Sunday, November 27, 2005

affinity

Both the title and the subtitle of Richard Day's Gramsci is Dead are misleading. The title because, though Day has much to say about hegemony, his version of the concept is sufficiently broad that he traces it back to (at least) Hegel, and he hardly discusses Gramsci's contribution. (I suppose, however, that Hegel is Dead would have been a marginally less alluring title.)

The subtitle, "Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements" is also something of a misnomer, mostly because Day is less concerned to establish influences than to point to resonances between social movements and the anarchist tradition. Even then, he is interested primarily in the ways in which recent theory as well as recent practice might help release anarchism (as well as Marxism) from what he terms "the hegemony of hegemony."

Day establishes an opposition between the "logic of hegemony" and the "logic of affinity." Hegemony, he tells us, is totalizing and state-centered. It operates, equally in either what he likes to term its "(neo)liberal" or its "(post)marxist" variants, by means of demand, representation, recognition, and integration. From the very moment that politics is predicated on the demand, it implies and invokes the existence of a state before which the individual or group constituted in the demand seeks to be represented, and by which it hopes to be first recognized and then integrated. Affinity, on the other hand, begins with Exodus and establishes self-generated (and self-valorizing) communities predicated on a "groundless solidarity" and "infinite responsibility" that are always open to the new and the other.

Though inspired by, and driven in part by an attempt to revindicate, the historical tradition of anarchist thought from William Godwin to Gustav Landauer, Day also stresses the contribution of poststructuralist and postmodern theorists such as Foucault and (above all) Deleuze and Guattari. He is particularly interested in the figure of the "smith" found in A Thousand Plateaus: the smith, located somewhere between nomad and citizen, opens up and inhabits the "holey space" that is neither fully smooth nor fully striated. The smith, Day argues, is "the autonomous subject of the coming communities" (128).

Day puts his case forcefully and in large part convincingly. There is no doubt that we should leave the dead carcass of hegemony and hegemonic thought well behind us. Yet the final few pages of Gramsci is Dead indicate some gnawing problems with his grand narrative pitting hegemony against affinity. Here he acknowledges that states are no longer sovereign as they once were, and that this is in part because "corporations [are] working to undermine" them (217). "Decentralization," Day admits, "just as easily, and much more likely under current conditions, means a shift from modern discipline to postmodern control" (216). Distinguishing between "radicle and radical forms of rhizomatic organization," he notes that "maintaining this differentiation will become an ever-more pressing task" (216).

For indeed, the notion of a grand struggle between hegemony and affinity no longer makes much sense (if it ever did). We live in posthegemonic times, in which control is exerted directly and immediately by affective and habitual means. And on the other hand, for all the fine examples of social movements that Day puts forward, from the Zapatistas to No One is Illegal, from Participatory Economics to People's Global Action, I am not sure that we can be quite so sanguine these days about Temporary Autonomous Zones, or that "clearly, an experiment carried out as part of a mass movement is much more dangerous than the same experiment undertaken by one or more packs" (176). What, after all, about the pack that carried out its experimentation on September 11th 2001, a day that cannot be so glibly despatched as "the Day of the Great Excuse for Oppression" (32).

In short, beyond attention-grabbing and unenlightening exclamations (Gramsci is Dead!), rather more work is required to construct a theory of posthegemony.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Continuity or Rupture: Alain Badiou on Deleuze, Negri, and the Multitude

Here is an excerpt from a lecture delivered by Alain Badiou on September 25th , 2003, at the Popular University of Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, in Buenos Aires. (published in the journal Acontecimiento, N. 26, 2003). Perhaps it is a little too concise, but it helps undestanding a possibility of a politics that does not sacrifice multiplicity while it takes rupture as the point of departure of all politics.

Question from the audience: What are the points of contact between your position and Deleuze’s thought, in relation to the Zapatista movement. What points of contact are there with Deleuze’s thought in the construction of horizontal relations, that is, in relation to equality?

Alain Badiou
: It is a difficult question. I will try to speak in plain language. It is evident that there is something in common. There is a contact point, which is the following: a political process must unfold in a creative way, it must not be in contradiction with something. In other words, political creation is not forcibly dialectical. For example, the Zapatista movement is independent from the Mexican State, it is not defined by the contradiction with the state, and in this point we are in full agreement. Politics needs to be defined positively and not by its contradiction with something else. This idea is present in the Zapatista movement. It is also an idea present in Deleuze’s philosophy. And it is an idea that I also share. From that point on there would be discussions. The discussion would be about the question of rupture. In Deleuze’s philosophy there is a powerful continuity, there is no negation; there is the creation of life, becoming. I think, of course, that politics needs to be its own affirmation, but also that this affirmation presupposes rupture. There is not a definition of politics in which the latter is in continuity with life. There are always events, discontinuities. Therefore, there is in political creation an element of affirmation, but also an element of rupture. Around these questions we might have a philosophical discussion.

Question from the audience: What is your opinion on Toni Negri’s book, Empire?

Alain Badiou
: I don’t know if I want to give my opinion… The discussion with Negri’s book is, in the first place, a philosophical discussion. Somewhat the same we’ve had for the last little while. The fundamental point of Negri’s thought is the unity of constituent power. There is a single creative force, which is the multitude, thus the creation of the figure of the Empire has in the end the same foundation, the same source, as the power of resistance. In other words, there is in Negri an absolutely unitary conception of historical and political creation. In this point I am in disagreement. In the end, it is the significance of the reference Negri makes to Spinoza. In Spinoza’s ontology there is only one substance. One can say that, for Negri, there is one historical substance and that substance is actualized in the form of oppression and domination, and also in forms of resistance. I believe that within this framework it is impossible to understand political novelty. In the end, in Negri’s thought communism and capitalism are the same thing. One way or the other it is all about the creation of constituent power. In the conception that I have of politics there are real ruptures; there are really heterogeneous things; there are incompatible subjectivities; there is not a substantial unity of creation. The fundamental discussion is there. It is, if you will, an arithmetical discussion. It is the discussion between the One and the Two, and it is a truly fundamental discussion in political questions. But the problem behind all this is the balance of dialectical thought. The politics of the twentieth century were dialectical, that is, politics of the contradiction, fundamentally of class contradiction. Let’s suppose that we were forced to abandon the dialectic. There are two possibilities: one is the return to a unitary conception, there is no contradiction; there is power of the One. That, in my view, is Negri’s move. The other is to preserve the Two, but as something different from the contradiction. [To preserve it in] the element of the distance, of independence, of the separation of that which is heterogeneous. You see that, in the end, it is a very important and very simple discussion. If politics is no longer defined by class contradiction, are we going to introduce a single constituent power or are we going to preserve rupture and heterogeneity? This is the whole argument, and then there are the political consequences.