image of eclipse

Review of Elegy of the dysfunctional. A Critique of the ideology of productivity by Augusto Ponzio

Arianna Bove

'The constitution of the I, the individual and his freedom, roles, obligations, rights and duties, defined responsibilities is itself the product of a sacrificial labour where what the subject sacrifices is first of all his own alterity. Truth is connected to these mechanisms of renounciation.'

In this work, Augusto Ponzio attempts to show how the ideology of productivity is linked to the thought of identity and non-alterity.

He does so through an analysis of language and research into the use of words related to the ideology of labour, the famous idea that Arbeit machts frei and its inception in the 30's in Germany in relation to the need for the formation of a community of identity based on exclusion. He also analyses the 'destructve character' of production, through the thought of Walter Benjamin and Heidegger. What is at stake in the argument is to show that despite the attempts at describing capital as the progressive force in society, creativity is the exceeding element in each productive relation.

Labour time and available time

The distinction drawn between labour and free time by Marx is questioned in this book. Ponzio states that on the one hand there is 'social time quantified as passive result of commodity exchange and the 'forced' encounter of separate interests, on the other hand, there is time alone, time of individual consciousness, whose rhythm of passing is relative to the quantity of the personal lived experience of the I: in both cases we are dealing with a time of identity/ The alternative is the possibility of available time for alterity: one's own, sacrified for the sake of one's I and identity that actual social roles impose, and that of others, whose instrumentalisation, through exchange laws, the circumscribed responsibility by alibis, interests, mortify, silence, exclude and think they can negate.' (tell me what the hell this is supposed to mean....). Maybe the moment free time increases, wealth will be measured on the basis of free time rather than labour time. of course in biopolitical production we cannote take this analysis seriously.

The problem with his argument is that he recognises the creativity of labour production under capital as being an inevitable part of the essential antagonism between labour and capital. One might argue that it is in the antagonism is intrinsic to the refusal of labour rather than being its inside. By default, destructive character, which he quotes from Benjamin, is bound to create. This is a contradictory stance.

Memory and remembrance.

An interesting analysis in the book is the difference between memory and remembrance. Here Ponzio takes from Benjamin's known reflections on the difference between two kinds of experience, on Proust Bergson and Freud. Ponzio's interest lies in psychoanalysis and proving the impossibility of reducing alterity in the activity of remembrance, which requires another person to take place. 'The whole of social reproduciton is communication' recites the European Commission, as quoted in Ponzio. But this reproduction is nothing but the reproduction of identity. Ponzio stretches the Orwellian comparison rather much, especially since he talks of an exceeding force of creativity that capital's production for production's sake cannot account for.

Ponzio posits alterity in opposition to identity, and moral responsibility in opposition to indifference and objectification. His work in interesting on a number of levels, but there can be no turn to Levinas without a heavy turn towards the morality intrinsic in discourses on otherness. I suggest Deleuze's Difference and Repetition to get out of this impasse.

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