Introduction to Gorz
Though hailed at his death by Nicolas Sarkozy (of all people) as “a major intellectual figure of the French and European Left,” André Gorz was often treated rather less kindly during his lifetime by those who might easily have been his friends and allies. To review the reception of his work over the last forty years would generally be to chart degrees of dogmatism and infexibility within the Left political cultures of the various nations of Europe and the Americas.
However, despite many accusations of heresy, gorz remained remarkably true in his social and economic criticism to the Marx of the Grundrisse, a book to which Jean-Marie Vincent introduced him in 1959.1 In the words of Finn Bowring, his works of the 1980s and 1990s present “an understanding of capitalism as a system of hetero-regulation which aggressively de-civilized human beings, undermining their ability to look after themselves and meaningfully navigate through the social, economic and technological environments in a life-enhancing, self-determining way” (Bowring 2008: 53). It is this understanding that he was still developing in his last major work of socio-economic theory, L'Immatériel. Connaissance, valeur et capital (2003), which will be published next year in English translation by Seagull Press. That work constitutes a long meditation on the implications of a postmodern capitalism presenting itself as a “knowledge economy” or “knowledge society” (Wissensgesellschaft, société de la connaissance, etc.) with its attendant economic contradictions and a series of accompanying “postmodern” ideological effects that are, in Gorz's view, catastrophic in their “post-human” implications.
The essay which follows is concerned most closely with the implications of the new capitalism's reliance on immaterial contents for its increasingly problematical reproduction and, most particularly, with the emancipatory potential inherent in such a situation. It first appeared in the journal EcoRev in Autumn 2007 and is reprinted in Gorz's Ecologica (2008), a collection of articles ranging from 1975 to 2007, shortly also to be published in English by Seagull. It is the second of two articles Gorz published in 2007, both of which bear the imprint of theoretical currents that he felt in later years to be convergent with his own: namely, the work of Moishe Postone (particularly in his magnum opus Time, Labor and Social Domination) and the value criticism of Robert Kurz, whose writings – particularly Das Weltkapital (2005) – Gorz was eager to see translated into French.