Lodge Yourself on a Stratum (or, For Exodus)

Exodus

This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times.

I have always loved this passage from A Thousand Plateaus, but I have also chafed a bit at how they want us to spend so much time paying attention to the stratum.  I thought it was just a kind of unreflective pragmatism, an acceptance of the fact that, like it or not, you have to start from where you are.  But Hardt & Negri (Commonwealth) suggest something more positive.  They say that the family, corporation, and the nation are the most important social institutions that capture us presently.  But mostly what these institutions are doing is gathering and mobilizing our common power.  As such, we should pay very careful attention to them, not because they are currently dominant and we have no choice but to work with them, but because they are storehouses of our common power.  As we struggle to leave capitalism and the state and build an alternative common life together, we will have to reappropriate our common power, make it our own again, and turn it toward our own common project.  So it makes sense to know intimately where that common power is currently stored, and how it is being put to use.  Lodge yourself on a stratum.

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Exodus

Chinese mass exodus for Lunar New Year Festival, China - 08 Feb 2013

Obviously I am currently reading Radical Thought in Italy.  The glossary has a great precis of exodus:

Exodus (esodo).  In part this term refers to the biblical journey of the Jews through the desert to escape the pharaoh’s army.  Exodus might be understood better, however, as an extension of the “refusal of work” to the whole of capitalist social relations, as a generalized strategy of refusal or defection.  Structures of social command are combated not through direct opposition, but by means of withdrawal.  Exodus is thus conceived as an alternative to dialectical forms of politics, where all too often the two antagonists locked in contradiction end up resembling each other in a static mirror reflection.  Dialectical politics constructs negations, but exodus operates through subtraction.  The State will crumble, then, not by a massive blow to its head, but through a mass withdrawal from its base, evacuating its means of support.  It is important however, that this politics of withdrawal also simultaneously constitute a new society, a new republic.  We might conceive this exodus, then, as an engaged withdrawal or a founding leave-taking, which both refuses this social order and constructs an alternative.

Virno: more politics beyond the state

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Virno, P. (1996) “Virtuosity and revolution: the political theory of exodus,” In P. Virno and M. Hardt, Radical Thought in Italy, University of Minnesota Press, pp. 189-210, translated by E. Emory.

Virno joins the chorus of those theorizing a politics beyond the state (and beyond capitalism).  He offers a radical anti-Hobbesian perspective that seeks to return continually to Hobbes’ original moment when we agreed to surrender our own power to an “artificial person” outside ourselves.  Virno wants to return to this moment in order to disavow it, he wants us to resolve to act as if the purported social contract never existed.  It is this acting as if there never was any contract that I think best captures his idea of exodus.  The political action appropriate to exodus is both a refusal of “the baleful dialectic of acquiescence and transgression” that is our relationship with the sovereign state, and the intentional and inventive search for a life and a political community beyond the state.

“Radical disobedience,” for Virno, consists essentially of casting ourselves into Hobbes’ state of nature, imagining ourselves inhabiting  a world before the state came to monopolize control in the political community.  In this imagination, democracy becomes something radically different than we typically think of it today.  Representative democracy is nothing more than

a restriction of democracy tout court.  It goes without saying…that an opposition to this course of events [the restriction of representative democracy], if conducted in the name of values of representation, is pathetic and pointless–as useful as preaching chastity to sparrows.  Democracy today has to be framed in terms of the construction and experimentation of forms of nonrepresentative and extraparliamentary democracy.  All the rest is vacant chitchat (p. 202).

We must begin to form the practices and institutions of this new democracy, this Republic, such as soviets, councils, and leagues.  To experiment with positive alternatives to life within the state and capitalism.