PROGNOSIS ON COLLABORATION
Bojana Kunst

“The absolutely desperate current state of affairs fills me with hope”
(Karl Marx)

On the time left to live
In 2007, Carnegie Mellon University organised a series of lectures entitled Last lecture, for which several professors were asked to talk about what was really on their minds. If they had had to deliver the last lecture of their lives, what would that have been like and on what subject? The invitation from the university with the rhetorical implications of determinacy was clearly intended to challenge the lecturers and prompt their imagination to yield some additional value.

The challenge got a totally different twist to it in September 2007, however, in the lecture given by Randy Pausch, Carnegie Mellon University professor of computer science, entitled Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. After stating that he had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and only had half a year left to live, he began to talk in an optimistic and humorous way about his childhood dreams, giving insights into computer science and also giving advice on creating multi-disciplinary collaborations, group work and interaction with other people. All that was accompanied by enchanting life lessons and even push-ups on stage. His lecture immediately received media attention. The lecture video became an online hit at social networking sites such as YouTube, Google Video, etc., and within a few days, the promise of him publishing a book with his lecture was worth 6 to 7 million dollars. His story led to unavoidable spectacle, where the empathy and compassion grew simultaneously with the market value. It contained all the necessary elements of tragedy – a good-looking man, a successful professor in his 40´s with three young children, is confronted with the evaporation of the time ahead of him.

The reason that I’m starting my prognosis paper with this particular story is not out of empathy (with the unbearable heaviness of mortality), but due to some coincidences in the story which can reveal to us the intriguing relations between the contemporary experience of time and collaboration. A real attention-grabbing surplus of this story happened at the time when professor Pausch was already fighting his terminate illness as a celebrity. In the middle of the buzz in which collective identification was growing along with the anticipated profit from his works, Pausch agreed to give another lecture at Columbia University, in which he talked about time management. He talked about the most efficient ways of making use of time, of how to create manageable plans, multiple schedules, efficient meetings and of how to go to bed with an empty inbox. This was something Pausch was an expert on in his lifetime, but of course acquired a completely different, much more metaphysical dimension when he accepted the invitation.

The philosopher Renata Salecl who wrote about that story in a newspaper column, describes the obsession with time management as a desperate attempt to look behind the unbearable mask of death. There is no mystery behind the determinate fact of death or – whatever our strategy may be – behind the obsessive time management or refusal of all time plans; all strategies are equally unproductive. Pausch fought his illness bravely and died in July 2008, one month after this text first appeared as a lecture within the scope of the Prognosis conference. The last period of his life is intriguingly commemorated by the book The Last Lecture, which besides providing optimistic guidelines for living, dealt also with subject of collaboration and ways of working together in research and time management. Strange combination of issues being put together with the fact of unavoidable prognosis about life, did not result from some publishing strategy, nor it is merely coincidental. It can also be understood as a peculiar symptom which discloses the strange relation between time and working together, a relation which is a necessity nowadays: in contemporary society, working together cannot be conceived of separately from time management.

I would like to argue that there are important economic, political and philosophical reasons nowadays for the fact that collaboration is understood as a timely constellation, one that calls for perfected time management, organisation and division. From the perspective of contemporary political economy, collaborative work processes are inextricably connected with time planning since contemporary capital is not only understood as a measure, but also as progress: contemporary political economy has an innovative element in itself. As Toni Negri said, we live in the ‘time of administration’, where »progress is the representation of a process that proceeds by leaps forward, in which all factors can be referred back to a proportion.

Difference is then only quantitative and the unity of the project is always already before its articulation.« In other words, we all continuously behave as if being in a determinate race (with many deadlines to cross), where the abstract goal defines the present time of the process, its temporal dynamics, the ways in which the process is articulated, implemented, measured. In that sense, the collective identification with the definiteness of the time left for us to live is even more understandable: it springs from the sudden and absolutely desperate impossibility of proportion, from the terrible experience of the desperate impotency in the administration of our life.

