Inside the Industry of the Senses: on Carlos Casanova’s Estética y Producción en Karl Marx. (Gerardo Muñoz)

casanova-marxCarlos Casanova’s short book Estética y Producción en Karl Marx (ediciones metales pesados, 2016), a condensed version of his important and much longer doctoral thesis, advances a thorough examination of Marx’s thought, and unambiguously offers new ways for thinking the author of Das Kapital and beyond. Although the title could raise false expectations of yet another volume on ‘Marxism and Aesthetics’, or, more specifically, a hermeneutical reconstruction of a lost ‘aesthetics’ in Marx, these are neither the concerns nor aims of Casanova’s book. Instead, he does not hesitate to claim that there are no aesthetics in Marx’s thought derivative from German theories of romantic idealism, conceptions of the beautiful, or the faculty of judgment in the Kantian theory of the subject and critique.

Forcefully, Casanova situates his intervention apart from two well-known strands of thought: those that have sought to extract an aesthetics in Marx (of which Rose’s classic Marx’s lost aesthetic is perhaps a paradigmatic example), and those who have wanted to produce ‘a Marxist’ social theory for art (Lukacs and Eagleton, but also De Duve or Jameson). Casanova argues that Marx’s aesthetic can be located in a modality of thinking through an anthropological conception of man and the human (although, as we will see, perhaps ‘anthropogenic event’ is more accurate, than the claim for an anthropology). The anthropogenic event in the early Marx of the Manuscripts of 1844 is closely examined in light of the concept of praxis displacing the problem to the economy of potentiality and actuality inherited from the Aristotelean tradition. According to Casanova, this informs Marx’s concept of “exteriorization” understood as the capacity of use in the human. In Casanova’s conceptualization ‘use’ refers to potentiality, and not to a compensatory measurement of ‘value’, as it appears, for instance, in Bolivar Echevarria’s culturalist reading of the status of accumulation in Marxist theory. Challenging the Althusserian structuralism, which authorized the reduction of a heterogeneous corpus into two phases relative to the epistemological break; Casanova suggests that the early Marx inhabits the threshold of thinking the potentiality of Humanism as always producing the disruption of the apparatus of property and the person. What is at stake in Marx is an ‘industry of the senses’ in the constitution of the singular. Hence, Casanova writes early in the book:

“Vale decir: lo que hay en Marx es un pensamiento del limite, no del fin del humanismo, sino de un pensamiento de lo humano que consiste en un pasaje al límite del humanismo donde este se vera menos suprimido que suspenso, desfondo en su “raíz”. Digamos que, utilizan una expresión de Esposito y de Nancy, lo que hay en el pensamiento de Marx es más bien una “división/interrupción” del mito del humanismo” (Casanova 16).

Marx’s ‘aesthetic industry’ crashes the humanist onto-theological machine, which opens the inoperativity of man’s praxis as irreducible to the concrete and abstract extraction of value and production. This displacement pushes Marx away from the humanist machine of universality or particularity as the two poles of a locational dispute of the “subject”. Further, what follows from this claim, are two ways of liberating Marx from the constraints of the Marxist principial tradition and the opposition ‘structuralism vs. the subject’ towards a new use of man’s praxis. In the first part of the book, Casanova takes up the inoperativity of Marx’s humanism (“Humanismo del hombre sin obra”), and in the second section (“Tecnologías de la producción”), the analysis shifts towards a polemical scrutiny of the question of technê against the theorizations of telecratic instrumentality, but also from the phenomenological interpretations that have understood Marx’s thought as the consummation of the epochal technological enframing. Of course, Casanova’s book, and his own reflection on Marx, is situated in the wake of a reconsideration of the technology of the sensible, that allows him to read Marx beyond the humanist onto-theology as a messianic principle that propels the Hegelian philosophy of history as stasis for mastering the logic of revolution.

