BACK TO THE FUTURE
Translated by Michael Hardt
© 1998 Antonio Negri Translation © 1998 Michael Hardt
Note: This text is a transcription of an interview video, Retour vers le futur, which was produced in the days leading up to Negri’s return to Italy and to prison. That video, which is in Italian with French subtitles, can be ordered from L’Yeux Ouverts, B.P. 624, 92006 Nanterre CEDEX, France, for 250FF (around $50 US). An extended version of the interview has been published by Editions Mille et Un Nuits under the title Exil (Paris, 1998). This translation is posted here by permission of the translator.
Prison and Life
I’m not a masochist who would try to go through some kind of deprivation in order to construct something. I think that really there is no substantial difference between prison and the rest of life. I think that life is a prison when one doesn’t make something of it or when the time of life is not grasped freely. One can be free in prison or outside prison. Prison is not a lack of freedom, just as life itself is not freedom — the life of workers. The problem, then, is not that one must go through prison and the problem is not to make a philosophy out of this. There is no need to go through any deprivation. This is not a condition of philosophy. The fact is that one must make live the positive passions. The positive passions are the ones that construct, whether one is in prison or outside. And the positive passions are the ones that construct community, that liberate relationships, that create joy. And this is completely determined by the capacity to grasp the movement of time and translate it into an ethical process, in other words, into a process of the construction of personal joy, community, and the free enjoyment of divine love.
I don’t know, it’s clear that defining solitude is difficult. I would say that solitude is powerlessness. This is the definition of solitude. There are times when you have exhausted a certain kind of study, a certain kind of work, and you find yourself alone. For example, here in France there was a period when I first arrived when I was “alone,” as you say — in other words, not only alone from a theoretical point of view but also from a practical, material point of view. And all this obviously led me to reflect on Leopardi’s reaction to solitude, which was a poetic reaction but also and above all a philosophical one — that capacity to invent great material worlds, like Lucretius, in which truly being and the construction of being rained down, and there was this capacity to construct new, possible worlds. This is the great thing about Leopardi’s pessimism: the possibility to construct worlds, different worlds. Also, this construction of different worlds takes place through what is common, what is common to humanity. What you find in Leopardi is really a humanism after the death of Man. And really all that I experienced was a solitude of powerlessness. For example, after the political struggles in ’95 that created an extraordinary initiative through which we began to understand what eventually could be a new construction of the public, the construction of an absolute democracy, there was a lull of activity, a lull that corresponded to the insufficiency of our means of analysis. We could analyze the struggles of ’95 and understand them, understand them in their implicit goals but we were completely unable to develop them politically. That was my solitude, that powerlessness to act politically. When one experiences these great phenomena, these rebirths of the Paris Commune that history grants us ever fifty years, every thirty years, the thing that is absolutely fundamental is to rediscover political theory in them. It’s from this point of view that my powerlessness to continue the sociological work that we had started, that we had experienced, became a kind of solitude.
The “choice” of prison
Is a line of flight, in Deleuze’s terms. There were moments, when faced with a flattened reality, a world that had become completely flat, you find, but this from all points of view, from political, emotional, affective points of view, you find that there is the possibility, the necessity to make an hypothesis, a political hypothesis, which can set out from anywhere, from prison or from the social field, just as it can from certain administrative structures. What is important is linking this kind of analysis, of daily practices, to a basic project to gather together all the elements to make it constituent, productive. Each of us is a machine that produces reality, each of us is a machine that constructs. And today there are no longer prophets, there is no longer the person who can preach out in the desert calling a people to come, to construct. There is only the militant, in other words, the one who succeeds in experiencing the poverty of the world completely and identifying the new forms of exploitation, the new forms of suffering, and organizing around this the processes of liberation, but also participating in them. The figure of the prophet, even the great prophet in the style of Marx or Lenin, is completely gone. Today there is simply this “direct” ontological and constituent construction, which each of us has to experience completely. There can be parentheses in a life, one can be more or less alone in different ways, but it’s nonetheless true that then the real solitude that counts is Spinoza’s solitude, that is, that solitude that is a constitutive act of being around oneself, the construction of community that passes through the concrete analysis of every atom of reality and that recognizes, within that atom of reality, the disjunction, the break, the antagonism, and acts on these in order to push forward the process. I believe, then, that from this point of view, in postmodernity, to the extent that material and immaterial labor end up being posed against one another, the figure of the prophet, that is, the intellectual, has no role insofar as it has been completely realized, and that therefore militancy becomes fundamental. In other words, we need people who are like the members of the IWW in the United States at the beginning of the century, who ride the rails across the great West and at every station stop to create a political cell, a cell of struggle. It’s through their travels that this communication of struggles, of desires, of utopias took place. And on the other hand we have to be like Saint Francis of Assisi, that is, truly poor, poor because only at that level of solitude can we rediscover the real paradigm, the key to exploitation today. This “biopolitical” paradigm invests both work and life, along with the relationships among people. And therefore it is “full” of cognitive facts, of organizational, social, and political facts, and emotional, affective facts.
