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Interview with Michael Hardt

Michael Hardt is a philosopher and theorist best known for his collaboration with Antonio Negri on a trilogy of political treatises — Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth — that explore the dynamics of the contemporary global order.

 

Since its publication in 2000, the much-lauded Empire has been touted as the ‘Communist Manifesto of the twenty-first century’, though Slavoj Žižek — who first made the comparison — originally left the tribute in the interrogative, as though it remained to be ratified by posterity. True to its forebear, Empire cuts an unusual figure within the typically polemic, prescriptive genre of manifesto; its mode is one of sustained theoretical analysis animated by a forward-looking grasp of concrete political reality. Hardt and Negri have in the time since its publication secured their place among our most essential thinkers. Their work has consistently propelled dialogue about emergent political practice and has proven that there exist within the ever-fossilising Western intellectual tradition plenty of ideas and resources that are powerfully open, flexible and provocative.

 

We met with Michael in his office at Duke University on a winter’s afternoon. A small vase with cut daffodils in water sat on the desk, and a striking black-and-white image from the Genoa G8 Summit protests hung on the wall. During the interview he maintained, whether listening or speaking, a charming, quiet charisma. We were able to browse the spines of his library when he excused himself briefly, appealing to a quick errand to attend to elsewhere on campus. Ranged along one set of shelves set into two walls dense with hardbacks, we found copies of his books translated into more than a dozen languages: Slovenian, Portuguese, Arabic, Korean, Russian, Cantonese, Turkish and Italian, among others we couldn’t readily identify. Fifteen minutes later he returned, seemingly re-energised, and we continued the interview.

 

 

Q

The White Review

— Let’s start with vocation. In the 1980s you worked for some time as an engineer on energy problems and from there became involved with political activism in Latin America, but there came a moment when you decided to return to school to work on philosophy. What form did that decision take?

A

Michael Hardt

— pauses and then laughs] I’m trying to edit out the simple answer, which is that I was following a girlfriend who was starting school, that being a graduate student and therefore a teaching assistant was a way of surviving when we didn’t have other ways to make money. But that’s only partly true. What’s more true is that I was frustrated with what I perceived as the non-intellectual or even anti-intellectual character of activism in the US at the time. My activist friends in Mexico City, they were all reading Gramsci — in the groups I was involved with, that level of theoretical engagement seemed out of place. In European circles, too, there seemed to be a kind of connection with scholarly interests that I didn’t find in the US, so graduate work was a way of doing the kind of theory that had an exchange with practice.

Q

The White Review

— You felt that the tradition of European activism could be useful to your work in the Americas?

A

Michael Hardt

— Well, even at the time, and this is even before any thorough familiarity with activist scenes in Europe,  I recognised and was inspired by the relationship there between theoretical and activist work, especially in the Italian activism of the 1970s and 1980s. At that time in the US, it wasn’t like Deleuze or Derrida really stood in any meaningful relation to the kind of activist work that was going on. I remember reading back then that, whereas in 1968 Italian students carried around Lenin’s What is to be Done? to show they were radicals, in 1977 they carried Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. As a graduate student in the US it was an opening — it was through them that I could see, for instance, how to read Deleuze politically. Of course, I’ve subsequently recognised that European activism struggles with similar problems about the relationship between activism and intellectual pursuits, but I think at the time it was helpful for me to imagine a kind of difference.

Q

The White Review

— Naïvety can be a useful catalyst.

A

Michael Hardt

— Well, it’s natural to find models in contexts of intense political struggle, contexts in which intellectuals have different and sometimes more central roles. In Italy in the 1970s there was a very strong relationship between highly intellectual discourses and engagement, militancy, direct action. Seeing how it functioned there allowed me to find a way beyond what I felt as a kind of impasse in the US. Of course I’ve gone through different periods: at times I’ve been much more critical of the kinds of privileges and respect and disjunction that have been afforded to intellectuals in the European tradition, and at those times have been more appreciative of the USA’s — not anti-intellectualism — but refusal of theory’s claim to authority.

Q

The White Review

— Have you identified with different stages in the continuum linking theory and practice at different stages in your career?

