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August 10, 2005


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Thanks for posting this link -- I think that here Zizek expresses his critique of Hardt/Negri (and of Deleuze) much more focusedly (and less flippantly) than elsewhere. As such, this is an immense help in forcing me to think out more carefully what my own disaffection with Zizek is, and why I am more on the side of Deleuze and (with reservations) Hardt/Negri.

Basically: the question is precisely (as Zizek rightly says) one of how capitalist productivity is related to capitalism's own internal impediments, and how this internal tension is focused on the moment of surplus value, or simply of the surplus (to suspend the question there, without acceding to Zizek's argument about surplus value vs surplus enjoyment).

But: I think that Zizek is not being "dialectical" enough, in that the fantasy or error he ascribes to Marx, Deleuze, and Hardt/Negri is in fact itself an objective function of capital itself: capitalism is a vast machine for creating abundance, but it cannot do this without the pressure of scarcity and lack, so it always reimposes scarcity, reinvents its own obstacles to the productivity that it continually produces. This means that "crisis" is not the downfall of capitalism, but precisely the way that it continually reproduces itself by confronting and then expanding its own limits (which is what I take Deleuze/Guattari to be saying in 1000 Plateaus). And this in turn means that it is Zizek's own Leninist imagining of a radical rupture which is the fantasy here -- since that rupture actually conforms to capital's own necessary internal logic, and helps it to renew itself -- while Deleuze and Hardt/Negri are trying rather to "traverse the fantasy" (though this is a more psychoanalytic way of describing it than I would prefer), instead of repeating its very logic by seeming to rupture it.

Or, in other words (and this is much too crass and simplistic a way to put it): Zizek says that Hardt and Negri are failing to recognize the lack present at the heart of capitalist productivity. But I think that, in positing this lack metaphysically, it is Zizek who is failing to account for how lack is precisely a function and a production of capitalism as system and process (or, more precisely, of the extraction of surplus value in production, and its realization in circulation). And though I need to think this out a lot more, I believe that this ties in with the general way one conceives the question of surplus. And I think that Marx's capital logic is a better guide here than Freud's of Lacan's logic of desire.

Apologies for the vagueness and brevity here -- I am trying to say in a few paragraphs what I am painfully trying to work out over a whole (only partly written as yet) book...

Amish Lovelock

As the state withdraws from national society the production of lack and scarcity can be said to be affecting more and more people not used to a marginal status - urban dwellers, farmers, small business people etc... Not used to their new status they live in a state of denial. Surely their "national idenitity" will continue to be a passport to a meaningful life. They become vindicative and bigoted, always ready to defend "their nation" from others that might be getting a better deal. As Ghassan Hage has it, "They are the `refugees of the interior`. And it is ironic to see so many of them mobilised in defending `the nation` against the `refugees of the exterior`. Global rejects set against global rejects"

Zizek picks this up on a different register in "They know not what" - "Is not facism a kind of inherent self-negation of capitalism, an attempt to change something so that nothing really changes by means of an ideology which subordinates the economy to the ideological-political domain?".

Here, at least, the "crisis" is internal for Zizek.



I haven't even read the translation yet (lots of kid stuff today) but I look forward to reading it tomorrow. Here's my initial thoughts on your comment, but I expect that I'll change my mind after reading the actual translation. Anyway, I read Z as saying that capitalism relies on crisis. So, he would be in agreement with the description you give re excess and lack, perpetual crisis. And, his point is that since capitalism relies on crisis, crisis will not bring about its collapse--that will have to come from without. Lately, he's been ever more interested in slum dwellers: they are 'outside' in a very specific sense--they cannot be accounted for in economic terms; the fact that they survive at all makes no sense to economists. Of course, they are produced by capitalism, but as that which cannot be acknowledged in its terms, as its symptom.

For me, this is convincing. I'll take up Hardt and Negri later. (I'm also working on a Z book these days, so trying to get these things straight is really beneficial.)


