Stevphen Shukaitis on Fri, 10 Sep 2010 12:31:37 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Immanent Singularities: A Minor Compositions Interview with Bruno Gulli

Immanent Singularities: A Minor Compositions Interview with Bruno Gulli

As a philosopher and academic worker, Bruno Gulli is nothing if not  
untimely. In an era when the labor of thought, the work that creates  
new concepts, finds itself squeezed by an ever-increasing array of  
restrictions (from journal and publisher limitations to lack of time  
from overwork and precarious employment), Gulli bucks these trends in  
a spectacular fashion. Rather than composing 8000 word chunks of  
pabulum, simply recycling tired clichés or niceties, Gulli has  
embarked on composing a three-volume inquiry into the relation between  
ethics, labor, and ontology. Such an approach might not have seemed  
all that remarkable fifty years ago, but today to carry out such a  
fundamental rethinking of our categories of political thought and  
discourse is paradoxically no longer appreciated, and therefore all  
the more necessary. Gulli’s first book, The Labor of Fire (2005,  
Temple University Press) led Michael Hardt to comment that the work of  
Gulli, along with others carrying out similar work, will renew the  
Marxist tradition. This renewal, he claims, will not be of a  
scientific, structuralist, or humanist Marxism, but rather a  
philosophical approach to Marx centered on the concept of labor its  
power of social transformation. High words of praise indeed. This  
interview was conducted shortly after the publication of his most  
recent book Earthly Plenitudes: A Study on Sovereignty and Labor  
(2010, Temple University Press).

Minor Compositions: First off I wanted to ask you about what you  
describe as the “dignity of individuation.” In particular how does  
this indicate a shift in theorizing the relation between ethics and  
politics? Could this perhaps be connected to the Zapatistas’ notion of  
the dignity of revolt or Simon Critchley’s elaboration (2007) of an  
anarchic meta-politics based upon the infinite demand of the ethical?

Bruno Gulli: “Dignity of individuation” provides a metaphysical (or  
ontological) grounding for both politics and ethics. Conversely, it  
says that metaphysical (or ontological) definitions cannot escape a  
political and (especially) ethical dimension. It is then a synthetic  
and poetic concept, à la Vico, where some of the most basic problems  
of the philosophical tradition are reflected and, at the same time,  
expanded. The concept has two parts: “individuation” refers to, and is  
drawn from, the principle of individuation (principium  
individuationis), which, in particular, I understand in terms of John  
Duns Scotus’ concept of haecceity (or thisness), that is, what makes  
something the something that it is (but it has a history that goes  
beyond Duns Scotus). The problem with the concept of the principle of  
individuation, as Paolo Virno (2009) has also recently pointed out,  
has to do with the term “principle” – not with “individuation.” The  
latter indicates a process, and thus individuation is really  
individuating; the former, I might say from the point of view of my  
book, is a sign (anticipation or residue) of sovereignty. Conjugating  
“individuation” with “dignity,” once the word “principle” is  
eliminated, was for me an act of piracy – an act of piracy within  
philosophy. Differently from individuation, which can be and is  
applied to anything, which names the ordinary and regular, dignity is  
usually reserved for something which, to some degree, is  
extraordinary, which has distinguished itself for some reason. Even  
when we speak of human dignity (vis-à-vis other forms of life), we use  
this type of logic. Thus, the dignity of X indicates a lack, or a  
lesser degree, of dignity in Y. To say that dignity lies in  
individuation is to counter this type of logic, and following Leibniz,  
whose work I use a lot in the first chapter of my book, it is also to  
affirm that nothing is extraordinary, nothing other than regular,  
other than orderly – though of an order we may not like, not understand.

