Agamben, correcting and extending Foucault…

agamben4I pulled this from a footnote that I’m about to delete, but this connects to something I was saying (half-jokingly) about Agamben in a recent post: Agamben argues that Foucault’s analysis needs to be “corrected” and “clarified,” since, despite Foucault’s extended analysis of pastoral power back to many of the theological figures mentioned by Agamben in Security, Territory, Population and The Birth of Biopolitics, “he appears to ignore the theological implications of the term oikonomia” (Il regno e la gloria, 128). Two pages later, he follows up on this dubious claim to point out a lesson: “when one undertakes an archaeological research, one must take into consideration the possibility that the genealogy of a concept” will lead to a “different sphere than one originally envisaged.” Thus, Foucault’s references to a number of the same, but not all figures, means that he concentrated on “medieval political treatises,” since “he was not attentive enough” to look for cconcepts in “different milieux” (RG, 129-30).

On Sarcasm…

Rovati does mention this, which I take issue with:

When sarcasm becomes the systematic shortcut for analysis, I doubt that philosophy remains (as Negri writes in the opening of his pamphlet) ‘that critical activity that allows one to grasp one’s time and orientate oneself in it’

I wish I had a better, more sarcastic rejoinder to this. But bullshit. Sarcasm is wonderful–it often cuts to the core of something, devastates it, and leaves the scene before one has barely noticed. It’s the court joker to presumptions of philosophical sovereignty. There’s a lot written recently (Cindy Willet’s great book on this comes to mind) on politics and humor, and I think there’s a generation of people that think “snark” and “sarcasm” are inherently bad, rude even. Oh Onion and Daily Show–what would the Bush years have been like without you? This is often turned against various bloggers by mainstream editorialists in the states.  As if we have a philosophical or political of code of conduct that we all agreed to … and as if Nietzsche never picked up a pen and said, “truth is a woman.” Ok, not the best example. But if truth is a woman (and I, of course, dear reader, mean this in the fully post-Derrida’s Spurs sense), then sarcasm is the wonderful transvestite who reminds you that truth doesn’t always come in the mode of normalized codes of conduct… and then doesn’t just do the “critique” (since it’s not just Butlerian parody) but also has a living, breathing life beyond that…

And why no shortcuts? For me, one of Zizek’s best analyses is in the Parallax View. I don’t have it in front of me, but he has this great paragraph on Heidegger’s reading of Fug, which he spends forever on in the Introduction to Metaphysics, as a translation for the Greek dikê. He spends forever on the etymology, on how it means both way and harmony and so on… But as Zizek points out, it’s also the root of the word “fuck.” And so he concludes—and here’s a great shortcut to Zizek’s whole reading of Heidegger as wanting to cut out any notion of desire from ontology—why didn’t Heidegger just write about the “great fuck of being”? (I’m ruining the line.) Or better, the “poetic harmonizing engaged by the thinker in the face of the great fuck of being?”

Now that’s a great fuckin’ shortcut.

Response to Negri on Italian philosophy

Pier Rovati has a response to Negri’s pamphlet on Italian philosophy…

In spite of appearances, Antonio Negri’s obscure pamphlet ‘The Italian Difference’ does not really lend itself to a polemical discussion. It must be taken for what it is, a coup de théâtre dictated—as the author himself confesses—by a rather ingenuous moment of hubris. At the end of the day, it is a sparata, as we say in Italian. Such a blast would intend to strike at the entirety of Italian contemporary thought (and with particular violence against so-called ‘weak thought’) in its capacity as a philosophy of the master; at the same time, it positively exempts from this treatment three names—the old Gramsci, and the new Mario Tronti, the workerist, and Luisa Muraro, the feminist—in their capacity as, it would seem, philosophies that creatively resists the master by means of difference. Everything else is a desert.

True. But the next part (in itals) is best. One often seems a similar rhetoric in Agamben, which might explain why he and Negri are often writing at each other:

If there are no doubts about Gramsci, the two other names are—even for an Italian—quite unexpected. I wonder what those concerned by this bizarre ordering think about it (and then I ask myself: What status does he who arranges them arrogate to himself? Is he like the fourth man officiating at a football match?). …

This is a good point for anyone writing: the presumption to name the first, best, etc., of philosophy often comes with the notion (implicit or explicit) about how wonderful you are for being the first to recognize the first or the best. Not that one should always avoid this kind of rhetoric or can (obviously, we all have thoughts on various “firsts” and “bests”), but when it comes to infect one’s writing, then in the end you’re only writing your self-glorification as philosophy’s sovereign, always passing final judgement on the first and best, even though that presumption carries with it the idea that somehow you’ve read all of the archive of philosophy to say without a doubt that you haven’t missed some other writing that indeed would have been first or better on a particular topic. But I digress….

The next important point, though, turns to Vattimo’s so-called “weak thinking.” Now, I am not at all a Vattimo apologist and his work never had much influence on me. But every once in a while you’ll read an article from someone like Negri who thinks they’re making a brilliant suggestion that “weak thought” is just weakness or something. Why, that’s brilliant! As if Vattimo didn’t purposely take up the term with a certain irony, to oppose it to various philosophies that were too masterful, too hubristic. In fact, he wrote a lot on just this topic. Why, it’s even in the archive….

As for Negri’s intended targets, they revolve around the old motif, often used in reactionary terms, of the ‘poverty’ of Italian philosophy. I just want to say something about weak thought (‘the vilest point’ of the twentieth-century decline, as Negri delicately describes it), considering the fact that, at the beginning of the 1980s, I was its promoter together with Gianni Vattimo. Weak thought was an episode in the Italian philosophical debate that aroused considerable alarm in academia and whose effects (which also had significant international echoes) have yet to die out. These effects, which in part intersected with those of deconstruction, should induce some caution even in the worst-disposed of critics. I mean that, were he to exercise such caution, Negri would realize that what is at stake here is an issue of power [potere] that concerns the so-called metaphysical violence of philosophy, its administration of truth, and the elements of micro-government that follow from it, beginning with the real privileges that exist in the institutional circles of research.

I think Negri is well aware that there is a front of struggle within philosophy, related to the very way in which the scientificity of concepts is understood and knowledge as power [potere] is used. Negri’s sharp mind cannot overlook this Foucauldian inspiration of weak thought, unless he does so deliberately. As a matter of fact, his very strong thought could obviously fall into the critical horizon of weak thought itself.

I’m sorry to say this to a friend like Negri, but his pamphlet on the Italian difference is full of superficialities, that is, hurried verdicts which, as if wielding a machete, take the place of the reflection required by critical discourse.