In his tribute to Felix Guattari, after his death in 1992, Antonio Negri wrote that for Guattari thinking was like “entering into another world”[1]. The thinker tries to follow the logic of this world, “consolidating it into a scheme… following a trace, understanding its structured dynamic, inventing in order to understand. The real can only be invented in order to be understood”[2].  Negri goes on to poignantly remark that maybe for Felix even death is another world to be entered so long as one invented it.   “He invented death to understand its plan in order to tell us how one can go beyond”[3].  Death becomes the final act of alliance where one follows someone in thought beyond death into a region of pure virtuality – a place reserved for “the anticipation of the eternal and its becoming real”[4].  This is perhaps what alliance meant for Negri:  to follow the other in the singularity of her thinking, even if it has to pass through death, so as to create that “complementary dyad”[5] between singularity and the multitude. Negri’s great lesson can well be to argue that thinking is always an act of following (an)other into the singular world she has created, whose unknown regions remain a secret to us, and yet the courage of alliance demands that we follow her into her delirium. As he says about Guattari, “He agreed to follow me in the delirium of my revolutionary program and in the practice of autonomy”[6]

Perhaps now, more than ever it is necessary for us to follow Negri into the world of thinking that he created for himself while trying to make it understandable for others. But a world—even the conceptual world—of a thinker can only be accessed by following the traces she leaves behind, the symptoms which linger.  Some of Negri’s most famous concepts like “Empire”, “Multitude”, “Kairos,” etc. therefore need to be seen as symptoms of the world he seeks to invent. But in order to enter his world, we have to follow Negri, step by step, much like he himself followed the illness of our contemporary world of capitalism to make his diagnosis, assessing the chances of health, which finally leads to, as Deleuze once remarked, “the possible birth of a new man”[7].

The contingent emergence of singularity as it is held together by the necessarily collective enunciation of the multitude allows the production of an infinite becoming – this perhaps sums up Negri’s idea of birth. But unlike Guattari’s Chaosmose universe with its ritournelles and machinic heterogeneity, Negri’s world has a singular organizing problem. We find this problem emerging from his early political work coming out of the factories of Porto Marghera[8] up to his theoretical collaboration with Michael Hardt. It is at the heart of what Negri calls his “extraordinary adventure”[9]  of factory. We can call it the problematique of antagonism. However, for Negri antagonism must not be reduced to any traditional Marxist concept of class struggle or even to any general idea of Hegelian dialectic.  In Negri, struggle emerges, much like in Foucault, as a problem – something which acts as a point of coincidence between concrete historical phenomena and abstract conceptual solution. Hence, Negri, whose whole theoretical project has been to go beyond the Hegelian dialectic because he thought it proposed an easy way out in the form of resolution, nevertheless remained vigilant to the problem that dialectic sought to resolve, namely the problem of antagonism. In his conversation with Cesare Casarino Negri notes, “The dialectic constitutes an answer to a real problem. You may well think that the way in which the dialectic solves this problem is insufficient or misguided, and hence you avoid the dialectic at all costs. The problem, however, is not simply going to disappear”[10].

Antagonism is everywhere in Negri’s world of thinking. It is the basis of his thesis of two modernities where he argues that the “first modernity proper”[11] produced by the radical humanist revolution of the Renaissance was blocked by the Counter-Reformation. The latter generated, Negri argues, a reactive second modernity which has claimed its recognizable place in history. However, the second has never been able to completely erase the trace of the first, which emerged time and again in the form of theoretical expression engendering what he calls the “Spinoza-Marx line of thought”[12].Such a “line of thought” is expressive of nothing other than a historical struggle.

Similarly, the key to Negri’s early work on the juridical forms of the state can also be diagnosed through the problem of antagonism. Unlike the traditional Marxist separation of the state form and class struggle, Negri would vehemently argue that the state form is class struggle. He sought to unveil this overlap by examining the ways in which the state through its juridical machinery tries to manage conflict.

Even his love of Gilles Deleuze, who Negri confessed to be his closest philosophical interlocutor, can be traced back not to his post-modern tendencies but to what Negri calls the anti-modern tradition Deleuze embodied along with Michel Foucault. In other words, what attracted Negri to these thinkers was their allegiance to the “Spinoza-Marx line of thought” symptomatic of the problem of antagonism.

The centrality of this problem of antagonism gains significant momentum in Negri’s critique of labor. Here he demonstrates how the conflict between labor and capital has been transformed from its previous disciplinary form to a more socialized form of control. Whereas, previously, the state acted as a buffer between big business and big labor to give rise to what Negri calls “the paradox of a republic founded on labor,”[13]a transformation takes place in the organization of labor by the late ‘60s-early ‘70s. It is important to remind ourselves that it was his political work in the factories during this period that leads Negri to conclude that the organization of labor was undergoing considerable transformation leading to what he would call a “socialization of production”[14]. The socialized worker (operaio sociale) for whom the enclosed space of the factory has dissolved into the open space of the social emerges into the history of capitalism. Negri has argued that his work on the critique of labor remains a turning point in his philosophical and political thinking. Particularly his essay “Labor in the Constitution” (which he considered “crucial and fundamental”[15]), written around mid-‘60s but “kept in the drawer till 1977”[16], remained a seminal moment in his intellectual development. The work he was going to do later with Michael Hardt would carry the trace of such a critique which, as is evident, is again based on the problem of antagonism.

