Haecceity as intervention

In the recently published translation of Roberto Esposito’s The Third Person is this remarkable passage (148-149) found in the section on The Event (it is a large extract below that ends with the block quote from ATP):


The individuation of life, of a life, is not the same as the individuation of a personal subject. The category of ‘haecceity’ intervenes between the two. It, too, designates something – individuating it – that is very particular, but not necessarily a person, a thing, or a substance. A season or a time of day, for example, are haecceities that are just as determinate as individuals as such; but they are not coextensive with them – just like a shower of rain, a gust of wind, or a ray of moonlight. What these connote, besides their movement due to the combination of their molecules, is a capacity to be composed with other forces, due to which they undergo an effect (or an affect), thereby being transformed and transforming the others into more complex individualities, themselves subject to the possibility of further metamorphoses. A degree of temperature can be combined with a certain intensity of whiteness, just as this may combine with a surface to the point of being identified with it. What changes with respect to the plane of the subjects, besides a certain spatiality that is irreducible to predefined boundaries, is a temporality that does not have the stable form of presence, but rather the form of the event, extending between past and future. Haecceity never has an origin or an end – it is not a point: it is a line of slippage and assemblage [concatenamento]. It is made up not of people and things, but of speeds, affects, and transitions; just as semiotics is composed of proper nouns, verbs in the infinitive, and indefinite pronouns. Haecceity is composed of third persons, traversed and liberated by the power of the impersonal:

The HE does not represent a subject but rather makes a diagram of an assemblage. It does not overcode statements, it does not transcend them as do the first two persons; on the contrary, it prevents them from falling under the tyranny of subjective or signifying constellations, under the regime of empty redundancies. [ATP, 265]


Esposito isolates something very interesting here, regarding the category of ‘haecceity’ and its intervention between the individuation of life and the individuation of a personal subject.

In Empire, Negri and Hardt argue that the ‘possible’ resides in the passage from the virtual to the actual, and that the art of politics is to operate upon the possible to create and affirm a new politics and a different passage.

Esposito is capturing a different relation here, where ‘haecceity’ is a dimension of all assemblages. Properly I’d call ‘haecceity’ the being of event, and what Esposito is describing in the above passage is the part of Deleuze and Guattari’s work that conceptualised a sense of events that cannot be easily, if at all, reconciled to “a person, a thing, or a substance”.

Deleuze and Guattari’s ATP can be read as a masterful exploration of ‘scale’ in both extensive and intensive, and they basically furnish readers with a conceptual vocabulary to assist in this. Esposito is highlighting the importance of the concept of ‘haecceity’ for thinking about the concrescence (to borrow a term from Whitehead, but using it in a different way) of different impersonalities. The impersonal of the season or time of day is expressed (through assemblages, as elements of assemblages) with the impersonal dimension of a life, which in a normative sense belongs to a person.

The question of scale here is important, but very difficult to sufficiently discuss, as language conspires discussion to be locked into ‘objects’ and ‘things’. Esposito is indicating a certain combination across both intensive and extensive scales that does not belong to subjects or to objects, and it is not the pure fourth-person singular of the event of the chaosmos; it is somewhere in between. This is very important when trying to think events, as it is too easy to be trapped in a reduction (back-formed from language) that reduces events to things or objects, with the most recent form of this found in most variants of OOO. A more nuanced account of events is required for a number of reasons, least of which is for an adequate grasp of ontology. Haecceity as concrescence of different impersonalities is a move towards such an account.

12 thoughts on “Haecceity as intervention”

  1. Good catch Glen. Also don’t know if you’ve seen it, but Negri walks back the notion that the possible somehow resides between virtual and actual in his interviews with Cesare Casarino in the book “In Praise of the Common.” When Casarino asks Negri to clarify this mediation of the virtual/actual by the possible, Negri says: “Well, if that’s what we wrote, I immediately recant! If there is any possible mediation — which is then no longer a mediation at all — that is power itself. And this power needs to be understood in two ways at once: on the one hand, it must be singularized as unrepeatability, and, on the other hand, it must be universalized in its being instrument or tool. I believe that this concept of tooling [utensileria] — which is very important in Gilbert Simondon and which one can see here and there also in A Thousand Plateaus — is fundamental for a materialist reading of singularity and its power” (p.143). This chapter on ‘Vicissitudes of Constituent Thought” from the book is terrific for lots of clarification, and lots of potential resonance/dissonance with OOO (I suppose).

  2. Hi Greg!

    Your comment made me return to Empire for a look, and a good thing too as I was remembering the argument of Empire incorrectly. My comment above really collapses a whole section from Empire, and I thought they talked about the virtual and the actual, but it is the virtual and the real, as per the interview (which changes my neo-Kantian or quasi-Foucaultian way reading of Empire). First bit:

    “By the vitual we understand the set of powers to act (being, loving, transforming, creating) that reside in the multitude. We have already see how the multitude’s virtual set of powers is constructed by struggles and consolidated in desire. Now we have to investigate how the virtual can put pressure on the borders of the possible, and thus touch on the real. The passage from the virtual therough the possible to the real is the fundamental act of creation.” (357)

    Closer to what Negri is saying in the interview is this section a litle later:
    “From the ontological perspective, imperial command is purely negative and passive. Certainly power is everywhere, but it is everywhere because everywhere is in play the nexus between virtuality and possibility, a nexus that is the sole province of the multitude; it is a parasite that draws its vitality from the multitude’s capacity to create ever new sources of energy and value.” (361)

    Last bit, about the role of political struggle:
    “In Empire the political struggle over the definition of machniic virtuality, or really over the different alternatives of the passage between the virtual and the real, is a central terrain of struggle. This new terrain of production and life opens for labor a future of metamorphoses that subjective cooperation can and must control ethically, politically, and productively.” (367)

    Also, his comments you quote above about Simondon resonate with this comment at the end of the same section in Empire:
    “Here is where a materialist telos is defined, founded on the action of singularities, a teleology that is resultant of the res gestae [things done] and a figure of the machinic logic of the multitude.” (369)

    I think this point has filtered into my subconscious as I was thinking about this, actually in the context of Negri’s “Kairos” essay from Time for Revolution, for another article I am writing regarding the character of ‘know-how’ in the garage and thinking about the garage as an assemblage for a certain kind of embodied (gendered, etc) thought-action. The teleology of action is predicated on a gestural ‘moving towards’ where the object being moved towards is not known as such, and may not even be an object. There is no ‘solution’ in any definitive sense, but a ‘resolution’ of tension in an affective sense when the ‘moving towards’ reaches a state of affairs that is ‘good enough’. What in Australian parlance we mock as the “She’ll be right” approach. Technics here are not derived in any formal sense from the system; they are co-individuated from the ‘sufficiently’ grasped technique of a technology and entirely consists of a local and determinate passage of action, which has a “non-local linkage” (Massumi) to other transversal relations of experience. I think this is what Negri is indicating when he mentions ‘tooling’. A techne belonging to the singular experiential passage of action appreciated from a telos immanent to the appreciation itself.

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