February 02, 2010

Commonwealth for beginners I am the beginner. Although I've read, taught, and written about Empire, I feel like a beginner with Commonwealth. It's not that Hardt and Negri are covering entirely new ground. Much of the argument summarizes and repeats themes from Empire and Multitude. Nonetheless, I feel like a beginner reading it. In this post, I will try to sort out why. In later posts, I will take up some specific questions about biopolitics, the common, affective labor. At least one component of feeling like a beginner stems from the resistances the book stirs up in me. Joy, love, cooperation, happiness: these are not much part of my critical political theoretical vocabulary. So I find myself becoming nastier, more cynical, more dismissive. And then I react to Professor Snide and think, maybe a way out of the current left impasse does begin with joy and affirmation. I can't hold that position very long, though. It reminds me too much of the power of positive thinking and perpetual American optimism, like Oprah thinking or the political equivalent of taking a positive attitude toward cancer. This oscillation might indicate enjoyment. That is, I swing from side to side because I am confronted with Hardt and Negri's political enjoyment. Faced with their enjoyment, I experience anxiety, and then I try to escape it. But what would happen if I accept that they are enjoying politics, that their's is a politics of enjoyment? First, if any political system relies on some structure or economy of enjoyment...

Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is a political theorist.

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