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Digital technologies open a completeþ new perspective for labor,

First of all rhey transform the relation berween conceiving a¡rd exe-
cuting, ahd therefore the relation berween the intellectual conrents of
labor end its manual execudon. Manual labor is generally executed by
The Soul at Work automatically programmed machinery while innovative labor, the
one that effecdvely produces value, is mental labor. The materials to
be transformed are simulated by digital sequences. producdve labor
(labor producing value) consisrs in enacting simulations later rrans-
ferred to actual matter by computerized machines.

Digital labor and abstraction The content of labor becomes menral, while at the same time
the limits of productive labor become uncerrain. The notion of
Toda¡ what does it mean to work? As a general tendency, work is productivity itself becomes undefined: the relation between time
performed according to the same physical Patternsi we all sit in and quantity of produced value is difficult to determine, since for
front of a screen and move our fingers across a keyboard. \ü'e rype' a cognitive
worker every hour is not the same from the standpoint
On the one hand, labor has become much more uniform from ofproduced value.
a physical and ergonomic point of view, but on the other it is The notion of abstraction and of abstract labor needs to be
becoming much more differentiated and specialized with respect to redefined. rù(/hat does "absrract labor" mean in Marx's language? It
the contents that it develops. Architects, travel agents, software means the disribution of value-producing time regardless of its
developers and attorneys share the same physical gestures, but qualiry with no relation to the specific and concrete utiliry thar the
they could never exchange jobs since each and every one of them produced objects might have. Industrial labor was generally
develops a specific and local abiliry which cannot be transmitted to abstract since its specific quality and concrere utility was complerely

those who do not share the same curricular preparation and are not irrelevant compared to its function of economic valorization. Can
familiar with the same complex cognitive contents. we say thar this abstract reduction is still active in the era of info-
'When labor had a substantially interchangeable and deper- production? In a certain sense, yes, .we can, and we can also say that
sonalized character it was perceived as something foreign. It was this tendency is pushed to its exrremes, since labor has lost any
mechanically imposed by a hierarch¡ and represented an residual materialiry and concreteness, and the productive activiry
assigned task that was perfotmed only in exchange for wages' only exerts its powers on what is left: symbolic abstractions, b¡es
The deñnition of dependent work and wage-earning was adequate and digits, the different information elaborated by productive
for rhis kind of social activit¡ which consisted in the selling of activity. 'We can say thar the digitalization of the labor process has
onet time, made any labor the same from an ergonomic and physical point of

The Soul at Work / 75

view since we all do the same thing: we sit in front of a screen and This is exactly the opposite of what happened with the indus-
we type on a keyboard. Our activiry is later transformed by a con- trial worker, for whom eight hours of wage labor were a sort of
catenation of machines into an architectural project, a television temporary death from which s/he could wake up only after the
script, a surgical operation, the moving of forty metal boxes or a alarm bells rang, announcing the end ofthe working day.
restaurants' provisioning.
As we have already said, from a physical standpoint, there is no Enterprise and desire
difference between the labor performance of a travel agent, a tech-
nician working for an oil company or a writer of detective stories. In its humanistic Renaissance meaning the word enterprise refers
But we can also say the opposite. Labor has become part of a to an activiry aimed at giving the world a human form. The "enrer-
mental process, an elaboration of signs rich wich knowledge. It has prise" of the humanistic arrist enterprise is the sign of humaniry's
become much more specific, much more specialized: attorneys and independence from fate and even divine will. For Machiavelli,
architects, computer technicians and mall vendors all sit in front of enterprise is like politics in that it emancipates itself from fortune
the same screen and type on the same keyboards: still, they could and realizes the republic, a space where different human wills test
never trade places. The content of their elaborating activities is and compare their cunning and their abiliry to create.
completely different and cannot be easily transmitted. In its capitalistic meaning, rhe word enterprise acquires new
On the other hand, also f¡om a physical point of view, chemi- nuances, although it never loses its sense of free and constructive
cal, metal and mechanical workers do completely different jobs, action. These new nuances all pertain to the opposition of labor
but it takes only a few days for a metal or mechanical worker to and enterprise. Enterprise means invenrion and free will. Labor is
acquire the operative knowledge necessary to do the job of a work- repetition and executing acrion, Enterprise is an investment of
er in the chemical industry and vice versa. The more industrial capital generating new capital, thanks to rhe valorization that labor
labor is simpliffed, the more it becomes interchangeable. makes possible, Labor is a wage-earning service that valorizes capi-
Human terminals perform the same physical gestures in front tal but devalues workers. What is left today of the opposition
of computers and they all connect to the universal machine of between workers and enterprise, and how is the perception ofthe
elaboration and communication: yet the more their jobs are phys- very notion of enterprise changing in the social imagination?
ically simpliÊed, the less inrerchangeable their knowledge, abilities Enterprise and labor are less opposed in the social perceprion
and performance. Digital labor manipulates absolute abstract signs, and in the cognitive workers' consciousness, that is to say the con-
but its recombining function is more specific the more personalized sciousness of those performing the highest level of productive labor
it gets, therefore ever less interchangeable. Consequenúy, high tech and valorization and who represent'rhe general tendency oflabort
worke¡s tend to consider labor as the most essential part in their social processes. Those active in jobs with a high cognitive level,
lives, the most specific and personalized. therefore those who could rarely trade their places, do not oppose

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their labor to the creation implied by the word enterprise: on the and therefore it is t¡ue that a growing number of industrial jobs are
contrary, they tend to consider their labor, even if formally depen- eliminated, replaced by machines or r¡ansferred to areas of the world
dent, to be an enterprise where they can spend the best part oftheir where labor costs norhing and is not protected by unions. But it is
energy, independenrly from the economic and juridical condition also tiue that the time apparently freed by technology is in fact
in which it expresses itself. transformed into cyber dme, a time of menral processing absorbed
In o¡der to understand this mutation in the perception of the into the infinite production processes of cþerspace.
notion of enterprise, we need to consider a decisive factor: while How is it possible to explain the workers' conversion from
industrial workers invested mechanical energies in their wage- disaffection ro acceprance? Certainl¡ one of the reasons is the
earning services according to a depersonalized model of repetition, political defeat suffered by the working class afrer the end of the
high tecb workers invest their specific comPetences, their creative, 1970s because ofthe rechnological restrucruration, rhe consequent
innovative and communicative energies in the labor process; that unemployment and rhe violent repression inflicted on the political
is, the best part of their intellectual capacities. As a consequence, avant-garde. But this is not enough
enterprise (independently from the juridical relation beween prop- In order to understand the psycho-social change of attitude
erry and labor) tends to become the center towards which desire is towards labor, it is necessary to conside¡ a decisive cultural trans-
focused, the object of an investment that is not only economical formation linked ro the shift of the social core from the domain of
but also psychological. Only if we consider this can we understand manual labor to that of cognitive labor.
why in the last two decades disaffection and absenteeism have '!Øhat
is happening in the domain of cognitive labor? \Øhy does
become a marginal phenomenon, while they had been the central this new kind of worke¡ value labor as the most interesting part of
element in social relations during the late-industrial period' his or her life and therefore no longer opposes the prolongation of
In the 1980s (and even rnore, as we know, in the 1990s) the the workng day but is actually ready to lengthen it out of personal
average labor time increased impressively. In the year 1996, the choice and will?
average worker invested in it 148 hours more than their colleagues To answer rhis quesrion we need to consider several factors, some
did in 1973. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the ofwhich are difÊcult to analyze in rhis context. For instance in the
percentage of individuals working more than 49 hours per week last decades urban and soóial communities progressively lost their
grew from l3o/o in 1976 to l9o/o in 1998. As for managers, it grew interest, as they were reduced to containers empty of humanity and
from 40o/o to 45o/o, The prevision that the development of com- joy in the relations they foster. Sexualiry and convivialiry have been
puterized technologies, favoring automation' would determine a transformed into standardized mechanisms, homologated and com-
reduction of social labor time proved both true and false, but in the modified: an anxious need for identity progressively replaced the
final analysis we have to consider it false. It is true indeed that singular pleasures of the body. Bools like Mike Davis' City of
necessary labor time decreases in the sphere ofindustrial production, and Ecology ofFeørshow that rhe
{ualiry ofexistence has affectively

78 / The Soul at Work

Tlre Soul at Work / 79
On an anthropological level a determinanr aspect has been the
and psychologically dereriorared, due to the rarefaction of commu-
assertion of a life model totally focused on rhe value of wealth, and
niry ties and the sterilizing obsession with security.
the reduction of the concept of wealth ro economic and purchasing
It seems that ever less pleasure and reassurance can be found in
power. But in fact, rhe identification ofwealth with properry is not
human relations, in everyday life, in affecdvity and communica-
at all selÊevident.
tion. A consequence of this loss of eros in everyday life is the
To the question "\Øhat is wealth?" we can answer in two com-
investment of desire in one's work, underscood as rhe only place
pletely conrrasring ways. \ùü'e
can evaluare wealth on the basis of the
providing narcissisr reinforcement to individuals used to perceiving
quandty ofgoods and values possessed, or we can evaluate wealth
the other according to rules of competition, that is to say es dangeS
on the basis ofthe quality ofjoy and pleasure that our experiences
impoverishment and limitation, rarher than experience, pleasure
are capableof producing in our feeling organisms. In rhe Êrst case
and enrichment.
wealth is an objectified quantiry, in the second it is a subjective
In in everyday life is rhar
the last decades, the effect produced
qualiry ofexperience.
of a generalized loss of solidarity. The imperative of competition
Mone¡ bank accounts and economic growth are not the only
has bccome predominanr ar work, in media, in culture ar large,
things driving rhis new affection for labor dominating the psycho-
through a systematic cransformation of the other inro a competitor
logical and economical scene of rhe last rwenry years. But they are
and therefore an enemy,
certainly a dominant factor. The economisric ideology is compul-
sively focused on the conviction that loving one's job means money,
and that money means happiness. This is only partially true,
Lett repeat the question: what does wealch mean? The only
But we still have not answered our quesrion: how did it happen that
answer available to this quesrion is naturally an economic one:
after a long period of social auconomy marked by the refusal of
wealth means possessing the means that allow us ro consume,
work, when social solidariry prevailed over compedrion, and qualiry
namely the availabiliry of mone¡ credit and power. yet this is still
of life over power and the accumulation of money, labor has
e poor answer, a partial, perhaps even completely wrong answer, pro-
regained a central position in the imaginarion, both in the sc¿le of
ducing misery for all, even for those capable of accumulating a lot of
socially recognized values and in the collecdve psychology? \Øhy do
these things. This answer conceives wealth as a projection of time
such a large part of workers today consider work the mosr interesring
aimed at gaining power through acquisition and consumprion. But
part of their life, no longer opposing the lengthening of their workng
one could instead conceive ofwealth as the simple capacity to enjoy
day and instead spontaneously choosing to increase ir? Of course,
the world availablein rerms of time, concentrarion and freedorn.
this is also due to the dramatic worsening of social prorections, deter-
Naturally rhese n¡¡o defìnitions of wealth are in conflict, and
mined by thirry years oî dzreguktion and the elimination of public
not only as defìnitions. They are indeed rwo different modalities
structures of assistance, but rhis is only a partial reason.

