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Know how to dare!

In Commonwealth (2009) Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, in their criticism of what they call the “republic of property”, and en route to the conceptualisation of a social democracy which lends itself to the actual transformation of the social and political status quo — and not merely restricts itself to lip-service to such transfiguration — turn to, among others, Immanuel Kant’s thought on enlightenment. This may seem to be improbable — after all, Kant is hardly known first and foremost as a theoretician of the revolution. This fact notwithstanding, they argue that a “minor voice” is audible in Kant’s work alongside the “major voice” of the philosopher of the transcendental method, who uncovered the conditions of possibility, not only of certain knowledge of the law-governed phenomenal world, but in so doing also, by implication, of a life of dutiful social and political responsibility that leaves existing power relations as they are.

This “minor voice” therefore points, according to them, towards an alternative to the modern power complex that finds affirmation in Kant’s “major voice”. The minor Kantian text which formed part of the subject matter of my recent post by the same title — “What is enlightenment?” — represents, according to Hardt and Negri, the “minor voice” of the revolutionary Kant. Crucially, they draw attention to Kant’s appropriation of the motto, taken from Horace, to wit, “Sapere aude!” (Dare to know!) as being suitable for expressing the meaning of “enlightenment”, but at the same time they shrewdly point to the very ambiguous manner in which this motto is developed in Kant’s short text .

On the one hand one cannot really detect much daring in Kant’s encouragement of citizens to do “their duty” obediently as citizens entrusted with carrying out different tasks (soldiers, ministers of religion, civil servants) and paying their taxes to the sovereign, whatever misgivings they may privately have about these. Here the two authors of Commonwealth see Kant as affirming the European rationalist tradition that construed the Enlightenment as a process in which the emendation of reason was (and still is) carried out. Needless to emphasise, such an approach amounts to the strengthening of the social and political status quo.

On the other hand, however, they claim that Kant himself creates the opening for reading this enlightenment exhortation (p16): ” … against the grain: ‘dare to know’ really means at the same time also ‘know how to dare’. This simple inversion indicates the audacity and courage required, along with the risks involved, in thinking, speaking, and acting autonomously. This is the minor Kant, the bold, daring Kant, which is often hidden, subterranean, buried in his texts, but from time to time breaks out with a ferocious, volcanic, disruptive power. Here reason is no longer the foundation of duty that supports established social authority but rather a disobedient, rebellious force that breaks through the fixity of the present and discovers the new. Why, after all, should we dare to think and speak for ourselves if these capacities are only to be silenced immediately by a muzzle of obedience?”

A discourse analysis of Kant’s essay confirms their reading. His use of words such as “courage”, “cowardice”, “dare”, “danger”, in such statements as the following, where he elaborates on the reasons for humankind’s “self-incurred tutelage”, are telling in this regard (p1 of the LW Beck translation):

“After the guardians [ie authorities of all kinds] have first made their domestic cattle dumb and have made sure that these placid creatures will not dare take a single step without the harness of the cart to which they are tethered, the guardians then show them the danger which threatens if they try to go alone. Actually, however, this danger is not so great, for by falling a few times they would finally learn to walk alone.”

One might even read these words on the part of the mild philosopher of Königsberg as an incipient manifesto for political anarchism — that is, the position that humans do not need governments, because they are quite capable of governing themselves, once they have gathered the courage to do so.

And when Kant observes pointedly, towards the end of the essay, that there is a correlation between the free public use, on the part of citizens, of their powers of reasoning for debating all manner of topics — contentious (such as religion) or otherwise — and the enlightenment of the sovereign (who therefore need not be “afraid of shadows”), the radical implication is clear. If the sovereign does not submit him- or herself to the same rational rules that govern the actions of citizens, the latter need not feel bound to obey such a sovereign any longer. That is, rebellion is justified when authorities themselves do not act reasonably, but, by implication, unjustifiably.

In sum, what the “minor” Kant could teach anyone who is receptive, if Hardt and Negri are right, concerns the necessity of distinguishing between two kinds of thought and action. Regardless of the “freedom of thought and expression” which may accompany it, the first kind would leave the established political, social and economic order intact, even if such an order is one of injustice. And even if this seems to be an instance of “dare to think for yourself”, it would amount to no more than venting one’s frustration or sense of indignation, because it would lack that other element singled out by Hardt and Negri’s reading of Kant, namely “think (or know) how to dare!” The latter would inaugurate the second kind of thought and action, which does not shy away from acting in such a manner that an unjust order is rejected and resisted at all levels, such that one’s autonomy is clearly manifested.

