Franco “Bifo” Berardi: precarious rhapsody

The best way to define the new rebellion is the Deleuzian concept of line of flight: exodus from the kingdome of exploitation and the creation of a new social sphere…

– Berardi, from precarious rhapsody

Berardi reminisces on the failure of 1977 when worker’s revolution in Italy was being countered through State repression and murder, imprisonment, beatings, and a fascistic counterrevolution. For Barardi this was the year when the Western Mind collapsed and the acceleration of our catastrophism began and is still being played out:

Since 1977, the collapse of the Western Mind has assumed sneaking, subterranean, episodic trajectory, but as the threshold beyond the millennium, it takes on the rhythm of a precipice, of a no longer containable catastrophe. What the consciousness of 1977 had signaled as a danger and a possibility implicit in the acceleration of productive and existential rhythms, becomes daily news. Certain events signaled this passage, becoming viruses, carrying information that reproduces, proliferates and infects the entire social organism. The exceptional event the Twin Towers crashing in a cloud of dust… as well as Columbine school massacre, which took place some years before, might have carried a more uncanny message, because it spoke of daily life, of American normality, of the normality of a humanity that has lost all relation with what used to be human and that stumbles along looking for some impossible reassurance in search of a substitute for emotions which it no longer knows. (27-28)1

He seems to see the year 1977 as a parable of impending doom, a dystopianism run amok, the end of moderninty, etc., the end of the future, the closure of technic and democratic vistas toward the proverbial zero point of no return. Reading Baradi I’m reminded of that noirist Carlotto Massimo’s Alligator series. Marco Buratti aka Alligator is a blues singer who was falsely accused and sent to prison for political crimes during the 70’s. One wonders if Barardi hasn’t taken his que from the likes of Massimo, or even Carlo Lucarilli. “The marriage of economy and techne has made democracy a dead word. 1977 was the sudden consciousness that history is becoming a chain of irreversible automatisms. (28)” In such statements one hears the voice of the noirist, the despair and hopelessness before impersonal forces. “What capitalism has written in the body and in the brain of the human beings has become part of the genetic store. (29)” Passages such as that drop us into a determinist universe without outlet almost as if Philip K. Dick had rewritten Gone With The Wind in 1977 for a cyberpunk magazine; maybe MAD magazine on depleted steroids or fake amphetamines.  When so to speak philosophers begin to personify capitalism as a sort of hidden hand of evolutionary determinism I wonder what comes next. Bifu fails here in imagination. Maybe J.G. Ballard comes to mind at this point. Who can forget that opening line in High Rise:

Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months. Now that everything had returned to normal, he was surprised that there had been no obvious beginning, no point beyond which their lives had moved into a clearly more sinister dimension.2

Whereas for Ballard it is a wake up call to those who have yet to succumb to the psychopathy of our age, in Barardi we seem to see an almost complicit acceptance of it, the inevitability of it all. Ballard can say things in such a dead-pan style, almost documentary and colorless; and, yet, under the veneer of this blandness one feels the shock of such strangeness. One takes a double-take, a quickened backward glance to the words, as if “Did he really mean what he said?” This is one of those Zizekian moments, a parallax event, when the frame of the world titters on the edge and one is unsure of what is happening and yet, …. and yet, one knows that something has just happened, but one has no exact word(s) for it: it’s a blank on the registrar of the mind, a lack at the heart of one’s own being that goads one to move into the strangeness.

Barardi in another chapter quotes cyberpunk big daddy William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, “We have no future because our present is to volatile. We have only risk-management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios.” One imagines the cyberteriat of the risk set, the neointellectuals of a latter day religious marketing sect, for whom the sophisticated neuralnet implants scope the mystic mathemems of some post-keynsianism. The revolving doors of this platonic cascade set drifts through the nexus of a hive of specialists who ride the wave like impotent vipers ready to strike at almost any semiocapatalistic trace of monetary signs. The glowscreen on the collective brain of the future where nanorisk agents stream out of each office like electric locusts on the hunt. They will eat every last shred of earth in their path before their done.

Instead of a proletariat Barardi reminds us that ours is the age of the ‘precariat’: “Precariousness is no longer a marginal and provisional characteristic, but it is the general form of th elabor relation in a productive, digitalized sphere, reticular and recombinative” (31). We live in precarious infospeheres, the age of ideology is dead, now we enter the time of technoconsumption in which all that is left for us is the feedback loops of an collective machine. “Capital no longer recruits people, but buys packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and occasional bearers” (32). Like some Latourian assemblage gone bad, humans have truly been released from their humanity, given over to the capitalist dream of divisection and zombiefication. The Precariat is assembled and sectioned off in doses of time slots. “The informatics procedures of the recombination of semiotic material have the effect of liquefying the objective time necessary to produce the info-commodity” (33). Machinic creatures of a semiocapatalist State we throb in our juices like pulsating brains in a vat. “The recombination of these fragments is automatically realized in the network” (33).

