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Analysis & Polemic
"It Is Simply All Too Much"
An Interview with the Italian Philosopher Franco "Bifo" Berardi
[Franco "Bifo" Berardi is an author, philosopher and media activist. Alongside Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Paolo Virno and Maurizio Lazzarato, he is one of the most influential proponents of so-called post-operaism. He was in charge of the magazine »A/traverso« (1975–1981) and associated with the left-wing radical radio station Alice (1976-1978). Like many other members of the Autonomia movement, he fled to Paris in the 1970s, where he made the acquaintance of Félix Guattari. With Guattari, he studied schizoanalysis, which led to experimental collaborations with many artists and activists. His most recent publications include "The Soul at Work" (2009), "Precarious Rhapsody" (2009) and "After the Future" (2011).]
Tim Stüttgen: Let us begin straight away with the theses put forward in your book "The Soul at Work".... In the book, you describe how all the characteristics of a person – language, creativity, affectivity – have been integrated into the working process of neo-liberalism, leading to new forms of alienation.
Franco Berardi: The most significant productive powers in our era are cognitive and affective forms of work. You can also call it semiotic work, as it mainly has to do with semiotic material. So the old concept of alienation moves away from its former Hegelian context and becomes relevant to a materialistic analysis of class make-up. Contemporary alienation is an effect produced by a combination of several factors: the technological acceleration of information combined with the neurotic compulsion to engage in economic competition, and the virtualisation of communication and the consequent isolation of bodies. In this context, alienation no longer means the loss of an allegedly human authenticity, as it did in the old humanist or idealist sense. Here, alienation means a psychopathological state, a psychological form of suffering, that has its roots in a new escalation of psychological exploitation.
The Reasonable “Madness” of Revolt
Fifth Estate Issue 390
In the existing world, largely governed by the logic of capital and the pathologies of accumulation, real madness is the absence of revolt. Wherever revolt is absent in the world today, we should worry about human health and sanity. A society that does not revolt against a social order that damages it with such escalating facility—psychologically, collectively, ecologically—is a society at the terminal stage. Revolt is the healthy expression of reasonable refusal.
For those who want to throw the existing world into question, the liberal political philosophy of John Rawls (1921 – 2002) is of little use. After the publication of his first major work, A Theory of Justice (1971), Rawls became the most influential liberal philosopher of the second half of the 20th century, receiving accolades and awards from scholars, and from politicians like Bill Clinton. He remains a touchstone intellectual for contemporary liberalism, and as one of its greatest advocates, Rawls is relevant to considerations of the disastrous limitations and contradictions of his own worldview.
Among Rawls’ many errors, the most fatal was his contention that “justice” and “fairness” could be satisfactorily realized within the limits of capitalist society. This same premise continues to ground the most fundamental liberal conceits, including that perplexingly unshakeable faith in “capitalist democracy.” Like most liberals, Rawls never took riot, revolt, or revolution seriously, since he viewed them as superfluous to the interests of the “least advantaged members of society,” as he frequently called them. Instead, Rawls devoted his life’s work to theorizing a “practical” way toward that greatest of all contradictions in terms, a fair capitalist society. Most liberals agree with these contentions, making it fair to conclude that they scarcely understand the logic of capital, and the countless catastrophes of capitalist society.
Arbeitselig, or, Blissful Work
Originally published as “Arbeitselig”, Der Sozialist, May 1, 1913.
Translated by Gabriel Kuhn
Every era of a people has different cultural layers, next to and above one another. This applies to the words that are being used as well. Words are full of nuances that have strong effects, yet people do not pay attention to these unless someone points them out. The word Heim (home/house), for example (a word that is slowly disappearing from everyday speech, entering the realm of “poetic” language), no longer evokes feelings of joy and comfort, but of yearning and alienation. We just need to look at the word Heimarbeit (housework), which refers to something unpleasant, shameful, full of privation. It is not that the home loses grace, comfort, and tranquility because of the work, but the work is considered dishonorable and dangerous instead of acceptable and endurable, as it would be if it occurred outside of the home. If we pay attention to these subtleties, we understand more deeply what the bare facts should already tell us, namely that, today, the home is a beautiful reality to some, the object of occasional nostalgic longing to all, and a cause of great concern to parts of the working class.
