Living Thought: The Origins and Actuality of Italian Philosophy

Living Thought: The Origins and Actuality of Italian Philosophy

Living Thought: The Origins and Actuality of Italian Philosophy

Living Thought: The Origins and Actuality of Italian Philosophy


The work of contemporary Italian thinkers, what Roberto Esposito refers to as Italian Theory, is attracting increasing attention around the world. This book explores the reasons for its growing popularity, its distinguishing traits, and why people are turning to these authors for answers to real-world issues and problems. The approach he takes, in line with the keen historical consciousness of Italian thinkers themselves, is a historical one. He offers insights into the great "unphilosophical" philosophers of life-poets, painters, politicians and revolutionaries, film-makers and literary critics-who have made Italian thought, from its beginnings, an "impure" thought. People like Machiavelli, Croce, Gentile, and Gramsci were all compelled to fulfill important political roles in the societies of their times. No wonder they felt that the abstract vocabulary and concepts of pure philosophy were inadequate to express themselves. Similarly, artists such as Dante, Leonardo Da Vinci, Leopardi, or Pasolini all had to turn to other disciplines outside philosophy in order to discuss and grapple with the messy, constantly changing realities of their lives.

For this very reason, says Esposito, because Italian thinkers have always been deeply engaged with the concrete reality of life (rather than closed up in the introspective pursuits of traditional continental philosophy) and because they have looked for the answers of today in the origins of their own historical roots, Italian theory is a "living thought." Hence the relevance or actuality that it holds for us today.

Continuing in this tradition, the work of Roberto Esposito is distinguished by its interdisciplinary breadth. In this book, he passes effortlessly from literary criticism to art history, through political history and philosophy, in an expository style that welcomes non-philosophers to engage in the most pressing problems of our times. As in all his works, Esposito is inclusive rather than exclusive; in being so, he celebrates the affirmative potency of life.


After a long period of retreat (or at least of stalling), the times appear to be favorable again for Italian philosophy. the signs heralding this shift, in a way that suggests something more than mere coincidence, are many. I am not just referring to the international success of certain living authors, among the most translated and discussed writers in the world, from the United States to Latin America and Japan to Australia, leading to a resurgence of interest in Europe as well. There have been other cases of this sort in the past, but they have involved individuals instead of a horizon: a group that in spite of its diversity of issues and intentions somehow remains recognizable by its common tone. This is precisely what has been taking shape in recent years, however, with an intensity that recalls the still recent landing of “French theory” on the coasts and campuses of North America. Like what happened with other philosophical cultures—in the early decades of the twentieth century in Germany, between the 1960s and 1980s in France, and in the last two decades of the twentieth-century in the English-speaking world—Italian philosophy is now entering into an analytical and critical relationship with the dominant features of our time, to a greater degree than other traditions of thought. of course, as often happens in the circuit of ideas, what appears to distinguish a given concep-

1. See François Cusset, French Theory: Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze & Cie et les mutations de la vie intellectuelle aux États-Unis (Paris: La Découverte, 2005).

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