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The Soul at Work / 81
of relation to the world, time, and the body. The more time we Now we can finally answer the question: how did it happen
spend acquiring means for consumption, the less time we have to that work regained a central place in social affectiviry and why did
enjoy the world available to us. The more we invest our nervous society develop a new affection for work?
energies in the acquisition of purchasing power, the less we can One reason is well-known: in a situation of competition workers
invest them in enjoying ourselves, It is around this issue-com- are obliged to accepr this primordial blackmail: work as much as
pletely ignored by economic discourse-that the question of possible or die. But rhere is another answer we can give, concerning
happiness and unhappiness in hyper-capitalistic socieries is played the impoverishment of everyday life and the relation ro orhers, rhe
out today, In orde¡ to have more economic power (more mone¡ loss of eroticism in the communicative experience.
more credit) it is necessary to devote more and more time to The reasons bêhind the new love of workng are to be found
socially homologated labor. This means though that it becomes not only in a material impoverishmenr derived from the collapse of
necessary to reduce the time for joy and experience, in a word, for in the impoverishment of existence and
social warranties, but also
life. rVealth understood as enjoyment decreases proportionally to communication, \Øe renew our affection for work because eco-
the growth of wealth understood as economic accumulation, for nomic survival becomes more difÊcult and daily life becomes
the siinple reason that in the latter framework mental time is des- lonely and tedious: metropolitan life becomes so sad that we might
tined to accumulation rather than enjoyment, '
as well sell it for money.
On the other side, wealth understood as economic accumulation
increasesin proportion with the reduction of the dispersive plea- Labor, communication, community
sure, causing the social nervous system to suffer contraction and
stress, without which there cannot be any accumulation. The word "enrerprise" rhat, in the industrial phase of capitalism,
But the two perspectives produce the same effect: the expansion merely meant a capitalist organizarion wirh economical finalities,
of the economic domain coincides with a reduction of the erotic like the development of human labor and the accumulation of
sphere. When things, bodies and signs become a part of the value, now means somerhing infinitely more complex. Regaining
semiotic model of the economy, wealth can only be experienced in something of its original humanistic meaning, the word enrerprise
a mediated, reflected and postponed way. As in an infinite play of refers to the responsible human initiative of uansforming the
mirrors, what is really experienced is the production of scarcity and world, nature and ones very relation with others,
need, compensated by a fast, guilty and neurotic consumption Of course, the enterprise develops within the frame of the
because we cant waste time; we need to get back co work. There- capitalist economy and therefore its limits are rhe same as those
fore wealth is no longer the abiliry to enjoy things, bodies and signs characterizing essenrial capitalist forms: exploitation, production
in time, but the accelerating and expansive production of their loss, of scarcit¡ violent imposition, and rules founded on force. But
transformed in exchange value and anxiery. there is an ambiguiry that needs to be understood: enterprise is

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The Soul at Work / 83
subdued co capitalist rule, the ilso are not at dl the same thing' The through a common project, a shared mythology. This kind of
desperate attempt to find freedom, humaniry and happiness where communism has nothing to do wirh the historical communism
rhe accumulation of value reigns rests on this potential difference' imposed throughout rhe rwentieth-century by feudal, military and

The investment in desire comes into play at work, since social ideological bureaucracies. The only relation berween the State
production has started to incorporate more and more sections of Communism imposed by the Leninist parties in the Soviet Union
mental acdviry and of symbolic, communicative and affective and elsewhere, and the autonomous communism of the workers, is

action. \ü?hat is involved in the cognitive labor Process is indeed the violence systematically exerted by the first over the second, in

what belongs more essentially to human beings: productive activity order to subdue, discipline and destroy it.

is not undertaken in view of the physical transformation of matter Political com¡hunism was rhe power of backward and despotic
but communication, the creation of mental states, of feelings, bureaucracies thar exercized repression and violence in o¡der to

and imagination. protect their own power from the globalizing dynamics of capital.
Classical industrial labor and specifically the organized form of Once these same dynamics became stronger than the bureaucracies'

the Fordist factory had no relation with pleasure. It had no relation resistance, political communism was Ênally defeated by world cap_

with cómmunication either: communication was actually thwarted, italism and the economic power of capitalist globalization. The
fragmented and obstructed as long as workers wele active in front autonomous communism of the workers underwent a different
of the assembly line. Industrial labor was characterized mainly by destiny: parallel, to a certain exrent, but srill different. \Øorkers'

boredom and pain, as is witnessed in metallurgist and mechanics' communism has been partially subsumed by capital, by transform-

reports to sociologists who, in the 1950s and 1960s, studied the ing workers' opposition into innovative dynamics (refusal of work,

workers' conditions of alienation and atomization, substiturion of workers' labor with machines, and the production
Therefore industrial workers found a place for socialization in shift towards digital rycles).
subve¡sive working communities, political organizations or unions Partially, then, workers' communism has been reduced to a
'!Øorkers' communism sterile residue, always more marginal, There is no more workers'
where members organized against capital.
became the main form of good life and of conscious organization communism, since workers no longer belong to a community.
for the class that capital forced (and sdll forces) to live a great part Industrial workers have not disappeared from the face of the earth.

of its existence in inhuman conditions, Communism was also the Globalization, in fact, greatly enlarged the cycle ofindustrial labor,

only form of knowledge for the class that capital forced (and still moving it to the pooresr peripheries of the planet and degrading it
forces) to live in conditions of mental passivity. Communism was to a condition of semi-slavery.

the form of universal consciousness produced by the working com- But capital's deterritorialization has taken place rapidl¡ infi_
muniry. In the communist organization workers could leave their nitely more rapid than the time required for workers to build their

conditions of abstract labor to rediscover concrete communication communities. Paul Virilio describes very well the function of

84 / The Soul at Work The Soul at Work / 85

velociry in the relation between srates and military blocs throughout communication loses its character of gratuitous, pleasurable and
the modern period. But the velocity of class struggle, the war erotic contact, becoming an economic necessity, a joyless fiction.
berween working class and capital, vr'as even more decisive. Digital Moreovet not all forms of work that could somehow be
technology and the financial characrer of the world economy have defined es mental activities are linked ro communication, inven-
accelerated the pace ofcapital rransfers, ofchanges in the organiza- tion and crearion. A characteristic aspect of infolabor is the fact
tion of work and the crearion and dismantling of producrive that it cannot be reduced to any category, not even to deterritori-
centers all around the world. This acceleration obst¡ucts rhe for- alization or to autonomy or creativity. The people who sit at their
mation of communities in the places where capital starrs the terminals in front of a screen, repeating every day the same opera-
productive process. tion a thousand times, relate to their labor in a way similar to
\Øhile industrial labor did not imply communication and did indust¡ial workers. \ùühat we need to understand, though, is the
not attract desiring energies, the opposite can be said for cognitive new element, the fact that creative labor in the network circle is
labor. Info-workers can somerimes be described as craftsmen, since infinitely flexible, it can be assembled and disassembled, and that it
they invest their knowledge and creariviry in the process of pro- is precisely in this dismanding identification that we can tnd both

ducing ner.works. Their energy is displaced from one point of the its desire and its anxiety. \Øithin mental labor as a whole we need
productive nerwo¡k ro rhe orher: capturi¡g fragments of infor- distinguish properþ cognitive labor, where intellectual energies are
mation in o¡der to recombine them within a consrandy changing engaged in a constant creetive deterritorialization, and mental
general frame. labor of a purely applicative kind, which is still prevalent quântita-
The investment of desire, which for the crafrsman deeply tively. Even within the mental labor cycle, we can distingtish brain
connected to its local community and its needs used to have a workers ftom chain worþers. But I'll focus on the most innovative
reassuring character, for the info-worker develops along very different and specific forms, since they represent the trend that is trans-
lines, producing anxiery incertirude and consranr change. Flexibiliry forming the whole of social production.
is the necessity to displace, move, and consrantly change perspec-
tives.This is the double-sided fulcrum of desire and productiviry Cognitive labor in the network
for the info-worker. Experience, knowledge and flux are ar rhe
same time the constitutive aspecrs of existence and the context of In order to understand thi transformation that social perception of
active labor. labor underwent during the past few decades and how it deter-
Cognitive labor is essentially a labor of communication, rhar mined the workers' condition of cultural and psychological
is to say communication pur ro work, From a certain point of dependence, we need to anaþe both the investments of desire
view, this could be seen as an enrichment of experience. Buc it is within the domain of info production and the formal aspects of
also (and this is generally the rule) an impoverishment, since labor relations.

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The digital transformation started two different but integrated that cannot be interrupted and from which they cennor step back
processes. The first is the capture of work inside the nerwork, that save at the price of being marginalized. Control over rhe labor

is to say the coordinarion of different labor fragments in a unique process is no longer guaranteed by the hierarchy of bigger and
flow of information and production made possible by digital infra- smaller bosses rypical of the Täylorist facory, but it is incorporated
structures, The second is the dissemination of the labor Process in the flux. Cellular phones are probably the technological devices
into a multitude of productive islands formally autonomous, but that best illustrate this kind of network dependency. The cellula¡
actually coordinated and ultimately dependent' As we have said, phone is left on by the great majoriry of info-workers even when
cognitive labor manifests itself as info labor, that is to say as the they are not working. ft has a major function in the organization
infinite recombination of a myriad information, available through of labor as selÊenterprise that is formally autonomous but substan-
adigital support,'Ùíhen cooperadon means transferring, elaborating tially dependent, The digital nenvork is the sphere where the
and decoding digitalized information, it is evident that the network spatial and remporal globalization of labo¡ is made possible,
works as its natural frame' Global labor is the endless recombination of a myriad of frag-
The function of command is no longer a hierarchical imposi- ments rhar produce, elaborate, distribute and decode signs and
ticin, localized in the factor¡ but a transversal, deterritorialized informational unirs of all sorts. Labo¡ is the cellula¡ activity where
function, permeating every fragment of labor time. the network activates an endless recombination. Cellular phones
The non-hierarchical character of network communication are the insrruments making this recombination possible. Every

becomes dominant in the entire cycle of social labor. This con- info-worker has the capaciry to elabo¡ate a specifìc semiotic seg_
tributes to the representation of info-labor as an independent ment that musr meet and match innumerable other semiotic
form of work. But this independence, as we have seen, is in fact an fragments in order to compose the frame of a combinatory entiry
ideological fiction, covering a new and growing form of depen- that is info-commodit¡ Semiocapical.
denc¡ although no longer in the previous formal hierarchies, But for this combination to become possible, a single, inÊnitely
whose command over the productive action was direct and volun- flexible (and constantly reactive to the calls of Semiocapital) pro_
tary. This new dependency is increasingly aPParent in the ductive segmenr is nor enough: a device is needed, capable of
eutomatic fluidity of the network: we have a strict interdependence connecting the single segments, constantly coordinating and
of subjective fragments, all distinct but objectively dependent localizing in real rime the fragments of info producrion. Cellular
from a fluid process, from a chain of automatisms both external phones, the most important arricle of consumprion of the last
and internal to the labor Process which regulate every gesture' decade, provide this very function ar a mass level. Industrial workers

every productive parcel. had to spend eight hours daily in a specific place if they wanted to
Both simple executing workers and entrepreneurial managers ¡eceive their wage in exchange for producrive gestures performed
share the vivid perception that they depend on a constant flow again and again in a specific territory.

