Skepticism : Peter Nicholls

Katie Bell / A Night’s Mission

Katie Bell / A Night’s Mission

Skepticism : Peter Nicholls

In choosing “skepticism” as a concept to address here, I’ve taken a cue from a well-known passage in Nietzsche’s Will to Power where he complains of philosophers that “they have trusted in concepts as completely as they have mistrusted the senses: they have not stopped to consider that concepts and words are our inheritance from ages in which thinking was very modest and unclear.”1 “What is needed above all,” Nietzsche continues, “is an absolute skepticism toward all inherited concepts.” This skepticism is necessary not just because concepts become outworn and unreliable, compelling us to create new ones, but also because philosophers, in cleaving to their concepts, have shown themselves to be, in Nietzsche’s view, “prejudiced against appearance, change, pain, death, the corporeal, the senses, fate and bondage, the aimless.”2 Nietzsche’s roll call of excluded themes that a properly skeptical attitude would bring back to the table also provides, of course, a rich catalog of poetry’s traditional topoi. Even more to my purpose here, Nietzsche’s list evokes the major interconnected themes of one of his own favorite writers, the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi—“perhaps the greatest stylist of the century,” Nietzsche called him3—and one whose very name was already a byword for a radical skepticism.4 Leopardi may not figure prominently on our current cultural maps—as an originator of modern poetry he is almost wholly, and perhaps unfairly, eclipsed by Baudelaire­—but in Italy his writings have recently proved a generative source for new formulations of the political. I’m thinking of works by prominent figures on the Left such as Antonio Negri, Roberto Esposito, and Massimo Cacciari, whose writings constitute what Esposito calls a “nonphilosophical” strand in Italian thinking that runs counter to the mainstream of European philosophy with its gestures of abstraction and exclusion, and attends instead to what Esposito calls “life, in its material grain.”5 Leopardi’s materialism has proved an important point of reference for this kind of “realism” or “immanentism,” inviting some interesting questions about the relation of poetry and poetics to this new political thinking. That, at any rate, might be one implication of the title of Cacciari’s book, Magis Amicus Leopardi (2005), a title which plays on a phrase attributed to Aristotle, “Plato is my friend but truth is a better friend,” Cacciari inverting that formulation so as to suggest that, poet and skeptic, Leopardi is now a friend to be preferred to both Plato and “truth.”6

To the Anglo-American eye, this praise of Leopardi by one of Italy’s best-known public intellectuals is perhaps a little unexpected. Leopardi may be, with Petrarch and Dante, one of the country’s three foundational poets, but he has been consistently caricatured by non-Italians as a melancholy romantic marooned in the stagnating papal state of the Marche, and far removed from all those exciting provocations of modernité to which Baudelaire was so subtly and ambivalently attuned.7 Nineteenth-century readers, of course, noticed Leopardi as a sublimely lyrical poet, but they also tended to see him as a damagingly pessimistic one; when his philosophical skepticism was acknowledged, by William Gladstone and other early readers, it was generally with regret for the dangerous atheism that was its consequence.8 Swinburne’s regard for him as a powerful civic poet was an honorable exception, though advocacy from Swinburne would not help Leopardi’s reputation much in the longer term. It would take critics of a more analytic temper to look beyond the limiting view of Leopardi as pessimist—Walter Benjamin, for example, who wrote in 1928 that  “In this poet, the contemplative and resigned type of the pessimist is contrasted by a different one—that of the paradoxical pragmatist, the ironic angel.”9

