The Grammar of the Common-tude

In addition to Commonwealth this week, I also read Grammar of the Multitude as I remembered a lot of similar concepts, etc., being discussed in that text from when we read it in Writing Machines all those years ago, and also to give myself a more borad understanding of the common and the multitude. As I read through these texts, at first I was plagued by the question of how do I separate the discussion(s) of the multitude and the common (for my purposes in thinking through this project) from the seemingly essential discussion(s) of capital and labor and production. However, halfway through Grammar it dawned on me that perhaps it would be better to think, instead, about my project in terms of capital and labor and production. Not necessarily as a project in economics now instead of the original rhetorical basis, but (and thinking of this specifically in terms of Virno’s discussion of the common topics/general intelligence, Hardt & Negri’s discussion of the common/bio-political labor, and Levy’s discussion of collective intelligence) perhaps this is what is different and really needs to be engaged with between the common topics of Aristotelian rhetoric and today’s common–this being the transition between rhetoric as political (persuasion/getting things done in the polis) and economic (a means of bio-political production in the economy of the network)–while still retaining the primary focus of rhetoric as use of language in communication.

So I found myself asking these questions and thinking abo all of our previous discussion in terms of updating the rhetoric for today and networked society in general. So we have a situation of collective intelligence where Levy imagines a relative utopia in which knowledge is created and distributed collectively across the networks and this works to unseat the dominance of the circulation of capital, yet this manifested in the networks serving as a means through which capital could circulate more freely and constant attempts to monetize the Internet–utopia banished. But the collectivity of the intelligence and knowledge created still exists. Next we turn to Virno and the need for the multitude to turn back to the common places/general intelligence because the special places no longer serve to orient the multitude in the disorientation caused by the post-Fordist economy. These common place for the contemporary multitude also point toward the World-Wide Web (43). Finally, we have the traditional means of capitalist production being replaced by bio-political production (ideas, knowledge, ways of life) that refuse to fit into the systems of quantification necessary for capital to appropriate and monetize them (Hardt & Negri).

Basically the question is thus: if we can look at the Internet as some type of material instantiation/ideological construct of the contemporary common, a digital agora for the multitude, in terms of the way we communicate (use rhetoric) in this medium, is it more economic than political (or at least as much economic as political)? Instead of communicating to “get things done” in the polis, are we really trading in the products of bio-political labor–exchanging ideas, knowledge, forms of life? And perhaps this is what is missing in turning to Aristotle’s Rhetoric as such–an emphasis on the means of persuasion and the turn to the common places to make this task (and thus participation in the polis) easier, when the focus now is more on exchange and the value (politically, ethically, economically) thereof?

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