Negri’s two most popular books Empire (2000) and Multitude (2004), co-written with Hardt, push the problem of antagonism to its most extreme and logical end connecting it to the production of subjectivity.  In Empire they seek to produce, what Cesare Casarino calls a “common diagram” of the movement of capitalism in its globalized phase and the new forms of sovereign domination. An unavoidable point to note while talking about Empire is that here too Negri diagnoses ‘struggle’ as the basis of this emerging mutation of sovereign power. Despite the actual historical practices of globalization in the form of immaterial labor and the supranational form of governance, Empire remains a symptom. Empire is not only a new form of sovereignty unlike any other which is completely immanent to its conditions and de-centered, but it is also a “tendency” whose future remains unpredictable. Neither completely belonging to capitalism nor to the sovereignty of the nation-state, the Empire turns into an “an apparatus of capture”[17]which blocks the production of the infinite becoming of life in the common. It is to Negri’s and Hardt’s credit that they view sovereign power not in terms of any transcendental form of negativity which decides on the state of exception[18]but as completely immanent to new conditions of production and forms of governmentality emerging in the post-globalised era. ‘Empire’ becomes a symptom of imprisoned virtuality suspended between sovereign control and new modes of production. However, as Negri remarks, “whether its function ends up being negative, positive or both, the fundamental point for me remains that the diagram emerges always in relation – and as response – to struggle”[19]. It’s clear that such an idea of struggle is beyond dialectic belonging rather to the order of problem. In this sense, Negri could be argued to follow in the footsteps of Deleuze as much as of Foucault who had devoted the last phase of his research to the history of construction of problems.[20]

It is perhaps in the concept of multitude that the problem of struggle or the symptom of antagonism gets its most advanced form. And it is also through this concept that Negri finds his point of divergence from Foucault, as well as Deleuze, particularly with his understanding of constituent power. If struggle, in the final analysis, is not merely a negative or oppositional process but the source of the power of the common, then it is nothing but the unveiling of praxis. Contra Heidegger, Negri argues that “unveiling has little to do with Being as an ontological entity; unveiling, rather, is related to praxis—in the sense that only collective praxis unveils as well as that the only thing collective praxis unveils is itself”[21]. This emphasis on praxis is also the reason why Negri had such difficulty identifying himself as a philosopher, someone who never taught philosophy formally but for whom philosophy remained a “hobby”.  If we are to understand the common as collective praxis, then multitude has to be understood as a reformulation of the Marxist concept of class struggle. It does not so much identify the “current empirical existence of the class”[22], but rather its contemporary condition of possibility emerging out of a fundamental antagonism.

Multitude should not be mistaken for the idea of a ‘people’ because, people, even in our current form of democracy (and Negri is very clear on this point), succumbs to the domination the One, whereas “a multitude is an irreducible multiplicity”[23].The multitude remains a Marxist concept re-proposed from an understanding of struggle, where struggle ceases to be a negative operation. Antagonism becomes the condition of possibility for the production of militant subjectivity or what Negri calls the singularity.  “Singularity posits and reassembles itself as singularity to the extent to which it is opposition and antagonism”[24]. Again, we should not misunderstand opposition as something negative, but should see in it a form of resistance which is also an act of freedom. Such an expression of freedom must not be reduced to any legal conception of rights. Here freedom has to be understood in the Nietzschean sense of power. Freedom as the affirmation of the power of singularity cannot exist independent of the multitude. Singularity is held in a complementary relationship with the multitude. Therefore, singularity can only be the expression of collective praxis.

The problem of struggle leads directly to the question of something like an event. An event which is unforeseen and unpredictable, which befalls existence but in response to which there can only be the collective and logical enunciation of praxis. Otherwise, there is always a danger, argues Negri, for a flight to transcendence, transforming the singularity into something eternal. The task, which Negri puts forth, is to discover “the logic of collective actions, the constitution of such a logic is that moment of singularity.”[25]It is also at this point that Negri claims to part ways with Deleuze for whom the relation between singularity and the event is always a matter of “surprise and chance”[26] and never the question of the constituent power of the multitude.

