You had me at “posthegemony”

When I first saw OSU’s reading list, the title of Posthegemony caught my attention, not because I am personally ready to eschew the concept of hegemony, but because I’ve been thinking about how it may or may not mesh with the largely Deleuzoguattarian approach I’m taking with my research. For example, one need look no further than my previous post to see a references to Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony. Nevertheless, the conclusion to Beasley-Murray’s book provides an argument for why it may be time to move on to new conceptual terrain via three concepts: affect, habitus, and multitude. I spent some time reading Bourdieu a few years ago and had largely shelved him in the flurry of other theorists I’d been reading, but I’m going to use this post to quickly sketch my understanding of how his concept of habitus fits in with affect and multitude.

In Distinction, Bourdieu provides us with an idea of how habitus and other phenomena relate to practice in the form of an equation:

[(habitus)(capital)] + field = practice

And though the equational form of this idea may be off-putting for some, I think it’s helpful acknowledge that what he’s telling us is that our habitus — our tendency or disposition to act in some particular way — cannot freely control our actions, but is affected by the (social, cultural, political, etc.) capital at our disposal, as well as the field in which we are situated. Throughout his work he calls habitus a “structured and structuring structure” and a “cultural unconscious,” among other things, but the main point I want to make is that it is formed not through the imposition of rules, but through interactions. Bourdieu is, after all, someone who said, “I can say that all my thinking started from this point: how can behavior be regulated without being the product of obedience to rules?”* Or, as Beasley-Murray would say, habit is not constructed through contract, but rather through contact.

With this in mind, Beasley-Murray’s assertion that habitus is one route by which constituent power can be reasserted is indeed a powerful one: if hegemonic constituted power seeks to discipline and order practice through rules — wait for the walk signal to cross, post no bills, no skateboarding in the plaza — then transgression not only flouts those rules, but operates in a cultural realm that seems to exist in parallel. It’s like walking on the Upper West Side, where nobody waits for the signal to cross: you step out into the street and look for cars and then you cross the street (c’mon, everybody’s doin’ it!). And perhaps it’s just me, but after living in Seattle where people stand on corners, in the rain, waiting for the signal to change, I truly find joy in this practice. This is, of course, a simple example but is nevertheless such positive affective modulations — love, joy, etc. — that Hardt and Negri are suggesting to be the connective tissue of the multitude, and I’m thankful to Beasley-Murray for pointing out how the realm of habit meshes nicely.**

* cited in David Swartz’s Culture and Power, 95.

** I’m also thankful that he posted the conclusion to his book for us to read!

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Multitude and Mediation

Along with Mark and Gene, I found Mazzarella’s “third way” less than compelling, but it nevertheless piqued my attention with respect to what the author calls the “all-too-familiar zero-sum opposition between potentiality and domination, between emergence and mediation” (714). Perhaps I’m guilty of seeking my own third way, but my inclination is to snap the latter emergence-mediation dichotomy, and try to think about how a relationship between the two could give us a way to think about how a practical multitude might be constituted.

In contrast to Mazzaralla’s attempt to develop “a theory that would not pit ‘order against desire’ but would rather be able to track their dialectical co-constitution” (716), I am thinking more along the lines of Rancière in The Emancipated Spectator. For him, the theater is undoubtedly an externality, but he is quick to point out that this does not make it a Debordian spectacle, because the spectacle is, by definition, contemplated as an appearance divorced from its truth. If, instead, theatrical performances – or mediations, in the present discussion – seek “to teach their spectators ways of ceasing to be spectators and becoming agents of a collective practice,” (7-8) then it seems that mediation can actually become a locus about which a multitude can form (the reading list that serves as the basis for the discussions on this blog is a perfect example).

It’s important to note too that, in Rancière’s formulation, singularity is not diminished. Instead, individual difference is cherished and cultivated, while the emergence of the collective is based on shared experiences relating to the externality:

“The collective power shared by spectators does not stem from the fact that they are members of a collective body or from some specific form of interactivity. It is the power each of them has to translate what she perceives in her own way, to link it to the unique intellectual adventure that makes her similar to all the rest in as much as this adventure is not like any other. This shared power of the equality of intelligence links individuals, makes them exchange their intellectual adventures, in so far as it keeps them separate from one another, equally capable of using the power everyone has to plot her own path” (16-17).

Rancière actually calls the performance itself a vanishing mediation, but after reading Arditi’s piece, I’m also inclined to grant the mediation an existence of its own, even if it’s only residual. To require it to vanish in the formation of a collectivity reeks of a dialectical aufhebun, which seems apt if Jameson is indeed the original theorist of the vanishing mediator (as Arditi suggests). Instead, why not acknowledge what Guattari calls the “stickiness” of affects evoked by mediations, and use them as common building blocks to construct the multitude in the way that Rancière suggests?

Response to “Social and Material (dis)Organization of the City”

(I’m re-posting my response to Juuso here, since discussions sometimes get lost in comments…)

I’ve been thinking along these same lines but more in terms of the compulsion to order space, rather than the disorder that arises in the wake of social struggle. But to stay closer to the questions you raise: I’m reminded of an article by Yael Navaro-Yashin, “Affective spaces, melancholic objects: ruination and the production of anthropological knowledge”

In it she investigates how the affect of melancholy arises in the Turkish Cypriots who appropriated space and objects from their Greek counterparts during the mid-70s war and partition of the country, and uncovers evidence of melancholy in everyday parlance that reveals the residents’ feelings toward appropriated property: specifically their use of the word “loot” in a self-deprecating way. Interviews with residents of an area near a military border reveal feelings of confinement and suffocation, which she interprets as a relationship between negative affective states and the aesthetic of ruination amongst which these people live.

This obviously isn’t politics directly, but it’s certainly an insight into the affective engagement with a ruinous environment, or as Holland says, citing D&G’s terminology, an “incorporeal transformation.” And though Harvey does actually mention the three elements of schizoanalysis — “political and economic powers of capital, along with its hegemonic ideological practices and its powerful grasp upon political subjectivities” (p. 120) — I don’t think his disciplinary background really gives him the ammunition he needs to engage with their interactions.