Archive for August, 2010

A Revolt that Never Ends

Posted: August 14, 2010 in Video

Over the years, few intellectuals have experienced as much admiration and hatred as Antonio Negri. His international best-selling book, Empire, a critical analysis of the new global economy coauthored with Michael Hardt, was hailed as a new manifesto for the 21st century, and turned Negri into a leading spokesperson for the international anti-globalization movement. Antonio Negri: A Revolt that Never Ends profiles the controversial life and times of this important moral and political philosopher, militant, prisoner, refugee, and so-called “enemy of the state.” It traces his roots in the radical left-wing movements in Italy during the 60s and 70s, illustrated through incredible archival footage of strikes, factory occupations, terrorist actions, violent street confrontations, and government trials of dissidents. During these tumultuous decades Negri spent ten years in prison and fourteen years in Parisian exile, where he contributed to philosophical debates with authors such as Gilles Deleuze. The film features interviews with Negri (conducted following his April 2003 release from confinement), public speaking appearances, plus commentary from his coauthor Michael Hardt, and Italian and French colleagues. Antonio Negri explores this visionary theoretician’s lifelong political struggle, now being expressed in works of contemporary relevance such as Empire and its sequel, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, a powerful intellectual project in protest of the new global order. (First Run / Icarus Films

Spinoza’s Anti-Modernity

Posted: August 14, 2010 in 1990's, 1991, Spinoza

This article first appeared in Les Temps Modernes 46:539 (June 1991). Also in Subversive Spinoza: (un)Contemporary Variations.  ed. by Timothy S. Murphy

Spinoza’s Anti-Modernity

Antonio Negri

Translated by Charles T. Wolfe.

1. Spinoza, the Romantic

The paradox marking Spinoza’s reappearance in modernity is well known. If Mendelssohn wished to “give him new credence by bringing him closer to the philosophical orthodoxy of Leibniz and Wolff,” and Jacobi, “by presenting him as a heterodox figure in the literal sense of the term, wanted to do away with him definitively for modern Christianity”—well, “both failed in their goal, and it was the heterodox Spinoza who was rehabilitated.”1 The Mendelssohn-Jacobi debate can be grafted onto the crisis of a specific philosophical model. It generates a figure of Spinoza capable of assuaging the exacerbated spiritual ten­sion of that epoch, and of constituting the systematic preamble of the relation between power and substance—between subject and nature. Spinoza, the damned Spinoza, had a resurgence in modernity as a Romantic philosopher. Lessing won out by recognizing in Spinoza an idea of nature which was capable of balancing the relation between feeling and intellect, freedom and necessity, and history and reason. Herder and Goethe, against the subjective and revolutionary impa­tience of the Sturm und Drang, based themselves on this powerful image of synthesis and recomposed objectivity: Spinoza is not only the figure of Romanticism; he constitutes its grounding and its fulfillment. The omnipotence of nature was no longer to break off into the tragedy of feeling, but it was to triumph over it, by opposing it to a kingdom of completed forms. Spinoza’s first reception within Romanticism was thus an aesthetic reception, a perception of motion and perfection, of dynamism and forms. And it remained such, even when the general frame and the particular components of Romanticism were subjected to the labor of philosophical critique. Fichte, the real philosophical hero of Romanticism, considered both Spinoza’s and Kant’s systems to be “perfectly coherent,”2 in the incessant ontological movement of the I. For the Schelling of the 1790s, the assertion of a radical opposition between critical philosophy and dogmatic philosophy—that is, between a philosophy of the absolute I founding itself on the critical philosophy and a dogmatic philosophy of absolute object and Spinozism—was quickly resolved into an analysis on which dialectically took on (as Hegel immediately acknowledges) the weight of the objective.3 Far from becoming antinomial, the absolute position of the I composes itself into a necessary process which, above tragedy, exalts the “spiritual automatism”4 of the relation between subject and substance. The aesthetic dimension of this synthesis consists in ceaselessly and tirelessly bringing back power and substance, the productive element and the form of production, to perfection. Romanticism, according to Hegel, is characterized by a capacity to overcome the pure objectivity of the ideal and the natural as a true idea of beauty and truth, initially to destroy the union of the idea and its reality, and to locate the latter in the difference, so as then to bring to manifestation the inner world of absolute subjectivity and reconstruct its objectivity where the overcoming of sensibility is appeased in the absolute character of the result.5 The filiation of this process is still Lessingian, but the new dialectic expresses and articulates its motivations, while insisting on the propaedeutic of the beautiful along the path leading to the absolute. Spinoza, a certain Spinoza, becomes the central figure in this process.

2. Modernity against Romanticism

Are there dissonances in this concert? To be sure—Hegel both forces the absorption of Spinozism into Romaticism and expresses these disso­nances. For Romanticism and aesthetics only make up a part of the world, and cannot in themselves exhaust its absoluteness—which is that of effectivity, history, and modernity. Romanticism and aesthetics suffer from a lack of truth, which is revealed by the absence of reflec­tion. But the absence of reflection is the absence of determinations. The incommensurability of Spinozist being is the sign of a lack [manque] of determination; it is characterized by a lack [défaut] of truth. Beyond its extreme originary recovery or cooptation of Spinozist ontology, beyond the pathetic rivalry that Hegel felt toward Spinoza, it is in the Logic’s chapter on measure that the confrontation and separation are fulfilled.6 The issue here is not to relate this episode in detail: others have done so brilliantly.7 It will suffice to identify the negative concept of being that Hegel attributes to Spinoza, for it is around this definition (or, eventually, around its refusal) that certain essential currents of the twentieth-century debate on the ontology of modernity will develop. Hegel’s attack here develops along two lines. The first is, so to speak, phenomenological: it concerns the interpretation of the Spinozian “mode”. The latter is defined as the affection of the substance which posits the determinate determination, which is in something other than itself, and must be conceived of by another. But, Hegel objects, this mode is immediately given, it is not recognized as Nichtigkeit, as nothingness, and therefore as the necessity of dialectical reflection. Spinozian phenomenology is flat, it rests on absoluteness. But in this case, the world of modes is only the world of abstract indetermination, from which difference is absent, precisely because it wants to maintain itself as absolute. The mode disappears in disproportion.8 But — and here we move from phenomenology to ontology tout court — this differ­ence and this disproportion, which are revealed by the world of modes, also apply to Spinoza’s definition of being in general. Being cannot reclaim itself from the indeterminacy of modes. The indifference of the world of modes is, if in an implicit manner, the whole of the constitu­tive indeterminations of being, which is dissolved in that reality. Being in Spinoza presents itself as Dasein, and can never be resolved. “Absolute indifference is the fundamental constitutive determination of Spinoza’s substance,” 9 and in this indifference, what is lacking is the reason of dialectical inversion. Spinoza’s substance is the absolute clos­ing of determinations on themselves, in the empty totality that differ­entiates them. Spinoza’s substance is:

[T]he cause, which in its being for itself resists all invasion, is already subjected to necessity or to destiny, and this subjection is the hardest. . . . The great intuition of substance in Spinoza is in itself the liberation from finite being for itself; but the concept itself is for itself the power of necessity and substantial freedom.10

In conclusion, in Spinoza’s substance Hegel (1) recognizes the capac­ity of representing oneself as the boundless horizon of the real, as the presence of being in general; (2) he confirms the immediate and insolu­ble aesthetic power of Spinoza’s substance, by insisting on its “in itself character; (3) he attributes to Spinoza’s substance a fundamental inability to fulfill itself in Wirklichkeit, that is, to resolve itself in the dialectical dimension of the reconciliation of the real. This means that for Hegel the Spinozist conception of being is Romantic, but for that very reason, unmodern. Without Spinoza it is impossible to philoso­phize, but outside of dialectics it is impossible to be modern. Modernity is the peace of the real, it is the fulfillment of history. Spinoza’s being and its power are incapable of providing us with this result.