Negri’s project in these two books can be summed up thus: the actual historical conditions after globalization, leading to the primacy of immaterial labor and the transformation of productive forces, bring about significant changes in the nature of governmentality. The nation-state form collapses, with new supra-national forms of control and domination taking its place and giving rise to the Empire. The Empire is a de-centered and paradoxical form of sovereign power running on the logic of surplus. The Empire imprisons the surplus potentiality of the multitude and transforms it into profit. The multitude is the form of collective praxis emerging out of the struggle that the same conditions of production have made possible. However, it is a form of antagonism leading to praxis which cannot be reduced to the negative logic of opposition or any sort of dialectic. Singularity and multitude form ‘the common’. They are entangled in a complementary non-dialectical relation, where the multitude becomes the expression of singularity, while singularity finds its voice only in the “collective assemblages of enunciation”[27], which is the multitude. The multitude is affirmed when a singularity is allowed to affirm itself as a singular expression of the event.

And here we arrive at the outer reaches of Negri’s world, where the only thing which matters is the kairos – the temporality of the event. The event is inevitably unforeseen. Its temporal expression is the kairos – the contingent moment. The evental moment should not be confused with the ‘instant’ which, as quantifiable unit, has remained a point of intersection among the mythical, eschatological and modern images of time in the west. With the secularization of the “rectilinear irreversible Christian time”[28] in modernity such a notion of instant, produces a concept of history as progress where time is represented as “homogeneous, rectilinear and empty”[29]  continuum. Such a concept of time which is based on a fundamental notion of lack where each instant can only find its fulfillment in the next, and so on ad infinitum leads to a destructive principle of time which is subordinate to movement—“it is the measure of movement, interval or number”[30].  Instead of lack, the event as kairos unhinges time, setting it free from measure and therefore cannot be subsumed by capital as the measure of labor. Kairos is the revolutionary disruption of the continuum of history. And here we encounter the true alienness as well as singularity of his world, when Negri the militant thinker of radical difference, in his effort to move beyond dialectical negation, talks of the possible relation between the event and the void. “A complementary relation does not go through negation; rather it goes through the void. There is only one thing that faces and confronts the kairos, and that is the void. And it is on the void that the kairos builds that which brings together, that which is in common”[31]. Clearly, in his effort to move beyond Marx, but also beyond Deleuze, Negri encounters the void as the condition of possibility of the event of the multitude.

About Guattari‘s world Negri writes, “Thus there is no death; there is only the anticipation of the eternal and its becoming real. It is between singularity and the eternal that life situates itself”[32]. To follow Negri into his world, must we not echo these words and say, ‘Thus there is no death; there is only the anticipation of the void and the emergence of the event. It is between the singularity and the void that life situates itself in the pure virtuality of the multitude.’?



[1]Antonio Negri, “For Félix Guattari”, trans. Virgilio Rizzo, in Long News in the Short Century 4 (1993), p. 156

[2]Ibid., p. 156

[3] Ibid., p. 157

[4] Ibid., p.157

[5] Cesare Casarino & Antonio Negri, In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), p. 117

[6] “For Félix Guattari”, p. 156

[7]  Gilles Deleuze “Representation of Masoch” in Essays Critical and Clinical (London: Verso Books, 1998), p. 53

[8] Located across the Venice lagoon, Porto Marghera became a major center for oil refineries and chemical plants. In many ways the factories of Porto Marghera introduced Negri to the world of labor and had a seminal influence in his later political work.

[9]In Praise of the Common, p. 51

[10] Ibid., p. 176

[11] Ibid., p. 79

[12] Ibid., p. 80

[13] Ibid., p. 59

[14] Ibid., p. 62

[15] Ibid., p. 58

[16] Ibid.

[17]  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari first developed the concept of “apparatus of capture” in their 1980 book, A Thousand Plateaus. trans. Brian Massumi (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1987), pp. 424-473

[18] This would be the line of thought taken up other Italian thinkers like Giorgio Agamben and Roberto Esposito following a tradition opened by Carl Schmitt on the concept of sovereignty.

[19] Negri, p. 73

[20]  Although spread all over his later works, the notion of problematization was never developed by Foucault as a methodological question in a systematic way. For a brief but lucid exposition of what he means by “problems” see the interview “Polemics, Politics, and Problemizations: An Interview with Michel Foucault,” in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (Pantheon Books, New York, 1984), pp. 381-390

[21]In Praise of the Common, p. 104

[22] Ibid., p. 123

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., p. 128

[25] Ibid., p. 139

[26]Ibid., p. 138

[27]This idea was also developed by Deleuze and Guattari in their book A Thousand Plateaus.

[28] For a detailed analysis of the ‘instant’ and its construction of ‘continuum’ as homogeneous and quantifiable succession of instants across different concepts of time in the west see Giorgio Agamben’s 1978 essay “Time and History: Critique of the Instant and the Continuum”.  Giorgio Agamben Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience, trans. Liz Heron (Verso: London, 2007), p. 105

[29] Ibid.

[30] Gilles Deleuze, Kant’s Critical Faculties: The Doctrine of the Faculties, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Continuum: London, 2008), p. vii

[31]In Praise of the Common, p. 120

[32]Antonio Negri, “For Félix Guattari”, p. 157