Sunday, November 27, 2005


Both the title and the subtitle of Richard Day's Gramsci is Dead are misleading. The title because, though Day has much to say about hegemony, his version of the concept is sufficiently broad that he traces it back to (at least) Hegel, and he hardly discusses Gramsci's contribution. (I suppose, however, that Hegel is Dead would have been a marginally less alluring title.)

The subtitle, "Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements" is also something of a misnomer, mostly because Day is less concerned to establish influences than to point to resonances between social movements and the anarchist tradition. Even then, he is interested primarily in the ways in which recent theory as well as recent practice might help release anarchism (as well as Marxism) from what he terms "the hegemony of hegemony."

Day establishes an opposition between the "logic of hegemony" and the "logic of affinity." Hegemony, he tells us, is totalizing and state-centered. It operates, equally in either what he likes to term its "(neo)liberal" or its "(post)marxist" variants, by means of demand, representation, recognition, and integration. From the very moment that politics is predicated on the demand, it implies and invokes the existence of a state before which the individual or group constituted in the demand seeks to be represented, and by which it hopes to be first recognized and then integrated. Affinity, on the other hand, begins with Exodus and establishes self-generated (and self-valorizing) communities predicated on a "groundless solidarity" and "infinite responsibility" that are always open to the new and the other.

Though inspired by, and driven in part by an attempt to revindicate, the historical tradition of anarchist thought from William Godwin to Gustav Landauer, Day also stresses the contribution of poststructuralist and postmodern theorists such as Foucault and (above all) Deleuze and Guattari. He is particularly interested in the figure of the "smith" found in A Thousand Plateaus: the smith, located somewhere between nomad and citizen, opens up and inhabits the "holey space" that is neither fully smooth nor fully striated. The smith, Day argues, is "the autonomous subject of the coming communities" (128).

Day puts his case forcefully and in large part convincingly. There is no doubt that we should leave the dead carcass of hegemony and hegemonic thought well behind us. Yet the final few pages of Gramsci is Dead indicate some gnawing problems with his grand narrative pitting hegemony against affinity. Here he acknowledges that states are no longer sovereign as they once were, and that this is in part because "corporations [are] working to undermine" them (217). "Decentralization," Day admits, "just as easily, and much more likely under current conditions, means a shift from modern discipline to postmodern control" (216). Distinguishing between "radicle and radical forms of rhizomatic organization," he notes that "maintaining this differentiation will become an ever-more pressing task" (216).

For indeed, the notion of a grand struggle between hegemony and affinity no longer makes much sense (if it ever did). We live in posthegemonic times, in which control is exerted directly and immediately by affective and habitual means. And on the other hand, for all the fine examples of social movements that Day puts forward, from the Zapatistas to No One is Illegal, from Participatory Economics to People's Global Action, I am not sure that we can be quite so sanguine these days about Temporary Autonomous Zones, or that "clearly, an experiment carried out as part of a mass movement is much more dangerous than the same experiment undertaken by one or more packs" (176). What, after all, about the pack that carried out its experimentation on September 11th 2001, a day that cannot be so glibly despatched as "the Day of the Great Excuse for Oppression" (32).

In short, beyond attention-grabbing and unenlightening exclamations (Gramsci is Dead!), rather more work is required to construct a theory of posthegemony.

(Cross-posted to an ungrammatical multitude.)

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