All this does not imply a move away from politics onto the terrain of  
ethics alone, as if ethics were the pre-political or non-political.  
Instead, it is a way of trying to rethink the categories of the  
political. This rethinking cannot distinguish between the political  
and the ethical – a distinction that I totally reject. I don’t know if  
I would call this meta-politics, following Simon Critchley. Indeed, I  
am not interested in giving it a name – I don’t think I would be able  
to do so. What I think is that calling attention to something like the  
dignity of individuation, that is, to the idea that worth is not  
determined by any relation of externality, but is intrinsic to the  
coming of whatever, to the fact of life, is already a way of  
rethinking the political outside of the logic of inclusion and  
exclusion, which, it seems to me, constitutes the most important  
problem in political thinking throughout history, as well as (and  
particularly) today. History then. You ask about a possible connection  
between the dignity of individuation and the Zapatistas’ notion of the  
dignity of revolt. Of course, there is one. History is for the  
Zapatistas “la palabra politica” – a history of conquest and  
subjugation, of sovereign crime and devastation. But it is also the  
history of revolt. The word “dignity,” the way I use it, comes  
directly from the Zapatista tradition, as well as from the tradition  
of philosophy, particularly from Kant. Dignity is then a political and  
ethical concept. Dignity of individuation reaches into the depths of  
history, shatters the ontological ground, and presents itself as a new  
singularity – by abandoning the false splendor of that history to its  
own destiny of decadence, and by creating a new essential difference.

MC: Following on from that, one concept that is key for in this book  
in the notion of singularity, which you come at drawing primarily from  
a medieval tradition of figures such as St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns  
Scotus. Can you elaborate on your usage of singularity. What does it  
bring to your consideration? And how might be older notion of  
singularity mesh with that which has been developed more recently in  
the work of Guattari, as a process of re-singularization, and in  
Bifo’s recent work?

BG: In the Grundrisse (1993), Marx says that the concrete is “the  
concentration of many determinations.” This can be accepted as a (very  
good) definition of singularity. Singularity is the concrete. Yet, as  
we also learn from Marx, the concrete is the point of departure in  
reality, not in thought. Thus, we arrive at the concrete through a  
process of abstraction – starting from the abstract. In its immediacy,  
the concrete yields a “chaotic conception.” Indeed, as a moment of  
synthesis, singularity is this con-fusion. And although Marx adds that  
the concrete is “unity of the diverse,” what really counts here is not  
the word “unity” but, precisely, “the diverse.” Singularity is  

In Earthly Plenitudes, I identify singularity with the dignity of  
individuation. In this sense, what I can say, to begin with, is that  
it is a metaphysical and political/ethical concept. What interests me  
in this is the relation of singularity to commonality on the one hand,  
but also to plurality and universality. As far as I know, in Duns  
Scotus we find the first most rigorous formulation of singularity as  
haecceity, or thisness. This is perhaps a sufficient reason for going  
back to him in this respect. What I find particularly interesting in  
his work is the necessary interplay of the singular and the common. In  
Labor of Fire, I use Scotus’ concept in a section called “The thisness  
of production,” in which I deal with Marx’s concept of “essential  
difference” – a mode of production as an essential difference.  
Communism would then be a new essential difference, a way in which the  
common is re-singularized. Thus, I don’t think there is any conflict  
with the notion of singularity worked out by Guattari or by Franco  
Berardi (whose recent, beautiful book, The Soul at Work (2009), I’ve  
just finished reading). Obviously, the idea of communism as  
singularity, the idea of re-singularization, may be drawn from Marx’s  
work (or from other venues) without having to go back to the medieval  
tradition. But for me a proper understanding of the concept of  
singularity requires precisely that. In any case, I think that the  
work of Duns Scotus is, perhaps strangely, very much part of our  
contemporary tradition (notably, in and through the work of Deleuze)  
so that when we deal with concepts such as that of singularity a  
relation to Scotus is, however implicitly, (always-)already present.

