Michael Hardt / Antonio Negri



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In the years after the explosion of the First World War, those who had participated in the great massacre tried desperately to understand and control the crisis. Consider the testimonies of Franz Rosenzweig and Walter Benjamin. For both of them a kind of secular eschatology was the mechanism by which the experience of the crisis could be set free.[8] After the historical experience of war and misery, and also perhaps with an intuition of the holocaust to come, they tried to discover a hope and a light of redemption. This attempt, however, did not succeed in escaping the powerful undertow of the dialectic. Certainly the dialectic, that cursed dialectic that had held together and anointed European values, had been emptied out from within and was now defined in completely negative terms. The apocalyptic scene on which this mysticism searched for liberation and redemption, however, was still too implicated in the crisis. Benjamin recognized this bitterly: "The past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption. There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak Messianic power, a power to which the past has a claim."[9]
This theoretical experience arose precisely where the crisis of modernity appeared with the most intensity. On this same terrain other authors sought to break with the remnants of the dialectic and its powers of subsumption. It seems to us, however, that even the strongest thinkers of the day were not able to break with the dialectic and the crisis. In Max Weber the crisis of sovereignty and legitimacy can be resolved only through recourse to the irrational figures of charisma. In Carl Schmitt the horizon of sovereign practices can be cleared only by recourse to the "decision." An irrational dialectic, however, cannot resolve or even attenuate the crisis of reality.[10] And the powerful shadow of an aestheticized dialectic slips even into Heidegger's notion of a pastoral function over a scattered and fractured being.
For the real clarification of this scene, we are most indebted to the series of French philosophers who reread Nietzsche several decades later, in the 1960s.[11] Their rereading involved a reorientation of the standpoint of the critique, which came about when they began to recognize the end of the functioning of the dialectic and when this recognition was confirmed in the new practical, political experiences that centered on the production of subjectivity. This was a production of subjectivity as power, as the constitution of an autonomy that could not be reduced to any abstract or transcendent synthesis.[12] Not the dialectic but refusal, resistance, violence, and the positive affirmation of being now marked the relationship between the location of the crisis in reality and the adequate response. What in the midst of the crisis in the 1920s appeared as transcendence against history, redemption against corruption, and messianism against nihilism now was constructed as an ontologically definite position outside and against, and thus beyond every possible residue of the dialectic. This was a new materialism which negated every transcendent element and constituted a radical reorientation of spirit.
In order to understand the prof undity of this passage, one would do well to focus on the awareness and anticipation of it in the thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein's early writings gave a new life to the dominant themes of early twentieth-century European thought: the condition of dwelling in the desert of sense and searching for meaning, the coexistence of a mysticism of the totality and the ontological tendency toward the production of subjectivity. Contemporary history and its drama, which had been stripped away from any dialectic, were then removed by Wittgenstein from any contingency. History and experience became the scene of a materialist and tautological refoundation of the subject in a desperate attempt to find coherence in the crisis. In the midst of World War I Wittgenstein wrote: "How things stand, is God. God is, how things stand. Only from the consciousness of the uniqueness of my life arises religion-science-and art." And further: "This consciousness is life itself. Can it be an ethics even if there is no living being outside myself? Can there be any ethics if there is no living being but myself? If ethics is supposed to be something fundamental, there can. If I am right, then it is not sufficient for the ethical judgment that a world be given. Then the world in itself is neither good nor evil . . . Good and evil only enter through the subject. And the subject is not part of the world, but a boundary of the world." Wittgenstein denounces the God of war and the desert of things in which good and evil are now indistinguishable by situating the world on the limit of tautological subjectivity: "Here one can see that solipsism coincides with pure realism, if it is strictly thought out."[13] This limit, however, is creative. The alternative is completely given when, and only when, subjectivity is posed outside the world: "My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them-as steps-to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright."[14] Wittgenstein recognizes the end of every possible dialectic and any meaning that resides in the logic of the world and not in its marginal, subjective surpassing. The tragic trajectory of this philosophical experience allows us to grasp those elements that made the perception of the crisis of modernity and the decline of the idea of Europe a (negative but necessary) condition of the definition of the coming Empire. These authors were voices crying out in the desert. Part of this generation would be interned in extermination camps. Others would perpetuate the crisis through an illusory faith in Soviet modernization. Others still, a significant group of these authors, would flee to America. They were indeed voices crying out in the desert, but their rare and singular anticipations of life in the desert give us the means to reflect on the possibilities of the multitude in the new reality of postmodern Empire. Those authors were the first to define the condition of the complete deterritorialization of the coming Empire, and they were situated in it just as the multitudes are situated in it today. The negativity, the refusal to participate, the discovery of an emptiness that invests everything: this means situating oneself peremptorily in an imperial reality that is itself defined by crisis. Empire is the desert and crisis is at this point indistinguishable from the tendency of history. Whereas in the ancient world the imperial crisis was conceived as the product of a natural cyclical history, and whereas in the modern world crisis was defined by a series of aporias of time and space, now figures of crisis and practices of Empire have become indistinguishable. The twentieth-century theorists of crisis teach us, however, that in this deterritorialized and untimely space where the new Empire is constructed and in this desert of meaning, the testimony of the crisis can pass toward the realization of a singular and collective subject, toward the powers of the multitude. The multitude has internalized the lack of place and fixed time; it is mobile and flexible, and it conceives the future only as a totality of possibilities that branch out in every direction. The coming imperial universe, blind to meaning, is filled by the multifarious totality of the production of subjectivity. The decline is no longer a future destiny but the present reality of Empire.
