An Essay on Negation

For a Linguistic Anthropology

Paolo Virno

Translated by Lorenzo Chiesa


5 x 8.5 inches, 232pp. May 2018

ISBN : 9780857424389

Rs  599.00 (HB)
$27.50 (HB)
£19.50 (HB)

Buy (HB)

As speaking animals, we continuously make use of an unassuming grammatical particle, without suspecting that what is at work in its inconspicuousness is a powerful apparatus, which orchestrates language, signification and the world at large. The syntactic connective is the 'not'. Its importance is perhaps comparable only with that of money, that is, the universality of exchange. Negation is what separates verbal though from silent cognitive operations, such as feelings and mental images.


Speaking about what is not happening here and now, or about properties that are not referable to a given object, the human animal deactivates its original neuronal empathy, which is pre-linguistic. It distances itself from the prescriptions of its instinctual endowment and accesses a higher sociality, negotiated and unstable, which establishes the public sphere. In fact, the speaking animal soon learns that the negative statement does not amount to the linguistic double of unpleasant realities or destructive emotions—while it rejects them, negation also names them and thus includes them in social life. 


Virno sees negation as a crucial effect of civilization, one that is also always exposed to further regressions. Taking his cue from a humble word, the author is capable of unfolding the unexpected phenomenology of the negating consciousness.

Paolo Virno is an Italian philosopher and a prominent figure among contemporary Marxist thinkers. He teaches philosophy of language at the University of Rome. Some of his recent works include A Grammar of the Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation (2008), When the Word Becomes Flesh: Language and Human Nature (2015) and Déjà Vu and the End of History (2015).


Lorenzo Chiesa is director of the Genoa School of Humanities and visting professor at the European University at St Petersburg, Russia. Author of volumes on psycholoanalysis and on political theory, he has also translated books of Giorgio Agamben and Paolo Virno into English and of Slavoj Žižek into Italian.

Literary Theory
Literary Criticism
Italian List