On October 13th, 2012, Ross Wolfe of the Platypus Affiliated Society interviewed Jodi Dean, Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith College, and author of The Communist Horizon (New York: Verso, 2012). What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Ross Wolfe: Your new book, The Communist Horizon, builds upon a body of literature that has accumulated around the concept of “communism” over the last decade. What is the significance of this renewed emphasis on communism?
Jodi Dean: The shift towards communism puts leftist thought into a distinct political horizon. It is no longer a sort of touchy-feely, identity issue-based, and fragmented emphasis on each person’s unique specificity. It is no longer a generic, attitudinal lifestyle, preoccupation with “awareness” or the spontaneous, and momentary reduction of politics to the minuteness of the everyday. Communism returns politics to grand, revolutionary possibilities—to projects of political power. And that change is absolutely, crucially enormous, even if forty years out of date.
RW: Where does your own work on “the communist horizon” fit in relation to the work of other major leftist theorists on the subject?
JD: My writing intersects Žižek as well as Hardt and Negri, with alliance to (and inspiration from) Bruno Bosteels. I get the account of communication as the fundamental aspect of economic change from Hardt and Negri. It is from them I get the account of contemporary capitalism and its political economy. I also disagree with them because they get rid of the notion of antagonism and that is the problem. Their diagnosis of informatization and communicative subsumption in capitalism is right, but they’re too positive about it, without providing the force that negativity carries in critique. I get the critical aspect from Žižek.
On the importance of the party, Žižek says, “a politics without the Party is a politics without politics.” I fully agree with that. Also, Bosteels and I have talked about the similarity between Žižek’s account of the party in the “Afterword” to Revolution at the Gates and Alain Badiou’s account in Theory of the Subject. The party is an association rooted in fidelity to an event. It holds open the space for this fidelity. The implication is that the party is not rightly understood in terms of its program or doctrine, but rather in terms of holding open the space for the subject faithful to the event, in this case, the event of 1917. This is where there is a similarity or resonance in terms of thinking about communism.