Conversations

To insist on the theory of the Metropolis is for Cacciari the full, almost physical awareness of the fact that cultural analysis cannot eschew political work. To insist on the Metropolis means to grasp, via the urban theme so important in Benjamin, the most basic Marxist touchstones: the factory, capital, the cycle of money and goods, State organization as the foundation of political economy. As Benjamin understands it, there is continuity from factory work to metropolitan life. He compares the uniformity Poe saw in the attire, behavior, and facial expressions, of the metropolitan crowd to the uniformity Marx of industrial labor, where in the assembly line the workers have to move like automatons.19 The Metropolis, Cacciari insists, is a system, "a multi-articulated urban type—a comprehensive service ... a qualified organization of the labor force: a scientific reserve-supply for industrial growth; a financial structure; a market: and the all-inclusive center of political power." The Metropolis implies the physical space of the city as well as the network of ideological constructions of different kinds around it; it em bodies both the awareness of urban proletariat and the abstract dimension of work: the reality of the factory and the sophisticated cycle of the circulation of money.

The theory of the Metropolis, combined with the militant practice in the factory at the time when Italy experienced its own industrial revolution through workers' struggles, confronts the devouring strength of advanced capital that is capable of restructuring itself through its own crisis, the conflicts antagonizing it. The Cacciarian theory perceives crisis as fundamental to capitalist development; then the point becomes, in strictly militant terms, how to use it, how to make the crisis functional to the working class and not to the capital. For the sake of cultural analysis it is worthwhile to identify tendencies and formulate, as suggested by Contropiano's editorial, "a clear and totally demystified description of the object to be known." In this way Cacciari perceived negative thought and a dialectic of it, or negative thought in motion.

In his essay "On the Genesis of Negative Thought," Cacciari analyzes Schopenhauer, Kirkegaard, and Nietzsche as the thinkers of negative thought. Their critical readings of Hegel marks the beginning "of a rigorous systematization of an anti-dialectical thought."20 Cacciari opposes dialectics and negative thought. Dialectics is historically positive, operates in a logical and temporal order, synthesizes everything, even what appears as "eccentric" or unfamiliar "to the structure, needs and purposes of that order."21 Cacciari states that, in contrast to this positive side of dialectics, he calls "negative" that mode of thought that rejects the dialectical synthesis and tries to determine as central what is eccentric, what is crisis. The purely philosophical analysis encompasses ideological awareness, as Cacciari continues: "There is no doubt that the opposition [of what he defines, that is, negative thought] to dialectics means the criticism of the ideological and social structure of the bourgeois system, as well as the refusal to be integrated positively and actively in its process of rationalization."22 At this point takes place a switch that is not a reversal but what can be caEed a leap, or better a trembling (to borrow a term used by Roland Barthes—when he wants to say that when we speak we are condemned to signify, he finds that language is "tremblé de sens,"

(trembles with meaning). The trembling of negative thought makes it the most refined engine of the development of the system it wants to reject. Negative thought becomes functional in the system exactly because it is.capable of interrogating all the nonfunctional—today we would say marginal—elements that cannot be synthetically absorbed into the system itself. Cacciari leaps to the extreme consequence: "Precisely because of its negativity, of its obstinate radical refusal of bourgeois system and ideology, the anti-dialectic thought can present itself as ideological function of this same system."23 Cacciari, in his philosophical investigation, was echoing Antonio Negri's inquiry on economy and law. In the first issue of Contropiano, Negri launches his reading of 1929 and John Maynard Keynes:

[The year] 1929 represents a moment of exceptional importance. .. 1929 sweeps away even the nostalgia for those values that 1917 destroyed. In the black Thursday of Wall Street, in the catastrophic falling down of the Stock Exchange, are rightly falling the state myths, the political myths of a century of renewed bourgeois hegemony on the working class It is the end of laissez-faire The beginning of a new period in the history of the contemporary state is marked by the fact that, in this already socialized world, the recognition of the emergency of the working class—and of the ineliminable character of this antagonism—can no longer be denied The capitalist reconstruction of the state is conceived on the discovery of the radical antagonism of the working class."24

But in addition to this conversation with Negri's economic analysis, Cacciari was pinpointing, in what I called the trembling of negative thought, the tragedy of any radical thought, from the political radicals like Marx, obsessed by the fact that he had to use the language of capitalism, to the poetic or aesthetic radicals like Baudelaire who knew the devouring shocks of irony.