None of this quite prepares us, though, for the much later response to Leopardi of political activist and theorist Antonio Negri. In 1982, Negri was three years into what looked then like a thirty-year jail sentence in Rome’s Rebibbia prison for his alleged involvement with the Red Brigades and the murder of politician Aldo Moro. One wonders why he chose in that inauspicious place and moment to begin a long and ambitious book about the poetry of Leopardi: Lenta ginestra, it would be titled, an allusion to the  “gentle broom” flower of one of the poet’s famous late works; Timothy Murphy, in his 2015 translation of the book, calls it Flower of the Desert. Negri’s intensive labors in Rebibbia were not, though, the first case of a political philosopher revisiting Leopardi’s writings in a dark time. Antonio Gramsci’s thoughts had also turned to the poet during his own period of incarceration. “In Leopardi,” he wrote, “we find, in extremely dramatic form, the crisis of transition to modern man; the critical abandonment of all transcendental conceptions without having found a new moral and intellectual ubi consistam, which imparts the same certainty that has been forsaken.”10 In different ways, both Gramsci and Negri discern in Leopardi’s “doubtful thinking” a vital if uneasy legacy to “modern man”: for the poet bequeaths a skepticism uncompromised by the fideism that so often shadows weaker versions of the posture, and one that in its radical act of materialist “abandonment,” as Gramsci calls it, left the poet defiantly without an ubi consistam, a place or ground on which to stand.

In the extremity of his own situation, Negri had felt, he recalled in a much later interview, an “elective affinity for Leopardi”—not just with the peculiar confinement and suffering Leopardi had experienced, but with the particular kind of political conjuncture in which the poet had found himself.11 As he explained there to Cesare Casarino, “The [French] revolution haunted Leopardi: his whole life and his entire thought were marked by that attempt and by the attempt to understand it.” In the work that Negri himself began in jail, he had “wanted to clarify what the crisis of the revolutionary project had meant for Leopardi and what it meant for us in the 1980s.” His aim, he said, had been “to assert the primacy of the political in Leopardi’s ontology.”12 Negri was not, of course, the first of the poet’s readers to approach him in political terms. Since the 1940’s, works like Cesare Luporini’s Leopardi progressivo (1947) and early essays by Franco Fortini had questioned traditional romantic readings of the poet and led to a series of politically inflected studies by scholars such as Walter Binni, Fabio Russo, Antonio Prete, and others. Sebastiano Timpanaro, for example, in what was probably the first serious discussion of this question in English, discerned in Leopardi’s “pessimistic materialism” a kind of non-dialectical resource for Marxism, one that, for the poet himself, however, had generally “acted as a disincentive…to any political engagement.”13 In making that dissociation, Timpanaro’s contribution to “the battle for Leopardi,” as he called it in this essay, resonated with earlier left-wing readings such as Binni’s, with its emphasis on the “anti-idyllic” aspect of the poet’s work, and Fortini’s more pragmatically Marxist repudiation of politically blinkered appropriations of Leopardi for the sentimental sublime.14 Importantly, Timpanaro also criticized Luporini’s suggestion that Leopardi had “reached the very threshold of dialectical thought,” noting that such a proposal “involves a failure to recognize the wholly practical, sensist-hedonist character of Leopardian pessimism.”15 Leopardi knew nothing of Hegelian philosophy, but his hostility to dialectics, which he associated with teleology and narratives of progress, would be crucial to later ways of reading his work as an encounter with the political. As Timpanaro noted rather tartly, for Leopardi “unhappiness is not to be ‘dialecticized’ away at the level of logic.”16 Timpanaro may have been heavily invested in the “battle for Leopardi,” but he was careful not to claim the poet as a kind of “pre-Marxist” thinker, arguing elsewhere that his pessimism is important precisely as an instance of “that which isn’t in Marx and others.”17

Much of this, of course, seems to fly in the face of the poet’s own expressed lack of interest in politics—“be quite certain that in social philosophy I am in every respect a complete dunce,” wrote Leopardi in a letter of 1826,18 and even more pointedly some five years later: “. . . I detest politics, because I believe, or rather I see, that individuals are unhappy under any form of government; the fault is nature’s, which made men for unhappiness; and I laugh at the happiness of the masses, because my small brain can’t conceive of a happy mass made up of individuals who are not happy.”19 Leopardi’s comment might sound frivolous, but it already contains the germ of a dissociation that has become very familiar in recent political thinking—a dissociation between “politics” and “the political.” This so-called “political difference,” modeled of course on Heidegger’s ontological one, figures “politics” as the domain of decision and position, while “the political” reserves to itself, in Esposito’s words, “the space of a form of thinking from where alone, by contrast, the sphere of politics could be thought.”20 That “space” or mise-en-scène is framed, of course, by philosophical concepts, and one potentially problematic feature of the dissociation is that—as Nietzsche had in a sense already warned—the contingent specificities of “politics” might find their already mystified expressions as “value” and “totality” simply replicated and confirmed in the conceptual idiom of Philosophy.21 As Oliver Marchant suggests in his study of “post-foundational political thought,” Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Inoperative Community arguably provides an admonitory example of this, with its attempt, in Marchant’s words, “to think being-with from within philosophy alone while at the same time denouncing the whole of political philosophy.”22

