Franco Berardi: The Xeroxed Hero

In And: Phenomenology of the End Berardi diagnosis of Progressive Modernity moves toward abstraction and away from the sensuous, a male trajectory toward immortalization and the eclipse of the human. He’ll see within the aesthetic dimensions of modernist artistic expression the slow dematerialization of the sensuous and the bodily life for the pure fascist gleams of a life outside time. The interminable image-cultures of the Age of Cinema when Hollywood glamour and the forms of purity and beauty parade across the silver screen, along with the slow dawning of the later part of the twentieth-century with its horror films, when spatter matinees and disaster films bring the disgust of the material connections to substantive existence to the fore and humans enter the inhuman rapture of cyborg existence. The escape velocity of false accelerationist culture and the drift of abstract movement into the virtual worlds of a new imaginary bring with it both the death sequences of suicide punkers and the immersive culture of speed and mediatainment replicants. In our age of Selfies and neo-narcissism its hard to imagine the glitter splatter of post-punk sociality and its scratch sounds downward turn to metalloid fracture ending in the return of those solitary fascist wolfens of the North and Black Metal. Today we are overwhelmed by the Human Security Regimes that seek to transport us to Safe Zones where the inhuman is nothing but the name of a neohuman bargain, not with the Devil of old mythologies, but rather with the solipsistic panic worlds of migrant rage. Below is a quote from Berardi’s short spectrum analysis of the 80’s and 90’s:  

Confronted with the ultimate threat, the nuclear destruction and the sexually transmitted immunodeficiency syndrome, the cyberpunk culture prepared the jump in the hyper-world of abstraction. In the cyberpunk imagination the body is perceived as the heavy painful residual of the organic past. Cyberculture replaces the body with the sanitized clean smooth surface of the screen.

A sort of masculine hysteria is hidden in the digital culture of the ‘80s and of the ‘90s. The late nineteenth century Decadence was originated by the spread of sexual infectious diseases like syphilis, the techno-glamour aesthetics of the late twentieth century flourishes in the aftermath of the sexuo-viral epidemics of AIDS.

The prosthetic-aesthetics of the cyborg, imaginary organism enhanced by digital prosthesis can be seen as the arrival point of the romantic male hysteria that wants to escape the dangerous ambiguity of sensuousness. When the Romantic sublimity meets the frigid surface of the digital experience, panic and depression are the outcomes. Panic crisis is a symptom that spreads widely in the experience of the connective generation. No more the passionate panic resulting from the confusing inexhaustible possibilities of nature, but a frigid panic resulting from the contraction of time: frantic time, unattainable body, fragmented experience, ever widening space of possibilities that never get real.

This hero’s immortality no longer originates in the strength to survive all possible ordeals, but from its ability to be xeroxed, recycled, and reincarnated. Destruction will alter its form and appearance, yet its substance will be untouched. The immortality of the thing is its finitude, not its eternity. The hero is dead, long live the hero!1


  1. Franco “Bifo” Berardi. And: Phenomenology of the End (Semiotext(e) / Foreign Agents). Semiotext(e) (November 6, 2015)

 

 

Franco Berardi: Future Civil-War or Žižekian Emancipatory Politics?

Franco “Bifo” Berardi in his latest doomsaying tirade on e-flux offers us a vision of the world gone mad: “Mental illness is not the rare malady of an isolated dropout, but the widespread consequence of panic, depression, precariousness, and humiliation: these are the sources of the contemporary global fragmentary war, and they are spreading everywhere, rooted in the legacy of colonialism and in the frenzy of daily competition.”

As we hear from Dana Priest and William M. Arkin in their  Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, America has grown a massive Security State that is not just concerned with turning its eye outward, but has entered into a private spy world aimed directly at its own citizenry. Since 9/11 the FBI’s counterterrorism structure had grown three times larger than it had been before. Straitlaced criminal investigators whose goal in life had been to send bank robbers to prison— the sooner, the better— were now trying to turn themselves into spies and the FBI into a domestic intelligence agency that monitored more and more people— with all the appropriate legal authority, of course.1

