As speaking animals, we continuously make use of an unassuming grammatical particle, without suspecting that what is at work in its inconspicuousness is a powerful apparatus, which orchestrates language, signification, and the world at large. What particle might this be? The word not.
In Essay on Negation, Paolo Virno argues that the importance of the not is perhaps comparable only to that of money—that is, the universality of exchange. Negation is what separates verbal thought from silent cognitive operations, such as feelings and mental images. Speaking about what is not happening here and now, or about properties that are not referable to a given object, the human animal deactivates its original neuronal empathy, which is prelinguistic; it distances itself from the prescriptions of its own instinctual endowment and accesses a higher sociality, negotiated and unstable, which establishes the public sphere. In fact, the speaking animal soon learns that the negative statement does not amount to the linguistic double of unpleasant realities or destructive emotions: while it rejects them, negation also names them and thus includes them in social life. Virno sees negation as a crucial effect of civilization, one that is, however, also always exposed to further regressions. Taking his cue from a humble word, the author is capable of unfolding the unexpected phenomenology of the negating consciousness.
Over the past several decades, Italian revolutionary politics has offered a model for new forms of political thinking. Radical Thought in Italy continues that tradition by providing an original view of the potential for a radical democratic politics today that speaks not only to the Italian situation but also to a broadly international context. First, the essays settle accounts with the culture of cynicism, opportunism, and fear that has come to permeate the Left. They then proceed to analyze the new difficulties and possibilities opened by current economic conditions and the crisis of the welfare state. Finally, the authors propose a series of new concepts that are helpful in rethinking revolution for our times. Contributors: Giorgio Agamben, U of Verona and Collège Internationale de Philosophie, Paris; Massimo De Carolis, U of Salerno; Alisa Del Re, U of Padua; Augusto Illuminati, U of Urbino; Maurizio Lazzarato; Antonio Negri, U of Paris VIII; Franco Piperno, U of Calabria; Marco Revelli, U of Turin; Rossana Rossanda; Carlo Vercellone; Adelino Zanini. Paolo Virno is the author of several books, including the recently translated A Grammar of the Multitude. Michael Hardt is professor of literature and romance studies at Duke University.