- On Contemporary French and Italian Political Philosophy:An Interview with Roberto Esposito
You are currently completing a book on Italian philosophy. Generally, how do you judge the relation between French and Italian thought? In your opinion, under what conditions is it possible to refer to an "Italian philosophy" without giving in to the demon of the history of philosophy and the tyranny of liberal political philosophy?
I consider it possible and useful to speak in national, philosophical terms only if one inscribes such a question within the dialectic introduced by Deleuze between territorialization and deterritorialization. Here, Italian philosophy can be considered territorial but not national, since the birth of the nation-state occurs much later than the complete unfolding of Italian philosophy. The difference with French philosophy lies precisely in the centrality of the category of "life," which Italian philosophy registered right from the start.
Does there exist in your opinion a "thing" or a category that, unlike in French thought, Italian philosophy is able to think or to furnish the conditions for thinking? What explains the current success of Italian thought in constructing the terms of the debate that runs from biotechnology to human rights?
While French philosophy beginning with Descartes privileged the dimension of consciousness or the interior dialogue, as in Pascal, Italian philosophy in its origins—with Machiavelli, Bruno, Campanella, and Vico, up to Croce and Gramsci—concentrated on the category of life in its complex relation with the dimensions of history and politics. Without imagining linear paths or improbable precursors, I believe that this originary element has influenced the current Italian elaboration of the categories of "bio-history" and "bio-politics," which were of course influenced by Nietzsche and then Foucault. Yet the fact remains that before the Italian interpretations, Foucault's extraordinary research into biopolitics remained effectively inactive for the better part of twenty years. Why, in order to become a theme of global importance, did biopolitics have to pass through Italy? It is beginning with this [End Page 109] question and the response, to which I can only gesture here, that I am writing my new book on the history of Italian philosophy. Truth be told, it is more a genealogy turned inside out, with the origin deeply planted in the heart of our contemporary moment. We need to break with the commonplace notion that opposes "originary" to "original." It is only through the mirror of the origin, a mirror that is always opaque, that one can truly penetrate into our own actuality (attualità), separating it in some way from the most superficial part of the origin.
As for rights—be they human or inhuman—it is clear that no philosophical tradition more than the Italian one has in its history the equal of the powerful and resistant dispositif of Roman law. It is further proof of what I said earlier about the antinomical relation between origin and actuality. It is no accident that some of the most important Italian texts of contemporary philosophy—from Empire to Homo Sacer, from Communitas to Third Person—make reference in their titles to Roman juridical tradition. Roman law conditions, either in obvious or subterranean fashion, the entire juridical-political vocabulary of the West. Seen from this angle, Italian philosophy has another card to play with respect to the other traditions.
In your published dialogue with Nancy, translated here for the first time into English, you raise the question of the relation between politics and philosophy. Indeed the title of the dialogue is "a philosophy to come." But what becomes of politics then? Is there a politics to come that traverses or accompanies philosophy?
"A politics to come." Honestly, I do not know if today I would continue to use this language, which is in some way Messianic and is linked to the semantics of deconstruction. The ontology of actuality opens a perspective on the present that tends to dissolve the Messianic perspective, with or without a Messiah, in a commitment or a decision about today. What will come, at least historically, originates in the choices of and about...