- Politics, Infrapolitics, and the Impolitical:Notes on the Thought of Roberto Esposito and Alberto Moreiras
During times of decline and reaction in which a real transformation of the prevailing political order seems ever more unlikely, language often comes to the rescue, allowing one to revitalize, think anew, or at the very least delimit the concepts of "politics" or "the political" with the simple yet thought-provoking addition of a prefix. Thus, in response to the disaffected scene of "postpolitics" so widely discussed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we obtain the triad of "archipolitics," "parapolitics," and "metapolitics" in the work of Jacques Rancière, particularly in his 1995 book Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, a triad to which Slavoj Žižek, in The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, responds rather sympathetically before adding a fourth term, "ultrapolitics," supposedly of his own making, while Alain Badiou in 1994 proposes a very different understanding of "metapolitics" in a collection of essays of the same title, just as in Casser en deux l'histoire du monde (Breaking in Two the History of the World), a pamphlet from that [End Page 205] same year, Badiou finds an "archipolitics" at work in the radical philosophy, or rather antiphilosophy, of Friedrich Nietzsche, especially during the latter's downward spiral into madness in Turin. To this already quite complex conceptual constellation, Roberto Esposito and Alberto Moreiras add their respective coinages of "the unpolitical" or, perhaps better, "the impolitical" (l'impolitico in Italian, from the German unpolitische as in Thomas Mann's 1918 Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen, translated as Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man in English and already taken up in Italy in an important essay from 1978 by Massimo Cacciari titled "Nietzsche and the Unpolitical") and "infrapolitics" (la infrapolítica in Spanish). These last neologisms are the ones that I would like to discuss both by teasing out the resonances between the two and by contrasting them to the use of those other prefixes that have come to enrich and revitalize a certain politico-philosophical scene over the past three decades.
From the outset I should clarify that my aim in the notes that follow is not to offer an exhaustive account of the ways in which these two concepts function either in their own right or in relation to the broader political and philosophical framework of the work of each of their authors. Nor do I pretend to judge their validity as though speaking from the safety of some higher tribunal—whether of the traditional academic type or in an imaginary people's court. If there comes a moment of judgment or dissension in what follows, I nonetheless will try to suspend this moment for as long as possible to allow us to follow the profound reorientation that occurs within the realm of political thought, including the realm of politics as thought, once it undergoes the unsettling, tremor-like effects of infrapolitics and the impolitical. My aim, then, is both more local and more generic than a systematic overview would require. More local, insofar as I will limit myself to tracing the sheer contours of the two notions of infrapolitics and the impolitical and their retroactive effects upon the category of politics as deployed in modern political philosophy. But also more generic, insofar as we are indeed dealing only with contours, figures, or profiles. Neither of these two notions, it seems to me, amounts to the status of a full-bodied speculative or theoretical concept, and perhaps their authors do not even wish to have them amount to such a status.
As Esposito says in an interview, looking back upon the contributions of [End Page 206] his Categorie dell'impolitico (Categories of the Impolitical), first published in 1988 and reissued in 1999 with a new preface:
I prefer to call the impolitical, more so than a category, let us say, a perspective, a way of looking, a mode of seeing politics; and I do not call it a category because the latter already gives the idea of something complete and definite, something like a concept, whereas in this case it is in fact rather a question of a tonality, of...