A

Michael Hardt

— Yes, I suppose. It’s important to recognise the autonomy of scholarship, too. It’s stupid to read Spinoza only for the ways it’s going to help you close down the federal building downtown. But it’s exciting when you find a relationship between theory and practice. Personally as well, I felt a kind of frustration in those separated lives, with not being able to make the connection myself, but also with being in an atmosphere where you have to have two groups of friends and each one only knows one side of what you are thinking.

Q

The White Review

— Your first book is on Deleuze and it’s called An Apprenticeship in Philosophy. What kind of apprenticeship was it? What was the theoretical landscape that you were entering at the time, and what was the kind of intervention you saw yourself making in it?

A

Michael Hardt

— One thing is that I felt a certain need to engage with what was often posed at the time as the politics of post-structuralism, and generally the assumption that post-structuralism didn’t have a politics or that the politics of deconstruction stood for those of post-structuralism as a whole. When I was writing the dissertation that then became the book, I had been in France and I felt like I was in a completely different political and cultural atmosphere. The politics seemed very clear to me, and so it seemed important to distinguish the types and uses of post-structuralism in political terms, as well as to insist that there was a certain fragment of what was lumped together as post-structuralism that seemed to me importantly political work, and not at all a flight from politics.

Q

The White Review

— I guess that would have been around the time that the ‘End of History’ arguments were making the rounds, in the early 1990s. Did you want to steer away from that type of reasoning?

A

Michael Hardt

— Well, there was also a very strong Anglo-American Marxist reaction against postmodernism-slash-post-structuralism, most visibly Derrida and Foucault. Deleuze and Guattari were more or less outside of that view, and yet it seemed to me both that Marxism had a lot to learn from their work and that their work could be thought of as an effort to transform and renew Marxism. It was this relationship that I was passionate about at the time.

Q

The White Review

— And so you wanted to learn from Deleuze’s method?

A

Michael Hardt

— I admired his method, yes, and it came down, simply, to the way he reads. I’ve largely remained very dedicated to a certain kind of traditional scholarship in my career, and one thing that attracts me to Deleuze is his engagement — and then, of course, revision — within the history of philosophy. He taught me how to read other philosophers, to think through them. An apprenticeship implies to me, too, that there isn’t a question of mastery or finding faults, or even positioning yourself in a stable relationship of critique to an author. What Deleuze does that frustrates many people but seemed really empowering to me at the time was that he doesn’t approach Bergson or Nietzsche and say ‘This is really helpful, but this is wrong’, and separate out this from that idea. The stuff he disagrees with he totally ignores. Bergson’s Christianity? It doesn’t even appear. From a certain perspective, one could say that he’s irresponsible, if one thinks that our responsibility is to evaluate authors or evaluate the tradition. Instead, he develops what he can, he makes good on what he can, makes use of what he can. That’s the way that I thought of the apprenticeship, and that’s what got me excited. I had a great deal of pleasure doing that project.

Q

The White Review

— Deleuze talks about his method as a kind of buggery, specifically in relation to Kant. He says that you have to take Kant from behind and produce a monstrous child.

A

Michael Hardt

— What Deleuze likes about that image, I think, is that the product is not a reproduction of Kant, not a derivation of Kant, but a new creation. That makes sense to me, but I just felt like I was trying to understand what the hell Deleuze was saying, and thought that if I tried to explain that the best that I could, it would be enough. Apprenticeship also involves modesty. I didn’t feel at that time that it was my aim to go beyond Deleuze to create something different, I was just trying to understand what he was saying and to understand him in relation to the pressures of certain political desires through which I read him.

Q

The White Review

— Let’s talk about Empire. Was it originally conceived as the first installment of a trilogy or did it begin as a self-contained project?

A

Michael Hardt

Empire started very indirectly. A French publisher proposed to Toni Negri that he write a textbook on political philosophy, and Toni proposed to me that we work on it together. Originally, we had envisioned it as focusing on the concept of sovereignty and its historical development. Eventually, the relationship with the publisher and the textbook idea didn’t work out, and so the project was free to evolve from there.