The thinkers I shall consider in what follows resist that tendency in Nancy’s work and they do so in part by seeking out modes of thought that, with Nietzsche in mind again, express an “absolute skepticism” toward an inherited vocabulary. This can lead to the creation of new concepts—the “unpolitical,” the “impolitical,” and so on23—but also to the related elaboration of forms of negative or skeptical thinking that draw their resources more from poēsis than from philosophy, that expose the latter’s principal concepts to the play of contingency and relativism that Nietzsche had taken to characterize the excluded contents of a conventional philosophical thinking.

For his part, Negri, entering “the battle for Leopardi,” doesn’t bother much with any political predispositions the poet might have had—Leopardi’s “juridical and political skepticism is total,” he declares.24 Negri looks instead to the poet’s search for what he calls their “ontological alternative.”25 Against Luporini’s characterization of Leopardi as “progressive,” Negri argues that  “very little suggests that Leopardi had anything to do with progress. Rather, he had to do with the disquiet of being. He is contrary [eversivo] and not progressive.”26 Timothy Murphy’s translation of eversivo in this passage as “contrary” rather than as the more obvious “subversive” nicely catches a shift of emphasis here from questions of political positioning to, as Negri puts it in an explanatory note, “Leopardi’s ontological dimension [which] has absolute priority and prevails over every other extrinsic connotation.”27

It is in this dimension that what I want to call a skeptical poetics takes form, providing a certain resistance to philosophy’s pull toward concept and dialectic. This resistance is programmatically expressed in Leopardi’s early polemic against the new Romantic writers who, he claims, “wish to make poetry consort with the intellect, and to transplant it from the visible to the invisible, and from things to ideas, and to transform it from the material, imaginative, corporeal substance that it was into something metaphysical, reasonable and spiritual.”28 The distinction between philosophy and poetry—they are “enemies,” Leopardi says elsewhere (Z1650)29 —is a consistent strand in his thinking: much later he writes that “the more philosophical poetry is, the less poetical it is,” and that “literature, and especially poetry, has nothing to do with subtle, severe, and accurate philosophy, having, as it does, for its object the beautiful, which is, so to say, equivalent to falsehood since what is true (such is the sad destiny of man) can never be beautiful.”30 Leopardi is not completely consistent on this separation, sometimes allowing that the incompatibility between poetry and philosophy can be overcome by “truly remarkable and lofty minds” (Z1383), but this is only when the philosopher has learned from the poet to become capable of “enthusiasm, heroism, vivid and great illusions, strong and varied passions” (Z1833).

It is not then simply a matter of poetry offering a counter to philosophy, of its pitting a language of sensory immediacy against that of “cold” abstraction; nor is it a matter of using poems simply to issue propositions of a skeptical kind. Leopardi’s insight is rather that a materialist poetics will grasp skepticism as its own formal and ontological necessity, as the very condition of its self-reflexive insistence. This is quite different from the view that Alain Badiou attributes to Plato when he asks: “But what is a doubtful thinking for Plato, a thinking that is indiscernible from non-thought? It is a sophistics. It could well be that the poem is in reality the capital accomplice of sophistics.”31 Badiou sees Plato’s rejection of the poets on these grounds as outmoded, though his own thinking on the issue seems to shuttle between, on the one hand, a neo-Platonic attraction to the Idea (or the matheme), and, on the other, a simply affirmative sense of the poem’s capacity to express what he calls “the pure notion of ‘there is’… the very effacement of its empirical objectivity.”32 “Sophistics,” of course, suggests fallacious reasoning and an attempt to deceive, but perhaps a materialist alternative to the idealized indexicality of Badiou’s exemplary poem might be the skeptical and contestatory poetic developed by Leopardi. In contrast to a sophistical poetics, this skeptical one has nothing to hide; it offers, in fact, an open and arrestingly lucid avowal of its own status as illusion rather than as truth: says Leopardi in his polemic against Romanticism, “one may beguile in such a way that the people experience the delight which is the purpose of poetry, benefiting from the fiction but not believing it except in imagination, and thus without harm.”33 The poem allows us, in the memorable phrase of another skeptical poet, Wallace Stevens, to “believe without belief,” and to be fully conscious of doing so.34 This skepticism, then, represents not just a posture of doubting, but a practice of doubled or specular thinking—not a thinking that just sees two sides of the same coin, but one that grasps them simultaneously, as each enframing the other. Cacciari, in his book on Leopardi, observes that the poet’s word is always “fictive” inasmuch “it expresses an absent reality, feigning the presence of what is absent.”35 As Marchant puts it in his review of post-foundationalism, “If we still want to think of ground in terms of its absence, it will be an absence which remains present as, and through, the movement of withdrawal.”36

