Productive

Negri’s turn toward Deleuzoguattari-ism came about at the same time Deleuze and Foucault were beginning their split, which has been attributed to many things but philosophically hinged on their differences over resistance and power. Negri certainly learned from this schism, and he sided with Deleuzean assemblages over Foucaultian dispositifs, even if he’s not attached to those terms.

So far so good. Deleuze’s lines of flight give his metaphysics, which is also a politics, an immanent means of explaining both escape and restoration that doesn’t rely on (second-phase) Foucault’s more traditional moments of resistance (and the architecture of consciousness and decision that precede and follow it). “Resistance comes first” seemingly validates Foucault, but it’s a transformed Foucault, one whose “system” is made immanent.

Negri’s working through this problematic began, not coincidentally, with the book on Spinoza, and I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that the results he came up with have been the foundation of all of his work since then. His response to the problematic has been to adhere to the immanence of the constitutive elements that Deleuze insisted on, but to plug in his own elements. To put it probably too baldly, in Negri the lines of flight are replaced with an ontology founded on production and constitution. So, on Spinoza:

In rhythm with the Dutch anomaly a theoretical potential is determined that, while sending down its roots into the complexity of the initial capitalist development and into the fullness of its cultural environment, proceeds toward a future dimension that supersedes the limits of that historical period. The crisis of the utopia of the bourgeois origins, the crisis of the founding myth of the market […] does not mark a regression in Spinoza but a leap forward, an advance, a projection into the future. The basis is decomposed and liberates the meaning of human productivity and the materiality of its hope. The crisis destroys the utopia in its bourgeois historical determinateness, dissolves its contingent superficiality, and opens it instead to the determination of human and collective productivity.

Substituting production and constitution does retain some advantages of Delezuean lines of flight; namely, the neutral valence of the concepts and how they can constitute both/either freedom and slavery. But that’s also where the substitution becomes a problem: While lines of flight suggest something than can be decomposed and/or decomposing, locating production and constitution as the immanent heart of subjectivity indicates that subjects are always productive and constituting; while lines of flight can be imperceptible, taciturn, and immobile (think of Deleuze’s ever-patient tick), Negri’s ontology assumes an ability to produce is always active and central.

And this begins to get at Negri’s inability to embrace antistatism and his lingering, if slightly kinky, attachment to Leninism. His multitude, even absent a leadership apparatus, can’t be without being productive.

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