88 / The Soul at Work The Soul at Work /Bg

The mobiliry of the product was made possible by the assem- the dominant rhetoric was all focused on happiness: to be happy is
bly line while worke¡s had to remain motionless in space and time. not only possible, but almost mandatory. In order to reach this
Info-workers, instead, constandy move all along the length, goal, we have to follow certain rules and modes of behavior.
breadth and depth of cyberspace, They move to find signs, to Both the totalitarian and the democratic political discourse
elaborate experience, or simply to follow the paths of their exis- have placed happiness on the horizon ofcollective action. Totali-
tence. But at every moment and place they are reachable and can tarianism imposed mandatory behavior procedures and asked of its
be called back to perform a productive function that will be rein- citizens to accept them enthusiasticall¡ lest they be marginalized
serted into the global cycle of production. In a certain sense, and persecuted: s/he who's unhappy is a bad Pa[riot and a bad
cellular phones realize the dream of capital: that of absorbing every communist, s/he is a saboteur, and so on and so forth'
possible atom of time at the exact moment the productive cycle Democracy does not exPect an enthusiastic consent. On the
needs it. In this wa¡ workers offer their entire day to capital and contrary, in a mature vision we conceive democracy as an endless
are paid only for the moments when their time is made cellular' pursuit of a possible rnodu¡ aiuendi allowing individuals to identi$'
Info-producers can be seen as neuro-workers. They prepare their with personal and public behaviors capable of capturing some
nervous system as an active receiving terminal for as much dme as ¡elative happiness.
possible. The entire lived day becomes subject to a semiotic activa- Capitalism is often (and with no reason) presented as the
tion which becomes directly productive only when necessary. inseparable companion of democracy (while we know that instead
But what emotional, psychological, and existential price does it often prospers in the shadow of far from democratic regimes),
the constant stress of our permanent cognitive electrocution but in fact it is not tolerant at all, since it expects enthusiastic Par-
imply? ticipation in a universal comPetition where it is impossible to win
without fully and convincingly deploying all of our energies.
The factory of unhappiness Totalitarian regimes, like Nazism, Fascism and the authoritarian
Socialist states, denied freedom to their people in the name of a
Happiness is not a mattet of science, but of ideology. This is how collective and homologated happiness, thereby producing an
it should be addressed. infinite sadness.
Even if in the public discourse it.is not possible to Pursue a But even the liberal eðonom¡ with the cult of profit and success
scientiÊcally based and coherent discourse on happiness, we see entite represented in a caricatured but persuasive manner in advertising
flows of communication built on the idea of happiness, witness discourse, ended up producing an unhappiness caused by constant
the circulation of fragmentary and imaginary solicitations which competition, defeat and guilt.
are rarely justified or coherent, yet remain extremely effective. In In the i990s th.e New Economls ideology asserted that free
the 1990s, while the productive process was becoming immaterial, market play creates a maximum of happiness for humanity in

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general. In fact, one of New Econornl's effects was the assimilation e consequence, these philosophies indicated as their major political
of ideological and advertising messages, and the rransformation objective the achievement of a social condition where productive
of advertising into a sort of paradigm of economic theory and labor and self-realization would come rogerher.
political acrion. Then in the 1970s feminist and gay movements identified with
It is well known that the discourse of advertising is based on the idea that "the personal is political." They meant that it was not
the c¡eation of imaginary models of happiness rhat consumers are only political power and the government of the republic thar was
invited to replicate. Adverrising is a systematic production of at stake in the social struggle. \Øhat was ar stake was first ofall the
illusions, and therefore of disillusions, as well as of competition quality of life, pleasure and pain, self-realization and respect for
and defeat, euphoria and depression. The communicative mechanism diversity: desire as the engine ofcollective acrion.
ofadvertising is based on rhe p¡oduction ofa sense ofinadequacy A.ltrøuerso (In-between), a journal which held a cerrain influence
coupled with the solicitation to become a consumer, in order to on the youth movements of the 1970s, came our once with the title
feel adequate and ro finally realize the happiness that has been "The practice of happiness is subversive when it becomes collec-
eluding us. tive." The 1977 movemenr-in its colorful and creative halian
version and in its British one as well, which was punk, gothic and
Self-tealization and the refusal of work disturbing-was founded on one intuitionl desire is the determining
field for every social mutarional process, every transformation of
As we have already seen, in the 1960s and 1970s, at the very peak the imagination, every shift of collective energy. It is only as a
of the industrial systemt mature phase, when the Fordist manifestation of desire that we can understand the workers' refusal
mechanical and repetirion based model realized its perfection, the of the wage relation, of conforming their lives to the timing of the
wo¡kers' feeling of estrangemenr from industrial labor and their assembly line realized through absenteeism and sabotage.
refusal to work, found supporr in a cuhural wave rhat placed the fuch, aware, producdvely and culturally autonomous, liberated
issue of alienation at the core of its critical sysrem. In its philo- individualities deviated wirh rage from the ideology ofsac¡ifice and
sophical meaning, alienation meanr a loss of human aurhendciry, the work ethic: work was denounced as a pure hierarchical repe-
the exchange of what in men and women is more essentially human ticion, deprived of any intelligence or creativity. 'îhat l97T
for something materially valuable, such as a salar¡ money, or movement therefore used the ideology of happiness as a powerful
consumption goods. Philosophies of idealist srripe, influenced by c¡itical instrument against the Tâylorist factory and the Fordist pro_
Existentialism, were widely circulated in the political movements ductive cycle, but also against the social and disciplinary structure
ofthose years. They considered capitalism rhe reason for an alien- based on the factory model.
ation that takes away peoplet humanity in exchange for a In the following years some decisive events completely upset
subaltern and conformisr parricipation in the circuit of goods. As the productive, social and cultural landscape.

92 / fhe Soul at Work

The Soul at Work / 93
commodities, as a function of control that governs and ideologically
First of all, digital technology spread very quickl¡
organizes consent and therefore an executive and political function.
labor and its
forming in many ways tfre modalities of productive The properly productive function rvas essentially delegated to
concatenetions, manual labor, that is to say to the direct transformation of physical
Secondly, the hierarchical structure ofthe factory model collapsed'
materials. Intellectual labor gained material power, becoming the
in the
The aspiration to self-realization became fundamental instrument of the political and technical empowering of industrial
,..orrr,r.r.,ion of a functioning social model perfectly labor and of the workng class. Automation had already started
seen as the
digital productive modalities' Social history can be spreading during the mature industrial period: it implied that
the reconstructions
un-irrt.rrrrpted story of the refusal of work
machinery could assume transformational functions, so that manual
resistance and reaction
of the productive system, where reciprocal Iabor was greatly strengthened. In the 1970s, more and more opera-
coexist. In industrial societies capital and
the working class had
tive functions were transferred to machines, with the introduction
contradictory interests, but they also had a
common interest' Con-
of numerically controlled instruments and flexible auromarion
to take from living
tradiction came from the fact that capital aimed systems. But the decisive transformation of the 1980s was the
and value' while
labor the greatest possible amount of labor dme systemetic computerization of worHng processes. Thanks to digi-
the workers' interesr was instead that of avoiding
talization, every concrete event not only can be symbolized, but
for themselves' At the
saving their physical and intellectual energies also simulated, replaced by information. Consequently
both had an intetest in it becomes
same time though, workers and capital possible to progressively reduce the entire production process ro
reducing necessary labor time, introducing productive the elaboration and exchange of information.
actually happened'
tisms, machines and technologies' This is what And in fact, what is information? It is not simply a rransfer of
to use machines
The workers' struggle for power pushed capital signs,referring to an object or an event, Information is a creation
anticipated in his of
instead of workers' exactly as Karl Marx had form, which is inoculated into the object or the evenr.
the It is the
Grønd.risse.Theintroduction of microelectronic technologies,
creation ofvalue, the production ofgoods, Every object, event, and
of productive
digitalization of machinery and the computerization commodiry can be replaced by algorithmic information capable of
characteristics of
pr-o..rr., led rapidly to a transformation of the transforming that object or rhat evenr into exchangeable existence.
labor and to its general intellectualization' Info-production reached all rycles ofgoods production, services,
During the wentieth-century the issue of the relation material and semiotic objects, since digitalization creâted a simu-
Max \ü'eber the-
intellectual and manual labor was constantly raised' lacrum of the world operationally integrated to the physical world.
matizes this relation, lænin uses it as a basis
for the theory of the puty
The formation of the info-producdve model was accompanied
and Gramsci rerhinla it under a new light' But when intellecual
by a cultural and psychic evolution in the labor force, substantially
is mentioned in the theoretical tradition of the workng movement'
changing the very perception ofactivity. In classic industrial sociery
refers to a function that is separated from
the productive process of

The Souì at Work / 95

94 / The SoLrl at Work
workers felt expropriated of their intellectualiry individualiry
an enterprise on an economic and creative basis, In those years
put a
creativity. In high tech production cognitive faculties are in fact veritable battle took place, between a diffi.¡se, libertarian, equalitarian
to work, and personal peculiarities seem to be valorized' and collective inrelligence and the new economlis oligopolies.
The intellectualization of labor, a major effect of the technologic The diffusion of the dor.com enterprise also represented a redis_
and organizational transformation of the productive process
in the
tribution of social revenue, conquering revenue for research and
Iast two decades of the rwentieth-century opens complecely experimenting. The model of the network, the principle of produc_
perspectives for selÊrealiz¿tion. But it also opens a field of completeþ tive collaboration and open s,urce rook roots in sociery thanks
to rhe
,r.* .n.rgi., to the valorization of capital' The workers' disaffection alliance berween recombining capital and cognitive labor.
for industrial labor, based on a critique ofhierarchy and repetition'
All under the sign ofa neo_
took energies away from capital, towards the end of the 1970s'
that were et, describing it as a space
desires were located outside capital, attracting fo¡ces
selÊregulation, of course,
distancing themselves from its domination' The exact opposite is a naiïe fairytale since real economic play involves
power relations,
happened in the new info-productive realiry of tíe new
violence, the maÊa, rheft and lies. Thus monopolies came to
desire called new energies towa¡ds the enterprise and
nate information technologies, the media sysrem and all those other
through work' No desire, no vitality seems to exist anymore sectors where cognitive workers had invested rheir
and energies in the
the economic enterprise, outside productive labor business'
illusion of being able to constirute independent enterprises.
Capital was able to renew its psychic, ideological and economic alliance berween cognitive labor and recombinatory capital
and ended
.n.rgy, specifically thanks to the absorption of creativiry' desire' with the submission of the market to oligopolisdc domination, and
individualistic, libertarian drives for self-realization' cognitive labor was subjected to the decisions of the big
groups dominating the world economy. In the year 2000,
the stock
Prozac-economY exchange collapse determined a loss of energy in
the innovative
sectors, and resrored the domination of the old oil_based
and economy,
In the 1990s, the decade ofthe alliance between cognitive labor redirecting the world towards the meaningless horror of
net trad'ing the war.
a reconstituting capital, financial flows generatedby compeddon has been the universal belief of the rast neoriberalist
to the
advertising cycle, venture capital and retirement funds moved In order ro srimulare competition, a powerful injecdon of
therefore become
rycle of virtual production' Cognitive labor could ive enerry became necessary, a sort of perma¡rent electrocution
enterprise, entering the formation circuirs of the Techno-Sphere ng a consranr mobilization of psychic energies. The 1990s
media-scape.fumies of creative engineers, of libertarian Programmets the decade of psycho-pharmacology: a prozac-economy.
and artists became the proletarians of intelligence' people who Frenetic rh¡hms dominated mid-I990s finance, consumprion
owned nothing but their cognitive labor force and who could
lifesryles, producing the effect of rhe systematic use
of euphoria-

96 / The Soul at Work

The Soul alWork / 97
"Depression begins to develop after the disciplinary behavioral
inducing drugs, including neuro-programming substances. A
models and the rules of authority and conformity to the
growing part of 'S?'estern societies, subjected to an uninterrupted
prohibitions that assigned a destiny to social classes and
mental hyper-excitation to the point of collapse, evoked as in an
gender collapsed faced with the new norms pushing each
exorcism the urban legend of the millennium bug. Once that
and everyone to individual action, forcing individuals to
phantasmatic threat dissolved, the real collapse came. But the new
become themselves. Because of this new no¡m, the resPon-
economlls collective psyche had already reached its point of no
sibility of our lives is now fully assigned to each of us.
return. \Øhen in 1999 Alan Greenspan spoke ofthe "irràtional exu-
Depression then manifests itself as pathology of responsibility,
berance of the market," his words were more of a clinical than a
dominated by the feeling of inadequateness. The depressed
financial diagnosis. Exuberance wes an effect of the drugs and of
individuals are not up to the task, they are ti¡ed ofhaving to
the over-exploitation ofavailable mental energy' ofa saturation of
become themselves."r
artention leading people to the limits of panic'
Panic is the anticipation of a depressive breakdown, of mental
Depression is deeply connected to the ideology of selÊrealization
confusion and disactivation.
and the happiness imperative. On the other side, depression is a
And finally the moment of the Prozac crash came.
way to define through the language ofpsychology a behavior thar
The beginning of the new millennium had gloriÂed mega-
was certainly not considered pathological outside of competitive,
fusions: AOL and Time 'W'arner united their tentacles in order to
productive and individualist contexts.
diffusely infiltrate the global mind. Immediately after, the European
telecommunication enterprises invested huge amounts of money into
"Depression is parc of a field of problems, dominated more by
UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System). These were
inhibition, slackening and asthenia than by moral pain: the
the læt actions before the crash involving'W'orldcom, Enron, and
ancient'sad passion' is transformed into a block of action' and
entire sectors of the net-economy' This crisis, which was only a faint
this happens in a context where individud initiative becomes
anticipation of the 2008 final catastrophe, was the first manifestation
the measure of the person."t
of the breakdown suflered by swarms of cognitive workers more and
more affected by psychopathological syndromes and stress'
Competition implies a risky narcissistic stimulation, because in
a highly competitive context, like that of a capitalistic economy
Panic depressive syndrome and competition
and specifìcally of the neu econoln!, many are called but only a
few are chosen. Social norms do not acknowledge the possibiliry
In his book La Fatigue d'âtre soi, Alain Ehrenberg discusses depres-
of failure, since this failure would be assigned to a psycho-
sion as a social pathological syndrome, speciÊcally depending on
pathologic context, There is no competition without failure and
situations characterized by competition.