Jodi, admittedly I wrote my first comment after only reading the article very quickly -- I will have to spend more time with it at some point -- and then plugging it into my own concerns. (Zizek is one of those rare writers/thinkers I always find incredibly stimulating, even though I often find myself in sharp disagreement with him). What you say about the slum dwellers (I assume Z's reference is to Mike Davis' article and forthcoming book) mostly makes a sense to me. But: I don't think that looking toward the "global slums" is incompatible with looking toward the "multitude"; nor am I sure that I'd agree with you & Z as to the sense in which they are "outside" (in contrast to how Hardt & Negri say the multitude are not outside). (This connects, too, to how we make sense of Castells' formulation of "black holes of informational capitalism" -- people and localities that have been deliberately "disconnected" from the global network -- in what sense is this an "outside"?). The question of the Outside, I think, resonates with the question of surplus (value/enjoyment) though I am probably not capable at this point of articulating just how...


Yes, absolutely, on Mike Davis.

Outside, right, complicated--I like black holes as an example; or, maybe some kind of weird Lacanian tortion or knot, an internal outside or externalized interior. Where I like a Z approach over H/N is in the sense that this is not smooth, deterritorialized space and that smoothmess is itself a product of the flow of capital and a problem.

But, as I've been thinking about surplus enjoyment lately, maybe I should think better about your link between outside and surplus in Z. Didn't you post something on that in the last month or so? If so, could you send me the link if it isn't a pain? Or, just give me an idea where to look for it on your blog?

Patrick J. Mullins

Thank you both for the Mike Davis article, which I just found online and will get to tomorrow. I didn't know about the new book either, which is indispensable as is all Mike Davis. I thought 'Dead Cities' one of the most brilliant things I've ever read. Even the San Diego book, though tougher going for me, is worthwhile.


The Mike Davis article is great. There was a long version in New Left Review and a shorter one in Harpers. Because of that, I got the UN Report on Human Settlements--really shocking and important data.

Patrick J. Mullins

I hadn't known this was happening quite this rapidly, this production of huge numbers of new slums--nor was I aware of how most of it is on the outskirts of cities, hence less of rotting innards than we sometimes think of. I should have, though, because in LA, where distances in the actual city already provide a situation that geographically concentrated cities do not, one already sees enormous amounts of it along parts of Vermont about Wilmington, Lomita, and Harbour City. Paradoxically, it may be there, the land of '40 suburbs' in search of a city, where the 'inner city,' traditionally so empty, may preserve suburbs outside it in the way that older cities may not. However, here Davis is obviously talking about the cities of the developing world primarily, because there is not any slow movement to any of it; it's extremely rapid, voluptuously horrible in its hypertrophy in these places. The term 'informal economy' was new to me, but not what it means. I was also interested in the fact of Pentecostalism being the single organizing force of any power among these extremely poor groups. Naturally, one thinks of which explosions will occur where and what kind they will be, when they may start intersecting with terrorist movements in obvious ways. There could easily be an intersection with insurgencies as in Iraq now, when there aren't any futures to think of really, just short-term goals of getting by. Because, until you've looked at Davis's article or the UN 'SLUMS' he refers to, or a current similar document, you haven't read the numbers--and the numbers say everything here.

But even though there's not really any way to think about it, because the movement is beginning to resemble viral reproduction, it's like other projects looking into the future; they don't nearly always end up with any characteristics that were predicted. That era may be ending, in the same way that polar icecap melting is something that cannot not happen unless it's managed. So I wonder if we are in an era in which dire predictions are coming increasingly closer to what really then does happen.


Patrick, I've also been struck by the speed and sheer unimaginability of it. And, I keep wondering: where are our leftists when we need them? Why are we not doing more to organize people, to work with them on infrastructure? Yes, I know that there are organzing groups (after reading the UN report I read a few more books on slums), that there are disagreements on what to do, that all slums are not equal, etc. But, none of these facts explains away the reality of rising Pentecostalism. Religion is meeting needs. If the needs are there, then we should be there, too, rather than leaving it to religious freaks.


I read this Zizek piece the other day, and only just noticed the link and discussion here.

NB that there are some serious problems with the translation. E.g. for "actual" read "contemporary" every time. ("Actual" is a faux ami in Spanish.)

But more fundamentally, I think that Zizek has got Hardt and Negri quite seriously wrong. For them, and for the entire operaista and autonomista tradition since at least Tronti, capitalism is *not* productive; it is only reactive.