Casanova’s Marx is an-archic or aprincipial in Reiner Schürmann’s sense, as it avoids the substantialization of a ‘marxist politics’ to assert a stable ground for action over thinking. The Marx endowed in Estética y Producción is also an-anarchic in yet another sense: it offers no productive horizon of philosophical knowability as a new vanguard of intelligence, a technology of critique, or even a practice of restitution. Casanova makes no concessions to epochal nihilism, and there is no attempt in crafting Marx as an archē for militant hegemony or the invariant procedure of truth. His intervention is situated at the crossroads between Agamben’s archeology of potentiality, J.L. Nancy’s deconstruction, and more esoterically, a Chilean critical constellation, which includes, although is not limited to Pablo Oyarzun’s Anestética del ready-made (2000), Miguel Valderrama’s La aparición paulatina de la desaparición del arte (2008), Federico Galende’s Modos de Producción (2011), and Willy Thayer’s Tecnologías de la crítica (2010). This list could go on, and although none of these names are directly confronted, it would be interesting to read his intervention as a radical conceptual abandonment of the “aesthetic” in this specific cultural field.

In the first section “Humanismo del hombre sin obra”, Casanova complicates the early Marx of the Manuscripts by suggesting that the notion of the “generic being” takes place in a double-bind as part of the historicity of the human’s sensible organs that are both conditions and products of a “sensible activity” of the exteriorization of abilities. If both idealism and alienation are the forgetting of the material forms of production, Casanova is quick to underline that it is not just a mere extraction and division from a point of view of ‘functional socialization’, in terms of Alfred Sohn Rethel (although this is not explicitly thematized in the book), but an activity that is the very ‘mediality’ of life as the potentiality in which man can exercise a direct and unmediated relation with nature. In a crucial passage, Casanova writes:

“Los órganos humanos son las capacidades desarrolladas, esto es, el poder ser actual de los individuos al igual que los medios o instrumentos a través de los cuales esas mismas facultades se ejercen. Al mismo tiempo, ellos son los productos, el mundo objetivo del trabajo de toda una historia pasada: son los sentidos de una actividad productiva, entendida como “la relación historia real de la naturaleza (el “mundo sensible”) con el hombre. Son, en suma, los órganos de la industria del hombre” (Casanova 31).

What capitalism stages in the figure of the proletariat, as a result, is a series of divisions that obfuscate the taking place of a praxis constitutive of the industry of man; that is, of the life of the generic without work. In this intersection, Casanova is very much dependent on the Aristotelian’s definition of man’s essence as an-argos, or without work [1]. Hence, Marx’s “real humanism” entails necessary praxis of the industry of the senses, which capitalist humanism divides and codifies in terms of exploitation, alienation, rule of law, and private property. However, and more importantly for Casanova, is the privatization of the sensible transformed into an aesthetic apparatus that governs over life (Casanova 44-45).

The modes of production are in this way already a semblance and reduction of the overflowing of the senses in the praxis of man, which necessarily posits poesis as what cannot amount to work through the unlimited process of accumulation. The labor of the proletarian, understood as the industry of the generic being, enacts an undefined potentiality, in which action and thought, singularity and commonality, sensing and reason, collapse in a heterochronic plane of immanence with no remainder.

The becoming of man corresponds to the becoming of the world beyond the principle of equivalence as the structural circuit through which global spatialization of capital replaces the possibility of ‘earth’. Marx’s humanism without work is situated against this ruinous and fallen world confined to the logic of exchange and appropriation. The proletariat stands here less than a subject for and in history, as the site where an excess to productivity and equivalence is latent as a multiplicity of singular potentialities: “Ya no hay nada que apropiar mas que lo inapropiable – el libro uso de común de las fuerzas de producción – de una apropiación no capitalizable, es decir, excesiva respecto del marco económico politico de productividad, por ende no mensurable de acuerdo a la medida del valor, es decir, no gobernable bajo el principio o ley universal de la equivalencialidad” (Casanova 53).

To appropriate the inappropriable is the stamp of Marx’s industry of the forms of life as the turn towards what is an excess to equivalence. But Casanova’s Marx as the thinker of the inappropriable cannot escape the function of appropriation in the event of a modality of work, which constitutes, perhaps to the very end, the aporia’s of Marx’s thinking [2]. The function of positive appropriation of force in Marx is still tied to “esta producción multiforme del globo entero” (Schöpfungen der Menschen)” (Casanova 52).

