[iDC] work, play, praxis

Sean Cubitt scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Mon Jul 6 11:17:30 UTC 2009

Davin¹s comment son desire open up some new vistas. The challenges are how
to square desire and the gift - ie to see how the vicissitudes of desire,
its notorious ability to turn lust into violence, hunger into disgust, are
expressible in the gift relation - and how to understand desire as something
other than the moblising force of consumer capital

While this discussion has been rolling, I¹ve been travelling and therefore
reading, among other things a book (Matthew B Roller) on the transitional
relations between autocrats and aristocrats in the early empire in Rome,
where he makes a simple useful distinction between gifts and commodities:
Gifts create or reinforce personal relationships, and are usually
incommensurate (either one gift is Œbetter¹ than the other or the reciprocal
gift is delayed in time). Commodity exchange is between commensurate things
(of equal value) exchanged in real time and implies no personal relation.
Roller points out that gifts can be amicable or hostile, ie designed to
create unrepayable debt, so reinforcing hierarchy. At that time of huge
social change, gift relations rather than commodity exchange were typically
used to create obligations within the ruling elite

Today we see an additional term: the impersonal relationship of the
commodity exchange can itself be commodified (the on-selling of bad debts).

Thesis 1: the commodificaton and sale of labour was complemented by the
commodification and sale of attention between the 1880s and the 1950s.
Subsequently it has been extended into the commodificaton and sale of free
creative play

Thesis 2: both commodified relationships (on-sold debt) and unpad content
creation rely on the existence of individuals. But in commodity exchange the
actual (phenomenal) person matters less than certain data characteristics
(creditworthiness, insurability). Likewise we know from Adorno that despite
social origins, social vehicles (eg language) and social audiences, markets
and socio-cultural functions, creativity requires the lens of the person as
a medium through which the social is brought to an experiential precision, a
degree of subjectivity which both ties it to the truth of contemporary
(individualistic) societies and provides the randomness which pure
rationality (of the market or for that matter of critical theory) can¹t
produce. Meanwhile the market, while massified, requires the individual as
the agent of purchasing and consumption. The market needs individualised
tastes and choices in order to disperse risk, encourage fashions, and thus
increase rates of innovation and waste.

Thesis 4. The necessity of individuation when connected up with the
commodification of labour, attention, play and of relationships ‹ initially
fiscal and actuarial but now also social (the exchange value of personal
networks) -- makes the person a commodity, or more specifically commodifies
the data abstractable from but identifable with a person.

(this is the issue of privacy. There is no Œright¹ to privacy unless you
posit the self as a internal relation of ownership, ie that there is a legal
person who owns her own data, ie that we are our own commodities, not only
when we sell our labour but in all aspects of non-working life)

So a possible answer rto Michael¹s query about the quantification of free
colllaboration might come in  one of two forms, the first drawing obliquely
on the lacanian thread in tis discussion. The other from the Multitude
thread. Either a) in the schiz produced by the commodification of the self
as owner of its own data, something is left out, which we may as well call
desire. This is , as Nicholas says (Œthe desiring pulse is a capitalist
pulse to begin with¹), shaped by Capital, but only in the way that the
unconscious in lacan is shaped by language, ie it is the obverse, what is
excluded, which takes its shape from the act of exclusion, an Other that
begins beyond the boundary we set.

The second answer is that the statistical management of data and bio flows
is so exclusively focused on the atomistic behaviour of individuals it no
longer has room for the behaviour of crowds as anything other than the
aggregate of individuals. An emergent politics might do worse than go back
to the fascination with the sociology of the crowd back in the 1930s, to
return the idea of the crowd to the centre of political discourse

The new crowd may well be deeply marked by the collapse of old class
solidarities and to a significant extent of extended families and even (in
the most overdeveloped economies) the nuclear family. No nostalgia for
Sparticism. But if the individual is an institution ­ in much the same way
as the family before it ­ then it has a history; and so does the crowd which
has been edged out of our conception of politics..

In our instance, the creation of mutual obligations trough gift-giving will
also be marked by the self-orientation of the contemporary form of
individuality. But because contemporary individuality is deeply
unsatisfying, because it leaves out the profoundly socialising
Other-orientation of desire, and does so if anything more radically than
predecessor regimes, the crowd emerging from the database economy may well
be more amorphous and  - god willing ­ a great deal less autocratic,
demagogic and foundationally racist than the plebeian crowd of ancient Rome


On 5/07/09 2:53 PM, "Nicholas Ruiz III" <editor at intertheory.org> wrote:

> Greetings davin/all...many thanks for your great thoughts on this...i'm not
> really sure we can substantiate such an ethereal desire, to  'carve out a
> relationship between subjects that IS outside of this materiality'...as the
> desiring pulse is a capitalist pulse to begin with - desire 'wants' something
> and generally seeks it, from the environment or from itself -resulting in the
> phenomena of capitalization....and p2p is the ultimate in capitalistic
> circumvention and exchange all while it is 'free,' (which it isn't for myriad
> reasons) in the sense that the sharing pod exists, to share the livelihood of
> the 'other'...who may or may not benefit from the sharing and is likely, in
> many cases, forced to adapt to the increased 'sharing' of one's 'labor' -ala
> the music artists which now know they must tour (more than ever before) to
> make a living.
> The question of motivation - 'that many desperately want to live in a world
> where it is possible to imagine that people might be motivated by something
> other than the zero sum game' - i think this is an interesting question...but
> as a hypothesis, perhaps it might be better to say that the rules of the game
> we must maintain in a more 'fair' manner? We might even speak of Justice? Yes,
> a striving toward something unrealizable, yet 'approachable' as a limit in
> calculus. We must be careful with love however, as it excludes that which it
> does not love and hence renders the 'unloved' with many possible, or even
> probable, consequences - solidarity seems more compelling, for its own sake -
> and for the sake of a very specific, 'desiring-capital' you describe.
> amicalement!
> Nicholas Ruiz III, Ph.D
> NRIII for Congress 2010
> http://intertheory.org/nriiiforcongress2010.html
> ____________________________________
> Editor, Kritikos
> http://intertheory.org

Prof Sean Cubitt
scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Media and Communications Program
Faculty of Arts
Room 127 John Medley East
The University of Melbourne
Parkville VIC 3010

Tel: + 61 3 8344 3667
Fax:+ 61 3 8344 5494
M: 0448 304 004
Skype: seancubitt

Editor-in-Chief Leonardo Book Series

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