Not that there are not problems with their position, of course. But it's worth getting it straight. And it's an important point, as it's here that Hardt and Negri most obviously part company (on the whole) with, for instance, Deleuze and Guattari.


I didn't get the sense from Empire that H&N did not see capital as productive. In other words, I read their account of the postmodernization and informatization of the economy in terms of the productive power of the multitude that, even as it calls Empire into being, necessarily exceeds it. So, capitalim, even as it 'fetters' the productive desire of the multitude, nevertheless depends on it, organizes it, and intensifies it (the socialized worker). Would you say that this understanding is wrong?


Jodi, I agree with that description. That's what I mean by capitalism's reactionary nature. (In some ways, it's quite straightforward Marxism, of course, as Zizek himself implies.)

But I think that's different from Zizek's positing a "productivity that appeared to be generated and simultaneously frustrated by capitalism" (unless you put a lot of stress on "appeared") or "capitalism generat[ing] multitudes" (although, to be fair, Hardt and Negri can be hazy on this). There's a difference between claiming a "developed potential of global capitalism" and a developed potential of the *multitude* within global capitalism.

Put it another way, in Virno's terms: capitalism is not "auttorevolution," it is "counterrevolution."

Or yet another way: the multitude, for Hardt and Negri, is not simply within capitalism; its relation to capital is contingent, rather than dialectical. I see Zizek here projecting a dialectic onto Hardt and Negri.

In short, for Hardt and Negri the multitude has to be a subject that pre-exists capital.

Of course, Zizek may want to argue against that position, and again, it's true that they sometimes equivocate on this point, especially in Multitude; but he shouldn't ascribe the position to them so quickly.


Oh, that last phrase should of course be: "he shouldn't ascribe *a different* possition to them so quickly."


Jon, interesting points, thank. A couple of thoughts. First, biographical: when my partner and I started teaching Empire a few years ago (right after it came out), we had massive debates on whether the multitude could be understood as a subject. Sometimes in Empire it seems like a subject, sometimes it seems like a coming into being of subject, sometimes it seems very post-subject (like a wave or biomass or evolutionary development). Now, you may well be right that for H&N multitude has to be a subject that preexists capital. Then it has some kind of ontological position--which I actually don't see developed in Empire. I wonder if it is like water that resists its container or weeds that resist the efforts of gardeners. At any rate, there is a quite a tension between this ontological account of the multitude and the moves at the end of Empire that suggest the multitude as coming into being.

In my view, Zizek provides a more coherent account. But, I like dialectics and think that the idea of a multitude generated by capitalism makes more sense than some ontological given, especially in light of H&N's own discussion of biopower.


Ah, yes, I've had similar discussions about whether or not the multitude is a subject. I think (as I said) it has to be, albeit perhaps of a special sort.

Cf. Negri's Towards an Ontological Definition of the Multitude, which is at http://www.makeworlds.org/node/104. But also Insurgencies and The Savage Anomaly.

But yes, too, there's plenty of equivocation in both Empire and Multitude.


I think there are two things here that perhaps should be kept separate. I am not sure whether Multitude constitutes a "subject." But regardless of whether it is or isn't (and a lot of H&N's equivocation on the point has to do, I think, with the fact that they don't want to accept either the traditional marxist accounts of class consciousness and subjectivity, or vaguely pomo accounts that would simply deny a subject altogether), H&N do insist unequivocally that in an ontological sense, it is the Multitude that is active and productive, whereas capital is merely reactive. In other words, they are claiming -- and I will admit that this seems to me to be wildly over-optimistic -- that all the reorganizations of the last thirty years or so that we associate with post-fordism, flexible accumulation, globalization, the information economy, etc -- that all these are not innovations of capital, nor (as I would probably argue) unfoldings of the inner logic of capital, but rather that they are merely defensive responses by capital to the various workers movements, liberation movements, anti-colonial movements, etc, of the 1960s and 1970s. From this point of view, I have to agree with Jon that Zizek's critique is getting H&N wrong. Though of course there is still a big leap between H&N's thesis in this respect, and their trying to turn the multitude into an actual revolutionary subject.


A lot seems to be riding, in ya'll's view of H&N, on the distinction between innovations of capital and 'merely defensive responses of capital' to movements.