Such a “minor” way of thinking AND acting would certainly carry tremendous risk, because it would fly in the face of the established, dominant order, where political, economic and administrative (bureaucratic) imperatives combine to keep citizens in a state of docility — or, to use the currently fashionable term, “compliance”. I stress the AND, because freedom of expression is not enough; it has to be combined with action of the kind that, perhaps subtly, subverts what Foucault called the “disciplinary mechanisms” which reduce people to “docile bodies” — bodies which are economically productive and politically powerless. Resistance to the unjust dominant order has to begin at the level of bio-politically resisting bodies — theory, by itself, is powerless to bring fundamental change, as Hardt and Negri proceed to argue in Commonwealth, delivering a lambasting to what they see as impotent social democratic theory on the part of theorists such as Habermas and Rawls.

For those who are at a loss regarding effective modes of resistance, just think of the many instances of protest witnessed in the early 21st century — protests which, as these two authors show, with plenty of supporting evidence (in their earlier text, Multitude; 2005), have multiplied across the globe, and are still increasing in the face of the forces of what they call Empire. But one need not think only of clearly visible political protest. Every time one succeeds in evading the kind of bureaucracy designed to induce docility in subjects — such as all the superfluous administration expected of teachers in the OBE system of education, which takes the place of what could be edifying, enriching teaching — you are chalking up a small victory against the forces of Empire, because you have dared to do so. And believe me, it is possible, even if one does not always succeed in convincing “authorities” that one’s time is better spent on creative activities from which students and staff can also benefit, than on the endless, sterile filling in of forms, or counting of beans.


  • As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it were, because of Socrates's teaching, that the only thing we know with certainty, is how little we know. Armed with this 'docta ignorantia', Bert set out to teach students the value of questioning, and even found out that one could write cogently about it, which he did during the 1980s and '90s on a variety of subjects, including an opposition to apartheid. In addition to Philosophy, he has been teaching and writing on his other great loves, namely, nature, culture, the arts, architecture and literature. In the face of the many irrational actions on the part of people, and wanting to understand these, later on he branched out into Psychoanalysis and Social Theory as well, and because Philosophy cultivates in one a strong sense of justice, he has more recently been harnessing what little knowledge he has in intellectual opposition to the injustices brought about by the dominant economic system today, to wit, neoliberal capitalism. His motto is taken from Immanuel Kant's work: 'Sapere aude!' ('Dare to think for yourself!') In 2012 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University conferred a Distinguished Professorship on him. Bert is attached to the University of the Free State as Honorary Professor of Philosophy.


  1. Dave Harris Dave Harris 1 December 2012

    The opposition “evading bureaucracy” and sabotage of OBE came mainly from rabid DA supporters, those beneficiaries of apartheid, hoping to cling to their old apartheid style Christian Nationalist Education system. They even have the gall to declare Afrikaans and African language to keep a white majority in their schools and universities.

    Another pseudo-intellectual attempt at trying to justify the sabotage of critical transformation initiatives by our government to transform the Bantu Education system engineered to keep blacks subservient and promoting eurocentic values – a white supremacist trend that began with colonialism in Africa.

  2. Richard Richard 2 December 2012

    What has been curious about the unrest in the past few years, to me, is not that people are attempting to create anything new, but would actually like to continue to obey. If you look at the so-called “Arab Spring” it is quite evident there that people are not really trying to create anything new, they are simply looking for other systems to which to be obedient. This is not because they are looking for novel ways for their societies to be governed, but rather because they wish to retreat into what are termed “comfort zones”, whether these be Islam, or welfarism, or whatever offers a way of not thinking. I do think the IQ bell-curve explains it all: the few at the upper end of the spectrum are able to assimilate what needs to be done to entrench their positions, the essence of which can then be packaged and sold to the “functionary intellectuals” who are really managers. These people then re-package and sell the system on to the rest through traditional marketing campaigns which address people’s nervousness at instability/insecurity. If you have ever lived in areas of the world in which snow is a feature of the weather, you will note how food shops sell out of most food as soon as there is the possibility of snow, because that presupposes likely instability in their food supply. In other words, people are generally happy to leave decision-making to people they consider best able to decide, who are the top percentile of society. There is an intuitive understanding that