Given the approach I take in Earthly Plenitudes, in particular my  
examination of Leibniz’s thought in chapter one, the reference to  
Scotus acquires even more importance. Indeed, in his Discourse on  
Metaphysics, Leibniz explicitly refers to Duns Scotus’ haecceity when  
he works out his own notion of singularity as the notion of individual  
substance. In Leibniz, the singular is also the universal insofar as  
any individual substance expresses the whole universe in a different  
way. Here the concept of singularity, even more than in Scotus, is  
linked to that of contingency. The question is not only about the what  
and the how of a thing. Indeed, the main question is why this event  
happened and not another, which was, in principle (ex hypothesis),  
equally possible. What comes to be a one, “the concentration of many  
determinations,” is the end of the process of singularization.

It is then evident that singularity is not simply a one; it is not  
individuality. Jean-Luc Nancy brilliantly shows the relation of  
singularity to plurality, and it is because of this that I rely so  
much on his work in my own book (at least in the chapter on  
singularity or the dignity of individuation). Singularity is  
plurality, and, in this sense, it is pre-individuality; it makes the  
individual, but it is not the same as the individual. This way of  
thinking is not altogether new. It can be found in Leibniz; it can be  
found in Marx – in different forms.

MC: In this book you’re reconsidering and largely rejecting the notion  
of sovereignty, including Bataille’s attempt to formulate a radical  
notion of sovereignty. Your critique of Bataille is based around what  
you describe as his confusion of to be useful / to serve, and thus  
sovereignty cannot be equated with subjectivity. This strikes me as  
quite similar a move to that made by someone like Hakim Bey, who  
famously finds it quite difficult to decide in his politics between a  
position of anarchism and monarchism. This might seem quite bizarre at  
first until this Bataille-ian conception of sovereignty is  
acknowledged. When Bey says that we are sovereigns of our skins before  
the advent of the political (2003), this follows directly from this  
radicalized conception of sovereignty. I largely agree with your  
critique of Bataille’s distinction, particularly as it cannot seem to  
help but to develop in very problematic individualistic directions.  
But then you also that in the equation of sovereignty and  
subjectivity, sovereignty becomes ordinary and common, and thus “finds  
its truth in the concept of communism.” How do you make this move,  
going beyond Bataille’s formulation, but seemingly maintaining some  
elements from it?

BG: This is actually Bataille’s move, but I don’t agree with it.  
Better: I think that at this point the concept of sovereignty is no  
longer necessary. Yet, Bataille chooses to retain it. In reality, it  
makes no sense to say that everybody is sovereign. This is the same  
problem we have with Kant’s concept of the kingdom of ends, in which  
precisely everybody is a legislator and sovereign. But we can apply to  
this the same type of criticism Maritain applies to the concept of  
people’s sovereignty: the people separated from, and dominating, the  
people; the people above the people. The sovereignty I have over  
myself, even over my skin (to use your reference to Bey), implies the  
same kind of contradiction: I would be over myself. But the truth is  
that both this “I” and this “self” are in question. If the  
singularities we come to be have, as Nancy says, “a plurality of  
origins” (2000), if our subjectivity and individuality is “an  
intersection of singularities,” what we have before the political,  
before the law, is the fact that there are “skins” – soon to be  
institutionalized. Sovereignty is the name for this process of  
institutionalization, for all institutionalization processes.  
Singularization is something different. I don’t want to say that it is  
the opposite of institutionalization. Rather, in the manner of  
Spinoza, I prefer to say that it is different from it. Indeed, when we  
consider singularization from the point of view of what we have become  
(i.e., institutionalized being, “docile bodies,” rights-bearing  
individuals, whose rights are more often denied than not, legal,  
political subjects, etc.), we must say that re-singularization, can  
only have the movement of a return. This return is not a going back to  
a previous, perhaps only hypothetical state before politics and the  
law; it is rather a return into the anarchy of the plural and common.

