[iDC] Immaterial Civil War

Jonathan Beller jbeller at pratt.edu
Thu Oct 15 15:30:48 UTC 2009

Hi all,

Thanks to Kristian Lukic for the great introduction as well as the  
mention of the important work of Matteo Pasquinelli.

For some reason, often when I read posts by certain members on this  
list who render theories of value without recognizing value's  
continued imbrication in capitalist dynamics a little voice in my head  
intones the old dictim: "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't  
make him drink." It seems so clear to me that despite references to  
socialism and industrialization, when it came to trying Marx, some of  
us didn't inhale. But Pasquinelli, who has inhaled deeply, takes the  
reins and heads on down to the river of dialectics once again.

At the risk of mixing metaphors I have excerpted here from his essay  
"Immaterial War: Prototypes of Conflict Within Cognitive Capitalism" a  
fine draught... or is it a toke. Partake at your own risk.

3. Lazzarato reading Tarde: the public dimension of value

Contemporary criticism does not have a clear perspective of the public  
life of
cognitive products: it is largely dominated by the metaphors stolen from
Creative Commons and Free Software, which support quite a flat vision  
no notion of value and valorisation. For this reason, I want to  
introduce a more
dynamic scenario following Maurizio Lazzarato and Gabriel Tarde that
explain how value is produced by an accumulation of social desire and
collective imitation. Lazzarato has re-introduced the thought of the  
sociologist Tarde in his book Puissances de l'invention4 [Powers of  
and in his article “La psychologie économique contre l’economie  
To sum up in few lines, Tarde’s philosophy challenges the
contemporary political economy because it: 1) dissolves the opposition  
material and immaterial labour and consider the “cooperation between  
a main force in the traditional pre-capitalist societies not only in  
2) puts innovation as the driving force instead of monetary  
accumulation only
(Smith, Marx and Schumpter did not really understand innovation as an
internal force of capitalism, a vision more concerned about re- 
production rather
than production); 3) develops a new theory of value no more based on  
value only, but also on other kinds of value, like truth-value and  
(Lazzarato: “The economic psychology is a theory of the creation and
constitution of values, whereas political economy and Marxism are  
theories to
measure values”6).
Tarde’s crucial insight for the present work is about the relation
between science and public opinion. As Lazzarato put it: “According to  
a invention (of science or not) that is not imitated is not socially  
existent: to be
imitated an invention needs to draw attention, to produce a force of  
attraction’ on other brains, to mobilise their desires and beliefs  
through a
process of social communication. […] Tarde figures out an issue  
crossing all
his work: the constituent power of the public.”7 We could say: any  
idea that is not imitated is not socially existent and has no value.  
In Tarde the
Public is the “social group of the future”, integrating for the first  
time mass
media as an apparatus of valorisation in a sort of anticipation of  
Moreover Tarde considers the working class itself as a kind of “public
opinion” that is unified on the base of common beliefs and affects  
rather than
common interests.
The Tarde-Lazzarato connection introduces a dynamic or better
competitive model, where immaterial objects have to face the laws of the
noosphere – innovation and imitation – in quite a Darwinistic  

But wait, if you've gotten this far, one good hit deserves another.  

4. Enzo Rullani and the “law of diffusion”

Rullani was among the first to introduce the term cognitive  
capitalism8. Unlike
most, he does not point out the process of knowledge sharing, but  
above all
the process of cognitive valorisation. He is quite clear about the  
fact that
competition still exists (is perhaps even stronger) in the realm of  
economy. Rullani is one of few people that try to measure how much value
knowledge produces and as a seasoned economist he gives mathematical
formulas as well - like in his book Economia della conoscenza [Economy  
Knowledge]9. Rullani says that the value of knowledge is multiplied by  
diffusion, and that you have to learn how to manage this kind of  
As Rullani puts it, in the interview with Antonella Corsani published on
Multitudes in 200010:

An economy based on knowledge is structurally anchored to sharing:
knowledge produces value if it is adopted, and the adoption (in that  
format and
the consequent standards) makes interdependency.

The value of immaterial objects is produced by dissemination and
interdependency: there is the same process behind the popularity of a  
pop star
and behind the success of a software. The digital revolution made the
reproduction of immaterial objects easier, faster, ubiquitous and  
almost free.
However, as Rullani points out, “proprietary logic does not disappear  
but has
to subordinate itself to the law of diffusion”11: proprietary logic is  
no longer based
on space and objects, but on time and speed.

There are three ways that a producer of knowledge can distribute its  
uses, still
keeping a part of the advantage under the form of: 1) a speed  
differential in
the production of new knowledge or in the exploitation of its uses; 2)  
a control
of the context stronger than others; 3) a network of alliances and  
capable of contracting and controlling modalities of usage of knowledge
within the whole circuit of sharing.