Even at the level of day to day life we don’t face mass censorship. We still have Habeas corpus. And the odds of any single person being victimized by a wrong-door raid, shot or beaten by a cop, or otherwise victimized by militarized police violence are slim to nil. But perhaps we have entered a police state writ small. At the individual level, a police officer’s power and authority over the people he interacts with day to day is near complete. Absent video, if the officer’s account of an incident differs from that of a citizen— even several citizens— his superiors, the courts, and prosecutors will nearly always defer to the officer.2

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Franco “Bifo” Berardi: Running Along the Disaster

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“The general intellect takes the form of an ocean, an infinite sprawl of depersonalized fragments of bio-time: capital picks up and recombines the digitalized fragments of work-time. This is the continuous scramble of the global labor market. These fragments are linguistic fragments, or fractals. Language is formatted in such a way that our linguistic performance is made compatible with the global linguistic machine. But the process of precarization not only concerns intellectual workers. Cognition is everywhere in the cycle of work. Every act of work is submitted to digital abstraction, or to its collateral effects. Abstraction penetrates every fragment of the nervous system of social work. The physical activity of industrial workers is subjected to this same process of precarization. This creates a condition of political weakness for workers: everybody is exposed to the blackmail of precarity.”

…from e-flux journal interview Running Along the Disaster: A Conversation with Franco “Bifo” Berardi

Semiocapitalism and the Neoliberal Self

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“Turn on, tune in, drop out.” – Timothy Leary

Leary would use that phrase he received from Marshall McLuhan the media guru of the era during the 60’s to describe mental activation, harmonious interaction with others and the world, and a sense of “wu wei” or not-doing, a detachment from the work-a-day world while at the same time a commitment to the singularity of one’s own creative potential. In Flash Backs he’d describe it this way:

“Turn on” meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. “Tune in” meant interact harmoniously with the world around you – externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. “Drop out” suggested an active, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. “Drop Out” meant self-reliance, a discovery of one’s singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean “Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity”.

Today to turn on means to enter the program, get with the data-flows of capital. To tune-in is to mesh with the levels of abstraction in the infosphere, keep pace with the digital matrix. Drop out is more of a political act of disconnection, unplugging from the machine, discovering a way to survive the onslaught of info-glut one is immersed in daily. The psychedelic age is gone and with it the whole notion of “mobility, choice, and change”. Today we live in a futureless present, a realm of apathy, depression, and decay. People distrust politics and media to the point that it has become more of a joke than not. Bifo Berardi pulling no punches tells us the truth: “Democracy seems unable to stop the criminal class that has seized control of the economy, because the decisions are no longer made in the sphere of political opinion, but in the inaccessible sphere of economic automatism. … No room for political choice is left, as corporate principles have become embedded in the technical fabric of language and imagination.”1

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Franco “Bifo” Berardi: Mapping the Late-Modern Wasteland of the Corporate Imaginary

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In his latest work Franco “Bifo” Berardi discovers the ultimate hero of the postmodern corporate wasteland: the nihilist as mass murderer and suicide. At the heart of his new book we discover that it is not merely about crime and suicide, but more broadly “the establishment of a kingdom of nihilism and the suicidal drive that is permeating contemporary culture, together with a phenomenology of panic, aggression and resultant violence”.1 The task is simple he tells us: to map the wasteland where social imagination has been frozen and submitted to the recombinant corporate imaginary. Only from this cartography can we move forward to discover a new form of activity which, by replacing Art, politics and therapy with a process of re-activation of sensibility, might help humankind to recognize itself again. (ibid. KL 113)

Just a further note. Already I have mixed feelings about Berardi’s take on America. Like many non-Americans he seems to be looking through the mediatainment window of news reports, video, cinema, music, etc. as if it were a black box hiding the simulated America in its broken panes: a world being fed through these machinic systems of illusion as if it were truly America. It’s as if he wants to attack the simulation, but wandered into the House of Mirrors without realizing it and begins his critique of the cracks in the mirrors, the simulation within the simulation, rather than reaching through the shadow box into the lives of the actual people of flesh and blood behind the fractured fun-house screen. Has he taken the map for the territory? The copy of a copy for the real thing? Has he fallen into Plato’s cave? … I’m still reading….

