Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Derrida, Disaster, and Sovereignties in Question--For Celan

I can now, perhaps, address the significance of Blanchot’s dis-aster.

Disaster: “ill starred,” a calamity blamed on “an unfavorable aspect of a planet”

Constellation: “conjuncture,” “set with stars.” OED: “Originally, in astrology, of position of planets,  (“stars”), in regard to one another on a given day, usually one’s birthday, as a determination of one’s character

Sternbild (constellation): Stern, star. “bild” –image, picture, figure from bild (verb) – “build, shape, construct,” etc. “Star-image”

In Writing of the Disaster (I am still tempted, every time I write this title, to say Writing the Disaster, omitting the genitive possessive), Blanchot writes,

Levinas speaks of the subjectivity of the subject. If one wishes to use this word-why? But why not?—one ought perhaps to speak of a subjectivity without any subject, the wounded space, the hurt of the dying, the already dead body, which no one could ever own, or ever say of it, I, my body [this is my body, take this an eat it, do this in memory of me]. This is the body animated solely by mortal desire: the desire of dying—desire that dies and does not thereby subside. (30)

Could we substitute the notion of a “subject” with the name “identity”? To take one example of the “subjectivity without subject,” the Jew does not possess any determinate characteristics; rather, according to Derrida, “Anyone or no one may be a Jew. Jew, no one’s name, the only one. No one’s circumcision” (55). Or, more concretely, “what is proper to the Jew is to have no property or essence. Jewish is not Jewish” (35). “Jew” is not an identity, a knowledge, but a secret, a crypt, and perhaps most importantly a performance of the body. The performance is the “shibboleth” that requires a certain pronunciation. So to be a Jew (to be anything) is subjectivity without the subject, without the “sovereign” subject that says I. This is related to Heidegger’s notion that Dasein is both near and far, which we may associate with Celan’s line: “it is now possible to conceive a meeting of this ‘wholly Other’ and an ‘other’ which is not far removed, which is very near” (180).

Could the disaster be understood as the ripping apart of constellations, constellations that determine and tie us to our fate as such and such a being or such and such a person? Celan offers the hypothesis: “But are we all not descended from such dates? And to which dates do we attribute ourselves?” (180). But if our dates disseminate into other dates, if our dates are not entirely “our own” this may be the disaster—the planetary drift. Astrology is useless because it pretends that these are our stars , that the stars determine our character, which is at once individuating us too much and at the same time not enough! It does not individuate beings or events enough and yet it is still singular.  That January 20th signifies no one event unequivocally since it calls out and sends itself toward a future (or past date) than the one “intended” by its author. January 20th, Derrida finds out, is also when Hitler and his collaborators finalized “the final solution” (113). What if Celan had included the year? Still, there might be strange, unheimlich, coincidences. Some one reader may read January 20th and notice it is his or her birthday! Imagine being part of the constellation that would link your birth and the final solution!

 Rather than constellation of singularities, if we take astrology as constituting our identities, we become a type of person, a type of being (according to astrology). But might this not foreclose the possibility of an encounter, if the encounter is a “random occurrence, as chance, as luck or coincidence” (9)?  This random occurrence might be something like the ‘disaster.’  The disaster that does not, according to Blanchot, “acquire meaning” but “a body” (41). The disaster might be something along the lines of what I discussed above—finding oneself entwined with other events, from other years, on the same date as one’s birth. Is this “meaningful” or does it acquire body? The disaster of dates that opens us up to other events and other persons.

In this sense, the ego, the self, is like a date, which brings together a constellation: “several heterogeneous singularities [] consigned in the starry configuration of a single dated mark” (35). The date, like any mark, also risks the meaning of other dates. The date “was already a sort of fiction, reciting singularity only in the fable of conventions and generalities, of what are, in any case, iterable marks” (47). In this sense, the date is an “image,” (the reason I translated constellation into German), one might say a metonymic and ‘poetic’ “image.”