In face of such intricacies, Enlightenment thought, in Leopardi’s terms, has left a brutal legacy, striking down “false” superstitions (the belief in an after-life, for example), but at the same time also undermining those beliefs or illusions that, in Leopardi’s view, are needed to make our lives bearable (beauty, happiness, and so on).37 As Esposito observes, the poet reacts by working to “superimpose illusion and reason–in other words…to recognize the illusory nature of illusion by turning a once spontaneous fiction into a conscious fiction.”38 Leopardi develops a theory of the imagination as something not opposed to reason but as its “indispensable, internal structure.”39 As he puts it, “Reason needs the imagination and the illusions that reason destroys” (Z1839). And so, we might add, does reason need poetry, for it is in poetry’s acknowledgement of its own fictiveness that what Nietzsche had seen as the repressed contents of philosophical thinking may return, thus (in Esposito’s words) “recognizing in the sovereign power of death the pulsing of a life that it cannot entirely eliminate because it constitutes the matter, so to speak, without which death would not be what it is.”40

Again, all this hinges not so much on the content of the poem but on—the phrase is Esposito’s—“the simple fact of being poetry,”41 a condition that, for Leopardi, reveals “life” to be a play of blind forces and interests that political reason will strive to constitute as “values” or, as Leopardi would say, as false illusions. Esposito will similarly define the “impolitical” as what reveals itself as “the conflict between powers and interests” within—not against—the “theological” abstractions of the political itself.42 Leopardi has his own related argument against such abstraction:

“I consider illusions,” he says, “to be in a certain sense real, since they are essential ingredients in the system of human nature, and given by nature to all men, so that it is not right to scorn them as being the dreams of a single man, but better to regard them as a real part of man and willed by nature, without which our life would be the most miserable and barbarous thing, etc. Hence they are necessary and form a substantial part of the composition and order of things” (Z52).

Paradoxically, then, such illusions are “real” and must not be confused with “delusions” that result from mistakenly accepting false ideas as truth. Illusions, for Leopardi, have to do with feeling rather than with ideas. We read a poem primarily, he says, for its promise of sensory pleasure, though with a characteristically skeptical inflection he adds that this pleasure can never be the experience of some fully present moment—Badiou’s “there is,” perhaps—but serves rather to underline the fundamental unhappiness that illusions can render bearable for us but cannot abolish. For human pleasure, according to Leopardi, is always “a desire not a fact”­—or, to put it another way, pleasure is “a concept, and not a feeling…pleasure is either past or future, never present.”43 While “Man does not desire to know but to feel infinitely,”44 the regime of continual suffering inflicted on us by nature (Z4087) means that the poet’s attempts to evoke moments of sensory happiness can never evade the long shadow of the concept: “when the soul desires a pleasurable thing,” we are told, “when it desires the satisfaction of an infinite desire, it really desires pleasure, and not a particular pleasure” (Z166; emphasis in original).

