Orientation and the Body


What if orientation is in the soul? I started rereading The Soul at Work by Bifo, and The preface  begins with the notion that the soul is the clinamen of the body. This is interesting in that it is discussing a somatics – the soul is the body – it is the orientation of the body.

Clinamen is the name Lucretius gave to the unpredictable swerve of atoms. We could call this direction or orientation. Lucretius is also one of the authors I have in quarantine.

Atoms, as we have learned, spin in certain directions. Perhaps this is the 20th or 21st century notion of clinamen. Object have orientation as part of their embodiment. They have left handedness or right handedness. This is also called chirality, and is covered in the first or second episode of breaking bad. It seems also that the universe has a handedness (it is left handed).

Kant does not include handedness in his transcendental categories nor does hegel in his here and now, nor does Heidegger in Being and time. Instead we have things like space/time, being/time, subject/object, causality, and so forth.  

Sara Ahmed talks about orientation in Queer Phenomenology, and I have heard that Said talks about orientation in Orientalism, which perhaps I will read in quarantine. That objects in the world exist in relation to one another and this relation have orientation. Orientation is provided by the construction of the world in which the objects live.  If we are going to create new categories of thought lets begin with the body and how we interface with one another.

As I am writing this I am listening to a podcast about the book Spinal Catastrophe. It is four hours long, and I am not paying close attention, because it is four hours. But I am picking up bits and pieces about orientation about the orientation of the human towards verticality on the spine vs the startfish and radiality for example.  There is also the discussion of recapitulation.  This means that within the seed there is the mighty oak, or that in the chicken dna there is the dna for the velociraptor.

Is there orientation in the seed or is orientation only the expression of the seed, what is the limits of recapitulation or code. What can be coded and what cannot? If orientation is in relation and not the object it makes no sense to talk about something like orientation in the seed, we can only talk about the orientation of the seed. 

Bodies are oriented toward one another, and this is the soul.  The soul at work is about the world or structure that controls this orientation. What is the world that all of these orientating bodies, these souls inhabit? Are they the world of Dante? Are they the world of Adam Smith? What are the garments that restrict or constrain these orientations. For Bifo, the soul is that which, in Marx is reproduced when the body reproduces itself. It is the orientation of that reproduction. (Late?) Capitalism also has a soul, for Bifo it is semicapital – money and language.  This is the orientation of capitalism. Perhaps we can also think of this in terms of Marx and the forms that capital takes. 

But late capitalism has a different quality than the capitalism of marx. People can disagree with me. But I stand by this, as does Bifo. “The emergence of intellectual, technical and scientific labor is a sign of the decade.”  Intellectual, technical and scientific labor is labor.  These people are workers. It is interesting because their cultures are different. The culture of the factory worker is different from the culture of the adjunct, and by culture I mean things as basic as country music vs indie music, nascar vs sxsw (again these are generalizations). There is not a mass labor culture, but there is a labor body.

There is an interesting section that I found related to the loss of the public intellectual.

Today the word “intellectual” has lost much of the meaning it had throughout the twentieth century, when around this word coalesced not only issues of social knowledge, but also ethics and politics. In the second half of the twentieth century intellectual labor completely changed its nature, having been progressively absorbed into the domain of economic production. Once digital technologies made the connection of individual fragments of cognitive labor possible, the parceled intellectual labor was subjected to the value production cycle

The intellectual is a worker, now. The creative class is a fiction. Although we are not successful, we do try to subject intellectual labor to the value production cycle in the creation of technology (including biotech/medicine) and the creation of culture (reinforcing cultural mythologies that sustain the capitalist system). We attempt to subject intellectual and creative labor to the production cycle, in code this is through the use of agile methodologies, metrics such as MTTR and cycle time, or even number of code commits. In design as well this is treated in terms of numbers of designs or in terms of completion of briefs. 

All this does is create a lot of material, it does not necessarily achieve goals or produce surplus value, because creative labor cannot be controlled in the way mechanical labor is until we have a cybernetic feedback cycle connected with amygdala in peoples brains (in the case of culture), or connected with dna or molecules via nanotech or crispr. 

The first chapter traces the changes in the intellectual, from part of bourgeois society (the gentleman scholar), someone outside culture or without culture (kant), to an instrument of change/praxis (marx) to abolish class, to the leader/vanguard/embodiment of Hegelian geist (lenin), to a figure producing something yet estranged from the dynamics of marxist production (gramsci), the intellectual is someone who chooses to do what she does / is not forced or destined (sartre) – but finally by the 1960s, the advent of advertising, ibm, and biotech – poets write copy and scientists create hair coloring products. 

Part of this has to do with mass education, and access to education – that now being an intellectual is not a class marker but a consumer category. 

How does thought and creative production figure into a marxist ideology? Does it? Why is it even useful to think about this? This is sort of a question of system poetics. Of understanding where systems overlap, where they fall short, what can be excluded and what can be extended.