MC: You argue for disposing of sovereignty within a radical ontology  
of labor, for producing a philosophy and ontology is not relegated to  
a marginalized position. This would be, to use your words, a labor  
that “forms and shapes the thing, is neither servile nor sovereign,”  
rather it is “the common, ordinary labor that founds new, immanent  
plenitudes.” Can you describe how you understand how this might be  
done, working from within the intersections of culture, labor, and  
politics? Or perhaps projects you know that show promising beginnings  
of such a process.

BG: The labor that is neither servile nor sovereign follows from my  
analysis and critique, in Labor of Fire, of the category of productive  
labor. There I use the neither/nor logic to show that the categories  
of productivity and unproductivity are ‘invented’ by the system of  
capital. In Earthly Plenitudes, the critique of sovereignty joins that  
of productivity to show that categories of domination (e.g.,  
servility, sovereignty) are also similarly constructed. The common and  
ordinary labor is not the labor that, typically, no one wants to do,  
the labor of the “vulgar craftsmen and hired laborers” in Aritostle’s  
Politics, of the illegal immigrants in Arizona, or the Africans in  
Rosarno. It is not, in other words, a labor that is common and  
ordinary as opposed to one which has status and dignity. Instead, the  
common and ordinary quality of this labor comes from the dismantling  
of all dichotomies of domination: productivity/unproductivity,  
servility/sovereignty, etc. It comes from the idea, to go back to  
Leibniz, that everything is ordinary, and that everything is common.  
This can be done in various ways. I give some examples when I address,  
in chapters four and five of the book, the questions of contingent  
labor and of the work of care. In relation to the first question, I  
can say that either no labor should be contingent or all labor should.  
If contingency simply named the fact that we worked when we wanted, or  
when the need arose (and then went back to other activities), it  
wouldn’t be a problem. I think you say the same in your excellent  
book, Imaginal Machines (2009), when you say that contingency started  
as a subjective re-appropriation of time, to be then co-opted by the  
system of capital. Thus, the problem today is that we are forced to  
work contingently. Contingency becomes a form of slavery, similar to  
(credit cards) debt. As Joe Berry says in his book, Reclaiming the  
Ivory Tower (2005), contingent workers experience “a permanent lack of  
permanence” – that is the paradox, whereby contingency turns into  
necessity. Yet, a labor that is neither servile nor sovereign is one  
that experiences the genuine, let’s say, philosophical, dimension of  
contingency, that is, the modality that names that which can be and  
not be, that is, again, freedom. Because, certainly, there is work to  
be done, work that has a social character (as Stanley Aronowitz and  
William DiFazio (1994) said years ago in The Jobless Future) – yet  
most of the work we do (we are forced to do) is either useless or  
harmful, or both. Thus, the work that “founds new, immanent  
plenitudes” is the work posited by real, organic needs and desires,  
not by those dictated by capital and its logic of oppression,  
alienation, and exploitation. The same is with the work of care,  
arising from facts of life, yet channeled into political and economic  
categories that make it, first of all, unproductive and, second,  
highly exploitable and exploited. But the work of care, just like the  
work of an artist (to paraphrase Kittay), also constitutes immanent  
plenitudes by bringing back into a life the chaotic and healthy  
plurality of possibilities which institutional isolation would quickly  

MC: On the question of caring labor, you reject the notion that caring  
labor and activities of social reproduction are directly productive of  
value for capital. This is within a context of finding within the  
forms of caring labor the merging of non-alienated relations and  
production, or what you call as a mode of care. There seems to great  
value, no pun intended, in pursuing such an approach. But I wouldn’t  
want to toss aside the legacy of Marxist feminism, for instance in the  
history of movements such as Wages for Housework and figures such as  
Silvia Federici, which based their politics precisely on an argument  
of the value producing nature of social reproduction, housework and  
caring labor. Is it possible to hold together a position that caring  
labor might indeed be productive of value for capital, at least within  
some circumstances, but also contains the potential for creating post- 
capitalist relations and interactions?