3. The time of modernity

However, there exists another moment, in which, around the theme of modernity, it is possible for us to evaluate Hegel’s positions faced with Spinoza. This moment concerns the problem of time. We know that time for Spinoza is, the one hand, the time of presence, and on the other hand, that of infinite duration. The time of infinite duration is “the effort by which every thing strives to persevere in its being.” It would indeed be absurd for that power to “involve a limited time, which determines the duration of the thing,” for its destruction cannot derive from the essence of the thing, but can only be posited by an exterior cause.11 As for time as presence—i.e., as singularity, as determination—it gives itself as the residue of the deduction of the insignificance of duration for essence12 but, at the same time and above all, as a posi­tive grounding and ontological transformation of that residuality: the body, its actual existence, and spirit insofar as it is tied to the body are gathered together into an idea “which expresses the essence of the body sub specie aeternitatis.”13 Now, if it is not surprising that Hegel is opposed to the Spinozist definition of time as indefinite duration, his position on the definition of present time is not free from ambiguity. The Hegelian polemic against indefinite duration only serves to pro­vide the new articulation of the polemic against the indifference of the modes of substance. According to Hegel, indeed, the indefinite does not avoid, but radicalizes the problems inherent in the relation between the infinite and finite: its concept must therefore be overcome. Duration must become measure, and therefore mediation of quantity towards quality, and, as it makes its way, the unlimited must arrive at the real­ization of its own necessity.14 The reduction of duration to temporality and of abstract temporality to concrete and historical temporality is therefore the path that Hegel points to, to remove Spinozian being from its theoretical destiny, namely being converted into pure nothingness. Here too, dialectics would be in a position to restitute the being of real­ity and would contribute, through this concretization of time, to elabo­rating the definition of modernity. What remains is the second Spinozian definition of time, as presence and opening-up of power, sub specie aeternitatis. Now, how might one be opposed to that Spinozian definition of Dasein, or rather of the determinate being of the mode, which in its singularity is irreducible to Gewordensein, and which radically opposes determinate being to any dialectical synthesis? Hegel is especially conscious of this objection when he claims that the dialectical concept of temporality does not nullify concrete determination—in other words, that the event, the determination (as act, Bestimmung, as well as as result, Bestimmtheit) remains in its concreteness. If the time of modernity is that of fulfillment, this fulfillment of the real could not mystify or conceal the splendor of the event. The Hegelian dialectic could not in any case give up the plenitude of singularity. But here the ambiguity hides an unsurmountable difficulty. Spinozian presence is that of a being full of power, of an indestructible horizon of singularity.

Hegel can well attempt the inversion of power, but this process takes on the appearance of a sophism, since the goal pursued is to reassert the same power. Hegel may indeed denounce in Spinozian being the violence of an irreducible presence and push it towards indifference and nothingness. But each time that this singular presence reappears, the reality that Hegel claims to be void, reveals itself on the contrary to be charged with all positivities, openings, and singular potentialities. Hegel may indeed consider the perspective of a time conceived as indef­inite duration to be unsatisfactory, but he can only oppose a repetitive and sterile transcendental movement to a theoretical practice of time where the latter appears charged with present determinations. It is here that the Hegelian system is endangered, here, when the time of modernity as fulfillment of the historical development opposes itself to the emergence of singularity, of the positive time of Dasein, of Spinozian presence.

What then becomes of the Hegelian notion of modernity? Hegel is obliged to reveal the substantial ambiguity of his conceptual construc­tion. For the rhythm of the transcendental mediation superimposes itself heavily onto the emergence of singularity, and if the transcenden­tal wishes to absorb the energy of the singular, it does not however suc­ceed in doing it justice. The “acosmic”, “atemporal” Spinoza expresses a conception of time as presence and as singularity that the great dialec­tical machine wishes to expropriate, but cannot. Modernity reveals itself not only to be the adversary of Romanticism, but bears witness to a frustrated will to co-opt the productive force of singularity. This frus­tration does not however eliminate the efficaciousness of repetition: it posits parameters of domination. With Hegel, modernity becomes the sign of the domination of the transcendental over power, the continual attempt to organize power functionally—in the instrumental rational­ity of power. Thus a double relation simultaneously connects and sepa­rates Hegel and Spinoza at the same time. For both, being is full and productive, but where Spinoza sets power in immediacy and singular­ity, Hegel privileges mediation and the transcendental dialectic of power. In this sense, and in this sense only, Spinozian presence is opposed to Hegelian becoming. Spinoza’s anti-modernity is not a nega­tion of Wirklichkeit but a reduction of the latter to Dasein—Hegel’s modernity consists in the opposite option.

4. The fate of modernity

The real, that is, modernity, is “the immediate unity of essence and existence, in other words, of the inner and the outer, in the shape of dialectic.” Such is the origin of the storm which has raged in philosoph­ical critique for almost two centuries.15 During the silver age, and even more during the bronze age of contemporary German philosophy (that is, in the nineteenth century of the “critique of critique”, and the great fin-de-siècle academic philosophy), substance and power, Wirklichkeit and Dasein became increasingly separated. Power was first of all felt to be an antagonism, then was defined as irrational. Philosophy trans­formed itself bit by bit into a sublime effort to exorcise the irrational, that is, to embezzle power. Hegel’s furious will to posit the dialectical hegemony of the absolute substance was first opposed to the crisis and tragic horizon, and second to the ceaseless vocation to renew transcen­dental teleology according to more or less dialectical forms in an alter­nation of horizons which—and this did not escape the irony of the greatest figures, such as Marx and Nietzsche—continually offers up pale but nevertheless efficacious images of modernity. The preeminence of relations of production over productive forces detaches itself from the Hegelian utopia of the absolute and takes on the garb of reformist tele­ology. The schemes of indefinite duration, running counter to those of the dialectical infinite, are renewed as projects of the progressive ratio­nality of domination. Modernity changes sheets without changing beds. And this drags on, exhausting any capacity of renewal, inventing a thousand ways of bypassing the dry, authoritarian and utopian Hegelian intimation of modernity, which it attempts to substitute by used shapes of the schematism of reason and transcendentality. This, until that exhaustion consumes itself and turns reflection upon itself.16

Heidegger represents the extreme limit of this process, a process which is perfectly integrated, if it is true that one of the goals of Sein und Zeit is to rethink the transcendental schematism,17 but a process which, at the very moment when it is starting off again on the usual tracks, is completely thrown off. “Our aim in the foregoing treatise is to work out the question of the meaning of Being and to do so concretely. Our provisional aim is the Interpretation of time as the possible horizon for any understanding whatsoever of Being.”18 But:

If to interpret the meaning of Being becomes our task, Dasein is not only the primary entity to be interrogated; it is also that entity which already comports itself, in its Being, towards what we are asking about when we ask this question. But in that case the ques­tion of Being is nothing other than the radicalization of an essential tendency-of-Being which belongs to Dasein itself—the pre-ontological understanding of Being.19

The theme of presence becomes central once again. Dasein is temporality which is broken and rediscovered at each point as presence, a presence which is stability and autonomous rootedness with regard to any mobility and dispersion of the “they” and to any form of cultural disorientation. The fate of becoming and history is henceforth placed under the sign of commerce and dejection. Effectivity is no longer Hegelian Wirklichkeit but a crude Faktizität. Modernity is fate. In the last pages of Sein und Zeit, against Hegel’s mediation and Absolute Spirit, Heidegger asserts that

Our existential analytic of Dasein, on the contrary, starts with the ‘concretion’ of factically thrown existence itself in order to unveil temporality as that which primordially makes such existence possi­ble. ‘Spirit’ does not first fall into time, but it exists as the primor­dial temporalizing of temporality . . . ‘Spirit’ does not fall into time; but factical existence ‘falls’ as falling from primordial, authentic temporality.20

Here, in this falling, while being this “care,” temporality constitutes itself as possibility and self-projection into the future. Here, without ever falling into the traps of teleology and dialectics, temporality reveals possibility as the most originary ontological determination of Dasein. Thus it is only in presence that fate opens up possibility and the future once again. But how can one authenticate Dasein? In this tragically tangled skein death is the ownmost and most authentic possibility of Dasein. But the latter is also an impossibility of presence: the “possibility of an impossibility” therefore becomes the ownmost and most authentic possibility of Dasein. It is thus that the Hegelian theme of modernity comes to fulfillment: in nothingness, in death, the immediate unity of existence and essence is given. The nostalgic Hegelian demand of Bestimmung becomes a desperate Entschlossenheit in Heidegger—a deliberation and a resolution of the opening of Dasein to its own truth, which is nothingness. The music which provided the rhythm of the dance of determination and of the transcendental has come to an end.

5. Tempus potentiae

Heidegger is not only the prophet of the fate of modernity. At the same time as he divides, he is also a hinge-point opening onto anti-modernity, that is, opening onto a conception of time as an ontologi-cally constitutive relation which breaks the hegemony of substance or the transcendental, and therefore opens onto power. Resolution does not just consist in the fact of removing the closure (Ent-schlossenheit)— it is related to anticipation and openness, which are truth itself as it unveils itself in Dasein. The d,iscovery of being des not only consist in the fact of opening up (Ent-decken)that which preexists, but in the fact of positing the established autonomy of Dasein through and against the dispersive mobility of the “They”. By giving itself as finite, being-there is open, and this openness is sight (Sicht): but more than sight, it is Umsicht, forecasting circumspection. Being-there is possibility, but it is more than that: it is the power-to-be. ” ‘We’ presuppose truth because ‘we’, being in the kind of Being which Dasein possesses, are ‘in the truth’.”21 But Dasein—and this is implied in the constitution of being as care—is ahead of itself each time. It is the being for which, in its being, the issue is its ownmost power-to-be. Openness and discovery belong in an essential manner to being and the power-to-be of Dasein as being-in-the-world. For Dasein, the issue is its power-to-be-in-the-world, and conjointly, the discovering circumspect preoccupation with inner-worldly being. In the constitution of the being of Dasein as care, in being-ahead-of-itself, the most originary “presupposing” is included.21