But this meaning of “image” does not seem quite appropriate for this text, as Derrida will speak of the date as “a cut, or incision that the poem bears in its body like a memory” (18). And further on claims that “there is a holocaust for every date, and somewhere in the world at every hour” (46). The idea of the burning of the word, turning it to ashes, recalls Blanchot’s image of knowledge that burns thought: “When knowledge is no longer a knowledge of truth, it is then that knowledge starts, a knowledge that burns thought, like knowledge of infinite patience” (43). This image recalls to my mind a kind of burning of an experience into one’s retina or into one’s mind—and indelible experience. Derrida generalizes this branding: “As one might engrave a date in a tree, burning bark with ciphers of fire” (48). This, in turn, recalls a poem by Celan Derrida discusses in another essay, “onto a ram’s silicified forehead/I brand this image, between/the horns” (141).  The date is also a circumcision: “The circumcision of a word must thus be understood as an event of the body” (59). Again, the image of a cut, a burn, a brand on the body—even if it is on the body of “language.”

This incision, cut, opening, burn, on the body of language may be the tropes that Derrida uses for what he calls in the interviews an “idiom.” Derrida writes, “but it seems to me he touches the German language both by respecting the idiomatic spirit of that language and in the sense that he displaces it, in the sense that he leaves upon it a sort of scar, a mark, a wound” (100). So this is what we are able to do with language—touch it, leave a mark, a scar, maybe burn it into brains; However, one thing we can never do is appropriate it: “it is the essence of language that language does not let itself be appropriated. Language is precisely what does not let itself be possessed but, for this very reason, provokes all kinds of movements of appropriation” (101). Writing (and language—are these two synonymous?), as for Blanchot, always remains other.  Perhaps we cannot appropriate ‘dates’ either as dates are part of language, fictions that “constellate” events?

I want to shift gears here and ask a few questions about Celan’s poem “Meridian,” particularly concerning his reading of Buchner and Art. If art is that which “produces a distance from the I,” and Art is somehow “at home” with mechanism, marionette, and monkey, then art is something distinct from the human, and perhaps something distinct from “life.” I am trying to figure out how (and if) Celan is distinguishing his own conception of art from Buchner, which he calls “naturalism” (176). Celan quotes Lenz saying that there is “life in the thing that has been created” is the most important aspect of art (176). He contrasts this lifeless art (the marionette? Mechanism? Robot?) with “that which is natural. With all living creatures” (176). Buchner writes, “at times one might wish to be a Medusa’s head so as to be able to transform such a group into stone, and call out to the people” (176). So would this frozen tableau constitute art?

Celan then writes, “Here we have stepped beyond human nature, gone outward, and entered a mysterious realm, yet one turned toward that which is human, the same realm in which the monkey, the robots, and accordingly. . .alas, art seem to be at home” (177).

This is a really strange passage to me. Somehow we have stepped “beyond human nature” yet turned toward the human. But the human here is in the same realm as what we would generally consider not human: monkeys and robots. So is Celan deconstructing this idealized notion of Nature as opposed to wooden puppets? It does not seem like Celan is so much interested in naturalism or art as representation (image). He writes,

The poem attempts to pay careful attention to everything it encounters; it has a finer sense of detail, of outline, or structure, of color, and also of the ‘movements’ and the ‘suggestions.’ These are, I believe, not qualities gained by an eye competing (or cooperating) with mechanical devices, which are continually being brought to a higher degree of perfection. No, it is a concentration which remains aware of all our dates. (182, emphasis mine)

So, an art of “representation” would try and mimic life so as to try and capture all of its movements in mechanical detail. In contrast, Celan’s poems, “take form and gather around the I who is addressing and naming it” (182). It is a movement of gathering and concentration rather than representing in some “naturalistic” detail. It is an encounter with the other, which may be construed as the reader? “But the one who has been addressed and who, by virtue of having been named, has, as it were, become a thou also brings its otherness along into the present, into this present” (182). Who is the one who is addressed and who is the one who addresses? Does the poem address the reader or the reader the poem?

I suppose that this is not a gathering toward a unity, but rather a collection—and it is not only a collection of present things but sends itself into possible future dates. Furthermore, there is always an expropriating gesture in the encounter that may constellate and concentrate, a gesture that expropriates an I. As Derrida puts it in his essay on (for) Gadamer, “To carry now no longer  has the meaning of ‘to comprise, to include, to comprehend in the self, but rather to carry oneself for bear oneself toward the infinite inappropriability of the other [. . .] the infinitely other in me” (161).

