Featured book: Silvia Federici – Beyond the periphery of the skin

In a time of ecological crisis, it is unsurprising that questions of the body have become a focal point within contemporary radical politics. One of the great strengths of Silvia Federici’s peerless work in this regard is to remind us that bodies have multiple histories. There are the histories of techniques of capturing and disciplining the powers of the body, turning it into a machine, often along racialised and sexualised lines, for the reproduction of capitalism. There are histories too of the body as a site of resistance, a locus of networked powers to transform itself and others. And then there are the hidden histories of more subterranean bodies: the countless animal lives who are, as Federici observes, turned simultaneously into living factories and fungible commodities, as well as the body of the Earth itself, a body collapsing under multiple environmental traumas wrought by hierarchical social relations.

In this important new work, which expands on the analyses of the groundbreaking Caliban and the Witch, Federici diagrams these intersecting histories in order to pose two key questions. First, how are bodies enclosed and constituted by contemporary capitalism? Second, how could we constitute bodies otherwise? What would a collective re-commoning of the body look like?

Against the multiple modes of subjugation of bodies, Federici proposes a communist body of confrontation with capital and State, a dancing body that is in “magical continuity with the other living organisms that populate the earth: the bodies of humans and the not-humans, the trees, the rivers, the sea, the stars. This is the image of a body that reunites what capitalism has divided, a body no longer constituted as a Leibnizian monad, without windows and without doors, but moving instead in harmony with cosmos, in a world where diversity is a wealth for all and a ground of commoning rather than a source of divisions and antagonisms.”

What passes for life under contemporary capitalism is a symptom of deep alienation: from our desires, our bodies, our relations to others and the Earth, and our capacities to create joy. The project Federici proposes in the face of this is a communism of experimentation – a pedagogy with no curriculum to guide us but instead a tentative diagramming of possibility that we can begin to practice when we come together to explore our bodies in new ways, reminding ourselves, always, that the powers these bodies hold are ours first, before they are captured and set to work to reproduce the economy, and that they are powers that overflow both the periphery of the skin and the borders of capital.

Or, as Federici writes in In Praise of the Dancing Body, the penultimate chapter of her book:

“Our bodies have reasons that we need to learn, rediscover, reinvent. We need to listen to their language as the path to our health and healing, as we need to listen to the language and rhythms of the natural world as the path to the health and healing of the earth. Since the power to be affected and to effect, to be moved and to move, a capacity that is indestructible, exhausted only with death, is constitutive of the body, there is an immanent politics residing in it: the capacity to transform itself, others, and change the world.”