Presence therefore does not merely mean being present in truth, in the non-concealment of being, but rather the projection of the present, authenticity, the new rootedness of being. Time aspires to power, alludes to its productivity, grazes on its energy. And, when it reverts back to nothingness, it does not forget that power. Spinoza surges forth at the heart of this articulation. Tempus potentiae. Spinoza’s insistence on presence fills what Heidegger leaves us as mere possibility. The hegemony of presence in relation to the becoming which differentiates Spinozian from Hegelian metaphysics reasserts itself as the hegemony of the plenitude of the present faced with empty Heideggerian pres­ence. Without ever having entered into modernity, Spinoza exits from it here, by inverting the conception of time—which others wanted to ful­fill in becoming or nothingness—into a positively open and constitutive time. Under the same ontological conditions, love takes the place of “care.” Spinoza systematically inverts Heidegger: to Angst (anxiety) he opposes Amor, to Umsicht (circumspection) he opposes Mens, to Entschlossenheit (resolution) he opposes Cupiditas, to Anwesenheit (being-present) he opposes the Conatus, to Besorgen (concern) he opposes Appetitus, to Möglichkeit (possibility) he opposes Potentia. In this opposition, an anti-purposive presence and possibility unite that which different orientations of ontology divide. At the same time, the indifferent meanings of being are precisely divided—Heidegger orients himself towards nothingness, and Spinoza towards plenitude. The Heideggerian ambiguity which wavers in the void resolves itself in the Spinozian tension which conceives of the present as plenitude. If for Spinoza, just as for Heidegger, modal presence, or rather phenomeno-logical entities, have their freedom restituted to them, Spinoza, unlike Heidegger, recognizes the entity as productive force. The reduction of time to presence opens onto opposite directions: the constitution of a presence which orients itself towards nothingness, or the creative insistence on presence. From the same horizon, two constitutive directions open up: if Heidegger settles his accounts with modernity, Spinoza (who never entered into modernity) shows the untamable force of an anti-modernity which is completely projected into the future. Love in Spinoza expresses the time of power, a time which is presence, insofar as it is action which is constitutive of eternity. Even in the difficult and problematic genesis of Book V of the Ethics22 we can amply see the determination of this conceptual process. The formal condition of the identity of presence and eternity is given before all. “Whatever the Mind understands sub specie aeternitatis, it understands not from the fact that it conceives the Body’s present actual existence, but from the fact that it conceives the Body’s essence sub specie aeternitatis.”23 Proposition 30 goes one step further: “Insofar as our Mind knows itself and the Body under a species of eternity, it necessarily has knowledge of God, and knows that it is in God and is conceived through God.”24 The ultimate explanation is to be found in Proposition 32:

Out of the third kind of knowledge, there necessarily arises an intellectual Love of God. For out of this kind of knowledge there arises (by P32) Joy, accompanied by the idea of God as its cause, i.e. (by Def. Aff. VI), Love of God, not insofar as we imagine him as • present (by P29), but insofar as we understand God to be eternal. And this is what I call intellectual love of God.25

Eternity is therefore a formal dimension of presence. But now here is the reversal and the explanation: “Although this Love toward God has had no beginning (by P33), it still has all the perfections of Love, just as if it had come to be.”26 Beware, then, of falling into the trap of duration: “If we attend to the common opinion of men, we shall see that they are indeed conscious of the eternity of their Mind, but that they confuse it with duration, and attribute it to the imagination, or memory, which they believe remains after death.”27 Parallel to this:

This Love the Mind has must be related to its actions (by P32C and IIIP3); it is, then, an action by which the Mind contemplates itself, with the accompanying idea of God as its cause (by P32 and P32C) . … so (by P35), this Love of the Mind has is part of the infinite love by which God loves himself.28

Out of this we clearly understand wherein consists our salvation, or blessedness, or Freedom, viz. in a constant and eternal Love of God, or in God’s Love for men . . . For insofar as it [this Love] is related to God (by P35), it is Joy.29

And the argumentation comes to a close, without any further equivocation, with Proposition 40: “The more perfection each thing has, the more it acts and the less it is acted on; and conversely, the more it acts, the more perfect it is.”30 The time of power is therefore made up of eternity, inasmuch as constitutive action resides in presence. The eternity which is presupposed here is shown as the result, the horizon of the affirmation of action. Time is the plenitude of love. To Heideggerian nothingness corresponds Spinozist plenitude—or rather the paradox of eternity, of the plenitude of the present world, the splendor of singular­-
ity. The concept of modernity is burned by love.

6. Spinoza’s anti-modernity

“This Love toward God cannot be tainted by an affect of Envy or Jealousy: instead, the more men we imagine to be joined to God by the same bond of Love, the more it is encouraged.”31 Thus an additional ele­ment is added to the definition of Spinoza’s anti-modernity. According to the dynamic of his own system, which takes shape essentially in Books III and IV of the Ethics, Spinoza constructs the collective dimen­sion of productive force, and therefore the collective figure of love of divinity. Just as modernity is individualistic, and thereby constrained to search for the mechanism of mediation and recomposition in the transcendental, similarly, Spinoza radically negates any dimension external to the constitutive process of the human community, to its absolute immanence. This becomes completely explicit in the Tractatus Politicus, and already partially in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, for it is probably only the Tractatus Politicus which can assist us in understanding the line of thought governing Proposition 20 of Book V of the Ethics, or better, in clearly understanding the whole of the arrangements of the constitutive movements of intellectual Love as a collective essence. What I wish to say is that intellectual Love is the formal condition of socialization, and that the communitarian process is the ontological condition of intellectual Love. Consequently, intellectual Love is what sheds light on the paradox of the multitude and its becom­ing-community, since intellectual Love alone describes the real mecha­nism which leads potentia from the multitude to determining itself as the unity of an absolute political order: the potestas democratica?32 On the other hand, modernity does not know how to justify democracy. Modernity always understands democracy as limit and therefore trans­figures it into the perspective of the transcendental. The Hegelian Absolute only gives an account of collective productive force, or of the potestas emanating from it, once all singularities have been reduced to negativity. The result is a concept of democracy33 which is always necessarily formal. And the true result of this operation is merely to subject productive forces to the domination of relations of production. But how can the unsurmountable instances of singularity, the desire of community, and the material determinations of collective production let themselves be reduced to such paradigms? In the most sophisticated conception of modernity, this relation of domination is transposed to the category of the “unfinished”, by means of a process which again, as always, reduces and reproduces presence through duration34 No, the triumph of singularities, their way of positing themselves as the multitude, their way of constituting themselves in an ever broader bind of love, do not amount to anything unfinished. Spinoza does not know this word. These processes, on the contrary, are always complete and always open, and the space which gives itself between completion and opening is that of absolute power, total freedom, the path of liberation. The negation of Utopia in Spinoza takes place thanks to the total cooptation of the power of liberation onto a horizon of presence: presence imposes realism as against utopia, and utopia opens presence onto constitutive projection. Contrary to what Hegel wished for, measurelessness and presence cohabit on a terrain of absolute determination and absolute freedom. There is no ideal, nothing transcendental, no incomplete project which could fill the opening, satisfy or fill a gap in freedom. Openness, disproportion, and the Absolute are completed and closed in a presence beyond which only a new presence can be given. Love ren ders presence eternal, the collectivity renders singularity absolute.

When Heidegger develops his social phenomenology of singularity, between the inauthenticity of inter-worldliness and the authenticity of being-in-the-world, he develops a polemic against the transcendental which is analogous to that waged by Spinoza, but once again the circle of the crisis of modernity closes on him and productive power convulses itself in nothingness. On the contrary, in determination, in joy, Spinozist love exalts that which it finds in the horizon of temporality and constitutes it as collectivity. Spinoza’s anti-modernity explodes here in an irresistible manner, as analysis and exposition of productive force constituted ontologically as collectivity.

