Friday, August 15, 2008


There is no hegemony and never has been. We live in cynical, posthegemonic times: nobody is very much persuaded by ideologies that once seemed fundamental to securing social order. Everybody knows, for instance, that work is exploitation or that politics is deceit. But we have always lived in posthegemonic times: social order was never in fact secured through ideology. No amount of belief in the dignity of labor or the selflessness of elected representatives could ever be enough. The fact that people no longer give up their consent in the ways in which they may once have done, and yet everything carries on much the same, only shows that consent was never really at issue. Social order is secured through habit and affect: through turning the constituent power of the multitude back on itself. It follows also that social change is never achieved through any putative counter-hegemony. No amount of adherence to a revolutionary creed or a party line can ever be enough. The fact that people no longer believe in radical change in the ways in which they may once have done does not mean that everything will carry on much the same. Social change, too, is achieved through habit and affect: through affirming the constituent power of the multitude. But change is not a matter of substituting one program for another. The multitude betrays the best-laid plans.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008


The fiction of hegemony is more threadbare than ever. The myth of the social contract is over. In place of coercion or consent, both of which depend upon granting transcendence to the state, posthegemony substitutes affect, habit, and an immanent multitude. Politics is biopolitics: in fact, it always has been, but today more clearly than before neither civil society nor the state are sites of struggle or objects of negotiation. At stake is life itself. One the one hand, increasingly corrupt forces of command and control modulate and intervene directly on the bodies of ordinary men and women. On the other hand, everyday insurgencies of constituent power reveal a multitude that betrays and corrodes constituted power from the inside, overflowing and escaping its bounds. The outcome of this confrontation is uncertain: constituent power may still fold back against itself; the line of flight that escapes may become suicidal; the multitude may turn bad and become monstrous; or perhaps, just perhaps, Exodus may lead to what Negri terms “the time of common freedom” (The Porcelain Workshop 161).

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Saturday, August 09, 2008


The Saturday photo, part VIII: "Christophe Colomb appaise une revolte a bord."

In fact, I'm trying to get any further information about this image, which comes from the Library of Congress. It seems to be a nineteenth-century French lithograph by someone called Turgis. Any information about the lithographer would be most welcome. Or about the original picture of which this is a print. Or any suggestions as to how about going about finding out such details. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


It seems to me that there are three, perhaps four, types of introduction for a book:

1. The arresting anecdote. This introduction revolves around with some kind of anecdote or story that in some way encapsulates the themes or concerns that are to be explored in the pages that follow. It might begin: "The morning of October 10, 1492, dawned bright and clear..."

2. The straight talk. This introduction outlines the argument of the book. It is essentially the book crammed into twenty pages, rather than two or three hundred. It might begin: "This book is about..."

3. The self-reflective gaze. This introduction discusses the book, and perhaps its style, as a way to explain the processes that led up to its writing, or to forestall criticism. It might begin: "I first had the idea to write about..." Or maybe: "Some will say that the time for a book of this nature is long past..."

4. The missed opportunity. This introduction is less about the book itself, than it is a separate essay about the topic that the author now realizes he or she would have wanted to write about. It might begin any old way.

NB in all four cases, the last three or four pages of the introduction are probably taken up with a chapter-by-chapter outline (a paragraph for each chapter) of what is to come.


Monday, August 04, 2008


Even empires seek validation. No power can subsist on coercion alone. Hence Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci's famous distinction between "hegemony" and "direct domination." Hegemony is "the 'spontaneous' consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant social group" (Selections from Prison Notebooks 12). Direct domination is exercised by "the apparatus of state coercive power which 'legally' enforces discipline on those groups which do not 'consent' either actively or passively" (12). Hegemony, in fact, is primary: for Gramsci, power is grounded in consent, and force is employed only secondarily, "in moments of crisis and command when spontaneous consent has failed" (12). Coercion supplements consent, rather than vice versa. Hegemony is, in Gramsci's view, the bedrock of social order. It is through the pedagogical activities of intellectuals in civil society that the state maintains its grip over the exploited, and the dominant group cements the "prestige" that it "enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production" (12).

Read more.... (long .pdf file)

Saturday, August 02, 2008


The Saturday photo, part VII: Lagavulin distillery as seen from the Port Ellen to Kennacraig ferry.