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If we do not have a “third” alternative then the horns of the dilemma become all the sharper.This means: There may still be ‘lesser’ and ‘greater’ evils (there always will be) but we do not have to choose between these evils, for we represent the alternative to both of them, an alternative which is historically ripe.
How to engage in the practice of “lesser evil”, but seek to mobilize the effect of these actions in the service of larger political claims; how to work from “inside” systems while simultaneously seeing beyond them, even precipitating their end?
In the short run, not only should we support the lesser evil, but there is no other choice available, ever. Everyone, without exception, chooses the lesser evil. We just disagree about which choice is that of the lesser evil.
No movement with a middle-run left agenda will have any chance of obtaining the popular support it needs if its advocates refuse to choose the lesser evil that meets the needs and expectations of the larger populace.
What might be quite a rare moment: Hardt and Negri appearing to channel Lukács circa The Destruction of Reason (1952). Brutal as their characterisation of "weak thought" might be, it appears to have increasing truth - although how that truth is taken is up-for-grabs (is Agamben's "bare life" uncannily predictive of imperial hegemony, or simply a counsel of despair in the face of it?). The difficulty is, as Steve Shaviro points out here is that this accusation can be returned to its sender - in what sense does "strong difference", or "nakedness" re-interpreted as poverty qua potenza, really not provide another "mystifying figure" of the supposed powers of resistance?
Perry Anderson has indicated the dangers of consolation, in which "[t]he need to have some message of hope induces a propensity to over-estimate the significance of contrary processes, to invest inappropriate agencies with disinterested potentials, to nourish illusions in imaginary forces." (14) While Anderson recognises this as a necessary illusion (could we say it is the Kantian transcendental illusion of the Left?), the difficulty with Negri's work is the sense of a magical transformation of weakness into agency that seems all too consonant with a mystification of the "obscene underside" of imperial hegemony.
We should, I think, recognise in Negri's work his good faith in trying to come to grips with new class composition(s), and the need to identify and retain a sense of revolutionary agency. After all, without this possibility of such agency Marxism would fall into the position indicated (and rejected) by Trotsky: "if the world proletariat should actually prove incapable of fulfilling the mission placed upon it by the course of development, nothing else would remain except only to recognize that the socialist program, based on the internal contradictions of capitalist society, ended in Utopia." The difficulty is that, at worst, Negri's work seems to imply the communism is not utopian because it is already realised - what Gregory Elliott acidly called "a mutant Browderism".
It seems to me that some of these difficulties are written in at a very early stage in Negri's work. I've been reading Books for Burning, the compilation of 70s texts (going cheap at Judd Books). These are definitely some of the densest of Negri's texts, and I start to have sympathy with those ex-Brigadists who accused Negri of the invocation of the "magic Grundrisse" and the recollection of Greppi (recorded in Steve Wright's excellent review "Children of a Lesser Marxism?):
I remember once meeting Luciano [Ferrari Bravo] coming out of a lesson, and he asked, "Why do I have to waste my time explaining Toni’s books?" He was a wreck after two hours of interpreting the thoughts of the great master. Basically this was ideology, rather than the critique of ideologies.
Jeff Wall "The Destroyed Room" (1978)
Is this too obvious?
Jeff Wall "View from an Apartment" (2005)
I also like this, for no very obvious reason except perhaps I'm currently using a postcard of it as a bookmark. There's also something about the density of everyday life that seems to echo what I'm trying to think about dissolving.
This (or other images), from Masataka Nakano's "Tokyo Nobody" (something nicely apocalyptic about his work, and the book is amazing.
On the "long list" there's Titian's "Flaying of Marsyas" (1570-76) (too pretentious?) and I really love Caravaggio, but then nothing seems suitable. I'm starting to wish I was clever / famous enough to have one of those annoying openings when an artwork allegorises the project as a whole (Cf Foucault's The Order of Things, and the descent into stylistic tic in new historicism); I'm not.