Italian Theory



A review of Italian Theory. From operaismo to biopolitics (Dario Gentili, Il Mulino 2012).

Let’s face it: Italian Theory does not exist. Or rather, it exists but only as a device that neutralises Italian difference, the theory of creative difference as constituent affirmation. Let’s have a better look.

Beyond the globalisation of Gramsci, the essential reference for post-colonial and subaltern studies, a first introduction to Italian thought appeared in overseas academies is the anthology by Virno-Hardt, Radical Thought in Italy (1996), with the important advances of the anthology by Lotringer-Marazzi, Autonomy (1980). In the eighties and nineties, postmodernist texts were also translated, (Metaphysics Recordings, 1988) and in the 2.0 years international conferences and publications on Italian thought have increased.

After that French Theory developed in U.S. departments of Comparative Literature (post-structuralism – especially Foucault and Derrida but without neglecting Baudrillard – shaken with the destruction of the Wizard of Messkirch), here the market proposes a new global cultural shininess, that of the Italian Theory. And just as the French Theory paradigm neutralised poststructuralism by absorbing it, so the Italian Theory absorbs and neutralises Italian difference. What is the difference?

The opening movement of this difference is by Della Volpe, anticipating Althusser, which breaks the line De Sanctis-Gramsci-Togliatti, proposing an anti-Hegelian reading of Marx and developing Marxism as an experimental science in line with the Galilean tradition. Tronti immediately captures the breaking and turns Della Volpe’s moral Galileaism into the Copernican revolution, or else the reversal of the relationship between capital and labor: it is the capital that is required to meet the workers’ struggle, the principle (and in principle) is the class struggle. Estrangement and separation: knowledge is linked to the struggle. Really knows who really hates (workers and capital, 1966).

In the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism Tronti sees the end of great politics, and a final melancholic sunset; Negri instead outlines positively the emergence of a new antagonist subject beyond the factory, in the metropolis, the social worker. Here is one focal point: in the second half of the seventies on the one hand there are the autonomy of the political and the negative thinking that will develop a tragic thought more and more apocalyptic, from Finis Austriae to adelphian angelology (much ado about nothing). On the other, Italian postmodernism translates into a song for organ French poststructuralism and Gadamer’s hermeneutics altogether (the being that can be understood is language), overthrowing the ’77 getting a weak thought, sophisticated ideology of neo-liberal counter-revolution of the eighties.

But on an other hand, that of the difference, lay feminist and materialist thought which are clearly able to see that where the danger is greatest – in the becoming world of the capital and in the fulfilment of the colonisation process for which there is no outside anymore – there is also what saves.

This is not all of course, Italian thought is also something more and this book by Dario Gentili (Italian Theory. From operaism to biopolitics, Il Mulino 2012) realises it with scientific rigor and lucidity. Perhaps, however, on the critical survey the lunge is not firm when it comes to distinguishing between Italian difference and Italian Theory. Because the latter is essentially a left-liberal philosophy, while Italian difference is, as we said at the beginning, creative and constituent difference, open to the to-come. Indeed, to paraphrase Marx, only the armed difference is a serious obstacle in the way of revolutionary counter-plot.

* Translated by Alessio Kolioulis. 




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