Art without an end product

Art without an end product

Discussing Virno’s ‘A Grammar of the Multitude’

  The Eigth Biennial Radical Philosophy Association Conference

November 6-9, 2008, San Francisco State University, San Francisco

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I have divided this paper in two different sections which are after all interconnected. In the first part I will discuss Virno’s main standpoint in A Grammar of the Multitude (2004), which briefly says that in post-Fordism productive labour takes on the appearance of servile labour and resembles virtuosic activities like the speech of the politician, the performance of the stage actor or the concert pianist. According to Virno, one key characteristic shared by all these activities is that they do not leave us with a defined object distinguishable from the performance itself, i.e. there is not a separate end product after the activity is completed. Virno draws his argument on a concrete reading of Marx’s distinction between productive and unproductive labour. In a certain moment of the Grammar Virno argues: ‘virtuosic labor, for Marx, is a form of wage labor which is not, at the same time, productive labor’ (p.54). I will challenge this assumption through a close reading of those passages of Marx that Virno uses to support this concrete hypothesis.

In the second part of my paper, I will use my previous examination of Virno’s assumption to open up a discussion about a mode of production that is traditionally considered of being outside the realm of productive labour, namely fine art. I will examine some theoretical analysis about art and cultural practice in post-Fordism which are very much indebted to post-autonomist thought.

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