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  • Sovereignty, Multitudes, Absolute Democracy: A Discussion between Michael Hardt and Thomas Dumm about Hardt and Negri’s Empire (Harvard University Press, 2000)
  • Michael Hardt (bio) and Thomas Dumm (bio)

Thomas Dumm. First of all it seems important to ask, how is Toni Negri? When might he be released?

Michael Hardt. Negri now has a work release arrangement whereby he is free to go where he pleases during the day but must return each night to the Rebibbia prison near Rome. After spending fourteen years in exile in France, he returned to Italy and prison in 1997 in the hope that he could both resolve his own case and work for a general amnesty for all those accused of crimes on the basis of their political activities in the 1960s and 70s. There has been no movement in the Italian parliament toward such an amnesty, however, and Negri’s own case has proceeded according to normal criminal procedures. In 1998 he reached the midpoint of his sentence (including the four and a half years he served before going to France) and he was thus eligible for work release. In 2001, when he reaches the point when three years remain on his sentence, he will be eligible for parole.

TD: It is good to know that despite his status it is possible for him to be able to continue his work, which includes the collaborative projects he has completed with you.

One of my favorite aphorisms is the opening sentence from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: “The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd.” Some may already be aware that the two of you have already written Labor of Dionysus together, and have worked on the French journal Futur Antérieur for some time, but could you tell us a little bit about how you and Antonio Negri came to collaborate on Empire?

MH: Negri has worked collaboratively for a long time, in journal collectives and political organizations. He also wrote a book together with Félix Guattari. I imagine that I learned how to write collaboratively largely from him.

I profit enormously from collaboration and I think collaborative writing should be encouraged more in the humanities. (It is already necessary in the natural sciences and many areas of the social sciences due in part to the technologies of research.) It is obvious I imagine how much collaborators learn from each other. Negri and I have very different disciplinary training — he in political science and I in comparative literature — and we refer primarily to different national literatures. Our writing projects thus always begin by making reading lists for the other person of what each of us consider to be the relevant literature. The collaboration is in this way a kind of mutual education process.

What is most exhilarating and challenging about collaborative writing is the negotiation involved in the writing itself. But really negotiation is not the right concept, because that would involve some kind of dialogue between two individuals. Alchemy is a better notion for the process. In cooperation, Marx says, humans are stripped of the fetters of their individuality. And this is why so many people have difficulty embarking on collaborative writing projects — it is so hard to abandon our individuality! I have found that there is a tendency when writing collaboratively to think like the other person and construct sentences that he or she would form. I feel the resulting prose is both mine and not mine. That is why it is futile to try to divide collaborative texts into passages written by this author or the other. Each author is adopting the other’s voice or, really, they are both adopting some third voice or numerous other voices. This is what I think Deleuze and Guattari mean when they refer to the crowd who wrote Anti-Oedipus. The alchemy of collaboration does not merge the two authors into a single voice but rather proliferates them to create the chorus of a multitude.

TD: The way you describe your process of collaboration sounds very much like the way you and Negri imagine labor having new...

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