»What is time, then? I know very well what time is if not asked about it, but if somebody asks me what time is and I want to explain, I become confused.« In this statement, St. Augustine relates the difficulty of articulation to the ontological understanding of time, with time closely related in his theological thought to the mystery of divinity. If we approach his statement from a contemporary perspective, we find that, today, this unspeakable ontological understanding of time is replaced with the maneuverable and explainable notion of time. That means that the contemporary experience of time is contained within our knowledge of what time is (or ‘what the time is’). This experience of time can also be related to the frequent sentence: sorry, don’t have the time – which, of course, is but another description of our general experience of time.

The contemporary acceleration of time, which results from the industrial, economic and scientific processes of the last two centuries, has not only dissolved the spatial coordinates of work processes, their immobile and static territoriality, but also changed the modes of individuation of contemporary subjects. Jameson argues that contemporary temporality is a schizophrenic one; it is a temporality of the present, which lacks any phenomenological connections to be able to hold on to the past and anticipate the future. However, the experience of the contemporary subject and the individuation of the human being is achieved through the multilayered and parallel present time experiences, which, regardless of the possibility of openness and liberation, have to be carefully planned throughout and have a particular, effective time structure. Their chaotic and multilayered experience has to be rationalised with the operative and effective procedures which necessarily subjugate subjective experiences to the common goal.

This argument can also be also be supported by the important maxim of immaterial labour of the last decades: that of ‘working together’. As Florian Schneider writes, working together or ‘teamwork’ has been a key notion in the changed political and economical atmosphere of the last decade, and collaboration is very frequently used as a synonym for co-operation. Based on the comprehension of the management theory that, in teamwork environment, people are supposed to understand and believe that thinking, planning, decisions and actions are better when done in co-operation with others, teamwork served as a key notion for success, following the famous maxim of Andrew Carnegie from the beginning of 20th century: “Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision, the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”

However, teamwork, as Schneider writes, also represents the subjugation of workers “to an omnipresent and individualized control regime. The concept of group replaced the classical one of “foremanship” as the disciplining force. Rather than through repression, cost efficiency was increased by means of peer-pressure and the collective identification of relatively small groups of multi-skilled co-workers.” Teamwork is therefore part of the obsessive administration of the neoliberal subject, who, paradoxically, has to be free from their inner constraints, creative, innovative and virtuous. A subject who, at least since the late 1960´s onwards, has been able to reveal their subconscious desires and free themselves from the permanent feeling of mortality.

At the same time, this creative and value-generating subject is free from the restrains of society, the difficulties posed by differences and otherness. Not only can he/she freely work with others, but the otherness becomes value in co-operation. In this obsessive administration of the subject’s self, refusal is only allowed from time to time; from time to time, it is possible to escape, maybe on holiday, into drugs or, unfortunately, to hospital. As Guattari argues, the human being is today confronted with a brutal intensification of the processes of individuation, where old forms of life become obsolete even before we are able to absorb them.

In this way, the molecular dispersion of time has set free the finite, subconscious subjectivity, implemented in the endless existential paradoxes. At the same time, however, one is compelled to live in a constant state of tension, on the verge of exasperation, and it is this state that gives rise to the power of invention. “Moreover, the process is intensified even further by the fact that this aggravated tension and speeded-up power of invention not only nourish capital but actually constitute its principal source of value, its most profitable investment.” The paradox is that immaterial work force, into which so much hope for collaboration has been invested over the last decade, is, as Matteo Pasquinelli ironically puts it, in a kind of ’immaterial civil war’ and not a struggle against new forms of exploitation: “It is the well known rivalry within academia and the art world, the economy of references, the deadline race, the competition for festivals, the envy and suspicion among activists. Cooperation is structurally difficult among creative workers, where a prestige economy operates the same way as in any star system (not to mention political philosophers!), and where new ideas have to confront each other, often involving their creators in a fight.”

Can we then imagine a different mode of collaboration which would not necessarily end in having no time at all, precisely at the point when we actually begin to collaborate? Can we also collaborate with no revolutionary, corporative, metaphysical deadlines on the horizon? As Schneider argues, the question is how new dimensions of working together could be reflected on, conceived of and at the same time distanced from the “free wheeling and well-meaning strategies of anti-authoritarianism on one side or the brutal force of coercing cooperation on the other”. So what then makes collaboration transformative and how do collaborative subjects really inflict change?

On time left to work
Today, it is so difficult to think about the collaboration as a transformative process precisely because there is a certain excess of collaboration in our daily lives: we mostly become visible when collaborating.