llle Soul at Work / 99

98 / The Sot¡l at Work
defeat, but the social norm cannot acknowledge the no¡m offailure who received his visit (see James Hillmannt ,42 Esay on Pan). But
without questioning its own ideological fundaments, and even then how can we explain the diffusion of this kind of syndrome in

its own economic efficìencY' our time? Is it possible to ffnd any relation between it and the con-
The other side of the new econom! is naturally the use of psycho- text in which it manifests and spreads?
stimulant or anti-dePressive substances' This is a hidden, negated, The social context is a competitive society where all eirergies
removed side, but absolutely decisive. How man¡ amoÃg new are mobilized in order to prevail on the other. Survival is no longer

econoln! operators, survive without Ptozac, Zoloft or even cocaine? based on reaching a position ofsufhcient preparation and abilities,
Dependence on psychotropic substances, those one can buy at but it is constantly questioned: if one does not win, one can be

the pharmacy and those one cen buy on the street, is a structural eliminated, in a few days or a few months.

element of the psychopathologic economy' The technological context is the constant acceleration of the
'Sü'hen economic competition is the dominant psychological rhythms of the global machine, a constanr expansion of cyberspace

imperative of the social consortium, we can be positive that the in the face of the individual braint limited capacities of elaboration.

conditions for mass depression will be produced' This is in fact The communicational conrext is that of an endless expansion
happening under our eYes' of the Infosphere, which contains all the signals from which com-
Social psychologists have in fact remarked that two pathologies are petidon and survival depend.

of great acrualiry in these last decades of liberalist hyper-capitalism: Isnt this a very similar situation to the one pictured by the
panic and depression. Greek erymology of the word panic?

Panic is a syndrome psychologists dont understand very well' The infinite vastness of the Infosphere is superior to the human

since it seems to have occurred only rarely in the past' Panic syn- capacities of elaboration, as much as a sublime narure overcomes

drome has been only recently diagnosed as a speciftc the capacities of feeling that the Greeks could summon when faced

phenomenon, and it is hard to find its physical and psychic reasons' with che god Pan. The infinite velociry of the expansion of cþer-
but it is even harder to find an adequately effective therapy against space, the infinite velociry of exposure to signs perceived as vital to
it. I dont have the ambition to offer any solution to the patholog- the survival of the organism produce a perceprive, cognitive and
ic problem this syndrome Poses. I'm just making some psychic stress culminating in a dangerous accelerarion of all vital

observations on the rneaning of panic' Panic is the feeling we have functions, such as breathing and hearr beat, leading ro collapse.

when, faced with the inÊniry of nature, we feel overwhelmed, If there is anything meaningful in this interprerarion of panic,
unable to receive in our consciousness the infinite stimulus that then this is not simply an individual psychoparhology, but an
the world produces in us. The erymology derives from the Greek individual manifestation of a widely spread, quasi-generalized social
word pan, that means "everything existing": the god named Pan syndrome. It is collective behavior that shows the most evident
appeared bringing a sublime, devastating folly overtaking those signs of panic.

1@ / The Soul at Worl< The Soul at Work / 101

Collective panic generates phenomena such as irrational syndrome (if compared to the primary one, which I believe to be
aggressiveness againsr immigrants, senseless mass violence in sta- panic), in a society based on the principle of competition and
diums, as well as orher, apparently normal behaviors, like those supplied with the technological insrruments necessary for rhe
characterizing personal relations in the contemporary urban space, inffnite acceleration of the communication circles surrounding
These behaviors cannot be corrected with rhe instruments of the organism.
political persuasion or judicial repression, because they have The description of these rwo complementary syndromes can be
nothing to do with politics and ideology but depend on a social useful in order to address the psycho-social framework constantly
psychopathology induced by the Infospheret excess, by the hyper- generating and feeding the psychopathology ofthe present.
stimulation and the endless cognitive stress affecting the social The aggressive young people addicted to amphecamines, riding
organism and caused by permanent electrocution. in super-accessorized cars and going to work ready to give their besr
Permanent electrocution is the normal condition of a system to increase their share in corporate earnings and ro obtain their
where network communicative technologies are used in a competi- bosses' approval are all in the waiting room of panic. In the same
tive social sitúation, projecting rhe organism in an infìnite, way their younger skinhead brothers beat each orher up every
hyper-fast flow of economically relevant signs. Sunday in the soccer stadium, expressing a form of panic accumu-
Once the organism gets overtaxed to an unbearable degree, a lated weekly during their normal working week.
panic crisis may lead to collapse, or the organism might detach Polidcal culture refuses to acknowledge that rhe legal drugs one
itself from the flow of communication, manifesting a sudden psychic can buy at the pharmacy, a source of astonishing profits for Roche
loss of motivation called depression by psychologists. and Glaxo, as well as the illegal ones, a source of profit for the
\Øith depression we are affecred first of all by a disinvestment of mafia, are en essential factor (and in fact the mosr importanc one)
the energy previously used in a narcissistic way. Once the organism of competitive society.
realizes that it is unable to sustain fu¡ther competirive tension, that
it is a loser in the relation that was absorbing all of its morivarions, M¡tual class and cognitariat
what takes place is a sort of zero degree of the exchange relation
berween the conscious organism and its world, Virtual is a reality whose tangible physicaliry has been eliminated.
\Øith depression we are always affected by a process of de- Frigid Thought can well be recognized in the nerwork world, where
motivation, originated by rhe loss of an objecr rhar used to be rhe the relation to the other is artificially euphoric but substantially
focus ofnarcissistic attention for the subject. desexualized as well.
"The world doesn't make sense anymore"-says the depressed-
since the objecr of his or her narcissistic passion is lost. This Frigid Thought is the a-critic exaltation of digital technologies.
might explain the diffusion of depression as a secondary pathologic Digital technologies are based on the loss of the physicality of the

102 / Thc Soul at Work The Soul at Work / 1O3

This seems to me an interesting and useful notion' But I d like
world, on simulating algorichms capable of reproducing all life
to find a complementary concept, capable of detning the (denied)
forms, except for only one qualiry: their tangible realiry, their physical
carnaliq' and the (avoided) sociality of the mental labor at work in
form and therefore their caduciry,
the production of Semiocapital. Therefore I use the notion of the
Noah grouped in his ark all the creatures of the earth, in order
cognitariat. The cognitariat is the semiotic labor flow, socially
to save them from the flood. Today in a similar wey we can enter
spread and fragmented, es seen from the standpoint of its social
our air-conditioned arks and float on the waves of the digital
corporeality. The vi¡tual class has no needs, but the cognitariat
deluge without losing contact with the cultural patrimony accu-
does. The virtual class is not affected by the psychic stress deter-
mulated by humanity, keeping linked to the other arks, while at the
mined by the conscant exploitation of attention. The cognitariat is
same time, on the physical planet down there, barbarian hordes
affected. The virtual class cannot produce any conscious collective
swarm and make war.
process except as collective Intellect. The cognitariat can identify
Those who can, isolare themselves in a pressurized and hyper-
itself as a conscious community.
connected capsule. They are physically removed from other human
It is evident that the word "cognitariat" includes two concePts:
bein$s (whose existence becomes a factor of insecurity), though ubiqui-
cognitive labor and proletariat.
tous, virtually present in any possible place according to their desires.
Cognitariat is the social corporeality of cognitive labor.'What is
This schizophrenic geography needs indeed rwo different cata-
at stake within the social definition of cognitive labor is precisely
logues, two adases describing supposedly separate worlds. The
the bod¡ sexualiry mortel physicality, the unconscious.
catalogue ofthe virtual class is sterilized. It proposes objects whose
In his most famous book, entitled Collectiue Intelligence
temporaliry and physicality have constitutively been removed. The
(Perseus, 1999), Pierre Lévy proposes the notion ofcollecdve intel-
removal of corporealiry is a guarantee of endless happiness, but
lect. Thanks to the digital network, he writes, the idea of a
naturally a frigid and false one, because it ignores, or rather
collaborative participation of all human intellects to the creation of
removes, corporeality: not only that of others, but even one's own,
a collective intellect takes a concrete shape, and the creation ofthe
negating mental labor, sexualiry and mental mortaliry.
world within technological, digital and virtual conditions becomes
It is because of these considerations that I see the need for a
possible. Buc the social existence of cognitive workers does not
new notion, able to analyze the virtual class in corporeal, historical
exhaust itself with the intellect: cognitive workers, in their concretç
and social terms.
existence, are bodies whose nerves become tense with constant
The notion of vinual class stresses the socially undefined, elusive
attention and efforc while their eyes are strained in the fixed con-
character of the work flows produced by Semiocapital. The virtual
templation of a screen.
class is the class of those who do not identi$r with any class, since
they are not socially or materially structured: their definition
depends on the removal of their own social corporealiry.

The Soul at Work / 105

104 / The SorJl at Work
established in Bretton \ü'oods in 1944. Since then, the American
economy was no longer subject to the control of economic laws
this control ever existed), and only relied on force'
American debt could grow indefinitely, since the debtor was
The Precarious Soul militarily stronger than the creditor' Since then, the USA has made

the rest of the world pay for the ramping up of their war machine'
and uses its war machine to threaten the rest of the world and force
it to pay. Far from being an objective science, economics revealed
itself to be a modeling of social relations, an enterprise of violent
Deregulation and control coercion, whose task is the imposition of arbitrary rules on social
activities: comPetidon' maximum profit' unlimited growth'
Baudrillard remarks that the word liberation has been losing its InsyrnbolicExchangeandDeath,Baudrillardhadanintuition
meaning since power stopped being founded on rhe norm, on the about rhe general lines of the evolution characterizing the end of the
disciplinary regulation of bodies and of social, linguistic and millennium:
moral'relations, thar is to say since the world was submerged by
generalized indeterminacy. "The realiry principle corresponded to a certain stage of the
law of value, Today the whole system is swamped by indeter-
In the Fo¡disr era, rhe fluctuations of prices, salaries, and proÊrs minacy, and every realiry is absorbed by the hyperrealiry of
were founded on the relarion benveen the rime of socially necessary the code and simulation,"t
labor and the decermination of value. rVirh the introduction of
micro-electronic technologiès, and the consequent inrellecrualiza- The entire system fell into indeterminacy, since the correspondences
tion of productive labor, the relationships between exisring units of between referent and sign, simulation and event, value and time
measure and rhe difllerenr productive forces entered a regime of oflabor were no longer guaranteed. The decision that inaugurat-
indeterminary. The dereguktion launched by Margaret Thatcher ed the end of the dollart convertibiliry inaugurated an aleatory
and Ronald Reagan at che beginning of rhe 1980s is nor the cause regime of fluctuating values. The rule of convertibiliry was dis-
of such indeterminac¡ but its political inscription. Neoliberalism missed according !o an act of political will, while in those same
registered the end of the rule of value, and made it inro an eco- 1970s, the entire technical and organizational system ruled by the
nomic policy. The decision that Richard Nixon made in l97l to mechanical paradigm, started to crumble'
delink the dolla¡ from gold gave American capiralism a pivocal role How is value established, then, within the aleatory regime of
within the global econom¡ freeing it from the consritutional frame fluctuating values? Through violence, swindling and lies' Brute

