Over the past decade Antonio Negri has become widely influential as a theorist of globalization. His concepts of empire and multitude, elaborated in collaboration with Michael Hardt, derive from the analysis of the impact that linguistic performance and communications networks have had on economic production, political representation, and resistance. However, that focus on language and communications is a recent and poorly understood development in Negri's long career. This article traces Negri's recent interest in the power of language and communications, as well as his recent alliance with the Nietzschean poststructuralism of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, to Lenta ginestra (1987), his massive study of the Italian Romantic poet Giacomo Leopardi. Negri finds in Leopardi's work not only a sophisticated philosophy of language but also a materialist ontology of the human imagination that opposes the dialectical tradition of idealist rationality associated with Kant and Hegel. Leopardi's thinking parallels Nietzsche's in several important ways: both offer a critique of dialectical concepts of historical progress; both attack the rise of nationalism and its administrative control over life; and both conceive of subjectivity as a process of creation or poiesis. The engagement with Leopardi has allowed Negri to identify crucial and productive points of intersection between his own Marxist project and the Nietzschean projects of Foucault and Deleuze, and thereby to develop his powerful model of globalization.

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