In January 1951, R.S. Hunt—a British technical editor and former chemist without any university degree or diploma—sent a manuscript titled “Two Kinds of Work” to the mathematician Norbert Wiener, who did not read it. Hunt’s manuscript promises to “put metaphysics within the scope of physics.” And it claims to do so by making “such quantities as beauty, virtue, and happiness,” as well as all manual and intellectual labor tasks, intelligible as electronic circuits. In other words, Hunt’s text anticipates the wildest fantasies of digital culture and the concepts of affective and immaterial labor associated with post-Fordism.
“Two Kinds of Work” centers on a concept that Hunt names “G-energy.” This force, Hunt argues, “defies the second law of thermodynamics” by moving material systems from less to more probable states. In other words, it represents all processes that give form or pattern. The “discovery” of G-energy, Hunt insists, necessitates a radical new ontology; humans, nonhuman animals, machines, materials, and concepts all hold and transmit G-energy, and are thus connected in networks of exchange. Hunt’s formulation predicts the current methodological formulations of matter and bodies as vital networks. But, crucially, Hunt’s underlying motivations are not philosophical but economic: G-energy is for him the essence of value, a “natural” phenomenon that is represented by money. It is what employers are really paying for when they think they are paying for time.
By reading “Two Kinds of Work” in the light of current theoretical concerns, this paper identifies historical and conceptual connections between theories of digitality and value.
Seb Franklin is Lecturer in Contemporary Literature at King’s College London, where he co-convenes the MA in Contemporary Literature, Culture and Theory. He is the author of Control: Digitality as Cultural Logic (MIT Press, 2015).
This event is co-sponsored by The Program in Critical Theory and the Berkeley Film & Media Seminar.