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Antonio Negri, "Alma Venus, Prolegomena to the Common"

hydrarchist writes

"Alma Venus:
Prolegomena to the Common"

Antonio Negri

This essay is excerpted from a work entitled "Kairos Alma Venus Multitude. Nove
lezioni impartite a me stesso" ("Nine Lectures on What I Have Taught Myself") (Rome:
Manifesto libri, 2000). Thus, certain notions, e.g., kairos, were introduced in earlier
chapters of the work. It is published in the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal Volume
22, Number 1, 2000, New York and hacked by korotonomedya into html in April 2002.

1. The guiding light of materialism is the eternity of matter. The eternal is the common
name of the materialist experience of time. From an ethical standpoint, the problem
faced by materialism is to hold sin¡gularity responsible for the eternal. These truths
stemming from the materialist tradition are confirmed in the experience of kairos.

2. Among the other meanings that could be attributed to the eternal -- in the materialist
tradition -- we sometimes find the name of the infinite, as if the two were synonymous. Is
matter therefore infinite? We concede this only if we subsume the infinite under eternity
and break with their synonymous relationship, since materialist production and the
unfolding of the eternal are infinite. But each production is sin¡gular and finite: today the
course of the infinite may be less, tomorrow it may be greater. This finitude and
singularity can only be considered as infinite if the presence and power1 of the eternal
take them on. Once the infinite is taken out of the context of the name of eternity, it then
solely consists in the idea of temporal transcendence and, as such, cannot be
predicated of materialism (that is, materialist production).

2b. Since the infinite is an ambiguous name, and can only be understood in its
subsumption under the eternal, it is better not to use it.

2c. Ethical experience has nothing to do with the infinite. Ethical experience
establishes itself in eternal presence.

3. Even if transcendental philosophy assumes the infinite as a principle that governs all
of its maneuvers, it has taken little interest in the infinite in reality. Like a garment worn
only on festive occasions, the idea of the infinite is left to poetry, to theology, to
mysticism, and to all obscure discourses. For everyday use, transcendental philosophy
prefers the idea of the infinite. What is the indefinite? It consists in the idea of an infinite
thati can be measured. But one cannot measure the eternal, or matter that is eternal, for
it is measureless. This is because the eternal is always confronted with the future, and
this very relationship is measureless. The indefinite is therefore an illusion. But it
becomes an effective illusion when it ushers in transcendence as a measure for
immanence. For here the illusion turns into a transcenden¡tal mystification: it becomes a
continuously repeated attempt to subor¡dinate the present under the sign of the infinite
and not under the eter¡nal, and is thus an attempt to subordinate the singular to a

3b. In materialism, ethical experience is always faced with measurelessness,2 in the
opening up of the eternal towards the future.

4. The eternity of matter reveals itself as temporal intensity, as inno¡vative presence; the
full present of eternal time is singularity. 'Singular' and 'eternal' are interchangeable
names, their relationship is tautological. Whatever has happened to it, each singular
instant is eternal. Each singular instance is eternal here and now. The eternal is the
singular present.

4b. In materialism, ethical experience is the responsibility for the present.

5. Kairos is presented to us as an irreducible singularity. Yet in the production of the
eternal, we saw that the monads of kairos joined together in common events that they
impelled towards a common name. This is to say, we are immersed in the common
because kairos is the hovering dust of monadic exposure that intertwines and links
together over the void that time's arrow indicates to us, thus building the coming future.
Hence singularity is the experience of the common.

5b. This commonality cannot be reduced to an essence or to any pre¡conceived notion.
There is no das Gemeinste, or what could be presup¡posed as "the most common," as
Kant would have it, unless we trans¡late it as a mere concatenation. (Such is the case
for Colli, who translates the first instance of the "common" (koinos) as "that which is
concatenated"; it is this sense that the materialist tradition has transmitted to us via
Heraclitus.) The monads of kairos are common insofar as they produce and reproduce
life, exposing themselves on the present
edge of eternity; thus the future's measurelessness is what creates the common.

5c. In producing the eternal, singularity assumes the form of the common. The
production of the world (of man and of his environment, his Umwelt) renders those
elements constitutive of singularity all the more common. This is why commonality
indicates a teleological process, but of which teleology?

