Or, to le santi multitudini. Jon wrote a post I find very provocative. This post here started as a comment in response to Jon but it got too long for me to feel polite putting it there.

Jon’s absolutely right that there’s this other multitude – the ‘actually existing one’, the multitude which exists in (points of the growth of new) hydra heads. Negri and Hardt mention it – they talk about a multitude that is, but largely in their more rhetorical or polemical moments – but don’t really think it very much.

It strikes me that another angle might be to look at the avenues of approach to the multitude, where each locates the multitude in time, and their implied relations to the actual multitude, Jon’s fifth one. For Hardt and Negri one multitude is outside of or subtends all time – the always-already multitude. They also sometimes refer to this as the philosophical or ontological multitude. This multitude makes the multitude as political project thinkable. This multitude does not act.

There’s another multitude that’s outside of the past and present, at some indeterminate future time, the not-yet multitude. This is the political multitude, the projectual multitude. This multitude also does not act, because it is not-yet. It is thought as something that will act. This is the multitude-for-itself, and is the goal of HN’s political project.

There’s another multitude that’s in the present, but not acting either. This is what Hardt has called the economic multitude, or the way of thinking multitude from economic. This is the multitude-in-itself, the multitude that HN speak of when they talk about historical passages, changes in the labor process and so forth. This multitude is the precondition for the passage from the always-already multitude (the thinkable multitude) to the not-yet multitude (the instantiated multitude). Prior to this multitude, the always-already multitude is simply an idea. This multitude occupies the position that ‘objective conditions’ occupy in traditional marxism, and there is a similar story about its coming into existence historically. There is a contradiction between this and the other multitudes in HN’s work, and one which limits the power to use these concepts and to think these other multitudes.

‘Objective conditions’ and the attendant historical narratives in traditional marxism function as a filter upon the views of traditional marxisms, distorting the working class in its multiplicity into an image of unity. Hardt and Negri have a similar blindspot about the actually existing multitude, Jon’s fifth. They are better than much of received canonical marxism, but they are, at a minimum, limited in their conception of the histories of actually existing multitudes. This limited conception filters the narratives they take in, repeat, and create about multitudes.

The three multitudes outlined above (said numeration not meant to contradict Jon, of course) each imply a position of thought and a direction or relation from that position to the multitude(s). The first is the position and motion of, say, the philosopher. (I’m fine if other names are suggested for this or the others.) This is critical or contemplative. As criticism, it addresses or analyzes certain unities and shows them up for multiplicities. Hardt and Negri engage in this to some degree, primarily at the conceptual level, re: the idea of the body politic and so forth. Jon’s work is much better at this. Hardt and Negri don’t do this all that much, though, as it cuts in a direction against their economic multitude and the historical narratives involved.

As contemplation, this mode of thought affirms that the multitude can be thought and is at least at some points in time subject to moving from thought into other modes of extension. Hardt and Negri also do not closely address how this passage would operate, as that too would question or at a minimum foreground their economic multitude and that it plays essentially solely a limiting role in their accounts. They do not present a theory of how the multitude passes from thought to instantiable to instantiated, because to do so would mean they would need an argument about why it was impossible for the multitude to negotiate this passage previously, rather than a somewhat obfuscated assertion or implication.

The second position is that of the orator. It’s actions are hortatory. “The multitude is coming, it will come, we must make it so!” It seeks to elicit and shape types of activity.

The third position is that of the marxist social scientist. This position is also contemplative, as it watches the world, and legislative, as it asserts based on its observations what was and is possible and what is and was impossible and therefore quixotic to pursue.

All of these positions are located outside the multitude, in a theoretical sense. The implied self-image is that of someone located in a position not of or in the multitude, another reason perhaps why Hardt and Negri fail to satisfyingly think or relate to the actually existing multitude. This is another repetition of elements of traditional marxism – a location, at a minimum a fiction of location, outside of the working class. This location bears the implication that there is not thought within the working class, or not adequately so: without the party can only get to trade union consciousness. Or in more sophisticated forms: without the objective conditions being right they can not ascend to a certain level, and it is of course only the initiated who can read the signs to say when those objective stars are right – oftentimes in marxism these initiated have been the party or in/of the party, and certainly not in/of/among (in form unmediated) the working class. This is the implied position for Hardt and Negri, sans the party and implied, downplayed – prior to the present, not possibility for real multitude. Which means no actually existing multitude.

I wonder if, in some sense, Hardt and Negri may not re-instantiate some of what Jon calls hegemony? Jon’s project of post-hegemonic thought certainly strikes me as more interesting productive in many ways, in that it doesn’t seem to have the blockages and blindspots I’m complaining about here. I’m still reading more of his work, as time passes I’ll know more and will hopefully be able to formulate a coherent opinion and questions for him.

For the moment, I wonder – is it fair to say that what we need is thought from within (our positions in?) actually existing multitudes? (Multitude thinking itself, in order to … well, multiply. Multitudo multidata vs multitudo multitudans?) And is it fair to say that post-hegemony aims at this, either a theory of some of what this thought might be like, or an instantiation of this type of thought?

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