7. Spinoza redivivus

The cycle of definition of modernity inaugurated by Hegel—in other words, the cycle in which the reduction of power to the absolute tran­scendental form reaches its apex, and consequently, in which the crisis of relation is dominated by the exorcism of power and its reduction to irrationality and nothingness—thus reaches completion. And it is here that Spinozism conquers a place in contemporary philosophy, no longer merely as an historica1 indicator but as an active paradigm. Indeed, Spinozism has always represented a reference point in the critique of modernity, for it opposes to the conception of the subject-individual, of mediation and the transcendental, which inform the concept of moder­nity from Descartes to Hegel and Heidegger, a conception of the collec­tive subject, of love and the body as powers of presence. Spinoza consti­tutes a theory of time torn from purposiveness or finality, which grounds an ontology conceived as process of constitution. It is on this basis that Spinozism acts as the catalyst of an alternative in the defini­tion of modernity. But why should one deprecate a time-honored posi­tion of radical refusal of the forms of modernity by defining it with the restrictive term ‘alternative’? On the terrain of the alternative, we find compromise positions well-versed in the art of mediation—such as those of Habermas, who over the course of the long development of his theory of modernity 35 has never successfully overcome the feeble and bland repetitiveness of the pages where Hegel constructs modernity phenomenologically as absoluteness forming itself in interaction and incompletion. No, that is not what interests us. Spinoza redivivus is elsewhere—he is where the break at the origin of modernity is taken up again, the break between productive force and relations of produc­tion, between power and mediation, between singularity and the Absolute. Not an alternative to modernity, then, but anti-modernity, powerful and progressive. Certain contemporary authors have happily announced our definition of Spinoza’s anti-modernity. Thus Altbusser:

Spinoza’s philosophy introduced an unprecedented theoretical revo­lution into the history of philosophy, probably the greatest philo­sophical revolution of all time, to the point that we can regard Spinoza as Marx’s only direct ancestor, from the philosophical standpoint.36

Why? Because Spinoza is the founder of an absolutely original con­ception of praxis without teleology, because he thought the presence of the cause in its effects and the very existence of structure in its effects and in presence. “The whole existence of the structure consists of its effects . . . the structure, which is merely a specific combination of its peculiar elements, is nothing outside its effects.”37 For Foucault, Spinoza transforms this foundationless structural originality into a mechanism of the production of norms, which base themselves on a col­lective present:

And thereby one sees that, for the philosopher, to posit the question of belonging to this present will no longer be the question of belong­ing to a doctrine or a tradition, it will no longer be the simple question of belonging to the human community in general, but that of  belonging to a certain “We”, to a We which relates to a cultural whole which is characteristic of its own actuality. It is that We which becomes the object of his own reflection for the philosopher, and thereby the impossibility of ignoring the philosopher’s questioning of his singular belonging to that  We is asserted. All of this, philosophy as problematization of an  actuality and questioning by the philosopher of that actuality of which he is a part, and in relation to which he has to situate himself, might well characterize phi­losophy as the discourse of modernity and on modernity.38

It is from this position that Foucault can propose a “political history of truth” or a “political economy of the will to know”39—from a position which reverses the concept of modernity as fate to show it as presence and belonging. For Deleuze, lastly, Spinoza pushes the immanence of praxis in the present to the limit of the triumph of the untimely over effectivity—and the subject, here, finds itself as collective subject, pre­sented in Spinozist fashion as the result of a reciprocal movement of the inner and the outer, on the flattened presence of a world which is always reopened to absolute possibility.40 Anti-modernity is therefore the concept of present history, recast as the concept of a collective liber­ation. As limit and overcoming of the limit. As its body and eternity and presence. As the infinite reopening of possibility. Res gestae, histor­ical practice of theory.


1. Manfred Walther, “Spinoza en Allemagne. Histoire des problemes et de la recherche,” in Spinoza entre Lumieres et romantisme (Les Cahiers de Fontenay 36-37 [March 1985]), p. 25.

2. Peter Szondi, Poesie et poetique de I’idealisme allemand (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1975), p. 10.

3. Antonio Negri, Stato e diritto nel giovane Hegel (Padua: Cedam, 1958), p. 158.

4. Martial Gueroult, “La philosophic schellingienne de la liberte,” in Studio, philosophica, Schellingsheft 14 (1954), pp. 152, 157.

5. G.W.F. Hegel, Asthetik (Berlin: Aufbau, 1955), trans. T. M. Knox, Aesthetics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), II, iii.

6. G.W.F. Hegel, Wissenschaft der Logik, ed. G. Lasson (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1967),I, iii;Science of Logic, trans. A. V. Miller (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International, 1989), pp. 327-385.

7. Pierre Macherey, Hegel ou Spinoza (Paris: Maspero, 1979).

8. G.W.F. Hegel, Logic, p. 329; Martial Gueroult, Spinoza I. Dieu (Paris: Aubier, 1968), p. 462; Ernst Cassirer, .Das Erkenntnis-Problem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der Neueren Zeit (Berlin: B. Cassirer, 1952).

9.  G.W.F. Hegel,  Logic, p. 382.

10.  Hegel, Encyclopedia of the  Philosophical Sciences in Outline, ed. E. Behler, trans, S.A. Taunebeck (New York: Continuum, 1990), II, C, #108, p. 101. On this passage, see Cassirer’s Das Erkenntnis-Problem..

11. Spinoza, Ethics, 1I1P8, Demonstration (11/147, 5-6). All quotations from     Spinoza will be cited from Spinoza Opera, ed. Carl Gebhardt (Heidelberg: Carl Winter Verlag, 1972), 4 vols. Citation will give volume number, page number and line numbers. Translations are from Collected Works, ed. and trans. Edwin Curley (Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1985), with some modifications.

12. Ethics IV, Preface (11/209, 1-10).

13. Ethics VP23, Scholium (11/295, 29-30).

14. On what follows, see Hegel, Logic, I, iii, and Cassirer’s Das Erkenntnis-Problem.

15. Karl Lowith, From Hegel to Nietzsche, trans. D. Green (New York: Columbia University Press, 199P).

16. Antonio Negri, chapters VIII (“L’irrazionalismo”) & IX (“Fenomenologia e esistenzialismo”) in La filosofia contemporanea, ed. Mario Dal Pra (Corno-Milan: Vallardi, 1978), pp. 151-175. An attempt at a reevaluation of Neo-Kantianism, on the contrary, is to be found in Jiirgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans. F. Lawrence (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1987).

17. The project is announced at the end of the introduction of Sein und Zeit. But see also Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, trans. R. Taft (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 19904).

18. Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 19.

19. Ibid, p. 35.

20. Ibid, p. 486.

21. Ibid, p. 270.

22. In The Savage Anomaly: Power and Politics in Spinoza, trans. M. Hardt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), I argued that Book V of the Ethics presented deep contradictions, and that two different orien­tations coexisted in it. Today, after having evaluated the numerous cri­tiques that have been raised against my interpretation, I retain above all those which insisted on the excessive linearity of the separation. I retain in particular, as I will emphasize later, that the conception of intellectual love (amor intellectualis) as elaborated in Book V, can be re-read from the Tractatus Politicus—and hence re-evaluated in light of the whole of Spinoza’s system.

23. Ethics VP29 (11/298,10-14).
24. Ethics VP30 (II/299, (5-8).

25. Ethics VP32, Corollary (11/300, 22-27.

26. Ethics VP33, Scholium (11/301, 6-8).

27. Ethics VP34, Scholium (11/301, 30-31,   1/302, 1-2).

28. Ethics VP36, Scholium (11/302,18-25).

29. Ethics VP36, Scholium (11/303, 2-9).

30. Ethics VP40 (11/306,2-3).

31. Ethics VP20 (11/292, 15-17).

32. I would like to emphasize again here how the relative ambiguity of Book V of the Ethics may be resolved by means of a reading which integrates the conception of intellectual love and the process of constitution of democ­racy, as it is described in the Tractatus Politicus. Against this position, see C. Vinti, Spinoza. La conoscenza come liberazione (Rome: Studium, 1984), ” chapter IV, which uses the interpretive proposition I developed in The Savage Anomaly and radicalizes it so as to find a permanence of transcen­dence in Spinoza’s system.

33. I am referring to the liberal-democratic interpretation of Hegel, as devel­oped by Rudolf Haym, Franz Rosenzweig, and Eric Weil.

34. Jürgen Habermas, Kleine Politischen Schriften I-IV (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1981), pp. 444-464.

35. From “Labor and Interaction” [1968], in Theory and Practice, trans. J. Viertel (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), to “Modernity, An Unfinished Project” [1980], published as “Modernity vs. Postmodernity” in New German Critique 22 (1981), and The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity [1985], trans. F. Lawrence (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987).

36. Louis Althusser et al., Lire le Capital (Paris: Maspero, 1965), vol. II, p. 50, Reading Capital, trans. B. Brewster (New York: Pantheon, 1970), p. 102 (translation modified).

37. Ibid., p. 171; translation, p. 189.

38. Michel Foucault, L’ordre du discours (Paris: Gallimard, 1971); trans. R. Dwyer, “Orders of Discourse,” in Social Science Information 10:2 (April 1971).

39. Michel Foucault, La volonte de savoir (Paris: Gallimard, 1976); trans. R. Hurley, The History of Sexuality, vol. I: An Introduction (New York: Pantheon, 1978).

40. Gilles Deleuze, Foucault (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1986); trans. S. Hand, Foucault (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988).

Towards an ontological definition of multitude.