5d. In materialism, ethics is the responsibility for the present qua innovation of being.
But if the innovation is common, then ethics is the responsibility for the common. And if
the common is teleological, mate¡rialist ethics must confront teleology, but which

6. Teleology is the name that suits materialism inasmuch as it is the name that suits the
common. Materialist teleology is exempt from any final cause from or towards which it
would tend: on the contrary, it is the form through which the eternity of matter
progressively constitutes itself, thus constituting the horizon of the world, without any
axiological qualification. The eternity of matter 'constitutes itself, in the pre¡sent, i.e., the
present takes shape, establishes itself and innovates in itself, through singular common
figures. It does so 'progressively', i.e., according to the direction of time indicated by
temporality's arrow. Time progresses. Regression in time is not due to time, but to the
human activity of time (the isolation of a moment in time, the accumu¡lation of time's
moments, memory). The singular horizon of life is there¡fore the increasingly common
form of being in time. It is the totality of time fulfilled in the actuality of the common.

6b. In taking upon itself the direction of time's arrow, ethics posits the common as
teleological, that is, it considers matter to be increas¡ingly common.

7. When materialism follows a teleological progression in its defini¡tion of the common,
then it proceeds in a direction opposite to the one proposed by the metaphysical
tradition. In Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics, the effects of which are felt until the
final avatars of Hegelianism, teleology is not progressive. In fact, it presupposes an
arche: in teleology, it is the arche that moves, in order to place being in actu within
arche's preconstituted hierarchy. The fact that the Greek verb archein means both to
initiate and to rule, can be seen as the most evident proof of the teleological fiction of
the metaphysical tradition. Teleology has thereby become the theoretical praxis that
subordinates the principle to the command and which thereby defines the limit before
the development, the order before the production. The tradition of classical metaphysics
finds its confirmation in the processes of modern transcendentalism. The Hegelian
Geist is a transvestite that dances to the rhythm of a Platonic-Aristotelian flute; insofar
as every transvestite always caricatures an original, here, the original is the State, that
is, the most explicit and violent limit of the development of the common.

7b. In materialism, ethics grounds itself in the unlimited production of the common.

8. In materialism, the telos is the product of common existence. It is therefore not a
preconstituted value, but a perpetually progressive pro¡duction of the eternal, just as a
child matures and becomes a man, or, similarly, that birth is followed by death once life
has run its course. In the same way that the adult is not a value principle greater than
the young boy, death is not the negation of the value of life. On the con¡trary, everything
is eternal. I am here, and this is all: this and only this is the Da-sein of the eternal.

8b. The common produced by the movement of man and his Umwelt is not a value but a
destiny. However, the word 'destiny" must be torn away both from the blindness of
chance and from all possible predeter¡mination; rather, it should be redefined in the
constitutive perspective of the common. 'Destiny" will refer to the whole of man's actions,
taken as a generic multitude, in which nothing is presupposed, except for the
environmental conditions that man continually alters and that, insofar as they are
modified, in turn effect communal existence. Ethically, 'destiny" is the common name for
'man' inasmuch as he materially constructs himself.

8c. Starting with the destiny of the centaur (man fused with nature), man then reaches
the destiny of the 'homo-homo'3 (man made through praxis), until he arrives at the
destiny of the 'man-machine' (man trans¡ormed through production, artificially
developing his being): these are his second, third, and nth natures. In each one of these
stages, the common progressively takes on a different form, but not metaphysical, nor
axiological, nor historicist, nor eschatological. The 'centaur-being", the 'man-man being",
and the 'man-machine being1 are given as progressively as the progression of time
leading from life until death.

9. From Democritus to Epicurus, from Lucretius to Giordano Bruno, from Spinoza to
Nietzsche, from Leopardi to Deleuze, from Holderlin to Dino Campana, this production
of the common life until death has been taken as a sign of eternity. A sign that, once
again, is not axiological, but on the contrary, reveals the ontological intensity of
production in time. If the direction that time imposes on the actuality of production is
increasingly common, this means that the experience of singularity has an increasingly
greater grasp of eternity. The actuality of production confers eternity, and the common
disposes of time in as much as it reveals time as eternity.

