GCAS Philosophy & Film Project
One day, back in 1999, wow, nearly 20 years ago already, when a student at Yale, I was buried in the stacks of the Sterling library. On a reading marathon I was and when I lifted my eyes from the white pages of a book they didn't immediately focus. Troubled by this, I thought wow if there was another way to take in philosophy it'd be great and my eyes could get a rest. My friend at the time had a similar idea: he actually recorded himself reading the entire A Thousand Plateaus and would listen to it during his spare time. Eventually I put together a concept for a film on philosophy comprised of interviews and enactments of interesting and alternative theorists. Over time, as I went through my PhD in Charlottesville, I started recording interviews sometimes by myself and other times with my friend, Chris. Folks such as Fred Jameson, Slavoj Zizek, Eleanor Kaufman, Antonio Negri and loads of others including Michael Hardt engaged in conversations, which to this day still need to be edited, but one day I'll get around to it. Here's a short excerpt from the interview with Michael.
MICHAEL HARDT and CRESTON DAVIS
Jameson’s work is an interesting one. I think you,… I would like you to perhaps talk about—how do you see your theoretical work relating to Jameson’s work in The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism?” And how he diagnoses a kind of history and narrative of history and so forth. How would you proximate your work with Jameson’s, say, narrative structure?
Well one thing that occurs to me that is very either similar or coordinated, I guess, is the assumption that there has been an historical break, that there has been an historical break sometime lets say between 1968 and 1989 (I don’t know exactly what it is) and that historical break makes us rethink both the conditions of domination and the conditions of possibility [1:08]. I think that that in Jameson’s work the notion of postmodernism [1:13] quite complicated because it is trying to do both. It is not, of course, a celebration of the postmodern period as if it is [1:26] the absolute freedom of expression of differences etc. but neither is it a kind of lamenting of the current postmodern condition [1:40] as one of totalitarian commodity control and market control of all of life. He tries to keep open those two, the two possibilities, and I think that that is fundamentally similar to the way I approach things. The global difference, if you could speak just in Marx’s theological terms [Hardt smiles] is that Jameson is much more interested in [2:11] questions of consumption and of commodity fetishism and the logic of the commodity and its extension over artistic expression and social life in general. I am much more interested in the other side of the equation in the moments of production, productions not only of goods but also productions of subjectivity etc. And I have relatively little to say about consumption or about commodities for that matter. So, viewed that way, I would see it as a complimentary relationship but it is certainly quite different.
Yes, and maybe perhaps one of theses differences, one of the figures for Jameson is George Lukas, whereas for you the figure might be more in the lines of a Delueze or Spinozia [00:03:08].
Yes, there certainly are different histories of philosophy that go with these. You could say they are different faces of Marx which you could then line up, like you are doing, with different lines of Marxist tradition and maybe even with different traditions within Modern Philosophy as a whole that could stand in for them. It is true that everybody creates her or his own history of philosophy. [00:03:44] Everyone that works in this way constructs his or her own history of philosophy that stands behind them and that is one way, like you are trying to do, of identifying the differences between two thinkers is like to look at the different history of philosophies that they have constructed behind them.
Right, and for you, you talk about the certain philosophies of history and one of these, the main figures, as you talk about, you are interested in modes of production, and how subjectivity gets constructed, and I am curious like how would you understand the subjectivity, what in general is subjectivity?
Well, start by thinking about what we can do because that is really a lot of what interests me here: What are our abilities to think and what are the limits of our ability to think, to imagine a better world, to imagine ourselves in a better world—this power to think and then also the power to act. These are at least two aspects of what subjectivity is. So we both (with that kind of investigation), we both want to ask: What is it that we can do; what is it that we can do together; what kind of society can we build; what kind of things can we make, and also at the same time, what are the forces and structures that limit those abilities, [00:05:15] that separate us from what we can do—you might say—that make it impossible for us to imagine a better world or impossible for us to bring about theworld that we imagine. [00:05:30] That is what, that is at least one way of approaching what the question of subjectivity is here. It has to do with our abilities to produce, produce ideas, imagination, produce reality itself.
And what would you say is some of the key obstacles, as an example, for what blocks, say, our ability to produce subjectivity, to connect, to relate to others in their own differences of production? What are some obstacles, that [00:06:00] you can see that are dominant, or are there such obstacles?
There are numerous enormous obstacles and sometimes it is hard because one is tempted either to give a general explanation which seems to lose the specificity or a specific one which then does not give justice to the generality of it. Let me just give a couple specific ones and then hope they can stand in. [00:06:30] I have recognized recently in European Countries, in a kind media discourse, a way that Islam and the threat of terrorism has made it impossible, at least at a general media level of the society, to imagine a world of difference , lets call it. Like every difference is perceived as a threat, so that for instance, a couple weeks ago I was doing a TV interview on Danish TV and the commentator was saying, “You imagine a better world and please tell us what this better world will be like.” And I talk about world of globalization that could possibly bring together the free expression of differences -- cultural differences, social differences, etc… But for him the trump card is “but there is Radical Islam.” And for him radical Islam stands in the way for everything and makes impossible that imagination of a world of difference, lets call it. And, therefore through a strange kind of conflation, his imagination at least of the threat of Islamic Terrorism is also an argument against immigration, so that ‘a pure Danish society culture is required because all difference is a threat.’ [00:08:00] Now that’s, its a very small example I suppose, It’s an example of the way that our ability to think a society of differences – a society really of freedom and mixture in this sense – the way that that’s blocked by – it’s not only an idealogical structure, but also a military structure, a sort of state of war that’s pervading the world today, So I guess you could try to describe differently what the blocks are,[00:08:30] but at least you can see that in that case we’re being blocked from thinking something and its something that I, in particular, want, and I think that all of us want.