Burning cars – Toward an unproductive infinitude – Baudrillard on art “workers” and cultural “production”

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 07/27/2013

Neither Marx nor Smith: Baudrillard’s Critique of Productivism – Frederick H. Pitts

Baudrillard’s account in The Mirror of Production is motivated primarily by a critique of Marx… Marx endowed production and labor with a “revolutionary title of nobility” that has paralyzed subsequent attempts to formulate a political program derived from Marx’s concepts. Thus, one naturalization was substituted for another (Baudrillard, 18–19).

According to Poster, Baudrillard sees production and labor as the “forms” that Marx used as a foundation for the critique of political economy. However, in so using these forms, a part of Marx’s critique was left incomplete, carrying over entirely uncritically two key concepts of political economy itself (Poster, 2). By basing his critique of political economy around production and labor, Marx retained the theoretical and ideological core of the object of that critique, which inhibited his ability to complete his critique and escape the constraints of classical political economy…

…Thus, Baudrillard goes further than merely associating Marx with an inability to overcome the status of labor in political economy. Marx’s productivism is not merely a humanistic fetishization of labor and those who perform it, but a means by which every aspect of life is seen through the prism of production…

“Something in all men profoundly rejoices at seeing a car burn”: Pure Expenditure against Production – Frederick H. Pitts

…Rather than maintaining a narrow fixation on the condition of one’s exploitation as labor as the means by which this exploitation can be transcended, Baudrillard argues that workers must liberate themselves from the status of “labor-power,” and “think themselves under another sign than that of production” (Poster, 3).

Under capitalism, workers are exploited not only as a result of the machinations of the system, which dominates them, but also by the code, which co-opts and coerces them. The reinforcement and perpetuation of this code in traditional Marxism ironically services the needs of capitalism. It generates this effect by means of popularizing the myth that labor-power is each individual’s “fundamental human potential” rather than a capitalist social relation. As Baudrillard writes:

“And in this Marxism assists the cunning of capital. It convinces men that they are alienated by the sale of their labor power, thus censoring the much more radical hypothesis that they might be alienated as labor power, as the “inalienable” power of creating value by their labor.” (Baudrillard, 31)

The attachment of the sign of the economic to every spontaneous insurrection under the sun is a commonplace in the Marxist tradition. For Baudrillard, bursts of revolutionary activity governed by the “pleasure principle” and the “radicality of revolt”—such as that witnessed in “the destruction of machines, in pre-Marxist, utopian and libertarian discourse as well as in the ideas sustaining ‘the cursed poets or the sexual revolt”—sought a new and more radical “total symbolic configuration of life.” But under the spell of Marxism, these strands of rebellion are abstracted out of movements in political economy, and, at worst, sacrificed as less important moments of the unfolding of history through the “development of productive forces.” It is this sense of finality from which revolutionary activity must escape, of some end toward which our efforts are driven. The “here and now” of revolution must be reinstated. Against the “imposition” of the meaning of revolutionary finality, Baudrillard instead celebrates “the radicality of desire which, in its non-meaning, cuts through all finality” (Baudrillard, 154–55).

…The Marxist paradigm not only provides a poor apparatus through which to rethink class struggle, but also does not allow us to escape the subordination of desire to “productive” finality. As Baudrillard concludes, “[t]o enclose the ‘exploited’ within the single historical possibility of taking power has been the worst diversion the revolution has ever taken” (Baudrillard, 167). It is toward a desire that exceeds this finality that Baudrillard suggests we turn to discover an unproductive infinitude whereby events may satisfy that “[s]omething in all men” that “profoundly rejoices in seeing a car burn” (Baudrillard, 141).

This argument has implications for the way in which we conceive of anti-capitalist political action. Trade unions and labor parties must cede the oppositional ground to the demands of social movements composed of desires and symbolic expenditure that exceed and cannot be recouped within a discourse of either production or its flipside, non-production. Plainly, the whole ethico-poltical edifice of capitalism must be challenged. In part, then, Baudrillard comes to the conclusion that the productivist inadequacy of both political economy and its Marxist critique must be themselves be urgently critiqued on the symbolic level of the code. While Baudrillard champions the burning car as the pure expenditure of symbolic exchange par excellence, it is the immanent critique of political economy and its critical counterpart that may in fact mark the beginning of any symbolic attack of la parole against the code. Far from hitting the streets armed with signs and placards heralding the “the right to work” and “jobs, growth and justice,” perhaps the implication of Baudrillard’s thesis is “criticize first, and then do nothing”: that we should instead take to our desks and discussion groups. In other cases, we should do nothing at all, so as not to be put in the position whereby our actions can be put to productive ends.


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