184 Tl'ìe Precarious Soul / 185

force is legitimated as rhe only effeccive source of law. The aleatory post-Fordist transformation as an implosive insertion of the neo-
regime of fuctuaring values coincides with the domination of cyni- liberalist form within the animated social body' In his seminar'
cism in public discourse and in the public soul. contemporary with the election of Margaret Thatcher in Great
In order to unde¡stand the social effects ofNeoliberal deregula- Britain and of Ronald Reagan in the USA, Foucault broadens the
tion we have to understand the psychopathogenic effecrs that the scope of his genealogical and biopolitical PersPective in order to
precariousness ofsocial relations produces on the individual and the include the economic Processes that in those years were only
collective soul. Beginning with the 1970s, dzreguhtion assumed a beginning to take shaPe.
central role in the ideology of power, upsetting not only rhe rela- lnhis Coørse Surnrndry, Foucault writes:
tions between the economy and sociery but also the coordinates of
critical discourse. The word d.ereguløtion is false. It looks as if it orig- "The theme was to have been 'biopolitics,' by which I meant
inated in the history of anti-systemic avant-gardes to bring a the attempt, staÌting from the eighteenth century' to ratio-
libertarian wind into the social sphere and heralding the end of nalize the problems posed to governmental practice by
every norm and constrictive rule. In rea.lity, the deregulatory p¡acrices phenomena characteristic of a set of living beings forming a
that accompany the vicrory of monetary neoliberalism consist in population: health, hygiene, birthrate, life expectanc¡
clearing away all rules, so that only the rules of the economic domi- know the increasing importance of these problems
nate, uncontested. The only legitimate rule is no\À/ rhe strictest, the since the nineteenth century and the political and economic
most violent, the most a¡nical., the most irrational of all the rules: the issues they have raised uP to the present"'2
law of economic jungle.
the word biopolitics, Foucault introduces the idea that the
In the works that Foucault devoted to the genealogy of modern history of power is the story of the living body being modeled by
power formations, the key concept was discipline, undersrood as rhe deeply mutational institutions and practices, capable of introducing
modeling of the bodies in the Fordist conrexr. In his early writings, behaviors and expectations and indeed Permanent modifications in
where he srudied rhe formation of the modern disciplinary struc- the living. Biopolitics rePresents a morphogenedc modeling of the
tures-mental hospitals, clinics, prisons-Foucault builr a theory of living operated by the habitat with which it is required to interact'
modern power that included a theory of subject fo¡mation. Liberalism (or rather neoliberalism, since we want to refer to
Now that the despotic regime of liberalist deregulation has fully the particularly aggressive variant of liberalism that was proposed
developed itself, the discourse Foucault developed in his early writ- throughout the 1970s by the Chicago School of economics and
ings needs to be updated. Foucault himself realized it, as we can see later adopted by American and British governments until it finally
in The Birth of Biopolitics, the subsequently published form of his became, after 1989, the central dogma of global politics) is a polit-
1979 seminar at the College de France. Here Foucauk rerraces rhe ical program whose purpose implies the inoculation of the

186 / The Soul at Work The Precarious Soul / 187

enterprise principle to every space of human relations, Privatization Neo-Liberal theories reduce the concept of freedom to its
and the fact that every fragment of the social sphere was reduced to formal, juridical dimension. But contemporary totalitarianism has
the entrepreneurial model freed economic dynamics from any tie, forged chains that ate different from those of political absolutism:
be they politicd, social, ethical, juridical, unionist or environmental. its instruments of domination have moved from the domain of
In prior decades, these ties were able to shore up privatization, politics to that ofthe technical production ofsubjectiviry from the
thanks to the public investment policies that had been stimulated by realm of the juridicel person to the animated bod¡ to the soul'
Keynes' refo¡ms and the workers' organized action, Neoliberalism aimed, on one side, at the elimination of all legal
But the more liberal deregulation eliminates any legal ties within norms and social regulations that resulted in the limitation of com-
production and the juridical person is freed from regulations, the petitive dynamics. On the other side, it wanted to transform every
more living social time is caught in linguistic, technological and psy- domain of social life (included health care, education, sexualiry,
chological chains, Foucault explains that biopolitics is a process of affects, culture, etc) into an economic space where the only valid
internalization: economic chains are incorporated in the physical and rule is that of supply and demand within an increasingly absolute
linguistic sphere once sociery has been freed from any formal rule. In privatization of services.
this sense the question of freedom today is a biopolitical problem. Neoliberalism eliminated the ties that protected society from
Let me indulge, now, in a Marxist digression. the economical dynamics of competition; therefore an effect of
In his so-called "Unpublished Sixth Chapter" of Volume I of biopolitical branding was produced in the collective mind-body'
CaphøL published in the 1960s, Marx talks about the passage from
fo¡mal to real subsumption by capital. Formal subsumption is "It from within the social
means generalizing the 'enterprise'
based on the juridical subjugation of the laborers, on the formal body or social fabric; it means taking this social fabric and
disciplining of the bodies. Real subsumption means instead that arranging things so that it can be broken down, subdivided,
the worke¡s' lifetimes have been captured by the capital flow, and and reduced, not according to the grain of individuals, but
the souls have been pervaded by technoJinguistic chains. according to the grain of enterprises. The individual life must
The introduction of pervasive technologies, the computeriza- be lodged [...] within the framework of a multiplicity of
tion of productive processes and of social communication enact a diverse enterprises connected up to and entangled with each
molecular domination upon the collective nervous network. This is other [...]. And Ênall¡ the individual's life itselÊ-with his
the domain of the dead object, the commodiry which objectifies relationships to his private ProPerty' for example, with his
human activiry reducing it to a cognitive automatism. In this sense famil¡ household, insurance, and reti¡ement-must make
we should speak of 'thanato-politics" (from the Greek "tlra.natos," him into a sort of permanent and multiple enterprise [...]'
meaning death): the submission of intelligent life to the dead object, rVhat is the function of this generalization of the 'enterprise'
the domination of the dead over the living. form? On the one hand, of course, it involves extending the

1 88 / The Soul at Wof< The Precarious Soul / 189

economic model of supply and demand and investmenr_ the reduction of the idea of wealth to that of ownership' The idea
costs-profìt so as ro make it a model of social relations and of of wealth is separated from the pleasure of free enjoyment and
existence itselfi, a form of relationship of the individual to him_ reduced to the accumulation of value.
self, rime, those around him, rhe group, and the family [,..].
The return to the enterprise is therefore at once an economic Becoming precar¡ous
policy or a policy of the economization of che encire social
Êeld, but at rhe same time a policy which presents itself o¡ rlØithin the aleatory regime of fluctuant values, precariousness
seeks ro be a kind of Vitaþolitih wirh the function of compen- becomes the general form of social existence. Capital can buy frac-
saring for what is cold, impassive, calculating, ¡ational, and tals of human time, recombining them through the digital
mechanical in the srricdy economic game of comperirion.,,3 network. Digitalized infolabor can be recombined in a different
location, far from the one that produces it, From the standpoint
The reign ofthe enterprise is at once a political deregulation process of capitalt valorization, the flow is continuous, finding its uniry in
and an. epistemic process of a new segmentation of time, and cul- the produced object. Yet from the cognitive workers' PersPective
tural expectations. In this sense ït is a Vitaþolitih, a politics of life, the work done has a fragmentary character: it consists in fractions
a biopolitics. of cellular time available for productive ¡ecombination' Intermit-
On a political level, the neoliberal victory leads to the creation of tent work cells turn on and off within the large control frame of
what Foucault defines; global production. The distribution of time can thus be separated
from the physical and juridical person ofthe worker. Social labor
'ã sort of economic tribunal that claims to assess government time is like an ocean of value producing cells that can be grouped
action in strictly economic and market terms,,,a and recombined according to capital's needs' Precariousness has
changed the social composition, and the psychological, relational,
Every government choice, social initiative, form ofculture, educa- linguistic, expressive forms of the nevv generations now facing the
tion, innovarion, is judged according to a unique criterion: that of job market.
economic competirion and profitabiliry. Every discipline, knowl_ Precariousness is not a perticular element of the social relation,
edge, nuance of
sensibiliry must conform to thar criterion. but the dark core of the capitalist production in the sphere of the
Neoliberalism represenrs an arrempr to build úte homo oeconornicw: global nenvork where a flow of fragmented recombinant info-labor
an anthropological model incapable of distinguishing benveen one,s continuously circulates. Precariousness is the transformative ele-
own good and economic interesc. ment of the whole cycle of production. Nobody is shielded from it'
At the origins of the liberalist vision there is a reduction of The wages of workers on permanent contrects are lowered and bro-
human good (ethical and aesthetic good) to economic interesr, and ken down; everyone's life is threatened by an increasing instabiliry.

190 / The SoLri at Work The Precarious Soul / 191

Ever since Fordist discipline was dissolved, individuals find Meanwhile, the human machine is there, pulsating and avail-
themselves in a condition of apparent freedom. Nobody forces them able, like a brain-sprawl in waiting. The extension of time is
to endure subjection and dependency. Coercion is insteacl embed- meticulously cellular: cells of producdve time can be mobilized in
ded in the rechnicalities of social relations, and control is exerted punctual, casual and fragmentary forms. The recombination of
chrough the voluntary yer inevitable submission to a chain of these fragments is automatically realized in the digital networks.
automatisms. In the U.S.A., the grear majoriry of students need to The mobile phone makes possible the connection berween the
obtain a loan in order to pay their courses and obtain a universiry needs of semio-capital and the mobilization of the living labor of
degree. The cost of tuition is so high that this loan becomes a bur- ryber-space. The ringtone of the mobile phone calls the workers to
den from which students can'r f¡ee themselves fo¡ decades. In rhis reconnect their abstract time to the reticular fows,
wa¡ the conditions for a new form ofdependence are produced in Thanks to the interconnection of its living parts, the social
the lives ofthe new generations, system seems to get more and more similar to a biological system.
The neoliberal values presented in the 1980s and 1990s as ln 1993,in his book Out of Control, Kevin Kelly talked about
vectors of independence and self-entrepreneurship, revealed them- vivisystems, a¡tificial systems functioning according to the bio-
selves to be manifestations of a new form of slavery producing social recombining paradigm of living organisms. The general horizon
insecuriry and most of all a psychological catastrophe. The soul, traced by this book is the Global Mind, where we find synthesized
once wandering and unpredictable, musr now follow functional biological organisms and digital networks. The global mind is a bio-
paths in order to become compatible with the sysrem of operative digital super-organism connecting brains, bodies and elect¡onic
exchanges structuring the productive ensemble. The soul hardens, networks. The model of the network is able to orgatlirze and direct
and loses its renderness and malleabiliry. Indusrial factories used productive energies in the mosc functional way. Therefore the
the bod¡ forcing it to leave the soul outside of the assembly line, so model of horizontal integration tends to replace that of hierarchical
that the worke¡ looked like a soulless body. The immate¡ial facrory decision, and the model of recombination tends to replace that of
asks instead to place our very souls at its disposal: intelligence, sensi- the accumulation of events and dialectic contradiction. Living
biliry creativity and language. The useless body lies flabbily at the systems are infinitely more complex than any system that could
borders of the game field: to rake care of it and enterrain it, we put be interpreted according to the sequential model of mechanics
it through the commercial circuits of fitness and sex. and of rational and voluntary action. Technology led us to pro-
\Øhen we move inro the sphere of infoJabor, Capital no longer duce artifìcial living systems. This makes the method and episteme
recruits people, it buys packets of time, separated from their inter- of modern politics, which was derived f¡om a mechanical metaphor,
changeable and contingent bearers. De-personalized time is now the irreparably obsolece. \ü'e need to rethink politics according to the
real agent of the process ofvalorization, and de-personalized rime metaphorical possibilities of a bioinformatics model,
has no rights.

