Only yesterday a discussion of economics in cultural circles was considered boring—a mere “economism”—but it is now everywhere in the arts. “Labor,” while being summoned as a grand economic category, enters conversations in the humanities today in the form of a theory of the latest stage of capitalism in which precisely “intellect” is considered the key productive force. This view, which finds expression in a number of antiestablishment thinkers, not only conforms to official business and policy circles but is directly taken from their writings (often several years after the fact). Economics returns because its materialism is now immaterial: “self-making,” “innovation,” “creativity,” and other entrepreneurial qualities of the poietic intellect (where poiesis means a making or crafting). All are extolled as the new primary forces of value and are distinguished sharply from the physical labor of plantation and maquiladora, which are seen as unrelated to the centers of profit. More is involved in this turn than the reappearance of what was once sardonically called “critical criticism.” There are fully economic reasons as well. To what degree, for example, is contemporary theory a labor-saving operation? And how do we greet the valorization of complexity within theory as an unchallenged value that allows the critic to utter dissident ideas in the form of an ironic dissimulation (a form of job protection in a regime of risk)? This is about the consequences of dwelling on the sumptuousness of thought and an exploration of its situatedness.
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Timothy Brennan; Intellectual Labor. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 April 2009; 108 (2): 395–415. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-2008-038
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