Reading Tronti has been somewhat of an experience. Consequently, I'm not sure how to proceed with my comments because my reading of Tronti has alternated between fascination and boredom. Perhaps these two responses to Tronti are closely related because, Tronti, who I've never read before, appears both as new and sedimented. Some of the ideas are quite familiar and in this respect we might speak of Tronti as an origin and thus an interesting spark of creativity, but, at the same time, his ideas have appeared over the past forty years in fragmented form, most notably in Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno. Fascination & boredom; new & old.
When one's comments in a symposium appear towards the end, one is both fortunate and unfortunate. You can, if you are so inclined, pick over the previous contributions looking for gaps, errors, misreadings, and unrealized insights, but you are also left in the position of having to come up with something moderately new -- or, at least, something different. Unfortunately, my boredom outweighs my fascination and, thus, I find myself having little to say.
But, then again, maybe boredom is an appropriate response to Tronti. Is boredom not the form of a passive refusal to engage with something -- if not the world in its entirety? Tony Woodiwiss, who recently presented a lecture which I attended on the topic of "What could it mean to take human rights seriously?" made reference to a Situationist text which outlined one hundred and fifty human rights (why stop at twenty, thirty or fifty?), one human right read as "The right to stay in bed as long as you want". Isn't this disengagement, refusal and boredom to the outmost? To refuse to even meet the new day? To refuse to expend any work or labour at all? To not even make a cup of coffee in the morning (or afternoon)? One wonders, then, if meeting Tronti on this terrain is not the greatest act of fidelity -- to note, but not act upon? To see, but not process? To read, but not consider? Especially if one is reading in bed!
Perhaps I am making excuses for myself. Excusing my own laziness and my own boredom and my own apathy. To feel bad about these, isn't this a betrayal of refusal? Isn't it to have bad consciousness relative to refusal? One shouldn't feel bad about refusing. And, yet, looking at the far superior contributions appearing before mine, I can't help but feel bad. The refusal of resentiment is to refuse yourself; to condemn my own decision to refuse. To be like the undergraduate student who writes their term paper the day after it was due and to knowingly hand in a piece of crap just to hand something in. But, I assure the reader, my intentions from the beginning were good: I did want to say something interesting about my refusal to participate in the recent Canadian elections...
So, here it is, the most passive form of engagement: two questions (stealing the format from someone else!) about the first paragraph:
1. The only two overt references (there are, of course, many, many covert references throughout the text) are to Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Clearly, Tronti intends this text to be read as an immanent critique of the remnants of the critique of political economy. There is, however, a gap in this critique that was only identified in 1958 with the publication of Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition: that is, the distinction between work and labour. A distinction that is marginally operative in Tronti's essay, but never realized. We see this tension throughout. "labourers are transformed into workers", but there is little reference to working, instead the references remain to labour, "the productive power of labour". But, at the same time, the "working class is what it does" -- and what does the working class do? Labour. Would not the working class work? Why the refusal to theorize the difference between work and labour? Is Arendt an appropriate reference? "Here again we find complete unanimity; the word 'labor,' understood as a noun, never designates the finished product, the result of laboring, but remains a verbal noun to be classed with the gerund, whereas the product itself is invariably derived from the word for work, even when the current usage has followed the actual modern development so closely that the verb form of the word 'work' has become rather obsolete." And again, "The work of our hands, as distinguished from the labor of our bodies -- homo faber who makes and literally 'works upon' as distinguished from the animal laborans which labors and 'mixes with' -- fabricates the sheer unending variety of things whose sum total constitutes the human artifice".
2. If there is a distinction to be made between work and labor, does this in any call into question the analysis of 'capital as a social power'? If it is work that creates the social -- that is, the lived artifice of society -- does this not mean that work and not capital is the social power? One can see, of course, the polemical value in attributing work to a political power, and this is very much a polemical text, but, one wonders if the distinction between political power and social power is ultimately sustained by the analysis? No doubt, there is value in pursuing the analysis of the 'social factory' and the 'real subsumption under capital', but is a more felicitous response possible?