Here, there is no reassuring cosmos: “the cosmic reassures us, for we can identify with the measureless vibration of a sovereign order even if in this identification we venture beyond ourselves entrusting ourselves to a holy and real unity” (Blanchot 88). Nor may there be Heidegger’s being-in-the-world (162). Heidegger conceives of poetry as a way of opening up possibilities of new worlds, but for Celan,  “The world is gone, I must carry you,” but the world is not necessarily “gone” but “far” (fort as opposed to da). Derrida asks about Fort-sein as something distinct from the stone, the animal, and the human and their respective relationships to world:

But what would happen if, in our poem, the departure, the Fort-sein of the world, in its proper instance, did not answer to any of these theses or categories? What if the Fort-sein exceeded them, from a wholly other place? (163)

Derrida claims that this is one thing he would want to ask Gadamer for help—I would want to ask Derrida for help. In a way, these few words at the end of an essay point beyond anything else we have read on Heidegger’s concept of “world.” What is the Fort-sein, the far-being? To ask this another way, what if Heidegger worked on the ontology of the fortsein—does that even make sense as a question? Could the Fort-sein be an ontological project? The being that is not there—the being that is far (from itself)? Perhaps this could be a useful way to understand Derrida’s project for is not the ghost, the specter, the revenant, all “living without being,” living far-being (110)? I cannot answer these questions, but the questions intrigue me.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Maurice Blanchot--Writing the Disaster

Vigilance, insomnia, wakefulness in the night--one might imagine Blanchot (or whatever the 'subject' of Blanchot' reflections is) as a strung-out grad student at 4 am, thinking in a chair on the verge of madness.

Blanchot writes both in and 'about' the fragmentary. He writes, "fragments, destined in part to the blank that separates them, find in this gap not what ends them, but what prolongs them" (58). Fragmentation is only an interruption, but an interruption that also pushes forward to continue--it as if the fragments cannot stop--the gap that stops is also that which allows it (forces it?)  to continue. As Blanchot puts it, “the interruption’s somehow having the same meaning as that which does not cease” (21).  Furthermore, fragments are not simply isolated, but because of their juxtaposition (even though there might be “nothing in the text”) suggest meaning and connection at the same time that they deny meaning—or create absent meaning. Blanchot distinguishes the ‘fragmentary’ from the “isolated sentence,” which is “aphoristic” not fragmentary. Aphoristic, isolated sentences, “tend to reverberate like an oracular utterance having the self-sufficiency of a communication to which nothing can be added” (132). The aphoristic sentence “affirms definitively,” the allusive sentence “makes ambiguity a positive value,” whereas the fragmentary is exposure to these two kinds to risks: normativity and that which thinks it escapes the illusion of truth only to “succumb[] to the illusion itself as truth” (133). The fragmentary is related to citation (and incitation). Blanchot writes (fragmentally),

“If quotations, in their fragmenting force, destroy in advance the texts from which they are nto only severed but which they exalt till these texts become nothing but severance, then the fragment without a text, or any context, is radically unquotable” (37).

I am not sure what to do with that bloc quote given Derrida’s ideas about citation, quotation, and context.  I think we should think through the relations among these different types of utterances.


The last word of the book: disaster. We as readers are still left wondering what this "disaster," 'is'. References to the holocaust and the immemorial suggest that the disaster is that which cannot be justified (in ethical terms) or sublimated (aufhebung) in Hegel's terms. But most importantly, the disaster (besides its "proper" meaning relating to 'star'--although we will have to question the notion of the proper as well) is an experience which is not experienced. Thus, the disaster is not an event that arrives or comes. Like death (and is ‘death’ the disaster? Are these two terms synonyms?), it is “imminent” (1) and at the same time always-already past (the immemorial). It is that which we can neither forget nor remember, because in order to forget we would have to have been able to remember it as something that ‘happened,’ and that is experienced.


I think we must ask after the status of theory. First, so we can determine whether Blanchot’s notion of theory is related (or the same as) what we call in literature Theory (which is, as Greg Ulmer once put it to me, philosophy done in literature departments); second, in order to attempt to determine the relation (or nonrelation?) among theory, philosophy, and poetry, and what Blanchot understands as writing; third, to figure out why theories are “necessary and useless” (75).  Is theory what Blanchot understands by “System,” who is designated by the name Hegel? If this is true, then should we take Blanchot at his word when he writes,

“shouldn’t we have done with theory to the extent that ti does not ever get over and done, and also to the extent that all theories, however different they may be, constantly change places with one another, distinct each from the next only because of the writing which supports them and which thus escapes the very theories purporting to judge it?” (80).