MC: Yes, absolutely. What I tried to say in the book is that caring  
labor and activities of social reproduction are, traditionally, not  
recognized as productive by the logic of capital. This is part of  
capital’s dubious distinction between productive and unproductive  
forms of labor and activities. What I say is that the distinction as a  
whole must be rejected, and that means rejecting the logic of capital.  
Obviously, within that logic, and as a temporary form of struggle, the  
notion that these forms of labor and activities should be recognized  
as productive, hence compensated accordingly by means of the wage, is  
also correct. And I agree with the notion that the struggle for the  
wage is a political struggle. But I wouldn’t want to say that the  
solution to the problem of the productive/unproductive dichotomy is to  
make all unproductive labor productive; also because productive labor  
itself (as productive of capital) must be thoroughly eliminated. Let  
me be very clear about this again: in themselves forms of labor are  
neither-productive-nor-unproductive (this is the, perhaps somewhat  
cumbersome, yet very important and fruitful, category I develop in  
Labor of Fire – one that is not truly grasped in general). Forms of  
labor become productive or unproductive only in relation to the  
position they occupy within the process of value formation, from a  
strictly capitalist point of view. Thus, I absolutely agree with the  
Marxist feminist contention that indeed these forms of labor and  
activities are essential to the making of value; it is evident that  
the reproduction of labor-power would be impossible without them. And  
they are more than simply productive (in the narrow, technical sense  
of political economy; that is, directly producing and increasing  
capital); they are highly useful and actually absolutely necessary to  
society, for without these forms of labor and these activities  
everyday life would not be possible, communities could not exist.  
There is a very serious and radical challenge to the system of capital  
made by movements such as Wages for Housework (and I often refer to  
the classic The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community by  
Selma James and Mariarosa Dalla Costa (1972) in the last chapter of my  
book). Of course, housework is work not recognized as such, and this  
lack of recognition only ensures stronger and more specific forms of  
social domination and oppression. But it is not recognized as work on  
the basis, precisely, of the dubious, yet almost unanimously accepted,  
distinction between productive and unproductive forms of labor. And  
while the wage is an important recognition of the fact that housework  
is also work, it constitutes, at the same time, the most basic and  
common instrument of social domination and oppression. Thus, my answer  
to your question is, emphatically, yes, caring labor is productive of  
value for capital, yet more importantly it contains the potential for  
creating post-capitalist relations and interactions. Under capital,  
caring labor is doubly exploited, or super-exploited, because while it  
is essentially productive, it is not recognized as such – it is  
instead called unproductive. In virtue of this situation, caring labor  
has the ability to show the inconsistency and falseness of the  
productive/unproductive dichotomy and accomplish what I call the  
return of labor to itself, its mode of neutrality as to the categories  
of the productive and unproductive alike, a whole new notion of  
“productive” if you will, which to avoid confusion I’d rather call  
“creative” – the mode of care.