192 / The Soul at Work The Precarious Soul / 1 93

This idea was largely popular in cyber-culture during the 1990s: the another.d That is, a swarm is a particular kind of collectiviry or
horizontal connection of nerworked systems gives human intelli- group phenomenon that may be dependent upon a condition of
connectiviry. A swarm is a collectivity that is defined by relationaliry.
gence a superior power. But what is rhe principle that semiotizes this
as it does
This psrtains as much to the level of the individual unit
power? And who really beneÊts from the empowering of the collec-
tive intelligen ce? ln Out of Control, Kevin Kelly writes: to the overall organization of the swarm. At some level "living
networks" and "swarms" overlap. A swarm is a whole that is more
"As very large webs penetrate the made world, we see the first
than the sum ofits parts, but it is also a heterogeneous whole. In the

glimpses of what eme¡ges from the net-machines that become

swarm, the parts are not subservient to the whole-both exist

alive, smart, and €volve-a neo-biological civilization. There is

simultaneously and because of each other.

a sense in which a global mind also emerges in a network The swarm has no political soul, only an auromatic and rela-
culture. The global mind is the union of computer and tional soul.
nature-of telephones and human brains and more, It is a The effective exercise of politics (that is to say of political
very large complexity of indeterminate shape governed by an
government) presupposes a conscious possibiliry of elaborating of

invisible hand of its own."5 the information collecdvely shared by the social organism. But the
information circulating within digital society is too much: too fast,
too intense, too thick and complex for individuals or groups to elab-
In Kellyt vision the obscure yet superior designs of the global mind
are manifested through automatic mechanisms of global interactive orate it consciousl¡ criticall¡ reasonabl¡ with the necessary time to

decision making. The muldtude can speak hundreds of thousands make a decision. Therefore the decision is left to automatisms, and
the social organism seems to function ever more often according to
oflanguages, but the language that enables it to function as an inte-
grated whole is that of the economic automatisms embodied in evolutionary rules of an automatic kind, inscribed in the generic
technology. Seized in a game of mirrors of indeterminacy and cognitive patrimony of individuals. The swarm now tends to
precariousness, the multitude manifests its dark side and follows become the dominant form of human action. Displacement and

automatisms that turn its wealth into misery, its power into anguish direction ere more and more decided by the system of collective
and its creativity into dependency. automatisms that impose themselves over the individual.
l¡ Business @ The Speed ofThouþt, referring to the general bio-
The muldtude does nor manifest itself as auronomy at all, but logic form that the process of digital production is assuming, Bill
rather as dependence from the automatisms that biopower builds Gates writes:

and activates in everyday life, in our sensibiliry and psyche: we

become a swarm. According to Eugene Thacker, a swarm is an orga- "An organization's nervous system has parallels with our
nizarion of multiple, individuated units with some relation to one human nervous system. Every business, regardless of industry,

194 / The Soul at Work Tlre Precarious Soul / 195

has 'autonomic' systems, the operational processes that just body with mutagenic fluxes produced by bioengineering: medica-
have to go on if the company is to survive [..,]. \Øhat has tions, artificial organs' genetic mutations and functional
been missing are links berween information thar ¡esemble the reprogranming, In a sense, even informacion technologies occuPy
interconnected neu¡ons in rhe brain [,..] You know you have the mind with mutagenic flows' invading our attention, imagina-
built an excellent digital nervous sysrem when information tion and memory. Informatics and biotechnical technologies allow
flows through your organization as quickly and naturally as bodies to connect in a continuum ruled by automatisms.,
thought in a human being and when you can use technology In the disciplinary society whose epistemic and practical origins
to marshal and coo¡dinate reams of people as quickly as you were discussed by Michel Foucault, bodies were disciplined in a
can focus an individual on an issue. h's business at the speed repressive way by social and productive rules that required consensus'
of thought."T submission and conscious interiorization. The law imposed by the
modern state over individuals had an exterior character with respect
In the connected world, the retroactive loops of a general systems to the conscious human organism, reptesented by the citizen.
theory is combined with the dynamic logic of biogenetics in a The sociery of control, as discussed by Deleuze, is instead

post-human vision of digital production. The model of bio-info- installed beginning with the wiring of bodies and minds, innerving
producrion imagined by Gates is the inrerface that will allow human automatisms of a techno-linguistic kind, thanks to mutations
bodies to integrate with rhe digital circuit. Once it gets fully opera- induced according to the finalities inscribed in the technological
tive, the digital nervous system can be rapidly installed on a new device . ReÊned technologies are active on a molecular level, they are
form of organization. Microsoft deals with products and services nano-factors of mutation. Therefore they create the conditions for
only apparently. In realiry it deals with a form of cybernedc organi- the control ofthe agent-subject through technoJinguistic automa-
zation that-once installed-s¡¡r¡ç¡u¡e5 the flows of digiral tisms and techno-operations' The minds of conscious individual
information through the nervous sysrems of all key institutions of organisms are connected by mutagenic flows of a semiotic kind:
contemporery life. Microsoft needs to be considered a virtual they transform organisms into terminals for the global mind and the
memory that we can download, ready ro be installed in the bio- bio-digital super organism,
informatics interfaces of the social organism: a cyber-Panopticon Darwin thought that the Process of selection worked on the
installed inside the bodily circuits of human subjectiviry, a mura- extremely long times necessary to the natural evolution of the
genic factor introduced in the circuits of social communicarion. species, In the span ofone generation we cannot perceive anything
Cybernetics finally becomes life or-as Gates likes to say-infor- significant in this sense, and selection is manifested only in a
mation is our'iital lymph." cumulative way, throughout many generations' Little, almost
Biotechnologies open the way ro an ulterior evolution of this imperceptible modifications are cumulated throughout extremely
scenario, allowing us to connect individual bodies and the social long temporal rycles. But is this still the case in the modern epoch?

'Iho Precarious Soul / 197

196 / The Soul at Work
Isnt technology a factor of inc¡edible acceleration in the mutational it. The productive relation between body and machine was
processes that in nature were so slow, and hasnt it now acquired the formed through a slow interaction which was visible' conscious
tendenry to accelerate up to the point of fully manifesting its results and governable. The anatomical body and the capitalistic
within one or rwo generarions? Isnt rhe mutarion occurring under machine are reciprocally modeled throughout this process' In
our eyes spreading from rhe technological level (digicalizarion, con- Fordist factor¡ anatomy and mechanics keep together the sys-
nectiviry) to the social, cultural aesrheric, cognitive and tem of productive bodies which occuPy the material space of
physiological one? Can't we see already in acrion rhe mutation of the objects, transformations and displacements' In this material
emotional sysrem, desiring regimes, territorial dislocations, modalities visible space, labor and conflict become manifest' and power is

of attention, memorization and imaginarion? Arent we beginning organized.

to perceive a possible psychological murarion in the organism, But once the digital aPPears on the horizon of social life' the
induced by biotechnologyl central factors of social relarions move from the analogical
(of sizes, bodies, drives) to that of algorithms (relations' constants'
The¡efore it is true that the environmenr has a determinant
level of
function on the choices made by human minds, yet human minds simulations)' Digitalization implies a shift at the essential
maniPulated materiall¡
are part of the environment, For this reason, the conclusions that
liberalist theory elaborated from the premises of social Darwinism The site where Produc-
follow a pseudoJogic. It is true that biology ablished is isolated from
dominares human
action, bur human accion also determines biology. The question is social knowledge and even visibility' On the social scene
co understand which choices (epistemic, technologic and finally tisms are expressed, yet the domain where they are produced is

instinctual and aesthedc) a conscious human mind will make. subtraccedfromvisibiliry,notonlybecausethisisaclandesdne

domain (laboratories of research are subtracted from any democratic
The modeling of the soul judgment or decision), but also because everfhing happens within
Modern society was founded on the perspective of a human The humanistic horizon was related to Protagoras' premise
government over a wodd built on a human scale. This govern- that..manisthemeasureofallthings.''Intheuaditional-evenin
ment must discipline bodies, communicational relations and the industrial-world, man is the measure, and the technologic
language. Discipline as Foucault suggested already inhis History verse is built upon his will and concrete capacities to manipulate'

of Madness, implies the reduction of the world to reason, while This is no longer true once the technologies of the invisible spread'
at the same time irrationaliry is confìned, segregated, repressed The imponant'things" (indeed they are generative algorithms) that
and medicalized. The development of the Fordist induscrial form count and determine the formation of social phenomena
no longer

presupposes the same disciplining process, while also redefining correspond to a human measure: the human eye can no longer

The Precarious Soul / 199

198 / The SoLrl at Work
perceive them. Politics is weakened, since all rhat is given in rhe Bioinformatics ontology
politically visible has no value, it is pure "spectacle": while specta-
cle is what we can see, generative algorirhms are invisible, Pico della Mirandola was a humanist and philologist who, in 1486,
Domination therefore shifts from rhe domain of bodil¡ mechani- \À/rote a text entitled Oratio de dignitate hominis. Here I am quoting
cal and political disciplining to that of logical and psychological, from his work:
or logical and biogenic automatisms. Not the body but the soul
becomes the subject of techno-social domination, Capitalist global- "Now the highest Father, God the master-builder, had, by the
ization is supported essentially by these techno-linguistic laws of his secret wisdom, fab¡icated this house, this world
automatisms, diffused and connected at a general level in produc- which we see, a very superb temple of diviniry. He had
tive societ¡ so that capitalist valorization becomes more and more adorned the super-celestial region with minds. He had ani-
independenc from any conscious activity and the very possibility mated the celestial globes with eternal souls; he had filled with

of human political action. a diverse throng of animals the cast-off and residual parts of
The political extinction of the working class was not and is not the lower world. But, with the work Ênished, the Artisan
a consequence ofany srruggle between political forces, or the effect desired that there be someone to reckon up the reason of such

of a social elimination. tVorkers continue to exist, but their social a big work, to love its beauty, and to wonder at its greatness.

action is no longer effective in relation to the dominant processes Accordingl¡ now that all things had been completed [...], He
that are actually producing general social effects. tühat has irre- lastly considered creating man. But there was nothing in the
versibly changed on the scene of Semiocapital is the relationship archetypes from which He could mold a new sprour, nor any-

berween the human faccor (the workers) and sites of control and thing in His storehouse which He could bestow as a heritage

decision. Control is no longer exerted on a macrosocial or anatom- upon a new son, nor was there an empty judiciary seat where
ic level, as bodily constriction, Control is exerted at an invisible, this contemplator of the universe could sit. Everything was
ir¡eversible level, a level that cannot be ruled, since it happens filled up; all things had been laid out in the highest, the low-
through the creation of linguistic and operative automatisms struc- est, and the middle orders. But it did not belong to the
turing the way the technosphere functions. paternal power to have failed in the final parturition [.,.]; ir
Control over the body is no longer exerced by molar mecha- did not belong to wisdom, in a case of necessiry to have been
nisms of
constriction, but by micro machines that are tossed back and forth through want ofa plan; it did not belong
incorporated into the organism through psychopharmacology, to the loving-kindness which was going to praise divine liber-
mass communication and the predisposition of informatics inter- aliry in others to be forced ro condemn itself. Fina.ll¡ the best
faces. That means that control over the body is exerted by the ofworkmen decided that thar to which nothing of its very ov/n
modeling of the soul. could be given should be, in composite fashion, wharsoever