Translated by Arianna Bove. This article was published on the journal Multitudes numero 9 as ‘Pour une definition ontologique de la multitude’.(p. 36-48) This article has also appeared in  Reflections on Empire published by Polity Press

1) The multitude is the name of an immanence. The multitude is a whole of singularities. On these premises we can immediately begin to trace an ontological definition of what is left of reality once the concept of the people is freed from transcendence. The way in which the concept of the people took shape within the hegemonic tradition of modernity is well known. Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel have, each for his own part and in different ways, produced a concept of the people starting from sovereign transcendence: in those authors’ view the multitude was chaos and war. The thought of Modernity operates in a twofold manner on these grounds: on the one hand, it abstracts the multiplicity of singularities and, in a transcendental manner, unifies it in the concept of the people; on the other hand, it dissolves the whole of singularities (that constitute the multitude) into a mass of individuals. The modern theory of natural right [1] , whether of empirical or idealist origin, is in equal parts a theory of transcendence and of dissolution of the plane of immanence. On the contrary, the theory of the multitude requires that the subjects speak for themselves, and that what is dealt with are unrepresentable singularities rather than individual proprietors.

2) The multitude is a class concept. In fact, the multitude is always productive and always in motion. When considered from a temporal point of view, the multitude is exploited in production; even when regarded from the spatial point of view, the multitude is exploited in so far as it constitutes productive society, social cooperation for production.

The class concept of multitude must be regarded differently from the concept of working class. The concept of the working class is a limited one both from the point of view of production (since it essentially includes industrial workers), and from that of social cooperation (given that it comprises only a small quantity of the workers who operate in the complex of social production). Luxemburg’s polemic against the narrow-minded workerism of the Second International and against the theory of labour aristocracies was an anticipation of the name of the multitude; [page 2] unsurprisingly Luxemburg doubled the polemic against labour aristocracies with that against the emerging nationalism of the worker’s movement of her time.

If we pose the multitude as a class concept, the notion of exploitation will be defined as exploitation of cooperation: cooperation not of individuals but of singularities, exploitation of the whole of singularities, of the networks that compose the whole and of the whole that comprises of the networks etc.

Note here that the ‘modern’ conception of exploitation (as described by Marx) is functional to a notion of production the agents of which are individuals [2] . It is only so long as there are individuals who work that labour is measurable by the law of value. Even the concept of mass (as an indefinite multiple of individuals) is a concept of measure, or, rather, has been construed in the political economy of labour for this purpose. In this sense the mass is the correlative of capital as much as the people is that of sovereignty – we need to add here that it is not by chance that the concept of the people is a measure, especially in the refined Keynesian and welfares version of political economy. On the other hand, the exploitation of the multitude is incommensurable, in other words, it is a power [3] that is confronted with singularities that are out of measure and with a cooperation that is beyond measure.

If the historical shift is defined as epochal (ontologically so), then the criteria or dispositifs of measure valid for an epoch will radically be put under question. We are living through this shift, and it is not certain whether new criteria and dispositifs of measure are being proposed.

3) The multitude is a concept of power [4] . Through an analysis of cooperation we can already reveal that the whole of singularities produces beyond measure. This power [5] not only wants to expand, but, above all, it wants to acquire a body [6] : the flesh of the multitude wants to transform itself into the body of the General Intellect.

It is possible to conceive of this shift, or rather, of this expression of power [7] , by following three lines:

a)       The genealogy of the multitude in the shift from the modern to the postmodern (or, if you like, from Fordism to Postfordism). This genealogy is constituted by the struggles of the working class that have dissolved the “modern” forms of social discipline.

b)      The tendency towards the General Intellect. The tendency, constitutive of the multitude, towards ever more immaterial and intellectual modes of productive expression wants to configure itself as the absolute recuperation of the General Intellect in living labour.

c)       The freedom and joy (as well as crisis and fatigue) of this innovative shift, that comprises within itself both continuity and discontinuity, in other words, something can be defined as systoles and diastoles in the recomposition of singularities.

It is still necessary to insist on the difference between the notion of multitude and that of people. The multitude can neither be grasped nor explained in contractarian terms (once contractarianism is understood as dependent on transcendental philosophy rather than empirical experience). In the most general sense, the multitude is diffident of representation because it is an incommensurable multiplicity. The people is always represented as a unity, whilst the multitude is not representable, because it is monstrous vis a vis the teleological and transcendental rationalisms of modernity. In contrast with the concept of the people, the concept of multitude is a singular multiplicity, a concrete universal. The people constituted a social body; the multitude does not, because the multitude is the flesh of life. If on the one hand we oppose the multitude to the people, on the other hand we must put it in contrast with the masses and the plebs. Masses and plebs have often been terms used to describe an irrational and passive social force, violent and dangerous precisely by virtue of its being easily manipulated. On the contrary, the multitude is an active social agent, a multiplicity that acts. Unlike the people, the multitude is not a unity, but as opposed to the masses and the plebs, we can see it as something organised. In fact, it is an active agent of self-organisation. Thus, a great advantage of the concept of the multitude is that it displaces all modern arguments premised on the ‘fear of the masses’ as well as those related to the ‘tyranny of the majority’, arguments that have often functioned as a kind blackmail to force us to accept (and sometimes even ask for) our servitude.

[page 4]

From the perspective of power [8] , what to make of the multitude? Effectively, there is really nothing that power can make of it, since here the categories that power is interested in – the unity of the subject (people), the form of its composition (contract amongst individuals) and the type of government (monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, separate or combined) – have been put aside. On the other hand, that radical modification of the mode of production that went through the hegemony of the immaterial labour force and of cooperating living labour –a real ontological, productive and biopolitical revolution- has turned all the parameters of ‘good government’ upside down and destroyed the modern idea of a community that would function for capitalist accumulation, just as the capitalist desired it from the outset.

The concept of multitude introduces us to a completely new world, inside a revolution in process. We cannot but imagine ourselves as monsters, within this revolution. Gargantua and Pantagruel, between the 16th and 17th century, in the middle of the revolution that construed modernity, are giants whose value is that of emblems as extreme figures of liberty and invention: they go through the revolution and propose the gigantic commitment to become free. Today we need new giants and new monsters who can join together nature and history, labour and politics, art and invention in order to show the new power [9] attributed to humanity by the birth of the General Intellect, the hegemony of immaterial labour, the new abstract passions and the activities of the multitude. We need a new Rabelais, or, better, many of them.

To conclude we note again that the primary matter of the multitude is the flesh, i.e. that common living substance where the body and the intellect coincide and are indistinguishable. Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes: ‘the flesh is not matter, nor mind, nor substance. In order to designate it we need the old and new term element, in the same sense as this term was used to speak of water, air, earth and fire, i.e. in the sense of a general thing…a sort of embodied principle that brings a style of being where there is a fragment of being. The flesh is in this sense an element of Being.’ Like the flesh, the multitude is then pure potentiality, unformed life force and an element of being. Like the flesh, the multitude is oriented towards the fullness of life. The revolutionary monster that is named multitude and appears at the end of modernity continuously wants to transform our flesh into new forms of life.

[page 5] We can explain the movement of the multitude from the flesh to new forms of life from another point of view. This is internal to the ontological shift and constitutes it. By this I mean that the power [10] of the multitude, seen from the singularities that compose it, can show the dynamic of its enrichment, density and freedom. The production of singularities does not simply amount to the global production of commodities and reproduction of society, but it is also the singular production of a new subjectivity. In fact, today (in the mode of immaterial production that characterises our epoch) it is very difficult to distinguish the production of commodities from the social reproduction of subjectivity, since there are neither new commodities without new needs nor reproduction of life without singular desire. What interests us at this point is to underline the global power [11] of this process: in fact, it lays between globality and singularity according to a first rhythm (synchronic) of more or less intense connections (rhyzomatic, as they have been called) and another rhythm (diachronic), of systoles and diastoles, of evolution and crisis, of concentration and dissipation of the flux. In other words, the production of subjectivity, i.e. the production that the subject makes of itself, is simultaneously production of the density of the multitude – because the multitude is a whole of singularities. Of course, someone insinuates that the multitude is (substantially) an improposable concept, even a metaphor, because one can give unity to the multiple only through a more or less dialectical transcendental gesture (just as philosophy has done from Plato to Hobbes and Hegel): even more so if the multitude (i.e. the multiplicity that refuses to represent itself in the dialectical Aufhebung ) also claims to be singular and subjective. But the objection is weak: here the dialectical Aufhebung is ineffective because the unity of the multiple is for the multitude the same as that of living, and living can hardly be subsumed by the dialectics [12] . Moreover, the dispositif of the production of subjectivity that finds in the multitude a common figure, presents itself as collective praxis, as always renewed activity and constitutive of being. The name “multitude” is, at once, subject and product of collective praxis.

Evidently, the origins of the discourse on the multitude are found in a subversive interpretation of Spinoza’s thought. We could never insist enough on the importance of the Spinozist presupposition when dealing with this theme. First of all, an entirely Spinozist theme is that of the body, and particularly of the powerful body. ‘You cannot know how much a body can’. Then, multitude is the name of a multitude of bodies. We dealt with this determination when we insisted on the multitude as power [13] . Therefore, the body comes first both in the genealogy and in the tendency, both in the phases and in the result of the process of constitution of the multitude. But this is not enough. We must reconsider all the hitherto discussion from the point of view of the body, that is to say we must go back to points 1), 2), 3) of the preceding section, and complete them in this perspective.

