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  • Introduction:The Will-to-the-Common in Italian Thought
  • Timothy Campbell

This volume is the second of two dedicated to contemporary Italian thought. In the previous introduction, we began by asking whether such a thing as Italian thought existed. For this volume we leave pending any existential questions about Italian philosophy and instead take up the rubric of the common, the commons, and community as one of the leitmotifs of contemporary Italian thought.

How is it that the common emerges as so central to Italian thought? That question was at the heart of a conference organized by diacritics held at Cornell University in September 2010. For those attending, the two-day event provided an opportunity to ask after the common and its potential forms. A number of the texts that drove the conversation then are collected here along with others whose focus moves back and forth across the common.

What do the authors brought together here and in the first volume share in terms of how they perceive the common? A number of features may be gleaned, but none is more central in our view than an openness to the notion of the common through the practice of what Michel Foucault referred to as parrhesia, or fearless speech. In opposition to the garrulous speech that characterizes so much of our contemporary interactions with one another, the conference provided a space for engaging with others on the fundamental question of what it means to hold in common and to be in common. Emerging from the conference and registered in many of the texts here is what we would describe as a will-to-the-common, a desire for the common understood as greater relationality and the accompanying intensification of affect that results. We should add that this occurred in a context of what the Skeptics called epoche, the suspension of judgment, that is a taking leave of antagonism in favor of a drifting toward a felt commonality. The texts in this volume capture the drift of the common toward affect and a lived state of sensibility.

Commonalities. What fantasy is at the origin of the term? What possibilities does it evoke and what desires does it register? On the one hand, one fantasy surely concerns a mode of being together politically in which the various catechisms featured in previous iterations of the common are scattered: less a cathexis, or taking possession of something like the common, and more a commeatus, a passage in and out of the common. On the other hand, the fantasy of a community as milieu becomes visible, community as that which encompasses. Integral to such a fantasy is the possibility of devising a typology of community. It is this latter fantasy that may in fact account for the intimate relation between Italian political thought and the common. We recall that the search for the common within commonality at the conference occurred in a larger context of Italian political thought and what some speakers then referred to as a collective depression in Italy. It may be too soon to judge the results of that search for the common, but what remains today reading these texts is the utter absence of what Thomas Hobbes called his only passion— fear—and instead something perhaps approaching wonder.

We are fortunate to introduce in this volume the work of Daniela Comani. Her art deeply echoes many of the themes noted above, but none is more important in our view than her search for a playground in which the spectator comes to realize the risks that [End Page 101] inhere in choosing between images or identities offered in a society of the spectacle. Not content to leave her spectator adrift, however, she leads us to feel the effects of developing an indifference to those same images and identities by refusing to choose. The resulting affect resembles something not so different from the pleasure of reading the texts. We thank her for allowing us to display her images here. [End Page 102]