Casanova forces Marx to say that a relation always implies the production with its own potentiality. But is not appropriation of production haunted by the unproductivity that is deposed in every praxis? That is, only because praxis is use, there is no longer an appropriation of wealth, which remains on the side of vitalism as a productive entelechy disposable for work. However, Casanova affirms that Marx’s communism was perhaps the first (sic) in taking into account how labor and property are economic categories of policing and subjecting the organization of life. In fact, all subjectivization is already a movement capture of immanence as a regime of equivalence in both the apparatus of modern sovereignty and in the capitalist form of exchange of the commodity. Marx’s communism is thus not a movement that trends towards the transformation of the actual state of things, but a deposition of a self-relation of one’s potentiality.

The mediality exposed in humanism without work is juxtaposed and analytically enlarged in the second part of the book when thinking the question of technology as originary technê, which Casanova also calls ‘co-constitutive’ of the generic being. Challenging Kostas Axelos’ standard reading of Marx as an epochal product of the complete exposure of the age of technology, he polemically advances a production of technology that is never reduced to instrumentalization, nor to the clarity of the concept in philosophy as a secondary tier of appropriation. Following Nancy, Marx’s thought is registered as one of finitude, as it opens to the mundane and profane dimension of the material conditions of sensibility:

“Un pensamiento de las condiciones denominadas “materiales” de existe es un pensamiento que necesariamente vincula, como cuestión ineludible la deconstrucción de la metafísica de la presencia con la pregunta por la condición material, económica, y social de los hombres. Un pensamiento así es, por otra parte, un pensamiento que se piensa en “la ausencia de presencia como imposibilidad de clausura del sentido o de acabada presentación de un sentido en verdad” (Casanova, 79).
Marx’s critique of political economy appears as a translation of his critique of religion as the deconstruction of the onto-theology of capital and the subject as coterminous with the principle of general equivalence. Equivalence is what renders abstract the industry of sense, capturing every singularity in a regimen of equality in exchange value and the commodity form. As such, the technology of capital equivalence is what separates and articulates for “work” the co-constitutive modal ontology of originary technê. More importantly, the originary technê allows for the emergence of politics in Marx that Casanova does not shy away to call “politics of presence” (política de la presencia) as the force that un-works the labour apparatus of labour. But, even in its appropriative force, is not production what thrusts the ‘absolute movement’ towards non-work?

Casanova is aware of this aporia when at the very end of his book he asks: “¿Continúan siendo las fuerzas en este movimiento metamórfico, fuerzas dispuestas dentro del marco de la productividad? ¿Siguen siendo las fuerzas del hombre fuerza de trabajo, o más bien, se transforman en fuerzas humanas en cuanto tales…” (Casanova, 118)? Could the limit of Marx’s thought be inscribed in the way in which concrete industriousness in the essence of man, only dispenses what is proper and productive in the anthropogenic event? Why is the status of “force” in the becoming of the sensible of the singular?

At the very end of the seminar Heidegger: The Question of Being and History (U Chicago, 2016), Jacques Derrida posits the existential analytic as what precedes anthropogenic event based on labor and its force of the negative [3]. But this is only the Hegelian telling of the ‘story’. Casanova grapples to make Marx a thinker of the originary technê in a metamorphic movement that brings to a zone of indistinction thought and action, whose appropriation is always that of the excess of the proper. Could this entail that communism in Marx rejects the notion of “equipementality” (verlässlichkeit) for a program of emancipation in the movement of appropriation of work? If so, then the labor of stasis at the heart of the sensible industry fails at being formalized into a ‘politics of presence’.