Cacciari's interpretation of the German sociologists continues that of Schopenhauer, Kirkegaard, and Nietzsche, while the Nietzschean insight is integrated in "The Dialectics of the Negative and the Metropolis." Both Simmel and Benjamin reached the negativity of the Metropolis, but at a different level and with different implications.

According to Cacciari, Simmel grasped the metropolitan "nervous life," that disagregation of subjectivity typical of the modern. He pictured the violence of the process of intellectualization that determines every gesture in the metropolitan reality. But Simmel could not stand up to the most radical consequences of what he himself perceived: at the very limit of modern tragedy, he found the signs of the freedom and development of humankind. He found the individual, and not the capitalist machine that grinds away all possible human condition, all possible synthesis. Therefore Simmel operated an ideological construction, where the Metropolis ended up being human, like the community, the city, the big consumer city, as in the past. Close to Simmel is Lukacs, reader of Simmel, who, although he perceived the impressionistic character of the German sociologist, tamed the sharpness of negative thought considering the literary form of tragedy as the form of essence—whereas there is no essence in negative thought, only leaps and points of breaking off. Benjamin, moving up from the position of Simmel, perceived the radical negativity of the Metropolis. Together with Benjamin, Nietzsche appears in "The Dialectics of the Negative and the Metropolis" as the one who did not return to nostalgic positions of synthesis and fully understood the inevitability of tragedy with no hope of consolation.

Cacciari is actually interested in two positions that can be called almost negative and fully negative: the Utopian and the tragic; or the synthetic and the radical; or one oriented toward historical continuity and one embracing crisis as the engine of changes that defy programmatic prediction. Nevertheless, the failure of prediction should not be interpreted as the tendency toward an irrational explosion or as the praise of irrational forces. Cacciari is suspicious of immediacy even in political fights, and, as a philosopher interested in a critique of ideology, he rejects as ideological construction any irrationalist interpretation even of the Romantic period—of Novalis and Schlegel— that precedes what he calls negative thought.25 No rhizomes, no philosophy of imagination au pouvoir (imagination in power) in the Italian theory of the Metropolis.26 The reader should then be aware that there are two types of rationality or rationalizations: one positive, hopeful, sunny, even if in contact with modern negativity, and the other dark, with no hope, no nostalgia, no projects, but endlessly at work as a process of rationalization, capable of integrating the failure of reason into its total rationalization. As Cacciari phrases it in his 1980 Oppositions article, "The uprooted spirit of the Metropolis is not 'sterile' but productive par excellence."27

Many rapprochements are possible, connecting the theory of the Metropolis to other important European trends of the sixties and the seventies, fashionable in the States since the eighties. One could disregard what I would call more internal discrepancies and, in a sort of flight over the most important theories of the second half of the twentieth century, see the proximity of Cacciari's philosophy with Derrida's, as if Cacciari constructed a-deconstructionist thought not on language but on the allegory of the Metropolis. The Derridian input is justified both by Cacciari's emphasis on difference and by the fact that Cacciari was introduced to Derrida's work by his aesthetics' professor at the University of Padua, Dino Formaggio. One can also see, in spite of Cacciari's short critical note against Lacan in part I, some affinity with the Lacanian project. What else is Lacan's psychoanlytical theory, after all, if not the last, gigantic rationalist effort, the more so because his unconscious is at work exactly where the cogito fails? All these are theories of reason below degree zero, where the old reassuring rationality is broken and negativity colors everything with its dark hue. But there is no alternative, no hymn toward irrational forces finally liberated after the oppression. Such is the harsh law of negative thought.

