Simulation, Replication, Improvisation

"Within the culture industry, even in its archaic incarnation examined by Benjamin and Adorno, one can grasp early signs of a mode of production which later, in the post-Ford era, becomes generalized and elevated to the rank of canon" (Virno, p. 58).

The era of technical reproduction did in fact become generalized to the rank of canon, but within this canonization lay the seeds of its own obsolescence. The speed of capital required increasingly faster means of technical reproducibility, which begat developments in systems theory, statistical modeling, information management, etc., yielding innovations such as just-in-time inventory and production. As the fluxes of manufactured desire and consumption concurrently accelerated via the increasingly networked electronic conduits of the late twentieth century, production encountered a limit-barrier as it was unable to produce faster than just-in-time while retaining maximum efficiency levels.

For gains to be made, capital needed to anticipate consumer demand as keenly as possible to curtail overproduction, which has subsequently become an increasingly central preoccupation of statistical mathematics and gives us the era of Baudrillardian simulation: the creation of a hyperreality in which every exchange, every corporate (and increasingly non-corporate) interaction is anticipated by a statistical model.

The speaker alone — unlike the pianist, the dancer or the actor — can do without a script or a score. The speaker's virtuosity is twofold: not only does it not produce an end product which is distinguishable from performance, but it does not even leave behind an end product which could be actualized by means of performance. In fact, the act of parole makes use only of the potentiality of language, or better yet, of the generic faculty of language: not of a pre-established text in detail. The virtuosity of the speaker is the prototype and apex of all other forms of virtuosity, precisely because it includes within itself the potential/act relationship, whereas ordinary or derivative virtuosity, instead, presupposes a determined act (as in Bach's "Goldberg" Variations, let us say), which can be relived over and over again (p. 56).

It is never quite clear to what degree Virno sees a departure from an earlier mode of production qualitatively and quantitatively rooted in seriality. Virno, whose life, theory and praxis are primarily embedded in the era of technical reproducibility, would have seen improvisation steadily devalued over the course of the twentieth century as the archive increasingly redefined boundaries of space and time for the recording and distribution of performance. But once technical reproduction reaches its logical conclusion and is succeeded by the age of digital simulation (following in the line of McLuhan, Baudrillard and others) and replication (following in the line of Dawkins, Virilio and others), each located within an overarching logic of recombination, improvisational forms of culture — understood in a formal, linguistic sense — see their value increase once again in a societal desire to retrieve the "real".

Given more exposure to improvisational culture Virno would certainly have realized that pianists, dancers and actors are equally as capable of improvisational performance as the speaker. And when one further considers the presentation of self in everyday life as always already a performance (often a speaking one), subconscious improvisational "acting" jobs for the multiple publics one faces, then the privilege Virno gives to the speaker over these other "derivative" virtuosos fully crumbles.

Simply put, the pianist, dancer, actor (and basketball player) also possess a virtuosity that "includes within itself the potential/act" relationship. If Virno is going to posit a multitude in which the poiesis of labour merges with the praxis of political action, all rooted within the virtuosity best exemplified by the speaker, then we must consider that contemporary cultural forms have revived the value of improvisation and that the utterance may emerge from the whole body rather than simply as breath expired artfully from the lungs.


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