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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multitudinous

I almost posted a thought for the last reading, Multitude. I decided to refrain for a couple reasons…. One reason being that I never finished the reading… But I wasn’t compelled to finish it, either. But reading Beasley-Murray’s conclusion (or, secondary elaborations, as Jameson calls his lengthy conclusion), it still feels relevant.  The crux of the almost-post focused on ‘spirit of engagement’, and how I feel wholly dissatisfied by H & N’s narrative style. I can’t say I disagree, necessarily, with their articulation of Empire, or Multitude, but I can say I don’t respond to their ‘attitude’, for lack of a better word….

When I read Deleuze- or Deleuze and Guattari- it brings me joy. The way in which they work through ideas I find inspiring, and their characteristic ‘movement’ between poles of a concept is infinitely helpful as a strategy for understanding something in its complexity, to the best of one’s ability. I feel strongly about classic dialectical strategies and I loathe binaries. Both feel artificially constructed and what results, I think, is an often thin articulation of two opposing points of view, in order to advance the third position. Even if that third position feels ‘right’, the process of getting there leaves much to be desired, at least for me. And when a particular position is advanced, like Empire or Multitude, as concepts, the way in which H & N articulate the pervasiveness of the concepts, the inevitability or teleology of the narrative, I end up feeling like I don’t really have a lot of room to ‘move’. They have (or, really, ‘one has’, as this is less about H & N, per se, than a stylistic tendency) constructed a particular narrative in which they forcefully advance a particular position. I feel hemmed in, and I find myself wanting to ‘pick a fight’ and offer as many points that contradict the narrative. I find myself wanting some concrete specificity for what feels like generalizations… (and it also stands as a consistent reminder to be ‘mindful’ with my own work.)

I’m not really sure what that is about, feeling like I have no room to move; feeling crabby about it. But as one who often reads against the grain, the style of thinking becomes really important for me, as I often take concepts or strategies and attempt make them my own. Or at the very least, it stands as a positive example of how I imagine myself to write, or rather, my aspiration to write as such. So, H & N make me crabby. D & G, they make me happy.

The piece by Beasley-Murray made me happy. He takes the concept of the multitude and gives it the space and attention that I often feel is missing with H & N. His careful comparison/explication of a number of concepts, like contract, contact, common, corruption, his overarching concept of ambivalence, etc., all nicely unpack the concepts in relation to H & N’s project. It feels carefully considered, while not feeling overly ‘safe’. This process does a couple of things- through ambivalence, it becomes more clear that there are/can be negative manifestations of the multitude, it highlights the ‘characteristics’ of multitude and empire, showing how similar they are in some ways, which ultimately points to the slipperiness of language and how constructing a concept and assigning it a name should be done carefully.

With D & G, they insist on the same kind of ambivalence of a concept, or what my earlier post on language called ‘neutral’; there are good assemblages and bad assemblages, productive lines of flight and suicidal ones; the concept in and of itself is but one thing. How it is manifested or actualized is wholly contingent. H & N recapture the ‘multitude’ and dress it as positive and productive, one that fits into their overall theory nicely. But this fixing of a definition stands in contrast to the spirit of D & G’s engagement. Considering the subjective nature of ethics, the role of encounter, what is considered to be held in ‘common’ in the multitude, etc., Beasley-Murray convincingly, through his careful articulations/engagement with H & N’s work, reinvests their work with the ambivalence that feels extremely important and necessary.