Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Desiring Blog Production

This post is in response to a comment below from jreeve as well as to a recent post from Decoys on the continuing discussion of the labor theory of blogging begun on I cite.

jreeve writes:

When I read my kids Sesame Street books, they are also getting an advertisement for Big Bird. This inclusion or citation is a big part of the value of those products: the value of a Big Bird doll as greater than that of a stuffed yellow bird is created not by some inherent goodness of the product but rather by the fact I have developed Big Bird as a significant character for my children.
This seems right to me. It's very hard to avoid participating in the corporate marketing aimed at ourselves and our kids. One of the very first words of my youngest was "Picachu" – which was disturbing for her marxist dad on any number of levels. Asking why kids desire Big Bird or Picachu, though, isn't so far removed from asking Wilhelm Reich's question of why people desire fascism? The question isn't one of value, though, but of use-value. Why do we want the particular things we want? Why do these things come to have a use-value for us? Marx writes:
A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference.
Marx writes very little about how use-value becomes attached to one thing rather than another. The question of why we desire the things we do isn't one that Marx addresses directly since for Marx's discussion of value, the particular use-value involved "makes no difference." This is one reason for so much later interest in various Freudian supplements to Marx as a way to approach this question of desire. From here, it's only a short step to discussions of Deleuze and Guattari's desiring-production or Zizek's Lacanian riffs. The advertising and branding that capital engages in today is focused on shaping and producing consumer desires for what capital is selling.

Decoyist writes:
Should the value of blogging be measured in economic terms? As L.P. shows, it can be, but as L.P.’s links also show, it can be seen in other terms. Blogging is economically highly unprofitable without returns from other quarters; given this, one might look to Hegelian recognition, were this to offer much profitability itself in the small circles it operates in; alternatively, the blogger might seek to resist the global order in statements that represent their subjectivity in performativity.

What is it that gets a blogger out of bed in the morning? All of the above and none of the above! It is a question of priorities, caprice. It is difficult for one motivation alone to overshadow all other others without extraordinary discharge of energy, a wastefulness lurking where economy (of whatever kind) imposes – no expenditure without loss. The blogger, in considering economic imperatives, embraces the uneconomical.
This also seems right to me, except that what the blogger embraces might better be understood as a variety of different use-values for blogging, including even, its uselessness. What a blogger gets out of his or her blog isn't the same thing as what capital gets out of that blog. This is another way to describe the difference between use-value (the thing workers desire) and value (the thing capital desires). Use-value is always very malleable and the production of new and different use-values is always possible within capital. Capital is extremely tolerant of these innovations in use-value. In fact, capital almost never cares what we use something for as long as we still buy it, and the more different use-values the better since each use-value brings along with it the possibility of a new commodity to sell.

Capital makes no such concessions when it comes to value. While you and I may be able to imagine finding value in many different things – beauty, love, wit, recognition, or cool – capital can only ever value a single thing: labor. The more labor something takes to produce, the more value it has. Capital is not subtle or flexible on this point and capital's hunger for value can't be sated by offering up some substitute source of value. Capital lives on a steady and monotonous diet of dead labor alone. And while you and I may find many different and wondrous use-values for a commodity, capital sees every commodity through its monochromatic lens of labor-time only. Thus, from capital's perspective the value of blogging lays not in the variety of uses the consumers and producers find for their blogs. For capital, blogs can only have value in that the labor put into them helps to produce and reproduce a commodity, in this case, the commodity of labor-power itself. Even the dreams discussed by Decoyist have a place in this production of labor-power. One can't escape working for capital even in sleep, and in so far as our dreams are part of the production and reproduction of ourselves as labor-power for capital they also have value for capital.

jreeve continues:
To push this onto blogging, can't the same be true about the mechanism behind discussing some film or book? Isn't a blog about the films 300 an ad for the film?Is it possible to think of the labor of blogging as creating that kind of value, or are these narratives foreign to Marxism as it stands now?
This also fits with capital's more recent focus on marketing and advertising as ways of shaping and producing consumer desires. Blogs function as consumer produced advertisements for movies and books and certainly capital benefits. This would be yet another facet of the link between blogs and the production of labor-power as desiring-consumers.


  1. Just fyi, there's also a new post from CitizenSE on Hawthorne and Labor Theories of Blogging.

  2. You're too kind--that's not even a post, just a mnemonic device! But I am interesting in hearing your response to this critique of Ricardo's labor theory of value and its applicability or lack thereof to Marx's. JK's been doing lots of posts on rent, lotteries, patents, and copyright this month, btw.

  3. Hello! I just found your blog the other day and I'm woefully ignorant about Marxism considering I pretend to use it, so I may pop in and out of here to ask inane questions.

    As for this post, how does blogging relate to De Certeau's idea of _la perruqe,_ the stealing of the employer's time or scraps? Does one have to be on the clock for blogging to count as la perruque? What about salaried workers? What about workers with flexible and self-motivated schedules, like professors?

  4. Hurray! Now I have some interesting summer reading to look forward to... would you recommend *The Practice of Everyday Life* or another of de Certeau's works?

    I'll look forward to actually knowing how to approach this question by the end of the summer, but at a guess I would say that blogging while on the clock would count as this sort of direct appropriation on the sly, while salaried workers are probably deprived of this particular joy since the work will only follow them home. Perhaps if I print out all of my posts on department letterhead...

  5. Constructivist, thanks for the link. I'll enjoy reading UI's posts on Ricardo. Although I may not have much to say on Ricardo's labor theory of value beyond what Marx said -- that labor-power is also a commodity and that its value is also determined by the amount of labor it takes to produce it just like any other commodity.