Ad1) Once we define the name of the multitude against the concept of the people, bearing in mind that the multitude is a whole of singularities, we must translate that name in the perspective of the body and clarify the dispositif of a multitude of bodies. When we consider bodies, we not only perceive that we are faced with a multitude of bodies, but we also understand that each body is a multitude. Intersecting the multitude, crossing multitude with multitude, bodies become blended, mongrel, hybrid, transformed; they are like sea waves, in perennial movement and reciprocal transformation. The metaphysics of individuality (and/or of personhood) constitute a dreadful mystification of the multitude of bodies. There is no possibility for a body to be alone. It could not even be imagined. When man is defined as individual, when he is considered as autonomous source of rights and property, he is made alone. But one’s own does not exist outside of the relation with an other. Metaphysics of individuality, when confronted with the body, negate the multitude that constitutes the body in order to negate the multitude of bodies. Transcendence is the key to any metaphysics of individuality as well as to any metaphysics of sovereignty. On the other hand, from the standpoint of the body there is only relation and process. The body is living labour, therefore, expression and cooperation, therefore, material construction of the world and of history.

Ad2) When we speak of multitude as class concept, hence of multitude as subject of production and object of exploitation -at this point, it is immediately possible to introduce the corporeal dimension, because it is evident that in production, in movements, in labour and in migrations, bodies are at stake, with all their vital dimensions and determinations. In production the activity of bodies is always productive force and often primary matter. In fact there could be no discussion of exploitation, whether it is concerned with commodity production or with life reproduction, that does not directly touch upon bodies. Then, the concept of capital (on one side the production of wealth, on the other the exploitation of the multitude) must always be realistically looked at also through the analysis of how far bodies are made to suffer, are usurped or mutilated and wounded, reduced to production matter. Matter equals commodity. We cannot simply think that bodies are commodified in the production and reproduction of capitalist society; we also have to insist on the reappropriation of goods and the satisfaction of desires, as well as on the metamorphoses and the empowerment of bodies, that the continuous struggle against capital determines. Once we recognise this structural ambivalence in the historical process of accumulation, we must pose the problem of its solution in terms of the liberation of bodies and of a project of struggle to this end. In other words, a materialist dispositif of the multitude can only start from the primary consideration of the body and of the struggle against its exploitation.

Ad3) We talked of the multitude as the name of a power (potenza), and as genealogy and tendency, crisis and transformation, therefore this discussion leads to the metamorphosis of bodies. The multitude is a multitude of bodies; it expresses power not only as a whole but also as singularity. Each period of the history of human development (of labour, power, needs and will to change) entails singular metamorphoses of bodies. Even historical materialism entails a law of evolution: but this law is anything but necessary, linear, and unilateral; it is a law of discontinuity, leaps, and unexpected syntheses. It is Darwinian, in the good sense of the word: as the product of a Heraclitean clash and an aleatory teleology, from below; because the causes of the metamorphoses that invest the multitude as a whole and singularities as a multitude are nothing but struggles, movements and desires of transformation.

By saying this we do not wish to deny that sovereign power is capable of producing history and subjectivity. However, sovereign power is a double-face power: its production can act in the relation but cannot eliminate it. At first, sovereign power (as relation of force) can find itself confronted with the problem of an extraneous power that obstructs it. Secondly, sovereign power finds its own limit in the very relation that constitutes it and in the necessity to maintain it. Therefore, the relation presents itself to sovereignty firstly as obstacle (where sovereignty acts in the relation), secondly as limit (where sovereignty wants to eliminate the relation but does not succeed in doing so). On the other hand, the power of the multitude (of the singularities that work, act, and sometimes disobey) is capable of eliminating the sovereign relation.

We have two assertions here. The first is: ‘the production of sovereign power goes beyond the obstacle whilst not being able to eliminate the limit that consists in the relation of sovereignty’; the second is: ‘the power of the multitude can eliminate the sovereign relation because only the production of the multitude constitutes being’. These can ground the opening to an ontology of the multitude. This ontology will start being exposed when the constitution of being that is attributed to the production of the multitude will be practically determinable.

It seems possible to us, from a theoretical point of view, to develop the axiom of the ontological power of the multitude on at least three levels. The first one is that of the theories of labour where the relationship of command can be demonstrated (immanently) as groundless (insussistente): immaterial and intellectual labour, in other words knowledge do not require command in order to be cooperative and to have universal effects. On the contrary: knowledge always exceeds with respect to the (trading) values that are meant to contain it. Secondly, a demonstration can be directly provided on the ontological terrain, on that experience of the common (that requires neither command nor exploitation), which is posited as ground and presupposition of any human productive and/or reproductive expression. Language is the primary form of constitution of the common, and when living labour and language meet and define themselves as ontological machine, then the experience that founds the common is realised. Thirdly, the power of the multitude can be exposed on the terrain of the politics of postmodernity, by showing how no conditions for a free society to exist and reproduce itself are given without the spread of knowledge and the emergence of the common. In fact, freedom, as liberation from command, is materially given only by the development of the multitude and its self constitution as a social body of singularities.

At this point, I would like to reply to some of the criticisms that have been levelled against this conception of the multitude, in order to move forward in the construction of the concept.

A first set of criticisms is linked to the interpretation of Foucault and its use made in the definition of the multitude. These critics insist on the improper homology supposedly given between the classical concept of proletariat and that of multitude. Such homology, they insist, is not only ideologically dangerous (since it flattens the postmodern onto the modern: just as the authors of Spat-modernitat do, who sustain the decadence of modernity in our time), but also metaphysically so, because it poses the multitude in a dialectical opposition against power. I completely agree with the first remark, we do not live in a ‘late modernity’, but in ‘postmodernity’: where an epochal rupture is given. I disagree with the second observation, because if we refer to Foucault, I cannot see how we can think that his notion of power excludes antagonism. On the contrary, his conception has never been circular, and in his analysis the determinations of power have never been trapped in a game of neutralisation. It is not true that the relation amongst micropowers is developed at all levels of society without institutional rupture between dominant and dominated. In Foucault, there are always material determinations, concrete meanings: there is no development that is levelled onto an equilibrium, so there is no idealist schema of historical development. If each concept is fixed in a specific archaeology, it is then open to a genealogy of a future unknown. The production of subjectivity in particular, however produced and determined by power, always develops resistances that open up through uncontainable dispositifs. Struggles really determine being, they constitute it, and they are always open: only biopower seeks their totalisation. In reality, Foucault’s theory presents itself as an analysis of a regional system of institutions of struggles, crossings and confrontations, and these antagonistic struggles open up on omnilateral horizons. This concerns both the surface of the relations of force and the ontology of ourselves. It is not the case to go back to an opposition (in the form of a pure exteriority) between power and the multitude, but to let the multitude, in the countless webs that constitute it and in the indefinite strategic determinations that it produces, free itself from power. Foucault denies the totalisation of power but not the possibility that insubordinate subjects endlessly multiply the ‘foyers of struggle’ and of production of being. Foucault is a revolutionary thinker; it is impossible to reduce his system to a Hobbesian epistemic mechanics of equipollent relations.

A second group of criticisms is directed against the concept of the multitude as potency and constituent power (potenza e potere costituente). The first criticism to this conception of powerful multitude is that it involves a vitalist idea of the constituent process. According to this critical point of view, the multitude as constituent power cannot, be opposed to the concept of the people as figure of constituted power: this opposition would make the name of multitude weak rather than strong, virtual rather than real. The critics who defend this point of view also assert that the multitude, once detached from the concept of the people and identified as pure power, risks of being reduced to an ethical figure (one of the two sources of ethical creativity, as seen by Bergson). Concerning this theme (but from an opposite side) the concept of the multitude is also criticised for its inability to ontologically become ‘other’ or to present a sufficient critique of sovereignty. In this critical perspective, the constituent power of the multitude is attracted by its opposite: therefore, it cannot be taken as radical expression of innovation of the real, nor as thematic signal of a free people to come. So long as the multitude does not express a radicalism of foundation that subtracts it from any dialectics with power, -they say- it will always risk being formally included in the political tradition of modernity.

Both these criticisms are insubstantial. The multitude, as power, is not a figure that is homologous and opposed to the power of exception of modern sovereignty. The constituent power of the multitude is something different, it is not only a political exception but also a historical exception, it is the product of a radical temporal discontinuity, and it is ontological metamorphosis. Then, the multitude presents itself as a powerful singularity that cannot be flattened in the Bergsonian alternative of a possible and repetitive vitalistic function; neither can it be attracted to its pressing opponent, i.e. sovereignty, because the multitude, by existing, concretely dissolves the concept of sovereignty. This existence of the multitude, does not seeks a foundation outside of itself, but only in its own genealogy. In fact, there is no longer a pure or naked foundation or an outside: these are illusions.

