Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of Indebted Man. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012; 199 pages. ISBN: 978-1584351153.
Review by Nikolay Karkov, Lebanon Valley College
Semiotext(e) has just published a wonderful short book by Maurizio Lazzarato, entitled The Making of Indebted Man. Lazzarato is a key figure in post-operaist Marxism, driven into exile in France after the state-sponsored demolition of Italian Autonomia in the 1970s, where he now resides as an independent sociologist, philosopher, and political theorist. While not as well-known in the English-speaking world as fellow travelers such as Antonio Negri, Paolo Virno and Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Lazzarato develops a highly original “vitalist” autonomist Marxism, whose attentiveness to questions of subjectivity, communication, and the media draws on the work of Gariel Tarde, Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel Foucault, and Deleuze and Guattari, among others. Though various articles and book chapters have been available in translation, The Making of Indebted Man is Lazzarato’s first book-length text to be translated into English. This translation fills a major gap, by not only making accessible an insightful text by a central author of contemporary Italian Marxism, but also by adding another welcome and highly original contribution to the recent critical literature on debt from a leftist perspective.
Central to the text, which reads more like a manifesto than a footnote-heavy monograph, is an examination of the problematic of debt, or, more generally, of what Lazzarato would call the “creditor-debtor relationship.” Lazzarato reads that relationship as both an anthropological invariant (where, following Nietzsche, he suggests that the paradigm of the social lies in credit, rather than exchange or even production), and as a historically specific phenomenon (which, in his reading, defines the neoliberal condition). Still, the book’s focus is on the latter, the historical specificity of the debt and the “debt economy,” which Lazzarato examines in much detail and with impressive insight. In his view, the debt economy has recently absorbed the “new economy,” the knowledge and information economy, or what some on the left have also called “cognitive capitalism.” It is also inseparable from the production of a new subjective figure, that of the “indebted man.” Blurring the divide between workers and the unemployed, consumers and producers, and retirees and welfare recipients, the indebted man cuts a transversal subjective figure that has come to occupy “the entirety of public space.” (7–8)
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