I'm not sure that this distinction works. As I understand them in Empire, yes, movements push capital to respond, the response doesn't happen in a vacuum (or, the multitude calls Empire into being). Maybe this is a better way for me to express it: I don't think the opposition between merely reactive and productive works. Multitude is productive through capital; organized capital makes multitude ever more productive; multitude resists and reacts, capital responds.

Or, maybe this is a better way to ask the question: is there, for H&N a productive multitude outside of capital? And, if so, what would be an example of this? (I would think they would have to say no because there is no outside...)


Well, the notion that capital is reactive is central to the operaista and autonomista tradition, as I mentioned before. See for instance "Lenin in England." Without that, nothing.

And it's precisely because the multitude is not dependent upon capital (though capital is dependent on the multitude) that it can be autonomous from it. Again, though, this is a fairly straightforward Marxism, no?

And the relationship between capital and multitude has to be contingent, rather than necessary, otherwise communism is unthinkable. (The notoiin of a necessary relationship is, of course, Zizek's position, which he's projecting upon Hardt and Negri.)

And as for productivity beyond capital: well, that's the premise of Exodus. As for examples, that was the focus of much of Autonomia in the 1970s: the establishment of means of self-valorization.

What happens to the theory of value is also key, because, for Hardt and Negri, the value form itself is now a constraint upon productivity; so capital no longer "makes multitude ever more productive"; all that remains is pure command, corruption.

Not to mention, as I've already noted, the possibility of the multitude's historicity, its pre-existing capital.

Oh, and finally, the notion that there is "no outside" is a constraint for Empire, not for the multitude: it means that capital has reached its limit, not that there is no alternative to it.

Steven Shaviro

For H&N there is a distinction, though you might not want to accept the validity of their argument (I am not sure I do). The opposition productive/reactive comes from Spinoza, and from Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche. H&N are claiming, I think, that capital is not productive at all, but only parasitic (or vampiric, in Marx's metaphor) on the productivity/creativity of the multitude. So they would deny that "multitude is productive through capital" or that "organized capital makes multitude ever more productive"; capital can only skim off, appropriate, or (to use a D&G term that defies easy translation) "prelever" what multitude produces.
Now this is all, pragmatically speaking, almost crazily optimistic; but I am not ready to just dismiss it as a structural/theoretical argument. Working through the issues involved here is not something that any of us can do in the limited space of this thread; I'm just really trying to express what the claimed distinction is, rather than to convince you, Jodi, that it works (as I said, I'm not sure that it works myself).


Jon, would the distinctions you are pointing out also apply to the way Negri discusses constituent and constituted power in Insurgencies? I ask because I don't find that distinction convincing and I'm wondering if I'm falsely mapping that onto the role of capital.

I think I am getting a better sense of what you mean by not dependent and 'autonomous' from it (capital). But, is there a way that one accesses or comes in touch with this productive multitude now, in the present, without going through capital?

On straightforward Marxism and dependency--interesting point. For Marx, isn't it the case that the worker is dependent on capital, that without capital he is not a worker? (under conditions of capitalism)

Is there a difference, in your view, between what H/N are saying and the old fetters argument? (This is me still trying to get a better handle on why you and Steven think Z's reading is wrong). Your point about value is good--but I keep thinking 'fetters.'

I don't think what you've said about no outside works textually, at least with Empire.

By any chance have you come across the volume I coedited on Empire? I was wondering if you thought that I got H/N wrong in my chapter.


Steven, your comments came up just as I was posting. I really appreciate your continued engagement with this--I think it does matter as a theoretical point. Geez, I'm just trying to understand it because I think that my reading is closer to Zizek's (in the chapter to the book on Empire) and it wasn't apparent to me that this was not what H/N are saying. So, now I'm wondering if it has to do with the primary becoming, this general generativity and desire that then gets 'captured'. That makes sense to me, but then it seems that insofar as contemporary postfordist capital does all the language and biopolitics stuff, that it in turn produces and enables, changes the multitude--what is biopolitics if not that? Or, might this be one of the places where the difference between H/N and Foucault is a big deal?