America, America
The flight of European intellectuals to the United States was an attempt to rediscover a lost place. Was not American democracy in fact founded on the democracy of exodus, on affirmative and nondialectical values, and on pluralism and freedom? Did not these values, along with the notion of new frontiers, perpetually re-create the expansion of its democratic basis, beyond every abstract obstacle of the nation, ethnicity, and religion? This music was played at times in a high form in the project of the "Pax Americana" proclaimed by the liberal leadership, and at times in a low form, represented by the American dream of social mobility and equal opportunity for wealth and freedom for every honest person-in short, "the American way of life." The New Deal's project to surmount the world crisis of the 1930s, which was so different from and so much more liberal than the European political and cultural projects to respond to the crisis, supported this conception of the American ideal. When Hannah Arendt claimed the American Revolution to be superior to the French because the American was an unlimited search for political freedom and the French a limited struggle over scarcity and inequality, she not only celebrated an ideal of freedom that Europeans no longer knew but also reterritorialized it in the United States.[15] In a certain sense, then, it seemed as if the continuity that had existed between U.S. history and the history of Europe was broken and that the United States had embarked on a different course, but really the United States represented for these Europeans the resurrection of an idea of freedom that Europe had lost. From the standpoint of a Europe in crisis, the United States, Jefferson's "Empire of liberty," represented the renewal of the imperial idea. The great nineteenth-century American writers had sung the epic dimensions of the freedom of the new continent. In Whitman naturalism became affirmative and in Melville realism became desiring. An American place was territorialized in the name of a constitution of freedom and at the same time continually deterritorialized through the opening of frontiers and exodus. The great American philosophers, from Emerson to Whitehead and Pierce, opened up Hegelianism (or really the apologia of imperialist Europe) to the spiritual currents of a process that was new and immense, determinate and unlimited.[16]
The Europeans in crisis were enchanted by these siren songs of a new Empire. European Americanism and anti-Americanism in the twentieth century are both manifestations of the difficult relationship between Europeans in crisis and the U.S. imperial project. The American utopia was received in many different ways, but it functioned everywhere in twentieth-century Europe as a central reference point. The continuous preoccupation was manifest both in the spleen of the crisis and in the spirit of the avant-gardes, in other words, through the self-destruction of modernity and the indeterminate but uncontainable will to innovation that drove the last wave of great European cultural movements, from expressionism and futurism to cubism and abstractionism.
The military history of the double rescue of Europe by the U.S. armies in the two World Wars was paralleled by a rescue in political and cultural terms. American hegemony over Europe, which was founded on financial, economic, and military structures, was made to seem natural through a series of cultural and ideological operations. Consider, for example, how in the years surrounding the end of World War II the locus of artistic production and the idea of modern art shifted from Paris to New York. Serge Guilbaut recounts the fascinating story of how, when the Paris art scene had been thrown into disarray by war and Nazi occupation, and in the midst of an ideological campaign to promote the leading role of the United States in the postwar world, the abstract expressionism of New York artists such as Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell was established as the natural continuation and heir of European and specifically Parisian modernism. New York stole the idea of modern art:
American art was thus described as the logical culmination of a long-standing and inexorable tendency toward abstraction. Once American culture was raised to the status of an international model, the significance of what was specifically American had to change: what had been characteristically American now became representative of "Western culture" as a whole. In this way American art was transformed from regional to international art and then to universal art . . . In this respect, postwar American culture was placed on the same footing as American economic and military strength: it was made responsible for the survival of democratic liberties in the "free" world.[17]
This passage in the history of artistic production and, more important, art criticism is simply one aspect of the multifaceted ideological operation that cast the U.S. global hegemony as the natural and ineluctable consequence of the crisis of Europe.