Q

The White Review

— But the idea of sovereignty as a cornerstone remained?

A

Michael Hardt

— Right, sovereignty as a way of structuring a historical account of political thought. That’s how it stood in our earliest outlines. The shift to when the book was no longer strictly accountable for the history and no longer in textbook form was crucial, though, because already then we understood in some sense that the ways in which the modern tradition conceptualised sovereignty no longer applied, had shifted. It was from there that Empire became the theoretical point of departure. The more banal, day-to-day point of departure was that, with the first Gulf War, we thought we were seeing something different than a familiar mode of US imperialism. There was a new kind of power structure in formation, and we thought that anti-Americanism — meaning anti-US-ism — simply wasn’t an adequate ideological position. That feeling intersected with this notion of a shift in the nature of sovereignty.

Q

The White Review

— Other theorists argue that, within the multifaceted context of Empire, instead of shrinking the State actually exerts its sovereignty more forcefully — that it proliferates laws with regard to things like intellectual property and labour rights — in reaction to its slipping grasp on power.

A

Michael Hardt

— It’s not a matter of the State getting stronger or weaker, but rather the State getting fitted into a different context. I remember being quite frustrated in these discussions where one person would say that globalisation exists and so the State no longer matters, and the other person would say that the State still matters and therefore there is no globalisation. It’s rather that state structures now fit within a much larger context to which they have to become adequate. One person who is really good about this is Saskia Sassen, who describes in great detail the processes of the denationalisation of the State. I find it quite convincing, for instance, when she analyses the changing roles of the kind of people who go to the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos. There, you have state functionaries like national economics ministers together with global corporate leaders. The ministers have to engineer state policies while simultaneously keeping the constitution of the global economic system in mind. It’s not that they no longer fulfil their functions as economic ministers of Turkey and Japan but that they now act in relation to a different ultimate scene, at once national and global.

In the same way, any way of thinking the global order today has to take the power of states into account. The question is the context in which they fit. In the same way, it’s not that the US no longer matters — it still matters a lot, in fact — but that it no longer has the power to dictate global affairs in the way it has in the past in Latin America and that neoconservatives imagined ten years ago that it could in the Middle East. All of this has a rather dramatic effect on the State. It’s not at all the same as it once was, and in fact, taking the perspective of sovereignty is exactly what poses this newness in greatest relief.

Q

The White Review

— Did you know, while you were working on Empire, that there were going to be two subsequent books?

A

Michael Hardt

— Absolutely not, no. No, we felt we were lucky to finish one!

Q

The White Review

— Did either of you foresee the response that the book got? Had you calculated your approach for a certain kind of reception or was it a total surprise?

A

Michael Hardt

— Mostly it got a lot of attention about a year after it was published. But it did get a certain amount of attention immediately. No, we never expected much, especially mainstream, attention. I remember my partner said at the time that Toni and I had a small and highly disturbed fan club. It’s true, though, that we were consciously writing — not exactly a summation — but trying to bring together different strands of autonomous Marxisms in one place. We were conscious, in that sense, of writing for those who were already interested in the tradition and of trying to pull things together.

Q

The White Review

— Your goal was a kind of coalition-building, in political terms?

A

Michael Hardt

— We weren’t so much thinking about it in political terms as in intellectual terms. There were a variety of intellectual paradigms that seemed to us either adjacent or verging on similar ideas — post-structuralism and Marxism, as we’ve already said, but also post-colonial studies, socialist feminism and certain feminist theory in general, queer theory. The idea was not exactly coalition-building but trying to recognise the coincidences and relationships among a variety of theoretical paradigms, perspectives, traditions. In that sense, Empire was a very academic project.

Q

The White Review

— You mean academic in the sense that you weren’t expecting a bestseller.