Have we all not had the feeling that the theories of Levinas, Derrida, and Blanchot as theories of “the other” collapse into one another? Can we even call these thinkers “theorists?” Are they creating theory, writing, poetry—all of these?

Blanchot decides to investigate three thinkers that we in our department may refer to as “theorists” (alternately, philosophers—alternately, poets)—Levinas, Bataille, and Heidegger. Although Blanchot, like Derrida, seems indebted to Heidegger, he seems more indebted to Levinas. I think this is because that Blanchot agrees with Derrida that death is never one’s “ownmost possibility,” that death is not an authentic relation to being and to self. Both Blanchot and Levinas are thinkers of the “other.” For Heidegger, our relationship is with being and truth, something that language allows us to access (even as it reveals-conceals). Indeed, the “they” is the realm of inauthenticity and idle talk, just as ‘dying’ (or merely perishing) is not an “authentic” relation to death. For Heidegger, we do not know death from the other’s death, but rather because it is our ‘ownmost possibility’ as that which individualizes us.  In contrast, Blanchot writes that death is “never individual” and Derrida rejoins that Blanchot speaks of “death in general.”   Levinas and Blanchot (along with Derrida) think our relation to the other. More precisely, language is not the “house of being” but something radically other than being. Language is not “proper” to human beings. Rather, as Levinas puts it, “Language is in itself already skepticism” and as Blanchot continues, “to write is to be absolutely distrustful of writing, while entrusting oneself to it entirely” (110). 

For Heidegger, language gives, but for Bataille and Levinas, “the gift as the inexhaustible (the infinite) demand of the other and of others” (110). Blanchot sees Heidegger’s focus on language (perhaps, at the expense of writing) as a “dangerous leaning toward sanctification of language” (110).

On the topic of “language,” we should return to the question of etymology, something incredibly important for Heidegger. Before we get into Blanchot’s extensive discussion of etymology, we should remember that etymology is the study of words. We treat words like independent entities. This is why it is problematic to ask what the disaster “is” as if we can isolate a proper meaning of it. Blanchot suggests, following Valery, that we neglect “sentences”—one might add, fragments (96). The idea that words are the “seminal cell of language” is something etymology takes as its object. The issue with etymology is that it presupposes a “proper” and “original” meaning. Etymologists wish to trace back words to some ‘concrete’ or ‘first’ meaning.

Blanchot discusses two words of Heidegger’s that uses etymology for his philosophical analysis. The first I will discuss is aletheia, a word that is usually translated into English as “un-veiling.” Heidegger relates aletheia to lethe because his claim is that philosophy has “forgotten the meaning of being.” The river lethe, in mythology, is the river or forgetting. So, in a way, aletheia is a kind of “un-veiling” the meaning of being—that which appears, the phenomenon—that which shows itself. On Heidegger’s use of the word, Blanchot writes,

Was the Greeks’ understanding of aletheia based upon the meaning of lethe. This is doubtful. And that we should be able to substitute ourselves for them—saying that they were nonetheless determined by this unthought element in their understanding—is a philosophical move to which there would be no objection, if it were not that we make it by wielding a philological experitise, thus making philosophy dependent on a particular discipline. This contradicts the relations clearly affirmed by Heidegger between thought and determined bodies of knowledge. (104)

Blanchot’s analysis may remind one Derrida’s move on “cultural” and “anthropological” understandings of death. Heidegger would argue that this is not getting to the “existential structure” of death because they assume they know what death is (Derrida 25). In this sense, Heidegger’s analysis is much more than the cultural writings on death. But at the same time, Derrida points out “neither language nor the process of this analysis of death is possible without the Christian experience, indeed, the Judeo-Christiano-Islamic experience of death to which the analysis testifies” (Derrida 80). We could say with Blanchot that Heidegger’s analysis of “aletheia” would not be possible without the discipline of etymology.

