Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi: ‘The Soul At Work: From Alienation to Autonomy’

Malinche, Martin and Cortes.

Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi – ‘The Soul At Work: From Alienation to Autonomy’ Tuesday 2nd March 2010, 6-8pm Goldsmith’s

Thankyou for this invitation to discuss news paths of research, the chaosmotic order of subjectivation. My book The Soul At Work: From Alienation to Autonomy is a history of radical thought from the 60’s to the end of the 20th century, with regards to subjectivation in the workerist, neo-marxist framework and constellation of the work of Deleuze and Guattari — the relation between the French and Italian experience of neo-marxism, in order to rethink the process of subjectivation in post-industrial society. I hope to provide new conceptual weapons and understand this new framework of subjectivation under precarization. In order to do this, I suggest that we re-read Baudrillard — writer of the process of precarization — who has almost been criminalized; mostly by my friends in Autonomia. But we must move past old philosophical conflicts between Foucault and Baudrillard. I re-propose Baudrillard as a thinker of (the) depression, since Marxist alienation has been replaced by pyschopathology, the loss of self, in the new framework of precarious labour. This is a conflict for the soul.

We have to accept the fact that in the 21st century we are completely inside this new framework — as Deleuze and Guattari foresee. Precariousness is the new basis of subjectivation that dissolves and destroys any promise of a progressive future. Therefore, the issue of subjectivation must be reconsidered in the wake of the failure of the declaration: ‘Yes, we can!’. Obama’s slogan was a declaration of the foreclosure of any progressive future; a Freudian lapse. It is the end of any possibility of human change brought about through subjectivation. But now I want to talk about something else. I am Italian, but would like to talk about subjectivation through Mexican eyes, to talk about the Baroque and its relation to Semio-capitalism (the capitalism of signs and semiotic goods). And in order to explain this new subjectivity we must discuss the recent mutation in Capital.

The Fordist-era, which was determined by mechanical production, has evolved into one of immaterial production that rests on the cognitive ability of workers to socially produce; which in turn dissolves the mathematical measurement of labour time and value. We are now living in the ‘kingdom of indetermination’ as Baudrillard might say, brought about by this dissolution of the connection between labour time and value. The real and true nature of Capital has been deprived of the material foundation of value. Consequently, violence (coercion) is then the only thing which can now determine the value of labour. The linguistic nature of Capital is now violent. Christian Marrazzi is worthwhile in this respect, in that he explains the essential nature of capitalist production (i.e. Semio-capital), in which social relations are only ones of linguistic displacement (language is not for the truth, it invents, it lies, it displaces as Umberto Eco notes). Language generates a multiplicity of meaning in the field of exchange.

So returning to the question of the Baroque: we all accept the Protestant break in the history of modernity and Capital and its intimate connection with the bourgeoisie as a class. But we should ask the question: does the bourgeoisie still exists as a class? This leading Protestant class of the city that is territorial in character, which has an affective relationship with labour and the thing, one of hegemonic propriertorial ownership. Yet, everything in contemporary capitalism is changing from the point of view of labour, in that it is no longer a possession of the propriertorial bourgeoisie. Capitalism is now chararcterized by the ability to dispossess and change the place of exchange (the place of non-place or deterritorialization). A process of precarization based on profit which has ruined the bourgeoisie as a class.

However, if we look to Mexico we detect two streams of modernity (in truth, there is no such thing as post-modernity). Firstly, we have the bourgeois Protestant strand of proprietarian modernity based around labour/time/value. However, the Mexican philosopher Bolívar Echeverría identifies a second stream, a Baroque culture of modernity (which Deleuze wrote so eloquently about with reference to Leibniz). This is why you should all please stop reading Spinoza and read Leibniz instead! Leibniz is a much darker and more paranoiac writer, but he is also the writing about the multiplication of worlds and the multiplication of productive consistency. Leibniz is the appropriate thinker of the recombinant phase of capitalism, therefore Leibniz is essential to understanding capitalism’s mutation (under which labour is presented as an infinite sprawl of viable time). Capital now has the ability to produce infinite fractals of time inside the productive working day. This makes Liebniz the thinker of the recombinant machine.

