Paolo Virno

Interview paolo virno

Reading Gilbert Simondon Transindividuality, technical activity and reification

Jun fujita hirose

At the end of the 1980s, the thought of Gilbert Simondon – a French philosopher (1924–1989) almost entirely ignored until then – was given a new lease of life on the French philosophical scene. The year of his death, 1989, saw both the republication of Simondonʼs secondary doctoral thesis, The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, [1] and the first publication of the second part of his principal thesis, with the title Psychic and Collective Individuation. [2] So far as the first part of his principal doctoral thesis is concerned, part of which was published in 1964, it was republished in 1995 as The Individual and Its Physico-Biological Genesis. [3] In 1992, the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris organized a large conference on Simondonʼs work, signalling the definitive rediscovery of the richness of his thought. Lectures from this conference were published with the title Gilbert Simondon: A Thought of Individuation and Technology. [4] In 1993 the first monograph on Simondonʼs thought was published, Simondon and the Philosophy of Technical Culture by Gilbert Hottois. [5] Then, in 1999, Muriel Combes published a work of introduction to his thought, Simondon: Individual and Collective, in the prestigious PUF series Philosophies. [6] The last work on Simondonʼs thought to date is a collection of articles edited by Jacques Roux and published in 2002 with the title Gilbert Simondon: A Working Thought. [7]

The current reappraisal of Simondonʼs thought has, largely, occurred in relation to the continuing study in France of the work of Gilles Deleuze. Or at least, all the commentators from within this tradition know, without exception, that Simondon was a philosopher ʻvery dear to Gilles Deleuzeʼ, as you regularly repeat whenever you speak of Simondon in your writings. Indeed, in 1966 Deleuze published a review of The Individual and Its Physico-Biological Genesis. [8] This article seems to be much more than a mere review; it is, rather, a text in which one can find an extremely dense exposition of the concept of ʻdifferent/ciationʼ that would – three years later – become the core concept of Difference and Repetition. [9] From 1969, the year Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense were published, [10] Simondon would engage with Deleuzeʼs work, in more or less explicit ways. In part, the rediscovery of Simondonʼs thought, like that of the French sociologist Gabriel

Paolo Virno was born in Naples in 1952. From 1968 to its dissolution in 1973 he was an activist

inPotere Operaio, a political group founded by some of those members of the workerist journal Quaderni Rossi

who did not join the Communist Party of Italy. He was an active participant in il movimento

of the 1970s but was not linked to any specific group. In 1979 Virno was arrested in the so-called ʻApril 7th judgementʼ, along with Antonio Negri and others. (For more on this period, see ʻDo

YouRemember Revolution?ʼ in Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt, eds, Radical Thought in Italy

, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1996.) He would remain in ʻpreventative detentionʼ for three years accused of being a member of a terrorist group that the prosecution referred to simply as ʻOʼ (Organizzazione). All the charges were dropped. Since 1994, Virno has taught at the University of Urbino, the University of Montreal and the University of Calabria. Virno has edited the journals Metropoli

, Luogo comune

, and DeriveApprodi

. He

iscurrently an editor of Forme di vita

. Among his numerous publications are: Convenzione e materialismo

(1986), Mondanità

(1994), Il ricordo del presente

(1999), Quando il verbo si fa carne

(2003), A Grammar of the Multitude

(2004) and, most recently, Motto di spirito e azione innovativa

(2005). This interview originally appeared in the online edition of Multitudes

18, October 2004.

Tarde (1843–1904), which is considered as dear to Deleuze and Félix Guattari as that of Simondon, appears to follow from the discovery of his influence on Deleuze.

Having said that, your own contribution to this reconsideration of Simondonʼs thought, appears linked to the following two complementary aspects: (i) the focus on the – particularly political – importance of Psychic and Collective Individuation, a book of Simondonʼs that has always received scant attention due to his being frequently considered a ʻthinker of technologyʼ; and (ii) your attempt to make your concept of ʻpost-Fordist multitudeʼ more precise by bringing together Simondonʼs Psychic and Collective Individuation with Marxʼs thought. It is true that Muriel Combes, for example, dedicates a good part of her book to the elucidation of the great importance of Psychic and Collective Individuation, but she does this principally so as to document how Simondonʼs notion of ʻtransindividualityʼ foreshadows Deleuzeʼs concept of the ʻfoldʼ. It is also true that Combes highlights the political power of Simondonʼs thought in relation to the contemporary, post-Fordist organization of work and to Marxʼs thought. But she does so primarily through The Mode of Existence of Technological Objects, so that her entire explanation is limited to the context of ʻtechnological objectsʼ.

