Anonymous Essaim d’abeilles.
Photo : DR, courtesy of the author

Multitudes, Swarms, Communities1

Georges Didi-Huberman
Life belongs to us, if we succeed in making it ours. Beyond the inherent difficulty, the problem is that there is no we to collectively reconcile the multiple notions formed of this us. However, perhaps this is not a problem but simply an illustration of the inevitable non-consensus of multitudes, a word, therefore, that is better written in the plural: rather than “the multitude” — which already resembles a unitary concept — are there not merely countless multitudes, nameless and in different places, connected to each other or not? The source concept of “free multitude” (libera multitudo), developed by Spinoza, has already led to considerable problems of interpretation, as François Zourabichvili emphasized in an essay published in a 2008 collection of works assembled around the notion of “free multitude.” Filippo Del Lucchese’s careful return to this notion — examined through a line of thought spanning Machiavelli and Spinoza in order to develop an idea of libera seditio or “freedom to revolt” — at the same time opens itself up to a rather large and conflicting field of interpretive possibilities.

“The multitude? Which multitude?” Frédéric Lordon asks in Imperium, a book whose title is a direct reference to Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri: “The multitude as a philosophical concept generically indicates the reserve of power of the social world and we could even say the reserve of power that is the social world…. The gravest error, therefore, consists in taking the philosophical multitude for an object that actually exists…. Since, sociologically speaking, the multitude, in the singular, does not exist.” In A Grammar of the Multitude, Paolo Virno insists that “the multitude does not rid itself of the One, of the universal” — provided that the universal goes into “exodus” through the “centrifugal movement” inherent in the multitude, with respect to any “reason of State.”

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This article also appears in the issue 92 - Democracy

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