This one, I mean: The Porcelain Workshop – For a New Grammar of Politics, by Antonio Negri.

The answer is obvious, for all my talk I still find Negri interesting and exciting. Or I did. I really, really dislike this book so far. I’ve read about 120 of the about 170 pages in the book. Maybe it will get really good later.

The book’s cover shows an installation by Jason Rhoades. One review described Rhoades’ work as “created from half-formed materials connected by slippage and whirling displacements.” Another called the works “teeming, swaggering, messy, obscene, obscure and beyond sexist.” A third grouped Rhoades’ work under the heading “clusterfuck esthetics,” saying –

Whether you call it the New Cacophony or the Old Cacophony, Agglomerationism, Disorientationism, the Anti Dia or just a raging bile duct, the practice of mounting sprawling, often infinitely organized, jam-packed carnivalesque installations is making more and more galleries and museums feel like department stores, junkyards, and disaster films. It is an architecture of no architecture, a gesamtkunstwerk or “total artwork,” whose roots are in opera, Dada, the Merzbau and the madhouse. Whatever the subject — be it bodily fluids, pop culture, or politics — terms that describe this sculptural strategy include grandiose and testosterone-driven.

Nowadays this all-at-once gambit can be seen as a way to compete with the paranoia and havoc of everyday life; a homeopathic dose of poison whereby ruins are created to counteract ruin; a manic-depressive panic attack in the face of information overload; a rejoinder to minimalism; a way to fill space and get attention.

I don’t mean any implication here about the gender politics of Negri’s new book (he actually pays as much or more attention here to feminism than I remember reading from him in many other places, though still the references are in passing), but I do think the other qualities of the art work are applicable to Negri’s book: slippages, displacements, teeming, messy, sprawling, grandiose, based on a certain understanding of the present which is assumed and which serves as the point of departure but is not argued for. And obscure. Very obscure.

For example: “The kairos is the instant of creation, the moment potential sperads on the edge of being (…) everything occurs on the edge of being – not on the limit, in the margins of a given ontological totality, but in each moment that makes up the passage from difference to creativity. On the edge of being: because the edge is everywhere.” (97.)


I will try to offer some substantive comment after I finish the book. For now, I think the following is at least a starter list of my objections:

1. an assumption and occasionally an assertion, but never an argument or any context, about the political stakes of philosophical questions
2. the above as if it were sufficient justification for the choice of register or idiom in which the text occurs, which is not merely one possible idiom among others but somehow an especially important one
3. a great many terms without definitions
4. apparently contradictory assertions without explaining the contradictions or making clear that they are not actually contradictions
5. a refrain about the novelty of the present as opposed to the past yet with no real detail on this, only philosophical arguments which apply as much to the past as to the present; this includes the unexplained and quite insistent use of the term ‘postmodern’ as the description of the only or at least the best description of the present
6. a cheap shot on anarchism without any real argument, the same for separatist moments within feminism except this latter is accompanied with a philosophical (and ostensibly political yet contextless) denunciation
7. a great deal of name dropping from the history of philosophy without much unpacking or suggestion as to why this is useful, nor any citations at all
8. awkward turns of phrase which may be the result of translation mistakes
9. various marxian phrases used haphazardly, assertions made and positions criticized without much argument and with no historical sensitivity (ie, seems to flatten out disagreements within the tradition[s]), likewise some terms from Foucault