Going nowhere: on Jason E. Smith’s Smart Machines and Service Work (2020). by Gerardo Muñoz

Jason Smith’s Smart Machines and Service Work (Reaktion Books, 2020) provides us with a renewed cartography of the labor transformations in the wake of automation and the cybernetic revolution, which has ultimately created a “vast service sector” (9). Although at first sight Smith’s book seems to be preoccupied with questions of technology innovation in the post-fordist epoch, the central vortex of the book sheds light on the notion of “servant economy” that has become the fast-evolving segment of today’s job-market. Smith notes that the expansion of the servant economy propelled by automation “poses special obstacles to organization and action in a fragmented workforce. The rise of the “servant economy”, increasingly forces workers into smaller, spatially dispersed workplaces, where they carry out labor-intensified production processes…. deemed low-skill occupations and therefore poorly paid” (14). The new region of the service economy is an effect of the exceptionality of capital form self-abdication where unemployment becomes an existential problem for the social fabric. 

The nuanced analysis undertaken by Smith shows how the fragmented spatialization of labor has become the byproduct of the automation in which control, optimization, and feedback ensemble a new regime of total calculation. Already in 1956, Friedrich Pollock warned of a potential “totalitarian government” that could lead to mass unemployment. Pollock’s Cold War predicament was not off target: the fear of totalitarian unemployment (Habermas would call it crisis of legitimation) was answered with a total (service) economy that compensated for the paradox of stagnation of profit growth. The encompassing force of real subsumption through compartmentalization of services rendered effective James Boggs’ “nowhere to go” in the final dispensation of historical capitalism.

The phase of stagnation announces the “productivity paradox”. Smith writes glossing Mason: “If ours is an age defined by monopolies, cheap credit, rent-seeking and asset bubbles, it is not due to the concerted efforts of elites keen to forestall or smother in the cradle a new, sustained period of productivity gains….despite claims to the contrary, the weather of stagnation and drift that has settle over the advanced capitalist economies since the 1970s, and special since the turn of the century is attributable in no small part technological inertia” (41). The boom of “diversionary gadgets” are on the side of unproductiveness; and, as Ure argues, “do nothing towards the supply of the physical necessities of society” (43). But perhaps diversion usage accounts for the mobilization of the medium of the new phase of automated capitalism. In other words, precisely because traditional form of political legitimacy has crumbled, zero value technology becomes the compensatory psychic equilibrium within the process of abstraction of profit. The subjective dimension of the “medium” in the new phase of automation operates to drive dynamism in the “historic low” of labor productivity growth and the disjointed structural relation between economic growth and rise in wages (64, 69).

One of the conclusions that one can derive from Smith’s rich political economy empirical analysis is that the expansion of the service economy is fundamentally an anti-institutional phenomenon, both at the level of social forms (unions, movements, legal grounds for disputes) as well as in terms of mediations of exchange (intellectual labor, shadow-work, spatial relations to urban centers, etc.). In this sense, the absolutization of the regional “service economy” is the reallocation of reduced labor. In the same way that all ‘originary accumulation’ is an ‘onging accumulation’; the “crisis” of the economy is always already the recurrent stagnation of growth. But Smith notes with precision: “services therefore appear to obscure more than it clarifies” (80). This new process of rationalization mobilizes the valorization of the outside, that is, of every non-market sphere. This process draws a specific ordo rationality: “The true “advances” such as they are, have been in the domination of the labor process by employers: their ability to coerce more labor out of a given hour by means of refinement in supervision, oversight, and workplace discipline” (112). 

Mirroring the optimal logistics of cybernetic and automation processes, one could claim that the expansion of the service economy initiates a regime of governmentality that allows for the attenuation and cost-benefit management of flows. Now I think one can clearly see that “service” is not just an avatar to formal processes of value, but also, as Ivan Illich showed, a secularized theological concept of the Christian notion of hospitality. According to Illich, hospitality was transformed into a use of power and money to provide services and needs [1]. For the ex-Catholic priest, this meant nothing less than the corruption of human freedom, which became tied to the logistics of equivalence. This is why, more than an economic theory, neoliberalism needs to defend an ever-expanding freedom of the subject. In the context of deep social atomization, the service economy self-legitimizes itself as absolute freedom in the social (141). 