A speed differential means: “I got this idea and I can handle it  
better than
others: while they are still becoming familiar with it, I develop it  
further”. A
better understanding of the context is something not easy to  
duplicate: it is
about the genealogy of the idea, the cultural and social history of a  
place, the
confidential information accumulated in years. The network of  
alliances is
called sometimes “social capital” and is implemented as “social  
networks” on
the web: it is about your contacts, your PR, your street and web  

Here it is clear that a given idea produces value in a dynamic
environment challenged by other forces and other products. Any idea  
lives in
a jungle – in a constant guerrilla warfare – and cognitive workers  
follow often
the destiny of their brainchildren. In the capitalism of digital  
networks time is
a more and more crucial dimension: a time advantage is measured in  
Moreover, in the society of white noise the rarest commodity is  
attention. An
economy of scarcity exists even in the cognitive capitalism as a  
scarcity of
attention and related attention economy. When everything can be  
everywhere, time becomes more important than space.

from Matteo Pasquinelli, "Immaterial War: Prototypes of Conflict  
Within Cognitive Capitalism." This essay and others available at


While one might want to insist contra-Lazzarato as cited above that  
Marxism and political economy are also theories of the creation of  
value as well as the measure of value (and that the shift in the  
protocols of production are the material shifts that occasion a  
reworking of the categories of value and valuation), the above  
synthesis is correct in seeing the (contemporary) fusion of material  
and immaterial (industrial and psychological) production.  
Pasquinelli's article, focusing on Harvey's work on the parasitism of  
rent, also details certain strategies of capture that were alluded to  
in a previous post by Andrejivic where he citied Clough:

It's hard, when looking at these developments, not to be struck by  
Patricia Ticineto Clough's observation that, "this is a dynamic  
background, a probablisitc, statistical background which provides an  
infra-empirical or infra-temporal sociality, the subject of which is,  
I want to propose, the population, technologically or methodologically  
open to the modulation of its affective capacities. Sociality as  
affective background displaces sociality grasped in terms off  
structure and individual; affective modulation and individuation  
displace subject formation and ideological interpellation as central  
to the relation of governance and economy" (from The New Empiricism:  
Affect and Sociological Method, European Journal of Social Theory  
2009).  .

The article also, interestingly enough, proposes a theory of  
Immaterial Civil War, a brief plan for forms of semiotic (and  
affective) activism.

Jonathan Beller
Humanities and Media Studies
and Critical and Visual Studies
Pratt Institute
jbeller at pratt.edu
718-636-3573 fax

On Oct 14, 2009, at 5:29 PM, Kristian Lukic wrote:

> Hi all,
> Trebor kindly asked me to introduce myself on the list, although Im
> following and lurking for a several years now,
> Im writer, curator, artist, curently working as curator in Museum of
> Contemporary Art in Novi Sad, Serbia and also active in Institute for
> Flexible Cultures and Technologies - Napon. Before I was working in  
> New
> Media Center kuda.org in Novi Sad as program manager (still
> collaborating on some projects...).
> The topic of the conference is quite close to something what I was
> involved recent years. To the  play/work/leisure I came mostly through
> computer games (was and still active in Eastwood group, playing with
> laws and natures of computer games...) and MMO worlds which is most
> obvious relation between play and work.
> Also in 2007 in Novi Sad, Serbia we organized exhibition and  
> conference
> called Play Cultures in 2007, and also exhibition and conference in
> 2008, Territories & Resources (about play/work connection in web 2.0  
> and
> social networks).
> www.napon.org
> Currently Im finishing MA thesis at Theory of Art and Media at  
> Belgrade
> University of Arts (before that finished MA Art History at the same
> University)
> under the name "Commodified Play" which is mixture of lectures under
> the same name that I had from 2006 on several conferences and events.
> In 2007 together with Stealth group from Rotterdam we did a one  
> semester
> course at Piet Zwart Media Design postgradute students, that was about
> MMO and virtual worlds called "meta.life", and one workshop about the
> same topic in Laboral centre for arts in Gijon in Spain.
> Im mostly interested in conepts of play as free activity definied by
> Huizinga and Callois and today's problems with these definitions. Also
> how play is becoming more and more commodified human activity, the
> concept of agon apears to be "ruling" play element, especially in the
> notion of Virno's Negation and Inovation and what Pasquinelli describe
> as Immaterial Civil War. In young animals, play is mostly preparation
> for survival, learning how to efficiently defend themselves or how to
> efficiently attack prey. Its interesting for example how game industry
> is counting on specifically this element / pure agon. Here is useful  
> to
> realize concept of animal spirits that Virno and Pasqunelli are
> reffering too, where they regard inovation and culture as the constant
> battle, (or Immaterial civil war) and prolongation of animal nature in
> human. In that sense culture is not something opposite to "animal
> spirit" but rather continuation or even amplification of animal nature
> in humans. Situationists for examply clearly located problem of
> competition aspect in play.
> On the pure practical level its good to remind us how remote warfare  
> is
> becoming crucial in contemporary warfare (Reapers / Predators), and  
> how
> skilled youngsters with excellent reflexes in game playing (150-200
> operations in minute) are becoming major task force in remote combats.
> This activity is for sure blurred area between play and work, but it
> interesting how its connected to massive training and recruitment of
> youth throughout world (Currently 46 countries in the world are
> developing remote warfare). Maybe It is quite time to analyze  
> connection
> between children/youth and militarism, the last connection on such a
> scale was youth organization Ballila in Musolini's Italy, and its
> infamous follower Hitlerjugend...
> http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/07/23/wus.warfare.pilots.uav/index.html#cnnSTCVideo
> although I will probably physically not attend conference its great to
> follow  discussion on IDC list and I'm looking forward to see the
> outcomes of the conference!
> many greetings,
> Kristian Lukic
> _______________________________________________
> iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity  
> (distributedcreativity.org)
> iDC at mailman.thing.net
> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
> List Archive:
> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
> iDC Photo Stream:
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
> RSS feed:
> http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
> iDC Chat on Facebook:
> http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2457237647
> Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/attachments/20091015/7bfed7b3/attachment-0001.htm 

More information about the iDC mailing list