There is too much work because everyone works, everyone contributes to the construction of social wealth, which arises from communication, circulation, and the capacity to coordinate the efforts of each person. As Christian Marazzi says, there is a biopolitical community of work, the primary characteristic of which is “disinflation,” in other words, the reduction of all costs that cooperation itself and the social conditions of cooperation demand. This passage within capitalism has been a passage from modernity to postmodernity, from Fordism to post-Fordism. It has been a political passage in which labor has been celebrated as the fundamental matrix of the production of wealth. But labor has been stripped of its political power. The political power of labor consisted in the fact of being gathered together in the factory, organized through powerful trade union and political structures. The destruction of these structures has created a mass of people that from the outside seems formless — proletarians who work on the social terrain, ants that produce wealth through collaboration and continuous cooperation.
Really, if we look at things from below, from the world of ants where our life unfolds, we can recognize the incredible productive capacity that these new workers have already acquired. What an incredible paradox we are faced with. Labor is still considered as employment, that is, still considered as variable capital, as labor “employed” by capital. Employed by capital through structures that link it immediately to fixed capital. Today this connection, which is an old Marxian connection, but before being Marxian it was a connection established by classical political economy, today this connection has been broken. Today the worker no longer needs the instruments of labor, that is, the fixed capital that capital furnishes. Fixed capital is something that is at this point in the brain of those who work; at this point it is the tool that everyone carries with him- or herself. This is the absolutely essential new element of productive life today. It is a completely essential phenomenon because capital itself, through its development and internal upheavals, through the revolution it has set in motion with neoliberalism, with the destruction of the Welfare State, “devours” this labor power. But how does capital devour it? In a situation that is structurally ambiguous, contradictory, and antagonistic. Labor is not employment.
The unemployed work, and informal or under-the-table labor produces more wealth than the employed do. The flexibility and mobility of the labor force are elements that were not imposed either by capital or by the dissolution of the welfarist or New Deal-style agreements that dominated politics for almost half a century. Today we find ourselves faced with a situation in which, precisely, labor is “free.”
Certainly, on one hand, capital has won, it has anticipated the possible political organizations and the political “power” of this labor. And yet, if we look for a moment behind this fact, without being too optimistic, we also have to say that the labor power that we have recognized, the working class, has struggled to refuse factory discipline. Once again we find ourselves faced with evaluating a political passage, which is historically as important as the passage from the Ancien Régime to the French Revolution. We can truly say that we have experienced in this second half of the 20th century a passage in which labor has been emancipated. It has been emancipated through its capacity to become immaterial, intellectual, and it has been emancipated from factory discipline. And this presents the possibility of a global, fundamental, and radical revolution of contemporary capitalist society. The capitalist has at this point become a parasite, but not a parasite in classical Marxist terms — a finance capitalist; rather, a parasite insofar as the capitalist is no longer able to intervene in the structure of the working process.
Clearly when we say that the working tool is a tool that workers have taken away from capital and carry with themselves in their lives, embodied in their brains, and when we say that the refusal of work has won over the disciplinary regime of the factory, this is a very substantial and vital claim. In other words, if labor and the tool of labor are embodied in the brain, then the tool of labor, the brain, becomes the thing that today has the highest productive capacity to create wealth. But at the same time humans are “whole,” the brain is part of the body, the tool is embodied not only in the brain but also in all the organs of sensation, in the entire set of “animal spirits” that animate the life of a person. Labor is thus constructed by tools that have been embodied. This embodiment, then, envelops life through the appropriation of the tool. Life is what is put to work, but putting life to work means putting to work what exactly? The elements of communication of life. A single life will never be productive. A single life becomes productive, and intensely productive, only to the extent that it communicates with other bodies and other embodied tools. But then, if this is true, language, the fundamental form of cooperation and production of productive ideas, becomes central in this process.
But language is like the brain, linked to the body, and the body does not express itself only in rational or pseudo-rational forms or images. It expresses itself also through powers, powers of life, those powers that we call affects. Affective life, therefore, becomes one of the expressions of the incarnation of the tool in the body. This means that labor, as it is expressed today, is something that is not simply productive of wealth, but it is above all productive of languages that produce, interpret, and enjoy wealth.
