Assembling against empire. Political theorist and philosopher Michael Hardt on AEWCH!

11 Aug

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Friends,

Back in 2000, philosophers, political theorists, and activists Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri’s book Empire came out to fanfare, shock, and intense responses. It named the nexus of power currents and nodes across the planet that formed the net of neoliberalism. It couldn’t just be described as a problem of states or corporations anymore, it was empire. That meant new ways of understanding were needed, and new ways of resisting and creating.

The follow ups fleshed out different aspects of their arguments, only strengthening them: Multitude, Commonwealth, and, most recently, Assembly.

I remember having arguments about Empire with Marxists who thought the books were “too ontological” and that they discouraged activism because they seemed to indicate that resistance movements would just show up and save the day on their own. And yet it all seemed absolutely correct to me, in the diagnosis of the problem, and, in later books, how to solve it. And it in no way expressed a shallow reliance on spontaneous formation of movements. “Belief in spontaneity is a political position” they wrote – there’s so much happening, a congregation of factors. What we need to do is see what’s happening and enter into the gaps and the space between the known, to reclaim and realign the direction we’re going in. And these books do a lot to peer into what we weren’t seeing and to gather up everything that comes into focus: from Marx to Deleuze, the patterns of birds in flight to Star Trek, John Locke to identity politics.

These books are massive undertakings that deeply unearth and express the situation we are in today. You have got to read these books, but especially Assembly which navigate the tension between leader-led and leaderless movements, as well as how these movements arise.

So it’s with great excitement that I bring you my conversation with Michael Hardt, whose work has been influential on me and many others for decades.. This is a deep but also wide-ranging discussion.Enjoy it, friends. And after you’re done listening, think about how to prepare for the next resistance movement before it arises.

ON THIS EPISODE

  • Identities as property
  • Differences between capitalist, communist, and socialist ideas of property
  • Why giving up private property doesn’t mean sharing your toothbrushes and pillowcases
  • The body as private property
  • Why fears of anarchism are merely extensions of private property laws
  • The commonwealth of knowledge available to all of us
  • Why private property will not protect us
  • Whether or not our suffering belongs to us
  • The buttonhole and button of desire
  • Wedding rings as BDSM gear
  • “The way Deleuze reads Nietzsche is the way Marx read capitalist society.”
  • Affirmation as a political move
  • The difference between mythic art and occult art
  • The magical activity in the space between megalithic stones
  • The lack is simply where we can’t see what’s there

SHOW NOTES

• Buy all of Michael’s books. Really. You’ll never see the world the same way after you’re done. For more on Michael And here’s a good interview with him on The Dig. Here’s an incomplete but nice little 4 minute intro to Empire. Finally, here’s a free digital copy of Declaration, a sort of anti-manifesto manifesto written by Michael and Toni.

• Here’s “The Same Old Song” by Russell Means. The actual quote is, “Being is a spiritual proposition. Gaining is a material act.” Means’s essay is not actually an essay, for, as he states at the outset, “The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of ‘legitimate’ thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken.” The essay is also found in the book Marxism and the Native Americans.

• I talked about identities as nationalisms way back on AEWCH 7 (a solo episode: “Selfie Politics”), and I was pleasantly surprised to see the topic addressed in Michael’s work after the fact. It’s something that’s happened many times when reading his and Toni’s work: the happy shock of recognition. I also talked about the topic with Asad Haider on AEWCH 26 with Asad Haider, via his excellent book, Mistaken Identity.

I wrote an essay about utopianist Charles Fourier, and I think this it serves as a great introduction to his work.

Cal by Bernard MacLaverty is a great, slim novel. And it’s a good movie too (although I am told by Irish friends that it’s a bit too THIS IS AN IRISH MOVIE for their taste).

• The Irish activist who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer was my friend and AEWCH 87 guest, Una Mullally.

• I love Wittgenstein whether or not I disagree with him on this or that point. I believe what Michael was referring to was “Other people cannot be said to learn of my sensation only from my behavior, – for I cannot be said to learn of them. I have them. The truth is: it makes sense to say about other people that they doubt whether I am in pain; but not to say it about myself.”

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (pictured) is a wonderful writer and thinker and her work is needed now more than ever.

• Also interesting, Alexandra Kollentai. You can listen to Sophie Lewis and I discuss some of the concepts that relate to Kollentai’s work on AEWCH 106.

Michael’s book on Deleuze is pretty heavy philosophy, but I do love it. If you’ve got any foundation to start with, I think it’s a great book. And here’s Deleuze’s beautiful quote: “To affirm is to unburden: not to load life with the weight of higher values, but to create new values which are those of life, which make life light and active.”

• I spoke at length about nothingness and its power in a directly occult way with Are Thoresen on AEWCH 116. And on AEWCH 85, I discuss Frithjof Bergmann’s work against work.

• “Filling out the passage from multiplicity to multitude remains for us the critical project,” Michael and Toni write.

• If you haven’t yet listened to AEWCH 91 – which is the last recorded interview with Lynn Margulis before her death – you should really give it a listen.

Until next time, friends,
XO
CH

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