Radical media, politics and culture.

Return to Rorty? (philosophy and the mirror of multitude?)

I thought I'd left my preoccupations with Rorty and other less heterodox analytic types behind, and had given up on the idea that there's a political corrollary to attacks on the idea of language as representing reality. And yet ... Tim Rayner sent me (and others) a copy of a paper of his, in which he writes "In place of Hardt and Negri's insurgent multitude, driven by the 'will to be against', I would posit an insistent multitude, driven by the right to life." And suddenly, with that combined feeling that dreams have, of absolute familiarity and awkward vague half-rememberedness, I have a blurred rush of fragments from Rorty and arguments around him pop into my head. I've sold and given away many of those old books, and don't have the time or patience to reread them even if I found them again in the library, but I'm suddenly tempted. Here's the question: To say 'will to be against' or 'right to life' as drive of the multitude, what does this mean? What is the status of the person who articulates this drive to the multitude? Is it someone who knows the languaged and structure of the multitude? That is, this is the multitude in its own terms, the language the multitude itself uses? Or is the speaker someone who knows the essence of multitude, its truth, such that the speaker articulates the real language (the grammar?) of the multitude? This is the language the multitude would use to understand itself if it did (or could) understand itself, analogous to the idea of language understanding the world in the world's own terms (carving up the world at its joints). Or is the speaker an interlocutor for multitude, taking the many languages and making them intellegible [sp?], an act of translation and speaking for, an act of representation? Or is the speaker simply saying "here is one vocabulary by which we can analyze the multitude", with the merits of one or another vocabulary being judged by their effects (the possibilities they open and close, render clear and opaque)? My feeling is that the speaker is one of the latter two (interlocutor or analyst), and if the claim is to be one of the first two, then the speaker is definitely an interlocutor, and an interlocutor using (whether inadvertently or deliberately) questionable assumptions about language to mask the position of power that is interlocutor. To my mind, there is no "world's own language" and not "god's eye view" which we can speak or look from. Language, in a half-remembered quote from Rorty, is the repetitive use of a mark or noise. Our terms are tools, contextually relative, and best judged pragmatically. For instance, with temperature, neither 0 degrees celsius nor 32 degrees farenheit is any closer to the actual measurement by which the universe measures temperature. There is no such measurement. Terms are ours, and that's all. And with the multitude, part of the force of the idea, to my mind, is to say that people with all sorts of motivations and thoughts and vocabularies can figure out how to work together, to form organizations, without previously sharing or having to assume the same vocabularies and beliefs. Multitude as a concept points toward paying attention to the encounters between the various constituent moments of the multitude, and how they manage to relate. And surely the standard for success can not be the production of homogeneity, or the concept of multitude loses much of the point it is deployed for (the productive co-existence of difference that does not have to collapse into identity). Ie, to show again that I still have an embarrassingly old fashioned vocabulary in which I pose the questions that most matter to me, the multitude points to looking at material practices, not ideas and consciousness. And maybe at times there is a use to saying 'this practice expresses this will or this drive', but that will or drive must always be remembered to be a theoretical extrapolation, a useful fiction (which is not to say we can't use them), it is a tool we can and probably should use, but it's not the essence of the multitude, the truth underlying its actions regardless of what it (or its component parts) may think.