So far as I am aware, you have written on Simondonʼs thought three times: first, in A Grammar of the Multitude;11 then in the Postface to the Italian edition of Psychic and Collective Individuation, taken up again in When the Word Becomes Flesh: Language and Human Nature;12 and, finally, in an article with the title ʻThe Angels and the General Intellect: Individuation in Duns Scotus and Gilbert Simondonʼ in the French journal Multitudes. [13] It is interesting that in each of these publications you speak of Psychic and Collective Individuation. So, for my first set of questions: how did you first come across Simondonʼs thought and why do you always write about Psychic and Collective Individuation?

Paolo virno

The ʻprinciple of individuationʼ has always been a fundamental theme for me. Asking what renders an individual singular has always seemed a decisive question for me because, by posing it, one is forced to suppose that the individual is a point of arrival of a complex process and not an already given starting point. The notion of a ʻprinciple of individuationʼ enables one to think what is unique and unrepeatable (the singularity) in strict relation with what is common and shared by all. In a book I wrote many years ago, Convention and Materialism, [14] there was a chapter entitled ʻPrincipium individuationisʼ. This is how I encountered Simondon. How could I let a thinker for whom (physical, psychic and collective) individuation was an idée fixe escape me? I was struck by two theses in particular. First, that a preindividual quota of reality persists in every subject alongside the individualized component. This means that the very idea of ʻsubjectʼ should be understood as a permanent mixture of the Common and the Singular. The second noteworthy thesis of Simondonʼs concerns the collective: the latter neither compresses nor debases the individual; it is the space within which individuation is refined and strengthened. For Simondon, the preindividual quota of reality that every subject contains can be individuated in turn but only in the relation between many individuals, only in the collective, only in socio-political cooperation. In collective practice, the preindividual is transformed into the transindividual. And it is the category of the transindividual that is the category which, at the level of post-Fordist globalization, can designate a public sphere that is no longer linked to the state – that is, a non-representational democracy. These theses are absolutely new. They overturn many rooted philosophical and political superstitions.

However, I have not completely overlooked Simondonʼs other writings. I studied his book on technology carefully. In 2003, I dedicated a university seminar to it, which has not yet been published (and perhaps never will be). I believe that Simondonʼs thinking on technology helps to make a clean sweep of a good number of nineteenth-century theories that oscillate between catastrophist and liberatory understandings of technology. Simondon situated technology in relation to humanity and the world in a new way, alongside aesthetic, religious, political and other experiences. But I think that perhaps the central point is that technology is transindividual for Simondon. That is, it expresses what does not reach the point of individuation in the mind of the individual. The machine gives an external appearance to what is collective, to what is species-specific in human thought. Unable to find an adequate equivalent in the representations of individualized consciousness, preindividual reality is projected externally as a universally usable complex of signs and objectified logical schema. For Simondon, it would be a capital error to consider technology a simple support for labour. The two terms are asymmetrical and heterogeneous: technology is transindividual and labour is interindividual. That is to say that labour connects individuated individuals, whereas technology gives a voice to what is common or, more precisely, to what is preindividual in subjects. Marx had already shed light on the latent conflict between technology and labour; it is enough to recall the celebrated pages in which he ascribes technology to the ʻgeneral intellectʼ – that is, to thought as a public (or transindividual) resource that has the merit of reducing unqualified waged labour, working for a boss, to a ʻmiserable residueʼ.


What I find particularly interesting in your reading of Simondon is precisely this transformation of the question of ʻtechnologyʼ into that of the ʻgeneral intellectʼ (Simondon never spoke of the general intellect). It is true that in the conclusion to his book on technology, The Mode of Existence of Technological Objects, Simondon radically distinguished ʻtechnical activityʼ from ʻlabourʼ [15] and that he discovers in labour the ʻprincipal cause of alienationʼ, [16] in so far as ʻlabourʼ – or, rather, ʻthe division of labourʼ – puts workers in relation only in so far as they are ʻconstituted individualsʼ and, as a consequence of this ʻinterindividualʼ relation, alienates workers from the ʻconstitution of a … transindividual relationʼ. That is, it alienates workers from any collective individuation starting from the ʻcharge of preindividual realityʼ (apeiron) borne by each worker – or, better still, shared by all workers – that each worker could, not so much as ʻconstituted individualʼ but as ʻsubjectʼ (ʻvaster than the individualʼ) ʻexpress him or herself in the technical objectʼ or, more precisely, in the ʻcontinuous genesis of the technical objectʼ. It is in this sense that Simondon says: ʻto reduce alienation, … labour must become technical activityʼ.

