Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hardt & Negri 2 (week 8)


  1. H&N discuss the history of the concept of "just war," arguing that the term took its origin in moral-religious accounts of political action. He goes on to say that modern political theorists sought to detach war from notions of justice, because a "just war" problematically associates the political enemy with evil: "Posing the enemy as evil serves to make the enemy and the struggle against it absolute and thus outside of politics--evil is the enemy of all humanity" (16). Modern theorists attempted to distance political war from justice and evil by attributing justice and evil to the realm of theodicy, which deals with God rather than humanity. They see postmodern politics as dangerously reattaching war to notions of justice: "The postmodern recourse to notions of justice and evil in war may be simply irrational propaganda and moral-religious mystification, little different than old-fashioned calls to destroy the infidel or burn the witches..." (16)

    I can see how the rhetoric of "just" wars produces negative consequences and the propagation of war -- an example of this would be the effect Bush's rhetoric of "infinite justice" and "crusade" had on producing the war in Iraq. However, whether or not it is too hazardous to ascribe "justice" to a whole war, shouldn't we have some standard of value particular political projects, even (perhaps especially) when those projects must involve aggression against other nation-states or governments? It seems that H&N's disavowal of "just war" must be an argument either for total pacifism or for total political realism, which only takes the interests of the acting state as its standard of value. Even if the aim of a militant action is to maintain global stability (which I'm sure, truly unsarcastically, is a problematic aim of Empire which involves an insidious underbelly of power dynamics), isn't this aim conceptually arrived at through a reliance on some iteration of a value-standard governing political action? And if we use recourse to value at all, is that the same as using recourse to moral-religious justifications? Working within the gray space of political power dynamics, it seems to me that military action should still be submissive to deliberations of political, even ethical, value. Otherwise, we're either acting irrationally randomly, committing violence for no reason, or out of sheer self-interest. (Pacifism would, again, be the other option, but that's a hard sell. Besides, how on earth are we going to advocate for pacifism without taking to recourse to "moral-religious mystification"?)

  2. I found myself reflecting on Arendt’s Human Condition as I was reading this week. Its been a while sense I read her book so I had to dust some notes off. I find Arendt’s critique of modern politics insightful, specifically her lamenting of the political becoming a ‘nation-wide administration of housekeeping” (28) and her conception of a politics as action— creating something new in the presence of others. Her critique of the administration of housekeeping is reminiscent of Foucault. Yet Arendt also despises the blurring of the public and private, the political with the newly formed, modern social realm. H & N’s discussion of immaterial production as biopolitical production (146) blows apart the distinctions that Arendt makes between labor, work, and action. After all, biopolitical production “produces all facets of social life, economic, cultural, and political”.
    While I believe any Marxist would disagree with Arendt’s belief that politics is the only realm that requires the presence of others, H & N’s discussion of immaterial labor shows the necessary use of language in the production of value. Whereas it was possible for Arendt to say that “the activity of labor does not need the presence of others” (22), H & N argue that all forms of labor are becoming more cooperative, collaborative, and based on communication of ideas, symbols, and knowledge. The ability to communicate and cooperate in the production of immaterial goods, which includes waged workers and the non-waged poor, seems to put one of the main purposes of the capitalist in question. In industrial labor, the capitalist was needed to organize labor, but H & N seem to be arguing that today’s producers of value are capable of organizing and producing among themselves. The capitalist merely appears as the one who reaps the profits.
    There appears to be a performative aspect to H & N in the sense that today’s immaterial production is requiring the type of performances most needed for the making of a global democratic project. The need to be free from capitalist control is necessary for such a project but is hard to imagine in the highly securitized, police ordered world described in part 1.

  3. We understand Hardt and Negri's biopolitical production to be the dominant form of production today, which is aimed at the production of relationships, ideas, affects etc. The obvious example of how this production is capitalized is with the revenue Facebook or Google makes simply from users using their sites and being exposed to ads. Beyond these kinds of internet-based acts, though, biopolitical production gets a little fuzzy for me. How are we to say that those who don't participate in this example of production are still involved in biopolitical production? My guess is that people not directly engaged in production such as this (which yields capital first hand) can be said to be secondary laborers, or the kind of support structure for biopolitical production. It seems the obvious example for this kind of labor would be that performed by the poor. The poor may not engage in exactly the same kind of biopolitical production that laborers of other economic conditions engage in, but their mere existence inside the system dictates their labor as biopolitical in nature. In this instance I am thinking of the various and numerous NGOs which capitalize on ideologies of welfare. The poor subject labors for the NGO as the constitutive entity of the ideology of the NGO. This would seem to be the quintessential affective labor. In that sense, we cannot call the poor subject a secondary or support laborer for they are directly involved in biopolitical production, even if it is seemingly more intangible than the work of a Facebook or Google user.