Blanchot reveals the essentially metaphoric language of etymology. The “root” of the word is the “germinating principle” by which words receive “the power of development and creative enrichment” (107). Etymology presupposes filitation rather than “affinity” (93). Etymology by “affinity” may describe better Heidegger’s operation on lethe, aletheia. Etymology by affinity may be another way to elucidate what Greg Ulmer calls “conductive logic.” It uses the play of the material signifiers, the associations that it calls up for inventive purposes rather than to believe that one is getting at an “origin.” Blanchot uses this to investigate Heidegger’s term, Ereignis, which usually is translated into English as “event of propriation” (see pgs 97-98).

Rather than thinking etymology by filiation let us think by affinity. There is some sort of seduction and attraction to etymologies: “What attracts us to etymology is its unreasonable part more than what it explains: we are interested by the form of enigma that it preserves or doubles as it deciphers” (106). We are subject to “etymological clues which we take for proofs from which we draw philosophical conclusions that secretly influence us” (104). Is Blanchot here endorsing this kind of “unreasonable thinking.” Or is it the case that language is always seductive in this way—seductive and yet prone to skepticism, or rather, makes us skeptical.


Returning to an earlier question, it seems that the disaster is the dissolution of the possibility of etymology (that there can be a natural meaning to a word). Blanchot writes, “Naturally [haha], disaster can be understood according to its etymology [. . .] But the etymology of ‘disaster’ does not operate in these fragments as a preferred, or more original insight [. . .] On the contrary, the indeteriminateness of what is written when this word is written, exceeds etymology and draws it into disaster” (117).

One gets the sense that for Blanchot, we cannot take comfort in Being,  in the cosmos (in the fixity of the stars—no, there is dis-aster), or in language, but rather that we “keep watch over absent meaning.” Whereas for Heidegger, man is the preserver and keeper of truth, we (?) keep watch over absent meaning. True, Blanchot is much closer to  Heidegger than he is to the more “action” oriented existentialists, namely, Sartre, but he revels in the neutral rather Being. The neutral, it is important to understand is not the same as “giving neutrality to language as a characteristic,” as if to refute that language has weight, values, and history, but rather the neutral is that which cannot be grasped and held theoretically as “knowledge.”

The positive value we usually ascribe to knowledge, meaning, and totality is turned to a horror show in Blanchot’s text. The absolute meaning is the absolute justification—Hegel’s system, were it right, would justify the Holocaust. In the most harrowing anecdote of the work, Blanchot mentions a certain man who was “saved” from death only to be “obliged to hold the victim’s head so that the bullet could be more easily lodged in the neck” (82). When asked how he could bear this he said he “observed the comportment of men before death” ( 82). Blanchot comments that “when he was faced with an impossible question, he could find no other alibi than the search for knowledge, the so called dignity of knowledge: that ultimate propriety which we believe will be accorded us by knowledge” (82).  We may recall here Blanchot’s Demeure, where the protagonist is “saved” and yet not saved—there is no salvation. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Commonwealth--Hardt and Negri

Besides an extraordinary amount of repetition of their points (which, who knows, may have bee necessary to connect all of their analyses) Hardt and Negri offer an immensely powerful critique of capitalism in light of biopolitics and biopower. Their philosophical geneology traces from Augustine, to Spinoza, to Deleuze and they draw on a diverse range of political and economic theories along the way.

If I have complained before about the lack of clear cut distinctions in other texts, Hardt and Negri may be guilty of the opposite. Their characterizations of positions such as modernity, anti-modernity, and altermodernity (corresponding in part to what Haroway mentions as autremondalisation) are broad concepts, but they deploy them with such purpose and confidence that such distinctions are effective. If modernity is characterized by oppression and colonial forces, and anti-modernity is characterized by resistances to this modernity (an important, but, according to H&N insufficient because it is stuck in opposition), altermodernity "constitues a dispotif for the production of subjectivity" (115). 

Altermodernity, as concerned with producing subjectivities, differs from hypermodernity and postmodernity. Hypermodernity, aligned with theorists  such as Jurgen Habermas, contends that do not propose to break with but to reform and transform modernity's basic institutions. According to H&N, hypermoderniity, "simply continues the hierarchies that are central to modernity, putting its faith in reform, not resistance, and thus does not challenge capitalist rule" (113). Postmodernity, in contrast, is characterized by "negative thought," whose solutions are "weak" and "aesthetic," often drifting into theology (114). 

