Radical media, politics and culture.

Unwritten papers #1 - Antagonizing Giorgio

In an important essay called “The Tribe of Moles” Sergio Bologna noted that in the aftermath of the cycle of struggles of 1968-69 there was a resurgence of state-centered political and theoretical perspectives, wherein the central problems were smashing, seizing, or ameliorating the state as an apparatus intervening in social life. These problems recur in our era; as the Colectivo Situaciones write in reference to the contemporary global anticapitalist movement, a movement centered around its character as anti-capitalism risks defining itself by what it is against and thus “forgetting that the decisive terrain of struggle is the affirmation of an alternative sociability”. Put another way, “if traditional forms of thinking about change through struggle are founded on the desire to change the world, a new sequence of popular struggles seem to tell us that our task not to change the world but rather to produce it anew.”* To some it may seem strange to turn from these political questions of state and strategy to the theoretical work of Giorgio Agamben. Indeed, Paolo Virno claims that Agamben is “a thinker with no political vocation”**. Antonio Negri accuses Agamben of mysticism, and Slavoj Zizek argues that Agamben is Dialectic of Enlightenment thinker, dead-ending in the same abysmal ‘hotel’ as Adorno. Is Agamben an apolitical thinker? Is his work merely a diagnosis of what is wrong - or worse, a lamentation? Or is there a positive content and project to be excavated from his work? I will argue there is. Given the centrality of language and life to the present arrangements of sovereignty and production - variably analyzed as affective, biopolitical, immaterial, imperial, and virtuosic - Agamben’s reflections on bare life, form of life, and on language clearly track onto important political vectors in regard to the forms of power confronting us today. A reading of Agamben’s writings on singularity, ‘whatever’, and community. together with the Marxian notions of counterpower, General Intellect and Gattungswesen, highlights the positive project to be found in Agamben’s work. Gattungsewsen - normally rendered in English as ‘species being’ but translated into Romance languages as ‘generic essence’, a striking and important difference - offers an important bridge between Agamben’s occasionally rarefied lyrical writing and work whose political nature is more immediately obvious, or at least less contested. Agamben’s work helps us uncover a powerful apparatus for thinking antagonism, the antagonism at the heart of power and production, in its destructive modes - disrupting and undermining sovereignty and power - and in its constructive modes - creating, elaborating, and expanding alternative sociabilities predicated on different foundations than those of capital and sovereign power. Understanding these processes is crucial for moving beyond anti-state and anti-capitalist politics and undertaking the development of a genuinely non-state and non-capitalist form of life.

*Colectivo Situaciones, Contrapoder: una introduccion, p31-33, my translation ** Interview with Paolo Virno published in Archipiélago number 54, my translation