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Massimo Cacciari. The Unpolitical: On the Radical Critique of Political Reason.

Massimo Cacciari. The Unpolitical: On the Radical Critique of Political Reason. New York: Fordham UP, 2009. Pp. 295.

Introduced by Alessandro Carrera and translated by Massimo Verdicchio, Massimo Cacciari's anthology of the unpolitical constitutes a milestone for the English-language audience interested in philosophy, politics and literature. Based on a philosophical reading of literary texts from Hesiod's minimal "chaos" (261) to Hesse's elaborate "allegory" (265), through engaging discussions about Aeschylus, Derrida, Schmitt, Hofmannsthal, Lukacs, Benjamin, Nietzsche, Canetti, and Weber, the unpolitical involves the overcoming of the political. After the "Introduction" (1), nine writings succeed one another: "Impractical Utopias" (45), "Nietzsche and the Unpolitical" (92), "Weber and the Critique of Socialist Reason" (104), "Project" (122), "Catastrophes" (146), "The Language of Power in Canetti" (159), "Law and Justice" (173), "The Geophilosophy of Europe" (197), and "Weber and the Politician as Tragic Hero" (206), providing a sophisticated discussion on the limits of politics.

Rather than anti-political, the unpolitical is a relativist conception which defeats the absolute distinction between political and anti-political. In fact, the unpolitical not only criticizes, but also embraces the political, as in the dialectical synthesis between the thesis of the political and the antithesis of the anti-political. The limits of politics are skilfully delineated in "Law and Justice" through the fascinating discussion on religion and politics. The argument engages among others with Girard's theory of the state as a regulation of vindictive sacrifice (182). As with mysticism, law turns out to be limited by its own nihilist picture of the world, contrasted to the absolutist ideal of regulation. "Catastrophes" discusses precisely the postmodern overcoming of the opposition between regulated normality and world's crises, which Lyotard (258) shows to be ubiquitous in modern discourses. The catastrophic "world of precariousness lived by Hofmannsthal" is "Benjamin's world of expressionism and allegory," dominated by what Lukacs conceives of as the "collapse of every certainty" (91). "Impractical Utopias" analyzes these textual images of the unpolitical, also in relation to the dualism of form and order observed by Simmel (58).

The unpolitical finds a particularly refined manifestation in "The Geophilosophy of Europe," where the analysis reveals that the binary opposites of European political philosophy are governed by a harmonious unity, implying the possibility to adapt them as needed. Herodotus's and Aeschylus's literary images of the historical opposition between Europe and Asia are reinterpreted in a compelling way (200). In "Project," the opposition between the normative and the critical aspects implied by the concept of project is masterfully transcended through the subversive project of playing the game of the bourgeois project with the critical awareness of its intrinsic unsustainability, thus ultimately contributing to its defeat. This argument is in line with Schmitt's assessment that free trade "undermines not only traditional public law strictly linked to the idea of national, sovereign state, but also the same international law," as the history of the market amounts to "a sequel of cases, unforeseeable for the order of the law" (138). Political participation marked by this awareness may challenge what Severino refers to as the dominion of the nihilist project of modernity and technology (127). Based on Derrida's deconstruction (125), the elaboration of a critical project involves the relativist embracement of bourgeois politics with all its limits, aiming at the creation of an alternative system.

The unpolitical is a relativist category, elevating the political to the embracement of its inextricable relation and, hence, relativity to the anti-political, as the "same force that individualizes, that makes stay and therefore opposes, is that of philia, which makes inseparable," and the "decision whereby Europe stays (stasis!) with respect to Asia cannot produce, therefore, any absolutum" (204). Where absoluteness as boundlessness is overcome, relativity as boundness emerges. The forms of typically European political distinction and stereotypically Asian anti-political indistinctness correspond to the one force of unpolitical being, in the harmony of opposites. In overcoming the absolutism of political distinction and the nihilism of anti-political indistinctness, the unpolitical implies the relativist conception of the political and the anti-political as relative to each other, which hints at the necessity of recognizing the limits of political myths by adapting their distinctions to the circumstances, instead of leaving them unquestioned as absolute or just denying them with nihilist indifference. These implications for absolutism, nihilism, and relativism constitute both the strength and the weakness of the analyses collected in the volume, as such implications amount to an innovative philosophical contribution, while not being made explicit anywhere in the dense argumentation.

In "Nietzsche and the Unpolitical" it becomes clear that the unpolitical is "the radical critique of the political" (95), possible through the awareness of politics' inability to encompass absolute totality, while still investing in its relative value (102). Canetti's assessment of discourse as annihilation of corporeality (160), as in Foucault (164), allows for the discussion about authoritarian and anarchic power. This debate leads to the definition of the political as the paradoxical oscillation between authoritarian absolutism and anarchic nihilism (170). Its radical critique, that is, the unpolitical, is defined through Weber's critique of hegemonic language, reformulated in Vattimo's terms of political economy (118) and Heidegger's concept of Gestell, or "techno-economic system" (237). The unpolitical marks a significant development of radical philosophy.

The unpolitical offers a space of relativism which is precious in the deconstruction of the absolutist and nihilist essentialism of politically founded mythical distinctions of language, class, sex, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, citizenship, health, and age, at the hybrid convergence of global and local politics characterizing the decades following the world and cold wars. The unpolitical entails political inclusion thanks to its rootedness in the flexible relativism of what Thomas Harrison, at the back of the volume, calls the renegotiation of politics' "myths and utopias, but now from the perspective of daily praxis," which is central in the socio-historical processes of European integration and global flows. In this sense, the unpolitical is an important point of reference when addressing issues of global-local political tension, where political distinctions need the renegotiation offered by the unpolitical's relativism.

Mattia Marino, University of Salford
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Author:Marino, Mattia
Publication:Annali d'Italianistica
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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