Illuminati: Unrepresentable Citizenship and the City


“Democracy rests under the sign of Janus, the exiled god of thresholds and beginnings, not under Terminus, god of confines and outcomes.”

Augusto Illuminati’s piece from the book Radical Thought in Italy outlines a very similar project to the other Italians: to effect an exodus from capitalism and work, from the State and representation. A politics of escape, flight, exodus, leaving, refusal, secession. This flight cannot be directionless, of course, it must consciously and actively refuse/resist capitalism, or it will be reabsorbed.

So we must interrupt, disrupt, break, make contingent, destabilize the existing order, and we must begin, arise, cross the threshold into the new, the other.

But still, how might this disruption, this destabilization take on some “strategic plasticity,” Illuminati asks, how might we create some thickness, some coherence beyond?  He suggests that we think in terms of rules (as opposed to laws). Rules (of thumb perhaps) that coordinate free activity, rather than laws that govern work.  Rules that are easily modifiable and contestable.  A network of rules that protect the free unfolding of individual and group difference [here I think of GNU General Public Licenses, or the Creative Commons licenses].  Rules that explicitly deny capitalism/work, but that also begin to construct ways to coordinate heterogeneous forms of life beyond capitalism, beyond property relations, beyond the State.  Rules that can help create interfaces for communication between heterogeneous systems.  Experimenting with such rules, such protocols for relating peers in networks, might be thought of, he suggests, as experiments with non-representative democracy, with forms of life that incorporate the general intellect.  Flexible strategies of subjectivization in free associations, rather than formal citizenship in the State.

And, very interestingly, Illuminati proposes that cities are an important site for developing such new forms of life and subjectivity. (On this point he is echoed by Hardt and Negri, who pose something similar in Commonwealth.) We might rescue citizenship from its formal nation-state conception and think of it instead as “living in a city” [the translation is a bit choppy, I assume the original is something like abitare la città]. Here I think he is reimagining the city as the city of feudal escapes, as the city of deserters of institutions, as the Lucca that emblazoned libertas on its towers. And here, he implies, the cities of the global South are especially important, these cities with their massive and unprecedented churn, their whole zones off the grid, their huge amounts of creative activity (potenza) and autoproduction. Living in (these) cities opens up particularly strong possibilities for new subjectivities to emerge, for the invention of new politics outside formal politics, for people to develop new experiments in nonrepresentative democracy.

The Italians never mention Lefebvre, but of course this kind of thinking should cause us to reach immediately for The Urban Revolution (and maybe also The Production of Space), where Lefebvre works through in detail the importance of the city for a life beyond capitalism and the State.


Michael Hardt on the Potential of Autonomia


Nice Job!

I just re-read Michael Hardt’s introduction to the book Radical Thought in Italy.  Both the piece and the book are fantastic and recommended.  But what struck me this time was the beautiful job Hardt does of articulating the how the Italians tend toward a radical politics that focuses its attention not on the powers that be (what they often call constituted power), but rather on our own power (constituent power).  In autonomism this took the form, for example, of Tronti’s point that if all value is produced by labor (this is Marx), then the proletariat must be the leading class in society, the class whose activity shapes society.  The bourgeoisie, it follows, is thus continuously reacting to and trying to catch up to the action of the workers.  For the Italians, “the tasks of political theory,” while they do “involve the analyses of the forms of domination and exploitation that plague us,” nevertheless insist that “the first and primary tasks are to identify, affirm, and further the existing instances of social power [which already exist among people themselves] that allude to a new alternative society, a coming community” (7).  The point is therefore not to confront capital-and-the-state in order to seize their power.  Since we are the source of all power, we must instead withdraw our power–the power we already have–from the capital-and-state relation.  An exodus (Virno); a line of flight (D&G).

This line of thinking underscores the importance of Nietzsche’s critique of ressentiment.  If we spend all our time obsessing about the intricacies of how constituted power dominates us, and resent the power it holds over us, we are not being attentive to our own (constituent) power.  We are missing the point, we are ignoring the way out, we are blind to “the entire creative potential of our own practical capacities” (6).  In this power lies the seeds of a communist and/or democratic society, and so ressentiment’s obsessive critique does nothing so much as occlude the path to the possible.