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Immaterial Production

Historically speaking, production is the act of transforming material objects into marketable commodities. Today, however, this activity has extended beyond the physical world. As Maurizio Lazzarato argues, contemporary relations of production are not so much about acting on material bodies as they are about acting on minds and subjectivities. The immaterial or virtual, in other words, closely accompanies the actual in modern industrial processes.

Power here operates less and less on material earth and more and more on perceptions, desires and attention. Modern technologies operate on minds, capturing the imaginations of viewers. The constitutive role of television, cinema and the internet, after all, is to capture belief and attention, in contrast to producing tactile things.

That the immaterial is becoming more central to production is not by accident. “Before products can be sold, or even made, attention and memory must be captured by the technologies that work on publics” (Read, p. 97).

This is especially true in the case of surplus production. Given the inherent dynamic of capitalism to increase production on a continually larger scale, thereby threatening a crisis of over-production, surplus stockpiles of goods must be absorbed in some way to keep the wheels of capitalism turning. Forestalling this crisis is none other than marketing and advertising, which are used to bolster consumer demand.

Material Consulted

Eugene Holland, Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus

Brian Massumi, A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia

Jason Read, “The Fetish is Always Actual, Revolution is Always Virtual” in Deleuze and Marx, ed. Dhruv Jain

The Popularization of Social Criticism, Part II

An inherent dynamic of capitalism is that it must perpetually defer its immanent crisis – that is, the very nature of capitalism is to continually expand its circulation of capital otherwise it will collapse. As such, capitalism must always be discovering and appropriating new markets. This is clearly evident in the commodification of resources that were previously considered public; for instance, water or information. Even more ominously, capitalism implicitly encourages and feeds off of its own contradictions. Thus, a certain part of the economic system frees ‘lines of flight’ that are specifically anti-capitalist but overtime can eventually be re-appropriated back into the system. For example, rogue scientists that innovate uncommon technology which threatens the system but can then be filtered, commodified and marketed. More profoundly still, diasporic groups that resist capitalism or globalization can and have easily been packaged into consumable identities (such as hippies, the beat generation, hipsters and so on).

Of course, this also goes for social criticism as such: an enormous market has emerged to satisfy the needs of ‘rogue’ intellectuals via books, music, films, etc. In short, resistance to capitalism is quickly co-opted and compromised by capitalism itself. As a final example, we can quickly reflect upon the sudden and widespread ethos of going green or eco-groovy. The resistance to industrial agriculture is certainly understandable and one that I support, but it has simultaneously spawned a whole new generation of faithful consumers looking to assuage their guilt of imminent ecological disaster. The point is as follows:

the more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normalcy starts to lose its hold. The regularities tart to loosen. This loosening of normalcy is part of capitalism’s dynamic. It’s not a simple liberation. It’s capitalism’s own form of power. It’s no longer disciplinary institutional power that defines everything, it’s capitalism’s power to produce variety – because markets get saturated. Produce variety and you produce a niche market. The oddest of affective tendencies are okay – as long as they pay. Capitalism starts intensifying or diversifying affect, but only in order to extract surplus-value. It hijacks affect in order to intensify profit potential. It literally valorizes affect. The capitalist logic of surplus-value production starts to take over the relation field that is also the domain of political ecology, the ethical field of resistance to identity and predictable paths. It’s very troubling and confusing, because it seems to me that there’s been a certain kind of convergence between the dynamic of capitalist power and the dynamic of resistance [Brian Massumi, ‘Navigating Movements’ in Hope, p. 224]