At the end of the book, Smith notes that in the wake of automation the relation between political struggles and the new economic composition begin to diverge. There is on one side the model of the teachers and that of the expendables (146-147). In a sense, the “nowhere land” registered by Boggs in the 60s has only intensified, as modern politics forms no longer seem up to the task in the face of total extraction and exclusion. If we think of arguably the most successful leftist political strategy in the last decade or so (the strongest cases have been in Latin America and Spain), the left populism rooted in the theory of hegemony; it becomes clear that after the empirical analysis of Smart Machines, any set of ‘equivalential demands’ is already a demand for exploitation within the regime of the service economy. During this months of pandemic the right has been calling for the immediate reintegration into the economy, bring to bear the internal production at the heart of the project of hegemony. Rather than thinking about a new multitude or unified subject of class, the expendables that Smith situates at the outskirts of the metropolis (the ‘hinterland’), constitute perhaps a new experiential texture of life that is no longer moved by representation but rather expression; it is no longer defined by class, but consumption; it is not interested in negation, but rather in “discovery” (148). Indeed, the new marginalized surplus population does not constitute a new “subject”, but an energy that seeks an exodus from the ruins of the political given the collapse of the whole framework of leftist hegemony [2]. It seem reasonable to think that it is precisely in the threshold of Boggs’ call for a “discovery” (a movement of anabasis), devoid of place and time, where the unfathomable stagnation of our epoch is defied.




1. Ivan Illich. The Rivers North of the Future (Anansis, 2005). 

2. “Onwards Barbarians”, Endnotes, December 2020: https://endnotes.org.uk/other_texts/en/endnotes-onward-barbarians

Cuaderno de apuntes sobre la obra de Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio. Novena Parte. Por Gerardo Muñoz

Hablábamos de la predilección ferlosiana por la hipotaxis. Como se demuestra con la metafórica del naufragio, la hipotaxis supone asumir el riesgo que implica escribir en  castellano. Ese es el riesgo errante en la existencia de escritura: puede o no fracasar, puede o no doblar el cabo de Hornos, puede mantener su equilibrio o no mantenerlo (como el nadador del fragmento de Kafka que logra un record en competencias de natación sin realmente saber nadar). Me gustaría sugerir que hay al menos tres hipótesis por las cuales Ferlosio elige caminar por el sendero de la hipotaxis, aunque sin duda seguramente habrían muchas otras. Me atengo a estas tres.

La primera hipótesis. Si la hipotaxis tiene que ver con la “recursividad” misma del lenguaje humano (le agradezco el término a mi amiga, la lingüista Ana María Collazos), entonces la parataxis, como veíamos anteriormente con Hölderlin, es la detención de ese mecanismo. La poesía es, en cualquier caso, la absolutización de la respiración (de la voz) que escapa la subordinación porque es atáxica. El ritmo del manierismo recursivo puede mantenerse a flote gracias a las subordinadas; mientras que la poesía se explica mediante una voz, esto es, desde el neuma de la Musa. Por eso la poesía está más cerca de la música como tonalidad originaria del afuera, mientas que la escritura es siempre el testimonio que el lenguaje lega al mundo. Aquí tenemos dos cortes del fenómeno de la lenguaje: a) un plano recursivo que tematiza la zona de la expresión, b) una transversal paratáctica de la voz que proviene del misterio de las Musas. Como ha mostrado Walter Otto, el viejo mito de las Musas está íntimamente ligado a la idea musical. Y es esto lo que parece nunca haberle interesado a Ferlosio, como él mismo dice en uno de los pecios de Campo de retamas (2016): “Música, vas demasiado de prisa, demasiado segura, demasiado alegre para que yo te entienda” (p.173).

¿Por qué dice Ferlosio no poder entender la música? ¿Por qué le parece ‘demasiada alegre’ la aparición de la musicalidad? Probablemente tenga que ver con lo que Adorno dice en su ensayo “Vers une musique informelle” (1961): “los fines de la música no pueden ser previstos ni controlados en el curso de la producción artista…la tensión entre lo que es imaginado y lo que no puede ser previsto es en sí mismo la esencia de la música. Aunque es más que un elemento vital, ya que no es una la tensión nunca puede ser resuelta” (p.303). En la música, y en particular en la “nueva música informal” (atónica), algo siempre se escapa. La tonalidad disuelve la mediación entre sujeto y objeto. Sólo allí podemos situar el acontecimiento de la Verdad. Una verdad que no es la producción de un nuevo trascendente sintético de la forma, sino la anarquía de un sentido fuera de la cultura (sentido que Adorno intentó contener desde una fase superior de la dialéctica como miedo ante la des-individuación de la cultura de masas. Solo que a Adorno se le escapó pensar que la individualidad no es lo mismo que un proceso de singularización, de la misma manera que el sujeto no es la especie) (p.314).