And that are equally rational and affective. All this has extremely important consequences from the standpoint of the differences among subjects. Because once we have stripped from the working class the privilege of being the only representative of productive labor, and we have attributed it to any subject that has this embodied tool and expresses it through linguistic forms, at this point we have also said that all those who produce vital powers are part of this process, and essential to it. Think for example of the entire circuit of the reproduction of labor power, from maternity to education and free time — all of this is part of production. Here we have the extraordinary possibility of reanimating the pathways of communism, but not with a model of the rationalization and acceleration or the modernization and supermodernization of capitalism.
We have the opportunity of explaining production and thus organizing human life within this wealth of powers that constitute the tool: languages and affects.
The Becoming-woman of Labor
With the concept of “the becoming-woman of labor” you can grasp one of the most central aspects of this revolution we are living through. Really, it is no longer possible to imagine the production of wealth and knowledge except through the production of subjectivity. And thus the general reproduction of vital processes. Women have been central in this. And precisely because they have been at the center of the production of subjectivity, of vitality as such, they have been excluded from the old conceptions of production. Now, saying “the becoming-woman of labor” is saying too much and too little. It is saying too much because it means enveloping the entire significance of this transformation within the feminist tradition. It is saying too little because in effect what interests us is this general transgressive character of labor among men, women, and community. In fact, the processes of production of knowledge and wealth, of language and affects reside in the general reproduction of society. If I reflect back self-critically on the classical distinction between production and reproduction and its consequences, that is, on the exclusion of women from the capacity to produce value, economic value, and I recognize that we ourselves were dealing with this mystification in the classical workerist tradition, then I have to say that today effectively the feminization of labor is an absolutely extraordinary affirmation. The feminization of labor because precisely reproduction, precisely the processes of production and communication, because the affective investments, the investments of education and the material reproduction of brains, have all become more essential.
Certainly, not only women are engaged with these processes, there is a masculinization of women and a feminization of men that moves forward ineluctably in this process. And this seems to me to be extremely important.
Some historical clarification is need here. The term multitude is a pejorative, negative term that classical political science posed as a reference point. The multitude is the set of people who live in a society and who must be dominated. Multitude is the term Hobbes used to mean precisely this. In all of classical, modern, and postmodern political science the term multitude refers to the rabble, the mob, etc. The statesman is the one who confronts the multitude that he has to dominate. All this in the modern era before the formation of capitalism. It is clear that capitalism modified things, because it transformed the multitude into social classes. In other words, this division of the multitude into social classes fixed a series of criteria that were criteria of the distribution of wealth to which these classes were subordinated according to a very specific and adequate division of labor. Today, in the transformation from modernity to postmodernity, the problem of the multitude reappears.
To the extent that social classes as such are falling apart, the possibility of the self-organizational concentration of a social class also disappears. Therefore we find ourselves faced again with a set of individuals, but this multitude has become something profoundly different. It has become a multitude that, as we have seen, is an intellectual grouping. It is a multitude that can no longer be called rabble or mob. It is a rich multitude. This makes me think of Spinoza’s use of the term multitude because Spinoza theorized from the perspective of that specific anomaly that was the great Dutch republic, which Braudel called the center of the world, and which was a society that had mandatory education already in the 17th century. A society in which the structure of the community was extremely strong and a form of welfare existed already, an extremely widespread form of welfare. In which individuals were already rich individuals. And Spinoza thought that democracy is the greatest expression of the creative activity of this rich multitude. Therefore I think of Spinoza’s use of the term, which had already reversed the negative sense of the multitude, like the wild beast Hegel called it, which has to be organized and dominated. And this rich multitude that Spinoza conceived instead as the real counter-thought of modernity, in that line of thought that goes from Machiavelli to Marx, of which Spinoza forms more or less the center, the central apex, the transition point, ambiguous, anomalous, but strong. Well, this concept of the multitude is the concept that we invoked before. There exists today a multitude of citizens, but saying citizens is not sufficient because saying citizens simply defines in formal and juridical terms the individuals that are formally free. You have to say rather that today there exists a multitude of intellectual workers, but even that is not enough. You have to say: there exists a multitude of productive instruments that have been internalized and embodied in subjects that constitute society. But even this is insufficient. You have to add precisely the affective and reproductive reality, the need for enjoyment. Well, this is the multitude today. Therefore a multitude that strips every possible transcendence from power, it is a multitude that cannot be dominated except in a parasitic and thus brutal way.