Paradoxically, even the ferocious European nationalisms, which had led to such violent conflicts over the first halfof the century, were eventually displaced by a competition over who could better express a strong Americanism. Lenin's Soviet Union in fact may have heard the siren song of Americanism most clearly. The challenge was to replicate the results of the capitalism that had achieved its pinnacle in the United States. The Soviets argued against the means the United States employed and claimed instead that socialism could attain the same results more efficiently through hard labor and the sacrifice of freedom. This terrible ambiguity also runs throughout Gramsci's writings on Americanism and Fordism, one of the fundamental texts for understanding the American problem from the European point of view.[18] Gramsci saw the United States, with its combination of new Taylorist forms of the organization of labor and its powerful capitalist will to dominate, as the inevitable reference point for the future: it was the only path for development. For Gramsci, it was then a matter of understanding whether that revolution would be active (like that of Soviet Russia) or passive (as in Fascist Italy). The consonance between Americanism and state socialism should be obvious, with their parallel paths of development on the two sides of the Atlantic throughout the cold war, which led finally to dangerous competitions over space exploration and nuclear weapons. These parallel paths simply highlight the fact that a certain Americanism had penetrated into the heart of even its strongest adversary. The twentieth-century developments of Russia were to a certain extent a microcosm for those of Europe.
The refusal of European consciousness to recognize its decline often took the form of projecting its crisis onto the American utopia. That projection continued for a long time, as long as lasted the necessity and urgency to rediscover a site of freedom that could continue the teleological vision of which Hegelian historicism is perhaps the highest expression. The paradoxes of this projection multiplied, to the point where European consciousness, faced with its undeniable and irreversible decline, reacted by going to the other extreme: the primary site of competition, which had affirmed and repeated the formal power of the U.S. utopia, now represented its complete overturning. Solzhenitsyn's Russia became the absolute negative of the most caricatural and apologetic images of the U.S. utopia in the guise of arnold Toynbee. It should come as no surprise that the ideologies of the end of history, which are as evolutionary as they are postmodern, should appear to complete this ideological mess. The American Empire will bring an end to History.
We know, however, that this idea of american Empire as the redemption of utopia is completely illusory. First of all, the coming Empire is not American and the United States is not its center. The fundamental principle of Empire as we have described it throughout this book is that its power has no actual and localizable terrain or center. Imperial power is distributed in networks, through mobile and articulated mechanisms of control. This is not to say that the U.S. government and the U.S. territory are no different from any other: the United States certainly occupies a privileged position in the global segmentations and hierarchies of Empire. As the powers and boundaries of nation-states decline, however, differences between national territories become increasingly relative. They are now not differences of nature (as were, for example, the differences between the territory of the metropole and that of the colony) but differences of degree.
Furthermore, the United States cannot rectify or redeem the crisis and decline of Empire. The United States is not the place where the European or even the modern subject can flee to resolve its uneasiness and unhappiness; there was no such place. The means to get beyond the crisis is the ontological displacement of the subject. The most important change therefore takes place inside humanity, since with the end of modernity also ends the hope of finding something that can identify the self outside the community, outside cooperation, and outside the critical and contradictory relationships that each person finds in a non-place, that is, in the world and the multitude. This is where the idea of Empire reappears, not as a territory, not in the determinate dimensions of its time and space, and not from the standpoint of a people and its history, but rather simply as the fabric of an ontological human dimension that tends to become universal.
Crisis
Postmodernization and the passage to Empire involve a real convergence of the realms that used to be designated as base and superstructure. Empire takes form when language and communication, or really when immaterial labor and cooperation, become the dominant productive force (see Section 3.4). The superstructure is put to work, and the universe we live in is a universe of productive linguistic networks. The lines of production and those of representation cross and mix in the same linguistic and productive realm. In this context the distinctions that define the central categories of political economy tend to blur. Production becomes indistinguishable from reproduction; productive forces merge with relations of production; constant capital tends to be constituted and represented within variable capital, in the brains, bodies, and cooperation of productive subjects. Social subjects are at the same time producers and products of this unitary machine. In this new historical formation it is thus no longer possible to identify a sign, a subject, a value, or a practice that is "outside."