Like Zizek, I feel there is such a cognitive dissonance between one symbolic order and another that any form of critique is based on a necessary fiction, an illusionary simulation of the facts rather than the facts themselves. Is Berardi’s take to read America like a semiotic sign system that he can decipher? I know he’s following Guattari in aspects of this project, but has he truly arrived at what Guattari was thinking through in such works and Three Ecologies, etc.? Does he have the key to the code? Hell even I, who am American (U.S.A. citizen I mean…) would not presume to critique French Society… how utterly different is the mindset of a Frenchman from mine? I’d assume the cultural symbolic order would leave us in a sort of black hole. More and more I see this sort of fictional game scholars play with each other thinking they know what it is to be Russian, American, Chinese… etc. etc. Isn’t this illusion, a part of the late modern simulation that he is supposedly seeking to critique? How can you critique the simulation when you are in it? Or, phrased differently we have been produced by the simulator of our symbolic orders: how can we step outside the simulation?

Sometimes I think of those old films of astronauts preparing for spaceflight, in which you see a man strapped to a gravity simulator. The next thing you see is him revolving faster and faster and faster till his face begins to flatten and his facial features are so distorted he appears monstrous. Or, of those carnival rides that allowed people to stand with their backs to the wall and begin to spin faster and faster and faster until suddenly the floor drops out and they appear to be weightless and floating in mid-air. Is our world of media in itself something like this speed whirl of gravitational force that has been slowly accumulating time into its simulator at a faster and faster accelerating pace till culture takes on the illusion of reality, while reality takes on the illusion of the fake? Have we wandered through Alice’s Looking-Glass but no longer realize we’re in the fake world of our own inhuman mind? Are we in our own Reality TV Series… echoes of echoes: voyeurs of a perverse substitute for life rather than life itself?

Berardi begins his expose with the real life killings of movie goers at the premier of director Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. James Holmes is presented through snippets of reportage from government, police, church, and educational officials, as well as the victims of the incident. Beradi can’t help but make a comparison between Nolan’s film and the earlier versions by Tim Burton. He sees the early version as a portray of the idiocy of psychpaths in which Burton portrays both Batman and the Joker as deranged madmen outside the social order who confront each other in their freedom and madness. While the newer film by Nolan is portrayed as “the film’s villain, is a humourless giant who terrorizes Gotham’s population in order to stage a sort of fascist golpe with the help of an army of guerrillas resembling jihadist fighters and anti-globalization protestors. The message is twisted and basically racist.” (ibid. KL 285) As he says: the “wit and sharpness of Tim Burton is entirely missing in Nolan’s obtuse movie” (ibid. KL 286).

Then he lambasts the Bush administration and conservatives who he sees as forestalling any measure of gun control, while using the perp as his tool of choice: “James Holmes’s inability to distinguish between reality and movies mirrors the attitude of Karl Rove, the master of the American political imagination during the years of Bush’s Holy War” (ibid. 299). He’ll use a statement by Karl Rove as a pure sign of American leadership’s psychopathic alignment with a regime of pure madness and simulation: (Karl Rove):

When journalist Ron Suskind defended the prerogative of others in his profession to pursue the judicious study of discernible reality, the wizard of Republican campaign strategy responded, That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.(ibid. 300-305)

He’ll ask: Is this a symptom of psychosis? Yes, it is. But it is not peculiar to Karl Rove.

The sublimation of reality to simulacrum is the quintessential feature of semiocapitalism, the contemporary regime of production in which capital valorization is based on the constant emanation of information flows. In the psychosphere, reality is replaced by simulation.

Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyper-real. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself.(ibid. KL 307)

Of course the xtra indent is his quoting from Jean Budrillard’s famous essay on simulation. One of the problems with Baudrillard is that his cognitive disassociationism, the drift of the immaterial escape in modern culture and civilization in which the map produces the illusions of our mental territories is to fall back into the Kantian Idealist trap that we construct reality in our minds. Do we? Do we live in second hand realities built by corporate controlled academics, novelists, musicians, artists, politicians, etc.? Are we the mere puppets of a deterministic shadow world of mental Jokers: psychopathic reality tv show hosts who pull the strings as we jump to their consumer index?