What opens up is an infra-political relation, a necessary fissure within any articulation of the common in the event of appropriation. In repositioning Marx to the improper site of desouvrament and the ungovernable, Casanova stops short of offering a Marxist ‘politics’. But perhaps no such thing is needed: the task of freedom is to abandon any metaphoricity as a new nomos of the senses. Bresson captured this freedom in a remark on Cezanne: “Equality of all things. Cezanne painted with the same eye, a fruit dish, his son, and Mt. Sainte-Victoroire” [4]. The ‘grandeur of Marx’ resides in that the sensible machine is never ontology of art; in the same way that hegemony never constitutes a phenomenology of the political. At the heart of Marx’s industry there lays, always and necessarily, a life without “work”, something other than politics.


1. This pertains to the passage from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (1098 a7) in which the philosopher argues that the musician has a particular function that defines his work, but the human to the extent that he is human, is born without work.

2. This is what Agamben detects in Use of Bodies (Stanford University, 2016), as the insufficiency of Marx’s oeuvre in terms of the fixity to the modes of production: “One-sidedly focused on the analysis of forms of production, Marx neglected the analysis of the forms of inoperativity, and this lack is certainly at the bottom of some of the aporias of his thought, in particular as concerns the definition of human activity in the classless society. From this perspective, a phenomenology of forms of life and of inoperativity that proceeded in step with an analysis of the corresponding forms of production would be essential. In inoperativity, the classless society is already present in capitalist society, just as, according to Benjamin, shards of messianic time are present in history in possibly infamous and risible forms.” 94.

3. Jacques Derrida. Heidegger: The Question of Being & History (U Chicago, 2016), p.194-96.

4. Robert Bresson. Notes On The Cinematographer. New York: NYRB, 2016.

Esse extraneum: on Emanuele Coccia’s Sensible life: a micro-ontology of the image. (Gerardo Muñoz)

coccia sensible lifeLa vita sensibile (2011) is Emanuele Coccia’s first book to be translated into English. Rendered as Sensible Life: a micro-ontology of the image (Fordham U Press, 2016), it comes with an insightful prologue by Kevin Attell, and it belongs to the excellent “Commonalities” series edited by Timothy Campbell. We hope that this is not the last of the translations of what already is Coccia’s prominent production that includes, although it is not limited to La trasparenza delle immagini: Averroè e l’averroismo (Mondadori, 2005), Angeli: ebraismo, cristianesitimo, Islam (co-ed with G. Agamben, 2011), and most recently Il bene nelle cose: la pubblicità come discorso morale (2014). One should take note that in Latin America – particularly in Chile and Argentina – Coccia’s books have been translated for quite a while, and have been part of a lively debate on contemporary thought. We hope that a similar fate is destined in the United States. For some of some of us working within the confines of the Latinamericanist reflection, an encounter with Coccia has grown out of our continuous exchange with friends like Rodrigo Karmy, Gonzalo Diaz Letelier, and Manuel Moyano. It would be superfluous to say that Coccia’s work is nested in the so called contemporary ‘Italian Philosophy’ (pensiero vivente, in Roberto Esposito’s jargon), although one would be committing a certain violence to reduce it to another ‘theory wave’ so rapidly instrumentalized in the so called ‘critical management’ within the North American university.

Coccia’s tropology (not entirely a set of fixed “categories” or “concepts” for a philosophical program), such as imagination, the sensible, and the averroist intellect are signatory relays for a potential history of thought against the grain of grand conventional histories and historiographies of Western philosophy, or even more so, against the reaffirmation of a principle of philosophy of history in the wake of nihilism and biopolitics. It is most certainty true that Coccia’s investigations share a horizon that we can call the “form of life” – some of us also call it “infrapolitical existence”, which for Coccia himself has translated as the vita sensibile – although both his approach and condensation of thought always presuppose an efficient interrogation of the singular indifferent to “influences” or “schools of thought” (even when Coccia moves deep into scholastic and medieval philosophy). Perhaps no less important of a metacritical index is the unreserved service for a reconsideration of the philosophical tradition – and more importantly, the transmission and disposition of a thinking that remains unwritten – beyond the history of metaphysics and political theology.