Life, then, is a mess of contradictions, of which perhaps this one takes primacy, that Leopardi cannot “reconcile the power of human imagination and feeling with the frailty of the human body and the transience of human beauty.”45 Such contradictions provide, ironically, a sort of ground, the only one, perhaps, that “absolute skepticism” can allow, though, as Leopardi observes, “that principle [of non-contradiction], which once rooted out puts an end to every discourse, every line of reasoning, every proposition, and the very faculty we have through them to form and conceive of truths, that fundamental principle ‘A thing cannot both be and not be’ seems absolutely false when you consider the palpable contradictions there are in nature” (Z4099).46 Such contradictions fly in the face of Aristotelian logic, then, but for the lucid eye they are clear to see in “nature.” Leopardi’s response to them—perhaps prefiguring in this the “negative thought” that after Cacciari’s essays on the “unpolitical” became influential in post-autonomist Italy—was that such contradictions can be exposed but not overcome, that they can (as one critic puts it) “be denied only ideologically, by overlooking life’s violent aspect.”47

If contradiction brings “discourse” to a standstill, then, we shall perhaps look to poetry to grasp that contradictoriness not as something anomalous and exceptional, but as a constitutive feature of lived experience. Leopardi, of course, thinks of poetry in these terms because it is in poetry that language becomes doubtful, offering a means of undoing “the purported perfecting of reason and of philosophy” that, he says “the system of things favors” (Z1839). What “the system of things” doesn’t “favor” is precisely the kind of skeptical force that Leopardi will derive from the poetic; in contrast, the Romantic poets, he claims, won’t ruffle any feathers because already they are stripping poetry of “its basic capacity to fictionalize and to beguile,” threatening the very assimilation of poetry to metaphysics.48 Language, then is clearly the contested terrain, and Leopardi develops his argument through what has become a well-known distinction between “words” (parole) and “terms” (termini). “In the sciences,” he says, “precise words are appropriate and good, but in literature it is the right words” (Z1226). “Each is exactly the opposite of the other,” and where the sciences use words with “dry, bare meanings”—terms “determine and define the thing from all sides” (Z109)—, the poet seeks out “words that are vaguer and express more uncertain ideas, or a greater number of ideas, etc.” This vagueness has to be distinguished, though, from later symbolist suggestiveness: just as Leopardi emphasizes that illusions are fictions that we have made ourselves—they are “second nature,” as Negri says, not some gift from beyond49—, so the poet’s words should share with “ancient words” a rootedness in what Leopardi calls “the material and sensible” (Z1704); here speaks the poet as philologist, of course, but a philologist for whom the ancient languages can enliven “the modern dryness” with what he calls their “freshness, color, softness, brilliance, embonpoint [plumpness], richness, vigor…” (Z111).  

“Vagueness,” then, is the protection poetry needs against the generalizing “dryness” of the concept. And it is poetry’s immersion in the “material and sensible” that makes its language ripe with semantic reversals, with a kind of negative knowledge of familiar concepts, as truth and falsehood, reality and illusion slip their moorings to change places, and poems come to pivot around negative paradoxes and oxymorons (“blissful error,” “unhappy truth,” those are only a beginning50). Poetry, then, is the means by which we may think while knowing that our thinking has no ground: “all truths,” says Leopardi, “have two different or opposed aspects, indeed, an infinite number of them…no truth or falsehood is absolute” (Z1632). Rather similarly, Esposito speaks also for Cacciari and Negri when he too rejects political concepts as “self-contained entities,” attempting to see them rather as  “border markers, and thus as places where various different languages overlapped and even conflicted.”51 Doubt thus becomes the very measure of a kind of thinking that will entertain what reason will not. What is more, this thinking is intimately bound up with reason itself. So Leopardi writes:

My system introduces a Skepticism that is not only reasoned and proven, but is such that human reason, according to my system, whatever possible progress is made, will never succeed in ridding itself of this skepticism. On the contrary, it contains the truth, and it is demonstrated that our reason can absolutely not find the truth save by doubting, that it distances itself from truth whenever it judges with certainty, and that not only does doubt serve to uncover the truth…, but that truth essentially consists in doubt, and whoever doubts knows, and knows as much as one can know. (Z1655)

