Expansions on the earlier State and as a Virtual Object paper. — PS: after discussing it w/ Gregg Flaxman, I’ve decided to “deontologize” the whole paper to sharpen the ontology/virtuality divide.
Marxists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have a useful illustration of a similar abstraction in their 2000 book Empire. According to Hardt and Negri, colonialism works as an abstract machine (a term synonymous with abstraction or virtual object). The abstract machine of colonialism, they say, creates a dialectic of identity and alterity that imposes binaries divisions on the colonial world. The identity of the European Self, for instance, is produced through the dialectical movement of its opposition to and power over a colonial Other. The prevailing critique of colonialism in the early 20th century responded itself dialectically by revealing that the differences and identities created by colonialism appear “as if they were absolute, essential, and natural” but are in fact incorporeal and therefore function “only in relation to each other and (despite appearances) have no real necessary basis in nature, biology, or rationality.” Hardt and Negri name two conclusions to this dialectical critique: first, that the European Self must continually use material violence against its Other to sustain the dialectical appearance of corporeal power, and second, that such a negative dialectic of recognition is hollow and prone to subversion. But reality itself is not dialectical, only colonialism is, Hardt and Negri contend. And because dialectics is one only mode in which abstract machines operate, they suggest that the effective response to colonialism is not a negative antithesis, such as the negative project of négritude or Sartrean cultural politics. An effective response, they say, is the reciprocal “counter-violence” of Franz Fanon and Malcolm X, which produces a separation from the movement of colonialism. Such violence is not itself political, yet the violent reciprocity of “a direct relation of force” breaks the abstract bond holding together incorporeal colonial power and poses a disharmony that arrests the colonial dialectic while opening a space in which politics can emerge.
As Hardt and Negri go on to describe Empire, they do not call it an abstract machine, but perhaps we should. (more…)