One and Many
From "Cuando el verbo se hace carne" (translated into Spanish by Eduardo Sadier, Tinta Limón y Cactus, translated into English by Nate Holdren). In Italian Quando il verbo si fa carne (Bollati Boringhieri, Torino: 2003) Chapter 7, p.186-187. Version in Spanish at Indymedia
Contemporary forms of life affirm the dissolution of the concept of “the people” and the renewed pertinence of the concept of “multitude”. Like guiding stars in the great debate of the 1600s from which a large part of our political ethical lexicon descends, these two concepts are located at the antipodes. The “people” has a centripetal disposition, it converges on a general will, it is the interface or the reverberation of the State; the multitude is plural, it abhors political unity, it does not make pacts nor does it transfer its rights to the sovereign, it shuns obedience, and is inclined toward non-representative forms of democracy. In the multitude Hobbes recognized the greatest trap for the state apparatus (“Citizens, when rebelling against the State, are the multitude against the people”Hobbes, 1642, XII, 8), while Spinoza saw in it the root of liberty. From the 1600s onward, “the people” has almost unconditionally prevailed. The political existence of the many as many has been eliminated from the horizon of modernity: not only by the theorists of the absolute State, but also by Rousseau, the liberal tradition and even by the socialist movement. But today the multitude takes its revenge, characterizing every aspect of associated life: the customs and mentality of postfordist labor, language games, passions and affects, modes of understanding collective action. When this revenge is considered, two mistakes must be avoided. It is not that the working class has happily been extinguished so as to lose its place to the “many”: rather, the question is much more complicated and interesting. Contemporary workers, as such, no longer possess the physiognomy of the people, but rather perfectly exemplify the mode of being of the multitude. In addition, there is nothing idyllic in the affirmation that the “many” characterize contemporary forms of life: they characterize them as much for ill as for good, in servility as in conflict. It is a matter of a mode of being: distinct from that “popular” role, certainly, but ambivalent in itself, being provided with its own specific venoms.
The multitude does not place the question of the universal -- of the common/shared, of the One -- to one side with an easy gesture, but rather transforms it from top to bottom. Above all, it produces an overturning in the order of factors: the people tends towards the One, the “many” derive from the One. For the people, universality is a promise, for the “many” it is a premise. In addition, the very definition of what is common/shared changes. The One toward which the people gravitates is the State, the sovereign, the general will; the One that is behind the multitude, on the contrary, consists of language, of the intellect as a public or interpsychic resource and of the generic faculties of the species. If the multitude shuns statist unity it is only because it is related to a very different One, that is preliminary rather than conclusive. This relationship should be interrogated. An important contribution is offered by Gilbert Simondon, a philosopher very dear to Gilles Deleuze, little known outside of France until now. His reflections turn upon the processes of individuation. Individuation, i.e. the passage from the generic psychosomatic endowment of the human animal to the configuration of an irrepeatible singularity, is perhaps the category that, more than any other, is inherent in the multitude. At a closer glance, the category of the people applies to a myriad of non-individuated individuals, understood as simple substances or solipsistic atoms. Precisely because they constitute an immediate point of departure, rather than the extreme outcome of an accidental process, such individuals need the unity/universality procured by the statist apparatus. And vice versa, with the multitude, the accent is placed precisely on individuation, i.e. on the derivation of each one of the “many” from something unitary/universal.