Yet it seems to me that, at least in The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, Simondon limits himself to the treatment of the question of material production by the ʻmachineʼ or the ʻtechnical objectʼ. So, when he speaks of the ʻcharge of preindividual realityʼ (apeiron, ʻnatureʼ, etc.) that each worker–subject bears within himself, he is dealing exclusively with the ʻknowledge of the technical objectʼ. Consequently, Simondon concludes by saying that ʻthe firm, the set of technical objects and people, must be organized on the basis of its essential function, that is, in accordance with its technical functioning.ʼ Whereas, when you speak of that same ʻcharge of preindividual realityʼ by placing it in relation to the concept of ʻgeneral intellectʼ that you draw from the ʻFragment on Machinesʼ in Marxʼs Grundrisse, you do not limit yourself to the treatment of the knowledge of the machine but extend it to the ʻintellect in generalʼ, which is shared by the entire human Gattungswesen in so far as it is ʻthinking-speakingʼ. That is what enables you, first of all, to treat of the question of immaterial production (immaterial and cognitive labour), which does not depend on any material machine as principal means of production and, moreover, allows you to turn the concept of ʻtransindividualityʼ into a decisive weapon for your ʻanalysis of contemporary forms of lifeʼ. Now then, in A Grammar of the Multitude you point out that Marxʼs formulation of the very concept of ʻgeneral intellectʼ is unsatisfactory, in so far as he ʻconceives the “general intellect” as objectified scientific capability, as a system of machinesʼ – that is, in Simondonʼs terms, as ʻtechnical objectʼ. In this sense, what would you say of the thesis explained in the ʻConclusionʼ of The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects? Is it not precisely this deficit, common to Marxʼs Grundrisse and Simondonʼs book on technology, that leads you to reread Marxʼs Capital (specifically the pages on the concept of ʻlabour-powerʼ as the ʻsum of physical and intellectual aptitudes existing in the bodyʼ) alongside Psychic and Collective Individuation?


Youʼre right. We can only follow Simondon part of the way. At a certain point it is necessary to take leave of him and proceed alone (just as we must depart from many other ʻfriendlyʼ thinkers). We do so with gratitude for his help but without nostalgia or regrets. True, Simondon elucidates the transindividual character of technology and the transindividual character of the collective, but he does not grasp (and how could he?) the point at which these different forms of transindividuality become tightly linked or, rather, are welded together (thereby becoming something different from what they were separately). The point of fusion is contemporary living labour, ʻmass intellectualityʼ and ʻcognitive labourʼ, or whatever we want to call it. Contemporary living labour is both socio-political collective and general intellect. Labour-power has become invention-power; not because labour involves the functioning of the machine but because it develops technology beyond the machine, through the cooperation of living subjects based upon thought, language and imagination. The difficulty for us is to conceive adequately the two aspects of the general intellect. On the one hand, it is the basis of social production located beyond the vile epoch of wage labour. On the other hand, it lies at the basis of political institutions that take leave of the state with its centralized administrative apparatus, its compulsion for obedience, and so on. One can distinguish the technological-transindividual and collective-transindividual from these two standpoints. Although one must add that what we are left with is a third thing, different from the two roots from which it springs. I am sometimes tempted to call this, at once, ʻtechnologicalʼ and ʻpoliticalʼ transindividual communism. But so as not to trouble anyone, I will simply say that it is the common place of human praxis. To get back to Simondon, he is certainly naive when he speaks of politics. On those occasions he appears to operate beneath his means. There are more political ideas in his writings when he doesnʼt focus on politics, such as in the passages on ʻcollective individuationʼ and on technological invention.