In the chapter on caring labor I also deal with the question of  
disability and, following Eva Feder Kittay (1999), of dependency as an  
inescapable fact of the human condition. In disability and dependency,  
it is easier to find instances of human activity more readily  
reducible and reduced to the category of the unproductive, and it is  
actually more difficult to argue (unless we take a heterodox  
standpoint) that these activities have inherent worth and should be  
respected and compensated accordingly because they are productive.  
Indeed, from the point of view of the logic of capital, with its  
requirements of efficiency, speed, avoidance of unproductive times,  
etc., they are unproductive. This shows the partial, only relative,  
importance of the logic of the wage, and the political struggle based  
on it. Indeed, the wage always operates within a logic of inclusion  
and exclusion. The fact that more forms of labor may be deemed  
productive and thus included within the system of the wage does not  
eliminate the essentially unjust and violent distinction between the  
productive and the unproductive. But how about, precisely, these  
unproductive forms? Where is their worth? If there is any. I think  
it’s the same problem we find with the category of the citizen, a  
category whereby that of the non-citizen is immediately called forth.  
The solution cannot be to include more people within the category of  
citizenship, but still leave many outside. Rather, the solution is to  
make the category all-inclusive and thus explode it. The same with  
productivity. If I am someone with a severe mental impairment and what  
I do is engage in activities that are evidently meaningful to me, but  
meaningless to most or all other people, shouldn’t I get a wage (if  
the issue is that of the wage), or more generally, shouldn’t my  
activities be considered productive? Evidently not, from the point of  
view of capital, of value as an economic category. Yet, if  
productivity becomes all-inclusive and the category itself is exploded  
(and again, to avoid confusion, I would call it creativity), then my  
performance is as important (as useful to society, the diversity of  
the social, and as worthy) as that of the engineer, the high-tech  
worker, the politician, etc. In any case, whether a person is  
productive or not, whether s/he works or does not work, s/he ought to  
have access to the means for the good life (that means can be money,  
if we stay within the logic of money, or any other thing). But, and in  
this I agree with an important point Berardi makes toward the end of  
his book, the dogma of the wage must be abandoned.

MC: Lastly, I wanted to ask you a question or two about contingent  
academic labor, a subject which you discuss in the last chapter of the  
book, and also takes up a good bit of your working time personally.  
(As a side note, I’m still amazed that you’ve found the time to work  
on a trilogy of books given the constraints of working as a contingent  
member of faculty). Contingent academic labor is clearly marked by  
increased pressures, and contradictions, as it moves even deeper  
within the heart of academic capitalism. But perhaps there are also  
radical potentials within these contradictions, for re-grounding the  
very ontology and radicality of labor you describe. Or perhaps  
exhibited within the ongoing wave of student and campus radicalism  
that has been occurring in recent years.  Perhaps it is, as described  
by the title of a recent conference in Minneapolis, “Beneath the  
University, the Commons” ( What potentials do  
you see for growing out of this politics of the edu-factory?

BG: Yes, I agree that there are radical potentials within the  
contradictions of contingent academic labor, or of contingent labor in  
general. In fact, I use contingent labor in the academy as an  
illustration of a more general situation. Contingent labor is part of  
the labor of bare life. I’ve recently read Christian Marazzi’s  
important book, The Violence of Financial Capitalism (2010), so,  
together with the notion of bare life, I’d also like to make a  
reference to the notion of biocapitalism. Contingency is one of the  
modalities in which the violent logic of capital is applied to life in  
its totality. In Earthly Plenitudes I say, perhaps in a poetic way,  
that contingent workers are attached to nothing but their own shadow,  
or to their shadow as to nothing. But I think that this is actually  
very true, that is, it can be taken quite literally. What’s  
interesting is that the word contingency, as applied to labor in the  
post-Fordist and now biocapitalist economy, fully retains its original  
philosophical meaning: being able to be and not be, to do and not do,  
to work and not work.  Contingency is freedom. However, this freedom  
is even more ironic and tragic than the double freedom of workers  
described by Marx in Capital. This is a freedom that from contingency  
goes all the way to the “valorization of the ‘free labor’ of users,”  
of which Tiziana Terranova (quoted in Marazzi) speaks. Or rather, the  
latter is contingency in its purest state.

Of course, in real life things often stand otherwise. To quote Joe  
Berry again, this contingency is a “permanent lack of permanence,” and  
thus it turns into a necessity. In my book, I distinguish (even  
playfully, I must confess) between necessary and non-necessary (or  
contingent) contingency. It is evident to everybody that, with due  
exceptions, what we find in our societies is the former, and not the  
latter. And this is true in the academy, as is in all other work  
environments. This being attached to nothing of contingent workers,  
but being truly attached to it, became tragically clear, for instance,  
in the violent events that took place in Rosarno (Calabria), sadly a  
fifteen-minute drive from my hometown, this past January. There,  
African immigrants, who were super-exploited during the orange-picking  
season by the local mafia and lived in conditions of utter poverty and  
deprivation, became the victims of systematic and vicious attacks  
initiated by the employers themselves. When they reacted, the violence  
became widespread, and they were “evacuated,” that is, deported,  
elsewhere by the Italian State. They were forced to leave without  
being able to collect their meager wages and few belongings. They  
found themselves in other Italian towns and cities, really attached to  
nothing but their own shadow. Contingency is this type of freedom,  
which resembles, paradoxically, a fact of nature (where freedom is  
negated), that is, the fact of bare life.