La segunda razón se conecta directamente con esto: el problema de la verdad. Si Ferlosio no puede comprender la música es, porque al final, pone toda su energía en la incredulidad sobre la “Verdad”. El ensayo “La música celestial de la verdad” despeja de manera nítida su postura. Una postura que lee el ascenso de la hegemonía de la Verdad como dispositivo genetico del Cristianismo. Como dice Ferlosio: “La Verdad Absoluta, los clérigos suelen tomarse excesivas confianzas en el empleo de la palabra verdad, despreocupándose de la mera suficiente determinación gramatical de los decires en que la despilfarran, como si fuese cosa que pudiese salpicarse así a voleo, rociándolo a granel a puro golpe de hiposo, igual que el agua bendita en los bautizos” (p.511). La verdad de los teólogos trasciende la verdad de la predicación, esto es, de lo predicable como descripción de un estado actual de las cosas. En cambio, la invención del Cristianismo es la absolutización de la verdad mediante dos operaciones divergentes: un mandato (“Yo soy la verdad”, “Tu debes creer en mi”), y la verdad como principio fideísta de la salvación cristiana.

Según Ferlosio, fue Filón de Alejandría quien había integrado el dios personal al logos como “exegesis alegórica” mediante el pecado original de los hombres (p.514). No es este el espacio para demostrar cómo, al interior de la tradición cristiana, hubieron otras formas heréticas de comprender el problema del pecado original. (Por ejemplo, la formulación de Odo de Tournai, para quien el pecado original no es una falta del alma, sino un vinculo genérico en toda la especie). Pero es obvio que a Ferlosio no le interesan los márgenes de la genealogía cristiana, sino el corazón de su institución. Dice Ferlosio glosando “La creación del mundo” de Filón:

“[él] recoge la expresión estoica “to hegemonikon” (‘lo que manda’, ‘lo que domina’, para caracterizar el logos, la parte racional del alma. De modo que la razón es (y yo sospecho que solo eso hubo de ser originariamente) la unidad de mando, el capitán que tiene que doblegar y someter a latigazos a toda la despreciada chusma amotinada de las pasiones del alma y los apetitos de la carne, hasta ponerlos al servicio de sus fines. “Racional” sería aquello que alcanza sus designios. Y para el cristiano….se referirá al designio de la salvación” (p.515).

Este es, sin lugar a dudas, uno de los momentos más nítidos del movimiento destructivo ferlosiano contra el principio de hegemonía. El “to hegemonikon” es, mucho antes de su conversion política, una forma de destrucción de las almas. Hegemonía: una devastación que desde la unidad de voluntad impide el acceso a la tonalidad. Por eso cualquier intento de pensar la singularidad en el movimiento de su recorrido por lo real es lo que queremos llamar posthegemonía. La verdad ya no sería una forma del comando o de la orden, ni de la dominación sobre las almas, sino, al contrario, la relación entre yo, las cosas, y el mundo. A la “verita effectuale della cosa” le yuxtapondríamos una verdad relacional entre las cosas y el mundo. Esta dimensión informal es necesariamente musical.

La tercera razón: finalmente, podríamos decir que la hipotaxis, en realidad, no es ajena a la deformación musical. En su discusión sobre la música atonal, Adorno dice algo directamente relacionado con esto: “Las posibilidades ilimitadas de la música atonal, deben ser puestas en relación dinámica constantemente; en una relación dinámica comparable a la relación de las clausulas subordinadas en la gramática” (p.311). Para Adorno, en efecto, la música es siempre relación antes que fines. En este sentido, su “verdad” requiere de la intuición y no del concepto, puesto que su dimensión elíptica escapa las categorías jurídicas de la persona. La música pone boca arriba lo que Ferlosio describe como la institución eclesiástica: “La Iglesia se ha caracterizado, de manera especial, por hacer de la verdad precisamente producto de consenso, sino que, por añadidura, no hay constancia de ninguna otra institución regida por procedimientos de consenso que se haya atrevido nunca a tanto como a legislar la verdad” (p.517). Un análisis que coincide, casi palabras por palabra, con el diagnóstico que Ivan Illich hizo de la causa instrumental como administración del mal (dogma) de la Iglesia. Ahí se inaugura el partido del mal.