How about the word Arbeit (work)? In itself, it has become a neutral term. What is important is how it is used, that is, the sentence, in which it appears. This is what makes the implications clear; implications that may differ greatly. On the one hand, there might be an artist who, after domestic quarrels or problems with friends, pulls himself together, flexes his muscles, and says with utter conviction: I still have my work! On the other hand, there might be a factory worker who, after spending a few minutes in the early morning hours with his wife and children, tears himself away from the family by explaining: I have to go to work.
Looking Deep Into the Dark Matter
review of Dark Matter by Gregory Sholette: Mass Artistic Resistance to the Neoliberalization of Everyday Life
Finally, a history of collective precarity from a politicized artist. Author/writer, Gregory Sholette, in the final paragraph of Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture, at last clarifies the frequently cited metaphor of “zombies” and enormous digital casts, which likes of Annalee Newitz? have been preoccupied with in terms of popular culture and most noticeably, the big budget extravaganza digital films of recent decades. He writes:
“We go on picking the rags, but every now and again, this other social [non] productivity appears to mobilize its own redundancy, seems to acknowledge that it is indeed just so much surplus---talent, labor, subjectivity, even sheer physical-genetic materiality and in so doing frees itself from even attempting to be usefully productive for capitalism?, though all the while identifying itself with a far larger ocean of “dark matter”, that ungainly surfeit of seemingly useless actors and activity that the market views as waste, or perhaps at best as a raw, interchangeable resource for biometric information and crowd sourcing. The archive has split open. We are its dead capital. It is the dawn of the dead.”
This blatant appeal to the use-value of our necrophilia, artistic waste, the products of our labor and time, runs throughout an historical text, alternately conscious of its own limitations and brilliantly pervasive in its political critique and arts research. Sholette devotes himself to describing the animation of a diverse, selection of contemporary artists collectives and collective projects, American, European, South American, and “other”, for whom relationships as cultural workers to the neo-liberal art world in recent decades of the 21st century, has been a central concern. Among this history are crisp critical frameworks for understanding the art and its positioning against what he calls “enterprise culture” Or the current era of marked precarity in which artists are force to live, which is also marked by “enforced creativity” imposed on all forms of labor.
Occupied Times Interviews Michael Hardt
[Michael Hardt has combined his role as Professor of Literature and Italian at Duke University with political writings and activism. Together with the Italian Marxist Antonio Negri, he has produced an influential critique of our present time. Their trilogy of books – titled “Empire”, “Multitude”, and “Commonwealth” – have been described by Slavoj Zizek as a “Communist manifesto for the 21st Century.”]
The Occupied Times: In your recent work, Declaration, you and Professor Negri identified four political archetypes or ‘paradigmatic subjectivities’, as you call them, that you believe will be crucial to any political change. These are: the indebted, the represented, the mediatised and the securitised. In looking at the indebted, how can we transform what starts as consciousness-raising about the importance of ‘the debtor’ as a subject under post-Fordist capitalism, into a more viable means to challenge those who make us the indebted?
"Work: The Great Illusion"
[An edited extract from the English translation of the late author's L'Horreur Economique. Viviane Forrester, a co-founder of ATTAC, died in April 2013.]
We are living in the midst of a deception, where artificial policies claim to perpetuate a world that has in fact gone for ever. Millions of human lives are devastated and annihilated by this anachronism, which asserts the immutability of our most sacred concept: work.
Work is the foundation stone of western civilisation. The two seem so much a part of each other that even now, when work is vanishing into thin air, no one ever officially questions it. Doesn't it order all distribution and thus all survival? The networks of exchange deriving from it seem as indisputably vital as the circulation of blood. Yet today, work, regarded as our natural driving force, has become an entity without substance.
Our concepts of work, and thus of unemployment, around which politics revolve (or claim to revolve), have become illusory. Our struggles with them are as much of a hallucination as Don Quixote's tilting at the windmills. Yet we still ask the same phantasmal questions, allowing us to ignore the disappearance of a world where there was still some point in asking them. The climate of that world remains in the air we breathe. We still belong to it viscerally, whether we profited or suffered from it. We are still fiddling with the vestiges of that world, busily plugging gaps, patching up emptiness, fudging up substitutes around a system that has not just collapsed but vanished.
The Quiet Realization of Ivan Illich's Ideas in the Contemporary Commons Movement
I come here today as an ambassador of the commons movement – a growing international movement of activists, thinkers, project leaders and academics who are attempting to build a new world from the ground up. It’s not just about politics and policy. It’s about social practices and the design of societal institutions that help us live as caring, intelligent human beings in spiritually satisfying ways.