  3. Richard Richard 2 December 2012

    contd… too many decision-makers will lead to chaos. As the expression has it, too many chiefs and not enough Indians. It seems all human endeavour follows this pattern, even pedagogical enterprise, and the world of the arts and sciences. What most societies do insist upon, though, is fairness in distribution of power and goods. What you discuss is really what constitutes such “fairness” and in this there is competition between goods-based fairness (the West) and religion-based fairness (predominantly still a factor in Islam). Therefore, in the West there has been a sort of contagion between middle-class striving for goods and political organisation, whereas in, say, Islam, poverty has historically excluded this mode of operation. As their economic situation changes through oil-riches, you can expect this to change. I think the reason the current political/economic status quo continues is because people fear instability will follow its collapse. Most people spend their time attempting to find ways to make more money (and thereby push themselves closer to the dominant percentile at the right-hand side of the bell-curve), and the dominant percentile tries to prevent that from happening. What would the world occupy itself with if that were not the case? This abstracted form of power relations would give way to swords and shields. Islam knows this, which is why it is so socially restrictive, and capitalsm gives away sweets/welfare to mollify. Eighteenth-century pleads remain.

  4. Maria Maria 2 December 2012

    As per usual, DH has missed the point completely. One wonders if it is just because he is obtuse, or, more likely, because he is so blinded by his anti-white ideology that he does not even see the contours of the bigger argument. Which is kind of ironic, as Bert is anything but an apologist for apartheid practices. To be more precise, I recall that Bert sparked a an important debate in the South African Journal of Philosophy, in the early 90s, with an article where he argued for the unbanning of the ANC, looking at the situation in SA through the lens of Rorty’s idea of the “conversation of (hu)mankind”. Look it up in the SAJP archives if you like, DH; your bile is misdirected. The fact that Bert is just as critical of the ANC as he was of the white, apartheid Nationalists is an indication of his independence as a thinker.

  5. Paul Whelan Paul Whelan 2 December 2012

    Hardt and Negri take what my dad would have said was a long way round the houses.

    Nearly a century before Kant, John Locke had spelt out in his Second Treatise of Government that people had the right to remove a tyrannical sovereign, though it is perhaps not H & N’s intention here to give credit where credit’s due. The English had learned by bitter experience rather than theory. They had forty years earlier fought a civil war and executed their king and stood on the brink of a second, more revolutionary settlement with ‘authority’, the Glorious Revolution.

    Also, I doubt if a deconstruction of Kant’s words is necessary, unless one prefers to do it that way. Frederick the Great, once said: ‘My people and I have a perfect understanding. They can say what they like, and I can do what I like.’

    Even the most ‘enlightened’ monarch had his limits. As a reasoning chap, Immanuel was simply watching his p’s and q’s.

  6. Joe Soap Joe Soap 2 December 2012

    Bert’s piece reminded me of this:

    “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”

    ― Howard Zinn

  7. jandr0 jandr0 2 December 2012

    @Dave Harris: Unsubstantiated untruths, based on flimsy conjecture, from you as usual.

    Kindly prove that anyone “sabotaged” OBE. Please be aware: You will have to provide verifiable facts (like – say – minutes of meetings where representative groups or organisations voted to “sabotage” OBE).

    Now, I have a number of teachers (some now retired ex-teachers) in my immediate social group, and ALL of them committed, for SA’s sake, to do the best they can to make OBE work (and all of them people you typically and unquestioningly label “rabid DA supporters”).

    I also directly observed how much effort they put into their teaching with OBE.

    So, the opposite of your claims is more likely true, which means your claims are likely all biases and illusions in your head.

    You made the claim. The onus is on you to substantiate it. If you cannot substantiate it (with facts and/or logic), it holds no water.

    PS. My – admittedly personal – assessment of people who repeatedly spout unproven, unsubstantiated allegations (as you do) are that they are effectively liars.

    Can’t you at least try to be honourable and acknowledge that those are your opinions, and you have no proof to back it up.

    @Bert: Apologies, would like to comment on your ivory tower musings, but here in the reality of real life, time is a scarce commodity and we have to select where we apply that scarce resource. Dave Harris’ unsubstantiated opinions masquerading as fact won out.

  8. Reducto Reducto 2 December 2012

    @jandr0: You’ll have no luck getting Dave Harris to substantiate his claims. He doesn’t grasp that it is the one who makes the claim who should provide evidence.