    By examining this, it becomes apparent that Hardt and Negri's conception of biopolitical production avoids the highly problematic act of delineating categories or hierarchies of labor. Just as Feminist and Marxist theories will generally assert, reproductive forms of labor are just as vital and central to production as other forms of labor. Different forms of labor cannot be placed in a hierarchy, as they are codependent and all take part in the interplay and flow of capital. "The conditions exist that make a single class of labor possible" (104). And, "in contrast to the exclusions that characterize the concept of the working class, then, the multitude is an open and expansive concept" (107). The hegemony of biopolitical labor has provided the conditions for this singular class of labor to come into existence. The multitude, inherently plural and multiple, is united on the grounds of its members' shared qualities and experiences. The dominance of biopolitical production is that shared experience of the multitude.

  4. An area of inspiration for me from Multitude this week deals with the vampire metaphor in describing capital. Understanding the multitude as the flesh of the social body, Hardt and Negri take seriously that capital is sucking the literal life force out of everyone. The multitude and its potentiality are like the elements; “you can try to harness the wind, the sea, the earth, but each will always exceed your grasp” (192). There is remainder, and the capital/power is always on the hunt to suckle that excess. I love this discussion of the monstrous power of the multitude, & the vampire as a figure may be a bridge between queerness & this monstrous power.

    Hear me out:

    According to Hardt & Negri, the vampire is threatening due to its “excessive sexuality” & that it disrupts “the reproductive order of the family” (193). Queer are & do too! I also think about the potentiality of queerness in continuing the metaphor—queers/vampires are hard to detect because they are always passing. They’re both super mobile and elusive. They have connections to life and blood. The power to end life stops at the Vampire since they’re undead (which rings true to some of the AIDS activism discourse & walking corpses/wasting?). If vampires are “symptomatic not only of the dissolution of an old society but also the formation of a new one,” maybe we need to pay attention to the historical experiences of queer people as places for inspiration or imagination to work against our current system of power. I’m not sure what this would look like from a lit perspective, but vampires/queers as monstrous and affirmation sites of organizing/theorizing/world-building is something I’ve been chewing on for this week.

  5. [spoiler alert - this post contains information about the ending of the film Interstellar, although if you can figure out anything about the rest of this convoluted film from the information provided, you are truly remarkable]

    Did the end of this book remind anyone else of the end of Insterstellar? Matthew McConaughey is floating through space and time and talking to his robot friend about how to save the universe when he suddenly realizes that “Love! It is quantifiable. It’s the key!”

    “We need to recover today this material and political sense of love, a love as strong as death. This does not mean you cannot love your spouse, your mother, and your child. It only means that your love does not end there, that love serves as the basis for our political projects in common and the construction of a new society. Without this love, we are nothing.” (352)

    To me this falls short of being anywhere near convincing, especially as it seems to be the hinge on which anything presented in this book requires to swing forward. But if there is any way to actually quantify love, it is being able to put someone else’s interests above our own, which is neither a sustainable or a likely state of being when it is being relied upon to usher in a new conception of society. There is no historical basis for thinking it possible. Invoking Christianity and Judaism rings false, especially considering how those religions have manipulated people and power since their inception [no pun intended]. Jesus was a petty sovereign, he just used more nuanced methods to get people to do what he said. That seems more like what H&N are setting up, a world in which we pay lip service to “love” in order to convince people to act in a way that preserves our own security and interests.

    If the multitude has anything in common, it is the desire for it to be okay to say “leave me alone.” There was a lack, in the pages assigned, of anything that acknowledged solitude, introverts, opting out, etc. Maybe it is the freedom to hurt ourselves in any number of ways (entertainment, drugs, alcohol, sports, junk food, mainstream politics) to relieve the pressure of being alive that we have in common. Maybe it’s the right to ignore people shouting about love on street corners without having to feel guilty about it.