Glosses on Rodrigo Karmy’s Averroes and Italian theory. by Gerardo Muñoz

These are just a few notes on Rodrigo Karmy’s excellent presentation today on Averroes and averroism in Italy in the framework of a two-month course that I am teaching at 17 instituto on contemporary Italian political thought. And this series is a way to supplement and contribute to an ongoing discussion. So, these notes have no pretensions of being exhaustive, but rather to leave in writing some instances that could foster the discussion further in the subsequent interventions with Philippe Theophanidis, Francesco Guercio and Idris Robinson. There are two subtexts to this presentation: Rodrigo Karmy’s essay on Averroes and medieval theology of the person published in the new collection Averroes intempestivo (Doblea editores, 2022), and his preface to my own Tras la política on Italian thinkers forthcoming at some point this year (this text is unpublished at the moment).

1. Rodrigo Karmy is interested in advancing an averroist genealogy of Italian theory, and not just a matter of historical influence or history of ideas. The genealogical central unity for Karmy is the “commentary”, which I guess one could relate to the gloss, but also to philology (in the broad sense), and to the concrete practice of translation and incorporation of a way of thinking about life and the life of thought. Averroes is the signatura of a strong reading of Aristotle (the strongest argues Karmy against Renan). However, there is no academic ideal here, but rather a force of thought.

2. This force of thinking for Karmy is to be found in Averroes’ unique contribute on the Aristotelean text: the common intellect is substance. This will have important and decisive consequences for anthropology and the anthropological determination in Medieval philosophy (the absolutization of the person in Thomism, for instance). So, for Karmy it is no coincidence that Italian theory is heavily invested in the “common intellect”: from Mario Tronti’s elaboration on the autonomy of the worker to Antonio Negri’s general intellect when conflating Marx and Spinoza, but also in Esposito’s thought on the impolitical up to Giorgio Agamben’s self-serving averroism and its relation to experience of language and poetry as a form of life. The common intellect in Averroes allows, then, the separation of the the nominal subject from the genus of Man or Human. For Karmy this signals a fracture of the theological-political paradigm.

3. Why does Averroes emerge in Italian theory, and not, say, in French philosophy or German hermeneutics? Karmy relates this to the Italian tradition as a laboratory of translation, sedimentation, and the commentary. To which I responded that this is consistent with Bodei’s emphasis on fragmentation of the Italian tradition, Esposito’s idea of contamination of Italian living thought, and even Agmben’s most recent emphasis of diglossia and bilingualism in the Italian language from Dante onwards (in fact, Agamben is the editor of the Ardilut series on Italian poetry at Quodlibet). I tried to add to Karmy’s thesis the following: the notion of the “commentary” is far from being just a standard glossing over the corpus of an author, it could be very well taken as a sort of problem of language – a poetics, not a politics – which expresses a dynamic of the living that is prior to grammaticalization and political separation of power, for instance. This is the event of a language as such (una voce). It occurs to me that Karmy’s notion of the commentary could be analogous to the vocative in poetry (formidable present in Andrea Zanzotto’s poetics, for instance).

4. Finally, Karmy insisted that Averroes is, indeed, a sort of step back from the modern foundation of politics and the res publica. I suggested that this must entail a decisive step back from Machiavellian politics, or the ‘Machiavellian moment’ (JGA Pocock), insofar as Machiavelli inaugurates the sequence of technical nihilism from the force the political to the force of the worker (ways of arranging the administration of power). This is very neatly stated in Martin Heidegger’s seminar on Jünger’s The Worker. So, Averroes insofar as it gestures to a step back is something other than political republicanism, and this forces us to rethink the genealogy of politics. That seems a heavy but important task at the core of contemporary Italian theory.