Minorities in Deleuze and Guattari’s
“A Thousand Plateaus”
Deleuze and Guattari wrote this book at the beginning of the 1980s. They had the great foresight to recognize the crisis of the mass-worker. They recognized the becoming minoritarian, the incipient phenomena that we called in the context of Italian
workerism, in Autonomia, the social worker and the marginal forms of labor in revolt. The sociopolitical definition given in “A Thousand Plateaus” does not really go much further than this, from the point of view of phenomenological analysis. Therefore I believe in effect that they were thinking of this genesis, of this genealogy of the multitude in the terms we have been using today. They contributed through their subtle analysis of the constitution of minorities to the construction of this new concept of the majority that makes sense because it is a plural set of productive capacities, of capacities of cooperation.
What they signaled is a moment of resistance and passage that I think is extremely important. I have to point out that precisely in this section of their book they cite Italian workerists as the practical reference point of this type of experience. I believe that Gilles’s and Felix’s thinking always tended in this direction. And, on the other hand, in Deleuze’s final book, “Grandeur de Marx,” we find an extraordinary argument, an argument that translates an epistemological claim, which involves the definition of “common names” as the set of perceptions that constitute concepts, as the linguistic construction of an epistemological community, an argument that translates this process into an ontological process. Communism is the multitude that becomes common. That does not mean that there is something presupposed there, that there is an idea, something ontologically or metaphysically hidden. This does not mean that there is a unity.
The common is what is opposed to the one, it is anti-Platonism pushed to the extreme. It is also the inversion of the idea of communism proposed in that tradition where utopia necessarily constituted a unity and resolved the problem of unity and the sovereignty of power.
Here there is the multitude that constitutes the common. And this is the concept of communism that, from what I have understood, was constructed in the “Grandeur de Marx,” Deleuze’s unfinished book
The Biopolitical Entrepreneur
Here too, as usual, we are dealing with a sphere in which all the terms have been inverted — direct terms. We must really succeed in inventing a different language, even when we speak of democracy and administration What is the democracy of biopolitics? Clearly it is no longer formal democracy, but an absolute democracy, as Spinoza says. How long can such a concept still be defined in terms of democracy? In any case, it cannot be defined in the terms of classical constitutional democracy. The same thing is true when we speak of the entrepreneur, when we speak of the political entrepreneur, or better the “biopolitical” entrepreneur. Or rather, when we speak of the one who could be single or a set of collective forces, that succeeds at times in focusing productive capacities in a social context. What should we say at this point? Should this collective entrepreneur be given a prize? Frankly, I do think so, but all this has to be evaluated within the biopolitical process. I would say that here we really have the opposite of any capitalist theory of a parasitic entrepreneur. This is the ontological entrepreneur, the entrepreneur of fullness, who seeks essentially to construct a productive fabric. We have a whole series of examples, which have each been at times very positive. There is no doubt that in certain community experiences, red (communist) collectivities, cooperatives basically, and in certain experiences of white (liberal) communities based on solidarity, we can see examples of collective entrepreneurship. As usual, today, we must first of all begin to speak not only of a political entrepreneur, but also of a biopolitical entrepreneur, and then begin to recognize also the inflationary or deflationary biopolitical entrepreneur. The biopolitical entrepreneur determines always greater needs while organizing the community and the entrepreneur represses and redisciplines the forces at play on the biopolitical terrain. There is no doubt that an entrepreneur in the Sentier neighborhood, to take an example from the studies we did here in France, is a biopolitical entrepreneur, one that often acts in a deflationary way. Benetton is the same thing. I really believe that the concept of entrepreneur, as a concept of the militant within a biopolitical structure, and thus as a militant that brings wealth and equality, is a concept that we have to begin to develop. If there is to be a fifth, a sixth, or a seventh Internationale, this will be its militant. It will be both an entrepreneur of subjectivity and an entrepreneur of equality, biopolitically.
There are reductive conceptions of the guaranteed wage, such as those we have seen in France — for example, the French RMI laws in the form they were passed are a kind of wage structure of poverty, and thus a wage structure of exclusion, laws for the poor. In other words, there is a mass of poor people — but keep in mind that these are people who work, who cannot manage to get into the wage circuit in a constant way, whom are given a little money so that they can care for their own reproduction, so that they don’t create a social scandal. Therefore there exist minimum levels of the guaranteed wage, subsistence wages, that correspond to the need of a society to avoid the scandal of death and plague, because exclusion can easily lead to plague. And poor laws were born from this danger in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are thus forms of the guaranteed wage that amount to this. But the real question of the guaranteed wage is a different one. It is a question of understanding that the basis of productivity is not capitalist investment but the investment of the socialized human brain. Therefore, the maximum freedom, the break with the disciplinary relationship of the factory, the maximum freedom of labor is the absolute foundation of the production of wealth. The guaranteed wage means the distribution of a large part of income and giving the productive subjects the ability to spend it for their own productive reproduction. This becomes the fundamental element. The guaranteed wage is the condition of the reproduction of a society in which people, through their freedom, become productive. Clearly, at this point, the problems of production and political organization tend to overlap. Once we have pursued this discourse all the way, we have to recognize that political economy and political science, or the science of government, tend to coincide. Because we maintain that democratic forms, forms of a radical, absolute democracy– I don’t know if the term democracy can still be used — are the only forms that can define productivity. But a substantial, real democracy, in which the equality of guaranteed incomes becomes ever larger, and ever more fundamental. We can then realistically talk about incentives, but these are discourses that in today’s world are not very relevant.