Sensible Life is not a book about the ontology of the image in the pictorial or phenomenological sense, but an investigation into the metaxy of existence and being in the world. As Coccia argues early on in the book, ‘the sensible life is a world given to us, and only as sensible life are we in the world’ (2). Against biopolitical or vitalist (neo-positivist) remnants of understanding as fated in the subject (or the persona), Coccia prepares the ground for a physics of the sensible that affects, without really transforming, the human as subject, although it does seek to exhaust itself in subjectivity. Coccia argues, as if implicitly taking up Simone Weil’s suggestion, that the form of sensation is always a modal relation with the outside, an improper distance (metaxu) of the ‘in between’, necessary for any schematization of concrete existence [1]. Hence, perception or sensing is only possible because there is metaxy, and not because there is a subject as the producer and commander of capacities and substances. Against distributive ontologies that design complex arrangement and division of ‘life’, Coccia’s sensibly maps out a region that has always already been there, and that turns to another relation with ontology and language.

In a large part, Sensible Life is vastly informed by his prior study on Averroes and the averroist tradition Averroè e l’averroismo (Mondadori, 2005), where Coccia studied the ways in which conventional Christian history of philosophy convicted the twelve century Iberian philosopher for the madness of positing a common and universal unity of the intellect. What Coccia thematizes in that study, but also in Sensible life with greater speculative freedom, is the extent to which reason depends on the potentiality of the intellect understood as the capacity for imagination. What is common and at the same time ‘improper’ to all beings is the potentiality of imagination that remains outside of life, never constituting a principle of sufficient reason nor the ground for dogmatic belief. The ‘scandal of averroism’, as Rodrigo Karmy has called it, was followed by the Scholastic ban on teaching averroism and removing averroists from the university. It is no surprise that this coincided with the development of the category of the person as a secondary reserve of Christian political theology and Roman Catholic ratio [2].

This is what lays bare in Coccia’s explicit condemnation of the Cartesian cogito, and his affirmation of the sensible as a de-metaphorized image without proper location, since it only dwells ‘where one no longer lives and where one no longer thinks’ (17). This impersonal drift of the sensible is what allows for an extreme de-localization in multiplicity of reproduction of images that serve to dislocate the very inside and outside of the constitution of the subject, but also of any constitution of life itself (31-32). Indeed, the first part of the book is said to write a physics of the impersonal and immaterial ‘third space’ (sic) – what in Aristotle’s vocabulary is the relation with the ‘externals’ [tōn exōthen], and in medieval scholasticism is the esse extraneum – that like marrano existence, it dwells on a dual exteriority. In a key moment of the development of Sensible life, Coccia writes:

“How, then, can we define an image? In his work on perspective John Peckham held that an image is “merely the appearance of an object outside its place (extra locum suum) because the being appears not only in its own place but also outside its own place”…Our image is nothing but the existence of our form beyond what makes up, the substance that permits this form to exist in an entirely extraneous matter to that in which one exists and mixes with. Every form is born from this separation of the form of a thing from the place of its existence: where the form is out of place, an image will have a place [ha luogo]. […] Thus, an image is defined by a dual exteriority: the exteriority from bodies and the exteriority from souls – because images exist prior to meeting the eye of the subject who observes a mirror” (19).

The reproductive machine of the sensible image does not ground itself unto the subject or the purely sensorial; a movement which would have produced yet another schism between mind and body, senses and reason, the visible and the invisible. Against the categorial arrangement of the persona (and its attributes, genus, and divisions), Coccia pushes forth a general theory of productions of forms that could account for the natural life of images (31). What is really at stake here is a medial process (provided by the medieval intentio) of multiplicity beyond being and substance, property and the proper of ontological assertion. Instead, Coccia affirms a cosmological understanding of the One. In fact, one could stress this a little bit further and argue that the averroist potential intellect is a singularization of the henological neo-platonic substance into one of pure externality beyond metaphysical structuration. But the question of henology and the overcoming of metaphysics is one that we cannot raise in the space of this commentary.

For Coccia the medial extension of the image (and the imagination) leads to a metaxy of coming together (simpatizzano, which is Italian ‘third person’ indicative for sharing, is the word he choses) that conspire to form a sort of clinamen effect of singularities. Not long ago Fabián Ludueña thematized this negative community in his important La comunidad de los espectros (Miño & Dávila, 2010) as a ghostly disfiguration that, vis-à-vis the nature of mediality, enters into relation with what is always unhomely and foreign (extraneum). That is the only possible form of the communitas in the sensible life.

