Unemployment and bare life

In lieu of a post, here’s a quote from Jameson’s latest, Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One:

It is in keeping with the latest form of this dialectic–the exposition of that “general law” whereby industrial productivity generates overwork and unemployment simultaneously–that we make a final tour of these ultimate spaces of capitalism, in which we confront a form of “naked life” far more deeply rooted in the economic system itself than Agamben’s hopeless inhabitants of the concentration camps. [A footnote continues:] Agamben’s pseudo-biological concept in Homo Sacer proves in reality, like those of Foucault, to draw on categories of domination [i.e., as opposed to exploitation] (as it would have been difficult for it to do otherwise, given his example of the concentration camps). This is why the destitution of unemployment is the more fundamental and concrete form, from which such later conceptualizations derive: what is concrete is the social, the mode of production, the humanly produced and historical; metaphysical conceptions such as those involving nature or death are ideological derivations of that more basic reality. (pg. 125)

(I highly recommend the book, by the way.)

5 thoughts on “Unemployment and bare life

  1. Although Jameson has paired/contrasted his “own fantasy of universal employment” with the “equally strong utopian case [that] can be made for the elimination of labour altogether ” before (“Politics of Utopia”, NLR 25, Jan/Feb 2004), I confess to being startled by its reappearance here and especially in the book’s conclusion:

    This is why the Marxian analysis of globalization, to which the very dynamic of Capital outlined here entitles us, allows a welcome recoding of these multiple situations of misery and enforced idleness, of populations helplessly in prey to the incursions of warlords and charitable agencies alike, of naked life in all the metaphysical senses in which the sheer biological temporality of existences without activity and without production can be interpreted. To think of all of this in terms of global unemployment rather than of this or that tragic pathos is, I believe, to be recommitted to the invention of a new kind of transformatory politics on a global scale.

    There’s much that could be said about this and although I’m not prepared to go much beyond my expression of dismay right now, I do look forward to the prospect of further discussion of this topic occasioned by the publication of Kathi Weeks’ new book. (Weeks co-edited The Jameson Reader.)


  2. I like this a lot. Always felt really uncomfortable with the Agamben stuff about the camps and this seems to come up with a good ‘out’. I also found Jameson’s suggestion at the Historical Materialism conference that communism was not a utopia of politics, but of economics a really intriguing and provocative thought.

    Maybe, we should do this book or a similar Marxsant book for the next discussion in the new format…I’d be well up for it.

  3. Alex, one of my favorite bits in all of Jameson takes up the question of the political vis-a-vis the economic in Marxism (along with some choice remarks along the way on opinion, conviction, etc.) and can be read in its entirety here (pgs. 107-110):


  4. Interesting…though I actually don’t agree with Jameson on this. My reading of Marx, following Harry Cleaver et al says that Marxism, or more accurately communism, cannot help being political. Ditto I don’t think that his paralleling to neoliberalism works, as neoliberalism doesn’t seek the reduction of everything to the economic (even Hayek was interested in the state, in sociology, in law – which goes back via Franz Bohm to Schmitt interestingly…), and shouldn’t be the same as Rothbard style libertarianism (neoliberals distinctively wanted the state), but I can see why he thinks this and it is really provocative to say so.

  5. I have thought it odd that Agamben has so little to say about abject poverty and naked life. More than the camps, the millions of people living right at the edge of life and death every day seem to constitute a clear example of naked life.

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