A Time Out of Joint: Franco (Bifo) Berardi

The time is out of joint—O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

– Hamlet

What is Time that it could ever go cockeyed? For Franco (Bifo) Berardi time as stored capital in banks is out of joint, and if we follow the trail into this time machine we discover there is a deep and abiding relation between money, language, and time.1

“But is the money that is stored in the bank my past time—the time that I have spent in the past? Or does this money give me the possibility of buying a future?” – Berardi

At first I was reminded of Philip K. Dick’s novel of that name A Time Out of Joint that describes a society at civil war with itself, a permanent war between earth and its tributary offspring on the moon. In this society only one man can stave off the impending collapse of society, one Ragle Gumm. But he has grown tired of intervention, of keeping at bay the time of disaster, of catastrophe. He hopes to escape the dominion of the neoliberal order of his day and fly  off to the moon colonies and become a part of its anarchic social and exploratory world. So he withdraws into a private fantasy world of his own making, a chapter out of his early childhood where everything existed in a primordial climate of paradise: the world of the 1950’s. The only problem with this is that the earthers, the neoliberal dictators of that era have discovered the truth of his dark fantasy and are using it against him to allow them to control his mind through an almost precursor of The Truman Show effect. The Terran masters create his idyllic town and populate it with mentalists to guide him in giving up his secrets willingly. What does he know? He has an ability to foresee the nuclear future of specific trajectories from moon thereby giving earth command the ability to countermand the weapons and destroy them. Ultimately this ruse by the neoliberal Terrans fails and Gumm slowly recovers his sanity because of the simulated modulations of the governments semantic failures. He notices things here and there in the fantasy that do not make sense, which accumulate and ultimately shift his mind toward the truth and meaning of what is being done to him. Sanity comes back as the fantasy world created by the Terran Empire fails to meet the madness criteria of Gumm’s realigns to the map of the real. It is the failure of the semantic web to meet Gumm’s expectations of a perfect ideal fantasy world that finally awakens him back to reality.

One may wonder why I harp on about a science fiction novel that is now dated, and compare it to Berardi’s essay but one must see the conflict at the heart of the two positions. Dick was portraying the world of neoliberal capital and its victims, showing the use of advanced mind techniques and neuroscience to manipulate time and people’s lives. It’s the interaction of Time and Capital that in Berardi that helps us understand our own world under the thumb of neoliberalism in a age of austerity. As Berardi following Baudrillard’s lead reminds us, it is in our contemporary age that financial capitalism has become essentially the loss of the relationship between time and value. What Berardi discovers between the older industrial age and our newer neoliberal information age is a seismic shift from the physical and material to the immaterial or semiological knowledge realm of cognitive work over the older bodily processes of labor. Of course I think he oversimplifies, since as we know the seismic shift from Factory to Mindhack is not everywhere, but exist solely in the top tier nations. The rest of the third world is still bound to the laws of production and machine labor time: the slavery of the body laboring under the infinite gaze of the time lords.

He sees the defining moment for this sea change at the point when Nixon took the world off the gold standard, and allowed the dollar to become a flexible standard: “The dollar became, let’s say, free, independent, autonomous. And the possibility for a universal measurement of the amount of time needed to produce a thing or a good was effectively gone.” So the divorce between time. work, and labor was desutured and allowed to disperse into the fractured semiomarkets of our era. The defining term for our new neoliberal era would be permanent war: violence, exception, emergency, and the endless crises beyond which no human has control (at least according to those neoliberal prognosticators of financial heaven: banks, wall-street, etc.).

From here on Berardi tells us that finance would align corporate and governance to a global agenda empowered by an androcratic regime of Fascism which would denigrate people of color, gays, women, transgendered, etc. This male centered world view would be secretive and hyper alert to its own designs creating at once a double truth and standard: one for the elites, and one for the hoi polloi. This is our neoliberal world against which Sid Viscious cried “No Future”: “In a sense, this cry was the final premonition of the end of the modern age, of the end of industrial capitalism and the beginning of a new age of total violence. If capitalism is to go on in the history of mankind, then the history of mankind must become the place of total violence, because only the violence of competition can decide the value of time.

This new era is the Age of Acceleration, or even “hyper-acceleration”: “It is hyper-acceleration used as a crucial capitalist tool. When Marx speaks of relative surplus value, he’s speaking about acceleration: if you want a growth in productivity—which is also a growth in surplus value—you need to accelerate work time. But when the main tool for production ceases to be material labor and becomes cognitive labor, acceleration enters another phase, another dimension, because an increase in semiocapitalist productivity comes essentially from the acceleration of the info-sphere—the environment from which information arrives in your brain.”

Even as our technologies accelerate at a greater and greater rate our brains, the three-pound lump of physical flotsam and jetsam cannot keep up but seems to become less and less attentive everyday. We hear across the troposphere that even the vast new world of knowledge workers, the cognatariat will itself soon be replaces by vast AI Systems that can think for us and make decisions at the blink of a quantum; or, the speed of light. Berardi reminds us of the early shift in pharmaceutical modulations of the transhuman or enhancement blend in which knowledge workers have been forced to ingest both neoliberal prescribed drugs like Prozac, and the illegal network of drugs such as amphetamines. He doesn’t yet even hint of the next way of neurenchancement drugs coming our way. Yet, he reminds us of the end result either way: “You can accelerate attention by taking amphetamines, for instance, or using other techniques or drugs that give you the possibility of being more attentive, more productive in the field of attention. But you know how it ends.”

Ultimately our machinic civilization has commoditized knowledge rather than offering an exploration and challenge to understand and learn, it has made it all too easy for us, Bifo remarks, and in doing so it has inflated knowledge into glut, into a decadent hyperspheric datasets to great to master, thereby making it impossible to critique, analyze, or filter in or out all but the simplified, googlefied algorithms of inanity that pare down into hard won truth. Instead inattentive and without mimetic appeal of deep memory we achieve an artificial universalization of knowledge that is neither truthful nor helpful, but is useless. As he remarks:

In this way, we find the evolution of the internet to be the evolution of a totalitarian system that begins as a channel for research and discovery, for creation and invention, to become essentially a place where things are easy. It is in this way that meaning can be totally forgotten, but information can continue to move. When more signs buy less meaning, when there is an inflation in meaning, when the info-sphere accelerates and your attention is unable to keep up, what do you need? You need someone who makes things easy for you. It’s a problem of time.

It is not in the end Time that is out of joint, instead it is our connection to our physical spaces, our bodies, our planetary home that is fractured and fragile. We have tried to live and withdraw into our own private Truman Shows created for us by the info-tainment empire of the neoliberal thought collective and discovered instead that the signposts to the Real have disappeared under the erasure of our physical lives. Living in the virtual Temple of the Neoliberal Cathedral we have lost our ability to know the difference between time lived and time erased and have in the end entered the slipstream of our own collective amnesia.

1. Franco (Bifo) Berardi. Time, Acceleration, and Violence (e-flux journal, 2011)

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