While reading in parallel two fairly important texts for my work: Deleuze’s talk “What is the Creative Act?” and Toni Negri’s collection of letters published in English as Art & Multitude I feel compelled to juxtapose them with the aim to work out resonances and productive dissonances. A general statement of Negri provides the fundament:

“Art, as we have said, is labour, living labour, and therefore invention of singularity, of singular figures and objects, linguistic expression, invention of sings. There, in this first movement are lodged potenza of the subject in action, the subject’s capacity to deepen knowledge to the point of reinventing the world. But this expressive act only achieves beauty and the absolute when the signs and the language through which it expresses itself transform themselves into community, when they are embraced and contained within a common project. The beautiful in an invention of singularity which circulates and reveals itself as common in a multiplicity of subjects who participate in the construction of the world. The beautiful is not the act of imagining, but an imagination that has become action. Art, in this sense, is multitude” (xii)

In this paragraph Negri condenses the founding principles to establish art as a creative and political act of a multitude. Three important blocks occur at this intersection: 1) The function of living labour as production,2) the potenza lodged in the expressive act of a subject in action, and 3) Beauty as expressive act through a community, i.e. art as expressive act of the multitude. The repeated critique on the concept of multitude is going to be sidelined in what follows, since the concept of the collective takes a more prominent role in my work on Simondon. Another difficult part that I am dealing with in another place is the role of the subject in relation to action or the expressive act. Even though it might seem like Negri and Deleuze conceive of a subject as the locus of creation in both texts that are discussed here, I deem their concept of the subject closer to Guattari’s notion of the production of subjectivity. Hence, subjectivity is a process of creation where acts become expressive but alsways already as a collective that assembles the subjective form of an event. Such a notion of the subjective form refers to Alfred North Whitehead for whom the subjective form is the expressive moment of an event before it perishes, it is concrescence.

For Negri it is crucial to abandon a notion of the natural as separate from the human. What he calls abstraction defines the state of encounter with “nature” as always already artificially shaped by human presence. This general state is lodged in the overall transformation of labour from abstract to immaterial labour as bottom-line of his work with Michael Hardt. For Negri “living labour is nothing but immaterial production, whether it is intellectual or affective” (xiii). Enmeshed in workings of abstraction the subject and in particular the human subject cannot be accounted for as natural.

Both, Deleuze and Negri point out the importance of a necessity or the work/labour that emerges out of a struggle. For Deleuze in relation to philosophy this means not to engage with thinking in general but to invent and create concepts. In a similar way, Negri points out that the work of constitution has to engage with what he considers as the “truth of the factitious” (3). This truth is not a hermeneutic truth but a truth that is constituted by and through the real. The real is not an empirical matter of fact but rather to speak with Deleuze and Latour a transcendental-empirical matter of concern. Negri considers ontological experience “as a truth of abstraction, and the recognition of this as a condition of experience” (5). In other words, for Negri the constitution of truth as factitious means that truth will be always constituted by means of abstraction. Abstraction defines not a pure transcendentality but manifests abstraction as a mode of existence (I will at greater length deal with the notion of “modes of existence” through the work of Gilbert Simondon an Étienne Souriau in a later post and in my PhD-Thesis).

The potential of an anthropomorphizing notion of the subject shifts once we address the process of constitution as partaking in seeking the real. The real is always synthetic as Isabelle Stengers would probably say. As such the seeking of the real is not a desire for final truth. As Negri says: “There are no longer natural determinisms or historical vestiges, nor finality of fulfillments which hold: the space has become entirely a-teleological” (11). To seek the real means to seek it “until it falls into our hands: an encounter, an event” (10). Hence, it is not a final real but a singularity as part of a wider collective that is defined as the quality of art as living labour for Negri: “The abstract is the sole community in which we exist” (11). Such an abstract defines part of Negri’s use of the concept of multitude. Labour, so my own interpretation, is not necessarily only a human concept. How could it be solely human if the human itself does not hold sway as a natural entity? If the human defines an individual or an individual of labour it would lose its factitious mode of existence. From this perspective, labour is not human as such but a collective abstract process with tendencies towards autonomous production. This mode of production defines what Negri calls the beautiful as collective act, an imagination that has become action. Imagination, again, has to be regarded as synthetic and factitious. It is not human but abstract and therefore collective.

