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Author Archives: Daniel Hartley

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!

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

Veg-aid

Factory farming

I imagine that out of most people contributing to or visiting this site, I’m the least motivated when it comes to actually engaging in small, day-to-day ethical activities: things like recycling, buying second-hand or Fairtrade clothes, buying local food produce etc. Since a lot of what The Night Shift is about is precisely these small acts, I’ve decided to make an effort to get stuck in. But I shall need the help and support of fellow Night Shifters (in return for which I can offer some startlingly original interpretations of Proust, plus a fine line in Frankie Boyle jokes).

Inspired by many discussions with friends over recent months, plus these two extracts (link in each word) from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, I’d like to try, if not to become an out and out vegetarian, then at least massively to reduce the quantity of meat I eat on a daily basis, and to make sure that the meat I do eat is sourced locally and produced in animal-friendly conditions. (I should point out that writing that last sentence already inspires in me a wave of antipathetic lethargy just at the thought of how much effort finding those ‘local sources’ will take – I live in Amsterdam and don’t speak Dutch).

So, how can you help me? Well, I have a few questions to which those in the know could respond:

  1. If you live in Amsterdam, where can I get my ethically righteous meat?!
  2. I stress a lot about not eating sufficient quantities of whatever it is that one is supposed to eat to stay vaguely healthy. In this case, what should I eat to replace the proteins I’d be missing from the meat?
  3. I’m not a good cook at all (I’m more your chips and beans sort of guy): do you have any very simple vegetarian recipes you could suggest?

I’ll keep you updated with my progress and inevitable lapses…

Dan Hartley

Theory and Practice

Lenin writing: theory or practice?

The Night Shift is all about fusing theory with practice. What I’d like to do in this post is to open up a discussion as to how we might go about defining those terms. Instinctively, ‘theory’ is something you do whilst reading books, thinking and writing – conceptualising various problems and analysing them philosophically. It is fundamentally passive. ‘Practice’, on the other hand, is doing something: acting, moving, physically changing one’s environment. It is fundamentally active

But does this distinction hold up? Firstly, ‘thinking’ as a concept implies the opposite of ‘passive contemplation’; it suggests mental agency (or what certain philosophers might call ‘negativity’): does this not count as practice? Reading, surely, is something we do physically by moving our eyes and turning the pages of a book: is this not practice? The same holds for writing, too.

Similarly, is moving or physically changing my environment really devoid of theory? Do I not begin an act with a certain end in mind towards which I guide my body? What would a practice look like that didn’t have some kind of theory bound up with it? Is a thoughtless act even possible?

So it would seem that the distinction between theory and practice is not as clear-cut as we first imagined. How else, then, might we go about defining the difference between the two? Perhaps in terms of the effects of our thoughts and our acts? Perhaps a practical act – now comprehending both theorising and physical activity – generates a certain type of effect. What might that be? Well, here, at The Night Shift, we would have to think about what defines a genuinely political act. It would be an act which forged a path towards universal emancipation; but how do we define universal emancipation?!

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but between us it seems to me that we must confront them if we want to claim a rigorous justification for what we’re even doing here.

Facebook: emancipator or opiate?

In one of the comments threads, a debate has just opened on the nature of Facebook. Below is the first comment (Terry responding to John), but please get involved in the discussion!

‘John, the point of facebook is an interesting one, as I see facebook as an inherently capitalist phenomenon, something that might simply not occur in a (utopian) socialist society. Its tenets revolve around a) voyeurism – but in a purely reductive/sexualised manner, creating yourself as spectacle and viewing others in this way (I like particularly the fact that you can pay money for cyber ‘gifts’ in the sense that even the gift is reduced to a pure symbol). b) following from this, the reduction of one’s life to a host of easily interpreted signs (these very pictures/groups/likes and dislikes). c) procrastination – which for me is the central point of facebook, underneath it all, and explains the natural extension of the site from one of communication to the incorporation of apps such as farmville. Once again, ‘opiate for the masses.’

Not only is facebook an inherently capitalist production, then, but it is capitalism’s logical extension (amongst other phenomena).

Going on from this, what would socialist facebook look like? Well, who knows, but it would be informed by a socialist ideology and therefore manifest the tendencies of the culture in question.

That is to say that whilst the communicative aspects of facebook are truly excellent, it is otherwise obnoxious – like capitalism itself.’

Remarkable Suicide Note

You may have seen in the news over the last couple of days the story of Joseph Andrew Stack, an American man who flew his plane into a tax office in Texas in protest at the US tax, legal and political system. Whilst I certainly don’t condone such acts, his suicide note makes for remarkable reading.