The various authors mentioned by Cacciari would finally enter either in the position of the quasi-negative or in that of the fully-negative thought. But Cacciari's ability—and difficulty—lies in that he is constantly juggling with that unbalanced point where one position drastically changes into the other. The reader follows Simmel for several pages as example of negative thought, while Cacciari gives a voice to that negative thought; at the same time they hear another voice combined with Simmel's—Cacciari's voice—and they are already warned by a few sentences here and there that the German sociologist will not finally reach the fullness of the negative. When the reader gets to Benjamin and Nietzsche, he or she is brought back to the almost negative position by the rich debate within the Werkbund, by the reading of Goethe, by the critique of Lukacs as a reader of Simmel.

Cacciari's philosophy offers an insight to all those who believe that architecture is, more than constructing a building, a complex act condensing visible and invisible political and ideological implications, aesthetic and moral choices. Cacciari does not help those who want more detailed information about Vienna, the German Werkbund, Loos, or Benjamin, although he offers a daring interpretation of all these figures and movements, sketching what Pierre Bourdieu would call an intellectual field where various agents take up various positions.28 In Cacciari's lectures and essays always resounds a tone that does not come from the quiet of the classroom nor the peace of the library. Sure, one can find the obscurantism and the love for abstract terms typical of philosophy (one would perhaps say, in the States, Continental philosophy), but this attitude is the most superficial flavor of Cacciari's writing. One should see in it the power of a cutting word or a condensed sentence that needs to reach a conclusion when agreement is urgent to come to a decision, to conclude a final negotiation.

Cacciari's style does not have the political illusion of the avant-garde: changing the world through language, or feeling different, radical because a few oppositional stereotypes are combined with an approved set of references and quotations. His language is broken by the practice of political activism in the real world, and shows the existence of an untenable contradiction: the fact that there is a cultivated, preposterous language for professors and that there are words burning with action, loaded with work and rage, and nevertheless controlled, intellectual in their formulation. Cacciari's words aim at a political effect, a cold reason overcoming the simplistic opposition of victory and defeat, while continuing a precarious balance, veering to identify the right targets. Cacciari's rhetoric, perhaps even more brutal in English, cannot obey the rules of radiant clarity and soft persuasion of the ancient polis. His style recaptures the spoken word in the Metropolis where there is no warmth for passions nor peace for reflection, but the anguish to master reality, failing which, one is overwhelmed by the traffic, the crowd, the unexpected event. In the Metropolis, unlike the polis, meetings do not take place in a reassuring public space but in a hall next to the noise of the assembly line, next to the acid smell of chemical products. The rhythm of metropolitan life and metropolitan relations is embodied in Cacciari's language, in the spasms of allusions, ellipses, endless inverted commas and italics, harsh German philosophical terms used every two lines without translation as if they were provocatorily breaking the classical musi-cality of Italian vowels. This language, continuously chopped in short sentences obsessively constructed on the third person singular of the verb to be, is disturbing, nonharmonious, violent; it carries the trace of the harshness of metropolitan life, what Baudelaire called:

l'heure ou sous les cieux Froids et clairs le Travail s'eveille, ou la voirie Pousse un sombre ouragan dans l'air silencieux (The hour when, under the cold and clear skies, Work is waking up, when works in the streets Scream like a dark tornado in the silent atmosphere.)29

The reader should hear in Cacciari's difficult, nervous, broken, repetitive style the echo of discussions in moments of struggle, the raising of the voice when the contractual tension comes to a crucial point; the sharpness of a political assurance that corners those who think differently and are not as quick as the speaker; the pauses to let other people talk, while the speaker is nevertheless thinking about his next intervention in that effort of listening and at the same time mentally organizing his own reply; the hammering of a conviction that must become evident and effective in lobbying. In the fights in factories, where a minute is money for both workers and capitalists, there is no time for demagogic effects nor for the seduction of great humanitarian visions. Even political rage has to be controlled, intellectual: it aims to the metallic clarity of figures. Everything has the dryness of a contract, the cruel logic of a negotiation under pressure, in a confrontational peak, where no passion is allowed because it would create confusion. The Italian autunno caldo (warm fall)

of 1969, the period of violent strikes that lead to new agreements between workers and capital, left its indelible imprint in Cacciari's style. That imprint will also mark his later books, even if they seem so far away from the preoccupations of the sixties and seventies.

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