The point here is that we are all living in artificial worlds whether we think so are not. Even the supposed natural world is a fake. Nature no longer exists. It’s all controlled by specialize access, government funding, caretakers and regulatory systems.  Even the most isolated places on the planet are under someone’s control. There is no wild nature left. And, know one even remembers what that meant? Reality is produced for us even against our will. We are all will-nilly thrown into simulated realms through the meditainment networks of parent, schools, government, music, art, society…. the whole cultural nexus is one giant psychosphere. I’ve written of another Italian, The Onlife Initiative: Luciano Floridi and ICT Philosophy for whom the complex of Information and Communcations Technology spanning the globe (ICTs) are not mere tools but rather social forces that are increasingly affecting our self-conception (who we are), our mutual interactions (how we socialise); our conception of reality (our metaphysics); and our interactions with reality (our agency). In each case, ICTs have a huge ethical, legal, and political significance, yet one with which we have begun to come to terms only recently.

Floridi says we are already artificial inforgs (information organisms) encased in artificial systems that are so ubiquitous now that if we were unplugged from them we’d more than likely go star craving mad. As he states it the impact exercised by ICTs is due to at least four major transformations: the blurring of the distinction between reality and virtuality; the blurring of the distinction between human, machine and nature; the reversal from information scarcity to information abundance; and the shift from the primacy of stand-alone things, properties, and binary relations, to the primacy of interactions, processes and networks. (ibid.)

Years ago I remember Hans Peter Duerr’s excellent Dreamtime: Concerning the Boundary Between Wilderness and Civilization, which argues that man creates a cultural order inside which he lives. Outside of that form of life is the ‘wilderness’: the outer wilderness of untamed nature and the inner psychological wilderness of areas of personality hidden in everyday life. Only by stepping outside his culture can man understand his cultural self. Only by experiencing the wilderness outside our normal system of living can we understand what we are as civilised beings within our form of life. He suggests that primitive peoples have a better understanding than modern scientific man of this need to step outside the cultural order in order to understand what is inside it.

But can we? No. The notion of stepping outside of the simulator is to suddenly enter the zone of pure madness. Who would you talk to about reality? Once you left the simulator who would you be able to communicate with? What language would you use? And, most of all, if there was an “outside” – would there be a return door? Or would such an exit from the simulated world of late modern capitalism be a one way exit with a sign posted: No Returns. I sometimes think about the thousands of new dystopian YA novels being published. So many of them just pure bunk, not worth the paper their written on, not even good stories. But here and there you discover one or two that actually expose the truth of dystopian critical visions: it’s not about how bad hell is, but rather how we can in this dark hellish landscape of our own making create or invent a space of freedom, a place within the false world to discover once again what it means to be real – not human… but real. Maybe we need those boundaries between Mind and World, thought and being, artificial and natural… maybe it was the very effort to cut the fences down between them, to force a merger between thought and being that has brought us to this world of simulated realities in which nothing of the real is left. What to do? In a world where the boundaries between mind and world, thought and being have already lost their force and merged who will be the one to discover a way to cut them in twain again? Are we doomed to a simulated universe of nihilistic noise where the only escape is as Berardi forecasts: mass murder and suicide? Or is there another way?

For Berardi its all masks phantoms, and simulations. The referential value of signs is obliterated. (ibid. 317) We are lost in the artificial maze and have forgotten that there is no escape, no center, and no doorway back to reality. But, then again, What is real? Can we even frame that as a question anymore? Are we as John Barth once shared in his humorous short story Lost in the Funhouse? I remember Barth’s opening line: “For whom is the funhouse fun?” Classic Barth. Anti-Realist or irrealist he explores the real that has already been lost in the maze of our cultural mirrors. Isn’t it just this that Berardi is working with, a world that has already been thrown into the funhouse? Is anyone having fun, now? Maybe as we pick up the fragments of the broken mirrors together we can piece together what was once torn asunder; or, maybe, what we need to do is to just crunch these past realities into utter oblivion, including the false simulated worlds of our current masters and once again sit in that dark place where all beginnings begin again and ask: What do you want? Would you even know where to begin?

To be fair to Berardi I’ll need to revisit this once I’ve completed his new book… 😉

1. Berardi, Franco “Bifo” (2015-02-03). Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (Futures) (Kindle Locations 54-55). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.