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© Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue canadienne d’études américaines 31, no. 1, 2001 American Studies in Review Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2000. In 1982, Michael Ryan published a book entitled Marxism and Deconstruction, one of the first efforts at a serious critical exchange between Marxist theory and postmodern thought in the 1970s. While flawed, especially by its biases against Marxism and overemphasis of deconstructive aspects of contemporary theory, Ryan’s book illuminated a central problem of late-twentieth-century critical thought. He correctly identified the need to pursue a fruitful negotiation between two of the most important discourses within modernity in order to overcome the debilitating and vexing difficulties of contemporary thought that plague both Marxism and deconstruction. Since that time, there have been numerous attempts to blaze a trail following Ryan’s insightful but problematic book. Now, eighteen years later, a new book by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri entitled Empire has appeared, and it is one of the most suggestive and stimulating attempts of the past decade at a fusion of the critical insights offered from both Marxism and postmodern theory. Negri, a former professor of political science at Padua, Italy, and the University of Paris, is currently in an Italian prison, having been convicted of being “morally responsible” for radical acts committed in Italy in the 1970s (Aronowitz 16). Hardt is a professor of literature at Duke University and has been collaborating with Negri for approximately a decade. While the book ultimately stumbles into the same quicksand that claimed both the neoMarxist Herbert Marcuse in his One Dimensional Man (1964) and Michel Foucault in his Discipline and Punish (1975), arguing that the basis for a successful resisting subject becomes compromised by the terrifying images of a “one dimensional society” or the disciplinary power of modernity, Hardt and Negri advance the dialogue significantly. Of special interest to a Canadian reader such as myself is the constructive way in which Hardt and Negri bring the discussion of empire beyond the overly simplistic polarization that has plagued Canadian intellectual discourse on the subjects of American hegemony and “globalization,” caught between the left-nationalist arguments stemming from the mid-1960s and the more recent postmodern Canadian Review of American Studies 31 (2001) 496 criticisms of nationalist “essentializing.” Like their critique of Marxism and deconstruction, Hardt and Negri offer a new opportunity to rethink these stale polarities that have contributed greatly to the demoralization and fragmentation of the left in Canada since the 1970s. If there is to be a constructive dialogue between the various discourses that coalesce around terms like postmodernism, post-structuralism, and deconstruction and currently unfashionable discourses like Marxism, nationalism, and anti-imperialism, Hardt and Negri’s book will be pivotal for the foreseeable future. Thirty-four years ago, writing in the year of Canada’s celebration of its centenary at Expo’67, George Grant ended his important essay entitled “Canadian Fate and Imperialism,” with the following prescient words: But what lies behind the small practical question of Canadian nationalism is the larger context of the fate of western civilisation. By that fate I mean not merely the relations of our massive empire to the rest of the world, but even more the kind of existence which is becoming universal in advanced technological societies. What is worth doing in the midst of this barren twilight is the incredibly difficult question. (78) Hardt and Negri respond to this quandary with an opening sentence that acknowledges the problem highlighted by Grant while sounding a clarion call to arms for any critically engaged academic in Canada: “Empire is materializing before our very eyes” (xi). What Grant so perceptively described has been coming true, but with a difference. By Empire, Hardt and Negri intend something quite different from “imperialism.” They argue that The passage to Empire emerges from the twilight of modern sovereignty . In contrast to imperialism, Empire establishes no territorial center of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is a decentered and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers . Empire manages hybrid identities, flexible hierarchies, and plural exchanges through modulating...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 495-500
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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