200 / The Soul at Worl< The Precarious Soul / 201

had belonged individually to each and every thing. Therefore Pico tells us that God had no more archetyPes available and
He took up man, a work of indeterminate form; and, placing that the human cteature, the favo¡ite one, the last and most com-
him at the midpoint of the world, He spoke to him as follows: plex, could not be defined by any archerype or essence' God had
''!ü'e have given to thee, Adam, no Êxed seat, no form of therefore to leave humans their freedom to define themselves,
thy very own, no gift peculiarly thine, that rhou mayest feel as
freely establishing the limits of their acts and destiny. Human
thine own, have as thine own, possess as thine own the seat, becoming was not delimited or fìnalized by divine will, but was
the form, the gifts which thou thyself shalt desire. A limited left to the will of human indeterminacy. Freedom is understood as
nature in other creatures is conÊned within the laws written freedom from detetminacy: in this sense, it is constitutive of
down by Us. In conformiry with thy free judgment, in whose human essence.
hands I have placed thee, thou art conffned by no bounds; Moderniry was inaugurated by this awareness: human civiliza-
and thou wilt fìx limits of nature for thyself. I have placed tion is a project, not the development or the realization of a design,
thee at the center of the world, that from there thou mayest implicit in divine will or in Being. The history of moderniry played
mo¡e conveniently look around and see whatsoever is in the itself out in the emptiness of Being. But in the historical manifesta-
woild, Neither heavenly nor earthly, neither mortal nor tions of this constent overcoming of limits, modernity reaches both
immortal have'W'e made thee. Thou, like a judge appointed for
its apex and exhaustion.
being honorable, art the molder and maker of thyself; thou The technical development of human intelligence creates the
mayest sculpt thyself into whatever shape thou dost prefer. conditions for putting under critical light the very indeterminacy
Thou canst grow downward into the lower natures which are
that Pico stressed as the essential and original character of the
brutes, Thou canst again grow upward from thy soul's reason human being. Despite the fact that human freedom had been guar-
into the higher natures which are divine."'8
anteed by the divine decision to let humans live with their own
indeterminac¡ free to define themselves, Technology suspends and
\Øriting his speech on human digniry at the end of the fifteenth cen- obliterates human freedom, building a destiny that is objectified
tury Pico inaugurated the modern horizon: the exercise of human and embodied in the linguistic automatism.
power is not established by any archerype, norm or necessiry, since the ln his Letter on Humanism.e Heidegger already shows how
Creator did not determine in any way the path that s/he needs to humanism is in danger: it is actually condemned by the "beyond the
follow In those same years a newly Çhristianized Spain expelled human" that is implicit in the marhemarization and digitalization of
Muslims and Jews from its territories, and armies of Christian knowledge, and by the automatization of life. The will to power
Spaniards brought to the new continent a civilization of death, exter- produced the instruments of its own end, and the end of human
mination and abuse. Access to mode¡nity was marked by an assertion freedom, that is to say the quintessentially human: since the human
of freedom and ente¡prise that was also an imposition of violence. is situated in a space of freedom that technology eliminates'

2O2 / the Soul at Work The Preoarious Soul / 203

"More essential than instituting rules is that man find rhe way But who are they? They are human beings, little by little
to his abode in the truth of Being [.,,]. Thus language is at deprived of the authority to rule the world, and replaced by the
once the house of Being and the home of human beings. Only automatisms which penetrate the world and redeÊne it' Heidegger
because language is the home of the essence of man can says thet human beings ("those involved") cannot recognize the
historical mankind and human beings not be at home in their speed with which moderniry races towards the fulÊllment of its
language, so that for them language becomes a mere container essence, since this fulfillment is precisely the unawareness of human
fo¡ their sundry preoccupations."r0 beings, their dependency on automatisms. Humans are less and less
aware of the process that they themselves initiated' Thanks to their
Language is the house of Being, but at the same time Heidegger freedom, born frorir the distance between Being and existent, and
tells us that language belongs to technique: technique becomes the ontologically unprejudiced character of existence, humaniry
at once its privileged object and the subject that produces, enun- came to the point of realizing a technical realm installed in the
ciates, programs. empry place of Being. The empty place of Being is thus filled by the
performative power of the technosphere, and the numeric conven-
"The fundamental event of moderniry is the conquest of the tion is transformed into an oPeretional device.
world as picture. From now on the word 'picture' means: the The end of Humanism stems from the power of Humanism itself'
collecrive image ofrepresenting production [.,.], For the sake
of rhis battle of world views, and accordingly to its meaning,
humanity sets in motion, with respect to everything, the
unlimited process of calculation, planning, and breeding.
Science as research is the indispensable fo¡m taken by this
selÊestablishment in the world; it is one of the pathways
along which, with a speed unrecognized by those who are
involved, moderniry ¡aces towards the fulfìllment of its

The last words in this quote need some ettention. After having said
that moderniry is the conquest and submission of the world as a
picture Ânally reduced to an integrated form, Heidegger comes to
the conclusion thar this process takes place at a speed unrecognized
by those who are involved.

2O4 / Il\e Soul at Work The Precâr¡ous Soul / 205


The genesis of r:he present deptession

The collapse of the global economy can be read as the return of the soul'
The perfect machine of Neoliberal ideology, based on the rational
balance of economic factors, is falling to bia because it was based on
the flawed assumption that the soul can be reduced to mere rationalìty'
The dark side of the soul-fear, anxiety, panic and depression-has
finally surfaced after looming for a decade in the shadow of the
much touted victory and the promised eterniry of capitalism'
In this short conclusion I want to consider two different
meanings of the word depression'
By this word we mean a special kind of mental suffering, but
also the general shape ofthe global crisis that is darkening the his-
torical horizon of our time. This is not simple wordpla¡ this is not
only a metaphor, but the interweaving and interacting of psycho-
logical flows and economic Processes.

In the year 2000 the American market experienced the effects of an

overproduction in the Info-economical field' After the doccom

crash, and the breakdown of big corPorations like \ü'orldCom,

Enron and so on, American capitalism changed the course of its

development, and the economy of virtual Production gave way to IntheyearsoftheProzaceconomythesoulwashappytobe
forever' "Soul troubles" first
the war economy. Thanks to the war, the economy restarted, but the exploited' But this could not last
a techno-
cost of labor continued to fall and the growth was in fact based on in the last year of the dotcom decade' when
the expansion ofprivate and public debt' The overproduction crisis "pp....d the name of Millennium bug' The
apocalypse was announced under
did not go away, and finally showed up again in 2008, after the expectadons that the
social imagination was so full of apocalyptic
wave all around the
subprime crisis triggered the most astounding of financial crashes' m¡h of a global techno-crash created a thrilling
night' but the global
The events of economic depression and of psychic depression world. Nothing happened on Millennium
have to be understood in the same context: they are interrelaced not psyche teetered for a moment on
the brink of the abyss'
only because they are feeding offeach other, but also because psy-
choanal¡ic theory has something to teach social thinkers, and In those days, AIan Greenspan was talking of irrational exuberance'
psychotherapy may suggest very useful methods for processes of of emotional disturbances
in order to pinpoint the dangerous effects
these disturbances w€re not
social transformation. in the ûeld of the financial markets' But
phenomenon: they were the
an accident, a contingent temPorary
psychological energy; they
Neoliberal ideology is based on the idea that an economy can be effect of the hyper-exploitation of our
conceived as a balanced system of rational exPecrations and of consequence ofthe soul at
were collateral damage, the unavoidable
rational investments. But in the social space not all expectations are work. In realit¡ it is impossible to avoid the spreading of emo-
rational, and not all investments are "economic" in a mathematical, of psychopathologies
tionaliry it is impossible to avoid the effects
scientiÊc sense, Desire is involved in the process, and the Uncon- work force are sub-
when the nervous energies of the cognitarian
scious is speaking behind the curcains ofevery investment scene, of mitted to unremitting info-stimulation'
the spring of 2000'
any act of consumption and economic exchange' The fear of a depression materialized in
This is why the supposedly perfect balance of the market has was jeopardized by the plunge
when the virrual economy suddenly
become a catastrophic mess. taken by the high-tech stock market'
The dotcom bubble burst and
Euphoria, competition, and exuberance were all involved in the that rumo¡s of depres-
the overall economy was so deeply shocked
dynamics of the bull market years. Panic and depression were sion started to spread all around the
denied, but they were always at work. Now they are re-surfacing and But how do You treat a dePression?
disturbing the normal flow of capitalist valorization. '\Øould you try to heal it with amPhetamines' with a shock-
Semiocapitalism' the production and exchange of semiotic medicines? Only a foolish
therapy of stimulating psychotropic
such a character really
matters, has always exploited the soul as both productive force and doctor would do tni', ¡"t unfortunately
market place. But the soul is much more unpredictable than the happened to sit in the Oval Ofñce
of the 'White House' and an
Bush in the
muscular workforce which was at work in the assembly line. therapy was prescribed by George'W"

Conclusion / 209
208 / The Soul al Work
form of war and tax reductions for the wealthy. Bush issued an that in the coming years demand is going to fall further, Family
invitation to go shopping, and actually facilitated an unprecedent- spending is plumrneting' and consequendy much of the current
ed increase in private and public debt. indusrial production will have to cease'
At the same time, a campaign was launched worldwide against col- In an article recently published by the Internøtional Herald
lective intelligence, against freedom ofresearch, against public schools. Tribune, the moderate-conservative David Brools wrote:
In the long run, a depression treatment based on artificially-
induced euphoria will not work, and sooner or later the depressed "I worry that we are operating far beyond our economic
organism will collapse. The emphasis on competitive lifesryles and knowledge,"

the permanent excitation ofthe nervous system prepared the Ênal

collapse of the global economy which is now unfolding under the This is precisely the point: the complexity of the global economy is
eyes of an astonished mankind. far beyond any knowledge and possible governance.
The Neoliberal ideal of an inherent balance among the various Presenting the Obama rescue plan on February 10, 2009, the
components of the economic system was a flawed theory because it American Secretary of the Teasury Timothy Geithner, said:
did not consider the systemic effects of the social mind. Therefore,
the bipolar economy swung from euphoria to panic, and is now "I want to be candid. This comprehensive strategy will cost

teetering on the brink of a deep depression. money, involve risk and take time, We will have to adapt it as

conditions change. W'e will have to try things we've never tried

Beyond our knowledge before. \(i'e will make mistakes, \(i'e will go through periods in
which things get worse and progress is uneven or interrupted."
Economists and politicians are worried: they call it a crisis, and they
hope that it will evolve like the many previous crises that disrupted Although these words show the intellectual honesty of Geithner,
the economy in the past century but finally went away, leaving and the impressive difference of the new leading American class
Capitalism stronger. compared to the Bushites, they do point toward a real breakdown in
I think that this time is different. This is not a crisis, but the political self-confi dence.
final collapse ofa system that has lasted five hundred years. The political and economic knowledge we have inherited from
Look at the current landscape: the big world powers are trying modern rationalist philosophy is now useless, because the current
to rescue the financial institutions, but the financial collapse has collapse is the effect of the infinite complexity of immaterial pro-
already affected rhe indusrrial system: demand is falling, jobs have duction and of the incompatibility or unfitness of the general
been lost by the millions. In order to rescue the banks, the State is intellect when confronted with the framework of capitalist gover-
forced to take money from tomorrowt taxpayers, and this means nance and private property,

21O / fhe Soul at Work

Conclusion / 21 1
Chaos (i.e. a degree of complexiry which is beyond the ability of an environmental catastroPhe' The Present economic downturn and
human understanding) now rules the world. Chaos means a reality the fall in oil prices are feeding the depletion and exhaustion of
which is too complex ro be reduced ro our cur¡ent paradigms of planetary resources.
understanding. The capitalist paradigm can no longer be the uni- same time we cannot predict any boom in individual
At the
versal rule of human activiry. consumPtion' at least in the'Western societies' So it is simply non-
\Øe should not look ar the current recession only from an eco- sensical to expect an end to this crisis, or a new policy of full
employment. There will be no full employment in the future'
nomic point of view. musr see ir as an anthropological turning
point that is going to change the distriburion of wo¡ld resources The crash in the global economy is not only an effect of the
and of world power. The model based on growrh has been deeply bursting of the financial bubble. It is also and primarily an effect of
interiorized, since it pervaded daily life, perception, needs, and the bursting of the work bubble. \Øe have been working too much
consumption styles, But growrh is over and will never be back, nor during the last five centuries, this is the simple truth' \(i'orhng so much
only because people will never be able to pay for the debt accu- has implied an abandonment of vital social functions and a com-
mulated during the past three decades, but also because the modiÊcation of language, afFections, teaching, therapy and self-care'
physical planetary resources are close to exhaustion and the social Sociery does not need more work, more jobs, more comPeti-
brain is on the verge of collapse, tion, On the contrary: we need a massive reduction in work-time' a
prodigious liberation of life from the social factory, in order to
Catastrophe and morphogenesis reweave the fabric of the social relation. Ending the connection
between work and revenue will enable a huge release of energ¡i for
The process underway cannor be defined as a crisis. Crisis means the social tasks that can no longer be conceived as a Part of the econo-
destructuration and ¡estructuration of an organism which is my and should once again become forms of life'
nonetheless able to keep its functional strucrure. I dont think that As demand shrinks and factories close, people sufiÊer from a lack
we will see any re-adjustment of rhe capitalist global structure. '!ü'e
of money and cannot buy what is needed for everyday life' This is a
have entered a major process of catastrophic morphogenesis. The vicious circle that rhe economisrs know very well but are completely
capitalist paradigm, based on the connecrion berween revenue and unable to break, because it is the double bind that the economy is
work performance is unable to frame (semiotically and socially) the doomed to feed. The double bind of over-production cannot be
present configuration of the general intellect. solved by economic means' but only by an anthropological shift'
In the 1930s the opportuniry for a New Deal rested on the by the abandonment of the economic framewo¡k of income in
tVe have simultaneously an excess of value and
availabiliry ofphysical resources and in the possibiliry ofincreasing exchange for work.
individual demand and consumpdon. All rhat is over. The planet is ashrinking of demand. A redist¡ibution of wealth is urgently needed.
running out of natural resources and the world is heading towards The idea that income should be the reward for a performance is a

