In Thomas Hobbes’ books Leviathan and De Cive the notion of “multitude” acquired a specific philosophical meaning. In Hobbes’ texts, a “multitude” of disperse, ruthless individuals with no rights and laws need to reduce their will to one, submitting themselves to a sovereign who will enforce order, therefore allowing them to be a “people”. This takes place in exchange for the transfer to the monarch of the individuals’ right to use power to preserve their lives. This abdication is necessitated by the condition of humankind. Before the sovereign receives the mandate to rule, there exists only a perpetual war, a brutal “state of nature”. Over the past twenty years, philosophers and economists such as Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Paolo Virno and Yann Moulier-Boutang have relied on Baruch Spinoza’s thought to counter Hobbes’ and Hobbesian political theories, reinstating the multitude’s autonomous political agency. Negri and Hardt define the multitude as at the “same time many and one”; unlike the “people”, the multitude can never be “flattened into sameness, unity [and] identity” (Negri/Hardt, Multitude, 2004, p. 140, 105). The multitude is not made of “individuals” (from Latin individuus, “indivisible”). Rather, it is formed by “singularities that act in common”, a redefinition that emphasises their constant becoming and internal multiplicity. The multitude dispels the need for a sovereign, and represents “the only social subject capable of realising democracy, that is, the rule of everyone by everyone” (Negri/Hardt, Multitude, 2004, p. 100). For the frontispiece of Leviathan, Hobbes had Abraham Bosse depict the body politic (fig. 1) as described in his book. By contrast, the philosophers who have reconsidered the concept of the multitude have not explicitly translated their ideas into an iconic image. What, then, does the multitude look like?
A visualisation of the multitude should convey the contrasting forces inherent to this elusive political subject, which is cohesive and yet scattered, capable of concerted political actions and simultaneously irreducible to a sole impetus. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century political iconography often represented people congregating and masses, but rarely a multitude. A multitude can be reduced to neither a social class nor a throng of demonstrators or a mass of disempowered victims. For example, the monument (fig. 2) commemorating the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, much like one of its iconographic sources, Luigi Russolo’s La rivolta, can hardly represent a viable iconographic model. The memorial evokes a dispersed crowd that overcomes its fears and rises up. Yet, the crowds’ metamorphosis into a stainless steel wedge suggests flatness and lack of internal fractures, in a shift that ultimately aligns with the Hobbesian body politic. The cover of Multitude (fig. 3) and Spinoza e noi (fig. 4) provide clues into the iconography of the multitude. Anonymity plays a key role for both the black silhouettes forming an “M” and the mask of Guy Fawkes, which ironically disguises Spinoza. Other images have implemented strategies that arguably offer insights into a
tentative visualisation of the multitude. Gérard Fromanger’s series Boulevard des italiens (fig. 5) presents anonymous passers-by who are unconsciously inhabited by a “red” desire uniting them. Anonymity is, however, an ambivalent tool to present unity, for it might call to mind the trope of the “faceless crowd” as a locus of alienation and dehumanisation. Juan Genovés’ La espera (fig. 6) responds to this risk. In his painting, the irrelevance of the setting strips the work of mimetic qualities, underlining its allegorical dimension. The throng is gathered in a space that is delimited by a line the people do not overstep. This proves the multitude’s ability to act “as one mind”, avoiding any stampede, while simultaneously maintaining its heterogeneity, encoded by the individual traits of each figure. Yet, the sovereign has not disappeared. The zoom lens from which the crowd is observed can be interpreted as the panoptic gaze of modern power, which conceals itself as it operates within regimes of visuality that are no longer those of Hobbes. Juan Antonio Toledo’s Cæsar (fig. 7) suggests the masses’ cohesion through the repetition of a person’s silhouette making the “thumbs up” gesture, whereas the sovereign ordains death. The iconography of Hobbes’ frontispiece is subverted. The sovereign does not keep his subjects in “awe”, a Hobbesian concept signifying “holy terror”, as discussed by Carlo Ginzburg (Paura, Reverenza, Terrore 2015). In Toledo’s work, the multitude embodies the non-dialectical negation of the sovereign’s rule.
It is no wonder that a party that evolved out of the indignados movement, Podemos, engages with this iconography. The party’s leader, Pablo Iglesias Turrión, announced that he will be the candidate for the role of Prime Minister at the next general elections. He addressed the journalists standing before the image of an anonymous crowd (fig. 8) that finds its principle of unity in a sinuous shape unwittingly delineated by the “singularities”. Yet the emerging form creates a slope descending towards Iglesias’ head in a way that recalls the frontispiece of Hobbes’ Leviathan. The photograph illustrates well the tensions permeating the iconography and the political condition of the multitude, which is constantly on the verge of being subsumed by a sovereign, a leader, a guide, a party or a government trying to usurp its potentia, while at the same time claiming to represent it.
- Horst Bredekamp, Thomas Hobbes: Der Leviathan. Das Urbild des modernen Staates und seine Gegenbilder. 1651-2001, (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2006).
- Carlo Ginzburg, Paura, Reverenza, Terrore. Cinque saggi di iconografia politica (Milan: Adelphi, 2015).
- Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Multitude. War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004).
- Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude. For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life (Los Angeles: Semiotext (e), 2004).
- Alberto Toscano on Hobbes’ frontispiece https://cartographiesoftheabsolute.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/images-of-state-and-stasis/
- Conference proceedings of Metáforas de la multitud. III Congreso Internacional Estética y Política (November 2015) https://riunet.upv.es/handle/10251/57315
- Wikipedia page of “multitude”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multitude
About the author:
Jacopo Galimberti is an independent scholar. His publications, including articles appeared in Art History, The Art Bulletin and Grey Room, have focused on the relationship between art and politics in Cold War Western Europe. In 2016 he will publish a book-length study Individuals against Individualism. Art Collectives in Western Europe (1956-1969).
Reference / Quellennachweis:
Jacopo Galimberti: Multitude, in: Aesthetics of Resistance, Pictorial Glossary, The Nomos of Images, ISSN: 2366-9926, 3 December 2015, URL: http://nomoi.hypotheses.org/263.