A

Michael Hardt

— We were pretty lucid about the obstacles in the way of the book being read by more than this small and highly disturbed fan club. Firstly, yes, a very academic book; secondly, a book that calls itself communist; and then, thirdly, the deviation, even if not always announced, from the dominant Marxist tradition. On each of  these counts, it certainly wasn’t an operation of engineering a book that would sell a lot of copies. We were very pleased to get a contract with a major university press. Toni was particularly pleased. He thought — and I think it’s true — that for his legal situation and certainly for his immediate image in Italy, having a book from Harvard University Press meant a lot, and meant more than any other university press just because of the stupid media image of Harvard in other countries. So that appealed to us. 

Q

The White Review

— When you finished writing Empire, was it clear which direction you needed to take with your next work?

A

Michael Hardt

— We weren’t immediately thinking about writing another book. We did already have criticisms of the book in mind. On one hand, there was an intellectual agenda that arose out of it for us. I remember writing letters to each other about our dissatisfaction with the concept of the multitude as it was articulated in Empire. Not that we thought it was wrong; we just thought it wasn’t worked out. We’d first talked about multitude primarily in terms of the dominant countries and this notion of immaterial labour, but we knew then that if it was going to mean anything it would have to be equally true and relevant in the context of subordinated countries. That got me started doing research about peasantry for a while, agriculture, that sort of thing. On the other hand, we were also swept up in a really exciting political period. The Seattle WTO protests of November 1999] happened while the book was in production. In fact, in hindsight I’m glad that I didn’t, but I remember thinking at the time that I should get a picture of Seattle as the cover of the book because I felt like it was a real moment of realisation, like, ‘Oh, that’s what we were talking about!’  Then there were the World Social Forums, different globalisation protest movements. A lot of Multitude, the book, was in dialogue with and inspired by those developments, trying to enter into dialogue, to learn from them. Multitude, more than the other books, has a very specific historical context and date. It’s much more embedded in a moment.

Q

The White Review

— You’ve spoken in other interviews about the joys of political life, that there is a positive valence — not just a lack — to struggle and political desire. How do you regard your own work with regard to this dichotomy between, say, affirmation and critique? Did the critique of sovereignty in Empire require a complement in Multitude and later in Commonwealth?

A

Michael Hardt

— It’s sometimes difficult to talk about critique because so many things are meant by the term, from a properly Kantian procedure to simply expressing a dissatisfaction with the way things are, even fault-finding. What’s most important to me is the question of alternative. What seems insufficient to me, with regard to a certain type of politicised scholarship that has been predominant in the academy over the last twenty years, is a critical practice that does not include the proposition of alternatives, that in fact assumes that the invalidity of the form of power, or the revelation of injustice itself, will somehow lead to the creation of something new. Critiques of US foreign policy or discourses on the ideological functions of Hollywood films, at least in their garden variety forms, rely on the notion that if the people only knew, they would change. Revealing the truth about power is in this sense a critical operation. The problem is that a kind of melancholy arises within political scholarship when those incredibly well-developed and well-articulated revelations of the truth about power in fact don’t then inspire or lead to anything else.

It’s important to know the truth about the history of US interventions in Latin America, for instance, but it isn’t sufficient, and that fact is increasingly obvious today in a way that maybe wasn’t obvious to previous generations. There are at least two — I don’t exactly think they’re straw figures — but let’s say two limit points we’re up against. One, in which a certain stream of anarchist thought assumes the spontaneity of alternative social formation, of collaboration, of mutual aid, etc. — a stream of thought not just in favour of revealing and removing the constraints of dominating power, but against power as such. The other limit would be the form of critique in which we need the perpetual revelation of the truth about power to keep it in check. That’s the theological figure: katechon, holding back evil.

Q

The White Review

— Critique is also much easier than the proposition of alternatives.

A

Michael Hardt

— Well, I think the disjunct between the two can also be thought about in terms of power. Within the world of politicised scholarship, critique is a mark of sophistication whereas actually proposing something is a position of weakness, because anyone could critique it. Or take Marcuse’s position on affirmative culture. For him, affirmation meant an absence of critique, and hence is not just naïve, but actually sustains the current ruling order. One can affirm only what exists; critique, the negative movement, is necessary to create something new. That much seems absolutely right to me, but what’s crucial is that the negative movement has to be accompanied by a constitutive one. Rather than a position of purity dedicated to perpetual critique we need to create or theorise or recognise the real possibilities of a social alternative.

