In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Introduction
  • Timothy Campbell

Is there such a thing as Italian thought? That question was put to us two years ago by one of the leading lights of contemporary European philosophy. One of us had traveled to Italy to ask whether this philosopher would be willing to contribute an article to a conference on Italian thought that diacritics was organizing.1 Embarrassment prevents remembering our answer here, but the question lingered, not only across the conference and the debates that followed, but also in the exchanges that ensued in the months and years after. One can still hear echoes of the question in Italy today, where debates on the nature of so-called “Italian theory” play across the country’s major dailies, as well as in Anglo-American academies and the increasing number of journals that have devoted issues to the rubric of Italian thought.2 Indeed if some accounts are to be believed, Italian thinkers provided inspiration for the Occupy movements that sprung up in 2011 on campuses and in urban centers across the United States and elsewhere.3

The existential question of Italian thought surely demands a response and yet we believe it more productive to reframe the question: no longer what Italian thought is; no longer what concepts drive Italian philosophy, but rather how the texts collected here add up to “such a thing as Italian thought.” In what sense would such a thing “be” Italian thought? To pose the question in this fashion allows for a space in which one can glean connections, pertinent and impertinent, which together may or may not constitute a horizon for thought; neither philosophy nor theory, but an interval, a milieu with shifting boundaries, reciprocities, and allegiances. The advantages of such an approach are multiple, but none more decisive in our view than what becomes visible when the question is recast: the intense struggle for conceptual and philosophical dominance that is currently being waged, what might be called a conflict over a past and future canon. Rather than asserting a forced unity whose effect would be to contain or domesticate Italian thought, we prefer to leave the question of unity open so as to hear the particular rhythms associated with thought originating in Italy today.

In this volume—the first of two—we have assembled a number of essays, histories, narratives, and polemical thrusts, arranging them so as to maximize the proximity and distance among them. In the juxtaposition of texts, we see the possibility of connections, folded and unfolded meanings, chiasmi, and above all interpretations: not a zero degree of order, but a snapshot of the theoretical and political landscape that characterizes Italian thought today. Now it is true that in the past a number of the thinkers gathered here sent missives to one another in their works and across edited collections: Antonio Negri and Giorgio Agamben have had their exchanges over the years, particularly on the nature of constituent power (a mapping of which the reader will find in Kevin Attell’s “Potentiality, Actuality, Constituent Power”); so too Adriana Cavarero and Roberto Esposito have dialogued over the political nature of logos and community, while Paolo Virno as well as Franco “Bifo” Berardi have on occasion aired their differences with Negri. In addition, the collection The Italian Difference went a long way toward providing an overview of Italian thought, while the SUNY [End Page 3] series in Contemporary Italian Philosophy continues to publish surprising and frequently ignored texts in Italian philosophy. As helpful as both have been, the threat of the forced unity I noted above is never far from the surface. The subtitle of The Italian Difference is “Between Nihilism and Biopolitics,” which suggests a Foucauldian/Heideggerian axis that is less warranted by the texts under consideration here. For its part, the SUNY series has already answered the philosopher’s question affirmatively, which makes composing the potential elements of Italian thought more treacherous. This special issues of diacritics is intended to suspend judgment so as to strengthen the movement of putting together.

To what end? Where might such a rearrangement lead us? For Deleuze and Guattari, the answer will be linked to a “milieu for philosophy”:

Italy and Spain lacked...