212 / fhe Soul at Work Conclusion / 213

dogma \Me musr absolutely get rid of. Every person has rhe right to eroded by forgetfulness or precipitated into others that we no
receive the amount of money that is needed for survival. And work longer master."'
has nothing to do wirh this.
are not a natural given, but the product of a specific '\ü'e
should not see depression as a mere pathology, but also as a form
cultural modeling of the social sphere: Iinking survival and subor- of knowledge. James Hillman seys that depression is a condition in
dination to the process of exploitarion was a necessiry of capitalist which the mind faces the knowledge of impermanence and death'
growch, Norv we need to allow people to release their knowledge, Suffering, imperfection, seniliry decomposition: this is the muth
intelligence, affects. This is todays wealth, not compulsive useless that you can see from a depressive point ofview
labour. Until the majority of mankind is free from the connection In the introduction to \Vhdt is philosopltl?Deleuze and Guattari
berween income and work, misery and war will be the norm of the speak of friendship. They suggest that friendship is the way to over-
social relationship. come depression, because friendship means sharing a sense' sharing
a view and a common rhythm: a common refruin (ritoumell¿) in
How to heal a depression? Guattarit parlance.
ln Chaosrnosis Guattari speal<s of the "heterogenetic comPre-
Although they seldom, if ever, used rhe "D" word, Felix Guattari hension of subjectivity':
and Gilles Deleuze say very interesting things on the subject in thei¡
lasc books, Chaosmosis, and What is philosopfu? In the final chapter "Daniel Stern, in The Interpersonal \?'orld of the Infant, has
of What is philosophy? they speak of Chaos. Chaos, in their words, notably explored the pre-verbal subjective formations of
has very much to do with the acceleration of the semiosphere and infants, He shows that there are not at all a matte¡ of 'stages'
the thickening of rhe info-crusc. The acceleration ofthe surround- in the Freudi¿n sense' buc of levels of subjectivation which
ing world of signs, symbols and info-stimulation is producing panic, maintain themselves in parallel through life' He thus rejects
as I have already said in the previous parts of this book. Depression the overrated psychogenesis of F¡eudian complexes, which
is the deactivation of desire after a panicked acceleration. 'When you have been presented as the structural 'lJniversals' of subjectiv-
are no longer able to understand the flow of information srimulat- iry. Furthermore he emphasizes the inherently trans-subjective
ing your brain, you tend to desert the Êeld of communicarion, character ofan infant's early experiences,"'
disabling any intellectual and psychological response. Let's go back
to a quote that we have already used: The singularity of psychogenesis is central in Guattari's schizo-
analytic vision. This implies also the singularity of the
"Norhing is mo¡e distressing than a thought that escapes itsel{, therapeutic Process.
than ideas thar fly off, rhat disappear hardly formed, aheady

214 / fne Soul at Work Conclusion / 215

"Itt gives way to the understanding
not simply a marrer of remodeling a parienr's subjectivity_ rherefore be seen as a model which
as ir existed before a psychotic crisis_but of a producdon revolution in Kuhn's vision is
sui of a certain set of realities' A scientific
realiry better
generis... these complexes actually offer people diverse possi- the creation of a new model which Êts the changing
biliries for recomposing their existenrial corporealiry to ger than ¡he previous epistemic models'
means to stand in
out of their reperitive impasses and, in a certain way to resin_ The word "episteme" in the Greek language
is a model that allows
gularize themselves.", front of something: the epistemic paradigm
us to face realiry. A p"'"ãigt" is a
bridge whÌch gives friends the
These few lines must be read, in my opinion, not only as a abiliry to traverse the abyss ofnon-being'
chotherapeutic manifesto bur also as a political one. simple stePs: the deterrito-
Overcoming depression impliCI some
re-focalization and change of
The goal of schizoanalysis is not, in Guattarit words, to reinstall rialization of the obsessive refrain' the
the universal norm in the patientt behavior, but to singularize creation ofa new constellation
the landscape ofdesire, but also the
him/her, to help him/her becoming conscious of his or her differ_ of a new psychological
of shared beliefs, the common PercePtion
a new model of relationship'
ence, ro give him/her the abiliry to be in good stead with his
being environment and the construction of
is the discipline that
different and his actual possibilities. Deleuze and Guattari say that philosophy
same wa¡ they argue that schizo-
\Øhen dealing with a depression the problem is not to bring the involves cteadng concePts' In the
creating PercePts and affects
depressed person back to normaliry to reintegrate behavior in the analysis is the discipline that involves
universal standards of normal social language. The goal is to change through the deterritorialization of obsessive
method should be
the focus ofhis/her depressive arrenrion, to re-focarize, to deterrito- In the current situation' the schizoanal¡ic
Economy is falling into a
rialize rhe mind and the expressive flow. Depression is based on rhe applied as political therapy: the Bipolar
first decade ofthe cen-
hardening of one's exisrential refrain, on its obsessive repetition. The a..p a"pr.rrion.'Vhat happened during the
terms' in terms of panic
depressed person is unable to go out, co leave rhe repetitive
refrain ,.rO U" described in psychopathologicai
""n things start swirling around
and s/he keeps going back inro the labyrinth. and depression. Panic h"ip"t" when
their meaning' their eco-
The goal of the schizoanalyst is to give him/her the possibiliry too quickl¡ when we can no longer grasp
exchange' Panic
of seeing other landscapes, to change focus, to open new paths of nomic value in the competitive world of capitalist
complexity of the surrounding flow
imagination. happens when the ,pttJ"nd
to decode and pre-
I similarity benveen this schizoanalpic wisdom and the
see a irrfoì-".ion exceed the abiliry of the social brain
its investments' and this
Kuhnian concepr of paradigmatic shift which needs to occur when dict. In this case desire withdraws
scientific knowledge is taken inside a conundrum. rn The structure withdrawal gives way to depression'
,ã and the following global
of Scienttfic Reuolutions (1962) Kuhn defines a paradigm as con_ Here we are, after the subprime crack
stellation of beließ shared by a group of people." A paradigm may collapse.

Conclus¡on / 217
216 / fhe Soul at Work
possession, but on enioyment'
Nowwhat? is possible, one rhat is not based on
collective PercePtion of
The economic collapse cannot be solved wirh the tools of eco- I'm not thinking of an ascetic turn in the
be the foundation
nomic thought, because economic conceprualization is in fact the wealth. Ithink that sensual pleasure will always
disciplinary culture of
problem and not rhe solution. of well-being' But what is pleasure? The
possessing' Economic thinking
The stricr cor¡elation between income and labor, rhe fanatical moderniry h", .q,r"t.d pleasure and
need' in order to make
pursuit of growth, the dogmas of compatibility and comperirion: h", scarcity and has privatized social
"r.",.d capitalist accumulation' Therein lies
these are the pathogenic fearures rhar our social culture must get rid f"rriUf. the process of
of, if we want to come out of our depression. In the dominant source of the current dePression'
political discourse, rhe overcoming of a depression means restarring
the dynamics of growth and consumption: this is what rhey call The interminable process of therapy
"!ecovery." But this will be impossible both because the collective
the social landscape' but
should not exPect a swift change in
debt cannot be paid and because the planet cannor supporr a new
communities will abandon
phase of capitalist expansion. The economy of growth is itself the rather the slow surfacing of new trends:
poison. It cannor be the antidote. the field of the crumbli'ig t"o"o-y; more and more individuals will
Over the lasr ten years, the French anthropologisr Serge abandon their job searches and will start creadng
Latouche has been talking of décroissancø (Degrowth) as a polit- networks of survival'
of being rich will change
ical goal. But now décroissance is simply a fact: when the Gross The very PercePtion of well being and
National Product is falling everywhere, entire secrions of the in the direction of frugalicy and freedom'
will be made pos-
industrial system are crumbling and demand is plummeting, we The de-privatization of services and goods
revolution' This will not
can say that degrowth is no longer a program for the future. sible by this mu"h-"eeded cultural
will be the effect of
Degrowth is here, h"pp.t in a planned and uniform manner' It
and communities and of
The problem is thar social culture is not ready for this, because the withdrawal of singular individuals
the sharing of common
our social organization is based on rhe idea of the interminable the creation of an economy based on
of time for culture' plea-
expansion of consumption, and the modern soul has been shaped things and services and on the liberation
by the concept of privatization and by the affects of an unending sure and affecdon.
increase in consumption. Theidentifrcationofwell-beingwithprivate,ProPertylsso
rule out the eventuality of
The very norion of wealth has to be reconsidered: not only the deeply rooted that we cannot absolutely
concept of wealth, but the percepdon of being rich. The identifica- a barbarization of the human environment' But the task of the
escape from paranoia' to create
tion of wealth with purchasing power is deeply embedded in the general intellect is precisely this: to
with autonomous forms
social psyche and affectiviry. But a different understanding of wealth zones of human resistance, to experiment

Conclusion / 219
218 / fhe Soul at Work
of production based on high-tech/low-energy models, ro inter_ logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, do away with founda-
pellate the people wirh a language rhar is more therapeutic than tions, nullifr endings and beginnings"'{
In the The process of autonomy should not be seen as Aufhebung' but
days ro come, politics and therapy as
will be one and the
same. The people will feel hopeless and depressed and panicked, Therapy. In this sense, it is neither totalizing and nor it is intended
because they cant deal with rhe post-growth economy and they to destroy and abolish the Past.
will miss our dissolving modern identity, Our cultural task will be
to attend to rhese people and to rake care of rheir trauma showing In a letter to his master, Sigmund Freud, the young psychoanalyst
them the way ro pursue the happy adaptation at hand. Our task Fliess asked when it is possible to consider a therapy to be over and
will be the creation of social zones of human resistance, zones of the patient be told, "you ate ok'" Freud answered that the
understands that
therapeutic contagion. Capitalism will not disappear from rhe anaþsis has reached its goal when the person
global landscape, but ir will lose its pervasive, paradigmatic role in therapy is an interminable process'
our semiotizarion, ir will become one of possible form of social Autonomy is also a Process without end'
organizàtion. Communism will neve¡ be the principle of a new
totalization, but one of the possible forms of autonomy from
capitalist rule.
In the 1960s, Castoriadis and his friends published a magazine
whose rirle was: Sociølism or Barbarisrn.
But you will recall that in Rhizornr- the introdu ction to A Thou_
sand. Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari argue rhar the disjunction
(or...or,..or) is precisely the dominant mode of \Øesrern Meta-
physics thar we are rrying to forget. They oppose rhis disjunctive
model with a conjunctive approach:

'A rhizome has no beginning or end, but it is always a middle,

berween things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation,
but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes
the verb to be,' but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunc_
tion,'and ,,. and ... and ...'This conjunction carries enough
force to shake and uproor rhe verb ,to be' I...] to establish a

22O / ffÊ Soul at Worl< Conclusion / 221