Very interesting. Only the person has disappeared. What is left is like an inert object, irrelevant and useless. The person is free, sure. But his time is enslaved. His liberty is a juridicial fiction to which nothing in concrete daily life corresponds. (33)

Instead of corporations we have time-hives, infolabor modules where each nanosecond of our mind’s labors is sectioned off in fractalized work. While our bodies perform their virtual marathons, our minds are siphoned off in schizo-bifurcations where the neurons tap into more and more complex codings and decodings. Since we gave up the concept of a soul long ago, all we have left is this three-pound meat bucket nanobotomized. The quaintness of such a lineage might have seemed like some horror film to our machinic cousins in the future of no future, except that they no longer have emotions are connections to a past. Along with other human traits History is itself a non-thing, a useless artifact of a the Anthroposcene Period. The machinic tribe has a different mind now.

In the connected world, the retroactive loops of general systems theory are fused with the dynamic logic of biogenetics in a post-human vision of digital production. Human minds and flesh are integrated with digital circuits thanks to interfaces of acceleration and simplification; a model of bio-info production is emerging that produces semiotic artifacts with the capacity for auto-replication of living systems. Once fully operative the digital nervous system can be rapidly installed in every form of organization. (35)

Welcome to the brave new world…. instead of humans, we’re to become Microsoft babies, digitized and stamped to perfection ready for the infoworlds of the precarious future. Finally controlled by the digitized cyberpanopticon implanted in our fleshy brains we will dance to the tune of hyperobjects lost in the infosphere. Workers lives will be fed into the pharmacological feed bins, rejuvenated through bitfeed travel junkets, and as their time slots vanish under the pressure of commodity value breaks they will be given the chance for new forms of ritual therapy: suicide clans of the future will hold Bardo wakes and gently alleviate the retired timer into the bleakness of his/her own freezer bin.

What is the market? The market is the place in which signs and nascent meanings, desires and projections meet. If we want to speak of demand and supply, we must reason in terms of fluxes of desire and semiotic attractors that formerly had  appeal and today have lost it. (38)

Since humans no longer exist the workers of the future have lost their need of benefits. Fragmented and cellularized the worker of the future sales cells of his/her time on the net and “businesses can buy as much as they want without being obligated in any way in the social protection of the worker” (38).

Cellularization has brought about a type of permanent occupation of living time. The effect is a mutation of social relations in a psychopathic direction. The signs are evident: millions of packets of psycho-pharmaceuticals sold, an epidemic of attention disturbances spreading among children and adolescents, the becoming normal of the diffusion of drugs like Ritalin in schools and what seems to be the spreading of an epidemic of panic in the fabric of everyday life. (39)

Most of one’s friends have that strange look in their mask: panic. Panic Disorder arose during the 1970’s and was codified in the 1980’s. As one scholar put defines it:

PD is a medical condition that may be diagnosed when a person experiences recurrent, unexpected attacks of panic or anxiety, followed by persistent concern about having additional attacks or about losing control, going crazy, or having a heart attack. Panic attacks are intense periods of fear or discomfort, feelings that sometimes seem quite irrational. They are described as “attacks” because they often develop rapidly and include such symptoms as palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, a feeling of choking, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, derealization or depersonalization, and numbness or chills or hot flushes, as well as fear of losing control or fear of dying.3

Barardi takes a peep down Alice’s hole in describing the InfoSphere in which our brains since the 50’s have had to cope with the mediascapes of an accelerated and saturated collective implosion of brain and media, which because of its asymmetrical affiliation manifests itself in a psychopathology of effects: permanent electrocution, panic, over-excitation, hyper-mobility, attention disturbances, dyslexia, information overload and saturation of reception circuits (39). There is a schism between the points of transmission and reception that has caused vast conclaves of citizenry to broker their way through the coping mechanisms of life with Ritalin, Prozac, Zoloft and the black market drugs of Cocaine, Heroin, and Meth. Just to keep up with the acceleration of our speed culture (Virilio) and markets we have devastated ourselves both physically and mentally. But that hasn’t stopped the marketeers of a new transhumanist future. No. They tells us all we need is a slight modification, an upgrade to our biochemical and biogenetic processes, a machinic future in which we have replaceable parts and are no longer troubled by the fleshly dreams of our ancestors.

