Johann Hari’s claim that he writes ‘long intellectual profiles’ is for me the most absurd manifestation to emerge from the recent brouhaha about his work. Perhaps Hari wanted us to imagine him as a kind of impressionist reporter-artist (his keyboard clenched between his teeth; thumb and forefinger cocked at 90 degrees) when he framed the Marxist subject sat opposite him at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts in 2004?The only truth to Hari’s artistic metaphor attaches to the word ‘long’ the remainder of his claim to write ‘intellectual profiles’ is bullshit, or if you like, a crit unworthy of a Fine Art undergraduate. Deterritorial Support Group highlighted how a string of quotes from Hari’s 2004 interview with Antonio Negri for the Independent had in fact been ‘lifted’ from a book ‘Negri on Negri’ by Anne Dufourmentelle published in 2003.
DSG’s analysis forced Hari to admit that he has a taste for the technique of collage, the cutting and pasting of other people’s words into his own ‘interviews’. Whilst admitting the charge, he argued that this was not plagiarism, nor churnalism, Naomi Klein claimed it amounted to the lesser crime of ‘poor attribution’ (‘yes yes, but is it art?’ I wonder to myself).
The truth is that DSG is on the mark in describing the interview as nothing more than an attempted ‘take down’.
Hari’s ‘profiles’ are far from intellectual, a fact manifest in the quality of his work. The quality of Hari’s work (the ramblings of an ignorant liberal) is his downfall, in this case his open ignorance of Negri qua theorist. Apparently this point was brought to his newspaper’s attention in a letter by respected academics Alberto Toscano and Matteo Mandarini and Negri’s publisher, Rowan Wilson, shortly after Hari published his piece. The Independent failed to print the letter, a copy of which subsequently turned up on the comments thread at the Guardian CIF (scroll down to a comment by 'notwaving'). In the letter the authors allude to Hari’s ‘proud’ ignorance.
Hari himself talks of his aversion to Negri’s: ‘impossibly dense thickets of sociological prose', and his difficulty understanding Negri’s ‘unreadable gibber.’ The letter also cites what I will charitably refer to as the ‘hyperbole’ of our hysterical columnist when he confesses to having been mindfucked by Negri.
‘After 400 pages of this, I feel like I have been raped by a dictionary of sociology’, Hari tells us.
How can one embark upon a critical intellectual profile worthy of the name whilst concurrently knowing nothing of the intellect that is the target of said critique?
Well I suppose one could always fall back on the vulgarisations of liberal ideology… oh hang on a minute.‘I try to think of a polite way to remind him [Negri] of the fact that every communist revolution of the 20th century lead to tyranny and mass murder. And a nice way to say that communism was a betrayal of the democratic values of the left.’
“‘These communist regimes are waiting for a historical revision. They may not be seen so negatively in the next century," he [Negri] says, as though this was perfectly obvious.
‘I can't take it any more. None of the world's real problems - from poverty to tyranny to climate change - are discussed in Negri's work, except to claim that the poor are "more alive", and the citizens of liberal democracies are living under the "real tyranny", and... oh, I give up. It's not just that this preacher of Empire has no clothes; he is living in an intellectual nudist colony. There are some important anti-globalisation writers, such as Monbiot and Joseph Stiglitz. But Negri is trying to keep alive a patient - Marxism - whose heart stopped beating long ago.’