Jodi, no, I haven't read your chapter or book. As to your various points, and with a proviso similar to Steven's that I am also sceptical of various parts of Hardt and Negri's argument, but feel it's worth getting it straight...

Well, Insurgencies is a much better book than Empire, especially on this issue, if not without its problems. But yes, I think you have to map one on to the other.

As to "accessing" the multitude: why not? We already partake of its immanent multiplicity. With Spinoza and Deleuze, Hardt and Negri clearly refuse the notion that we are somehow trapped within (say) representation, mediation, etc. That's no doubt where confusion about an "outside" arises, as Hardt and Negri's notion that there is "no outside" is rather different from the standard banalized (post)structuralist distinction between "inside" and "outside." If you want, think as you say later in terms of a primary becoming. (Though especially in Multitude Hardt and Negri are rather confused about biopolitics. There's some initial discussion of that in the comments at http://posthegemony.blogspot.com/2005/07/unruliness-gilroy-i.html.)

On straightforward Marxism: yes, the worker's identity depends upon capital, but not his/her labour power. "Multitude" is not an identity category. It's probably better compared to "species being." (Or God. Or Nature.)

I'm not sure of your point about "fetters," but would probably agree that Hardt and Negri are offering something like an updated version of (again) a rather classical argument.

Steven Shaviro

Jodi, I need to think more about the question of how Hardt/Negri stand in relation to the fetters argument.

I understand Deleuze/Guattari as responding to the fetters argument when they say that capital is always reaching its limit, but always renewing itself by pushing back this limit -- which then leads them into a discussion of, precisely, what forms of multiplicity/difference merely fold back into the logic of capital, and what forms actually break away from it. (This, incidentally, is why I feel so exasperated when Zizek accuses Deleuze of celebrating the very multiplicity/difference that is the hegemonic formation of capital today. Because in fact D&G are precisely *posing this as a problem that needs to be addressed.* One might not find their attempts at a solution at all satisfactory, but it seems disingenuous to accuse them of ratifying what they are in fact questioning).

When it comes to Hardt/Negri, I am not sure to what extent they are agreeing with D&G's analysis, and to what extent they are doing something different. But I *do* think they are in accord with D&G about biopower & biopolitics; see footnote 39 on pp 530-531 of the English-language edition of A Thousand Plateaus; where D&G say that their difference with Foucault is precisely that for them, reversing Foucault, "power" is secondary to "resistance" (which therefore shouldn't be called resistance).

Again, I don't think this answers your objections to H/N (or to D&G), but hopefully it helps to clarify what issues are at stake.

mark k-punk

I agree with Steven that this is one of Zizek's clearest statements of his problems with D/G. (He did make a similar argument in his Derrida lecture in London).

In defence of Zizek though, and being simplistic - isn't D/G's claim that capitalism inhibits flows/ multiplicity/ difference, whereas for Z these are the problem?

Also, the piece once again confronts me with what for me is the central issue with Zizek: namely, what does HE want? If his analysis is correct, and that there is no pure zone of desire/ production, what desire/ production there are emerge from capitalism's conditions of im/possibility, and what does this mean for anti-capitalist practice? What kind of social system would Zizek have us put in place of capitalism? And is his failure to produce a map of one contingent or a necessary condition of his own theoretical production?


Steven and Jon, my reading is similar to Mark's insofar as I understand Zizek as critical of the way that capitalism relies on multiplicity and difference and that D and G celebrate this, want to make sure that it is liberated etc. Actually, I should be more precise: this is how I read H/N and have thought that they get this argument from D/G. The American political theorist Bill Connolly has this sort of view of mulitiplicity and he is a Deleuze/Spinoza immanent naturalist. So, I haven't thought that Z was disingenous or even wrong, just disagreeing on a really fundamental point.

Jon--right about identity category, glad you put that in...

Mark--on Z's own view: there is no reconcialiton, redemption, perfect solution; that's part of the human condition...I know that this doesn't answer your question but I think it's important to keep in mind. More seriously, isn't this what the leap into the abyss is about, choosing the worse means that you don't know what will come next, what will happen, but you do know that we have is untenable; differently put, there is no security in a posited new form of society, we can't justify our actions by appealing to this sort of ideal; rather, the actions happen here, disrupting what we have.

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