9b. The world is not a practical-inert background but a context of activity, a texture of
kairos. With each instant the world is created once againùin its totality, in a movement
of dilation of the common. In this context, human praxis, in its destinality, cannot be
represented as that which is constituted, for human praxis is constitutive, or rather, it
con¡stitutes an ever-more common context.

9c. In this movement, the more the common constructs itself, the more the world
becomes measureless.

9d. If, in materialism, ethics is forever faced with measurelessness, then resistance is
action 'out of measure', while constitutive power is action "beyond measure".

10. In the teleology found in the materialist tradition, the relation between eternity and
existence has always been expounded in an adequate and sufficient manner. Yet on
the other hand, materialism runs into aporias when it confronts eternity with the time of
innovation when, on the edge of being, the eternal comes up against the future.

l0b. The crisis experienced by materialism emerges in the domain of ethics. At present,
indeed, the eternal is confronted with the measure¡lessness of singular acting, in
actuality, and it appears incapable of containing it. But should the eternal really contain
this lack of measure?

l0c. From what we have said, it is evident that when we say "at pre¡sent," "in actuality,"
we mean "the present." In this way we unravel the ambiguity of metaphysical 'actuality*
and we give a meaning to the absolute common name. It is "absolute" because here,
now, in the time of both the name and of the event, the common name exists. And this
fact is apodeictic.

11. In classical materialism, the theme of innovation or change is both
central and unresolved. From Democritus to Epicurus, the atom¡istic
construction of the world is immersed in eternity. As for freedom, it is the
conduct of life in accordance with the metaphor of the cosmos. In this
flattening-out, freedom fades away and innovation becomes
incomprehensible. It is only with Lucretius that freedom strives to break
with the meaninglessness of metaphor so as to act independently of the
physical totality of atomism, and tear the fabric of eternity asun¡der. Yet
Lucretius poses his clinamen on the tip of his tongue, sotto voce, almost
hoping to cancel out the violence of the tear coming from this barely
perceptible deviation that lets the world change, and lets it grasp the
singular and along with it the meaning of freedom. A tiny yet enormous
glow shines through the rainfall of atoms; thereby, poetry is exalted,
philosophy humiliated, and the problem posed. Modernity inherits the
problem unresolved.

12. Only with Spinoza is the problem transformed. Here, indeed, the
ontology of materialism does not feel the light touch of the clinamen, but
is instead invested and grounded anew by desire. The rhythm of the
constitution of the world is sustained amid the confusion of forms by
a living force that unfolds in the world and constitutes itself as divine.
Freedom is constructed in this development, the continuity of which it
interprets in the absolute productive immanence of a vis viva, a living
force, that unfolds from a physical conatus to human cupiditas, to divine
amor. Ethics constitutes the physical world prior to interpret¡ing the
human world and sublimating itself in the divine world. Eternity is lived
as presence. The development of the common takes place wholly within
the development of ontology. The composition of bodies is common, the
object of cupiditas is common, the figure of the divine is common. The
common is ontology considered from the stand¡point of passion, of the
force that agitates and constructs both the world and divinity.