Many Americans have not heard of the commons except in connection with the word “tragedy.” We’ve all heard the famous tragedy of the commons parable. It holds that any shared resource invariably gets over-exploited and ruined. Since the “tragedy meme” appeared in a famous 1968 essay by Garrett Hardin, it has been drummed into the minds of undergraduates in economics, sociology and political science classes. It serves as a secular catechism to propagandize the virtues of private property and so-called free markets.
Thanks to the tragedy smear, most people don’t realize that the commons is in fact a success story – that it is a durable artifact of human history, that it is a way to effectively manage shared resources, and that it lies at the heart of a growing political and cultural movement.
Labor Day, May Day, What’s to Celebrate?
I suspect that more than a few people would accept as historic fact that Stalin created May Day, and to checkmate Stalin’s evil, communist attempt to influence US workers, FDR initiated Labor Day. Two utopias in conflict: the Workers’ Paradise vs. the American Dream. The Communist Manifesto or FDR’s Second Bill of Rights.
Oddly enough, there is symmetry at play here as both leaders corrupted the original meaning of these workers’ holidays. Neither Stalin nor FDR cared two figs for the historic struggle of the working class; their intent, like the Fathers of the Church before them, was to seize dissentsion, drain it of its original content and fill it with a conformist ideology.
May Day grew internationally to memorialize the struggle of the working class as exemplified by the Haymarket Martyrs, however, in America, the home of this infamy, workers were expected to “Honor Labor.” In other words, on Labor Day the workers celebrate work, while on May Day workers commemorate the struggle to gain control of it, in fact, to abolish it.
An esoteric interpretation of the IWW preamble
From The International Review, 1991
People who think that they know our politics, who know that we are individualists (or even worse, “neo-individualists”), will no doubt be shocked to discover us taking an interest in the IWW. They’ll be even more flabbergasted to hear that Mark Sullivan & I joined the NY Artists & Writers Job Branch of the IWW this January at the urging of Mel Most (who subsequently went & died on us!). Actually, we’re a bit shocked ourselves. “Never complain, never explain” ......; but perhaps this time we’ll relax the rule a bit – hence the apologia.
The Mackay Society, of which Mark & I are active members, is devoted to the anarchism of Max Stirner, Benj. Tucker & John Henry Mackay. Moreover, I’ve associated myself with various currents of post-situationism, “zero work”, neo-dada, autonomia & “type 3” anarchy, all of which are supposed to be anathema to the IWW & syndicalism in general. Other members of the NY Artists Branch are also individualists or pacifist-anarchists (in the Julian Beck line of transmission); some unease has already been expressed during meetings about the Preamble & other IWW texts.....; so, aside from making a sentimental gesture in honor of Mel’s memory..... why are we collaborating with the IWW?
June 1st in Turkey, Multitude: The desiring-machine of expression against representation
June 1, 2013 is the rise of a new understanding of the political from the perspective of expression against that of representation. June 1 is not a “fact” which corresponds to measurement of time through its spatialization, but it is an “event” that is the flow and intersection of singular immeasurable durations. It does not refer to a practice of reason or subject that turns life into an object, but to an event as life, as the flows of bodies and affects. It is the expression of an affect which has its idea, it is a becoming. Hence June 1 cannot be considered in terms of a nation or a people who acts within the hierarchy of the universal, the representation and the subject. It presents us a multitude in act that is a desiring-machine functioning in unconscious virtuality of singularity, body, affect and life.
A new plane of the political is in becoming. It is obvious that the fault lines of modernism which is the plane of representation, subject, reason and hierarchy have been moving. In the immeasurable virtuality, this act is nothing less than an earthquake. The political from the perspective of representation is replaced with the plane of “expression” that signifies the political from the perspective of body. The discourse of the new plane of the political centers around “dignity”, which is the bodily expression of de-classification against classification by representation. June 1 is the scream of honor, conscious, and ethics against morality. In contrast to affects regulated in accordance with the movement of concepts and consciousness, we are standing on a plane of concepts shaped by the flows and intersections of affects, differences and differentiations. The political plane of sense and signification seems to undergo a radical change. The leftist language of representation seems to be paralyzed and we witness constitution of a new language of the left. That which is political moves from the language of representation to that of expression since the former proves to be impotent and insufficient to signify the plane of the political.