Alternmodernity is necessary in the age of the biopolitical, where much of what is produced cannot be controlled by capitalists even though they can draw wealth from it. Labor does not only produce products, but produces "forms of life" and various subjectivities, characterized by immaterial products: cognitive and affective. In a way, does this not correspond to the shift in advertisement from the 'product' itself to selling the lifestyle that one could have should one buy the product? But now, it is not even a matter of product. Rather, according to H&N such production happens in the realm of the common rather than privatized copyright and patents. Since biopolitical labor no longer corresponds to the law of scarcity, an idea, image, affect, etc. does not exhaust itself. Rather, "if you use that idea productively, I can use it too, at the very same time. In fact the more of us that work with an idea and communicate about it, the more productive it becomes" (381). This kind of labor and value is increasingly autonomous from capital: "an increasingly autonomous labor-power and, consequently, a capital that becomes increasingly pure command. Labor-power is thus no longer variable capital, integrated within the body of capital, but a separate and increasingly oppositional force" (292). 

So, what social form corresponds to altermodernity in the age of the biopolitical? The multitude. The multitude of the "poor" is where H&G suggest we start. However, the "poor" is not necessarily just those who we consider 'poor' today materially, but basically consists of those who are marginalized and who are for what H&N call "the common." The multitude is composed of singularities who set up encounters which in turn transforms their subjectivities. The multitude shifts from identity to singularity. In a particularly powerful chapter on identity politics, H&N argue that we must start with identity politics but cannot end with them. In fact, identity politics should "strive for their own abolition" (332). Not, mind you, to rid us of difference, but in order to prepare the way for further becoming. In order to become something other, something else, you have  to forget identity. Then, the way is open for differences to flourish. H&N rightly characterize this process as monstrous and violent: "the most terrifying violence confronting revolutionaries may be the monstrous self-transformation we find in the revolutionary streams of identity politics" (371). 

The imagery of the singularity, multitude, swarm, the monstrous, etc. stem from the alternative geneology of philosophy I mentioned earlier--headed mostly by Spinoza and Deleuze (and his reading of the former). Another theorist that seems to be working in a similar vein (although perhaps a bit more ambivalent than H&N) is Gerald Raunig, in his book A Thousand Machines. If nothing else, Raunig explores the importance of a new conception of cognitive labor. Labor is less about new products and more about creation and innovation: "the raw material and means of production of living labor is the capacity for thinking, learning, communicating, imagining, and inventing" (Raunig 115). Both H&N describe the multitude in musical terms as a composition with a composer or orchestra without a conductor. No one person or force seems to be "in charge" of this multitude. I think Raunig's conclusion is a great summary of both his book and H&N's: 

It is precisely in this that the quality of the machine beyond humanist, mechanistic, and cybernetic interpretations consists: in the insistence of a dissonant power, a monstrous potency and enjoyment, in the ambiguous re-invention of verker as a non-conforming concatenation of differences, singularities, and multitudes in an a-harmonious composition without a composer. (119)

However, H&N go much further in their book with more specifics on what they would like to see and their analysis of society. Raunig is working primarily with the concept of the machine--a concept of the machine as a social entity rather than how we generally understand machine: "the thesis of this book is that there is an AND, living and mechanical, that is nto all to be found only in the progressive merging of man and technical machine" (110). Both are working out of D&G, but H&N are more attentive to organized resistance and revolution than Raunig, who almost has an an-archic strain in his thought.