Momentarily, returning to Italy, if we look at the Italian struggle between language and Capital, we must understand that the Fascist experience was not only one of pathological criminality, but also a deep understanding of the second stream of Baroque modernity inscribed within capitalism (exemplified by Curzio Malaparte, who subverts the the reactionary character of the baroque into a ‘progressive force’ in his book Leaving Europe). Here we see that the Baroque produces multiplication, an infinity of points of singular annunciation in language, which erases any possibility of Truth (i.e. that labour-time equals value). Therefore, only the arbitrary use of force (Fascism) can create power, a kingdom of arbitrary force between workers and Capital. The Baroque is a delegitimisation of the truth of value by force (this is the experience of Autonomia in Italy in the 70’s).

What I’d really like to talk about now is Malinche (also known as Marina, Malintzin, Malinali), the interpreter and lover of Cortes who translated for him when he wanted to talk in the languages of meso-americans. She meets Cortes and considers him a messenger of God? But the question is: whose God (the Catholic God or Quetzacoatl)? Malinche is a traitor, but why should she be against the conquistadors,? Her world — the world of the Aztecs — is collapsing with arrival of the European metalanguage. She represents the mixing of cultures, the emergence of a new Mexico, a new history of a new world. The creation of a new subjectivity, her son Martin who she conceives with Cortes, the first Mestizo. She realizes that the world cannot be changed (‘No, we can’t!), so the experience of Malinche is important. We must become Malinche — we have lost our collective soul, we are no more ourselves — within the framework of infinite truths that semio-capital creates (the mestization of language). Our identity no longer exists historically, Italy does not exist! Life in the territory has been erased and cultural energy cannot change reality. We must start again like Malinche.


Q: Is resistance to semio-capitalism based in language, the hijacking of language as Delueze might say — creating a vacuum of non-communication such as radio piracy (such as Radio Alice)?

Berardi: Is subjectivity possible only when resistance is possible, is this the question? It is through the act of exodus and escape that we search for new processes of subjectivation, we are not merely running away. However, what is missing in Delueze and Guattari’s account is the word ‘depression’. They never mention the ‘d’-word. But at the end of their partnership they write the beautiful book What is Philosophy? on the subject of growing old. This is good for both social and demographic reasons in Europe. It is the problem of slow speed, the velocity of ageing. This is depression. This is the political problem of the 21st century. The relationship between infinite speed (velocity) and our brain in the field of chaos.

Q. How is the story of Malinche and the mestizo experience related to Virno’s theory of social exodus?

Berardi: Exodus is the point of change in political perspective according to Virno. A new process of autonomy, there is not only one way of escaping. Malinche’s exodus offers us the founding affect of contemporary South America. And this affect is the coexistence of differing temporalities within the same social sphere (worlds in worlds, in Mexico we can travel from the Palaeolithic-era to the 15th century right up to modernity in the same territory). This harbours a great potentiality. A virtual infinity of temporalities.

Q. Yes, but what about Europe?

Berardi: Yes, Europe has been one of the last great hopes for workerism. But I think we should reframe our hope differently. Interestingly, Deleuze and Guattari voted in opposite directions on the question of the Maastricht Referendum (Deleuze voted with a communist ‘No!’, and Guattari with a post-everything ‘Yes!’). Both contradicting each other on the question of the European superstate. However, the issue of Greece is telling, Greece’s debt and the German-Greek debate. This is the beginning of the end for the European entity. What is at stake is the financial identity of the European state. And there are no European intellectuals currently (who? Gluckmann!!??). What is required is the beginning of a new intellectual idea of autonomy, a construction free from the dictatorship of the European Central Bank.

Q. I’m an old-fashioned socialist utopian. My favourite book is Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism, I’ve read Marcuse and Nina Power’s One Dimensional Woman, who claims that femininity is inscribed within language. So what is semio-capitalism? Post-Fordism emphasizes the cognitive worker (according to Gramsci). And you’re referencing Baudrillard, so should we fight within the virtuality of hyper-realism?

Berardi: Baudrillard has perhaps written too many books,but some of his points are certainly crucial. Hyper-reality offers a possible entrance to the castle of the world. I am interested in this idea of aleatority between time and value. Gramsci configured the framework of change as being comprised of intellectual labour and class organisation. But there has been an essential change in this framework, it is no more a process of the reflection of intellectual labour and class. It has become a problem of integration, a difficulty produced by the multiplication of perspectives. This is exactly what eludes the Grasmsican view, the gulf of separation we experience between language and the body in cognitive labour. An abyss of alienation, a psycho-pathology. Baudrillard allows us to think this separation.

