On the Concept of Use. Praxis, institutions, commons - di
The concept of use is obvious and, at the same time, enigmatic. We treat this concept as a primitive notion: it explains many things, though, in turn, it is not easily explained. There are perhaps good political and philosophical reasons for not treating the notion of use as a premise or an axiom. It is rather a complex and stratified notion, by no means obvious; nor on the other hand is it something that should remain enigmatic. What does it mean to use a building, a table, knowledge, a word, an ability, a limited period time, or the time of one’s life? In order to answer these questions we should resort to philosophy of language, artistic experience, critique of political economy, theory of institutions, anthropology. Many lines of research should in fact converge on the “simple” word use.
First of all we shall consider how and why the issue related to the concept of use has gained importance in relation to contemporary forms of life, becoming an important element of the Foucaultian “ontology of actuality”.
For some decades now, a growing attention has developed around resources that are used and not consumed: knowledge, information, inventions, enunciations etc.… These resources, so pivotal in the contemporary production process, violate the principle of scarcity and the “zero-sum game” principle, on which political economy is based. They clash with the idea of private property, where consumption and use overlap (by treating the usable resources as if they were consumable goods, to be consumed once and only by one subject).
This is, in all evidence, the concrete, historical reason that explains why use has become a key issue. A notion that is central for the critique of contemporary capitalism, that allows to understand the global economic crisis, to focus on the possibility of political institutions, institutions that are no longer of the State, but common. This historical reason calls for a radical and broad investigation that must focus on the notion of use, a notion that is now becoming central. To clarify what use is, LUM aims to develop a line of research that embraces different fields, with a seminar composed of seven meetings that will be held at Esc, from February until November 2014.
We will now look at some aspects of the term use:
a) First of all language is used, not consumed. As expressed by a well-known and frequently trivialized preposition of Wittgenstein, the meaning of words, of enunciations, is determined by their use. If it is true, or at least plausible, that use determines meaning, we should ask what the meaning of the term use is. Moreover, it is intuitive that use is a term that connects the ability to speak to a form of life and, more in general, to praxis. Therefore, understanding the semantic role of use implies, conversely, understanding the connection between speaking and acting.
b) Use-value in Marx. Unlike what is commonly believed, use-value is not a naturalistic notion. On the contrary, it plays an important role in the critique of political economy and in the explanation of the crisis. However it is also true that in Marx the term use-value is ambiguous, in that it refers also to consumable objects. To be precise, the only use-value is labor power, or, more broadly, everything that has the qualities of life and power.
c) Every institution is a crystallization of uses. As a crystallization, an institution is itself used. Also, the institution sometimes organizes and regulates uses that are very different from those of which it is itself a crystallization. The production process based on use (of knowledge, procedures, aptitudes etc.) and the mode of being of institutions are analogous and commensurable. Nowadays, in the age of general intellect and commons, production has an institutional quality and institutions have a productive nature. The concept of use has many points in common with the public non-statal sphere. Use allows to overturn the limits imposed on institutions by their being conceived with the categories of law and to reconsider an institution as a positive model for action, a creative source for the social sphere. An institution is an open process, always renewable, a sort of discontinuous-continuity. It is the space and time of a break and of a re-combination, where customs (socially shared uses) and innovation are intertwined.
d) Works of art (music, theater, painting etc.) are an exemplar model of common use, a use that can be indefinitely repeatable. A substantial part of contemporary art focuses on and displays the reflection on its own usability-availability.
e) We do not only live, we also use our life. We use our time, our pleasures, our talents. Use arises when the linguistic animal distances itself from its own animality. Use, separated from consumption, concerns life itself, the moment life becomes a problematic task, (or a means for something else) and is no longer an end in itself. Use emerges in the care of the self, in the technologies of the self (Foucault). The notion of care is a valuable notion in the explanation of the term use.
f) The importance of use in the juridical field: usucaption, usufruct, common law, civic use, conventions. Use subverts the traditional hierarchy of sources of law and sheds light on the relationship between rules and praxis (practices). This relationship is always regulated, though it cannot be explained by resorting to these same rules that regulate it. Moreover use allows, or rather imposes, to distinguish between a rule and a law. Rules are inseparable from their effective use, they are incorporated in this use, and cease to be rules when this corresponding use ceases. Laws on the other hand transcend use, they exist independently from use. The institutions of the multitude must be analyzed in connection to this separation between rule and law. What founds them is the concrete case, a precedent, not the abstract universal of law. The use of many different uses, in other word its reproducibility (singular rule, and the singularity of a rule).
g) An investigation of the limits of use is also fundamental: to fall in disuse, to become obsolete, to abuse of..
All the meetings will be held at Esc, Atelier Autogestito – via dei Volsci 159, Rome
25 February, 6 pm
What does it mean to use? -Giorgio Agamben
14 March, 6 pm
Using life -Paolo Virno
4 April, 6 pm
Use and Law -Paolo Napoli
9 May, 6 pm
Use-value -Sandro Mezzadra
30 May, 6 pm
Meaning is use -Marco Mazzeo and Roberto Galaverni