August 2015

Nina Power: The Wound of Work

The Neoliberal Self: Lectures, Interviews, Art

In her 2010 lecture “The Wound of Work,” Nina Power considers transformations of work, labor, and consumerism in relation to feminism, the body, and art. Drawing in part on her 2009 book One-Dimensional Woman, she discusses the collapse of the distinction between work and leisure, the feminization of labor, the informatization of work, and the implications of these developments for us as flexible, precarious, increasingly “professionalized” post-Fordist subjects. While Power speaks here to conditions that (as she has recently noted) are by many measures worse today than when she wrote One-Dimensional Woman, her descriptions of the subject who is constantly networking, constantly advertising itself, and constantly available—in other words, constantly working even when not being paid—are more relevant today than ever. For Power, this is a transformation that signals the “becoming-CV of the human.” The personal is now thoroughly economic, and as walking CVs, we must capitalize even on our free time and our private lives, turning them into assets. The body is also transformed into an agglomeration of assets, an assemblage of autonomous parts that assume the function of the whole; this is a body that that can perhaps no longer be understood as a vehicle for an interior subjectivity.

Power begins with a discussion of economist Hervé Juvin’s argument (in his 2010 book The Coming of the Body) that today, in the first “civilization of well-being,” the body has assumed a central role that signals the end of history, becoming a kind of physical capital that functions as our central site of value, our sole asset, the object of all our hopes and expectations—our very truth system. In what follows, she also considers the biopoliticized body (as variously discussed by Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Maurizio Lazzarato, and Paolo Virno, for example) in relation to the concepts of affective and “immaterial” labor. She focuses particularly on the biopolitical near-future conjured up in artist Melanie Gilligan’s five-part video series Popular Unrest (2010), a highly regulated, biometric, financialized world in which everything—not just labor and commodities, but every life, every gesture, every feeling—is reduced to exchange value. She also discusses artist Tehching (Sam) Hsieh’s One Year Performance 1980–1981 (Time Clock Piece) and its exploration of the effects of Fordism’s regularization of time on the body.

Nina Power is a senior lecturer in philosophy at Roehampton University.

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