity, implicitly--or explicitly, as Casarino--corralling reason and desire, are predicated upon an opposition to the Arendtian model of subjectivity, or rather, the liberal subject that is assumed to be the model or the outcome of Arendt`s ideas about work, labor, and political activity.

Virno`s essay makes clear how central the opposition to Arendt is to work on the common, since, as he claims, ```To each his own` seems to be the message of Arendt`s The Human Condition, and every man for himself...the other two fundamental spheres, work and intellect, remain unchanged in their quantitative structures`` (206). Virno uses Arendt as an (or the) example of unfettered individualism, figured first as a feature of the intellect and then as a figure of work. Virno`s claim that this is what Arendt is doing is built upon the idea that she ``rejects out of hand the very idea of a public intellect`` (193). Conflating the ``life of the mind`` with the private sphere, Virno wrongly concludes that the intellect--which includes thought, willing, and judging, according to The Life of the Mind--does not entail a ``care for common concerns`` (Virno 193). As both The Life of the Mind and her Lectures on Kant`s Political Philosophy demonstrate, however, the care for common concerns turns out to be the central thesis of our intellectual life. What is perhaps more immediate to my concerns here is not this interpretive argument, but rather the noticeable absence of the term ``labor`` from Virno`s analysis of Arendt.

The absence of labor is all the more notable in light of Sylvia Federici`s critique of autonomous Marxists` work on the subject of immaterial labor, ``Precarious Labor: A Feminist Viewpoint.`` More particularly, the points that Federici claims to be missing from this work--namely that ``capitalist development is always at the same time a process of underdevelopment,`` and that unpaid reproductive labor continues to remain unrecognized, despite feminist analysis of the sexual division of labor--can be seen to be functions of the same type of disregard that is paid Arendt. For in Arendt`s case, labor involves exactly the realm of unwaged labor and the uneven development of freedom to which Federici refers. In her discussion of the private and public realm in The Human Condition, Arendt writes:  ``What all Greek philosophers, no matter how opposed to polis life, took for granted is that freedom is exclusively located in the political realm, that necessity is primarily a prepolitical phenomenon, characteristic of the private household organization, and that force and violence are justified in this sphere because they are the only means to master necessity--for instance, by ruling over slaves--and to become free`` (31). Later in this same section, she describes how the private realm, far from being a realm that individuals could choose (over, say, the common or the public realm) is the realm of labor: ``Hidden away were the laborers who `with their bodies minister to the [bodily] needs of life` and the women who with their bodies guarantee the physical survival of the species. Women and slaves belonged to the same category and were hidden away not only because they were somebody else`s property but because their life was `laborious,` devoted to bodily functions`` (72). These lines from Arendt describe how the freedom of the worker is dependent upon a realm of necessity--whether his own or the necessary labor of another--from which he cannot become free. It is her concern with the effects of feeling that one is free--the justification of ``force and violence``--that inform her insistence of making visible the distinction between labor and work.

While the distinctions between private and public or between labor and work themselves may be belabored, Arendt`s distinctions in general--such as between ``necessity and freedom,`` ``futility and permanence,`` ``shame and honor`` (73)--they do not serve prescriptive purposes, as I indicated above in the case of the Marxist subject, but rather they work to retain other distinctions that runs across and within both categories (see, for example, unquiet/quiet distinction, HC 15). Arendt`s concern is not only that as work ``assumes the character of labor,`` the value of work (its permanence, the durable world it creates) is denigrated, but that no longer being able to see necessity, the private realm, has its own consequences. In this regard, it remains for Arendt crucial that man knows ``he is subject to necessity,`` since in contrast to ``life in slavery,`` ``this condition [of being subject to need and necessity] is no longer fully manifest and its lack of appearance has made it much more difficult to notice and remember`` (121). But why is it that Arendt finds it so important to maintain the perceptibility of the private realm, which is indeed that realm which is about ``privation,`` about the ``life processes`` which are ``futile``because they appear and disappear? Is it the easing of this ``repugnance to futility`` (121) that she seeks, or, in fact, its opposite? It is the figure of ``socialized mankind,`` the indistinction between society and the life-processes themselves, that presents a threat large enough to defend against with the insistence on maintaining the perceptibility of the private realm.

In Arendt`s conceptualization, the private realm is like ``the other, dark and hidden side of the public realm`` (64), and thus perception of it, or the ability to perceive it does not have the same qualities as perception in public life, which is built around being among others. The perception of the private entails the capacity to see what is ``no longer human`` about human existence, to see that ``man exist[s] in this sphere not as a truly human being but only as a specimen of the animal species man-kind`` (46). And while it is true that Arendt does not elevate the capacity to perceive this to the realm of action, its clear function is to preserve the ambivalence within ``futility``--its not only that futility is to be guarded against, as indicated by the danger of the phenomenon of ``loneliness`` (59, which in The Origins of Totalitarianism has consequences for terror), or by the threatened reality of a world that appears impermanent--but the idea that the feeling of ``futility`` is one that provides individuals with the ``strongest impulse`` toward liberation (and thus also toward mastery, violence, and force). The ambivalent treatment of futility in the private realm has to do with the fact that registering it is like registering the desire not to be. That this still follows a model in which the darker ground is given meaning by ``rising into sight,`` does not minimize the potential for thinking about the impacts of losing what Arendt calls the ``non-privative traits of privacy``: ``a life spent entirely in public, in the presence of others, becomes, as we would say, shallow. While it retains its visibility, it loses that quality of rising into sight from some darker ground which must remain hidden if it is not to lose its depth in a very real, non-subjective sense`` (71).