La música sería, entonces, todo lo que escapa a la ecclesiae institutione. Y por eso se ha dicho que la música es la forma más alta del pensamiento. Pero no se dice en un sentido de géneros, sino en el sentido que apunta a la cristalización externa de lo interno (el alma). Allí donde hay música, las formas son revocadas hacia una zona de la no-dominación. Ferlosio sólo lo registra de pasada: un ‘sepulcro del alma’ como lo órfico-pitagórico (p.514). O, para citar nuevamente una de las más bellas intuiciones de Adorno en el ensayo ya aludido:

“La música quiere revocar realmente el dominio de la naturaleza; si pasa por una situación en la que los hombres ya no ejercerán el dominio mediante el espíritu, ello únicamente lo consigue gracias al dominio de la naturaleza. Solo una música dueña de sí misma sería también dueña de la libertad de toda compulsión, incluida la propia; guarda analogía con eso el hecho de que solo en una sociedad racionalmente organizada desapareciera con la indigencia de la necesidad de represión a través de la organización. En una música informe cabría superar positivamente el hoy deformado momento de la racionalización.” (p.318).




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Beyond rigorisms: notes on Martin Heidegger’s “What is Metaphysics?” (1929). By Gerardo Muñoz.

A preliminary note: it is important to have in mind that Heidegger understood metaphysics as onto-theology. This means that metaphysics was not anevent among others in history, but rather the event that allows the dispensation of the history of the forgetting of being as such. This is why it is always insufficient to take up the mission of founding an “alternative metaphysics” or an immanentization of the metaphysical horizon, which is, at the end of the day, the high price that Averroism has to pay for reenacting absolute aristotelianism against Christian dogmatics. Already in the opening line of “What is Metaphysics?” (1929), (“The question awakens expectations of a discussion about metaphysics…” 82), we encounter the gesture of awakening from the sleepwalking that is the essence of metaphysics as constituted by figures of the supreme (those “idols” that Gareth Williams already brought up to our attention in his commentary) on the one hand; and by the logic reconstruction of identity and difference of historical time on the other.

The engagement against all metaphysical rigorisms must open to a region of factical existence that clears a distinctive path that does not coincide with the demand for “exactness” in the wake of modern scientific development and the legitimacy of the ‘spiritualization of technology’. This spiritualization grounds the objectivity of scientific knowledge as its self-legitimation: “Today the only technological organization of universities and faculties consolidates this multiplicity of dispersed disciplines; the practice establishment of goals by each discipline provides the only meaning source of unity. Nonetheless, the rootedness of the science in their essential ground has atrophied” (82-83). Thus, the question of Da-Sein must necessarily move away, in a counter-universitarian fold, from the demand of exactness of mathematics and the rigorisms of inquiry that is only capable of establishing grounds. The techno-universitarian machination vis-à-vis exactness and rigor ascertains legitimacy through being understood as unveiled will-to-power and reserve for transformation, production, and distribution-organization.

But how? Of course, Heidegger not once speaks of legitimacy in this essay, and I would leave it open to whether the ontological difference and existence is a path that could be thought as an otherwise point of entry into the inquiry for legitimacy in the modern age. (A long parenthesis: this question seems pertinent, in my view, in order to bypass the recurring indictment of Heideggerianism as a “mystical step back” to the antiquity of the Greeks, to the inhumane hypsipolis apolis of the city, or turn to dichtung as the stamp of the German genialismus destroyer of the Enlightenment. I would bracket this question here for future investigation. I must clarify, however, that I pose this question not in the order of intellectual history, but as someone interested in the problem of the genesis of modernity. Also at stake here is the crucial debate with Ernst Jünger regarding the “crossing over the line” as the condition of nihilism, as well the unexplored relation between Lacan’s psychoanalysis, anthropological deficiency, and the ontological difference). In “What is Metaphysics”, Heidegger suggests that any real confrontation must be done through the nothing. The question of nothing for science and the techno-spiritual constellation is “an outrage and a phantasm”, a sort of suppository for transparent rationality (84). Indeed, Heidegger writes: “Science wants to know nothing about the nothing.” (84). But the nothing is never sutured, and that is why it takes a spectral figure; it returns whenever science fails to bring to unity of its own ground.