The piling up of paradoxes in this passage strews the argument with obstacles, dissolving truth and knowledge in doubt, and blocking the way to the kind of generality and “certainty” we expect of the concept. “Whoever doubts knows, and knows as much as one can know”: Leopardi thus sets a limit to Enlightenment ambition and in doing so situates knowledge on the uncertain terrain of a poetic thinking that enacts the constant oscillation between affirmation and negation that immersion in “the material and sensible” seems to dictate.52

It is worth emphasizing that oscillation: Leopardi’s thinking is constantly circling itself, multiplying contexts and semantic fields, and refusing to valorize any one term above others, even that of “life” itself. That, arguably, is where Leopardi parts company with those who, like Negri and Esposito, have in their different ways detected in the poet’s materialism the promise of an affirmational vitalism.53 Nineteenth-century readers arguably missed a lot when they read Leopardi merely as a pessimist, and it is perhaps easier now to recognize in his work what Negri calls “the anticipatory force of lyrical thinking over philosophical thought.”54 At the same time, though, we should be wary of discerning in Leopardi’s hostility to concept and dialectic some permission to cast him as a philosopher of “life.” His version of what Negri terms “lyrical thinking” is, we recall, shadowed by a persistent negativity, its anticipatory force constantly checked by a skeptical counter-thought. This, after all, is the philological poet who meticulously recorded in his notebook that “The primitive and literal meaning of [the Latin word] spes was not to hope, but to wait, for good or ill indiscriminately” (Z3571).

Published on December 26, 2016

1. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale, ed. Walter Kaufman (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), #409.

2. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, #407. For a powerful reiteration of Nietzsche’s call for new concepts, see Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 2-6.

3. Friedrich Nietzsche, “We Philologists,” quoted in Timothy S. Murphy, Antonio Negri: Modernity and the Multitude (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), 136.

4. See also Murphy, Antonio Negri, 135, for the view that “Leopardi serves Negri as an anticipatory stand-in for Nietzsche, one who connects Negri’s work to the thoroughly non-Hegelian work of Foucault and Deleuze.”

5. Roberto Esposito, Living Thought: The Origins and Actuality of Italian Philosophy, trans. Zakiya Hanafi (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012), 108.

6. Massimo Cacciari, Magis Amicus Leopardi. Due Saggi (Caserta: Edizioni Saletta dell’Uva, 2005).

7. See, for example, Gilberto Lonardi, Leopardismo: Tre saggi sugli usi di Leopardi dall’Otto al Novecento (Florence: Sansoni Editore, 1990), 188.

8. On the early reception of Leopardi in England, see Ghan Singh, Leopardi e l’Inghilterra (Florence: Le Monnier, 1968).

9. Walter Benjamin, 1928 review of Leopardi’s Pensieri, quoted in Nicholas Rennie, Speculating on the Moment: The Poetics of Time and Recurrence in Goethe, Leopardi, and Nietzsche (Gottingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2005), 140 fn.46.

10. Antonio Gramsci, Letters from Prison, ed. Frank Rosengarten, trans. Raymond Rosenthal, 2 vols (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), II, 206-7. For a critical account of Gramsci’s view of Leopardi, see Sebastiano Timpanaro, Antileopardiani e neomoderati nella sinistra italiana (Pisa: ETS, 1985), 287-313.

11. Cesare Casarino and Antonio Negri, In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 169.

12. Casarino and Negri, In Praise of the Common, 170, 169. For an influential account of Leopardi’s “paradoxical” reading of the French Revolution, see Edoardo Sanguinetti, “Leopardi e la Rivoluzione,” in Sanguinetti, Il chierico organico: Scritture e intellettuali, ed. Erminio Risso (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2000), 113-19.

13. Sebastiano Timpanaro, “The Pessimistic Materialism of Giacomo Leopardi,” in New Left Review, I/116 (July-August 1979), 6.

14. Franco Fortini, “La leggenda di Recanati,” in Il Politecnico, 33-34 (Sept/Dec 1946), 587-601.

15. Timpanaro, “The Pessimistic Materialism,” 11.

16. Timpanaro, “The Pessimistic Materialism,” 11.

17. Timpanaro, Antileopardiani, 196.

18. The Letters of Giacomo Leopardi, 1817-1837, trans. Prue Shaw (Leeds: Northern Universities Press, 1998), 181.

19. The Letters, 252.

20. Robert Esposito, “¿Retorno al agora?,” quoted in Bruno Bosteels, The Actuality of Communism (Verso: London and New York, 2011), 106.