Today the big problem is that of inverting the standpoint on which the critique of political economy itself is based. In other words, the standpoint of the necessity of capitalist investment.
We have said before and we have been saying for years, the fundamental problem is the reinvention of the productive instrument through life, the linguistic, affective life of subjects. Today, then, the guaranteed wage as a condition of the reproduction of these subjects and their wealth, becomes an essential element. There is no longer any lever of power, there is no longer need for any transcendental, any investment.
This is a utopia, it is one of those utopias that become machines of the transformation of reality once they are set in motion. And one of the most beautiful things today is precisely the fact that this public space of freedom and production is beginning to be defined, but it carries with itself, really, the means of destruction of the current organization of productive power and thus political power.
I would say that there are three things that demonstrate an absolutely fundamental epochal passage: the Tienanmen Square revolt, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Gulf War. We are entering the phase of globalization.
Things are so clear from this point of view that each of us has experienced them in a dramatic way. The Gulf War was important because it posed in the first place the problem of communication and its control As Baudrillard says it was a war that was not fought. It was a war that never existed, a war that invented its own story. Before that we had Timosoara, and there we had another whole series of extremely important elements that define this new imperial situation in which we find ourselves — the most wicked things, the most terrible massacres can sometimes be hidden or invented. Now, what is the problem? The problem is to understand how the action, discourse, and resistance of a proletarian, who at this point has taken on a mass intellectual character, can confront these situations. Paradoxically, precisely these producers of images, languages, and forms are ones who are used to construct the false images of the world, to transform the senses of reality, to strip reality of any sense of antagonism. The big problem thus becomes to identify, among these force that we experience in this kind of world, that have come with this new type of reality, to identify in them a form of material expression that is no longer alternative (because alternative always implies some referent) but within this forced, globalized, and communicative unity to find points of support, points of rupture, constituent points of the new.
Los Angeles, Chiapas, Paris
We could say so many positive and negative things, because these struggles demonstrated the enormous power and the enormous difficulties of changing the relations of force in the world that is forming today. The struggles in Los Angeles were struggles in which all the urban, metropolitan unrest of marginalized groups was expressed in its highest form, in the form of occupying the social territory, looting the wealth of that shop window of the world which is Los Angeles. Los Angeles is Hollywood, the center of the largest industries of images that exist in the world, and thus the largest center of the production of languages.
Chiapas was no longer a bourgeois revolt, no longer a third-worldist revolt aimed at capitalist development, but a revolt that was grounded on the search for an identity and a permanent counterpower against the models of development. Paris was a struggle that was organized in a very ambiguous way at the beginning but in the course of struggle, through those stoppages of public transportation in Paris and in the rest of France, it developed into a practice of the constitution of a new public space. These three struggles really had in common as basis the drive to constitute a new absolute public space against a globalization that plays on differences in order to neutralize them. And thus, they all shared the emergence of singularity as the demand of the collectivity; they were three struggles that each had in themselves a moment of resistance against the constitution of this world center of direction, against the political form of the globalization of markets. And on the other hand, they had in themselves this little key, which is probably fundamental, the autonomy and independence of subjects in the constitution of public space. Can these three struggles, situated as they are, in their differences and in their lack of communication, construct the common for the 1990s?
Are they the crucial and paradigmatic limit experience of a revolutionary process to come, of a humanity to come? I don’t know.
The French Strikes of ’95
One could easily recognize at various levels the emergence of this new figure of production. The most elementary level was that of the reconstruction of urban communities through the impromptu organization of transportation. The subway wasn’t running, the buses weren’t running.
This incredible phenomenon emerged, which lasted for months, in which people went out in cars, organized themselves collectively, and waited in lines for cars that came by and gave them a lift. This expressed an incredible and enormous kind of socialization, community, and joy. But this was a superficial phenomenon, even though it was not irrelevant from the point of view of social habits, and indicated the rise of a wealth of communitarian affects that already exist among these metropolitan populations.