  9. Maria Maria 2 December 2012

    @ Joe Soap: The Howard Zinn piece you quote is chillingly accurate. And it is wholly compatible with Foucault’s analysis, in Discipline and Punish, of the myriad of ways in which people are reduced to such obedience, or what Foucault calls docility. Deleuze took it a step further in what he called, without mincing his words, Societies of Control. This is why the rare ability to think and act autonomously (the theme of Bert’s piece here) is becoming increasingly urgent for people to acquire, albeit with difficulty.

  10. Joe Soap Joe Soap 3 December 2012


    You talk about discipline and punishment to reduce people to obedience of the state.

    In some countries I have heard it is a lesser crime (or lesser punishment) to murder someone than to cheat the Receiver of Revenue out of tax, however if you kill a policeman you are put away for life and they throw the key away. I do not support killing police, but there needs to be some balance between murder of ordinary citizens and police, and cheating the Receiver of Revenue.

    On a different tack, take a look at our Information Bill in South Africa, the punishment for journalists is out of all proportion to the ‘crime’ they may have committed.

    In South Africa, if an estate agent does not comply with the FICA (Financial Center Intelligence Act) requirements when selling property, they could be put away for 25 years (maximum sentence).

    With punishments as harsh as that, most ordinary citizens must be numbed into obeying whatever the state decrees. Its not worth thinking for yourself.

  11. Joe Soap Joe Soap 3 December 2012

    In addition, I wonder if people like Dave Harris and a few others who regularly contribute and argue their hobby horses irrespective of the topic under discussion are not just trolls.Those in authority don’t want people thinking for themselves and discussing freely, it would undermine their authority, so they employ trolls to divert the attention of the public away from a good piece of journalism. These trolls are employed to do what the circuses and coliseums did for the Romans.

  12. Tofolux Tofolux 3 December 2012

    @Bert, frm Kant to Marx to Hegel, Germany has given us many a philosopher and despite being borne centuries apart all of them asks of us to interrogate our thought processes eg Kant the “solving dispute using empirical knowledge to make a logical conclusion” to Hegel the “absolute idealist” to Karl Marx the “communist ideologist”. The theories are as diverse as the challenges they ask of us. In using the empirical approach of Kant to unpack them one is left excitd by the sheer vibrancy of the different schools of thought thru the diff periods . My approach to current-day situation would differ to the argument you make. Capitalism is proving to be a glorious failure and this is the root of all evil(unrest) in modern day society. The docility you moot comes from feudalism, then industrialisation and finally capitalism. The problem with capitalism is that is causes social instability because of the rampant inequality it creates.(SA) problem is more compounded. You make the point of social democracy and here one looks at the Scandinavian models which serves as living examples. What social democracies have brought is the much needed social AND gender equality, strong labor unions etc etc. It is a misnomer to argue that solving the huge disparities that exist today is the work of govt only. We have seen how monopoly capital have undermined our current trajectory eg Marikana.What Kant asks using the empirical approach is to dare to unpack the real issues not papparazi issues.

  13. Richard Richard 3 December 2012

    @Joe Soap, there is a group of professional agitators and anarchists who go from event to event. Some earn a lot of money to do these things. It is not inconceivable that such people extend their operations to the internet. In this case, though, I don’t know that it is the authorities, but rather people who would like to be in authority but who are sidelined. This is their way of making themselves heard, sadly, though, not in the appropriate fora.

  14. Dave Harris Dave Harris 3 December 2012

    “contours of the bigger argument”
    Fyi – the writing was on the wall for the apartheid regime. In the 90s it did not take ANY courage to speak out against the apartheid state but it took REAL courage to protest in the 70s and 80s – this is the time young black (African, Coloured and Indian) school kids sacrificed their education, families, career and in many cases their lives!!!

    @jandr0 & Reducto
    Do you guys now want to continue to deny that OBE was sabotaged by the beneficiaries of apartheid (BOAs) wanting to enjoy their apartheid privileges for as long as possible? To deny that the apartheid style Christian National Education system – the best that money could buy under apartheid, is what the BOAs are clinging to? To deny that the BOAs would prefer to maintain their student demographics by proclaiming Afrikaans an African language, rather than true integration of our divided communities. Why continue to deny and cover up these disgraceful underhanded tactics of your white tribal DA party?

  15. Reducto Reducto 4 December 2012

    Harris, jandr0 asked you to back up your claim that OBE was sabotaged. You provide no evidence, but instead cry hysterically.

