Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Beyond Nihilism: Notes towards a Critique of Left-Heideggerianism in Italian Philosophy of the 1970s

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Beyond Nihilism: Notes towards a Critique of Left-Heideggerianism in Italian Philosophy of the 1970s

Article excerpt

In the context of this seminar, the term 'metaphysics' indicates the tradition of thought that conceives of the self-founding of being as negative foundation. Whether or not an integrally and immediately positive metaphysics is possible (such as the one that ... A. Negri finds in Spinoza), remains an open question.

(Agamben, Language and Death)


For metaphysics, the foundation is that upon which being rests, it is the foundation (Grund) that allows being to take place. But, 'as much as being takes place in the nonplace of the foundation (that is, in nothingness), being is the unfounded (Das Grundlose)'. (1)

Italian philosophy from the late 1960s to the 1980s--but this is by no means over--stitched a line leading from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche through to Wittgenstein and Heidegger that wove together Das Grundlose of being with the trajectory of nihilism. The very different theoretical and political backgrounds of the participants in these debates takes nothing away from the overall tendency to transfigure the foundation by stripping down being and, ultimately, authorising philosophical mysticism and political opportunism. (2) The very real differences of the resulting positions--hermeneutical free-play, decentred community, or formalist decisionism (3)--cannot override the ultimate end of these tendencies: to provide a political (and rational) foundation for mysticism in terms of the immanent production of a merely residual, liminal negativity. It is these tendencies that I group together under the label of 'Left-Heideggerianism'--in recognition of their principal philosophical predecessor. (4)

What I propose to do here is to not detail the rich diversity of the theoretical trajectories of Left-Heideggerianism in Italian philosophy over the past thirty or so years--a daunting task and certainly not one to be attempted in a short article such as this. I intend, instead, to make some preliminary notes on something that has been largely overlooked in the discussion of recent Italian thought: i.e. the debate around the provocative assertions of Italian Krisis-thought. At the centre of this debate is Massimo Cacciari's Krisis. Saggio sulla crisi del pensiero negativo da Nietzsche a Wittgenstein published in 1976. That Cacciari's text was central to the development of a number of subsequent tendencies in Italian philosophy, political theory and political practice, is attested to by its influence on the development of 'weak thought' (pensiero debole) and, more importantly, on the notion of the 'autonomy of the political' as adopted by some of the leading intellectuals of the Italian Communist Party--amongst whom one must number Cacciari himself. Antonio Negri's critical review of this work in the Italian journal aut aut, which sparked the debate, did not conclude in any resolution or compromise between the contrasting positions. It did, however, serve to mark the point of irreducible conflict between two tendencies within Italin communist philosophy and politics. This debate cannot, then, be considered to be merely an incidental result of a review written for the Italian journal aut aut in 1976. Rather, it is fundamental to an understanding Italian philosophy and politics in a critical period of Italy's political and social history. It is also, something on which I shall focus in the second half of this paper, the point of convergence for a series of themes and problems that would be central to Negri's thought from that moment forth.

After discussing Cacciari's extraordinary book Krisis, I shall focus on a few selected texts of Negri's from the 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s. These challenge the specifically subtractive twist given to the Krisis of the foundation and they set the stage for Negri's continuing endeavour to develop a positive metaphysics which refuses Das Grundlose of Being (i.e. the determination of Being as negative foundation).


Massimo Cacciari, with whom Negri collaborated closely in the 1960s, was--along with Mario Tronti--instrumental in theorising the shift towards the 'autonomy of the political' as the political consequence of Das Grundlose of Being. …

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