Collaboration is a key issue, not only in politics (which is somehow cynical, given the other meaning of ‘collaboration’, connected with treason), but also in contemporary economy and culture. Collaboration is closely related to the mobility in flexibility of contemporary labour and even seems to be inscribed into the value of labour as based on the constant production and exchange of communication, relations, signs, and languages. Collaboration places people into the present (time); it is only through collaboration, on the constantly changing map of places, that people can actually become visible in the present time, where they constantly add to the contemporary flow of money, capital and signs. Interestingly, the other can most of the time be encountered exactly in the same work community that enables this contemporary mobility: more and more “non-collaborative or non-belonging” people or groups move in the invisible and deadly channels of illegality, poverty, invisibility and escape. We can say that collaboration, communication and connection belong to the most fetishized fields of the present day. As Paolo Virno writes, fundamental abilities of a human being are now at the forefront of production, with language, thought, self-reflection and ability to learn as principal characteristics of contemporary public labour. Contemporary production consists of sharing linguistic and cognitive habits (i.e. if affective and intellectual exchange of knowledge); it is the constitutive element of post-Fordist production of labour. “All the workers enter into the production as much as they are speaking-thinking.

This has nothing to do, mind you, with ‘professionality’ or with the ancient concepts of ‘skill’ or ‘craftsmanship’: to speak/to think are generic habits of the human animal, the opposite of any sort of specialisation.” For Virno, this can be described as preliminary sharing, which is itself the basis of contemporary production. In his view, sharing is opposed to the traditional division of labour. There are no longer objective technical criteria to regulate the working together, to define the responsibility of each worker in its own specialised sphere. Or, as Virno writes, “the segmentation of criteria is instead of that, explicitly arbitrary, reversible, changeable.”

Along these lines, the interesting notion of the process of sharing can also be interpreted as a specific understanding of collaboration as an exchange of differences, creations and innovations and no longer as a hierarchical division of tasks. The problem for Virno arises, however, when such sharing has no political effect, and does not affect change within a political community. “The public character of the intellect, when it does not take place in a public sphere, translates into the unchecked proliferation of hierarchies, groundless as they are thriving.” This influences the ruthless mode of individuation in terms of complete subjugation of the worker’s self or, in Virno’s words, results in ‘personal dependence’, which I already discussed in the previous chapter. The fetishized status of collaboration can also tell us something about what Virno terms the ‘non-public public sphere’, which reflects the one-dimensional character of global networks and communication channels. “Because this sphere is not a political sphere, the non-public public sphere thus created can produce the most devastating consequences: collective hallucinations of fear, occult form of superstition and general paranoia.” Or, if we apply this to the notion of collaboration: when collaboration fails to not inflict change within the public sphere, it is not part of res publica and can produce unrestrained forms of oppression.

It namely seems that there is something in our daily rhythm, in the way we experience this sharing of language and thought, which puts us into a state of constant mobility, flexibility and precariousness, where nothing is stable but the deadline of working together, and where space is generated as a consequence of mobility. In 2006 Eleanor Bauer, an American choreographer and dancer based in Brussels, completed her research on the Brussels dance community. In her text she humorously tackles the notion of mobility of contemporary performance artists, the changed status of this flexible and disembodied labour, and the value of the community which has resulted from such collaborative mobility of artists. Besides offering picturesque descriptions of the mobility of the contemporary performer, with an obligatory Mac computer and multiple toothbrushes, one of the last paragraphs of her research describes the contemporary performing artist in the following way: “The performing artist him/herself is a resource, a located node of activity and hub for information that processes and produces within the interstices of culture and community.

