Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Over at Shaviro's blog he has a very interesting post on the notion of the monstrous flesh in the work of Hardt and Negri. You should go read it

I wanted to post here the comment I made over there:

Interesting post. A few issues I have.

(1) The Task of Philosophy:
I think that whatever problems there are in Empire and Multitude (and sure, there are many), these books are not just works trying to describe a political situation, they are also trying to produce a political ontology. As Deleuze and Guattari put it in What Is Philosophy? “We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present. The creation of concepts in itself calls for a future form, for a new earth and people that do not yet exist” (p. 108). Empire and Multitude is about calling forth this new people, this multitude. I think we have to judge the exuberance of these two books partially upon a criteria of a “becoming-political of philosophy” (as Alliez puts it in The Signature of the World).

(2) On subsumption:

Few people have done more to advance the knowledge of transitions from formal subsumption to real subsumption than Negri. Indeed, one can see in the works of both Negri and Hardt a thorough look at capitalism’s move to a cognitive and affective capitalism. We can see the increasing disciplinarization and normalization of capitalism. Read Negri’s The Politics of Subversion for merely my favorite work on this issue. Also, a good read (if you haven’t already) is Jason Read’s The Micro-politics of Capital, which synthesizes the work of Negri and other autonomists and french political theory. The switch from formal subsumption to real subsumption and the rise of immaterial labor is clearly at stake in both Empire and Multitude, why then does your post imply that somehow it isn’t acknowledged? Your post implies that they somehow think that the categories of immaterial labor and real subsumption are somehow less oppressive. I don’t think they ever imply that (though maybe, in the general sense, that they imply that Empire is less oppressive than the days of nationalism). What they do argue in those texts (and perhaps more forcefully in other works) is that the stage of real subsumption is a stage of contestability. Similar to Foucault, if capitalism now inhabits every moment of our life, then every moment of life is a possibility to fight capitalism. The antagonism against real subsumption becomes the constitutive reality of the multitude.

(3) Monstrosity:
It is the question of constitutive possibilities that seems to be real break you make with Negri and Hardt. Does capitalism contain creative, constitutive powers itself? Does it have poesies and potentia? The argument of Negri is unambiguous on this point, capitalism does not and cannot. (It is here that Agamben makes his criticism against Negri). If capitalism does not have its own constitutive powers, than it proceeds based upon control and normalization (and those words should be not be heard too far outside of their Deleuzian and Foucauldian registers). Perhaps then we should also hear the word monstrosity in its Foucauldian register. Foucault devoted an extensive amount of time to the idea of monstrosity, particular in his lectures on The Abnormal. In there we find that “the monster is essentially a mixture” (p. 63). But it is not enough for the monster to be a mixture. “There is monstrosity only when the confusion comes up against, overturns, or disturbs civil, canon, or religious law” (ibid). If capitalism is only parasitic, if it only has potestas and not potentia, if it has only constituted and not constitutive power, if it only can own the means of production but cannot produce itself; then it needs normalization and control. Capitalism may break taboos (may indeed depend on it), but only to create a new normal. Monstrous bodies are still bodies that need to be controlled or killed in our society. When Hardt and Negri align the multitude with a monstrous flesh, this is actually a very important moment. First of all, it sets up the antagonism between the multitude and those societies of control (deleuze)/societies of normalization (Foucault). Second of all, it contends that the common of the multitude will not be one of normalization. Communism is not and cannot be soviet socialism, it cannot be another way of normalizing, rather, the common of the multitude must be the monstrous. The singularity of the monstrous body, the creativity and productivity of the multitude against the normalizing control of capitalism.

That post makes me sound like I am in the tank for hardt and negri, which surely isn’t the case. It also didn’t express enough that I liked your post.