Friday, 20 May 2016

Roberto Esposito and Biopolitics

I’m glad I attended Roberto Esposito’s lecture yesterday afternoon – always good to see a leading European philosopher and political thinker on one’s home turf!  A slight, mild-mannered man with a heavily accented ‘Neapolitan English’ (to use his own term), he spoke calmly and compellingly for an hour on the concept of ‘personhood’.  I felt that I’d had an impressive tour of much European intellectual history, from Roman law through medieval Christian thinking to the liberal tradition from Locke to Mill, but there was something slightly dry and detached about this too.

More invigorating had been my own preparatory reading for this event, particularly a fine interview which Esposito gave to the journal Diacritics back in 2006.  Focusing on the issue of biopolitics rather than personhood, he there sets out the intellectual possibilities within this paradigm as he sees them: ‘Where Agamben accentuates the negative, even tragic tonality of the biopolitical phenomenon in a strongly dehistoricising modality – one that pays tribute to Heidegger, Schmidt, and Benjamin – Negri, on the contrary, insists on the productive, expansive, or more precisely vital element of the biopolitical dynamic.  The reference is explicitly to that line that joins Spinoza to Marx to Deleuze.  Indeed, Negri imagines that biopolitics can contribute to the reconstruction of a revolutionary horizon in the heart of empire’ (vol 36:2, summer 2006, p.50).

At that last claim, Morrisians should sharply sit up, of course.  If, for us, Morris is a Communist utopianist who aims to overthrow capitalism, then we shall want and need to educate ourselves about all the thinkers and terms floated by Esposito in the interview I have briefly cited.  Indeed, these may prove to be what Morris studies in the twenty-first century is all about.  Of course, we shall hope that, in his utopian refashioning of Marxist thought in his own time, Morris has anticipated some of these issues, but we shall accept, too, that we ourselves will have to refashion Morris in their light, perhaps very radically so.  So I here commit myself to looking further into Roberto Esposito’s work and reporting back in due course.