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Negri's Time for Revolution


Time For Revolution.

Negri, Antonio. Trans. Matteo Mandarini. New York: Continuum, 2003. 288p., $29.95, hardcover. ISBN: 0826459315.

Two books, two prisons, two decades: in this way, Antonio Negri's Time for Revolution assembles itself.

The first part, "The Constitution of Time" -- originally published as the concluding chapter of a the collection of essays Macchina tempo, and again in its own right by the Italian radical left publishing house Manifestolibri in 1997 -- "constitute some pure and simple prolegomena to the construction of the communist idea of time," which is to say, "to a new proletarian practice of time" (21). Written within the revolutionary il Movimento of the 1970s and after the long waves of struggle that had began in Italy in the early 1960s had been brutally and violently repressed by the State, the situation of its composition bears commenting upon. While imprisoned at Trani, during a "fiercely repressed riot all my notebooks were destroyed in the piss and fire of the repressors, for no other reason than that dictated by the revenge of a rabble of cowardly and ignorant prison guards"; after being moved to the prison at Rebibbia, Negri composes "The Constitution of Time" "without any notes other than those fixed in my head" (131). Written just after Negri's most crucial -- yet to my mind underread and underappreciated -- text Marx Beyond Marx, one might understand "The Consitution of Time" as an intensification and logical extension of its innerworkings, a remarkably detailed and rich elaboration of the concept of time in the context of the real subsumption of labor under capital -- which is to say, postmodernity. The richness of the "The Constitution of Time" consists simply in its being the compression and crystallization of the Negri's thinking on the transformation of the time of exploitation, no longer reducible to a measure based upon the time of use-value, but brought into relation with the new organization of social temporality on a biopolitical baseline.

The second part, "Kairòs, Alma Venus, Multitudo" -- originally published by Manifestolibri in 2000 -- was composed "on the cusp of the twenty-first century, [as] the dispositifs of transcendentalism appeared exhausted, the King naked, and his guard close to a nervous breakdown" (139). Written well after Negri's latest collaborative work with Michael Hardt, Empire, the second part of Time for Revolution might similarly be read in terms of its extension of that work (and undoubtedly, it will be, given Empire's exposure and critical splash within the American academy). Read in this way, it is perhaps most useful in its elaboration and intensification of the concept of the mulititude, which in Empire, as Michael Hardt has repeatedly said, was left at a most open and poetic level. However, to only read "Kairòs, Alma Venus, Multitudo" in this mode risks thinking through its philosophical construction in a hasty manner -- and indeed, here the reader finds Negri practicing philosophy, which is to say the fabricating, constructing and creating concepts. As he writes in the accompanying introduction,

How can a revolutionary subjectivity form itself within the multitude of producers? How can this multitude make a decision of resistance and rebellion? How can it develop a strategy of reappropriation? How can the multitude lead a struggle for the self-government of itself? In the biopolitical postmodern, in this phase that sees the transformation and productive enrichment of labour-power, but on the other hand sees the capitalist exploitation of society as a whole, we thus pose these questions. As for the answers, I certainly do not possess them. But…probably a few bricks toward the reconstruction of hope (or better, as in "Alma Venus," "dystopia") have been laid. (144-45)

In the concept of the multitude, the ontological path hooks up with the path of political action, "because this deciding multitude has a strong resemblance to that which 'in modernity' attempted the adventure of communism and that, for now, 'in postemodernity' expresses itself in 'exodus', the new spectral figure of all communism to-come" (144). Such is the desire of Negri's philosophical practice: to set out to grasp a materialist ontology of power, and participate in the construction of a active, deciding proletarian counter-power. However (and as Negri himself remarks), "Kairòs, Alma Venus, Multitudo" is not a book of answers, of strategy, or of vanguardist intellectualism, but a work of philosophy, which -- as Deleuze and Guattari used to say -- in itself calls forth a new people to come.

Taken together in productive assemblage, the two parts to Time for Revolution draw a red thread of temporality through the course of Negri's work, gathering together two books, both teeming with life. Additionally, the reader benefits from the generous and well-sculpted notes of translator Matteo Manadrini, as well as from his useful and informative -- if brief -- introduction to the work itself. While Time for Revolution hardly amounts to an introduction of Negri's work, neither is this its impetus: here we find two singular instances of a philosopher in thought's most acute and urgent workings -- which for Negri, are always a motored by a profound desire for liberation.

John Conley