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Commonwealth – Preface: The Becoming-Prince of the Multitude

Don’t be put off by the title of the preface…

Hardt and Negri begin by making an important observation: globalization has resulted in the creation of a common world, one which has no ‘outside’. Another way of saying ‘no outside’ is ‘immanent’, the opposite of ‘transcendent’. We must abandon all dreams of political purity and transcendent values and accept that this is the world in which we find ourselves, and so this is the world in which we – immanently – have to act.

They then provide a definition of their most important concept: the common.

‘By the common we mean, first of all, the common wealth of the material world – the air, the water, the fruits of the soil, and all nature’s bounty – which in classic European texts is often claimed to be the inheritance of humanity as a whole, to be shared together. We consider the common also and more significantly those results of social production that are necessary for social interaction and further production, such as knowledges, languages, codes, information, affects, and so forth.’

There are two important things to notice here. Firstly, the common is both material and immaterial – language and knowledge are just as much things to be shared as physical goods and land. Secondly, the common in some sense already exists; it’s just that we’re so blinded by ideologies of private property that we fail to perceive it.

Hardt and Negri go on to stress that capital is now so extensive that it ‘creates, invests, and exploits social life in its entirety, ordering life according to the hierarchies of economic value.’ But if this is our world, if this is entirely immanent, how can we resist? Well, paradoxically, capital – despite its continuing drive to privatize resources and wealth – actually makes possible and even requires expansions of the common: information, codes, knowledge, images, affects, communication networks, internet technologies. We don’t need to dream up utopian, ‘outside’ ideas of how society might be organised: capitalism is providing us with the infrastructure for a social and economic order grounded in the common.

They end the preface by introducing two more concepts: poverty and love. The normal meanings are obvious, but what is the spin they put on them? Firstly, they choose to talk of poverty because it avoids falling into old-school presuppostions about class and class composition, forcing us to take into account how class has changed now that so many productive activities remain outside wage relations. Secondly, their definition of ‘poor’ is not one of lack but of possibility. ‘Our challenge will be to find ways to translate the productivity and possibility of the poor into power.’ As for ‘love’, theirs is a political love. It is beyond individualism without being sucked back into the private life of the couple or the family: it is centred on the production of the common. Both poverty and love are animated by force: intellectual force, physical force and political force. ‘Love needs force to conquer the ruling powers and dismantle their corrupt institutions before it can create a new world of common wealth.’

One last key word: the multitude. This is a hugely complex term with a political and philosophical history reaching back to Machiavelli, and which I cannot hope to explain, because I don’t yet understand it myself. On one level, it suggests something like ‘proletariat’, in the sense that it poses a revolutionary threat to the capitalist social order. But on another level, and following the philosopher Spinoza, it seems to implicate all of us: just as the common does and does not already exist, so the multitude is already in some sense here: we – the human population of the world – are the multitude, a set of singularities with the creative potential to found the common. If that sounds confusing, it’s because I’m confused.

Dan Hartley

Commonwealth – Hardt and Negri

Over the next few weeks, I shall be reading a book by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt called Commonwealth. If you don’t know who they are, I suggest you Wiki them and watch ‘A Revolt that Never Ends’, an entertaining documentary on Negri which can be found on Google Videos. The book has attracted many favourable reviews from the Left, ranging from Naomi Klein through to Fredric Jameson (a Marxist cultural theorist), so it seemed like a nice intersection between ‘activist’ politics and ‘theoretical’ politics.

After each section or chapter, I shall post a summary on The Night Shift. These summaries are designed so that no prior knowledge of theory or philosophy will be necessary to understand them; where philosophical terminology is used I shall do my best to explain it. That said, I chose this book for a reason. After Julia’s post on ‘The importance of being earnest’, I realised that I didn’t want to seem like a know-it-all. And about Negri and Hardt I know nothing at all. Nor do I know anything of the traditions from which their thinking and politics proceeds. In one sense, then, this will be the blind leading the blind – and you can choose to ignore these posts because of that. On the other hand, you could look at it positively: in ‘reading’ Commonwealth together, we’ll have to create a common of our own to understand it. The book itself is meant to lead to radical political action via theory; in the process, our theorising will have to generate a practice of sharing, patience, and discussion.

Dan

PS – A message from Paul Aitken, a friend of The Night Shift:

‘As you go through this Dan and others, please feel free to check out summaries posted by myself and my friend Alex Means. The complete set is located at http://criticalstew.org, while our individual contributions are located at http://jajuna.com and http://paulaitken.com.’

These are the guys you should go to for the real McCoy philosophical interpretations!

Some thoughts on sports

As I sit here on my sofa, trying to concentrate on writing whilst simultaneously watching Sweden defeat Britain in Men’s Curling (oddly, commentated on by Paula Radcliffe), I find myself wondering why the hell I care so much. I could hardly be described as a fan of my country – given the chance I would prefer to be a citizen of literally any other European country – but I find myself unable to watch England or Britain competing in a sporting event without screaming at the TV for whoever-it-is to run faster/kick it harder/hit the other guy harder (I was exaggerating about the screaming – I’m far too middle class).

Today at work, I wasted my entire day on a very passionate argument via email with a good friend of mine (Swiss), over which of our countries could really be described as the better sporting nation. It ended with us agreeing to a year long bet, with each of us being paid by the other when our country performs better in a sports event. As an anti-capitalist who is all for the abolition of tha nation state, this did not strike me as odd at the time.

