Paolo Virno and Judith Revel revisit the Foucault/Chomsky debate*
The discussion that
took place in 1971 between Chomsky and Foucault is a very interesting
stimulus for us, which we can only engage with if we get into some detail.
When they ended their encounter, these two left a whole load of questions
open, and these questions are also our questions today.
Let's start from
the present. Until the paradigm of postfordist labour was defined, production
was equated with commodity production. Reproduction on the other hand
was equated with biological reproduction. We inverted production and reproduction,
and production is no longer the serial production of commodities (which
is reproduction) but it is understoof as the production of children as
much as value, subjects, etc.
These are the questions for me:
1) When we talk about
production and Chomsky talks about creation are we referring to the same
thing? Foucault never talks about creation, he always talks about production.
Let's agree on what is invariable - that is to say, what in a determined historical period is given as a structure or modality that somehow, whatever the applications of power, remains constant. This constant is not a negative thing in itself, because power is not negative and it produces. The real drama of the confrontation with power is not only that power is not one single thing, but also that it is positive: subjects who are invested in relations of power produce lifestyles, practices and inventions. This way of inventing within power, is not what Chomsky calls creation. The crux of the matter today might then be that we need a political subject - I call it this way but it might also be called human nature. We need a common belonging, a common-ness (comunanza), a similitude, a non-identity, so that an acting or subverting in common, or the common, i.e. political subjectivity, rather than being the presupposition in history, is itself produced by history. Do we need this notion to conceive of the common or is the common what is actually produced? The problem is the status that is granted to the idea of invention or production.
Concerning what Paolo said about the transcendence that comes back from the window: this is not a good enough reason to reintroduce it, also because a problem arises in the section of their discussion on disobedience, on the illegality that confronts the legality dictated by the State, and the hyper-legality in terms of ‘real justice’: these figures of sabotage and blockages are often necessary, but they don't really produce anything. What comes after you’ve blocked a train? What have you invented? It has not produced new forms of the political; it is something you can do on your own. So instead of carrying out counter-power operations, opposing power in all the forms it can take -Foucault says- you should be able to disconnect what is the creation of the political form from what later becomes the reality of another political power.
What is meant by 'opposing'? Struggling? Seizing power? The relation between power and counter power is completely dialectical, symmetrical. How do we introduce a dissymmetry between power and counter-power? By saying that political praxis is not counter power. In order to break the symmetry something needs to be produced. What does power produce? Value, because power puts to work, not just individuals but also the life of populations, and treats them as pure labour force. The value produced is the value of commodities. What can a response against liberalism be then? To impose another type of value and another kind of production. If I take something and appropriate it, I only change the form of belonging, I do not change the structure of belonging.
What if I produce more as well as appropriate? What do we produce in surplus? We produce invention. We do it from within. We produce subjectivity. That is for cooperation. Neither reappropriation nor expulsion of power from life. When the problem of multitude appears in Deleuze of multitude, this is what it is. When I say multitude, I posit something of a common before experience, before relations, before production. If I say multitude I mean what produces action.
For Foucault language produces thought, and experience tells us how we say things. In the 60’s Foucault only used to talks about invariants, even though they were historical, epistemological invariants. By doing so, Foucault told us that the production of discourse, whatever the fields of knowledge, is determined by a certain number of partitions that are functional to a kind of power, since Hobbes. What do I make of the eventual production of language? And there he starts analysing the production of wild languages for 10 years, those of the crazy people, authors etc. This project could not carry on, because admitting that crazy people can speak to power in a non instrumental way, and that some exoteric words have taken place, one cannot say anything more than that some have tried it, whether consciously or not. And saying that an individual did it means that it is a project of solitude, and solitude is the opposite of multitude. That individual dimension is unmanageable.
Second problem: why give language any specificity? Is it possible to conceive of the attempt of going against- or rather of avoiding and taking the floor from under the feet of power- as only being linguistic? Foucault says I only played the game of the response to power on the discursive field. Language is not alone in producing value. There also is the invention of different strategies, being together etc. produces value. From the 70's onwards the discursive is only one of the figures of his analysis.
Other forms of production
of value are the ethical relation to oneself, as a relation to ones’
body, and from there emerges the thread on sexuality. Then there is the
relation to others-how I manage others, also within the relations of powers
that I produce. Why make of language then the basis for production? If
anything, language (productive language, the postfordist language that
entails another production that relativises commodity production) is one
form of productivity. But to go and play human shield, is an invention,
a common invention, with bodies. It is not the reappropriation of what
has been stolen, but the opening of a new form of life.
The stake in politics
is to produce oneself, to produce others and to produce other. Human nature
doesn’t interest Foucault cause it is not needed, what is necessary
for if not to pose limits? There’s an image in Deleuze book on Foucault,
there are two ways to navigate: one is to throw a line and follow it,
the other is to go, without knowing where, but whilst going, problematising
the going, with whom, the fact of going. I imagine myself in the ship
and turning around I see the scia of the ship that is a becoming, a non-anticipating
becoming, a productive one. That is the closest figure to the acting of
the multitudes that we try and define in this phase.
*This is the translation of a partial transcript of the recordings of a seminar series that took place in Rome in April and May 2002 with Virno, Revel, Bifo, Lazzarato, Fumagalli and Negri amongst others.
Transcription and translation by Arianna Bove