As a final note on the coffin of this brave new world Barardi remarks : “Capitalism can only be described with the metaphor of cancer, which is not even a metaphor, but a clinically exact analysis.” (54) But one doesn’t have to stop there, one doesn’t need a “Bifo” to tell us something is in the air. Jeff Ferrell in Tearing Down the Streets and other street poems has been describing the weather change for years. How the free spaces of the “young gutter punks and old hobos, skaters and skate punks, buskers, bicyclists, daredeveil BASE jumpers, microradio operators, etc.” have no place left to go or be. All our homeless are even homeless of their streets. The cities have shut down our lives they tell us, their lives as homeless vagrants are regulated, controlled, outlawed, their living spaces closed down and fenced in and criminalized. Even our street musicians on the corner have to have licenses to work for meager coins, and those are taxed daily… Freedom is no longer free in this free society. And the rest of us… we’ve already sold our – I was about to say, “soul” to the devil … but, I forgot, we’ve lost the semiolinguistic definition of soul and devil because it was stricken out of our cybernetic skulls years ago.

1. Franco Berardi. precarious rhapsody Semiocapitalism and the pathologies of the post-alpha generation. (Minor Compositions 2011)
2. Ballard, J. G. (2012-02-27). High-Rise: A Novel (p. 13). Norton.
3. Devon Hinton;Byron Good. Culture and Panic Disorder (Kindle Locations 174-177). Kindle Edition.

9 thoughts on “Franco “Bifo” Berardi: precarious rhapsody

  1. Bifo’s pessimism doesn’t describe the situation of psychic-collapse but of psychic alienation, the production of a kind of dis-embodied subjectivity, which his post-futurism is more or less an admission.

    In that video he talks about decomposition, talk of which always reminds me of EM Cioran. So we are, as I like to put it, after the future but before the collapse. Why go on? Bifo wants us to exodus, to where? To new publics? I’d be all for it but that exodus- that line of flight, as the term suggests- can’t be a turning away and a departure to somewhere else. Cioran’s Short History of Decay, as I’m sure you know, includes a section called ‘Directions for decomposition’ in which we find ample lines like the following:

    ‘all truths are against us. But we go on living, because we accept them in ourselves, because we refuse to draw the consequences. Where is the man who has translated- in his behaviour- a single conclusion in the lesson of astronomy, biology, and who has decided never to leave his bed again out of rebellion or humility in the face of the sidereal distances and natural phenomena. Has pride ever been conquered by the evidence of our unreality?’

    There is something hopeful in that, isn’t there? A perverse hope. Decomposition is a process wherein organic assemblages get broken down into simpler forms (for no particular reason) and are thus made available to other assemblages. Decomposition is just recomposition viewed through the temporality of pessimism. But if we live “after the future and before the collapse” (a slogan I like to repeat to myself, a bit like a mantra) then that temporality is nonsense. There is no call for despair because the very conditions of such a despair are made impossible.

    I’d like to say more but I’m late for an appointment with the doctor!

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    • What struck me in the quote was the sort of Ballardian insight into the American truth: our psychopathy, our lack of empathy and emotion, how our nihilistic strain turns toward annihilating any form of authority and semblance of humanity through acts of sheer emotionless apathy. We’ve become voyeurs of life instead of participants: even the psychopaths – who are products of our economic, political, and spiritual malaise, know somewhere down in the depths of their demented brains this truth. Ballard’s full oeuvre chronicles this apathetic voyeurism and its psychopathic normalcy throughout the second half of the 20th Century. One could find many other cases, Ballard is but one…

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      • I made reference to Ballard in a recent comment elsewhere (maybe on my own blog?). I find Ballard to be a core touchstone as well. In fact, I think that in recent history, as far as fiction goes, it is Ballard and Houellebecq all the way for me. Although I have neglected fiction in the last few years. Your posts on DFW make him very appealing.

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      • I like bits and bobs of Will Self…sometimes I just can’t slough through his more turgid texts. ‘How the dead live’ and ‘Great Apes’ are up there though, and I’m reading ‘The butt’ at the moment.

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      • Houellebeqc: ‘The impression of separation is total; from now on I am imprisoned within myself. It will not take place, the sublime fusion; the goal of life is missed. It is two in the afternoon’.

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      • After listening to the YouTube I did not feel the sense of despair as much as the sense of inevitability. It was actually hopeful, not in the sense that we will not die or be affected by the wave coming at us (Capitalism, etc.), but that each of us must decide how we will face this end: will we have a defiant gesture on our face, a resilient “Yes, I may die, but I have faced you, Death, and your bite does not sting.” Shall we be triumphant in our betrayal, or cowards? Either way it is coming he seems to suggest.

        I guess I’ve never been a fatalist in this regard. I still believe even if it is illusory that we can make a difference, that things can change for the better. That there is a silver lining even on the darkest clouds. Even through all my own cynicism or kynicism to use Sloterdijik’s distinction, I think we can overcome… if this is illusion then so be it 🙂

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  2. Pingback: Impossible Object(s) & Other Speculations from Dark Ecologies | Senselogi©

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