This lecture investigates how labor-power has become the totalizing and increasingly totalitarian measure of life. The biopolitical measurement and political-economic mobilization of human life as the bearer of labor-power mark the violent starting point of capitalist modernity. In societies where the expenditure, exchange, production, and reproduction of labor-power assumes the commodity form, life is constantly being measured and valorized as economic value or “abstract labour” (Marx). While labor-power – the potentiality to be productive in the economic capitalist sense – ultimately remains immeasurable, labor-power expenditure can be measured as concrete labor and labor time. If all economy is an economy of time in the last instance, time becomes the measurement of life.. And conversely, life becomes bound to the exchange value of its labor-power. To be sure, in capitalism, money can buy labor time; however, time is not money. With the introduction of the wage-system of labor, life gets caught between the impossible exchange of time against money and capital. Living labor is mortal; capital is undead. This mismatch is both productive and doomed to fail. Ultimately, capitalism fails to measure and economize the immeasurability of life. This lecture discusses how this ongoing failure keeps on going and how capital’s systemic deadlock temporalizes itself as a permanent crisis.
Sami Khatib is a cultural theorist and philosopher. He taught at Freie Universität Berlin, Jan van Eyck Academie Maastricht, American University of Beirut and Akademie der bildenden Künste Vienna. Currently, he is a postdoctoral researcher at Leuphana University of Lüneburg. His main interests are in critical theory and aesthetic theory. He is author of the book “Teleologie ohne Endzweck: Walter Benjamins Ent-stellung des Messianischen” (2013).
Image : City Lights, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1926.