Untimely Italians: A Profile of The Italian List and Interview with Alberto Toscano

When someone begins to study European philosophy and theory, or Continental philosophy as the unhelpful designation goes, the focus is usually on the traditions of French and German philosophy (leaving the term analytic to denote the work of the British, those living on that island off the coast of Europe proper). The relationship between this kind of national identity and those philosophers varies. Oftentimes the position of these philosophers disappoint us, as with Bergson during World War I writing about “French spirit” needing to overcome the “German barbarism” or Heidegger during the rise of the Nazi party in Germany doing much the same with more horrific results. But there is something to naming these traditions if only because the way in which language and location shapes one’s thinking, to say nothing of the importance of particular political situations that arise within these fictional but nonetheless efficacious spaces of the various nation-states. Italian philosophy has largely been ignored by those anglophone readers interested in European thought. This despite the fact that the fictional element of the nation-state is perhaps nowhere better on display than Italy, which never quite coalesced its various cultures into a singular Italian culture the way that French republicanism did. This creates an interesting dynamic and leads to a different style of philosophy. This seems to me to hold especially true for leftwing theorists and perhaps arises from what Roberto Esposito identifies as the clear manifestation of antagonism within the Italian context. Nothing like Italy the nation-state exists except through the process of conflict, the creation of antagonism that continues when Italy the nation-state has to become a part of Europe the economic union.

Italian philosophy has long been an interest for many authors here, with Adam’s work on Agamben and my own less intenstive work on Negri, as well as with many of our readers. We have here discussed Esposito’s attempt to reclaim the distinctiveness of Italian philosophy, already mentioned, and many readers will be familiar with the collection edited by Lorenzo Chiesa and Alberto Toscano The Italian Difference with re:press. So I was excited to see that Alberto was editing a new series called The Italian List with Seagull Books (which has the support of the University of Chicago Press, but apparent autonomy from the usual deadends of academic publishing). While the list has published three shorter texts by Agamben, I wanted to highlight the lesser known figures that Alberto and Seagull Books were bringing to a new audience. In what follows you will find a conversation between Toscano and myself as well as a few side remarks where I provide some summary information about the texts. Because of the length of this post I have also generated it as a PDF for those who prefer that medium for reading longer texts. Read the rest of this entry »

A Statement About Perfection and Kanye West

Last I checked, it is the final week of 2010, which means it is time for every publication and blog to issue its annual Best Ofs and Round Ups. If time and attention allow it, we at AUFS will be no different. (We may be the most powerful theology blog on the block, but with such power comes great responsibility & expectations. My fart jokes simply will not cut it.) Of this time-honored genre, the internet has a special fondness for ranking music. That the internet has made so much different music so readily available at a moment’s notice makes this understandable and maybe even a little appropriate.

While it is by no means unanimous, one of the clear favorites this year is Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” Now, don’t get me wrong: I like this album. I like it a lot, even. Indeed, should I assemble a “10 Favorite Albums of 2010″ list (I would be incapable of ranking these ten – another of my many moral failings), it might very well be one of them. Consequently, I have no qualms with Pitchfork deeming it the best album of the year. A reasonable choice, I say, given their tastes, audience, etc. Where I depart from the  corporately cool taste makers,  however, is their decision to bestow a perfect-10 score on the album.

In internet-time, this is, of course, old news. I stewed about it a little bit at the time (late-November, right?), but decided to let it go. For some reason, though, I couldn’t help mulling over this matter of perfection. Personally, I have a particular fondness for ambitious imperfection: works whose grasp rival their reach, but slip up in some crucial way. Like a chipped tooth, I savor obsessing over those moments where things don’t quite work for me and/or things go completely off the rails. Or, at the very least, flirt with the breaking-point so decisively that I am forever unsure where or if they actually do so. Now, that’s just me, and I’m certainly not inclined to assert that aesthetic inclination as a kind of universal. My point is that regardless of your own inclination, the very best works are those you have continually to engage, rather than passively enjoy; or, to switch registers slightly, the point is that the best works are those that are just as likely to consume you as you are to consume it.

If this is true, and maybe it’s not, but I think it is, what place (if any) is there for perfection? Don’t get me wrong: I’m not prepared to give up on the idea. It’s just that I think it is something that happens rather by accident, rather than something one achieves (whether by aspiration or not). Moreover, is it just  me, or does the assessing of something as ‘perfect’, the fleshing out of the accident, let’s say, take more time than we are these days willing to allow? This isn’t to say that we need necessarily to ‘slow down,’ etc. I’m not making a strong moral argument against the pace of contemporary culture or the speed of internet publishing. Speed has something to do with, but is not fundamental to, the notion that if perfection is applicable at all, it is usually only ever so in retrospect. For is something truly ambitious if one is immediately sure that it not only ‘works’ now, but blazes a new path to future successes and alternative paths unforeseen? One doesn’t need to go along with my affection for the shaggy dogs to agree that if successful ambition takes time to suss out completely, perfection may well take even longer.

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