    This is how Harris operates:

    Harris makes claim X. Someone asks Harris to back up claim X. Harris cries hysterically rather than backing up claim X.

  16. Brent Brent 4 December 2012

    Dave (BFL) Harris, OBE failed because the system had failed. It is impossible to craft a ‘Rolls’ system on to a beaten up buggy. The Arms Billions should have been spent on fixing up the failed Apartheid system and then introducing OBE. Even NZ has not been very successful in putting OBE into place. In what other country is Afrikaans spoken? It is a S. African language and with Zulu the most widly spoken in SA, to deny this is just foolish. English is not an African language but it is one of our official languages, please explain. Are you suggesting that ± 8-10 million people (of all colours) just simply stop speaking their ‘mother tougue’ and that Afrikaans be kicked out of schooling? Idiot, and trouble maker you do not deserve a forum on this site.


  17. Joe Soap Joe Soap 4 December 2012

    Thanks Richard. I always find your comments interesting and informative.

  18. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 4 December 2012

    My pet hate is the need for bureaucrats to criticise, even when there is nothing to criticise. This even starts at University. As I said to my tutor at University what if I only have praise for T S Elliot or Jane Austen and NO criticism?

    My brother once complained to me at the total waste of the time of architects in getting plans through City Council with petty needless queries. I suggested to him that he leave obvious mistakes which were easy to fix – like no staircase between two floors. He said they were so dumb they would probably pass that plan!

    I used to train my staff to leave obvious, easy to fix, mistakes in the Liquidation and Distribution Accounts submitted to the Master of the High Court. Once the examiners have found a mistake they are satisfied they are cleverer than you and pass on. The real problem is when they query something pointless and won’t back down. Like an endless series of letters about why the liquidator had not submitted the share certificates as a voucher for income received, and the obvious answer that the shares had been sold which is why there was the income reflected in the account!

  19. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 4 December 2012

    As an aside I wonder how much of the social dissatisfaction is caused by inequality and how much is just caused by a sense of relative deprivation and just good old fashioned jealousy.

    Like Kant’s and Marx’s bodies of knowledge, capitalism is a many headed beast and there’s no sense in demonising such an abstract entity. Much of our unrests are now staged and can’t be pinned on inequality as such. Our inequality in RSA has increased, while at the same time our living standards have improved for the majority of people in the country. Rather, I’d venture a sense of hopelessness and futility about putting yourself through the turmoil of education, tertiary education and then ending up unemployable or unemployed is a cause of frustration for most. Also, privately incurred debt instead of relative low levels of compensation contributes to frustrations.

  20. Dave Harris Dave Harris 4 December 2012

    Oh, I see now. So I suppose if it wasn’t for the apartheid museum, you would demand “proof” that apartheid existed or “proof” that colonialism and apartheid resulted in the greatest theft of land in the history of the country!

    Not quite sure why we would EVER want OBE would be the “Rolls” – that outdated status symbol of the 1% LOL

    Further elevating Afrikaansto an African language is Afri(kaner)Forums’s strategy of retaining their apartheid privileges. Its both racist and insulting. Imagine Chinese calling Chinglish a Chinese language or Indians calling Hinglishan Indian language!

    Language has everything to do with race and culture. The idea of making one European language and one African language a requirement is the best compromise I can think of to build unity in our country. However, most whites do not want to learn any African language. Some minority kids however, will be forced to be tri-lingual e.g. Indian, Jewish etc. for religious reasons. This is the case in most democracies around the world.

  21. Tofolux Tofolux 5 December 2012

    @Garg, it is preprosterous to suggest that those who suffer inequalities are driven by “jealousy”. Jealous of whom in particular? Anyway, please do not bother to answer simply becos it is obvious that the debate will be dragged down to a level that becomes simply pedantic.

  22. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 5 December 2012

    Capitalism was a 19th century problem, before labour laws and trade unions and mechanisation.

    The 21st century problem is MULTI NATIONALS which exploit labour in one part of the world for shareholders in another part of the world and who land up paying no tax to any government because they are in tax haven bases.

  23. Reducto Reducto 5 December 2012


    Comparing the existence of apartheid to unsubstantiated claims of sabotage of OBE has to go down as one of the most ridiculous things you have ever said. The fact is, you cannot provide evidence for such sabotage.

    “The idea of making one European language and one African language a requirement is the best compromise I can think of to build unity in our country.”

