Great Coincidences of Our Time

In The New Republic, dated 1 October 2001, sociology professor Alan Wolfe published a highly critical review of Empire, by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. In this week’s Independent, Johann Hari wrote of his own encounter with the book and with one of its authors. Here’s a snippet from each:

Wolfe: Here, in prose that insults language, is how Hardt and Negri summarize what they have understood: “The analysis of real subsumption, when this is understood as investing not only the economic or only the cultural dimension of society but rather the social bios itself, and when it is attentive to the modalities of disciplinarity and/or control, disrupts the linear and totalitarian figure of capitalist development.”

Hari: Here is a typical Negri sentence, selected at random: “The analysis of real subsumption, when this is understood as investing not only the economic or only the cultural dimension of society but rather the social bios itself, and when it is attentive to the modalities of disciplinarity and/or control, disrupts the linear and totalitarian figure of capitalist development.” After 400 pages of this, I feel like I have been raped by a dictionary of sociology.

Do we believe that Hari is telling the truth when he says that he selected this sentence at random? I’m inclined to believe not.

The odds on picking that particular sentence at random are pretty high: several thousand to one, against. The Wolfe piece is probably the most intelligent of the various hit-pieces that were commissioned on the book within a year or so of its first publication, and one of the better known ones, and so I’d be surprised if Hari’s “research” for his article didn’t extend that far. Hari admits that he struggled with the book, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he sought out and then leant on smarter critics when it came to acquiring opinions about Empire. What do you think?

(The Wolfe piece is no longer freely available at The New Republic, but someone has archived a copy here.)

UPDATE [7.45pm]: I now realise that Johann didn’t even have to read Wolfe’s piece to get his ready-made opinions about Empire; all he had to do to find his particular sentence “at random” was read back through the archives of Harry’s Place, the blog to which he contributes, where he would have found Gene quoting that bit of Wolfe quoting that same bloody bit of Hardt and Negri, and making the same oh-it’s-so-unreadable sneer along the way.

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