In a neo-collective or post-collective model, the artists that remain pro-community engagement, must maintain very individual-oriented strength and productivity while remaining connected to the world and to each other, each highly differentiated while in constant collaboration with a larger network of other creative, productive, individuals that support and engage in each other’s interests. This description is ambitious considering what it requires in terms of time and energy, and generosity of course, as we are not paid for keeping in touch even when our work depends on it.” Let us ask ourselves, however, where this accurate description of the highly ambitious performance artist actually comes from? Could this not be precisely the description of the contemporary collaborative worker, equipped for continuous high performance? That of the always critical and active labourer, whose subjectivity is totally subjected to the modes of contemporary capitalistic production? The fact that he/she has some generosity and even collaborates free of charge doesn’t save him or her from the contemporary forms of exploitation. Quite the opposite: this generosity becomes the extra value of belonging to the discoursive and productive cultural community.The generosity puts him/her into the core of the contemporary mode of individuation, where what is demanded from the subject is precisely their extra time and energy. Could that description not be read also as a description of an artist who is desperately struggling with an excess of collaboration, with the publicity of their work which, at the same time, is not public at all (except maybe within a small specialistic operative circle which delegate value to each other)?

Over the last decade, collaboration has become a key issue in the vocabulary of dancers, choreographers, and other performing artists. There are many performances dealing with collaboration as well as conferences and lectures on that issue. The word appears, as Myriam Van Imschoot writes in one of her letters on collaboration in contemporary dance, “more often than one count: it gained a currency of a catch phrase.” However, “do we speak more about collaboration because dance makers collaborate more than they used to, say, a decade ago?” The enforced interest in collaboration could of course have been related to the changes in the understanding of artistic subjectivity. The subjectivity of the artist has no longer been understood as a singular, self-centred subjectivity. The process of artistic creation is now much more oriented towards research-related, transdisciplinary and performative aspects of work.

This can be also related to the disappearance of professional divisions, as discussed by Andre Lepecki. For some time already, the divisions between choreographers, dancers, critics, producers and dramaturges are disappearing. Thus, each of those professions have on disposal theoretical and practical knowledge from other fields – another factor which reinforces collaboration and makes it visible in contemporary artistic policies. Lepecki relates this disappearance to the dissolving of the stable epistemological categories of ‘what dance is’, which has also caused changes in the position of an artist, critic and producer. Such changes have resulted in different models of collaborative work and also become part of contemporary cultural politics and economies of production.

However, as Imschoot writes, this reorientation on the artistic scene may explain why the collaboration label circulates more frequently, but “it does not explain why it does so with so much emphasis, to the point of sheer over-determination and a compulsive repetition of the term. It seems as if collaboration functions as uncritical marker or signifier, an honorific that must signal more than it actually performs.” There is a certain crisis in the notion itself; its high frequency of use, as Imschoot continues by drawing on Foucault, reveals that there is some sort of anxiety at work in the very use of the collaboration term. This anxiety springs from “the sheer dominance of the pure movement, mobility for its own sake, a being on the move for the pleasure of the speed”. I would agree with Imschoot that there is something very problematic at work in the compulsive repetition of this term. This repetitive use is tightly linked to the changed notion of labour, where language and the thinking being are at the forefront of contemporary production. The anxiety springs from the inability to really inflict change, to make the processes of collaboration part of res publica, to open up one’s political and transformative potentiality. What Imschoot detects in this obsessive use and practice of collaboration is that, ultimately, we have no time at all. An anxiety of subjugation, an unbearable attempt to look behind the mask of the determinate race, whereby, at the same time, we just won’t admit that we are already intensely participating in that very race.

On time being left to collaborate
What is collaboration all about in that case, and what kind of prognosis can be made about it? It is well- known that, from the second half of the 20th century, we witnessed a lot of research being done on the nature of artistic collaborative processes. When analysing those processes in the visual arts, the art historian Charles Green showed that those processes came from a particular crisis of the singular artistic subject; they were a result of the crisis of authorship as such. However, the outcome of those collaborative processes was not necessarily more democratic and didn’t result in a more dispersed process of working. As Green noticed, authorship was reinforced in most cases; collaboration therefore gave extra value to the contemporary artist’s self.

The visibility of collaboration processes is therefore tightly linked to the development of the cultural production and economical processes in the contemporary culture of the second half of the 20th century. As I wrote earlier on, this visibility was even reinforced by language and creativity coming to the forefront of contemporary production. With new communicative possibilities, collaborations became multiple and simultaneous: “People meet and work together under circumstances where their efficiency, performance and labour power cannot be singled out and individually measured; everyone’s work points to someone else’s. Making and maintaining connections seems more important than trying to capture and store ideas. One’s own production is very peculiar yet it is generated and often multiplied in networks composed of countless distinct dependencies and constituted by the power to affect and be affected. At no point in the process can this be arrested and ascertained, for it gains its power by not having explicit points of entry or exit as a normative work scenario might.” Today, this arrest in the excess of collaboration makes the artist ‘contemporary’ in the sense that he or she belongs to the present time, but at the same time, does not radically alter his/her position as such: in that arrest, there is no potentiality, only actuality.

