Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Practices of Everyday Life and Multitudes

"To the ordinary man.
To a common hero, an ubiquitous character, walking in countless thousands on the streets. ... What are we asking this oracle whose voice is almost indistinguishable from the rumble of history to license us, to authorize us to say, when we dedicate to him the writing that one formerly offered in praise of the gods or the inspiring muses?
This anonymous hero is very ancient. He is the murmuring voice of societies. In all ages, he comes before the texts. He does not expect representations. He squats now at the center of our scientific stages. The floodlights have moved away from the actors who possess proper names and social blazons, turning first towards the chorus of secondary characters, then settling on the mass of the audience. ... We witness the advent of the number. It comes along with democracy, the large city, administrations, cybernetics. It is a flexible and continuous mass, woven tight like a fabric with neither rips nor darned patches, a multitude of quantified heroes who lose names and faces as they become the ciphered river of the streets, a mobile language of computations and rationalities that belong to no one."

"I maintain that the concept of "multitude," as opposed to the more familiar concept of "people," is a crucial tool for every careful analysis of the contemporary public sphere. ...

For Spinoza, the multitudo indicates a plurality which persists as such in the public scene, in collective action, in the handling of communal affairs, without converging into a One, without evaporating within a centripetal form of motion. Multitude is the form of social and political existence for the many, seen as being many: a permanent form, not an episodic or interstitial form. For Spinoza, the multitudo is the architrave of civil liberties (Spinoza, Tractatus Politicus). ...

Hobbes detests — and I am using here, after due consideration, a passionate, not very scientific word — the multitude; he rages against it. In the social and political existence of the many, seen as being many, in the plurality which does not converge into a synthetic unity, he sees the greatest danger of a "supreme empire"; that is to say, for that monopoly of political decision-making which is the State. ....

The contemporary multitude is composed neither of "citizens" nor of "producers;" it occupies a middle region between "individual and collective;" for the multitude, then, the distinction between "public" and "private" is in no way validated. And it is precisely because of the dissolution of the coupling of these terms, for so long held to be obvious, that one can no longer speak of a people converging into the unity of the state. While one does not wish to sing out-of-tune melodies in the post-modern style ("multiplicity is good, unity is the disaster to beware of"), it is necessary, however, to recognize that the multitude does not clash with the One; rather, it redefines it. Even the many need a form of unity, of being a One. But here is the point: this unity is no longer the State; rather, it is language, intellect, the communal faculties of the human race. The One is no longer a promise, it is a premise. Unity is no longer something (the State, the sovereign) towards which things converge, as in the case of the people; rather, it is taken for granted, as a background or a necessary precondition. The many must be thought of as the individualization of the universal, of the generic, of the shared experience. Thus, in a symmetric manner, we must conceive of a One which, far from being something conclusive, might be thought of as the base which authorizes differentiation or which allows for the political-social existence of the many seen as being many. I say this only in order to emphasize that present-day reflection on the category of multitude does not allow for rapturous simplifications or superficial abbreviations; instead, such reflection must confront some harsh problems: above all the logical problem (which needs to be reformulated, not removed) of the relationship of One/Many."
Virno's book is also translated into Finnish: Väen kielioppi.

No comments:

Post a Comment