Compared to Rosarno and other too many similar places in Italy and in  
the world, the situation in the academy isn’t so bad. But this is  
(should be) no consolation. Here, too, one finds super-exploitation, a  
different type of violence, and humiliation. I want to call attention,  
in the brief space of this interview, to a practice that is rarely  
talked about, even in the literature on academic contingent labor, but  
that I think is very important. I mean the so-called peer observation  
of contingents. It is in reality an inspection and a technique of  
control, which psychologically threatens and destabilizes the  
contingent workers, reminds them of their contingency (like the monk  
who periodically reminds his peers of the caducity and precariousness  
of life [brother, remember that you must die!] – but in the peer  
observation of contingents there is really no parity, and the observer  
is, or represents, the boss). This is a serious matter. In the CUNY  
[City University of New York] system, for instance, people are  
observed, not two or three times, but ten times, ten semesters in a  
row. If they work in different departments, they are observed in each.  
If they go from one college within the system to another, the process  
starts again. You have people who have years of teaching experience,  
who are published and respected, and yet are observed by any just- 
hired fulltime member, and so on and so forth. The system justifies  
this by saying that it is in the best interest of the contingent  
worker: the observation gives you grounds for a grievance in the  
eventuality of non-reappointment. But this isn’t true. First of all,  
because a college can justify non-reappointment in many ways; second,  
because an observation can go wrong for many reasons – and what are  
they going to do then? Let’s say a contingent worker has had six  
excellent observations, and the seventh, and the eighth aren’t good.  
What can the consequences be? Moreover, and this is a matter that  
logic and the philosophy of science teach us, an observation includes  
the observed and the observer: it is certainly not a situation of  
neutrality and objectivity. The truth is that this is a political  
question, of political control and discipline. Let me say that I am  
not speaking from a personal point of view. I have been observed at  
least twenty times within the CUNY system, and I have always had  
excellent reports, so I’m done with this. But I think that it is an  
offensive practice, an insult to the whole category of contingents  
within CUNY and similar university systems – and that is an insult to  
the super-exploited and damned majority of workers. I recently saw  
posts in the Edu-factory listserv about the inadequacy of academic  
peer review in journals. The situation is not that different, and the  
arguments that can be made against such practices are similar. It is  
important to recognize that in addition to economic super- 
exploitation, academic contingent workers also face a series of  
offensive practices that undermine their psychological and existential  
well-being, as well as their general health and their life: no good  

Yes, beneath the university, the commons. Just like they are beneath  
capitalist appropriation and accumulation in general. What I think is  
that a radical dismantling of the corporate university, as well as of  
the other institutions of capitalist society, is absolutely necessary.  
People want to learn and have a good life. The life of study, for  
Aristotle the highest type of life, is not a life of training – not  
training toward docility and productivity. It is rather the life in  
which there is an understanding of the order of things, and the  
possibility to modify this order for the sake of the good life, that  
is, of happiness. Probably, instead of the university, we need spaces  
of learning and care. Instead of institutional sadness (determined by  
stress, overworking, competition, and debt), we need spaces and  
moments of happiness. I think this is what the Edu-factory project  
also aims at, though I think that less emphasis should be put on  
research universities, and more on general, humanistic study. I teach  
in a community college where student radicalism is not too strong,  
also because most students work, have families, etc., and they come to  
school with the (perhaps to an extent illusory) idea that this can  
improve their lives and work situations. In other places, the student  
and faculty movement will certainly have a very positive impact on the  
way the university is run. Yet, even in the community college, most  
people have a genuine passion for studying and learning, and besides  
their focus on grades and the degree, they are exposed (certainly in  
some classes) to the possibility of thinking differently, of going  
beyond the institutional boundaries, reaching into life and thus, as I  
understand, the commons. Perhaps, this may contribute to social change  
as well, that is, to an understanding of the common character of  