To me, sport has replaced warfare as the weapon of choice in asserting one nation’s aggression towards and dominance over another. However, it seems to be something that was entirely of our own making rather than something that was forced on us… How did that happen? Stand in the wrong part of town on derby day and you’ll likely find yourself removed by the police for your own safety. The tribalism of sport is yet another thing that divides us, another obstacle to any truly unifying movement.

Lending library:

I’ll start with something practical and move onto the theory:

LENDING LIBRARY:

Having studied English literature and working at a book store, I have amassed a fair number of books in the recent decade.  Clearly, I have a (commodity) fetish – I accept this and the negative implications.  I love books and how they’re bound, I love having them on my shelves and knowing I have access to the knowledge and joys they contain.  I accept that, further to fetishism, this entertains the truly late-capitalist desire to have everything immediately available.  Such desires are, in my opinion, a direct result of the our current cultural understanding of time (and the impatience we often show about ‘taking it’).  Anyway, what to do about it?  Well, one of the things I said I would do was, when I finally got around to compiling everything, creating a lending library for the locals of whatever (small town) I lived in.  I’d catalogue my books and then note who’s borrowed what.

So, with roughly half my books already catalogued (those in England and unfortunately not up for lending), I intend to do the rest and to start the (informal) lending library from today forth.

The library info/rules are:

  • I’ll lend for a few months at a time, give or take a bit.
  • We can make cards, if you want
  • If you want them sent by post, give me address and cover postage.
  • When the catalogue is finished I will try put it online, but for now, you have to come to my house or ask me.
  • If I’m reading something, you might have to wait (similarly if I’m using it for a project etc)
  • I have a large amount of poetry, philosophy (though there are large gaps I intend to fill) and novels.
  • Certain (‘rare’ or valuable) books will be consultation ‘sur place’ only.

AN EXTENSION TO THE PROJECT:

I am happy to integrate the books from other readers into one large (and still informal) lending system, in which we move books between friends/colleagues/acquaintances rather than having to buy them fresh everytime.  This would require that others catalogue their books and send me the list.  There are surely a number of you (Joe, John) that have great quantaties of books I don’t have access to – namely in the fields of science and mathematics.

I am fully aware that this could fail (or that I’m doing it 20/30 years too early), but with this blog as a central point perhaps we could create it as a page –  ‘The Night Shift
Library’, or something equally original.

***

This is part of a general project to invest less in my belongings as fetishistic items.  Belongings are not manifestations of my self in an integral way, but are like fleeting moods that may come and go – always held not in the vice-like grip of a maniacal ego but by a general gravity.

Yours,

Bookseller and librarian,

Terry Craven.

Eating Veg: Day 1

I’m wary that what began as a website designed to effect the radical transformation of society is fast becoming something more akin to a Delia Smith spin-off, but nonetheless… After a five hour train ride from Germany, I forced myself to go to the supermarket and buy the ingredients for this gooey, less-than-aesthetically pleasing veggie delight:

Veg-tastic

Not even sure what you’d call it (mixture of onion, carrot, courgette, chickpeas, tomatoes and rice…plus gone-off wine). But it was done in 30 mins flat and tasted somewhere between average and just a tiny bit above average, so ’nuff sed’ really. Saturday is organic market day so all being well I’ll be grilling the local farmers on their standards of animal welfare.

Now I’ll get back to more traditional politics for a while…till next time, Delia.

Dan

What’s in season: end of Jan/ Feb (and a recipe for emancipatory apple and pear pie)

SEASONAL FRUIT AND VEG:

(http://www.eattheseasons.co.uk/weekbyweek/5.htm)

This is a link I found for England, but I think most of central Europe will be similar.

VEGETABLES:

beetroot*, brussels sprouts*, carrots, cauliflower*, celeriac*, celery, chicory*, horseradish, jerusalem artichoke*, kale*, kohlrabi, leeks*, onions, parsnips*, potatoes (maincrop)*, purple sprouting broccoli, radishes, rhubarb*, rocket, salsify*, shallots*, spinach, swede*, turnips

FRUIT:

apples, blood oranges*[i], clementines*[i], kiwi fruit*[i], lemons*[i], oranges*[i], passion fruit*[i], pears, pineapple*[i], pomegranate*[i], satsumas*[i], tangerines[i]

HERBS, FLOWERS, FUNGHI, NUTS:

chives, coriander, mushrooms (cultivated), parsley (curly), truffles (black)*[i], walnuts*[i]

***

Recipe for Pear and Apple pie:
Melt 250g of butter in a fryingpan.

Add sugar to taste (but quite a bit)

Cut all fruit into a large chunks.

Add to to mixture and leave for a while (40m maybe), stirring in between the chapters of whatever book you’re reading.

Add cinnamon, muscadet and a touch of lemon juice.

You can add more butter/sugar if you want and if it gets too thin then add flour to thicken it back up.

Take mixture of heat and leave to cool a little, during which time you can preheat over to gas mark 5 or 6.

Grease pan, add pastry base (for how to make pastry I’ll comment on this later).

I made a lattice for the top (pictures to follow).
Oven it until the top is brown then cover with tinfoil and leave for  40m.  Leave to cool and serve.

I’m eating a slice now and it’s like sugary heaven (which for me is a bit like hell as I’m quite sensitive to sugar, but sod it).
Terry

Metal water bottle: if you haven’t got one, it is now time.

Only the coolest way to drink water around.  Seriously, stops you having to ‘buy another bottle of water’ because your current one is too beat-up.  Tap water it up…

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