Post-Fordist alienation


It seems to me that this notion of the ʻgeneral intellectʼ as a ʻtechnology beyond machinesʼ is – at one and the same time – the crucial concept that you draw from Marxʼs and Simondonʼs writings and that goes beyond them, since for them the model of ʻlabourʼ was always ʻmodernʼ in the sense of the term Charlie Chaplin gave it. So, the ʻgeneral intellectʼ, understood in your sense, not only has ʻtwo sidesʼ, technical and political, but also what you frequently call an ʻambivalenceʼ (for example, you speak of it in the interview with the Colectivo Situaciones: ʻLa Condición ambivalenteʼ, which can also be found in the Japanese translation of A Grammar of the Multitude). [17] ʻContemporary living labourʼ, based upon the ʻgeneral intellectʼ, is precisely ʻlabourʼ – that is, productive of surplus labour (perhaps one could say that ʻcontemporary living labourʼ, in which a pure ʻinvention-powerʼ can be mobilized, would be more productive than ʻmodernʼ labour). When one speaks of ʻcontemporary living labourʼ, it seems to me that Simondonʼs distinction between ʻtechnologyʼ and ʻlabourʼ cannot be retained, because, in this case, the transindividuality that is dear to ʻtechnologyʼ can be resituated in the heart of ʻlabourʼ itself: transindividual labour (indeed, it is in this precise sense that you note, in ʻThesis 7ʼ of the fourth chapter of A Grammar of the Multitude, the lack of foundation to Jürgen Habermasʼs position, in which ʻlabourʼ is understood to be pure ʻinstrumental actionʼ and is contrasted to ʻcommunicative actionʼ).

That said, I would like to return to the question that Simondon poses in the conclusion to The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, namely to that of alienation. If the interindividuality of labour was the ʻfirst cause of alienationʼ in ʻmodernʼ production, and if transindividuality – or, in Habermasʼs terms, ʻcommunicative actionʼ – is ʻput to workʼ in post-Fordist production, what can be said about alienation in the post-Fordist context, not only from the Simondonian standpoint, namely that of the ʻinterindividualityʼ of the division of labour, but also from the Marxist point of view, namely from that of the ʻownership of the means of productionʼ? It sees to me that it becomes very difficult – if not impossible – to speak of ʻalienationʼ with respect to post-Fordist production, because in this case the means of production are nothing but the ʻgeneral intellectʼ itself, which is always shared by the workers. Which leads me to my next question: do you believe that posing the question of ʻalienationʼ, from the Marxist and the Simondonian standpoint, remains possible within the post-Fordist context? If yes, how? If not, why? The ʻambivalenceʼ of the ʻgeneral intellectʼ is not limited to its technical aspect; it also concerns its political aspect. Of course, the ʻcollective-transindividualʼ, based upon the ʻgeneral intellectʼ, puts the politicalparliamentary system of the state in crisis, but this could lead both to ʻnon-representational democracyʼ and to the ʻhypertrophic growth of the administrative apparatusesʼ, as you point out in the second chapter of A Grammar of the Multitude. Within the current international conjuncture, specifically with regards to Iraq, the ʻpreeminence of the decree with respect to the lawʼ comes to the fore – not only in relation to the administration of the US state but also to that of Japan, Italy, and so on. In this context, it is very interesting that today people ask themselves if there is legitimacy to such a decree or to such a sovereignty that issues such decrees. This is interesting because it seems to me that in the case of the ʻcollectivetransindividualʼ, which according to Simondon is no longer based upon the ʻcontractʼ that is necessary to all ʻinterindividualʼ relations, it is no longer a form of sovereign legitimacy. And it is this same impossibility of becoming legitimate that, ironically, allows state administrations to make decrees (without legitimating themselves).


You have raised many interesting and complex questions. Perhaps too many. I am afraid that I shall only be able to reply to some of them. First, you are absolutely correct about the ʻambivalenceʼ with regard to post-Fordist labour. In some ways, this labour has absorbed the transindividuality of technology: the labour of the individual is not added to that of other individuals so as to give place to interindividual cooperation. On the contrary, an individualʼs labour presents itself as a particular manifestation of transindividual cooperation given a priori. Furthermore, post-Fordist labour has absorbed into itself the transindividuality of the collective as well; so much so that many productive operations seem like political actions, in that they demand the presence of others, and must contend with the possible and the unexpected. For all these reasons, it appears that labour expands infinitely, to the point of comprehending that which, in the terms of political economy, is not labour: passions, affects, language games, and so on. This is the reason for the critique of Habermas, of his contraposition of ʻinstrumental actionʼ and ʻcommunicative actionʼ. But one must be careful, for if everything is labour, one could say that nothing is. That is to say, labour loses its specificity. The line of demarcation that separated it from all other experiences becomes cloudy and indistinct. In a way, labour is today truly productive (of surplus value and profit) only if it coincides with the human abilities that previously explicated themselves in non-labour. Here is the ambivalence: everything is labour but it is this very fact that explodes the concept of ʻlabourʼ itself. One should instead speak of transindividual activity by contrasting this term to that of labour – while specifying, of course, that capitalism is strong today precisely because it is able to compress transindividual activity into the straitjacket of labour. The ambivalence and uncertainty of judgement finds its material basis in this compression.