13. In the shift from classical materialism to Spinozist materialism, this
problem undergoes a powerful displacement. The problem of
inno¡vation is no longer posed in terms of a deviation from the course of
life, it is posed within the horizon of eternity. Absolute immanence is the
dynamism of life and gives life its power. Singularity begins to acquire a
shape in the ocean of being, or we can say that it begins to reveal itself
in the overall dynamic of materialist teleology. But is this radical
displacement enough to resolve the problem? Is a physics of desire
enough to bestow upon eternity the figure of freedom? Is it enough to
imprint the discontinuity of innovation upon the world, thereby
goingbeyond the aporia of materialism and the crisis of the common?
Spinoza's asceticism has the character of a diktat, an imposition of
immanence as the specific plane of materialist discourse that
establishes the force of life therein. The common is thereby affirmed.
But nevertheless, despite all this, one must acknowledge that Spinoza's
asceticism is incapable of granting a full meaning to its progression, for
it forms an image of beatitude that does touch on its genuine notion (sc.,
beatitude), by drawing away from the production of desire, but never
manages to fully appropriate it. Just as in Lucretius, with Spinoza we
witness a series of imperceptible qualitative leaps within the very
continuity of ontological experience; these leaps attempt to reak out of
the monolith of materialist metaphysics and carve it into a physics, an
ethics, and a theology. This also occurred with the clinamen in the
atomic turbulence of Lucretius. But within the merciless hold of
ontological necessity, as experienced in traditional materialism, this
change is still hesitant, when it is not downright meaningless. Once
again, the progression of the common, that is, the unity of eternity and
innovation, is not granted a creative dimension. The problem lies
precisely here: to produce freedom by the same token as eternity, and
make the common the active key of the construction/reconstruction of
the world, and not just its flat result. By contrast, these philosophies of
absolute immanence surreptitiously reintroduce an axiological moment.
Then, classical and idealist teleology, along with the idea of the infinite,
spew their transcendent venom into the radicality of the materialist way
of proceeding. The eternal is once again shattered by a value
determination that is external to it.

14. In modernity, that is, with the advent of the 'homo-homo', axiological
transcendence insinuated itself into even the most powerful of
materialist teleologies. This can be explained by the conditions under
which the progression of the ontologies of the common deployed itself in
that era. The relation between experience and the common was indeed
contradictory, on the very terrain on which it had located itself, that of
praxis. The aim was to locate transcendence squarely within
experi¡ence, but this reduction (presented in a revolutionary, i.e., open
man¡ner) was nevertheless held back by the unsustainable weight of the
indefinite (which is always characteristic of ascetic praxis) and thus still
recognizably transcendent. Thus the texture of immanence could not
become common, except through the hypostasis of the common.
Philosophy wanted the common, but in wanting it, it transcendental-ized
it. A hiatus or, even worse, a genuine opposition took shape between
the experience of the common and the teleological tension of

14b. It is within this tension that the aporia was created the imbalance
that, in modernity, the metaphysical tradition puts forth again, in the
context of social and political philosophy, as a thinking of individu¡alism
and of the State. But the individual is only an aporia of the sin¡gular, and
the State, the mystification of the common.

15. In postmodernity, that is, the era that began in the Sixties and in
which we still live today, the ethical and ascetic illusion of modernity
seems to have come to an end, and along with it, the metaphysical
madness of transcendence and of ruling has withered away. Now the
common can appear in the full plenitude of its definition.

16. The qualifications of being have become entirely common. We live
in the common. Our experience provides clear proof of this, for com¡mon
being indeed appears in the three determinations of linguistic being,
being as production of subjectivity, and bio-political being. These three
determinations are absolutely equivalent with each other and the
sequence of argumentation is purely expository.

16b. Language is common. The tool in the relationship between man
and nature, or between man and man, has entirely changed. We no
longer need tools in order to transform nature (and tame the centaur) or
to establish a relation with the historical world (and perfect the askesis
of the 'homo-homo'); we only need language. Language is the tool.
Better yet, the brain is the tool, inasmuch as it is common. The tool's
becoming-immanent in the guise of the brain deprives the metaphysical
illusion of any foundation. Moreover, when the only tool that is left is
linguistic, there is no longer any toolùbecause the tool was until then
something different from the agent, and has now given way to a set of
prostheses that have accumulated, adding up and thereby multiplying
the productive potential of the agent. Their power is common. It is born
and develops, only in and from the common. Nothing is produced if it is
not produced through the common: there is no merchandise that is not a
service, no service that is not a relation, no relation that is not a brain,
no brain that is not common. Language is no longer just a form of
expression, but the sole form of production of man and his environ¡ment.
Language is therefore the way of being of the common being.