The formation of this totality, however, does not eliminate exploitation. It rather redefines it, primarily in relation to communication and cooperation. Exploitation is the expropriation of cooperation and the nullification of the meanings of linguistic production. Consequently, resistances to command continually emerge within Empire. Antagonisms to exploitation are articulated across the global networks of production and determine crises on each and every node. Crisis is coextensive with the postmodern totality of capitalist production; it is proper to imperial control. In this respect, the decline and fall of Empire is defined not as a diachronic movement but as a synchronic reality. Crisis runs through every moment of the development and recomposition of the totality.
With the real subsumption of society under capital, social antagonisms can erupt as conflict in every moment and on every term of communicative production and exchange. Capital has become a world. Use value and all the other references to values and processes of valorization that were conceived to be outside the capitalist mode of production have progressively vanished. Subjectivity is entirely immersed in exchange and language, but that does not mean it is now pacific. Technological development based on the generalization of the communicative relationships of production is a motor of crisis, and productive general intellect is a nest of antagonisms. Crisis and decline refer not to something external to Empire but to what is most internal. They pertain to the production of subjectivity itself, and thus they are at once proper and contrary to the processes of the reproduction of Empire. Crisis and decline are not a hidden foundation nor an ominous future but a clear and obvious actuality, an always expected event, a latency that is always present.
It is midnight in a night of specters. Both the new reign of Empire and the new immaterial and cooperative creativity of the multitude move in shadows, and nothing manages to illuminate our destiny ahead. Nonetheless, we have acquired a new point of reference (and tomorrow perhaps a new consciousness), which consists in the fact that Empire is defined by crisis, that its decline has always already begun, and that consequently every line of antagonism leads toward the event and singularity. What does it mean, practically, that crisis is immanent to and indistinguishable from Empire? Is it possible in this dark night to theorize positively and define a practice of the event?
Generation
Two central impediments prevent us from responding to these questions immediately. The first is presented by the overbearing power of bourgeois metaphysics and specifically the widely propagated illusion that the capitalist market and the capitalist regime of production are eternal and insuperable. The bizarre naturalness of capitalism is a pure and simple mystification, and we have to disabuse ourselves of it right away. The second impediment is represented by the numerous theoretical positions that see no alternative to the present form of rule except a blind anarchic other and that thus partake in a mysticism of the limit. From this ideological perspective, the suffering of existence cannot manage to be articulated, become conscious, and establish a standpoint of revolt. This theoretical position leads merely to a cynical attitude and quietistic practices. The illusion of the naturalness of capitalism and the radicality of the limit actually stand in a relationship of complementarity. Their complicity is expressed in an exhausting powerlessness. The fact is that neither of these positions, neither the apologetic one nor the mystical one, manages to grasp the primary aspect of biopolitical order: its productivity. They cannot interpret the virtual powers of the multitude that tend constantly toward becoming possible and real. In other words, they have lost track of the fundamental productivity of being.
We can answer the question of how to get out of the crisis only by lowering ourselves down into biopolitical virtuality, enriched by the singular and creative processes of the production of subjectivity. How are rupture and innovation possible, however, in the absolute horizon in which we are immersed, in a world in which values seem to have been negated in a vacuum of meaning and a lack of any measure? Here we do not need to go back again to a description of desire and its ontological excess, nor insist again on the dimension of the "beyond." It is sufficient to point to the generative determination of desire and thus its productivity. In effect, the complete commingling of the political, the social, and the economic in the constitution of the present reveals a biopolitical space that-much better than Hannah Arendt's nostalgic utopia of political space- explains the ability of desire to confront the crisis.[19] The entire conceptual horizon is thus completely redefined. The biopolitical, seen from the standpoint of desire, is nothing other than concrete production, human collectivity in action. Desire appears here as productive space, as the actuality of human cooperation in the construction of history. This production is purely and simply human reproduction, the power of generation. Desiring production is generation, or rather the excess of labor and the accumulation of a power incorporated into the collective movement of singular essences, both its cause and its completion.
When our analysis is firmly situated in the biopolitical world where social, economic, and political production and reproduction coincide, the ontological perspective and the anthropological perspective tend to overlap. Empire pretends to be the master of that world because it can destroy it. What a horrible illusion! In reality we are masters of the world because our desire and labor regenerate it continuously. The biopolitical world is an inexhaustible weaving together of generative actions, of which the collective (as meeting point of singularities) is the motor. No metaphysics, except a delirious one, can pretend to define humanity as isolated and powerless. No ontology, except a transcendent one, can relegate humanity to individuality. No anthropology, except a pathological one, can define humanity as a negative power. Generation, that first fact of metaphysics, ontology, and anthropology, is a collective mechanism or apparatus of desire. Biopolitical becoming celebrates this "first" dimension in absolute terms.
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