The Persistence of the Negative

The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory

Benjamin Noys
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Persistence of the Negative
    Book Description:

    Through a series of incisive readings of leading theoretical figures of affirmationism – Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Bruno Latour, Antonio Negri and Alain Badiou – Benjamin Noys contests the tendency of recent theory to rely on affirmation, and especially an affirmative thinking of resistance. He reveals a profound current of negativity that allows theory to return to its political calling.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4329-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Benjamin Noys
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    In his mapping of modern post-Kantian philosophy Giorgio Agamben suggests that it is divided between two lines: the line of transcendence, which starts with Kant and culminates in Derrida and Lévinas, and the line of immanence, beginning with Spinoza and passing through Nietzsche to Deleuze and Foucault.¹ The contemporary dominance of affirmationism in Continental theory can be read as a sign of the triumph of this second line of immanence, which has become correlated with the political ability to disrupt and resist the false transcendental regime of capitalism. It is the affirmation of immanence, particularly as the locus of power...

  6. 1. On the Edge of Affirmation: Derrida
    (pp. 23-50)

    It might well appear a strange decision to begin with the work of Jacques Derrida when one of the key features of contemporary affirmationism has been its tendency to claim to have surpassed or exceeded deconstruction. The persistent characterisation of Derrida’s oeuvre in negative terms – infinite deferral, delay, marginality, anti-systemic fragmentation and, at worst, theoretical and political paralysis – has often been the starting point for the articulation of new affirmative alternatives. To take one instance, Alain Badiou, in relation to artistic practice, argues that we must ‘renounce the delights of the margin, of obliqueness, of infinite deconstruction, of...

  7. 2. Adieu to Negativity: Deleuze
    (pp. 51-79)

    Gilles Deleuze is the affirmative philosopher par excellence; as he writes in Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962): ‘Affirmation itself is being, being is solely affirmation in all its power’.¹ The striking consistency of Deleuze’s affirmationism throughout his life and thought is often, however, deliberately fractured when he is assimilated into the contemporary affirmationist bloc. This insertion is usually achieved by severing his thinking from his equally affirmative co-written work with Félix Guattari (most especially Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980)). In this fashion Deleuze is (re-) constructed through his own self-identification as a ‘pure metaphysician’,² but what is lost, as...

  8. 3. The Density and Fragility of the World: Latour
    (pp. 80-105)

    Bruno Latour is an anomaly. On the one hand he appears to be a radical exception to the usual forms of affirmationist theory I am delineating. His work is not rooted in the anti-hegemonic struggles of the 1970s and, in fact, he evinces considerable political scepticism with regard to the Marxist or revolutionary tradition: Latour endorses the revisionism of François Furet in regard to the French revolution, pours scorn on the historic attempts of revolutionaries to ‘change man’, and the flavour of his ironic and provocative political stance is indicated by the title of a 2007 interview: ‘We are all...

  9. 4. Immeasurable Life: Negri
    (pp. 106-133)

    Antonio Negri is the philosopher who has done most to re-tool an affirmative thinking of immanence for the contemporary conjuncture. This work was formed in the matrix of the 1970s; in the situation of grasping the rebellious subjectivities of Italy’s ‘long ’68’ (from 1968 to the repression of 1979) through a meeting between the conceptuality of a ‘Marx beyond Marx’ and the currents of French thinking in the 1970s (Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari). As Negri puts it: ‘I went to wash my clothes in the Seine!’ ² The well-known result of this synthesis is his work with Michael Hardt: Empire (2000)...

  10. 5. On the Edge of the Negative: Badiou
    (pp. 134-161)

    Alain Badiou places his philosophy unequivocally under the sign of affirmation, insisting that: ‘[philosophy] must break with whatever leads it through nihilistic detours, that is, with everything that restrains and obliterates affirmative power’.¹ This affirmative philosophy was originally politically conditioned by May ’68, which derailed Badiou from the expected bourgeois coordinates of his life.² The difference between Badiou and many of the other thinkers of his generation is that he has always, to use his own term, retained fidelity to this inheritance.³ The nostalgic or dismissive image of Badiou as the last soixante-huitard is, however, deceptive. What matters more is...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 162-175)

    If philosophy, as Gilles Deleuze claims, is about posing the right problem rather than finding the correct solution then, contra Deleuze, we have argued that the correct problem is the problem of negativity. To conclude requires some clarification of this problem, and especially its dissociation from a number of common confusions. Negativity is all too persistently associated with a pernicious abstraction, whether in the form of the violent abstractions of a communist politics that would disrupt and destroy the true density of the life-world or, symmetrically, in the form of the abstractive creative destruction of capitalism, which itself is an...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 176-193)
  13. Index
    (pp. 194-196)