Tuesday, April 18, 2006


This post is part of Long Sunday's "Carnival of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak".

I'm going to jump in here with a brief note on continuity and discontinuity in Spivak's text, "Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value."

The nub of Spivak's argument is this: she presents a critique, first, of what she terms "the continuist version of Marx's scheme of value" (In Other Worlds 155), but second and more importantly, also of "all ideologies of adequation and legitimacy" (171).

The notion of value as continuity (of unruffled exchange, or even a series of more or less orderly exchanges and transformations) is at best mistaken, at worst ideological, and so complicit.

Hence Spivak's recourse to "the concept-metaphor of the text" (171) and textuality, to indicate the overdeterminations, the loose ends, the "situation of open-endedness" that characterizes the process by which value is produced as "an insertion into textuality" (161).

But the point is that there are discontinuities and then there are discontinuities.

For if capitalism puts forward ideologies of continuity, the latest of which is the dream of unregulated world-wide instantaneity effected in globalization, in fact it functions always by means of a series of ruptures, of breaks in that flow. Globalization can only be a tendency, another version of the same basic ideology of continuity. In practice, "even as circulation time attains the apparent instantaneity of thought (and more), the continuity of production ensured by that attainment of apparent coincidence must be broken up by capital" (166). Here, maintaining a distinction between productive center and comprador peripery, between the First World and "the dark presence of the Third" (167), is crucial. But also even immediately in the production process: value arises from the discrepancy between use and exchange, from the super-adequation of labour power. It is discontinuity, not continuity, that constitutes the ruse of capital.

Yet Spivak will have no truck with any notions of flow and immanence counterposed to capitalist segmentarity. From the outset she brackets off "the anti-Oedipal argument" of Deleuze and Guattari as "but a last-ditch metaphysical longing" (154). Moreover, and for all her agreement with the notion of capital's liberating aspects, its "'freeing' of labor-power" (161), she is harsh in her critique of any utopian faith in what we might call the deterritorializing powers of Empire. "Telecommunication" (for which we could substitute now the powers of cognitive or communicational labour) only "seems to bring nothing but the promise of infinite liberty for the subject" (167; my emphasis). And this is because "economic coercion as exploitation is hidden from sight in 'the rest of the world'" (167).

No. Against discontinuity: more discontinuity, or perhaps better, other modes of discontinuity. Against the capitalist ruse of extracting surplus in the discrepancy between labour power and exchange value, Spivak defends what she describes as the "radical proto-deconstructive cultural practice" of "bricolage, to 'reconstellate' cultural items by wrenching them out of their assigned function" (170). This is, no doubt, a defence of eclecticism. And here, incidentally, Deleuze and Guattari somewhat surprisingly reappear, now applauded for their concept of desiring-machines as "originarily unworkable" (170).

But here's the question, and in some ways it's a question for Deleuze and Guattari too: can in fact these two modes of discontinuity, the one governed by capitalist expansiveness, the other by a principle of avant-garde defamiliarization, really be distinguished so easily? Can we still say so unreservedly that "the computer, even as it pushes the frontiers of rationalization, proves unable to achieve bricolage" (170)?

Or to put it another way: Spivak recognizes a certain ambivalence in the word-processor, and so in the machinic and the collaborative communicational labour it enables; but does she explore that ambivalence far enough?

1980s word processor
Cross-posted to Long Sunday.

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