File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0108, message 88

Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2001 22:00:19 -0500
Subject: Re: Empire and the "Desires"


Thanks for the article on EC.  I hope to discuss it further this weekend
after coming up for air.

Tonight, however, I'd like to discuss both metanarratives and
legitimation as they apply to "Empire."  Lyotard, in my reading, didn't
predict the end of metanarratives as much as he forecasted their
replacement by new modes of legitimation, specifically, the performative
and the paralogical.

What I find interesting in Empire is that N&H discuss what they see as a
new mode of legitimation currently emerging.  "The legitimation of the
imperial machine is born at least in part of the communications
industries, that is, of the transformation of the new mode of production
into a machine.  It is a subject that produces its own image of
authority.  This is a form of legitimation that rests on nothing outside
itself and is reproposed ceaselessly by developing its own languages of

What is striking about this mode of legitimation is that it appears to
combine the performative and paralogical together into one mode.  The
performative is no longer geared to an outside.  It has been
internalized, operating paralogically to complexify itself, as if it
were a kind of organism.

Thus, there appears to be both a formal and material aspect to
legitimation, just as there is to the US Constitution.  The formal
aspect is the judicial.  

As N&H point out, this development took place in the context of the UN
and the attempt to conceive of the world order by way of a domestic
analogy, utilizing either a Hobbesian or Lockean model.  Out of this
movement came the concept of Empire as a unitary power that maintains
the peace and produces its own ethical truths.  It creates a new order
that embodies a boundless, universal space and a notion of right that
encompasses all time in its ethical foundation.  This produces a kind of
government without government in which just wars keep the peace.  

As N&H point out: "Empire is not born of its own will but rather it is
called in being and constituted on the basis of its capacity to resolve
conflicts." Furthermore, "the first task of Empire, then, is to enlarge
the realm of consensus that support its own power."

This raises the question whether Lyotard's concept of the differend is
now superceded by the emergence of empire or whether empire is merely a
new form of terror to the extent that its provides consensus simply by
imposing its own rule (which must necessarily be unjust) to the margins
over which it rules.  

However, N&H emphasize that Empire is not simply power, but a new order
which can in turn become the embodiment of the multitude, so it seems a
positive reading of this can be made, although it is not yet clear what
that might be.

Part of the answer seems to appear in the section on biopolitics.  The
formal US constitution tends towards the static.  For example, it
historically provided the legal foundation for the continuance of
slavery.  The material constitution became a response to this as the
dynamic arena of change. Here the multitude emerges to contest the
formal arrangements of power.

So biopolitics forms the material constitution of empire.  The movement
is from a disciplinary society to a society of control in which power is
situated in the production and reproduction of life itself.  This leads
to the concept of subsumption as the bios itself, as opposed to mere
economic or cultural subsumption.

While this subsumption appears sinister, as though power no longer had
any outside capable of resisting it, there is also an unanticipated
aspect, according to N& H:  "the paradox of a power that, while it
unifies and envelops within itself every element of social life (thus
losing its capacity effectively to mediate different social forces), at
that very moment reveals a new context, a new milieu of maximum
plurality and uncontainable singularization - a milieu of the event."

Here the paralogical returns as the face of the multitude that composes
empire and the way is opened up to a new understanding of the
postmodern.  The social machine is self-validating and autopoietic,
capable of new moves.  In other words, complexity opens up rhizomatic
modes of development that can not be completely controlled and whose
results cannot be completely foretold.  

N&H implicitly raise the question whether this complexity must be
resisted or whether it should be accelerated.  

Autopoietic legitimation constitutes neither performance nor the
paralogical alone, but something of both.  As H&N put it: "The
constitution of Empire is being formed neither on the basis of any
contractual or treaty-based mechanism nor through any federative source.
The source of imperial normativity is born of a new machine, a new
economic-industrial-communicative machine-in short, a globalized
biopolitical machine."

Ultimately, this machine is not merely a form of external legitmation,
but a reconstitution of the multitude: in the form of communication
networks, symbolic analysis and problem solving, and the labor of the
production and manipulation of affects.

The difference between the Postmodern Condition and Empire is, perhaps,
simply the difference twenty years can make.  When Lyotard wrote TPC,
the computer was just beginning to make its qualitative restructuring.
Now, this process has transformed itself a thousand times over.  

However, the issue isn't merely technology alone, but the social
organization it makes possible.  Immaterial labor, operating
cooperatively within virtual pools of information in a mode of
experiment and play is the specter of multitude that haunts the empire. 

More than a cyborg, in our posthumanity, we become as dolphins.

Information itself is no longer simply numeric, quantitative data, but
rather n-dimensional, virtual forms. 

Information has become a sea full of nomadic swimming monsters.   

The question of legitimation becomes one of whether capitalism will
continue to control the modes of bioproduction it has unleashed or
whether evolution will continue to take its course.  Perhaps, complexity
is no longer something to be feared, but something to be dreamed of. 
Perhaps, the dream is its own legitimation. 

"At night my lover comes to me and tells me of her dreams with no
attempt to shovel the glimpse into the ditch of what each one means."
yours in stem cell research,



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