Glosses on Idris Robinson on Enzo Melandri’s logic of analogy. by Gerardo Muñoz

This is the final entry on the mini-series of interventions within the framework of the course that I am teaching at 17 instituto on contemporary Italian political thought. In this last fourth installment we had a very rich and productive conversation with Idris Robinson (University of New Mexico) on the philosophy of work of logic developed by the Italian thinker Enzo Melandri. Melandri’s work remains largely unknown, aside from the recent new editions of his major works at Quodlibet, and the recent monograph Le Forme Dell’Analogia: Studi Sulla Filosofia Di Enzo Melandri (2014) by Angelo Bonfanti. Idris’ doctoral dissertation (hopefully a book in the near future) will be a major contribution in a rising interest on Melandri’s work on logic, politics, and history, and its dialogues with the work of Wittgenstein, Foucault, and Agamben. As Idris Robinson recalled, the work of Melandri would have been entirely unknown if it weren’t for Agamben’s book on method, Signatura rerum, which uses Melandri’s work on analogy and paradigms as conditions for his own archeological method. This whole terrain remains to be explored, as Philippe Theophanidis suggested, given that it has been for the most part ignored in all the main works on the Agamben’s thought (including Villacañas’ otherwise excellent essay on method, history, and archaeology in the recent collective volume that I edited). But to the extent that Enzo Melandri’s work remains to be translated into English, Idris’ lecture serves as an important introduction to some of the key elements of his work, even if there is a lot to fill in and discuss from now on. All of the questions regarding Agamben’s method should emerge from this terrain, rather than the exhausted and ambiguous mantra of “critical theory”.

1. First, Idris Robinson suggested that Melandri’s central contribution departed from the distinction of two major path of Western logic: linear logic, which comes full circle in symbolic logic and formalization at the turn of the twentieth century (Russell, Frege, Wittgenstein); and analogical logic, which remains suppressed, but subterranean latency for problems of bivalence and the excluded middle against all preconditions of the identity-difference polarity. Like Agamben would later do with his rereading of energeia/dunamis opposition in Aristotle, Melandri was also a strong reader of Aristotle’s logic and the categories in order to advance a series of logical alternatives (not by any means the only ones, and not necessarily distributed equally): a) a different conception of the principle of identity (p / -p), b) gradations of contradictions (p / -p), c) inclusion of a middle or third as failure of bivalence, d) continuity and gradation, and e) the equivocity of meaning. All of these should not be taken at face value or even as complete abandonment of linear logic. Needless to say, these elements supply analogic logic an exit from linear reductions of formal logic and its presuppositions on the grounds of identity and negation to secure general ends and goods. By working within the paradigm of analogy, Melandri is said to account for indetermination and modality, which do not divide form and matter as opposites as in the linear model of the Aristotelian canons of medieval philosophy (Aquinas as its foremost representative) to the more analytical models of twentieth century logic.

2. The work of analogical logic allows Idris Robison to take up the question of form (he referred to it as morphology) as a problem of experience and specular observation of the world. Essentially this is the difference between Goethe and Newton in their explorations of colors, whereas the paradigmatic assumptions of Goethe aligned him with the logic of analogy by favoring deviations, gradation, and middle terms when thinking about the sensible problem of colors as an immanent series in nature (a method continued in Benjamin’s constellation images in his study of nineteenth century, but one could also think of Aby Warburg’s pathosformel as index of Western Art). Whereas Newton made an experiment and deduced the range of colors from a prism; Goethe was able to engage in observation (Idris alluded to his descriptions in his Italian diaries entries) in changing phenomena and organize it as such.

3. As a methodological question, what is important is how the paradigm becomes the unity for regulating (perhaps not the happiest of words) and constructing the indeterminate zone between thinking and the world, and in this way avoiding the abyss of pure relativism (or the arbitrary, I would also add). In this sense, the Goethe example stands for the problem of paradigm, but it does not necessarily entail – at least in my view – that his work is in itself free-standing for analogical transformation of life and thought. At the end of the day, Goethe is also famous for claiming that “All theory is gray, forever green is the tree of life”, which could explain why Giorgio Agamben in his most recent book on Holderlin’s final year juxtaposes the chronicle of Hölderlin modal and dwelling life (the parataxis is analogic poetics with respect to language) with the diplomatic and successful life of Goethe (the linear logic here could also be transposed with the ideal of destiny becoming ‘political’, as it is appears in his meeting with Napoleon). In any case, the logic of analogy and the reduction of paradigms becomes crucial to account for two distinct problems (at least this is my first reading, and I am in no way speaking on behalf of Idris Robinson’s thesis): to hold on to a stratification of history (open to configuration of mediums – images); and, on the other, a ground for logic, but only insofar as they are neither at the level of historical necessity and negation (philosophy of history), nor about linear logic that dispenses moral ends according to some “natural law”. From this premises, it should be interesting to explore Agamben’s archeology and ethics as a third path that diverges from both rationalization and the moral standing of understanding the just or the good.

4. Finally, I think two major problems emerge from a first preliminary confrontation with Melandri’s work, which we are only beginning to see how they “operate” in Agamben work, although at some point one should also confront the work on its own merits: on the one hand, the logic of analogy provides us with a truly historical method that is sensible to forms and stratification of the imagination that does not depend on conceptual history (in the manner of R. Koselleck), and even less on teleological historical progression. At the level of content, the analogical paradigm is consistent with trumping (suggested by Philippe Theophanidis) the hylomorphic conjunction of Western metaphysics, and thus contributing to a logical infrastructure for the form of life that abandons the primacy of ends and realization. What could this design entail for the transformation of our political categories? Does this necessarily imply that analogical legislating is always about political ontology! Does it require interpretation or a qualification of truth-validity? Or rather, does analogy favors the event instead of formal principles that have subsumed the grammar of politics and its negations (yes, also revolutionary politics, a problem also present in Della Sala’s paper)? Sure, extrapolating these questions to the field of politics is perhaps too hasty to fully repeal deontological concerns. Perhaps analogical analysis requires, precisely, a distance from the subsumption of political ontology at the center of thought. But to be able to answer these questions we need to further explore the work of Melandri. Idris Robinson’s lecture has provided us an excellent starting point§.



§ Idris Robinson’s intervention on Melandri and the discussion should be available in the next days at the 17/instituto YouTube channel.

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