A third set of criticisms, of a sociological rather than philosophical character attacks the concept of multitude by defining it as ‘hypercritical drift’. We let the fortunetellers interpret what this ‘hypercritical’ means. As far the ‘drift’ is concerned, this consists in seeing the multitude as fixed in a place of refusal or rupture. As such, it is incapable of determining action, whilst destroying the very idea of acting since, by definition, starting from a place of absolute refusal, the multitude would close the possibility of relations and/or mediations with other social agents. The multitude, in this view, ends up representing a mythical proletariat or an equally mythical pure acting subjectivity. It is obvious that this criticism represents the exact opposite of the first set of criticisms. In this case, then, the response can only recall that the multitude has nothing to do with the reasoning logic dependent on the friend/enemy couple. The multitude is the ontological name of full against void, of production against parasitical survivals. The multitude does not know instrumental reason either on its outside nor for its use within. And since it is a whole of singularities, it is capable of the maximal amount of mediations and compromising constitutions within itself, when these are emblems of the common (whilst still operating, exactly as language does).

Translated by Arianna Bove. This article was published on the journal Multitudes numero 9 as ‘Pour une definition ontologique de la multitude’.(p. 36-48)

Translator’s notes:

  • [1] ‘Il giusnaturalismo moderno’
  • [2] ‘…produzione di cui vengono fatti attori gli individui…’
  • [3] potere
  • [4] potenza
  • [5] potenza
  • [6] conquistare un corpo
  • [7] potenza
  • [8] potere
  • [9] potere
  • [10] potenza
  • [11] potenza
  • [12] l’unita’ del molteplice e’ per la moltitudine la medesima del vivente ed il vivente e’ assai difficilmente sussumibile nella dialettica.


Art and Culture in the Age of Empire and the Time of the Multitudes

SubStance #112, Vol. 36, no. 1, 2007

1. The critique of culture frequently repeats itself. Does it do so rightlyor wrongly, with regard to our present situation? When, in 1947, at theend of the Second World War, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno published Dialectic of Enlightenment, a new critical model emerged, as singular as it was reproducible, both different and capable of being repeated. Reflecting upon the Europe devastated by fascism they had left behind and upon the American society that had taken them in as exiles, Adorno and Horkheimer considered the Enlightenment’s tendency to transform itself into its own opposite, not only into the open barbarismof fascism but also into the totalitarian subjection of the masses effected by the new seductions of the culture industry. European fascism andAmerican commodification were treated as co-extensive. From then (theend of the Second World War) until today, that judgement on Western culture has been confirmed by the gradual constitution of Empire. The transformation of fascism into the commodification of culture was realized with unbroken continuity, spreading across the entire face of the planet as the systems of telecommunication became its main instrument of diffusion… The retouching of images was followed by the universal prostitution of tourism, and by a thousand other varieties of bad taste. Watch Murdoch’s television and you’ll find proof that Adorno’s model of cultural criticism genuinely uncovered the ontology of the new world. The restructuring of this world into fascism, its reconstruction by means of war, its corruption through degrading imagery: no doubt all of this is proliferating exponentially today… Now television has become interactive, producing trash culture and constructing an appropriate audience! Musical culture demands new trash productions and the circle closes perfectly. The neutralization of information follows the same laws as the levelling of affect: if the romantic and the classic have both been reduced to signs without sense, truth is now either imposed or vulgar. Adorno’s model has exhausted itself: whatever innovative elements its critique of culture may have contained at the end of the Second World War have become banal. Indignation is no longer possible. It is at this point, then, that the critique of culture necessarily becomes repetitive.

Within and against this infernal machine, which globalizes culture at the very same time that it ravages and perverts its values, there is always a ghost, an insurgent spirit. Yet while the circuit of cultural communication is perfect and self-sufficient, this spirit can only proceed by nourishing itself on things extraneous and other: bodily desire, the freedom of the multitudes, the power of languages. In the horrible abstraction of telematic communication, something subjectivates itself: the spirit of the multitude. In a world of perverted signs, someone produces simple signs of truth: look at Basquiat, his infantile signs and utopian descriptions… Production has become linguistic; consequently, subjectivity now presents itself through language itself. The abstraction of communication becomes the body of singularities… Thus the multitude is born.

2. TV seeks to reconstruct the visible world in the image of the boss or of the command function in general. It is downwardly interactive: dominating, disintegrating, and finally producing that which lies below it. Wars are recounted in languages that range from the obfuscation of reality to the narration of global fantasies. The documentation of war becomes a video game. And yet, when the multitude discovers itself within the neutralization of life, the whole sordid construction collapses in a shambles. It began in Vietnam, the multitudinous disintegration of truth as recounted by power: a few photographers and the occasional philosophically-minded soldier were enough to reveal the blood and tears with which that war was rife. Since then the mechanisms of demystification and the capacity to seize the world in its live immediacy have become viruses that proliferate as violently as an epidemic. Consider Genoa, where, during the anti-G-8 demonstrations, the police perfected their low-intensity warfare against peaceful demonstrators, accusing them—via the means of communication—of being gangs of thugs. In vain: it turned out that the multitude possessed more cameras than the police, infinitely more; the image of the policeman-assassin became familiar to every household… The multitude rebelled by means of its  own capacity to produce images, rendering rebellious the abstraction of signs. No longer was it possible to transform the world merely by interpreting it: the last philosophical project, appropriated by those experts of communication Adorno would have defined as fascists, was no longer viable. In the words of a certain bearded old man: the only possible interpretation of the world consisted in its transformation.

If this is the point at which we have arrived, then the Dialectic of Enlightenment has finally exhausted itself, extinguished in the capitalist production of repetitive images (“history is over”) and replaced by the new production of desire. The very abstraction that was commodified has now perhaps been redeemed, thanks to the initiative of the multitudes. Farewell Adorno, farewell to the realism and repetitiveness of the modern critical model: here the critique of culture establishes itself on a new terrain, that of the multitude and of postmodernity. Perhaps the multitude  no longer produces a utopia, but rather a dis-ustopia: the capacity to remain within, to hollow out language from inside and make the material desire for transformation emerge.

3. The dis-utopia of the multitudes does not exist abstractly, but,rather, biopolitically. This means that culture now reveals itself in formsthat are structurally dense and alive. To speak of biopolitics is to considercommand and violence from below—that is, from a point of view opposedto that of biopower. And yet there is no possibility here of identifying a dialectic of the high and the low, or of an opposition between the high and the low. The multitude is an ensemble of proliferating singularities, capable of expressing new linguistic determinations. In its classic form, the dialectic leads back to the One, but this new dialectic is chaotic – the multitudes are ensembles of atoms that meet in accordance with ever untimely and exceptional clinamena. There is therefore no dialectic in the sense of an opposition between living within the structures of biopower, on the one hand, and freely and antagonistically travelling them as biopolitical subjects, on the other. The only problem that concerns us today, when we consider the new cultural determinations in imperial space, is that of seizing the moment of intersection, the determination of the event, the innovations that traverse the chaotic ensemble of the multitude. It’s a matter of understanding when  biopolitical expression triumphs over the expression of biopower. There are neither syntheses nor Aufhebungen; there are only oppositions, varied  expressions, multiplicities of linguistic tensions that escape in every direction. The passage from modernity to postmodernity is characterized by the immeasurability that postmodernity introduces: an immeasurability that marks the end of all criteria of measure proposed and imposed by modern rationalism. The measure and instrumental reason that presented themselves spontaneously during the golden age of modernity (between humanism and Descartes), that were expressed as the metaphysical synthesis of an ordered world in its silver age, between Hegel and Bergson, and that were brought to bear with the violence of Weberian instrumental reason and Keynesian planning in its bronze age—this measure and this rationality are at an end. It’s not straightforwardly true any more that poetry has become impossible after Auschwitz, as Adorno claimed, just as it’s no longer straightforwardly true that all hope has perished after Hiroshima, as Günther Anders asserted; poetry and hope have been revitalized by the postmodern multitudes, yet their measure is no longer homogeneous with that of the poetry and the hope of modernity. What, then, is the new cultural canon of postmodernity? We don’t know, nor is it clear that there has to be one. What we know is that this great transformation is taking place within life, and that it is within life that it finds new figures of expression: figures without measure, formal immeasurabilities—monsters.

