Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Negri and vitalism

So, most people read Negri as being a vitalist even though he explicitly and frequently rejects vitalism. Now, I assume this because of the vitalism that is in Deleuze. But this is one of those issues where people end up reading everyone into the poststructuralist goo. Someone says something similar to someone else, and suddenly they are saying the same thing.

Regardless, that Negri is not a vitalist, that he rejects the bergsonism in Deleuze, is a key and critical difference. Not just between Negri and Deleuze, but oddly also between Negri and Agamben. Negri does believe in an ontology of becoming, which clearly places him alongside Deleuze. And their shared interest in Spinoza and a Marxism that focuses on the production of subjectivity means this shouldn't surprise you. What changes however is that for Deleuze this ontology of becoming is rooted in a vitalism, with the force of life that comes from outside and exceeds everything. This life is certainly not contained within just the human, necessary. Though certainly life, as Deleuze (with and without Guattari) understands it includes things like metal, and various other things that would not traditionally be considered life. For Negri, the ontology of production has nothing to do with the nature of life, but rather with the particular nature of humanity. To be human, for Negri, is rooted with our unique capacity for production, for living labor power. This is not vitalism, as people keep calling it, but humanism. And a not surprising humanism from a man whose early philosophical projects were undertaken in examining many of the great enlightenment era humanists (Descartes, Machiavelli, and a certain conception of Spinoza). And that this is a thinker who desires a new enlightenment, a biopolitical enlightenment. Now, I have no doubt that Negri would disagree with my characterization of this as humanism. Most likely because the production of subjectivity that is uniquely human for Negri can overcome itself (with all the Nietzschean and Foucauldian overtones this is suppose to evoke).

This humanism is also stands as stark contrast to Agamben. Negri believes it is when vitalistic concerns are introduced, when we come to care about zoe instead of just bios, that we see introduced the concerns of the thantopolitical. This comes to heart of Negri's criticisms of Agamben's figure of the homo sacer becoming a political figure. He is terrified that we will rally around naked life as something to be protected, which for him continues to justify being able to see humans as being separable from their bios.

I guess I don't need to say I find this humanism even more problematic than I find Deleuze's generalized vitalism. In particular, I doubt I need to tell you that what Negri misses in this obsession with bios is the problem that I refer to, following the movie Blade Runner, as more human than the human. It may be true that we can produce something different from the human, but if we are bound up with humanism then all seek to make is to perfect the human. And that drive, of course, is what drives regimes to make people into naked life. Not by having the concept of naked life, but by having a concept that can we need to perfect the human.

Which is sad, because I really Negri.