Summary

  • The basic thrust of Empire: after the decline of imperialism and the fall of the Soviet Union and the introduction of neoliberal capitalism, power now organizes itself in a supranational sovereignty combining governmental, economic, and social forms: sovereignty has reconstituted itself as a Deleuzian formation. The only way to counteract this smooth power is an inversion of its own principles through the concept of the “multitude.”

Keywords

  • empire: “Our basic hypothesis is that sovereignty has taken a new form, composed of a series of national and supranational organisms united under a single logic of rule. This new global form of sovereignty is what we call Empire” (xii)
  • multitude
  • informatization: the passage from “the domination of industry to that of services and information” (280).

Notes

Part 1. The Political Constitution of the Present

  • “The problematic of Empire is determined in the first place by one simple fact: that there is world order. This order is expressed as a juridical formation. Our initial task, then, is to grasp the constitution of the order being formed today” (3)
  • “Without underestimating these real and important lines of continuity, however, we think it is important to note that what used to be conflict or competition among several imperialist powers has in important respects been replaced by the idea of a single power that overdetermines them all, structures them in a unitary way, and treats them under one common notion of right that is decidedly postcolonial and postimperialist. This is really the point of departure for our study of Empire: a new notion of right, or rather, a new inscription of authority and a new design of the production of norms and legal instruments of coercion that guarantee contracts and resolve conflict” (9).
  • Empire constitutes itself juridically, which is to say, through the shifts in a “material biopolitical constitution of our societies,” or in the protocol (qua network theory) of jurisprudence (10).
  • Important analysis for biopower and the societies of control: “In the passage from disciplinary society to the society of control, a new paradigm of power is realized which is defined by the technologies that recognize society as the realm of biopower” (24); “By contrast, when power becomes entirely biopolitical, the whole social body is comprised by power’s machine and developed in its virtuality. This relationship is open, qualitative, and affective. Society, subsumed within a power that reaches down to the ganglia of the social structure and its processes of development, reacts like a single body. Power is thus expressed as a control that extends throughout the depths of the consciousnesses and bodies of the population—and at the same time across the entirety of social relations” (24).

Okay, this book is fucking enormous and I need to take a scalpel to it. Here are the chapters that seem of immediate relevance to my research program:

2.5 Network Power

  • American republicanism as “an arrangement internal to the multitude, from a democratic interaction of powers linked together in networks”; this is a constitutive step beyond European sovereignty (161).

In the Intermezzo, a rudimentary accelerationism: “We cannot move back to any previous social form, nor move forward in isolation. Rather, we must push through Empire to come out the other side. Deleuze and Guattari argued that rather than resist capital’s globalization, we have to accelerate the process” (206).

3.3 Resistance, Crisis, Transformation

3.4 Postmodernization, or the Informatization of Production

  • “Just as through the process of modernization all production tended to become industrialized, so too through the process of postmodernization all production tends toward the production of services, toward becoming informationalized” (286).
  • Two models of information economy after Castells: “service economy” (ours) and “info-industrial” (Japan/Germany) (286).
  • pp. 291 is the main discussion of computation under the rubric of “immaterial labor” and tbh it’s a pretty naive analysis.
  • “The labor of computerized tailoring and the labor of computerized weaving may involve exactly the same concrete practices—that is, manipulation of symbols and information. . . . Through the computerization of production, then, labor tends toward the position of abstract labor” (292).
  • “In the passage to the informational economy, the assembly line has been replaced by the network as the organizational model of production, transforming the forms of cooperation and communication within each productive site and among productive sites” (295).

3.6 Capitalist Sovereignty, or Administering the Global Society of Control

  • Capital therefore demands not a transcendent power but a mechanism of control that resides on the plane of immanence. Through the social development of capital, the mechanisms of modern sovereignty—the processes of coding, overcoding, and recoding that imposed a transcendent order over a bounded and segmented social terrain—are progressively replaced by an axiomatic: that is, a set of equations and relationships that determines and combines variables and coefficients immediately and equally across various terrains without reference to prior and fixed definitions or term” (327).

4.1 Virtualities

Archive and Impact

  • The question I’m going to get about this book is simple: Why is Empire on my reading list? How is it digital studies?
  • Empire represents one of the most influential sustained attempts to theorize a postmodern Deleuzian politics of sovereignty. It is a hopeless product of its time that nevertheless forms an important base for those categories of thinkers (Galloway, Thacker, Bratton) for whom the most interesting questions of digital technologies are ones of politics and sovereignty. In this way, Empire constitutes a hinge between those scholars of digital technologies who are interested in questions of politics and those for whom technologies were (erroneous) fulfillments of poststructuralist promises.
  • Empire is fundamentally a work of optimism; it is infected with the same techno-network optimism of much of the 90’s, with the assumption that the degradation of the nation-state (was even happening in the first place) would carry with it a simultaneous valediction of the power of the people-in-common (even as The Commons was erased). But fifteen years hence we find in Bratton the persuasive counterargument: that the degradation of the nation-state accompanies a revanchism of its terms, that borders are violently reintroducing themselves, and that the power and information asymmetries between Empire and multitude are too great to bear.
  • The other important facet of Empire is the constitution of Empire as a media effect.

