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Essay on Negation

Paolo Virno Lorenzo Chiesa



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15 May 2018
As speaking animals, we continuously make use of an unassuming grammatical particle, without suspecting that what is at work in its inconspicuousness is a powerful apparatus, which orchestrates language, signification, and the world at large. What particle might this be? The word not.

In Essay on Negation, Paolo Virno argues that the importance of the not is perhaps comparable only to that of money-that is, the universality of exchange. Negation is what separates verbal thought from silent cognitive operations, such as feelings and mental images. Speaking about what is not happening here and now, or about properties that are not referable to a given object, the human animal deactivates its original neuronal empathy, which is prelinguistic; it distances itself from the prescriptions of its own instinctual endowment and accesses a higher sociality, negotiated and unstable, which establishes the public sphere. In fact, the speaking animal soon learns that the negative statement does not amount to the linguistic double of unpleasant realities or destructive emotions: while it rejects them, negation also names them and thus includes them in social life. Virno sees negation as a crucial effect of civilization, one that is, however, also always exposed to further regressions. Taking his cue from a humble word, the author is capable of unfolding the unexpected phenomenology of the negating consciousness.
Translated by:  
Imprint:   Seagull
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 216mm,  Width: 127mm, 
ISBN:   9780857424389
ISBN 10:   0857424386
Pages:   232
Publication Date:  
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Paolo Virno is an Italian philosopher, semiologist, and a prominent figure among contemporary Marxist thinkers. He teaches philosophy of language at the University of Rome. He is the author of A Grammar of the Multitude, Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation, When the Word Becomes Flesh: Language and Human Nature, and Deja Vu and the End of History. Lorenzo Chiesa is director of the Genoa School of Humanities and visiting professor at the European University at St Petersburg, Russia. He is an author and translator.

Reviews for Essay on Negation

In spite of the wide spectrum of applications in which the term 'not' is being situated, the book of Virno maintains its unity of object, while the originality of its concept lies in its combinatory power of perspectives and abundance of details; fundamental as it may be in human conversation and thought, the'negative' definitely got the affirmative attention that it deserves! -- Philosophia

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