tobias v on Wed, 21 Aug 2002 02:44:02 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Empire for Beginners - by Rob los Ricos

on Empire ...

One of the most important aspects of "Empire" is that it accepts Deleuze
and Guattari's premise that capitalism heralds positive as well as
negative change. In D+G's "Anti-Oedipus," they call this positive
(although dangerous) element "axiomatization," the ceaseless, neverending
process of decoding. Empire further enhances this decoding, aka
deterritorialisation. To oppose Empire completely is to misunderstand the
positive aspects of Empire as well as to believe that the opposition can
exist and take place as an outside and an inside. The positive aspects of
deterritorialisation found in Empire on a practical level include the
globalisation of resistance, the internetworked contact of the
revolutionary and the multitude, and the creation of new planes of
resistance-- information networks. This is why the name
"anti-globalisation movement" is such a misnomer, for the point is not (if
one holds to the above) to oppose "globalisation" but to oppose the
corporatisation of the globe. As far as I understand Negri and Hardt,
_because there is no outside to Empire_ (as Rob Los Ricos seems, at
points, to understand), resistance must be paradoxical and twofold: 1. at
the level of the local, resistance must be made to capital at every turn;
2. at a general level, the connections of Empire -- such as the internet
-- must be used _through_ Empire _against_ Empire. To outright oppose such
technological developments would be to oppose and nullify new topographies
of resistance. Indeed, there is a sense, to me, that _furthering_ Empire,
ie pushing it to its breaking point, is a tactic worthy of consideration.

Therefore, when I hear Los Ricos say that "Resistance must come from
without," I find Ricos sadly missing the point of Negri and Hardt's
thesis. Arguments over the language employed aside (in fact I believe
Empire the book to be quite readable, a very clear and pragmatic assertion
of the writing of Deleuze and Guattari and Debord, among others), Ricos,
despite his attempts to understand this vast paradigm shift that Negri and
Hardt attribute to the new Empire, still employs 18th/19th century
paradigms of resistance -- ie, that resistance must come from "outside."
The end of Rico's review falls completely apart, with one paragraph
stating that

"Anything which takes place within Empire can be recuperated for Empire's
own needs. Anything. Everything. That's its nature."

while the beginning sentence asserts that "But resistance to imperial
power won't come from within," and the last paragraph stating that

"Resistance must come from without, which means, primarily, creating human
identities that emphasize our relationships with the biosystems we inhabit
rather than with commodities, economics, the state or nationalities."

What Hardt and Negri assert is that _there is no outside to Empire_, which
pragmatically recognises Deleuze's assertion of difference over identity
(I believe this can also be seen as a politics of a deconstruction put
into praxis). Ricos seems rather confused as to Negri and Hardt's argument
at this point, as he attempts to reassert "naturalistic" connections to
bios and the formation of "identities." According to Deleuze in
"Repetition and Difference," it is the problematic category of identity
that leads to the quantitative exchange-value of capitalism; ie identity
asserts exactly what Ricos wishes to avoid: nationalities and states and
other hierarchical structurations. Exchange-value as axiomatization can be
turned to positive affect as decoding, deterritorialisation; however, as
that which forms identities, it leads to the master/slave, heteronormative
and patriarchal relationships of capital: daddy-capital, mommy earth,
child-consumer in the Oedipal family). Rico's plan to create identities
that emphasize relationships with biosystems, if thought not in terms of
identity but in terms of becoming and difference, is closer to the
ethology that Deleuze employs: becoming-animal, becoming-orchid. However,
it would seem that this distinction between identity and difference is
lost on Rico, leaving Rico to assert a last-century stance of "outside"
Empire, looking for that elusive ground to stand on, forcing the
resistance to act as coloniser and Eurocentric explorer to find that new
territory to inhabit beyond Empire so as to fight its borders in
skirmishes, rather than resisting from the always already within and
pushing its boundaries to the breaking point, stretching its membrane so
thin across various systems that it cannot control, it loses all control
of its control -- indeed, such are the basic premises found in much of
Hakim Bey's work from the mid-80s, an anarchist with a subtle
understanding of the positionings of resistance.

Unlike Ricos, I do not believe Negri and Hardt profoundly misplace the
struggles of indigenous peoples worldwide. What they see, however, is that
indigenous systems are not "outside" Empire. What is ironic is that the
model Ricos proposes -- fighting from outside -- is the territorial and
colonial model that propels imperialism; he then attributes this to
possibly non-territorial models of indigenous relationships to land as a
strategy of resistance. We must ask: is not Ricos from the outside to
these indigenous peoples? Is territory recoding indigenous peoples into
Eurocentric models of being (the castle)? The questions revolve around
appropriation and authenticity, and return us back to identity and the
question of speaking-for-the-other. Indeed, it is the model of Negri and
Hardt that more closely resembles indigenous conceptions of land as
becoming-space rather than territory, such as the songlines of Australian
aborigines. And it is necessary to realise that indigenous organisation
does not a priori constitute a non-patriarchal, non-hierarchical modality
of being; the indigenous form of life is not Good by virtue of its
existence, and it too must be subject to a careful critique of profound
respect. It must be noted that many indigenous organisations strive for
self-sufficiency in capital and corporation. However, I cannot claim to
speak on behalf of, nor to understand, indigenous arguments and beliefs.
What I can say is that Hardt and Negri's view of history is propelled by
the energy of protest and resistance. It is capital which changes only
because of resistance, and not vice-versa. Therefore, Empire is a product
of resistance: it is ours, and this is why there is no outside.

I can sympathise with Rob Los Ricos. Like Negri, he is a political
prisoner. Incarcerated and held by the State, to see the positive affect
of Empire alongside the negative and the possibility of always already
fighting from "within" must be incredibly, if not impossibly difficult. To
say that there is no outside is not to succumb to frustration and defeat
and selling-out; it is to shoulder responsibility for action and to
realise one's always-already implication in Empire. One cannot escape
one's function in the machine, even as that which creates a blockage. To
say that there is no outside is to shout a positive affirmation of
existence and agency: Yes! Yes!

tobias c. van Veen

tobias c. van Veen -----------

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