When the Word Becomes Flesh : Language and Human Nature


Translated by Giuseppina Mecchia

Originally published in Italian in 2002, When the Word Becomes Flesh provides a compelling contribution to the understanding of language and its relation to human nature and social relationships. Adopting Aristotle’s definition of the human being as a linguistic and political animal, Paolo Virno frames the act of speech as a foundational philosophical issue—an act that in its purely performative essence ultimately determines our ability to pass from the state of possibility to one of actuality: that is, from the power to act to action itself. As the ultimate public act, speech reveals itself to be an intrinsically political practice mediating between biological invariants and changing historical determinations. In his most complete reflection on the topic to date, Virno shows how language directly expresses the conditions of possibility for our experience, from both a transcendental and a biological point of view.

Drawing on the work of such twentieth-century giants as Ferdinand de Saussure, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Edmund Husserl, and Gottlob Frege, Virno constructs a powerful linguistic meditation on the political challenges faced by the human species in the twenty-first century. It is in language that human nature and our historical potentialities are fully revealed, and it is language that can guide us toward a more aware and purposeful realization of them.

About the Author
Paolo Virno is an Italian philosopher, semiologist, and a prominent figure among the Italian Postfordist thinkers. He currently teaches at the University of Rome and is the author of A Grammar of the Multitude and Multitude Between Innovation and Negation, both published in English by Semiotext(e).

When the Word Becomes Flesh By Paolo Virno
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