The question of alienation requires a more strictly philosophical consideration. I believe that we need to distinguish between ʻreificationʼ and ʻalienationʼ, considering the former good, indeed the only thing that can act as an antidote to ʻalienationʼ. ʻReificationʼ is what I call the process through which preindividual reality becomes an external ʻthingʼ, a res that appears, a manifest phenomenon, a set of public institutions. By ʻalienationʼ I understand the situation in which the preindividual remains an internal component of the subject but one that the subject is unable to command. The preindividual reality that remains implicit, like a presupposition that conditions us but that we are unable to grasp, is alienated. In that sense I would say that post-Fordist ʻalienationʼ consists in the fact that the preindividual, although it is the actual basis of social production, does not become res publica, political organism, non-representational democracy. So, far from implying one another, the concepts of alienation and reification are polar opposites. Reification is the only remedy to alienating dispossession. And vice versa: ways of existence, thought and being that are insufficiently reified are alienated.


Therefore you redefine ʻreificationʼ (Verdinglichung) as the transformation of preindividual reality into the transindividual res. This extremely radical redefinition of the notion of ʻreificationʼ forms the central theme of your book When the Word Becomes Flesh, to the point that this title signals nothing other than the ʻreificationʼ of which you speak: the becoming-flesh of the word – that is, the becoming-res of preindividual nature that is shared by all subjects. In the chapter ʻIn Praise of Reificationʼ, [18] you suggest that one should distinguish ʻreificationʼ not only from ʻalienationʼ but from ʻfetishismʼ as well. You believe that reification can be as much an ʻantidoteʼ to ʻfetishismʼ as to ʻalienationʼ. In order to explain this distinction between ʻreificationʼ and ʻfetishismʼ you introduce another very interesting concept, that of ʻthings of the relationʼ, in contrast to the Marxist one of the ʻrelationship between thingsʼ. You argue that in ʻreificationʼ ʻthe relations between people … are incarnated in the things of the relationʼ, whereas in ʻfetishismʼ, as Marx says in Capital, the relation between people is transformed into ʻa relation between thingsʼ; and this means that ʻreification invests the relation itself, whereas fetishism operates on the correlated termsʼ – that is, on the already constituted individuals. One could also say that ʻreificationʼ is transindividual, whereas ʻfetishismʼ is interindividual. From here you draw two conceptual lineages: on the one hand, transindividuality – technical activity – reification, and, on the other hand, interindividuality – labour – fetishism.

Now, I would like to return to the question of ʻ“post-Fordist” alienationʼ. You have just defined this as ʻthe fact that preindividual reality does not become res publicaʼ. If that is so, if post-Fordist capitalism subsumes ʻtransindividual activityʼ into itself – that is, transforms preindividual reality into transindividual res – it seems to me that this means that there cannot be alienation in capitalist post-Fordism to the extent that everything is reified, thereby becoming transindividual res. In that sense, your expression ʻ“post-Fordist” alienationʼ would be a contradiction in terms. That is, there is a contradiction between the noun ʻalienationʼ and the adjective ʻpost-Fordistʼ. But, if there is nothing contradictory in this expression, then you will need to clarify for us the distinction between ʻtransindividualʼ and ʻpublicʼ. How would you define the ʻpublicʼ in relation to the ʻtransindividualʼ? In addition, this question also appears to be linked to your thesis concerning ʻpersonal dependenceʼ as the negative aspect of the experience of the multitude – that is, of the post-Fordist multitude. You view the ʻextreme of “alienation”ʼ precisely in this ʻpersonal dependenceʼ, to the extent that the relationship between men is, here, ʻtransparent because not mediated by thingsʼ. But it seems to me that one could ask oneself: does ʻpersonal dependenceʼ involve a transindividual res even if it is unable to constitute a ʻpublic resʼ? With respect to the question of ʻpersonal dependenceʼ you speak of ʻpublicity without public sphereʼ. I believe that you could reformulate this concept of yours in Simondonʼs terms: as transindividuality without public sphere. What would you say?