The second part of the book made up of seventeen scholion unveil the way in which the sensible immaterial metaxy also provide for the man’s body that accounts for a mundane relation that exceeds and subceeds the psychological and the culturalist materialisms. By reassessing vita activa and mediality, dreams and the ‘intra-body’ (Ortega y Gasset), clothing and cosmetics, Coccia situates the sensible incarnation on the very surface of the body as momentary dwelling (52). As a general anthropology of the sensible, Coccia recoils back to the ‘subject’ and even ‘identity’, but only insofar as one recognizes in this an intention that he calls an ‘ontological indifference’ that allows for an outside projection of an “infra- or hypersychic consistency – a consistency that is almost hyperobjective. Here, “the intentional sphere does not coincide with the sphere of the mind even it includes the mind; it is, rather, the state of existence of all forms when they keep themselves beyond objects and on this side of subjects, or vice versa” (55). This “infra-subjective” solicits a concrete intentional relation of dwelling in the world.

Although the space of the political is not elaborated explicitly – and perhaps for Coccia there is no need for embarking on such a task – one could say that this region is consistent with the infrapolitical relation of the non-subject vis-à-vis the ontological difference. In fact, the marrano whose existence is necessarily infrapolitical in nature is consistent with the multiplied imposture that clothes every identity and every oikos an un-homely as being-in-the-world (91). In fact, Coccia is correct in taking this cue to the limit: “only those can make up and disguise themselves can truly say “I” (86). Marrano life is also the life of the outside, a borrowed life. It is in fashion understood as a tropological site of existence, where according to Coccia a style of the multiple is given its proper place, precisely because it lack costumes, essence, or meaning. On the contrary, fashion brings to bear that only modal relations can constitute forms of life (habits). Fashion has freed life to the sensible, through a suspension of all meditation with the metaphor as its end. Indeed, it is style and not metaphorization what provides for the sensible life.

The dwelling of the sensible is also incarnated multiplicity: it is the improper relation between man and animal, between living and dying. The sensible life as pure immersion, as Coccia has argued in another place, is a flow where movement and detention, action and contemplation become inseparable [3]. It comes as no surprise that Sensible life closes with a meditation on images for life and with a general economy of natality. Here perhaps one could raise the question about averroism as philosophical transmission, but also regarding its staging of ‘living with images’. Coccia argues that life is, above all, ‘what can be transmitted, the very being of tradition” (98). But to transmit is to re-enact a style that never took place: it is a becoming of singularity. In this sense, continues Coccia, ‘Life never stops producing and reproducing, and multiplying’. However, can there be ‘inheritance’ or even ‘legacy’ of that which lacks proper place, and that is always alocational? Is not the becoming of the reproduction of the sensible the very end of transmission, the very form of dis-inheritance from any nomic determination?

It is in this aporia where Coccia’s account of the sensible life (perhaps as a flight from the form of life) touches on the question of natality as a central problem for thought, which is fundamentally a question for the history of thinking. This is also the problem that Reiner Schürmann contemplated in his posthumous Des hégémonies brisées (1996) without really unrevealing its major consequences (except in the problem of finitude posed by the tragic denial). Coccia’s invitation is for us to reimagine imagination (la vita sensibile) outside of its proactive and transcendental saturation into a region that co-belongs with thought. To this end, the vita sensible cannot amount to another anthropology, since its taskless work is to render a life that is no longer one for labor and action, but affected by the immanence of what can be imagined.




  1. Simone Weil. “Metaxu”. Grace and Gravity. New York: Rutledge, 1999.
  1. Rodrigo Karmy. “La potencia de Averroes: para una genealogía del pensamiento de lo común en la Modernidad”. Revista Plèyade, N.12, 2013.
  1. Emanuele Coccia. “Speaking Breathing”. New Observation, N.130, 2015.