Collaboration then seems to be a symptom of the diagnosis of the present time; and the prognosis about it could then only be a negative one, and perhaps even makes us wonder whether collaboration should be part of the vocabulary of the future at all. Nevertheless, the excess of collaboration could also be read as a peculiar reminder, one which is also discussed in Imschoot’s letter. She explicitly writes that perhaps the notion of collaboration is also a cover for its antidote, “genuine exchange.” But what is genuine exchange? Can we talk about the difference between collaboration as procedure (for its own sake) and true collaboration? The problem is that such a caesura springs from a remedial but nai?ve hope that there is always something which is more real than the relations in which we are already continuously participating in reality. This is a complex problem and can also become a kind of trap which leads to nostalgic utopian longing for proper encounter, which has disappeared.

At the same time, this problem of ‘genuine exchange’ is extremely challenging. I could relate it to a statement of Badiou which Slavoj Zizek also cites at the end of his book On Violence: “It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognises as existent”. In this book, Zizek analyses the problem of violence and discusses it in connection with the harsh critique of participation and constant demand for political activity. After several examples, Zizek ends the book with a refusal of taking action; paradoxically, however, this stance comes at the end of the book, when the book has already been written. The demand for refusal of action therefore comes at the end of very agile activity, and this should not only be understood as a playful paradox but as something which is reinforcing the power of critical analysis. It discloses the potentiality of critical articulation, which has been active because of the urgency of the refusal.

The demand for ‘genuine exchange’ can thus be such a reminder, a trigger which can help us talk about the potential of collaboration as an agent of change. We have to think about the future of collaboration in the rupture between the impossibility of the refusal of the collaborative processes in which we are already implemented, and the possibility of genuine exchange, which has yet to happen. The future is namely not related to actuality as a realisation of its ‘becoming’ but finds itself in a rupture between something which has not happened and something which has yet to happen. In this sense, the imaginative potential of collaboration can actively be put into practice and can open to the wide and unpredictable practice of working together. But to enable that, we have to deal with the excess of collaboration, with the fact that the prognosis is being done in the moment of its very crisis. This crisis is deeply affecting the way how do we think about the future of collaboration and relate it to the potentiality.

“The absolutely desperate current state of affairs fills me with hope«. Marx ‘s remarque is not only disclosing the idea of the proximity of cure to the posion, but also special relation to time and historicity, which, as Leland Delandurantaye writes, we can also find later in Benjamin’s and Agamben’s work. Benjamin talks about the vision of the drawning man, and Agamben is developing a concept of radical potentiality which disloses critical reversibility of the moment, of the very present time itself. Giorgio Agamben writes about an an inevitable paradox of this peculiar philosophical concept of potentiality. One can namely become aware of his or her potential to exist, create and spring forth from oneself only when this potential is not realised. Potentiality is then a temporal constellation, which is divided from the action itself, it is not translated into the action at all. Potentiality can come to light only when not being actualised: when the potential of a thing or a person is not realised. A certain failure, an impossibility of actualisation, is then an intrinsic part of potentiality.

At the same time, only when the potential is not being actualised, one is opened to one’s being in time, to one’s eventness. In this openness one experiences the plurality of ways that life comes into being and is exposed to the plurality of possible actions. The crisis today is coming excatly from a permanent and ruthless actualisation of the potentiality, where the form, temporality itself (the way that the human becomes a human) is totally conditioned by its finalisation. The actualisation of potential has become a primary force of the value on the contemporary cultural, artistic and economic market. To put it differently: with the rise of immaterial work, human language, imagination and creativity have become primary capitalistic sources of value. That transition has happened in many different ways and it can be very clearly seen by example in the constant re-questioning of the conditions to produce which produce new conditions to produce. The present time of permanent actualisation is also deeply changing the ways that we perceive and experience collaboration. The problem is that such exploatation of human potentiality structured collaboration as a specific time mode where collaboration equals actualisation, an obssesion with present time.

