In their audacious and controversial texts, Empire (2001) and Multitude (2004), Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri speak of a ‘monstrous’ (Hardt and Negri 2004: 192) formation that will eventually overcome an increasingly global and oppressive ‘Empire’. They call this formation ‘the multitude’. Unlike the people, the masses or the working classes, which Hardt and Negri suggest are redundant collective metaphors because they exclude or homogenise difference, the multitude refers to a chaotic, incoherent and excessive assemblage. Alluding to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Hardt and Negri describe the vampire as ‘one figure that expresses the monstrous, excessive, and unruly character of the flesh’ (Hardt and Negri 2001: 193) of the multitude in a global culture where conventional social bodies like the nation and family are disintegrating:
While Hardt and Negri state their thesis as a radical break with traditional (postcolonial) theories of empire, their recourse to Gothic tropes of monstrosity, the vampiric and the deviant is, we shall see, entirely compatible with a strain of empire writing that first became prevalent in the nineteenth century.1 The nodal point of the comparison also reveals, as the quotation implies, a crucial difference, which is the site of horror. Stoker in Dracula evokes an England in danger of contamination by the alien vampiric invader and his legions, reversing the supposedly ethical work of empire. Hardt and Negri, however, see that contaminating monstrosity within a plural society as a source of energy and resistance to the structures of empire. Their recognition of monstrosity as a recurring source of social anxiety within empire that might nevertheless be reclaimed as a positive resource of subversion characterises a more recent subgenre of late twentieth-century writing that we might call ‘postcolonial Gothic’.