Monday, February 25, 2008

Dream Weaver

I'm freaking out about how fucking awesome this song was, and is. Seriously. When I first heard this as a kid in 1976, it was like mainlining some serious ontology. Those synths really move the soul. I heard this song for the first time and discovered the universe, it seemed. I discovered loss, too. How weird that my ol' school friend James Bogdan got his hand nearly ripped off by some amusement park ride at the time, and THIS was the song I associated with that kid, my best friend in Pittsburgh, back in the day. Shit.



Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Michael Hardt, Empire & Multitude: Democracy Manifestos

Just when it seems that there are no longer any big ideas around except dumb ones, Michael Hardt, an internationally renowned political theorist from Duke University, and his co-author, Antonio Negri, are publishing important books that are big in every sense of the term: Empire (2000) and Multitude (2004). In these works, they diagnose the contemporary global order and describe the conditions that can lead to its democratization, not from the barrel of a gun but through the productive and creative capacities that inhere in the Multitude - i.e., in us in all our differences.

Lest this all seem like Benetton multiculturalism, hold on. Hardt's explanations about our global condition are defamiliarizing, fresh, and sometimes funny in their yoking together of the wild oppositions that typically make headlines, if not the pablum of talk radio: the postmodernists are shown to bear affinities with religious fundamentalists; democracy falls on the side of war; violence is the condition for peace; and - yes - multiculturalism emerges as the best of marketing strategies. It is a problem that these opposites are identical. And for Hardt, the problem is that we are passing into a new age, in which new modes of political being that are full of creative and democratic potential compete with the new methods of state and corporate control. Their question is, Who will win the escalating tussle? Humanity or Social Control in all its forms? The Multitude or Empire?

Refusing the glib protocols of academic deconstruction (yawn), and endeavoring in every way to write books are that are readable and erudite, they leisurely sketch out the bigger picture that is Empire - their word for the social, political, and economic power of global capitalism. Think of Empire this way: If the older coercive forms of monopoly capitalism could be depicted in a 1904 cartoon as the giant octopus of Standard Oil, sitting on top of the world with its tentacles around U.S. Capitol Buildings and hapless minor businessmen, Empire is a different creature altogether, with no center, no body. It diffuses itself globally and rhizomically and constrains our desire to work, love, and live without fear. In explaining Empire, Hardt juxtaposes industrial labor and the newer forms of "affective labor" in the service economy (including information, media, internet, and fast food services). And it is here that Empire is shown to be susceptible to the genuine democratic possibilities of the Multitude, the total aggregate of self-actualizing individuals who realize the "life in common" through communication, collaboration, and cooperation.

"The challenge of the multitude," he writes, "is the challenge of democracy. The multitude is the only social subject capable of realizing democracy, that is, the rule of everyone by everyone." Of course, Empire will always proclaim to champion democracy but in practical terms democracy is its own "sed noli modo" ("but not yet"!): power is just too addictive, just as premarital sex was irresistible for Augustine. It is for that reason that democracy can only be put into practice by a "radical insurrectional demand" from the Multitude. On this point, Hardt concludes: "We can already recognize that today time is already split between a present that is already dead and a future that is already living - and the yawning abyss between them is becoming enormous. In time, an event will thrust us like an arrow into that living future. This will be the real political act of love."