Sunday, May 01, 2005


A transnational feminist reading group I'm part of just met to talk about Negri & Hardt's Multitude. All but the one post-colonial critic were impressed with the optimism and risks of the work. It risks essentialism, teleology, theology.

I was struck by their liberty. If the authors were in Women's Studies, they would have had to spend half of this book presenting lengthy discussions of process and caveats: who we are (apologies therein), why we wrote it, how we worked together, what we mean by "we" or "us" or "politics" or this or that: not merely the key terms of the works, but word we come to flinch at using, afraid of critique. They just rush forward, headlong into the Multitude.

I had a question about "flesh," which struck me (perhaps as it came from an Italian writer) as theologically weighted, particularly when speaking about transformations and immateriality and bodies. I haven't seen Lee Quinby's or Bill Maurer's discussion of the millenial & theological logic of Empire/Multitude which might illuminate my questions. Perhaps it would help if I knew anything at all about Spinoza.

There are obvious feminist critiques to be made, and I haven't read those out there on Empire (e.g., by Lisa Rofel), nor I have I read my favorite feminist anthropological/soc/geographical writers (e.g., Saskia Sassen, Aihwa Ong, Anna Tsing).

I identified three main dimensions of feminist critique.

1) Sins of Omission: There are omissions. Judith Butler aside (and I'm not sure how true they are to "performativity"), they do not cite many feminists. And they neglect clear opportunities for noting gender or women in many of their supporting arguments and examples - when discussing peasants and land; or worldwide movements (feminism is subordinated in a list, it doesn't meet the criteria for "revolt"); or affective labor; or habits.

2) The Unhappy Marriage: What might revisiting 1970s+ socialist feminism suggest about Empire and Multitude? It seems that they consider women/gender/feminism in an additive way. But if the Multitude as it exists (the first kind of multitude) is patriarchal, sexist, male dominant. Gender is shot through empire and its other. It might dampent the optimism a bit, for one. Certainly they do not map how the current conditions they describe are generating, internally, immanently (not externally or transcendent), gender and sexual transformations in common. These remain part of singularity rather than part of the common.

3) Feminists of Color and the Critique of Feminism: It would be fruitful to consider Negri + Hardt's model of singularity and common in relation to the critiques made by feminist, womanist, post-colonials of color. At its most basic, the critique is that white women have generlized their condition into a model of gender inequality and feminist politics, and this more or less invalidates prevailing modes of feminism emanating from metropolitan/white/Western worlds. These feminisms (Euro feminism, white feminism, whatever) have responded by attempting to recognize and address diversity. (Far more than any other movement has addressed gender or sexuality, it seems often to be forgotten.) But there is still a sense of falling back on unity, on the feminist equivalents of the party, masses, people, or workers that Negri and Hardt depart from.


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