16c. The common is a production, and as with everything that is
pro¡duced, it must be related to the common. But production is made up
of a multitude of linguistic acts, monads of kairos which, because they
expose themselves on the edge of being, constitute new being within
the common name. The production of subjectivity gives meaning to this
network of singular innovations. Indeed, the experience of subjectivity
lies in recognizing that if being is language, linguistic production can
only be a productive force of language, that is, a production of
productive force. But if productive force emerges from the common
network of
acts and relations of the monads of kairos, at the very moment when
these monads launch themselves against the void, there is always an
instant in this event that corresponds to a moment of imputation of
production: precisely that of subjectivity. Subjectivity assumes
responsibility for the production of a productive force that itself can only
be subjective. Thus subjectivity brings together the various linguistic
acts that create the innovation of being into one. It does not halt the
movement of production, but, by slowing it down,4 it identifies this
movement as active force. This chain of reasoning thus enables us to
say that subjectivity is nothing other than the imputation of common
experiencesùthat is, of a common productive force, that identifies, and
thus names to the agent of linguistic productions. It follows from this that
subjectivity is not something 'internal' set before something 'external',
that would be language; rather, qua language it is another modality of
common being, and nothing more. The production of subjectivity, that
is, the production of needs, affects, desire, activity, and techne, takes
place through language and, better yet, the production of subjectivity is
language in the same way that language is subjectivity. This density of
productive relations is always in movement, and this common movement
is eternal, but it is always inscribed within the subjectivities that innovate
within the eternal.

16d. Life's being rendered common constitutes the third modality of
common being. This is simply the consequence, tautological if one
wishes, of what has been said so far. Common being is tautological.
However, this tautology is a strange one because it is powerful, and
shows us that language and the production of subjectivity, as modali¡ties
of the common, together recompose the multitude of linguistic acts and
the production of life. This recomposition (that is, the productive
tautology considered from another angle) is the polls, or in other words,
the political. Common being invests the political with such intensity, but
also redefines it as the common name for a multitude of linguistic acts
and productions of subjectivity. But then, life and politics, these two old
fetishes that had been separated by the disciplinarization of the
transcendental knowledge of modernity, become indistinguishable from
each other. There are no political realms, just as there are no realms of
nature or of production that are not recomposed as a multi¡tude within
the production of being of the common name. The political then presents
itself as a modality of being, indiscernible from language and from the
production of subjectivity. And the world is this coming together, the
world is the bio-political.

16e. These are the conditions under which the destiny of the 'man-
machine' appears. The production of man as a multitude gathered up in
the common name becomes indistinguishable from the production of the
natural and historical Umwelt. The polis is hence not an arche but a bio-
political production. The world is invested by the teleology of lin¡guistic
and subjective prostheses. This is what we term 'machine', i.e., the
production of the world that man carries out through a highly material
production of artifacts that adhere to his nature: bio-political artifacts. At
present, eternity is developed by and through "machinic" power. The
common organizes itself as a machine, a bio-political machine.

16f. Are the traditional aporias of materialism and the ensuing crisis of
the common overcome in this fashion? In a certain sense, yes. Yet later
on, once this initial phenomenological approach to the common is
completed, we will have to return to the aporias and the crisis, and
resume a demonstration that until now has only barely touched on the
materiality of the processes. For now, it is enough to keep in mind that if
production is communication, then the world of nature and artifacts must
be wholly related to the production of subjectivity, and that sub¡jectivity
establishes production in the bio-political.

17. Through these modalities of material being, we are able to see the
horizon of life progressively construct itself as a common horizon. The
telos of this progress is not in any way external to the movement of the
constitution of the common itself, nor is it in any way the force of
something preconceived actualizing itself, but it is simply the common
name of a material acting. This telos could only have refrained from
giving itself if time were an unnecessary dimension of material being.
But inasmuch as time is a necessary dimension, it is equally necessary
for the intrinsic finality of acting in time to become actual. We verify the
fact that it has become actual, and that the living constitutive force has
attained the formal fulfillment of its common expression.

17b. We asked ourselves if, in following the progression of the
com¡mon, we had not reached a crucial turning point (always previously
missed in the experiences of materialist thought) at which eternity and
innovation meet; and we acknowledged that we were face to face with
the formal conditions of this conjunction. But in order to become real, the
formal conditions of expression of the common must be testedá in the
ethico-political realm, and tehereby verified on the eternal edge of

18. Let us return to the problematic of the conditions of the common
material telos as it is recounted in the various tendencies of post-1968
thought, i.e., postmodern thought. Does this problematic provide a
satisfactory response to the ethical-political question?