Q

The White Review

— The question is where those alternatives come from. You and Toni have theorised the notion of a materialist teleology for revolution — revolution as self-regulating, or as a kind of logbook of political desire rather than an outcome-oriented strategy — as an alternative to utopian programmes that fail to generate immediate, concrete political action.

A

Michael Hardt

— I like the idea of a materialist teleology because I’m equally dissatisfied with the notion of teleology as an end dragging history towards it and the idea of spontaneous, unguided political formation. The goals of revolution come from political struggle itself, and I like the idea that, as you say, there is a sort of celestial logbook registering the sum total of those radical individual desires that drive historical change in a real direction, not only a cahier de doléances, as in pre-revolutionary France, but also a cahier des désirs politiques, des luttes politiques. Toni and I have become increasingly involved with formulating a theory of the institutionalisation of political desire. We struggle with that term, ‘institution’, because we don’t mean it as some new bureaucratic structure or even a party in the traditional form; what we mean by institution is something closer to the way anthropologists talk about the repeated habits and forms that create social continuity. There is such a thing as spontaneous revolt — people do revolt against their conditions in a way that is not always orchestrated in advance — but once that act of rebellion occurs, it has to be organised, formed, institutionalised in the sense of being repeated and made into something lasting.

Q

The White Review

— Some of your recent work has attempted to explore the theoretical potential for the concept of love. Do you see the political concept of love, as you theorise it, as the kind of power capable of filling the gap of continuity?

A

Michael Hardt

— I have become interested in the idea of deriving the necessity of a political concept of love, but maybe a better way of getting at the problem at hand would be an example from when I first met Toni. As a graduate student in Seattle, I had been interested in and inspired by some things about Italy in general and Toni’s work in particular. At that time, he was clandestine in France in a very ambiguous sort of way, and so in order to meet him I arranged to work on an English translation of his Spinoza book — a friend in Paris got me in touch with him by phone, and he said why don’t you come to Paris, we’ll talk about translation stuff. So I went there for a week, and the primary discussion we had during that week was about the problem of the lack, in English, of two separate words for power. In Latin, and so in Italian and French and other European languages, there are two different concepts — significantly different in Spinoza and so also a sensitive matter in Toni’s work — both commonly translated into English as ‘power’. Neither of us were satisfied with our attempts at salvaging these concepts in an English word.

Q

The White Review

— What kind of problems did that pose for the project?

A

Michael Hardt

— Well, the first, in Latin, potestas, is a centralised and in some sense transcendent power, in Spinoza often associated with God or the State; the other, potentia, is an immanent and usually plural power arising from below. In Spinoza, at least, there is a rather clear distinction. Once  I became sensitised to it, though, I started recognising that in a common French theoretical vocabulary, too — in Foucault, in Deleuze and others — this difference between pouvoir and puissance had a roughly similar valence. So why, in English, do we just have this one word, power? This has very real effects. If you think of power as a unitary concept, then the critique of power can easily become an anti-power position; whereas with two concepts of power, it can be the struggle against one and for the other, an argument for a better, different power. The distinction is helpful with regard to the possibilities for a critique of power that can simultaneously be the argument for an alternative.

Q

The White Review

— Let’s talk about how these ideas actually get played out in everyday political struggle. Writing in the Guardian 24 February 2011], you recognised the need in Egypt for an alternative order that neither replaces the existing elite with a new one nor sacrifices the democratic mandate of this collective action. Where, in your opinion, do Egyptians go from here? Are there any important lessons to be learned from the recent history of Latin America?

A

Michael Hardt

— It is helpful, I think, to make recourse to Latin America and the struggles that took place there over the last decade and more. Specifically for the Egypt of 2011, the Argentina of 2001 seems a useful comparison. There, it wasn’t so much the overthrow of a dictator as the overthrow of the neoliberal order and the governing caste that went with it. In both cases, the forces involved were comprised of a rather wide network of political protests and demands, and in both cases, the overthrow of one political leadership was only the beginning of a long process. What was so interesting about the  developments in Argentina at the time was the experimentation with new democratic forms, the construction of assembly movements in the attempt to work out a new kind of governance through delegation and discussion. Other practices, too: workers taking over the factories, the organisation and protests of the unemployed, barter systems, a whole range of efforts to construct alternative political and social forms.

