“How are we to understand the autonomy that multitudes enjoy but crowds do not?” (711)

“A crowd thinks in images, and the image itself immediately calls up a series of other images, having no logical connection with the first” (703)

Inadequate knowledge, recalling Spinoza and the proposition that states that we draw a correlation between unlike things… “The crowd’s desperate desire for a shared focus…stems from a constant collective anxiety about its own disintegration.” (704)  Mazzy points to a clear ‘shift’ in attitudes with regards to a group of individuals, in which the crowd-cum-multitude has agency, or rather, “it takes the collective rather than the individual as the site of freedom, but – it turns out – only if the multitude’s emergent energies remain pure, uncompromised by actually existing in social institutions.”  Or perhaps, “emergent integrity of collectivities.” (707) Painted as a site of potential, the multitude thus offers a possible world in which, presumably, the heady singularities are dialed in to their desires and collective energy.

Not having read Le Bon, I cannot speak to his handling of the text, but Mazzy states, “Le Bon remarks that crowds act ‘far more under the influence of the spinal cord than of the brain.’” I can’t help but compare that unreasoned pure response to stimuli to pure ‘emergent energies’ that presumably act not from reason, but rather an unspoken surge of collective desire. How can we discern whether this collective desire is ‘desperate’ or ‘pure’?” And how do we know whether the gathering is ‘inert’ or has a ‘vital spark’? And recalling the Holland article, does this leave room for the ‘incorporeal transformations’ that may be taking place, but not immediately visible?

And not having read Multitude, I cannot speak to Mazzy’s mishandling of that either. But, in the spirit of discussion (given my ‘not having read’ state of being), where this thought experiment takes me is two places, the first one being language. Wikipedia makes a distinction between  ‘a crowd’ and ‘the crowd’, in which one suggests a located group of individuals in time and space (though not necessarily) while the latter suggests an amorphous collection of mindless bodies. A multitude is equally amorphous ‘singularities’, though decidedly painted in terms that offer greater potential. Mazzy suggests that we are in the ‘age’ of the Multitude, and I cannot help but wonder, just because the language has changed, has the state of being?

The other place it takes me is to D & G, and the idea of a neutral concept. They repeatedly make the distinction between puissance and pouvoir. Both address notions of power, but how that power is manifested or actualized is radically different, whereas the former yields productive potential, the latter is negative, dominating. I cannot help but think of both the crowd and the multitude as possibly offering the same kind of distinction, regardless of terms. Might they not offer both a similar positive and negative manifestation? If it is accurate that the “multitudes express and produce, first of all, habit: ‘Habit is the common in practice…Habits create a nature that serves as the basis of life.’” (709-10) it seems it would be wise to regard multitudes somewhat suspiciously, given how pernicious habits can be in their negative manifestations.

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?

More Dangerous Thinkers, Please


It seems to me there is a developing trend in political theory/radical studies that I would want to identify as broadly pragmatist.  It tends to like Dewey, it tends to be almost entirely negative in its critical account of other thought, and what positive visions it does offer tend to be very limited in their political ambition. The structure of the typical sentence seems to be something like: “neither extreme conservative strawperson x or extreme radical strawperson y, but rather my own moderate, reasonable, unassuming option z” (q.v. Mazzarella, p. 727).  Z of course avoids the terrible old ways of x, but it also avoids the supposed starry-eyed extremism of y, or whatever the most au currant radical theory is.  The author, in this tradition, takes absolutely no risks.  S/he critiques strawpersons, or the most extreme bits of a theory, the reader passively agrees, and then the author charts out an unobjectionable middle ground that seems pleasant and mild. The author can only seem smart, thoughtful, rigorous, and their ideas are almost entirely insulated from critique.

I don’t like this approach really at all.  I certainly don’t like the strawperson stuff, which usually is just a condemnation of an argument the theorist-of-the-moment never made anyway.  And I don’t find anything delicious in the mild–or really, bland–alternatives on offer.  The modern pragmatists, just for example, manage to write entire tracts without ever saying anything explicitly about (let alone decrying) capitalism or class domination.  (Of course there are improvements to be made to the class-reductionism of so much Marxism, but avoiding the entire issue is no solution–or rather, it is a pro-capitalist solution).

Similarly with Mazzarella.  I’ll take H&N’s challenge to continually find ways to flee structures of representation and institutionalization, thank you very much, rather than Mazzarella’s undefended acceptance of those structues as “fundamental” (p. 722) and subsequent agenda to merely add to “the richness of our investment in them” (p. 727).

What is this trend away from dangerous, tightrope-walking thinkers (whether they be Nietzsche or Kant) and toward safe, mild-mannered ones (like Dewey or Habermas)?  Better I think to be confronted with the thrilling challenge of Kant’s argument, and then decide what to do with it, rather than be drugged by someone like Mazzarella’s unobjectionable middle ground.