In contrast, H&N propose that the multitude needs to create institutions, but institutions based in conflict rather than institutions that solidify an already pre-formed identity: "the central difference, perhaps, has to do with the locus of agency: whereas according to the conventional sociological notion institutions form individuals and identities, in our conception, singularities form institutions, which are thus perpetually in flux" (358). Institutions that are not created based on what people are, but always moving toward becoming something other.
revolt becomes powerful and long-lasting only when it invents and institutionalizes a new set of collective habits and practices, that is, a new form of life [. . .] common practices and behaviors as well as their original set of gestures and affects. (356)
The way H&N propose this creates a different way of thinking revolutionary event. Indeed, H&N are critical of many thinkers of the Event, including Alain Badiou: "In Badiou an event [. . .] acquires value and meaning primarily after it takes place. He thus concentrates on the intervention that retrospectively gives meaning to the event and the fidelity and generic procedures that continually refer to it" (60). For H&N, Foucault's notion of the event requires a more "forward looking gaze," and has a bit more 'queerness' to it:
The biopolitical event, in fact, is always a queer event, a subversive process of subjectivization that, shattering ruling identities and norms, reveals the link between power and freedom, and thereby inaugurates and alternative production of subjectivity. (63)
Later in the book, queer is associated not with a particular identity but a "critique of identity" (335). We see this same move toward an acknowledgment of the multiplicity of differences in Donna Haraway's When Species Meet. How can we foster queer indigestion in the political and economic realms? Complementary to Donna Haraway's language, H&N suggest that we must "nourish indignation," which they think "love" may  help to foster (246).

The Common and Occupy Wall Street

Reading this text I could not stop thinking about how Occupy Wall Street may be a practical enactment of the multitude. They have created their own gestures and behaviors and guidelines for self-organization. A recent segment of Colbert Report explained the various gestures they use to signify consensus. While I have a difficult time not laughing at such ridiculous gestures and behaviors, I am at a loss to explain why! Its like a whole new system of parliamentry procedure! Furthermore, we see the movement formed of what Raunig deems the "precariat," a term that H&N almost use as well. The "precariat" are the people whose jobs are unstable and whose 'class' is hard to define (see Raunig 80-83). H&N write that what is also precarious is the division between work and leisure time: "precarity is a mechanism of control that determines the temporality of workers, destroying the division between work time and non-work time, requiring workers not to work all the time but to be constantly available for work" (146). When you are working in precarious situation "none of your time is your own" (147). But biopolitical production requires the "freedom of producers to organize their own time" (147). To me, this sounds an awful lot like academic labor.

But space is another important aspect of the common. In fact, H&N argue that "the metropolis is to the multitude what the factory was to the industrial working class" (250). In other words, it makes sense that people are occupying an entire city. In fact, the Occupy Wall Street logic has analogies to the piquetos in Bolivia who decide to 'picket the city' (see H&N 259) as well as events Raunig discusses in his book. Raunig writes, "the machinic practice of inventing and concatenating bodies and signs, the theatricality and the flight from representation generated different qualities and quantities of reappropriating the city and discuvsive space in the various local contexts" (88).

Practical Actions

Hardt and Negri suggest some really radical proposals toward the end of the book that would move us toward a more democratic and just society. This is, in my opinion, the most radical:
A reform that would grant freedom of time is the establishment of a minimum guaranteed income on a national or global scale paid to everyone regardless of work. Separating income from work would allow everyone more control over time. (309)
Wouldn't this be nice? Perhaps their diagnosis of biopolitical labor as labor that is immaterial, cognitive, and separated from capitalists is a justification for their position that everyone should have a guaranteed income. Is this not, basically, the ultimate welfare state? Who would pay for this? What kind of utopia do these guys live in where people will just "do work" even though they don't have to work to get an income for the basic necessities of life? What are these "basic necessities of life" or "bare life" --food? shelter? tvs? computers? How do we define "life" here?

In order for this to work at all, we would have to have a major culture shift--something I think H&N thinks can be done. But really, we have to be realistic when we realize that many people just don't give a shit.

On the other hand, could we say that I am actually living under this system? I have a "fixed income" every 2 weeks, which is for teaching classes, prep work, grading papers, etc, but I have relatively complete control over my time. Still, the process of organizing one's own time productively is a terribly difficult thing to do--even for an intelligent, educated man such as myself--with such meaningless distractions of the entertainment industry. What incentive do I really have to produce ideas? Mostly it is a feeling of "I need to work." However, I am convinced that not everyone believes that.

In other words, although I find H&N's critique and formation of the multitude productive--particularly with regard to institutions and their becomings, I find their concrete practices that they suggest a bit optimistic about human potential in general.

On another note, is it not the case that H&N's points have been made by others in less bulky (and less explicitly Marxist terms) by John Dewey in his Reconstruction in Philosophy?
Society is the process of associating in such ways that experiences, ideas, emotions, value are transmitted that made common. (161)