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The Persistence of the Negative

A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory

Benjamin Noys

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A compelling critique of contemporary continental theory

Through a series of incisive readings of leading theoretical figures of affirmationism – Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Bruno Latour, Antonio Negri and Alain Badiou – Benjamin Noys contests the tendency of recent theory to rely on affirmation, and especially an affirmative thinking of resistance. He reveals a profound current of negativity that allows theory to return to its political calling.


1. On the Edge of Affirmation: Derrida
2. Adieu to Negativity: Gilles Deleuze
3. The Density and Fragility of the World: Latour
4. Immeasurable Life: Negri
5. On the Edge of the Negative: Badiou

About the Author

Benjamin Noys is Reader in English at the University of Chicester. He is the author of Georges Bataille: A Critical Introduction (2000) and The Culture of Death (2005).


Noys’ thesis has the virtue of being, once formulated as tightly and consistently as is done here, both original and completely self-evident. It is a thesis that will define, I hope, polemics around and among the factions and currents in contemporary thought for years to come.

- Theory & Event

Noys’ text constitutes a vital contribution to a resurrection of the negative as key to thinking political antagonism and will set a precedent for the decisive status of thinking the negative in the present. More importantly, perhaps, it is also an injunction to thinking political antagonism again, to a return to the level of form in order to address real abstraction in a way that is foreclosed by a prevailing affirmationist culture.

- Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy

It is a strong argument ... communicated philosophically rather than politically, for dialectics, critique and contradiction... it is a progressive argument that arises not out of pure philosophising but out of the necessity to rescue emancipatory critique and agency from the recuperation by state and capital.

- Shift Magazine
Benjamin Noys' important new book The Persistence of the Negative: A Critique of Contemporary Continental Theory singularly reverses the recent tendency toward caricature in its fine-grained readings of the contemporary thinkers of what he terms ‘affirmationism’ … He [raises] complex and important questions in a deft, clearly written and intellectually generous fashion.
- Tom Eyers, Kingston University, Mute
Benjamin Noys' brilliant and wide-ranging new book is a timely reminder that no revolutionary and egalitarian approach to politics and philosophy can afford to overlook the disruptive 'labour of the negative', or to neglect the active contribution that contradiction and antagonism make to a critique of actually-existing forms of domination on the one hand and a renewal of emancipatory agency on the other.
- Peter Hallward, Professor of Modern European Philosophy, Middlesex University
In this bold and highly original book, Benjamin Noys rethinks the role of the negative in both ontology and political practice. His critical revaluations of familiar figures in recent European thought move in surprising new directions; they have forced me to reconsider much that I thought I knew.
- Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University