To begin with I would like to clarify one thing regarding ʻfetishismʼ or, rather, on the relationship – which needs to be completely rethought – between the concepts of ʻreificationʼ, ʻalienationʼ and ʻfetishismʼ (which although famous are so vague as to be considered almost interchangeable). After this clarification, I shall try to respond to the more substantial points that you raise (although, dear Jun, you do not pose any ʻminorʼ points…): that is, is it legitimate to speak of ʻpost-Fordist alienationʼ. As I was saying, alienation means that an aspect of our life, of our thought, of our praxis assumes a strange form and becomes unavailable to us, exercising instead a dark power over us. Take this philosophical example: self-consciousness, Descartesʼ ʻI thinkʼ allows all forms of representation but cannot itself be represented. It escapes us. All reflection on the self-conscious I, precisely because it is based upon that same I, seems destined to travel back again without ever grasping its object. The image of an I prior to the I, of an I that presupposes itself, that is ungraspable, is alienated. Take now a political example: the preindividual reality that each of us carries with us – all within us that is Homo sapiens, that is our human nature – is alienated if it fails to find external, collective, socio-political expression. Fetishism is an attempt – a false, mistaken one – to respond to the alienation of our inner life, to the isolation of the individual subject. Fetishism means assigning to something – for example, to money – characteristics that belong to the human mind (sociality, capacity for abstraction and communication, etc.). Reification, on the other hand, is the correct and effective way of defeating alienation: in contrast to fetishism, it does not take a given thing, loading it with animistic values, but turns into a thing, res, what falsely presented itself as inner and ungraspable. So, to the alienated, reification opposes an I outside the I: self-consciousness, its formation and structure, are located in certain observable practices, in certain linguistic events, and in particular external facts. Furthermore, reification sets against preindividual alienation the fact that what unifies individual minds, the ʻbetweenʼ when we speak of the ʻrelations between peopleʼ, has its own visible thinghood – that is, becomes a public institution. In conclusion, fetishism and reification are two distinct ways – no, two antithetical ways – of escaping alienation. The real contrast is between these two opposed ways of overcoming the poverty of inner life.

We now come to your question on ʻpost-Fordist alienationʼ. You say: given that contemporary capitalism enjoys certain preindividual characteristics of human beings (sociality, linguistic faculty, capacity for cooperation, etc.) and, in doing so, gives it the consistency of a res – that is, of external facts – one would have to say that contemporary capitalism is not alienating but profits economically and politically from alienation. I think that you are partly right and partly wrong. Do you remember that phrase of Marxʼs that goes something like: ʻCapitalist stock companies represent the overcoming of private property on the basis of private property itselfʼ? By this Marx means that capitalism is only able to contend with the development of productive forces that surpass capitalism by way of forming stock companies. I propose that we apply this phrase to our discussion. One could then say: post-Fordism is the overcoming of alienation on the basis of alienation – that is, without being able to leave the latter behind. One must distinguish what is true from what is in use. The transindividual character of the relations of production are true; but the interindividual (and despotic) rules that govern them are in use. However, the common, shared, public character of material resources that are required in contemporary production turn into a proliferation of hierarchies that are as arbitrary as they are meticulous. Or, as you put it, they are converted into personal dependence. The contrast between what is true (transindividuality) and what is in use (alienation and fetishism) can be expressed in the formula you suggested at the end of your question: transindividuality without a public sphere. But transindividuality that does not become reified in a public sphere has too many of the features of preindividuality. Once again, it is true but not in use. It is in the space between these two adjectives that one encounters the open sea of political struggle.

Post-Fordist multitude


In ʻThesis 3ʼ of the fourth chapter of A Grammar of the Multitude, you postulate a necessary distinction between the ʻtrueʼ and the ʻin useʼ. There you argue that, in the contemporary crisis of the society of labour – that is, in the epoch of post-Fordism – ʻLabour time is the unit of measurement in use, but no longer the true one unit of measurement.ʼ This thesis is connected directly to your discussion in ʻThesis 5ʼ of the same chapter: ʻin the post-Fordist era, surplus-value is determined above all by the gap between production time which is not calculated as labor time and labor time in the true sense of the term.ʼ Bearing in mind both these theses, it could be said that if labour time is no longer true, the time of production is. If, on the other hand, the latter is not yet in use, labour time continues to be so. Here we find one of the fields of ʻpolitical struggleʼ of which you have just spoken: how can we put the time of production in use? Or, in other words, how can it be reified into a ʻres publicaʼ? Some people propose to do so by means of a ʻbasic incomeʼ [reddito di cittadinanza] as a public institution that could put to use the time of production as the ʻunit of measureʼ. Others criticize this proposal, arguing that it is nothing but a social-democratic project to the extent that it is a more or less Keynesian institution of wealth redistribution. I donʼt think you speak of it at all, at least not explicitly, but what do you think of this proposal of a ʻbasic incomeʼ in relation to your discussion of ʻreificationʼ?