Here are the notes from ENGL602 on a passage from Empire:

Citation (list the author, title, and year of publication):

— Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. “2.4 Symptoms of Passage.” Empire. Harvard UP, 2000, pp. 137–56.

Intellectual Problem (state the question being answered or relationship/confusion being investigated):

— How have poststructuralism and postcolonialism failed in their mission to resist and challenge systems of capitalism and domination? How can we construe such systems in the face of new technological, financial, and cultural mobilities?

Key Concepts (name up to 3 terms that the author invented or employed and offer definitions):

  1. “Empire,” Hardt and Negri’s casting of structural power, of the systems of oppression. Empire is not simply the powers of the state, but rather the state in conjunction with cultural industries in the new, Deleuzian terrains of the late 20th century.
  2. “Multitude,” the opposition to Empire—a kind of Deleuzian reformation of Marxian “labor”—an assemblage of humans joined together by a shared characteristic, and thus capable, in their assemblage, of spontaneous and shared uprisings and actions against Empire.

Thesis Statement (quote 1-2 sentences that best encapsulate the main thesis/argument):

— “When we begin to consider the ideologies of corporate capital and the world market, it certainly appears that the postmodernist and postcolonialist theorists who advocate a politics of difference, fluidity, and hybridity in order to challenge the binaries and essentialism of modern sovereignty have been outflanked by the strategies of power. Power has evacuated the bastion they are attacking and has circled around to their rear to join in the assault in the name of difference” (138).

Secondary ideas (summarize up to 5 pieces of supporting evidence):

  1. Corporate capital and the world market have “circled around to [postmodernism’s and postcolonialism’s] rear to join them in the assault in the name of difference” (138). Essentially, these posts- have misconstrued the object of their attack, believing that there exists a stability of enemy when in fact Empire is skilled at adopting a politics of difference and advocation of free play across such difference.
  2. Postmodernism, in viewing itself as an heir and opponent of Enlightenment-era thinking and modern sovereignty, misconstrues the nature of contemporary sovereignty, which is in and of itself a postmodern condition (142). Indeed, the orientation of postmodernism itself has always been as an opponent or successor, or at the very least in some way in relation to a modern sovereignty that simply no longer exists (143).
  3. On the other hand, postcolonialism, particularly the work of Homi Bhabha, falls into a similar pitfall, given that the colonial project is in and of itself an Enlightenment and modernist project (143). Such work relies on stable “binary divisions” against which to do the work of critique; however, such critique only operates against the domination of “modern sovereignty” (145). As such, “postcolonialist theory [might be] a very productive tool for rereading history, but it is entirely insufficient for theorizing contemporary global power” (146).
  4. What then characterizes “the passage to Empire”? Hardt and Negri read the transition on a variety of terrains, including the turn to “fundamentalisms,” whether political or religious, which create new sovereignties under the aegis of a return to an imagined past (148); or the “ideology of the world market,” which coopts theory’s “anti-foundational and anti-essentialist discourse” through rhetoric of circulation, difference, and “infinite multiplicities” (150–51).
  5. We need to see postmodernism and postcolonialism as historical and spatially situated projects, which can only promise liberation for specific subjects and against specific enemies. Concepts like “hybridity, mobility, and difference” are not in and of themselves “liberatory,” but rather become liberatory in response to historically contingent realities (154). More often than not, these liberatory promises “only resonate with the situation of an elite population that enjoys certain rights, a certain level of wealth, and a certain position in the global hierarchy” (156).

Theoretical Foundations (list up to 3 theorists that the author relies on, explicitly or implicitly, and state what each offers the argument):

  1. Deleuze, although unmentioned in this section, radically informs Hardt and Negri’s casting of global power as smooth, rhizomatic, and slippery: the mere fact of Empire coopting and turning around the tools of postmodernism and poststructuralism characterizes it as a Deleuzian creature.
  2. Contemporary Marxist critics such as David Harvey and Fredric Jameson, who cast postmodernity “as a new phase of capitalist accumulation and commodification that accompanies the contemporary realization of the world market” (154). Such analysis undergirds Hardt and Negri’s claim that Empire does not merely emerge from the state or from capital but rather as an merger and outgrowth of both.

Theoretical Antagonists (list up to 3 theorists that the author responds against, explicitly or implicitly, and why):

  1. Postmodernism, of course, particularly the Derridean variant that emphasizes free play across signification and an valorization of difference.
  2. Postcolonialism, particularly Homi Bhabha’s thought, which they argue operates as a bridge between the two posts- in its specifically linguistic casting of the questions of postcolonial discourse.

Implications (describe in 1-2 sentences the value, impact, or stakes of this text in cultural, political, ethical, or aesthetic terms):

— Hardt and Negri’s text is not a constitutive rejection of postmodernism or poststructuralism but rather a call to see them as historically situated and responding to enemies that may no longer exist. The new realities of Empire require a concomitantly new mode of resistance, and these theoretical approaches may not be sufficiently equipped.