For Negri a truth that will be constituted moves trough processes of empirical traces. He proposes: “So let us begin by putting together the most simple things. Both the space of our habitat and the time of our conscience require objects in relation to which we can re-take the measure of our life” (10/11, my emphasis). The objects might be the creation of works of art. Art does not have to be a physical object but marks a mode of existence. Its presence has an incurrence into the ontological experience of the event. Negri defines the abstract as collective. This mode of collectivity is a pre-individual and potential one. For what comes along as abstract might be also called the “autonomy of affect” (Massumi 2002)[1]. The autonomy of affect as the abstract collective relational bond for potentiality to surface in its actual effects requires another component as helpmate to its emergence: space-time. Talking about the differences between philosophy, art and science, Deleuze evokes their common limit as space-time: “All of these disciplines communicate at the level of something that never emerges for its own sake, but is engaged in every creative discipline: the formation of space-time” (Deleuze 2007, 320). Deleuze extends the linking collectivity of abstraction towards its potential holding together in space-time through different modes of expression (which is another notion for disciplines). The seeking as encounter or event is a shock in a double sense: A virtual shock as much as an actual shock neither of them coming in first but both vibrating across their continuum. A shock occurring in space-times delimiting and at the same time populating the limits with potentials. Such is the creative practice that does not allow to speak of creation as such but only to “speak in the name of … creation” (320). To speak in the name of creation accounts for the act of creation as autonomous, as part of an abstraction of living labour. In that sense, as Deleuze alludes to Malreaux “art is the only thing that resists death” (328). To resists death means to engage in the process of constitution of a truth as a collective matter of concern. Negri’s conception of the multitude aims at dealing with the singularity of each mode of existence and their potential for a transindividual force of expression. Only through that abstract collectivity a work of art might achieve beauty, not as the beautiful opposed to the ugly but as a felt increase of potential for a different future to come. Such a collectivity requires always a struggle and a crisis, the continuous movement of thought, a pragmatics of of discomfort, a discomfort that does not stop to ask questions, similar to the idiot invoked by Deleuze and one of Stenger’s main protagonists. Such a struggle defines the relation between the human and the work of art expressed through Deleuze referring to Paul Klee as the people that are missing: “The people are missing means that the fundamental affinity between a work of art and a people that does not yet exist, will never be clear. There is no work of art that does not call on a people who does not yet exist” (329).

[1] Brian Massumi  grants affect an autonomous state to avoid any one-to-one mapping of affect and effect or affect and emotion. Affect exists but autonomously incurs into actual occasions (events) without pre-defining its actual effects. Without affect’s autonomous state, there would be no elbow-room for novelty (Massumi 2002, 23-45).

Deleuze, Gilles, “What is the Creative Act?,” in Two Regimes of Madness, Cambridge Mass.: Semiotext(e), 317-329.

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2002, 23-45.

Negri, Toni. Art & Multitude. Cambridge: Polity, 2008.


June 15th, 2011

Dear Christoph,

This post has truly been enlightening for me. I have struggled to make sensible both Deleuze and Negri’s take on creative labour, or the creative act, and you manage here to make it not only sensible but applicable to understanding creative praxis.



June 16th, 2011

Hi Merle, I am glad you liked the post. It really came out of a first attempt to cope with creativity and the act in Deleuze and after hearing Negri speak here in Zurich. I am also really happy about the relation of labour to creative praxis that for the first time became apparent through reading the two texts. I try to work through the interstice of practice and theory with a particular focus on the act and creation to avoid primordial binaries. It would be nice to keep in touch. I like your blog a lot.

June 16th, 2011

Oh and thanks for clarifying Massumi’s take on affect in you footnote. My readings on affect largely come from British geographers like Nigel Thrift and Ben Anderson who often quote Massumi but never really clarify his stance.

I often drop by your blog for theoretical enlightenment so will definitely keep in touch.

Best for now, Merle

leave a comment