Marx is disturbed by the strong resemblance between the activity of the performing artist and the servile duties, which, thankless and frustrating as they are, do not produce surplus value, and thus return to the realm of non-productive labour (54).
In A Grammar of the Multitude, Virno attempts to ground his own theory of virtuosity in work in Marx, and notices Marx’s apparent discomfort that his theory analyses artistic work and “servile” work in the same way. What is it that makes “servile” work servile? The distinguishing feature seems to be that it is work that is never finished, but rather work that has to be continually done again. That is to say, servile work is reproductive work, or what Arendt calls the work of animal laborans, the never-finished work of maintaining the human animal. Arendt hates this sort of work because it doesn’t produce anything that outlasts the animal: it does not create something new, or, in Greek, it is not poiesis.
What Virno misses, though, in his attempt to show the new importance of virtuosity in the post-Fordist economy, is that, while it’s true that neither reproductive nor virtuosic work are poiesis, neither is productive work in capitalism. Read more↴