21. See Massimo Cacciari, “Nietzsche and the Unpolitical” (1978), in The Unpolitical: On the Radical Critique of Political Reason, ed. Alessandro Carrera, trans. Massimo Verdicchio (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009), 95: “Nietzsche’s unpolitical is the critique of the political as affirmation of value.”

22. Oliver Marchant, Taking on the Political: Post-foundational Political Thought (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), 81. See also Tara Mulqueen and Daniel Matthews, eds., Being Social: Ontology, Law, Politics (Oxford: Counterpress, 2015).

23. On the proliferation of new terms, see Bosteels, The Actuality of Communism, 75-128.

24. Negri, Flower of the Desert, 166.

25. Negri, Flower of the Desert, 202.

26. Negri, Flower of the Desert, 118.

27. Negri, Flower of the Desert, 342 fn. 106.

28. Leopardi, Discourse by an Italian on Romantic Poetry, trans. Gabrielle Sims and Fabio A. Camilletti, in Camilletti, Classicism and Romanticism in Italian Literature: Leopardi’s Discourse on Romantic Poetry (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013), 115.

29. Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone, eds. Michael Caesar and Franco D’Intino, trans. Kathleen Baldwin et al. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), 1650. Further references will be given in the text as Z000 where the location, following usual convention, is taken from Leopardi’s original page numbering.

30. Both passages as quoted in Ghan Singh, Leopardi and the Theory of Poetry (University of Kentucky Press, 1964), 263-64.

31. Alain Badiou, The Age of the Poets: And Other Writings on Twentieth-Century Poetry and Prose, trans. Bruno Bosteels (London: Verso, 2014), 47.

32. Badiou, The Age of the Poets, 51. See also Tom Eyers, “Badiou among the Poets,” boundary 2, 43, no. 2 (2016), 146.

33. Leopardi, Discourse of an Italian, 119.

34. Wallace Stevens, “Flyer’s Fall,” in Wallace Stevens: Collected Poetry and Prose, eds. Frank Kermode and Joan Richardson (New York: Library of America, 1997), 295.

35. Cacciari, Magis Amicus Leopardi, 81 (my translation).

36. Marchant, Taking on the Political, 74 (his emphasis).

37. See Pamela Williams, An Introduction to Leopardi’s Canti (Leicester: Troubadour Publisher Ltd., 2004), 30.

38. Esposito, Living Thought, 124.

39. Esposito, Living Thought, 126.

40. Esposito, Living Thought, 128.

41. Esposito, Living Thought, 129.

42. Esposito, Living Thought, 225. See also 227: “The impolitical…can only be conceived as inherent to the political. It can’t locate itself on the outside—if it did, it would reestablish a new dimension of transcendence.” See also Esposito’s introduction to Oltre la politica: Antologia del pensiero “impolitico” (Milan: Mondadori, 1996), 1-26.

43. Quoted in Negri, Flower of the Desert, 128.

44. Cf. “Man does not desire to know but to feel infinitely,” quoted in Singh, Leopardi, 263.

45. Williams, An Introduction, 95.

46. See also Sara Garofalo, “Contraddizione,” in Novella Bellucci and Franco D’Intino, eds., Per un lessico leopardiano (Rome: Palombi, 2011), 49.

47. Alessandro Carrera, “Introduction,” in Carrera, ed. Massimo Cacciari, The Unpolitical: On the Critique of Political Reason, 10.

48. Leopardi, Discourse of an Italian, 116.

49. Negri, Flower of the Desert, 45-6.

50. See Williams, An Introduction, 65.

51. Esposito, Categories of the Impolitical, trans. Connal Parsley (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015), xii.

52. See Esposito, Living Thought, 226, on “the insuperable contradiction of an affirmative negation or of a negative affirmation.”

53. For a systematic critique of “affirmationism,” see Benjamin Noys, The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010).

54. Negri, Flower of the Desert, 70.