That knowledge is common means that the university as we know it today  
has no legitimate claim to its administration. The non-university will  
be a place that has a free and open access policy. Paying so much  
money to study (as to get in deep debt for life), taking stupid  
standardized tests just to be able to finally study what you want,  
having to bother people for useless letters of recommendation (as if  
your word, your person, your life had no worth whatsoever, carried no  
weight) – all these are practices that run counter to the idea of the  
commonality of knowledge and must be eliminated. The commons may  
appear if the university is dismantled. And the process is underway,  
though there will be (as there has already been, and there is right  
now) a lot of institutional repression and violence. The  
transnationalization of the production of social knowledge, linking  
the common projects and struggles happening in different places of the  
world, is in itself a way of reshaping the university, or a path into  
the future of the non-university. Just recently, the strikes and  
occupations from California to Italy, from Middlesex to Puerto Rico  
are a clear indication of this. And so is Edu-factory’s important  
emphasis on the question of debt. But this is something that goes well  
beyond the university as such, so that the movement (of the  
commonality and singularity of knowledge) is one that tends toward the  
reshaping of society as a whole.

Aronowitz, Stanley and William DiFazio (1994)The Jobless Future.  
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Berry, Joe (2005) Reclaiming the Ivory Tower: Organizing Adjuncts to  
Change Higher Education. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Berardi, Franco ‘Bifo’ (2009) Soul at Work: From Alienation to  
Autonomy. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).
Bey, Hakim (2003) TAZ. Brooklyn: Autonomedia.
Critchley, Simon (2007) Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment,  
Politics of Resistance. London. Verso.
Dalla Costa, Mariarosa and Selma James (1972) The Power of Women and  
the Subversion of Community. Bristol: Falling Wall Press.
Gulli, Bruno (2005) Labor of Fire: The Ontology of Labor between  
Economy and Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Gulli, Bruno (2010) Earthly Plenitudes: A Study on Sovereignty and  
Labor. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Kittay, Eva Feder (1999) Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality, and  
Dependency. New York: Routledge.
Marazzi, Christian (2010) The Violence of Financial Capitalism. Los  
Angeles: Semiotext(e).
Marx, Karl (1993) Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political  
Economy. London: Penguin.
Nancy, Jean-Luc (2000) Being Singular Plural. Stanford: Stanford  
University Press.
Shukaitis, Stevphen (2009) Imaginal Machines: Autonomy & Self- 
Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Life. Brooklyn: Autonomedia
Virno, Paolo (2009) “Angels and the General Intellect: Individuation  
in Duns Scotus and Gilbert Simondon,” parrhesia number 7: 58-67.

Stevphen Shukaitis
Autonomedia Editorial Collective

  "Autonomy is not a fixed, essential state. Like gender, autonomy is  
created through its performance, by doing/becoming; it is a political  
practice. To become autonomous is to refuse authoritarian and  
compulsory cultures of separation and hierarchy through embodied  
practices of welcoming difference... Becoming autonomous is a  
political position for it thwarts the exclusions of proprietary  
knowledge and jealous hoarding of resources, and replaces the social  
and economic hierarchies on which these depend with a politics of  
skill exchange, welcome, and collaboration. Freely sharing these with  
others creates a common wealth of knowledge and power that subverts  
the domination and hegemony of the master’s rule." - subRosa Collective

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