The contemporary gap between the ʻtrueʼ and the ʻin useʼ can also be found in your political alternative between Multitude and State (or People), or, more precisely, multitudinal transindividuality and state (or popular) interindividuality. Simondon believes that the state is interindividual because it is conceived as a group contract between constituted individuals. One could say, multitudinal [multitudinaria] transindividuality is true; whereas the interindividual state is in use. In this sense, what blocks the becoming-res of the ʻbetweenʼ – that is, what is alienating – is not only the interindividuality of wage labour but also that of the state. In the second chapter of A Grammar you note these two complementary aspects of the reifying process: ʻOn the one hand, general intellect can only affirm itself as an autonomous public sphere, thus avoiding the “transfer” of its own potential into the absolute power of Administration, if it cuts the linkage that binds it to the production of commodities and wage labour. On the other hand, the subversion of capitalist relations of production henceforth develops only with the institution of a non-state public sphere, a political community that has as its hinge general intellect.ʼ [19] Two questions follow from this observation. First, could you expand upon the relationship between wage labour and the state? Second, could you explain to me concretely what you understand by ʻnon-representational democracyʼ as a ʻnon-state run public sphereʼ? If possible, I would like you to shed some light on the relationship between the parliamentary system and the state administration with respect to the question of the blockage of preindividual ʻreificationʼ.


I think you sum up perfectly the current area of political struggle: labour-time is no longer the true measure of social wealth but continues to be the measure in use. And whereas production time as a whole (which coincides with life itself: language, affects, etc.) is the true measure, it is not yet in use. Political conflict, the organizational processes, tactics, the forms of struggle (strikes, sabotage, disobedience, etc.): all of this must measure itself, step by step, against the problem of putting in use – making socially recognized – that which is already true. A single political act must be evaluated by this criterion: it is not wrong or right in itself but only in so far as it facilitates or obstructs the construction of a civilization located beyond the epoch of the state and wage labour. It is in this sense that I defend the basic income. The distribution of an income beyond labour is a step necessary to take to underline the fact that, today, one produces when one doesnʼt work. One could say that the basic income is the salary due to transindividual cooperation and that paying transindividual cooperation is a way to make it in use (as well as true). Moreover, I donʼt consider (from the conceptual standpoint, of course) a basic income to be the end; it is instead the starting point. To be more explicit: a guaranteed income would, in principle, enable one to be less enslaved, less subject to blackmail, and more active. One must imagine the basic income as a trigger of social invention-power, as the basis for a finally less farcical ʻself-entrepreneurshipʼ. In the 1960s in Italy, Fordist workers in the large factories demanded ʻwage increases uncoupled from productivityʼ. I believe that objective to be the direct precursor to the basic income. In both cases, it is a case of bringing the existence of labourpower to an end. In the 1960s, one pursued this objective by infinitely inflating its cost, so as to make it ʻuneconomicʼ. Today, it is a case of bringing the existence of the labour-power commodity to an end by remunerating it even when it is considered, in interindividual terms, to be inactive.

I understand the objections according to which the basic income is a neo-Keynesian blackmail. But I think they are mistaken because, as I said, they are judging an abstract objective, without considering whether or not it favours making what is true, in use. In addition, it seems to be that the objective of a guaranteed income has a positive materialist flavour. Think of the three watchwords of the French Revolution: Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité. Their foundation is Christian-bourgeois: one is ʻequalʼ before God as juridical subjects and in the exchange of commodities; one is ʻfreeʼ because oneʼs position is determined only by the objective economic mechanism (and not by a system of personal dependencies); and one is ʻfraternalʼ inasmuch as one belongs to the same nation. Instead, one has the right to a basic income because one is an experiential body that wants to experience the joys of living in an epoch in which working for a boss has become an unjustifiable and parasitic social cost. Contemporary living labour can become the heir of the entire materialist tradition.

