A Short History of Modernity: Abstraction and Automatic Society

Abstract art—painting and sculpture that makes no direct, immediately discernible reference to recognizable objects—was born of an alliance of modernist aesthetics and occult doctrines…  Yet no sooner was this new artistic convention established as an influence on the European Avant garde than it was quickly appropriated by still another mode of thought—utopianism—

—Hilton Kramer, Abstraction and Utopia

Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility:

During the last century, abstraction has been the main tendency of the general history of the world in the field of art, language and economics. Abstraction can be defined as the mental extraction of a concept from a series of real experiences, but it can be also defined as the separation of conceptual dynamics from bodily processes. Since the time Marx spoke of ‘abstract labour’ to refer to the working activity as separate from the useful production of concrete things, we know that abstraction is a powerful engine.

Thanks to abstraction, capitalism has detached the process of valorization from the material process of production. As productive labour turns into a process of info-production, abstraction becomes the main source of accumulation, and the condition of automation. Automation is the insertion of abstraction into the machinery of social life, and consequently it is the replacement of an action (physical and cognitive) with a technical engine.

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