Then there was a second element, which had to do with the conception of public services. In other words, we have understood public services, rightly, as the fundamental precondition of every form of production. People didn’t go out to defend the privileges of the public service workers. They went out to defend the public character, that is, the communitarian and collective character of all services as conditions of production. And therefore as conditions of their own lives. As something that must be linked back to life, to the “biopolitics” of each person. The third element, a very important one, had to do with challenging the current conceptions of privatization. What does privatization mean? It means giving over public goods into the hands of private owners; but even that could be seen as secondary.
The problem is that giving over into the hands of private owners means lowering the people’s capacity for the enjoyment of wealth; it means the “disinflation” of the common. Whereas instead the thrust toward inflation, the inflation of new needs, is fundamental. Therefore we saw for the first time in France I believe at the level of countries of developed capitalism examples of communitarian construction that were extremely important. The construction of general assemblies, in which different trade sectors broke with what had been the vertical lines of command to create “soviets”, the general assemblies were “soviets,” they were communitarian forms of political discussion of the practices of all the different trade groups. Therefore, this was a practically definitive break in the relationship between the base and the leadership. And this happened without illusions, because even the “coordination” movements did not succeed in achieving this generality of general assemblies.
But always with an extreme intelligence. All this never fell into extremism, it always functioned.
And then the other fundamental element was the biopolitical internalization of public service. It was not so much a question of defending corporative trade interests but rather a question of adopting the public as the basic form of every production. This was thus an enormous critique of the private. And in the third place, the political critique of the liberals was pushed to its limit, with forms of class hatred that developed in extremely positive terms.
The strange province of the Third World, or of the Soviet, socialist Second World in crisis, or in any case as a phenomenon of flight, which was no longer a flight from civil war or from anything else, it was really this strange postmodern figure of a search for work, wealth, and culture that attracted them. That strange island, that strange country that is Albania, which was completely circled by the world, linked at times to bizarre ideologies and organizational structures, and which in the very moment when it was freed, no longer moved toward the State, toward the constitution of the State, but went simply in search of freedom. They all left in boats. What happened next? In order to control this labor power, to block it, to prevent masses of people from arriving and destabilizing the markets and countries of mature capitalism, they tried at all costs from the outside to restore the State by force. The situation of Albania is paradox that I find rather interesting. That said, however, there have been several other situations in the history of capitalism in which the same two necessities have come together: on one hand the need to have a very strong mobility of labor power and on the other the need to succeed in regulating it. All capitalist accumulation has passed through this passage between Scylla and Charybdis, through this alternative. There is no doubt that in this case too they tried intermediary formulas to block the movement of populations, like the poor laws in the history of capitalism when it formed, in England in particular, which were essentially laws that sought to block the flows of labor power. Today this attempt arises again, through State politics, through a certain redistribution around the areas where investment is possible, and where it is possible therefore to contain labor power.
I can really see being formed, at least tendentially, this new dynamic order of population movements and thus ever larger miscegenations and hybridizations, capacities for ever larger cultural integrations that up to a certain point can also be functional to the productive order, but set out from a certain moment and become the lever that topples over that old order of nations. And this seems to me a very beautiful thing, the fact that this capitalist power, which must continually be reterritorialized, which must always become the norm, is upset by these movements.
There are no more walls, this seems to me an important fact.
There are obviously at times attempts to make exclusions, but these walls exist as much within each single country as they do between one country and another — as much across the Mediterranean as across Paris, as much across the Pacific as across Los Angeles. The distinction between North and South is a distinction that no longer makes sense except when considered within the determinate arrangements in which the attempt to recontrol the movements of labor power have become fundamental.
Therefore there is no longer North and South but there is simply the participation in production or the exclusion from production, the situations where people are put in position to work, naturally at a lower cost, and those where people are excluded from work by threats. But these situations too where people are excluded from work are productive situations, as we said earlier.
I would say that the struggles of the “sans papiers,” the illegal aliens in France reveals a fundamental thing: the demand really for a right of citizenship, and thus for biopolitical intensity, for presence on the social terrain. It is a radical demand for the right of citizenship for those who move around. It represents in itself a subversive element of the national legal order and represents a first political translation of a situation that is becoming generalized. This is becoming a demand for legal recognition, for the rights of citizenship for all who work. This development thus creates a political integration of the new world productive order and the movements that arise from it.
We have to be able to imagine the fact of being citizens of the world in the fullest sense, realizing no longer the Internationale of workers but a community of all the people who want to be free.