18b. The postmodern philosophers who take communication as the
exclusive horizon of being posit the reality of the common. Nevertheless,
it is difficult to take their assertion positively. Indeed, their
presupposition is one of a completed teleologyùand nothing more.
They stultify any research on the actual edge of being, and they do not
lean or tend any further. The result is the exhaustion of the ontological
sphere, the end of history, and an omnivorous tautology of
demonstra¡tion. If the common lends itself to these conditions, it will
thereby pre¡sent itself as the end of the common.

18c. Some authors of postmodernity look for a possible opening in the
margins of the model that has gradually been determined so far. But the
margin is a liminal transcendenceùan immanence that is a quasi-
transcendence, an ambiguous place in which materialist realism must
comply with mysticism. Some endlessly play with this margin (Derrida);
others fix on it as though the issue were to delicately take hold of the
power of a negative that has been grasped at last (Agamben). Unless, in
the anxiety of the expectation of the other (as we find in Levinas), this
thinking of the common reeks of mysticism out¡right.

18d. Lastly, certain thinkers have attempted to run through, to tra¡verse
this completed teleology by projecting onto the thousand plateaus of a
singular power: it is here that the physical and psychic tensions of
worldliness diminish and loosen themselves. But if this approach
enables innovation and eternity to be articulated with one another
according to a genealogical rhythm, it nevertheless presents the
com¡mon as a circle without a possible opening. The edge of time is
crushed, and duration makes its appearance again (Deleuze and

18e. Each and every one of these figures of materialist teleology thus
interprets the exuberant richness of the postmodern experience of the
common, yet somehow remains a prisoner of it. In this way the eternity
of matter is traversed by teleology, but the visibility of innovation and the
ethico-political point of view itself are eliminated. We have returned to
the heyday of Democriteanism and Epicureanism.

19. Here we grasp the aporetic element with which the theories of the
eternity of matter ran up against innovation (sc., they made inno¡vation
aporetical). This element is the world's measurelessness. Even though
materialism has always been a theory of the world's measure¡lessness,
this measurelessness has always remained an unsatisfied dimension in
the materialist experience of the world. The renewal of materialism must
include the recognition of the fact that, through inno¡vation, the eternal
is faced with measurelessness.

19b. And the common? Even it becomes increasingly common, on the
condition that it be acknowledged as an unmeasurable, measureless
opening. The measurelessness of the eternal alone constitutes the
com¡mon and ensures the progression of the constitution of the
common. The measurelessness is there, just beyond the door opened
by material¡ist teleology, across the threshold of each singular present.

19c. Ethical experience is a liberation because it is a creative
com¡munication, a production of common subjectivity, and the
constitution of a bio-political temporality in the measurelessness of the

20. In the measurelessness of the world, innovation and eternity are
expressed by love. It is love that brings innovation and the eternal
together, in the multitude of singular thresholds faced by the teleology of
the common.

20b. It then becomes clear why the eternal is not equivalent with the
infinite. Love, indeed, is not infinite but eternal, it is not a measure but
rather measurelessness, not individual but singular, not universal
but common, not the substance of temporality but the arrow of time

20c. "Alma Venus": where the discourse of materialism began, there it
will begin again.


1. [Hereafter 'power* should be taken in the sense of

2. ['Dismisura', playing on the French 'démesure', which can also be
rendered as the incommensurable', the immeasurable', the out-of-
measure'; as an anthropological trait, the notion is akin to hubris, and as
an ontological trait, it bears resemblance to the sublime.ùTrans.]

3. [This notion, which could also have been rendered in translation as
"man-man," is derived from Charles de Bovelles or Bovillus, a disciple of
Nicolas of Cusa, who develops a notion of humanity commingled with
artifice, giv¡ing rise to a "doubly human being," which he calls "homo-
homo." See his // libra del sapiente, ed. E. Garin (Turin: Einaudi, 1987),
ch. 22, p. 73.ùEd.]

4. [In the sense of impeding its progress.Trans.]

Translated by Patricia Dailey and Constantino Costantini
Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal Volume 22, Number 1, 2000