A few remarks about Giorgio Agamben’s theory of civil war. by Gerardo Muñoz

In the conference “The Undercommons & Destituent Power”, I was particularly interested in a suggestion made by Idris Robinson regarding the status of the theory of civil war in Giorgio Agamben’s work. I think Robinson’s position on this problem pushes thought forward, and it allows me say a little more about a possible transfiguration of politics, a sort of unsaid in many of the recent discussions. There are at least two levels that I would like to address: the first one is philological, and the second one is more speculative. The moment that I want to dwell upon specifically is when Robinson claimed that Giorgio Agamben at some point abandoned the question of “civil war”. Robinson is right. There is no mention about civil war, insurrectional politics, or even forms of direct political strategy in the endgame of L’uso dei corpi (Neri Pozza, 2014). Indeed, in this book it is as if the “concrete political” horizon is transformed by recasting a modal ontology, a theory of use, and an archeology of “form of life”. My hypothesis, however, is that the logistics of civil war never fully disappear, since it is explored through other regional quadrants of the tradition. In other words, one should understand civil war as fold within the signatura of potentiality. This is an important point of departure since, early in Homo Sacer, we thought that the vortex of the project was going to be the critique of sovereignty; but, on the contrary, it ended up being an archeology of the notion of potentiality. Thus, in a way, civil war is to war what potentiality (dunamis) is to actuality (energeia). 

But the question of civil war never truly disappears. In a new gloss included in the Italian “integral edition” (Quodlibet, 2018) entitled “Nota sulla guerra, il gioco, e il nemico”, Agamben thematizes the concept of war in a way that sheds light to the problem of civil war. Agamben starts by pointing to the circularity of war and enmity in Schmitt’s theory of the political. For Schmitt – says Agamben – enmity “presupposes” [Voraussetzung] war, insofar as war is the condition for every enmity distinction [1]. Agamben continues to say that war and enmity converge in the same doctrine of the political: politics is always about war. However, the important metaphysical ingredient here is that war brings about a “serious” dimension to the political. So, state and politics, by means of seriousness (war), deters the influence of the “society of entertainment”, play, and the end of order. The legitimacy of war in Schmitt is weighted by a neo-Hobbesian maximization of “total war”. However, Agamben invites to take a step back. This is important, because at this point enters Johan Huizinga’s critique of Schmitt’s concept of the political, which reminds us war is constitutive of the ludic sphere that suspends all seriousness of politics rooted in enmity. So, it is war’s capacity to translate “political seriousness” what generates a politics of sacrifice proper to bare life. 

Unlike war, civil war would be a “zone of indetermination” (an event of human separation) that is more at home in play than in political action. Civil war is, each and every time, irreducible to war as the central conflict of human existence, since it stands for the free-playing interactions between forms of life as they come into inclination and divergence without ever being domesticated to a regulatory war. I take this also to be consistent with Agamben’s theory of comedy as an unthought site of Western metaphysics, which works against the tragic (constitutive to destiny), but also against war (constitutive of the political). This stasiological theory insofar as it expresses the movement of potentiality, it’s also an exodus from desire. This is why for Agamben the figure (gestalt) of the “coming politics” or a transfigured politics, is not the militant but a sort of puppet, as he writes in his book the character of Pulcinella. The comic texture of form of life leaves the epoch of tragic titanism behind. It is now expression or style what colors the outside to a politics of desire, which is always substantiated on a lack. Pulcinella does not desire anything, but only “seeks a way out”. The civil war, then, is the moment in which the comic destitutes the fiction of the subject into a form of life. This is why, as Julien Coupat has recently argued, that the role of the police is to watch and intervene at the moment when the game of civil war breaks out. The taskforce of the police become the exercise of the flattening of civil war into the grammar of war that regulates the very functioning of social order [2].




1. Giorgio Agamben. “Nota sulla guerra, il gioco e il nemico”, in Homo Sacer: Edizione Integrale (Quodlibet, 2018). 296-310.

2. Julien Coupat. “Engrenages, fiction policière”, in Police (La Fabrique, 2020).