Immaterial Labor and Migrants
When we talk about immaterial labor we are not referring simply to intellectual labor. By intellectual labor we mean corporeal labor that certainly includes the intellect but refers primarily to its plasticity, its malleability, its capacity to adapt in some way to every situation. I would say that the category of immaterial labor is a category that allows us to understand profoundly precisely this plasticity of the new labor power. Certainly there are differences between speaking about mass intellectuality and speaking about flows of immigrants that are sometimes themselves flows of intellectual labor power. For example, with respect to North Africa or other such regions, the emigrants are normally people who have already had a certain level of education, high school or even several years of college. But this is completely secondary with respect to the fundamental characteristic, which is their mobility, that plasticity of this labor power, which can always adapt to the immateriality of productive flows.
You have to look carefully at this history. I would say that the exile that we experienced was extremely linear. Proletarian exile or nomadism is something completely different. Really we still lived—given our background, the quality of our culture, and the character of our practice –the experiences of the 19th century. They were often bitter and hard experiences as they were back then, but they fit within a continuous development and a transformation that were fundamentally the same as those of the old political émigrés. Today the question of exile has become the same thing as nomadism and “miscegenation.” It involves on one hand the proletariat taking an active role in a world market of labor power, and on the other it tends toward the miscegenation or hybridization of knowledges and thus this flexibility that rises up between material-immaterial labor, these new forms of action, of cooperating in labor. Therefore I would say that our exile has been a literary paradigm of what were real phenomena. And this is true even though each of us has had to find work in construction, in cafes, and in the strangest places in order later to attain a somewhat strong intellectual position, and find a place finally in the new sites of “immaterial” labor power. But I think that really the continuity of our discourse should be linked instead to the great classical traditions of exile.
More than a reflection on growing old, this essay by Deleuze seems to me to be about disease. I always had the impression that all of Deleuze’s judgments were reflections on disease, and in particular in a classic passage when he says Spinoza died after 40 years of disease but not of aging. As for myself, I am a perfectly healthy person. I just had my check-up and the doctor says I’m healthy in every respect. I await growing old, and I think that it is something completely different. In other words, I think that growing old is a slowing down of the ability to act, a simple and sweet slowing down.
Growing old is not the end but a sweet, calm extension of the ability to act. Death does reside in growing old like the interstices that run throughout life; death arises in growing old rather like something that the sense of eternity, and thus the intensity of life, can always go beyond. Fundamentally, death does not exist. Because when you exist death doesn’t, and when death exists you no longer do. The possibility of going beyond death is the great dream not of youth but of old age. Succeeding in organizing life to go beyond death is a task facing humanity, a task as important as that of going beyond exploitation, which is the cause of death. Going beyond death is this great step forward. Death is not necessary for life; death is something that exists in addition to life, and growing old is not an approximation of death but a different joy of life. From all points of view: intellectual, sexual, social relationships. I am a great admirer of all those who write books on growing old, De Senectute, not because old people are the wisest, but simply because in old age you can live more. I’ve always been disgusted by sexual and erotic relations among young people with their rapidity, their violence, those animal desires. I like sweetness, time, and intellectuality, the immateriality of relations. And you can only have them when you are a certain age. There is a hedonism, a superior hedonism, in what people call old age, which is really the highest form of life, and which should be recognized.
I say this against the terribly irrational and idiotic conceptions of life, death, youth, and old age that were invented when the rhythm of life, when the average life expectancy was 40 years. This is an old idea that is still held today, when living past 100 years old is the least a person can expect.
Therefore, from this point of view, I would say that every old person should continue to work because retirement is absurd. Here we can really recognize a radical change in the ontology of the present.
Therefore this problem of growing old is something against which, even in Deleuze’s writings, there is just the repetition of cliches.
The materialist definition of love is a definition of community, that is, a definition of the construction of affective relationships that extend through a generosity that constructs social arrangements. Love cannot be something that is closed in a couple or in the family, but must be something that opens up to a wider community. It must be something that somehow constructs communities of knowledge and desire, that becomes constructive of something else. Today love is posed in an absolutely fundamental way as the destruction of every attempt to close existence in something proper or private. I think that love is the fundamental key for transforming the proper or private into what is common.
The materialist conception of eternity involves first of all the fact that every action that you do is not referred back to anything but to your own responsibility. That every action is singular and therefore acts on itself, and has no references except causal relations and the continuous relationship with others. Every time that you do this, that you assume the responsibility of an action, that thing lives forever, in eternity. There is no immortality of the soul, but there is the eternity of your actions. Eternity of the present you live in every successive instant. There is this complete fullness, apart from any possible transcendence, even any logical or moral transcendence. There is this intensity of action, of the responsibility of action. You understand because, for example, I can say to a woman who betrayed me, “You are a bitch.” And if you say this with respect to immortality it would make no sense, but with respect to the responsibility of the act that each of us assumes, then I can be a bastard, she a bitch, because each of us is bastard or bitch in the responsibility of our concrete acts. There is no reference of responsibility. Each of us is responsible for his or her singularity, for his or her present, for the intensity of life, for the youth or age that each of us brings to it. And this is the only way to avoid death: seize time, hold it, and fill it with responsibility. And every time that you lose it in routine or in habit or weariness, depression, or anger, you lose the “ethical” sense of life. This is eternity. Eternity is our responsibility with respect to the present, in every moment and every instant. A complete ethical responsibility, in which we have to invest all of our beauty, or sometimes our meanness, but in either case with sincerity. I am proposing nothing less than a secular and atheistic Franciscanism.