You also want to know what I mean by the ʻnon-state-run public sphereʼ (or, and it comes to the same thing, ʻnon-representational democracyʼ). I would like to premiss my remarks by saying that while the post-Fordist multitude continues to appear in the guise of the People, until it is able to invent political forms adequate to its modes of being (of producing, communicating and inhabiting the world), authoritarian political experiments will continue to multiply. Think of Italy. Berlusconi and the New Right recognize that representative democracy is empty, lacks any real bases, and they substitute it with the Business Party. [20] In addition, in the absence of a new public sphere centred around the general intellect instead of the ʻsovereignʼ, the multitude itself can give off all sorts of poisons and destructive – even self-destructive – impulses. It can be in favour of war, it can be egotistic, cynical and corrupt. Having said that, I shall say what a non-state-run public sphere could be today. Social forums are certainly a good approximation. Differing capabilities converge in them: communicative, technical and professional capacities. Social forums exhibit a share of transindividual, productive cooperation and endeavour to convert it into political action. Sure, they canʼt do so yet. But they set a good precedent. The nonstate-run public sphere must progressively absorb the knowledges/powers that are, today, concentrated in the state administration – not in the parliaments but in the administrations. To reappropriate these knowledges/powers it will probably be necessary to attempt local experiments. A single city, a single neighbourhood, can take steps towards the invention of new political forms – although they will need to do so in tight contact with productive global forces that they try to concentrate in a single place. If these experiments move ahead sufficiently, they can become reproducible politically. In short, the question is not that of ʻtaking state powerʼ but to dissolve it, by revealing its likeness to a criminal gang: ferocious but marginal. I am aware that my attempt to specify the characteristics of the non-state-run public sphere is inadequate and clumsy. But so it should be. A subversive political theory must reveal an empty place that can be filled by practical action. Any political theory worthy of the name must await the unexpected.

translated by matteo mandarini


1. ^ Du mode dʼexistence des objets techniques, originally published by Aubier in 1958. 2. The principal thesis was entitled ʻLʼIndividuation à la lumière des notions de forme et dʼinformationʼ (Individuation in the Light of the Concepts of Form and Information).

3. ^ LʼIndividu et sa genèse physico-biologique, Millon, 1995.

4. ^ Gilbert Simondon, Une pensée de lʼindividuation et de la technique, Albin Michel, Paris, 1994.

5. ^ Simondon et la philosophie de la culture technique, Deboeck, 1993.

6. ^ Simondon: Individu et collectivité, PUF, Paris, 1999.

7. ^ Gilbert Simondon, Une pensée opérative, Publications de lʼUniversité de Saint-Etienne.

8. ^ This review can now be found in Gilles Deleuze, LʼIle déserte et autres textes, Éditions de Minuit,

Paris, 2002, pp. 120–24.

9. ^ Différence et répétition, PUF, Paris, 1969.

10. ^ Logique du sens, Éditions de Minuit, Paris, 1969.

11. ^ Grammatica della moltitudine, Rubbettino, 2001; A Grammar of the Multitude, Semiotex[e], New York, 2004. 12. Lʼindividuazione psichica e collettiva, DeriveApprodi, Rome, 2001; Quando il verbo si fa carne: Linguaggio e natura umana, Bollati Boringhieri, 2003; ʻMoltitudine e principio di individuazioneʼ.

13. ^ ʻLes Anges et le general intellect. LʼIndividuation chez Duns Scot et Gilbert Simondonʼ, Mulititudes 18, Autumn 2004,

14. ^ Convenzione e materialismo, Theoria, Rome 1986.

15. ^ ʻTechnical activity is distinct from simple labour …, in that technical activity not only involves the use of machines, but also a certain amount of attention to the technical functioning, maintenance, adjustment and improvement of the machine, attention which extends the activity of invention and construction.ʼ

16. ^ This, for Simondon, is secondary to the Marxist question of the ʻownership of the means of productionʼ, which he considers to be only ʻone of the modalities of such alienationʼ, namely ʻeconomic alienationʼ.

17. ^ A translation of this interview can be found at [archive] [Trans.]

18. ^ ʻElogio della reificazioneʼ.

19. ^ Jun Fujita Hirose is actually refering to a passage from ʻVirtuosity and Revolutionʼ, in Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno, eds, Radical Thought in Italy, trans. Ed Emery, University of Minnesota Press,

Minneapolis, 1996, p. 196. This was originally published in the journal Luogo commune 4, Spring 1993, and then reprinted in Paolo Virno, Mondanità, Manifestolibri, Rome, 1994. [Trans.]

20. ^ ʻPartito-aziendaʼ or ʻBusiness Partyʼ is the term many on the Italian Left use to refer to Berlusconiʼs political party Forza Italia. That the value of Berlusconiʼs assets has risen hugely over the period of his government is not coincidental. [Trans.]

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