Saturday, October 10, 2009

Read, Jason. Review of Antonio Negri and Cesare Casarino, IN PRAISE OF THE COMMON. NDPR (October 2009).

Negri, Antonio, and Cesare Casarino. In Praise of the Common: a Conversation on Philosophy and Politics. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008. In Praise of the Common is a difficult book to categorize; neither a collection of interviews nor a collection of essays, it combines both formats, becoming in the end something unique. It is also a book that not only became something different than was initially intended, but which also explicitly states this difference. The book was conceived as a series of interviews that would address the historical background of Antonio Negri's thought, the tumultuous period of political action and philosophical reflection of the Italian sixties and seventies that remains largely unknown in the Anglo-American world despite the popularity of Empire and Multitude. However, as these conversations developed they became less about the past, less a matter of one person interviewing another about his experiences, and more about the present and future. The interview became a conversation. Unlike an interview, a conversation is determined less by an asymmetry between the one who knows and the one who asks than by the production of some common understanding. In Casarino's terms, "Conversation is the language of the common" (1). The shift in the tenor of the conversation also shifted the structure of the book: it is a collection of these conversations framed by three essays, two by Casarino and one by Negri. The shift in the structure of the book is also a shift in its content, from the reflection on a singular experience to a discussion of not only a common frame of reference, but ultimately the common itself. It is at this point that the shift from provocation to completion becomes more than just a trivial matter and becomes a philosophical problem in its own right. How does something singular become common? How does a specific moment, a particular historical experience, become something that can communicate, exceed its location in time and place in order to become something universal? This is both what the book attempts to answer, and what it enacts through its interplay of essay and conversations. At the center of these essays and conversations is the concept of the common. This term has a long history: its origins predate modernity, as it initially referred to commonly held lands that were the basis of agrarian life, but this has not prevented it from being the term utilized to make sense of the networks of knowledge and communication at the center of contemporary production, and ultimately the capacity to think and communicate. In each case it is a matter of not only that which makes production possible, from pastures to code to language, but that which cannot be possessed, and thus must circulate in order for there to be production. Casarino and Negri's discussion does not focus on this history, but on the current meaning of the term, in relation to their respective works and overlapping political histories, and in doing so it reveals that its conceptual and semantic dimensions are perhaps as deep as its historical levels. . . . Read the whole review here:

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