The future of collaboration would necessarily have to encroach upon this collaborative excess and radically rethink the exclusivity of the present time, which is what brings people to work together. This is only possible if collaboration is freed from the arrest of the present time: from the arrest of deadlines, speed, simultaneous connections, the illusion of mobility, the hypocrisy of difference, the illusion of eternity, constant actualisation. Today, it is namely very difficult (but perhaps easier with the huge crisis on the horizon, which has proved so many prognoses wrong so far), to persist in the potentiality, to open the path for material conditioning of our acts and doings together, to anticipate the future events independently of the already given scenario. How should we open the working together not only to unexpected paths of transformation and also inflict change? It’s time to come back to the question of time and its relation to the collaboration in artistic process or in the creation of performance.

If collaboration means working together, the nature of the encounter which enables our work together, i.e. the quality of time, will be of crucial importance. Encounter is something that renders life possible (or impossible); this is the goal of encounters, both in life and thinking, as Agamben said when describing his meeting with his philosophical teachers like Benjamin. Through collaboration, we condition our future lives together, which of course means that, in order to open up the time, we have to take time out of the obsession with presence and participate in the time what has yet to happen. Working together is a time constellation which opens a spatial potentiality for proximity, something which appears as a neighbouring space, a space that is added. Agamben writes about an example of such constellation, which he terms ‘ease’ (peace, contemplation, delight). He writes that ease is a semantic constellation where spatial proximity always borders a convenient time: if the time is not convenient, there is no topos which enables the encounter. That means that ‘genuine exchange’ has something to do with potentiality: with the ways we condition our future together. No future would be disclosed if we we did not condition ourselves alternatively. We couldn’t act towards the future by not simultaneously changing our way of life, the material protocols of life itself, the way we move time and experience it. Collaboration is belonging to another temporal concept – potentiality. This is a temporal concept of “time’s darkness, the hushed shadows massing about the stage of what happens.”

Post scriptum
The first idea for this text came form the desire to do a prognosis on collaboration in a collaborative way, together with Ivana Muller. However strongly we wanted to do that, we failed because of the lack of time. When I was preparing for the conference I realised our failure was not only the result of the lack of time, but we failed because we wanted to invent and make visible yet another protocol of collaboration, to add something more to its excess. We didn’t take into account that we were already collaborating, encountering and challenging each other through many situations, conditioning our future together, with no visibility required. I would like to end with the letter I received from her one day before the conference, when I was already in Berlin preparing to talk on the crisis of collaboration inspired with the challenge of our impossible meeting.
This letter was read on stage at the end of the lecture and it posed another challenge to the writing process of the present text.

“Dear Bojana,
I am not there but I see us working.
You are not here but I see you responding.
I am anticipating our next meeting, the one that will happen in Berlin, in some days, in the context of a conference on future. I see you reading this text. Here and now, in Berlin.
I am anticipating that moment, days before it really happens, here and now at home in Paris.
I can only imagine the event. I can imagine you standing there, in the light, reading this email aloud. It is like theatre.
When we make theatre, we prepare ourselves for the moment of the meeting with the spectator; that moment in the future that will become our mutual here and now. Days and days in advance ... trying to imagine how it is all going to be. Rehearsing that moment over and over again. Rehearsing its potentiality, its accuracy, its power, even, absurdely, its Authenticity.
So in fact, a big part of working in theatre is conditioning our future together.
In here and now I am again in this situation that the two of us like to put ourselves into: the situation of no time, of dead line long time crossed of the future that is not future any more, but some how increesingly becoming present. Once again the limitations are so extreme that only this stange mix of intuition and believe can be the right way to think, act and create. It almost becomes our methodology.
And once again, just like always when work together,we are reanimating that “dead” line, making it not die, making it active and performative, making it be our friend.
And now Bojana, here we are. We are in the future.
This is the moment in which the crowd is coming in and there is no more space to imagine it, as we look at them right infront of us. now. we look at them. me standing next to you, on your right... also wearing black.
we are now together in the future.
me imagining it you performing it! strongly, to the point and with an extremely good timing!
and I am looking at you, together with everybody else in the audience. as we meet in this future here and now
yours ivana”