I don’t know, when you say pessimism of the will or optimism of the intellect, I don’t understand it in the terms you do. For me, optimism of the intellect is a Spinozian conception of being as eternity. And on this point I think that Felix and I were completely in agreement. And when I think of pessimism of the will, I think of the fact that the construction of struggle, of organizations, even of books and arguments, always goes over obstacles, but obstacles that can be surpassed — therefore limits, or objects of finitude, limitedness, or otherwise they can be obstacles in the proper sense, something that can be surpassed. The ontological quantity of being, therefore the determination of possibility becomes fundamental at this point. In Felix’s death there was, and this corresponds to all the conversations we had, in which I disagreed strongly with him, and it corresponds too to the sensibility of the end of the 1980s, there was an exasperation with the impossibility of surpassing finitude, the limit. Felix was dealing with a crisis that had its roots, like everything in his work, in psychopathological analysis, which was linked to this crazy wager he made to cure the women he had married. And on the other hand, he was dealing with what was his complete optimism of the intellect. And there everything fell apart. I saw him cry, I cry sometimes too, I saw him cry on my shoulder saying, “I can’t take it anymore, this finitude, this negative determinacy is insurmountable.” That became really a challenge he took on, but it fell apart. Félix, however, is eternal. I think he is one of the people who had the most being, the most happiness, the most joy, the greatest ability to bring together the vital spirits that run throughout the metropolises, the greatest ability to appreciate the vital things that his friends told him. Absolutely one of the most beautiful people I have ever known, and there he had that moment of desperation, and he touched on death. But it is a contradiction of both the things that we said, of the optimism of the intellect and pessimism of the will.
I think that it is banal to say that poetry can grasp or foresee metaphysical moments or even particularly strong moments of historical analysis. As for Leopardi he was dealing with a great metaphor for the problem of the end of revolution. The revolution is over, but in the end of revolution what wins is a completely reactionary mode of living. And the nostalgia of the poet is really the attempt to reconstruct in this passage, this reactionary desert in which humans have been thrown, to reconstruct those other values, pushing them forward. Leopardi experienced the period of reaction and restoration after the end of the French Revolution, and in this situation he—a man fundamentally tied not only to a tradition but also to a specific culture, to a reactionary language like the language of the Italian Baroque in the final analysis—what did he do, what did he make? He managed to see beyond his own times. He searched in the period of restoration to rediscover the values that had been negated, that no longer lived; and he didn’t do this with nostalgia, but did it really with an ability of poetic creation of the future. He managed even to propose horizons, even from the linguistic standpoint, to invent new forms of community that could powerfully disrupt this dark phase in which he found himself living and anticipate mass movements, movements of desire. Therefore poetry served as a scalpel for delving into history and making it bring forth not only what remained of the past but what could be invented in the future.
Eulogy to the Absence of Memory
I have never thought and I will never think that going back to Italy means taking up an inheritance. The inheritance no longer exists, it has been dissolved, and as often happens when these great patrimonies dissolve, the elements of it that remain are completely marginal, sometimes even perverse. There are numerous families that live with such stories of an enormous inheritance that has been dissolved in the complete pathology of their relationship to the inheritance. When I was much younger, maybe eleven years ago, I wrote an eulogy to the absence of memory. It was not really an eulogy to the absence of memory, but you can see from reading the article that it was an eulogy to the absence of patrimony. And this is the thing I would still stand by. My return to Italy will certainly not be an attempt to resurrect the old shadows and ghosts. It will be a dialogue, like Leopardi imagined, between an old collector of mummies and his mummies. Personally what I want is to understand a social reality that has completely changed. But in that social reality, and on this point I disagree with all the Italians I know, it is not true that only the negative aspects have won. Besides the sovereign power there is always the power of the multitude. Besides domination there is always insubordination.
And it is a matter of searching, and searching precisely from the lowest level, which is not really prison but the level on which people suffer, on which people are still poorest, most exploited, in which the senses and languages are most separated from every power to act, yet they exist. And all this is life, not death.
© 1998 Antonio Negri
Translation © 1998 Michael Hardt