[-empyre-] Book Piracy and Alienated Labour

Michael Dieter mdieter at unimelb.edu.au
Mon Jun 7 16:48:31 EST 2010

Thanks for the thoughtful response Sean, full of interesting threads!

Not sure what to say directly, but there are some connections between the
ambiguity of the AAAARG.org project ('mixed feelings') and the concept of
exodus and 'imperceptible politics' that might be worth exploring.

Rather than going back over Virno or Deleuze and Guattari, I want to
quickly draw attention to 'Escape Routes: Control and Subversion in the
Early Twenty First Century' by Dimitris Papadopoulos, Niamh Stephenson and
Vassilis Tsianos. I've been checking it out over the weekend for research,
and thought of the AAAARG.org immediately. In this book (which I actually
haven't finished so can't really speak about with authority), they offer
an interesting 'solution' to the ongoing dilemma of capture and resistance
found in (post)Foucauldian frameworks of power. Drawing from the work of
Nicos Poulantzas, they argue that the State should be considered a 'partly
autonomous condensation of energies of social conflicts' that always
remains open and unstable, allowing for the articulation of social
agonisms. Foucault didn't speak of the State, of course, but their point
is to highlight the anteriority of political action from governmentality
(the triad of discipline-security-sovereignty does not come first:
deflection does) – a classic autonomous attitude.

Papadopoulos, Stephenson and Tsianos are not reformists, however. For
them, the State does not guarantee even a partial resolution of conflict,
but perpetuates structural transformations in the attempt to capture
escaping potentialities: those oppositional minoritarian agents that
practice opposition by becoming imperceptible. For me, this makes
something clear in the original theory of exodus, even the early
Deleuzo-Guattarian versions of the line of flight: the possibility of
radically modifying existing structures not through confrontation, but by
escape. Of course, the strategy is risky and non-moralistic - there is no
utopia here, and the likelihood of giving rise to an even more oppressive
set of conditions is always a possibility. They write:

"Compromise, condensation of social conflicts, inclusion, production of
subjects – this is the pathway which stabilises sovereignty in the realm
of the Global North Atlantic nation state. But such responses to social
struggles leave open spaces, excesses to processes of subject production
and inclusion. Strategies of subversion emerge in these spaces and push
the state to transform itself beyond the coordinates of the existing
social compromise. It is common to cast these moments when the state is
forced into a process of change as the effects of control, and thus to
read them as complicit with control. However, throughout this book we
argue that the refusal and subversion of imperceptible subjectivities
trigger social transformation first, and any transformation of the state
follows this social change. Imperceptible struggles come first. The primacy
of subversion. Adieu Foucault! Adieu melancholic Keynesianism! Adieu
anxious liberalism!"

As opposed to other political practices, it makes sense to me to think of
piracy in the old language of the State. After all, IP regimes are
mediated through legalistic and juridical institutions (along with the
market), even at the scale of transnational governance. Moreover,
AAAARG.org - with its affective, non-representational agonistic name and
capacity to produce 'mixed feelings' - seems to convey a certain
indiscernibility that connects with the image of subversive politics in
‘Escape Routes’.

In his control societies postscript, Deleuze famously identified piracy as
a source of counter-actualization for this era, and perhaps it can be
considered an engine that currently forces material change in unclear
ways. Means without (obvious) ends. This would seem to connect with the
ideas developed by, for instance, Ravi Sundaram and Lawrence Liang - where
piracy is an avenue to participation or constitutive force driving the
construction of alternate modernities.

This might all be a little too theoretical, but it does lead to a
particular sketch of the stakes for AAAARG.org. Clearly, there are
potentials: I wonder what other pathways are available for becoming
imperceptible or heightening the nonrepresentational...

- M.

> Jumping over to Michael Dieter's post, which says that file-sharing,
> like gentrification, produces value that ends up in the pockets of
> those few who own the networks or buildings or whatever, I'd agree
> that Free Culture is not the road map or destination point or anything
> (and so I haven't argued for that anywhere). Looking at the
> specificity of AAAARG, which is composed of people who are generally
> cognitive workers themselves, reading and referencing as a part of
> their practice, I see a space of confrontation over the very materials
> with which we produce; many of the authors on AAAARG are also
> registered and several of them have expressed extraordinarily nuanced,
> ambivalent, and internally conflicted positions: Paul Gilroy, Jason
> Read, and Stuart Elden for example, on the site or on other networks.
> Publishers (doing their job) surreptitiously register and send cease
> and desist letters about Marxist and anti-copyright texts. And of
> course the people who use the site think quite concretely about the
> nature of the site (what belongs?) and tactics for the project.
> What I'm getting at is that it's not my place to assign a politics to
> AAAARG, that comes out of its use and out of the responses or activity
> it provokes, its life as a public space. Nevertheless, I personally
> see it aligned with the occupation movement, as something which is
> actively trying to produce conditions for critical thought, which
> itself is being downsized and subject to inane requirements to justify
> itself through results. Although I will fully support reform demands
> that come up here (for wage increases, better health insurance,
> favorable copyright laws, etc.) I feel most invested and interested in
> autonomous spaces and forms (things like Virno's "defection modifies
> the condition within which the struggle takes place, rather than
> presupposing those conditions to be an unalterable horizon" or
> Tiqqun's "The Party is a collection of places, infrastructures,
> communised means; and the dreams, bodies, murmurs, thoughts, desires
> that circulate among those places, the *use* of those means, the
> sharing of those infrastructures.")
> Back to P2P (actually in an effort to break free of the IP
> discussion).. as Pasquinelli writes of the parasite on (between) P2P
> culture (the owners of the network who take money for that very "free"
> activity), we can always be looking at who is profiting from free
> labor and Free ideology that sustains it. My mind jumps to things like
> access to libraries (my UC Library card was taken away when I stopped
> teaching) or access to JSTOR (also removed at the same time) or
> conferences, festivals, and the like. Those knowledge networks that
> academics take for granted, but the boundaries of which are most
> apparent to the precarious laborers (grad students, lecturers,
> adjuncts who regularly cross in and out of the institution, gaining
> and losing "privileges" each time), rely on valorization as
> compensation for virtually free labor, while education remains a
> profitable industry for some.
> Finally, on this idea of "sustainability" that has been brought up
> directly or indirectly in several posts... it seems like Michael is
> asking for a response about the act of writing in general: why invest
> our energies in autonomous projects if in the end, it isn't
> sustainable (they won't sustain the people who write with a living
> wage)? Of course, capitalism isn't sustainable either, but I think his
> point is that AAAARG is more of a symptom of capitalism than a
> response to it. Maybe this comes down to whether you think the system
> generates the crisis within capitalism or if we do. Either way, I'm
> not going to make an argument for file-sharing paying writers enough
> to pay their landlord, their insurance company, their kid's daycare,
> their student loans, their credit card, and so on! AAAARG is
> definitely not the solution to that. It is contingent, happening now,
> part of a movement, something that I wouldn't want to collapse or
> simply be recuperated. A different kind of sustainability we might be
> talking about.
> A little later in the Tiqqun text the lived practice of communism is
> described as "the formation of sensibility as a force" and "the
> deployment of an archipelago of worlds." This compared to iTunes for
> books or Creative Commons... a different game entirely...

Michael Dieter
School of Culture and Communication
University of Melbourne

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