This lively book examines the major issues raised by the emergence and transformation of various political identities in the contemporary world. The contributors bring together many current trends of thought—Lacanian psychoanalysis, deconstruction, neo-Hegelianism and political philosophy—that are relevant to the question of identity, as well as concrete studies of some of the more important political identities which have emerged in recent decades. A central theme of the book is the logic implicit in the Freudian category of identification and its consequences for understanding politics.
The first half of the book explores the theoretical dimensions of the issue of identity formation. The second half brings these more abstract considerations to bear on a number of case studies—the structure of apartheid in South Africa, the rise of Islam, the Palestinian diaspora, the explosion of national identities in former Yugoslavia, the Greens in Germany, and the spread of Rastafarianism in Britain.
There is a famous line in Lenin saying that "without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement." That is a very profound phrase. Theory serves for two things: to join together struggles that are apparently unrelated, and also as a compass in periods of crisis. It is what tells you whether in this precise moment you should be smashing up banks or standing in elections.
Occasioned by the publication of a French edition of Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, Jean-Philippe Cazier's interview with Judith Butler first appeared in Diacritik.
Judith Butler, November 2015. via Vimeo.
Your book explicitly draws on texts by numerous philosophers, notably Levinas and in particular Hannah Arendt. But it also seems to have a strong attachment to Spinoza’s work. We can establish numerous specific links between this book and Spinoza’s philosophy, for example its core interest in the notion of relations, its reflection on the "power" of the "mass," the question of the body and what a body can be, the problem — one that runs through several of your books — of the unliveable lives produced by a violent régime, etc. In general terms, what does your philosophical work owe to Spinoza’s writings? And more precisely: why do you think it is interesting to use Spinoza today in order to think through the political and ethical problems you pose in your book?
It is true that Spinoza remains in the background of my thinking. Perhaps you have detected that his thought is surfacing more explicitly in my own. I am aware, for instance, that his notion of persistence, and his philosophy of life are quite important for my understanding of the political realm. I also consider myself to be close to Etienne Balibar’s early work on Spinoza and politics. It might be important to consider some paths from Spinoza to contemporary politics that does not necessarily move through Deleuze, even though Deleuze brings out a very important dimension of bodily action as rooted in the capacity to be affected. The point is not only that the conatus, that desire to persist in one’s own being, is enhanced or diminished depending on the dynamic interactions with other living beings, but that a desire to live together, a pulsation that belongs to co-habitation, emerges that forms the basis of consensus, and that this political principle and practice follows from the very exercise or actualization of the desire to persist in one’s own being. One desires to persist in one’s own being, but that can only happen if one is affected by the other, and so without that fundamental susceptibility there can be no persistence.
In light of recent developments in Europe that have brought questions of hegemony, populism and organisation to the foreground, Toni Negri asks: where does the thought of Ernesto Laclau leave us on this score? The following talk was given at Maison de l’Amerique Latine in Paris, 27 May 2015. Translated by David Broder; see the original French text here.
By Toni Negri
I would like to talk very schematically about what Ernesto Laclau’s work has meant to me, and the dialogue that the two of us had, particularly in recent years. This was a simultaneously close and critical dialogue, marked by evident differences, but it was also characterised by very great respect; and again today I would like to emphasise my esteem for Laclau.