4. Postmodern innovation is therefore monstrous. This monstrosityhas two characteristics: its being without measure and its immeasurable becoming-ontological. Let us begin, then, to speak of the monster by considering these two characteristics in detail. And let us begin with its becoming-ontological. As suggested above, the living expressions of the new culture are not born as syntheses but as events, as untimeliness; they take shape within a geneaology of vital elements that constitute radical innovations and forms of immeasurability. In tracing this new expressive force of postmodernity, some contemporary philosophers have attempted to qualify it: Lacan already foregrounded the absence of measure characteristic of the new and of art, and of signifiers in general; in Derrida the productivity of the margin searches out new forms of order, disseminating itself; in one way or another, Nancy and Agamben harvest these fields of the extreme limit… Nothing in any of these authors positively qualifies the monstrosity of innovation, and yet there is in their work the acute sense and the intensity of ontological exasperation. The more unproductive and absent they are, the more the new forms reveal themselves, gliding into being. They immerse themselves or drown themselves in it. They seek to live and breathe in its shifting sands. Ultimately, what these authors fail to perceive is that this material into which they have chosen to venture is the clay from which new worlds are molded. The ontological dimension does not find its limit on the edge of nothingness, but lives off the constitutive capacity of the people who act on that impossible margin, daringly and without any alternative. The ontological dimension does not entrust itself to the command of an ever-more parasitic capital, but develops on the basis of the multitudinous intellectuality of immaterial laborers, mobile, flexible, working under precarious conditions, desperate to be. The ontological dimension emerges from a series of paradoxes: the feminization of labor, the conjunction of reason and affect in production. And we could go on, endlessly defining this ambivalent but radical ontological condition that always implies the situation of those who are living through the passage from modernity to postmodernity. The monster is born within the ontological dimension. But the second characteristic of this ontological dimension of innovative chaos consists precisely in the absence of measure. The monster is the absence of measure, or perhaps new measure – but who can define the negative and the positive, exodus and constituent capacity, from within the transition? During the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, scientists searched out deformities, which intrigued them in their investigation of nature, and kings collected those deformities in their chambers of horrors. But look closely: for them, immeasurability was the apology of measure; like the sublime, the horrible restores within the soul the desire for order. How many three-headed chickens, how many Siamese twins or androgynous fetuses, how many physical distortions and deformities were collected in those museums of the extraordinary and of anatomical deviation. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire has left us historical encyclopedias of the anomalies of natural organization, even attempts to determine the laws and the causes of the monstrosities and natural defects of the various ages. There was even a name for it all: teratology. It’s clear that the new, postmodern form of monstrosity is not teratological. It’s simply life expressing itself differently; it’s the hybridity that the singular machines for existing within chaos desire to construct between human and animal species; it’s the hope for and the choice of a life that is not  hierarchically ordered or prefigured by forms of measure.

Like much of ancient philosophy before him (at least the part of it consigned to tradition), Aristotle’s version of the origin of being is also its order and its measure; Aristotle tells us that the arché is both first principle and command. This eugenics was taken up again in that modernity that sought legitimization for its stylistic principles in antiquity. To gesture towards the monster is to negate both classical and modern eugenics, to display an ontological process that has abandoned essence as principle or point of departure. Perhaps this new journey leads us into gloomy regions and perhaps our sense of direction is sometimes confused; but it is this process of travelling with unanswered questions, it is this lack of an ordered and measured origin that we must champion. It’s a tension that unhinges every precept; not only every precept but also every prefiguration; not only every prefiguration but also every unitary matrix, whether spatial or temporal; and it’s here, in the midst of being, that a convulsive creativity takes hold… not genealogies of vanguards, but the concrete history of multitudes of singularities, anthropological monstrosities. Where a forest is burned down, the earth becomes fertile. They’ve set fire to the forest (but it’s moving), and we’re returning—savage, free as birds—to inhabit a new nature.

5. The dimensions of globalization are close to immeasurable. In anycase the world no longer has an “outside”—neither an outside nor a precedent. Consider the development of cultural anthropology: at its center there was European man, and it had two outsides: the primitive and the native or barbarian—that is, an anthropological precedent and a political outside. European man was the central point, surrounded by the rest of civilization. The market and the various aesthetic models,money and the habitat, Welt and Umwelt: history was geared to the monopoly of European man—whoever came first was primitive; whoever was dominated by European man was a barbarian or a native. But if, with globalization, human space no longer knows multiple limits but only one limit—its external circumference—then once this limit is reached, every subsequent expression can only be directed inward. There is a line of continuity that gives meaning to this greatest possible expansion of self-reflection; it’s without doubt the final Prometheanism, the final universalism of bourgeois culture, but perhaps it could also be defined as the first determination of a liberated humanity’s Gattungswesen. All of history before globalization has led us to this limit: it wanted to mark the range of Western culture’s dominion, but at the same time it reveals the greatest possible (and frequently monstrous) effect of a process of contradictions and struggles, of the genealogy of a subject that intends to be uncontainable but finds itself right there, within those limits. The world scene is therefore not simply a horizon: it’s a genuine scenography, and the props (post-Ballets russes) have become part of the drama. The world scene is both unlimited and finite; it lives off this monstrous confrontation. On this scene, the end of history can be declared just as well as its full realization. It is by corroborating this paradox (affirmatively or negatively) that a work achieves aesthetic significance. The world has become both enormous and very small; we’re in a situation worthy of Pascal. But there is no longer any God. The space is smooth and superficial; the immanence of value entrusts itself only to the works of men. What does it mean to be an artist in this situation?

6. What does it mean to make the monster act on the new world scene? It means watching it act within a process of anthropological metamorphosis; it means identifying it in mutation. This mutation is spatial, as we’ve seen, but it’s also temporal: it’s within time that the end of history realizes itself, once Western bourgeois civilization has reached the world’s edge. The spatial synthesis of “here” and “the world” intends to absorb the temporal one of “now” and “the infinite.” The anthropological metamorphosis plays out around these paradoxical ensembles. This is what postmodernity is: a grand narrative that is entirely monstrous… In fact the flesh of human events fails to be enclosed in the unity of space and time required for narration. Flesh does not become body. It overflows artistic expression on all sides, just as it spills over every boundary of global events. Tremendous passions run through this incapacity of flesh to become body. Once, during the great epoch that preceded 1968, this incapacity was lived as an opening towards utopia: the literary and aesthetic avant-gardes had to create utopia. The end of the world drew closer, to the extent that utopia swirled around the extreme capacity of collective praxis to construct reality. The objective, the masterpiece, was the Apocalypse, just as it was for the great pre-Christian authors… Yet in postmodernity—here, in our own time— it’s no longer possible to be prophetic. We reflect on the Apocalypse without being prophetic; we speak of vanguards without being utopian: the world has become complete; all attention is directed inward; the escape routes have been blocked. The only possibility left for us is that of changing the world from within. The slogan “Another world is possible” implies an exodus that leads to ourselves. Every time the limit is reached (and it’s a limit without a beyond, one that cannot be surpassed), we cannot but redirect our attention onto the present kairòs… But what is the kairòs? In Greek culture it was the moment in time marked by the flight of the arrow: that was a civilization that still envisioned a future, and hence a relationship between releasing the arrow and seeing it arrive. The arrow launched into the sky could reach the stars. Here, however, the kairòs is the arrow that strikes our own heart, the arrow that returns from the stellar limit. Kairòs is the necessity (but also the possibility) of taking ourselves as the starting point of a creative project. It’s the possibility of transforming our bodies, not just of rendering them hybrid by an interaction with the outside world, but of constructing them and rendering them hybrid from within. It’s the possibility of engaging in politics by leading all the elements of life back to a poetic reconstruction. The very term “biopolitics” implies this constitutive project. In short, when we live under globalization, when we live in a world whose boundaries are insuperable, when the Copernican revolution has definitively exhausted itself and Ptolemy and the centrality of the kairòs have become the only reference point, when all this is the case, what does it mean to develop the creative and constitutive spirit of artistic practice? When the only possibility for action, artistic and ethical, consists in moving out from within being, through biopolitical practice, such that every making is a transformation of the very physical and spiritual essence of the human body; when the structure of the social has become so central and the world so small and restricted that there is no longer any possibility of leaving this habitat behind, when utopian illusions (illusions of other topoi) no longer present themselves; what, then, does it mean to act artistically? It means constructing new being; it means making global space reflect back on itself, re-directing it towards the existence of singularities. Will this mean acting to eliminate death, to dissolve the internal limits of the global machine? The monster promises us nothing less.

7. The multitude is the only subject that can pose death this creative challenge. The multitude is an ensemble of singularities, but each singularity is also an ensemble of multitudes. The multitude is an ensemble of bodies, but each body is a multitude of bodies. This machine struggles for life; it struggles within life and against death. The practice of the multitude is nothing but this constant proliferation of vital experiences that have in common the negation of death, the rejection and definitive refusal of that which stalls the life process. The global world as we know it, as Empire presents it to us in the political order, is a closed world, subject to the entropy that results when space and time have been exhausted. But the multitude that acts within this closed world has learned to transform it, by passing through each subject and towards each singularity making up the world. Foucault once said that when we thought history was over, we find that it renews itself on the vertical axis that we are. That is what’s happening to us, as multitude and multitudinous body. Only within our own transformation, in a ferocious struggle against death, can the practice of the multitude begin. This, it seems to me, is the meaning of art in the age of Empire and during the time of the multitudes.

Translated by Max Henninger


Chapter I: Communism as Critique

Chapter II: Keynes and the Capitalist Theory of the State (1967)

Chapter III: Labour in the Constitution (1964)

Chapter IV: Communist State Theory

Chapter V: The State and Public Spending

Chapter VI: Postmodern Law and the Withering of Civil Society

Chapter VII: Potentialities of a Constituent Power