In hindsight, most of the self-critique from those who were involved during those years involves the failure to create the means of continuity. They were left with something that was much better than what they started with, a new government that was indebted to and that maintained relationships with the social movements that established it, but it was not at all what they had aspired to during that time of potential. It’s partly in that context that I think one can evaluate what the developments in Egypt should be after the overthrow of the tyrant. There has to be a progressive and continuous experimentation within that social transformation, and these experiments have to become institutions in the sense of habits of repeated social relation. Another way would be to think in constitutional terms, of constitutionalising new freedoms, new means of relation, new economic orders. Each of these, institution and constitution, points in a different way to solidifying the creation of alternatives.

Q

The White Review

— Do you think that new technology transforms the possibilities of democracy or revolution beyond a simple acceleration of the kinds of historical cycles that were already in motion?

A

Michael Hardt

— New technology isn’t an answer to the question of organisation but it does provide ever more powerful mechanisms with which to construct new social forms and institutions. There are still limits. Ten years ago, when the internet came up in politics, it was common to hear people talk about inequality of access; today, with phones, that’s changed a bit, but it’s still important to recognise that in a country like Egypt different populations organise within different, often overlapping networks. A vast majority of the population has access to Al-Jazeera as a network; it’s only a new and relatively small demographic that has a substantial relationship to Twitter.

Q

The White Review

— So, as Marx would have it, the conditions of possibility for realising new forms of social relation are immanent to the system, and recognising new potentials requires the conscious development of an ethics of that system.

 

A

Michael Hardt

— An ethics is one thing, but also basic structures and institutions, like, ‘How are we going to decide things?’ It will be interesting to learn more about how exactly decisions were made in the square in Cairo. In the Argentinean assembly movements, they were attempting, sometimes unsuccessfully, to work out new ways of structuring democracy, new methods of resolving conflicts. Technology doesn’t solve that, but it does allow for new possibilities.

Q

The White Review

—  And yet, the geography of contemporary politics seems to pose a problem. In Egypt or Wisconsin, protesters can show up at Mubarak’s palace or the State Capitol building; for others, political desire is immediately confronted by several difficulties: the dispersed political geography of Empire, the immaterial nature of power, the lack of traditional public domain in which to be seen. Does political activism today have a target, or is there a new organisational  principle — smartmobs, hacktivism, etc. — that better engages this kind of terrain?

A

Michael Hardt

— One thing that has been quite well developed theoretically is the idea that locations of power are really only stand-ins for a much more generalised type of power. In some ways, the discourse on neoliberalism functioned that way — as in, it might be the IMF that’s doing this, or this national government, but the real enemy is neoliberalism in whatever material form it takes. It’s clear to everyone involved that Mubarak himself could not actually embody the enemy. Furthermore, from what we know of what’s happened so far in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya and elsewhere, the protests have not been oriented fundamentally towards or against the US. As far as I’ve been able to understand it so far, these struggles have not yet developed a theory of the enemy.

This may be OK for certain groups in certain moments, but identifying the enemy is still really an important and not-trivial political task, a crucial part of the theoretical development within political activity. That’s what Toni and I thought we were doing in Empire, attempting to name the coming enemy — the enemy-in-formation — with the simple idea that it matters for our practices of resistance and even for our political imagination what it is that we’re facing. It’s not exclusively an academic question. It’s politically relevant how we understand the problem: if the dominant forms of control today are different and dispersed and plural, then we have to define new ways of challenging them. It has to be a process. That’s another lesson to take from the experience in Latin America: there’s a kind of back and forth, a dialectic in a weak sense, between progressive governments that constantly disappoint and social movements that constantly challenge, a  kind of approximating movement. It’s not just a question of success or failure but an approach of some kind, a continuing movement.