The question regarding nothing must be cleared from the logic operation of ‘negation’, which for Heidegger is “a doctrine of logic and a specific act of the intellect” (85). Here, Heidegger not only wants to break away from all forms of the Hegelo-Marxist dialectical philosophy of history, but with a deeper anthropological assumption that resides in the insistence of the condition of anticipation (86). (Note for future elaboration: a central kernel of philosophical anthropology – from Helmuth Plessner to Arnold Gehlen, from Hans Blumenberg to Odo Marquard – has been the story of finding ways to institute conditions of anticipation to discharge the absolutism of phenomena and organizing symbolic reality through compensatory and manageable partitions of spheres and actions). But I agree with Gareth Williams that what is at stake in the non-grasping of the question of the nothing is sustaining thinking as nihiliation to an “unconcealed strangeness” that opens up the condition of finitude. Originary attunement is what “makes manifest the nothing” (88), for Heidegger, the possibility of the closest proximity and near true distance. The unwelt of attunement (which never constitutes the idealism of a weltanschauung) is said to be found in boredom or anxiety that rips a hole in language, since “anxiety robs us of speech” (89). Boredom puts us in relation to the animal.

Now, this ur-stimmung knows no hypokeimenon (the pure “that is” of the subject, what subjects the pre-supposition), and that is why it is an instance where the “nothing is manifest” as the clearing of being as a sort of black sun in the open of nothing. “Nihiliation will not submit to calculation in terms of annihilation and negation. The nothing itself nihiliates” (90). This original attunement is what allows for freedom completely disintegrate “logic itself in the turbulence of a more originary questioning” (92). The digression on freedom is important. That is, the freedom that is evoked here is necessarily detached from the freedom of the subject of dialectical thought, the two conceptions of freedom in classical Liberalism (positive and negative), and freedom understood as a conatus of experience engrained in the subjective fabric of affects and habits in the tradition of immanence and philosophies of vitalism, etc. Let’s bracket it in a schematic form: freedom against liberty (liberalism):: attunement against affect (life). A question at this point: is the emergence of the freedom in this early text as a vortex of the attunement of anxiety and boredom, later displaced in Heidegger’s insistence on the Galassenheit as the fundamental mood of a suspended topology? Or is the Galassenheit an adjoined mood as the attunement with the nothing? The question of freedom emerges again at the end in an important passage:

“We are so finite that we cannot even bring ourselves originally before the nothing through our own decision and will. So abyssally does the process of finitude entrench itself in Dasein that our most proper and deepest finitude refuses to yield to our freedom” (93).

The question of freedom as posited here runs all absolute rigorisms amok, whether ethical or political, which ultimately makes their propositions fall within the regime of the “legitimacy of the dominion of “logic” in metaphysics” (95). I would like to call the freedom that opens up in this region where philosophizing takes place infrapolitical freedom. But philosophy here is trans-formed; this is thought. The dismissal of the nothing “with a lordly wave of the hand” as science does, or through an accumulation of facts as it is done in historiography, cannot guarantee freedom in the originary sense that is housed in existence.

As Heidegger says at the very end: “no amount of scientific rigor attends to the seriousness of metaphysics. Philosophy can never be measured by the standard of the idea of science” (96). Not fully abandoning Husserl (or at least that is my wager here, briefly crossing to a late essay on the question of “Earth” beyond science), the philosozing occurs in the measureless earth, an earth that does not move, and beyond any conception as a ready-made idea of measurement. The moment that philosophy raises the question of our existence, it embarks in a decisive removal of all rigorisms of truth (be it ethical, logical, political, anthropological, or historical –hegemonikai or guiding faculties) as well as the absolute trepidations of the negative. Only when positing being at the proximity of the fissured ark, there is the possibility of a bringing the questioning of the nothing. It is here where all rigorisms collapse and good theories end.


Edmund Husserl. “Foundational Investigations of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature: The Original Ark, the Earth, does not move”. Shorter Works (University of Notre Dame, 1981). 222-233.

Gareth Williams. “First Take on “What is Metaphysics” by Martin Heidegger”. https://infrapolitica.com/2018/02/18/first-take-on-what-is-metaphysics-by-martin-heidegger-by-gareth-williams/

Martin Heidegger. “What is Metaphysics” (1929), Pathmarks (University of Cambridge Press, 1998). 82-97