Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Negri, Humanism, Monstrosity

Jason Read has a review of Cesare Casarino and Antonio Negri, In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics. (h/t Philosophy in a Time of Error). In it, Read argues:
Finally, Casarino's example of language as this relation between the virtual and actual, an example that is repeated numerous times throughout the discussions with Negri, underscores that as a philosophical problem the common focuses as much on the fundamental aspects of human subjectivity, on a philosophical anthropology, as it does on an ontology.

The turn towards philosophical anthropology, towards an examination of humanity through its fundamental activities and relations, differentiates Negri's work from the work of thinkers of a previous generation such as Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Louis Althusser. For Deleuze, and other "anti-humanist" thinkers, any discussion of human nature, of some commonality, was an effect of power or an ideological ruse. Negri's and Casarino's work has more in common (no pun intended) with the work of Giorgio Agamben, Etienne Balibar, and Paolo Virno, who have returned to the maligned field of philosophical anthropology, to a consideration of what makes us human, not as a generic essence, but as the interplay between abstract potential and singular differences. This is not to say that these conceptions are the same. In the interviews, and in the essay on the political monster, Negri distinguishes his understanding of humanity from Agamben's understanding of bare, or naked, life. For Agamben, bare life, the reduction of humanity to pure survival, is at the basis of the modern state. Such an understanding of humanity disavows the common, specifically the way in which the common as presupposition constitutes a kind of historicity. As Negri writes,

There is no naked life in ontology, much as there is no social structure without rules, or word without meaning. The universal is concrete. What precedes us in time, in history, always already presents itself as an ontological condition, and, as far as man is concerned, as (consistent, qualified, irreversible) anthropological figure (208).

This is, as I have argued before, absolutely correct. Negri is no vitalist, no matter how many times you read that people say he is a materialist vitalist in the same lineage as Deleuze. For Negri, it is not life that gives us the power to be, but rather the very being of humanity that gives us the unique power to be. This is, and always been, the flavor of humanism that always exists in Negri. Though a biopolitical (in the sense Negri uses that term) humanism, to be sure.

This collection, however, contains a particularly interesting essay that both goes the farthest at contesting the boundaries of the human while at the same time ultimately reterroritoralizing on the figure of the human. This is the essay "The Political Monster." I remember a little over a year ago, back when I first trying to blog, Shaviro had a series of posts up on the question of monstrosity that Hardt and Negri praise as the monstrous flesh of the multitude. Shaviro had argued at the time that such a moves ignores that for Marx, the monstrous was capitalism. At the time I argued that the monstrous was something I wanted to be on the side of. Anyway, in this essay Negri not only extends the analysis about why he is on the side of monsters, but also specifically deals with this change from capitalism as monster to multitude as monster.