Q

The White Review

— Another scene of some remarkable political activity over the last few months is the US prison system. You’ve spent some time working in prisons, organising reading groups and teaching Louis Althusser to inmates. How did that come about?

A

Michael Hardt

— I was mostly teaching Foucault, but it’s the same sort of thing. This actually brings us all the way back to the beginning of the interview. I went through different bouts of frustration with academic politics, and this was one that started directly after I went to a conference in the early 1990s. Perhaps a bit dramatically, I went home and called the state prison system to try to find a way to work in the prisons. I had a postdoctoral position in Los Angeles at the time, and that seemed to me the most practical kind of political engagement available. So, I worked for a year in the state prison in Chino, east of Los Angeles, and the next year I worked at a jail in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and then when I came to Duke I did five years of teaching a course on justice in the federal prison in Butner.

Q

The White Review

— Were there any major differences trying to teach theory in a prison environment rather than in a university classroom?

A

Michael Hardt

— Actually, there was one time I had graduate students participate with the inmates in a joint reading of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. I got permission from the prison administration to have fifteen students come, and the prisoners prepared punch and cookies for our meeting, and we just sat down together and talked Foucault. We had also read Goffman’s Asylums and one other book in that vein, and the interesting thing was that in discussing each of those books, the Foucault in particular, the inmates were very upset about the construction of subjectivity, the way in which institutions create a subjectivity. They thought of that as political defeat. Naïve as I was, I said ‘Well, actually, I think of resistance as coming from within, that we’re constructed by the institutions but that from within them we can transform them’. They were not buying it, and it was really very instructive for me, very challenging. I don’t bring up the example like I have any resolution to it.

Q

The White Review

— Let’s talk a little bit more about publishing. In the last issue we spoke to André Schiffrin about the state of the industry, and this review has a stake in the question. What are your opinions on the possibilities for creative intellectual work in today’s marketplace of ideas?

A

Michael Hardt

— I’m not sure if this is what you are asking, but it was important for me at one time, thinking back to when I was younger, to simply recognise how compromised or corrupted we all already are. I had a dissatisfaction with what seemed to be a kind of politics of purity, as if we could separate ourselves from dominant ideology and Hollywood movies and patriarchal thinking and the immaterial forces of the marketplace of ideas. We can’t, but the inability to separate ourselves doesn’t mean we then have to affirm it. Struggle always exists in a kind of murky landscape, but recognising how one is already compromised shouldn’t be an obstacle to the attempt to do something within that context, to be a force of resistance. One can and must do it from within.

Q

The White Review

— Does that relate at all to your own experiences with publishing?

A

Michael Hardt

— Toni and I were actually very happy to publish Empire at what seemed to us to be — well, it’s not as if Harvard University Press is reactionary in itself, it’s more like it stands as a symbol of a kind of power, and the contrast with the content of the book was pleasurable to us. The other option would have been to just distribute it ourselves and avoid having any ‘selling of books’ whatsoever.

Q

The White Review

— Are you happy with the kind of impact and visibility that your writing has had? You don’t object to the fact, for instance, that all of your books are easily downloadable?
A

Michael Hardt

— No, I’m thrilled about that. I think it’s great. Here’s the thing that surprised me about that whole time period surrounding the publication of Empire. There was a brief phase of media attention of an unusual, even weird kind around the book and around our collaboration. It went precisely from the day that the New York Times ran its story about the book, in the summer a full year after it came out, until 11 September 2001]. Part of it is just coincidental of course, but it was also, in hindsight, a period of curiosity, of a collective feeling that there was something new happening in the world — changes in global order, in protests and activism — that we didn’t yet have a way of understanding. The book fit the moment, in that regard. Once 11 September happened, all of that completely closed down, all of the traditional narratives came back in force: political Islam, US imperialism, all of them. It’s only now, ten years later, slowly, that there is re-emerging again a broader feeling of the need to rethink the current global system and global order. It’s exciting.
 

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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Chris Catanese is a writer, editor and student living in Durham, North Carolina.

Karim Wissa is a Ph.D. student of literature at Duke University, working in the tradition of continental philosophy.

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