More on the Gulli book. Gulli opens his book with the idea that “the category of labor as constructed by political economy under the capitalist mode of production does not correspond to what labor is in itself, to its concept.” I’m not sure what to make of this. It’s not clear to me if the claim here is “the concept of labor used by political economy is not really the concept of labor” or if it’s that political economy’s concept of labor is in some way inadequate to labor itself, not solely the concept of labor.

From here Gulli turns to univocity. He cites Duns Scotus, for whom being is neutral or univocal, conceptually. “[T]he concept of being (…) is included in all of its qualified occurrences (such as finite or infinite being), but they are not included in it; so being is different from them, it is neutral with respect to them.”

That is to say, being “can be finite or infinite, created or uncreated, and so on; once it so qualified (or modified) it no longer is simply “being.”” Since people can have a concept of pure being, or being as such, that concept being as such “is different from the other concepts, such as finite being or infinite being.” This means that “the concept of being is certainly included in both (…) the concepts of finite being and infinite being, but they are not included in it.” This condition is what Gulli terms the neutrality of being with regard to these other concepts. He also asserts, however, that this is solely at the conceptual level. Real being is always instantiated or qualified, or rather, consists of beings. He quotes Etienne Gilson, “The common concept of being is formally neutral with respect to the finite and the infinite, but a real being is necessarily either one or the other.”

This all seems right to me. If one thinks of the little red songbook, red apples, red fire engines, reddening with anger or shame, the workers’ flag as deepest red, etc, one thinks of red and must. When on thinks of red, however, one does not and is not required to always think of the little red songbook etc.

What I don’t fully follow is all this labor stuff. Gulli analogizes that labor is to “political and social ontology (or poetic metaphysics)” as being is to “pure ontology (or pure metaphysics).” (Parenthetical remarks are Gulli’s, except this one of course.) Like being, labor is univocal, neutral. So while political economy takes labor as “either (…) productive or unproductive for and of capital” Gulli holds that “labor in itself, the concept of labor, is neither one of these”.

I am reminded here of Marx’s remark something to the effect that the power of digestion is not digestion, or a remark by I think Spinoza (Althusser quotes it someplace) that the concept of sugar is not something sweet, thought sugar is sweet. For Gulli the concept of labor, labor in itself is “neither-productive-nor-unproductive,” something he calls “the neither/nor of labor, as labor in its neutrality.” I don’t know what this means. The concept of labor is not productive, certainly, just as the concept of the police does not shoot anyone, but that doesn’t seem to be what Gulli means.

“The concept of labor is (…) included in the concepts of both productive and unproductive labor, but they are not included in it. Thus, the concept of labor is neutral with respect to them.” Fair enough I suppose, but the concept of labor as such, like that of being as such, seems to have very little content. Being as such is basically a mental operation and/or the result of a mental operation of removing contents, of abstracting. (Incidentally this is part of Schelling criticisms of Hegel – Hegel says “let’s start with being, and lookit, being has no content so it’s synonymous with nothing!” but that’s not so. Rather, Hegel starts with real being or beings in all of it or its diversity of concrete particularity and then via a mental operation subtracts out all of that content leaving behind something with no content. There are reasons for doing so, but that something with no content, pure being, is a result and is at least a second step, not a first step or beginning.) Being as such has basically no content. Labor as such has very little as well.

Real being, however, is always qualified being. Similarly with real labor. Which is to say, one never encounters pure being or pure labor. What force or role, then, do these concepts in their purity and abstraction have?

Any predicates of being as such will also be predicates of any instance of being, any qualified being. Similarly with labor. One such predicate is that labor always takes place in time, for instance. Another is that labor exists in space. These are also true of all forms of labor. (These qualities are not unique to labor, of course.) In analyzing qualities of labor as such one is never going to find something which is not included in all forms of labor. Marx has another remark that this reminds me of but I can’t quite remember it. Something about determinations common to all forms of society/modes of production/historical whatsits. I’ll have to chase up the quote.

I’m confused by this:

“[T]he concept of labor is included in all the concrete forms of labor, which, although reduced to the categories of productivity and unproductivity under capital, are in reality moments of creative, living labor.” So, all concrete labors are moments of creative, living labor. What’s that mean? Concrete labor is presumably real labor, analogous to real being in the Gilson quote above. Is creative living labor then labor as such, analogous to the concept of being as such, pure being? That doesn’t seem to work though, depending on what it is to ‘be a moment of’.

Let’s say ‘be a moment of’ means ‘be included in’. In that case, pure being is a moment of all qualified forms of being (being infinite, being finite, being red, being hungover). Pure being is included in any form of being. Forms of being, qualified being or beings, however, are not included in pure being – thought as being as such, being qua being in its purity – just as ‘red apple’ is not included in ‘red’ or ‘redness.’ Forms of being are not moments of pure being, if ‘be a moment of’ means ‘included in.’

Similarly, pure labor, labor in itself, the concept of labor, is included in any form of labor, is a moment of any form or all forms of labor. Any form or all forms of labor, however, are not included in pure labor. Thus either ‘creative, living labor’ is not ‘pure labor’ or there’s a contradiction here. The other way to read ‘creative, living labor’ is as ‘concrete labor’ but that makes the sentence a tautology expressed in a weird way: concrete forms of labor are moments of concrete labor. That would mean basically that actually existing labor is made up of a whole bunch of different labors. This is true but a little trivial.

All quotes so far are from page 1 of Gulli’s book. On page two is a quote I like very much, and which I will use if I ever get around to turning my various notes into an actual organized and written thing on Agamben etc. That quote is “life is the substance of labor, of all labor, and this all labor is living labor.” (2.)

That quote doesn’t clarify my questions about the ontology and univocity stuff, though. “Living labor (…) is the subjective power of labor”. There’s a wrinkle here. The power of digestion is not digestion. The power to speak Spanish is not the speaking of Spanish. The former is found or demonstrated in the latter. (I’m tempted to say that the potentialities are only ever identified retroactively upon reflection on encounters with actualities, such that the projection into the future based on potentialities or claims to potentialities is still derived from actualities. I don’t know that I could actually defend that, though it is my intuition.) The power to labor is not labor.

Things get even wrinklier: “The concept of labor is real labor in the same way in which, in Scotus’s metaphysics, the concept of being is real being, and not a logical universal.” (2.) If that is so, however, then it is not the case that the concept of labor “is formally neutral with respect to the finite and the infinite”. If “a real being is necessarily either one or the other,” that is, if a real being is always qualified being and thus not neutral or univocal, that means that if the concept of being is real being then the concept of being is also not neutral or univocal. The same can be said by analogy with labor. If the concept of labor is real labor then the concept of labor is not neutral or univocal, because real labor can not be neutral or univocal. Neutrality or univocity is a trait which that which is real can not have, according to what Gulli has thus far set out.

This is also a bit strange: “labor is present in all manifestations of the social”. (2.) This sounds very old-fashionedly marxist – labor as essence of humanity, what humanity is and does. It also leaves out, as does the little bit I’ve encountered of Deleuze kinds of stuff on desiring production with respect to surplus value production, the important issue of surplus labor, value/surplus value productive labor. The concern is not labor as such but labor as a form of domination (alienated and alienating labor) as it appears in the capitalist mode of production and, perhaps, in some other modes of production. That is, labor as present in all of the social is labor as a larger category which includes both value/surplus value productive labor and other forms of labor. Insofar as the target is surplus value production and surplus labor, determinations within this larger category of labor must be made and retained.