    Actually, you don’t have to deny Afrikaans the status of an African languge. You could say students must do one previously advantaged language (English or Afrikaans) and one previously disadvantaged language (Xhosa, Zulu).

    Why not this Harris? Is it because you are more driven by a vendetta against Afrikaans than being objective?

  24. Garg Unzola Garg Unzola 5 December 2012

    Jealous of those who earn more. Jealous of those who manage their personal finances better. Jealous of those who manage their personal lives better. Jealous of those who have a better education. It’s human nature to find a scapegoat for when things go wrong, and it is rare to step up to the plate and accept responsibility. There are usually political ways or technical ways of looking at problems. Political ways try to make an ought out of an is, while technical ways try to achieve a measurable objective.

    The first sign of someone who has an ideological, emotive stance is a knee-jerk reaction when their bluff is called. I merely stated that there’s very little difference between your approach and McCarthyism, complete with ill-defined scapegoat.

    Sticking with the topic, I’m merely daring to suggest that perhaps society is more complex than a class conflict suggests. It’s not pedantry to clarify your position.

  25. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 5 December 2012

    The TRC only examined ONE SIDE IN A CIVIL WAR!

    It is time to examine the deaths on the other side, not “Reparations for Apartheid” but “Reparations for Communism” which includes the unexamined 20,000 deaths in the township war between the Democratic IFP and the Communist ANC.

    As Churchill said “The Victors Write History” – but only for one generation!

  26. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 5 December 2012

    Judge Chaskalson broke his own First Rule with the First Con Court Judgement

    Which was the Death Penalty Judgement.Because it was not discussed at Codesa and was not in the Constitution which was silent on the matter, it should have been refered back to the Legislature. The “Seperation of Powers” rule was therefore broken!

    ALSO they only heard one side – there was no counsel arguing for the victims of crime.

  27. Richard Richard 5 December 2012

    @Bert, your “minor” could of course also simply be interepreted as subconscious motivation behind an action. For instance, think of potential selfishness hidden in altruistic acts, or the lust for power in fake humility. As you have displayed in other posts, the language of philosophy can sometimes be translated (with not much loss of traction) into psychology. It is interesting to think how important attribution can play in politics, too. In European colonial Africa, say, positive attributions were made as to European motivations. What had to be challenged by African nationalists was that assumption; once they had been able to convince Africans of bad attributions of Europeans, their argument was won. In the modern world, attribution has become primary: the “minor” has become “major”. Drugs that help to control major disease are not seen as good things (major) but rather as profit-making and oppressive instruments of control (minor). Perhaps that is why the major issues of the day cannot be solved, despite the capacity for doing so in many cases?

  28. Bert Bert 7 December 2012

    Richard – yes, one could interpret ‘minor’ in that sense, I believe – it would always, in contrast to ‘major’, occupy the place of a repressed, sidelined motif or force, which could, under different circumstances, overpower and displace the ‘major’ force. Against expectations, though, it is precisely in its role as ‘minor’ force that it can do the work of subverting the ‘major’ forces in question. Deleuze and Guattari wrote on Kafka’s work as minor literature, for instance, but considering the impact it has had on world literature, its ‘minor’ voice has had a ‘major’ impact. It is in this sense that Kant’s ‘minor’ voice in the enlightenment essay could have a ‘major’ impact, if I understand Hardt and Negri correctly.

  29. Richard Richard 7 December 2012

    It is interesting to recall the Greek aphorism (was it Heraclitus?), namely, “Character is Fate.” Some small (minor) flaw might overthrow a career (major) unless controlled. Think of King Lear, for example. It is a fascinating tension, and a moot point as to how one might define major and minor, apart from the obvious public/private dichotomy. I can think of political examples – probably the most obvious – where the minor can become the major.

  30. Maria Maria 8 December 2012

    @ Richard and Bert: The cluster of meanings and interpretations that has come out of your exchange (especially your reference to King Lear, Richard) reminds me of what Aristotle calls “hamartia”, which is usually understood as a character flaw of some sort, which can have tragic consequences, such as Lear’s vanity, which set in motion all the events that led to his, and Cordelia’s, undoing. In Thomas Hardy’s novels, too, this “minor” trait in a character becomes a “major” force shaping the character’s tragic destiny, as can be seen in Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge. But as both of you have intimated, this tension between “minor” and “major” is a moving power to be reckoned with in personal as well as collective history. The “knowing thyself” that Socrates recommends implies acknowledging this tension in oneself, lest you flounder because of its unrecognised operation.

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