Negri and totality

From Negri's Letter to Felix Guattari

Notes by Erik Empson

This text might be described as the war on totality from the perspective of the social subject. Written very much in the context of defeat (the importance of which is insistent), the essay explores the relationship between the new mechanisms of domination, unleashed by the command society, in the face of the defeat of the 60's struggles during the 70s and the subsequent consolidation of rule in the 80s(pp 156-157). With the characteristic Negrian argument, this consolidation of the enemy, its modernization, has its formal cause in the activity of revolutionary subjectivity. "Totality is always that of the enemy: a totality that reclassifies the elements of concrete history and shapes them in the functional circularity of command."(pp 158) Negri wants to reaffirm, against reformist and socialist revisions the essential connection between liberation and destruction. The totality is to be destroyed because it is always THEIR totality..."this destruction is the only way to escape from the prison of the totality and to be free as segments, as particularity. It is on this act of destructive freedom that every constructive social practice can alone be founded. One of the perculiarities of this modern era is that the extension of power and our capacity to understand it, is used against the multitude, "as if the awareness of its complexity, instead of making possible a higher destructive capacity, were a maze from which wed could no longer extricate ourselves." This knowledge of power is connected to the power of knowledge, or of doubt e.g. in a Cartesian sense. Doubt is understood as a destructive capacity: "It is not a suspension of reality but a power against the mystified form of the real, against the overbearance of power and of its illusionary forms - faiths, errors, falsity, and all the 'idols' of consciousness." Whenever the movement is deprived of knowledge it is because the enemy has been victorious on the terrain of power.

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