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The article deals with the history of the concept of negativity in western thought. While reproducing the classical approaches in all essential details, the text exceeds the encyclopedia format of encyclopedia since it seeks to describe and systematize the main features of negation as a logical and linguistic operator: its asymmetry with affirmation; its incompletion and infinity; its latency in alternation with hyperbolic repetition. Further, in its reliance on Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel, the article emphasizes the crucial role of inversion (correlative, contrary or real opposition) as a scheme and practical realization of negation. The history of negation is then anchored in the socio-political context, where it is shown to be a necessary form of subjectivization in the late modernity, with its excess of inescapable being.

This article discusses Walter Benjamin’s thought-figure of the messianic. Reading his enigmatic “Theological-Political Fragment” (ca. 1921), I argue that the messianic is an inaccessible relation, an unmediated non-relation “in between” the historical and the messianic. Taking my cue from Giorgio Agamben’s reading of messianic time as the remaining time that lies and insists within the “cut of the cut” of the realm of the profane and the messianic, I examine the nature of this messianic “in-between-ness” through Benjamin’s early studies on Hermann Cohen, co-founder of the Marburg school of Neo-Kantianism. It is in Cohen where we can find a philosophical structure that allows us to think the messianic as an a-relation simultaneously separating and connecting the historical order of the profane and the coming of the messianic kingdom (section I). Reading the messianic as an a-relation, I trace back the structure of this separating connection to a messianic nothingness. This non-reflexive “non-nullified nothingness” un-mediates, and, ultimately, short-circuits the historical and the messianic, relating the former to the latter by introducing a minimal cut—an irreducible nothing, a messianic crack—into the order of the profane (section II). If the order of the profane has to be established on the idea of happiness, and the messianic rhythm of this profane order is happiness as the eternal downfall of everything worldly, the task of a truly profane politics is to strive nihilistically for this a-teleological downfall, that is, for the unbinding, the liberation of the messianic nothingness that groundlessly grounds the a-relation of the messianic and the historical (section III).

The contemporary theoretical moment is dominated by "affirmationism," as the affirming of a superior economy of excess that can inscribe and rupture any actual economy. This article reconstructs and critiques this affirmationism through an analysis of how it subordinates negativity as trapped within a restricted economy, and insists on a "savage negativity" that escapes all relation. I do so by retracing the core features of affirmationism and particularly its turn to the forces of creativity and play, figured through literature, posed against the "labor of the negative." Probing this downgrading of "labor," as a result of the collapse of worker’s identity, I suggest that it results in a fatal detachment of negativity from any political or social instantiation. Instead, the return to negativity must be a return to the possible relational forms of negativity that attend to the impossibility of labor within capitalism.

Plato’s dialectic of essence and appearance is not a two-world metaphysics of phenomenon and noumenon but a formal dualism of idea (eidos) and body (soma). This formal dualism provides the necessary precondition for materialist monism. By breaking Parmenides’ interdiction on thinking that which is not, Plato suspends the equation of thinking with being and winnows substance from idea. Concomitant with Plato’s metaphysics of negation is a certain negation of metaphysics understood as tautological iteration of the equivalence thinking: being. In acknowledging that what is not, somehow is, we are also bound to recognize that what is, somehow is not. Conversely, those brands of metaphysical materialism that deny non-being unwittingly consecrate the idealist fusion of thinking with being. Thus Plato’s exposure of the entwinement of being and non-being in thinking about what is harbors an instructive rejoinder to those contemporary sophists who deny the norm of truth in order to affirm the immanence of being.

This paper’s point of departure is the idea that the negativity of contemporary philosophy corresponds to the negativity of comedy. After a brief review of the metaphysical hierarchy of being and of poetic genres, three competing contemporary concepts of negativity are proposed and discussed with examples from theory and comedy: torsion, lacuna, and contraction. Torsion refers to any concept of decline that constitutes being and is demonstrated in Althusser’s use of the Epicurean clinamen. In comedy, torsion refers to comic uses of the fluidity of sexuality. Furthermore, lacuna refers to an ontological gap or hiatus, and can be seen at work in the Lacanian concept of the phallus. Accordingly, the comedy of the lacuna is a comedy of detachable phallic objects. Finally, contraction is a concept from the Deleuzian ontology of the virtual and is exemplified by the elasticity of language.

Hegel, the “philosopher of negation” par excellence, took great care throughout his speculative enterprise to distinguish between opposite stances of the negative, highlighting and differentiating the multiple modes through which negativity deploys itself. And although, in the Phenomenology of Spirit, he celebrated the “tremendous power of the negative” and the constitutive function performed by negativity as the fundamental motion of being, thinking, and acting, he nonetheless developed a harsh critique of Romantic irony’s negative Stimmung. This article, by focusing on the peculiar exercise of negativity that the philosopher attributes to Romantic irony in the Aesthetics and his “Review of Solger’s Posthumous Writings and Correspondence” (1828), investigates Hegel’s characterization of irony as vanity (Eitelkeit). Hegel’s critical understanding of vanity, in fact, conveys a significant political stance regarding the very concept of negation, one that warns against the apolitical retreat into both narcissism and nihilism.

In this paper, I analyze some aspects of Hegelian and post-Hegelian thought in order to demonstrate how the concepts of animality and negativity intersect in philosophical reflections on nature. In the first part, I consider the figure of the animal in Hegel’s work and show its necessary relation to negativity. In the second part, I return to Georges Bataille and Alexander Kojève’s discussion of the end of history, where negativity appears with a human face, as something that leaves animals behind. Finally, in the third part, I justify the animal’s claims on negativity as a force of transformation and change through a peculiar political ontology of the fish.

Alexei Losev dared to make the radical gesture of integrating Platonist hermeneutics into modern thinking by turning to the genuine tradition of ancient Platonism, especially to the works of Iamblichus and Proclus. The article compares the dialectical approaches of Hegel and Losev, and analyzes the problem of negativity in dialectical discourse. The eidetic dialectic of part and whole, based on the contemplative and anagogical mode of cognition, is considered as a real alternative to negative reductionism and nihilism in contemporary philosophy.