Q. I’m Mexican, so pleased you spoke about Malinche. She is indigenous and represents indian modernity breaking from the European conception of left and right, not based on the question of ethnicity. We see this extreme grounding in territorial reality in Chiapas, also with the Cocaleros, the coca-planters of Peru and Bolivia. However, the Zapatistas are also deploying affective language (Our Word is Our Weapon). What is the connection between deterritorialization and this experience?

Berardi: What is fascinating about Mexico is the different temporalities within Mexico itself — between Chiapas and the city, for instance. All these differences living side-by-side in an apparently unified world, a model of possible autonomy. Not just politically with regard to labour, but also allowing for the possibility of a singularization of experience. There is absolutely no possibility of changing the world, only the possibility of singularization (which is in fact the communist project). Mexico teaches us this, it is the mestizo experience — a therapy of singularization. Only by forgetting about identity (like Malinche) is there a way forward. A new beginning after the apocalypse.

Q. What about de-colonial thought – colonial subjectivity must be eradicated? Surely, we must decolonize Europe.

Berardi: We see the concept of post-colonization beginning, but in truth colonization never ended! There is no teleological linearity, linearity towards where? In Latin/South America there is only non-linear singularization, which might be individual, collective or transversal. An entirely new process. It is like the Fox and the Grapes — not my problem.

Q. What about the feeling of apocalypse in Malinche’s story, the Aztec collapse? Who won? There is this story of Montezuma playing dice with Cortes for everything, and not caring, since his empire was collapsing. If you want to be a ‘Malinchista’ is there some relevance to the aleatory and the financial system?

Berardi: The end of the world is a true singularity. The end of the world is always singular (a personal apocalypse?). However, the second stream of modernity was more vicious, carnal and fleshy (9 out of 10 indians died). But Martin and Malinche survived. Martin is the beginning of a new world that inherits nothing from his mother or father, he is a new subjectivity. As such, the messtizaje mix cannot be codified in one sense or another (here Berardi mentioned Serge Gruzinski’s La Guerre Des Images). For us it is principally a problem of forgetting, not one of coming to terms with capitalism, the world begins with me in a singular sense.

Q. You mentioned that ‘Yes, we can!’ was a Freudian lapse, but his hope over? Does redemption start here? If so, what would the autonomous soul at work look like?

Berardi: If we examine the slogan ‘Yes, we can!’ we see this translates into what is in fact an impossibility of political will on the behalf of Barack Obama. (‘No, we can’t!). It becomes an extraordinary Freudian lapse, a final declaration of political modernity and the belief that human will can change things. Look at the constitution of power, look at Afghanistan, Obama said he wants to withdraw, but finds he cannot leave. He wants to leave and stay at the same time. This constitution of power is a worldwide Mafia power. Just look at Italy. The Mafia is the Italian state! There is no difference, they are the same thing. Under such a constitution of power voluntarism is impossible. Dr. Bush has proscribed infinite war! The idea was not to win in Afghanistan, it was to push the world into a war it cannot pull out of. The human dimension of this is sheer exhaustion (the growing-old of mankind). Unable to face this we are forced, like Deleuze, to live in withdrawal. However, Deleuze states that withdrawal offers us the ability to find new weapons. Obama knows that he is playing a game with no way out, it is over. So how is it possible to live in this inhuman world? Well, through collective withdrawal.

Alberto Toscano: Are you merely taking this question of depression and turning it into a euphoria of collapse? There have been these virulent debates throughout history, like the anarchists of the 19th c. who suggested radical, intensive and spatial withdrawal. This is an old strategy, a dissipation of useful energy: every one who goes to a farm is one less person that does something useful. But given workerism’s hostility to Hegel, your suggestion of a multiplicity of temporalities suffers from a Hegelian teleology, as well. The old model of the industrial world was hegemonic, yet it was never total, although certainly violent. The experience of Fordism was so significant that its end is seen as a collapse. Yet still, even at the end there is still plenty of industrial exploitation (manual labour is still cheaper than cognitive labour). The collapse of Fordism doesn’t seem like much of a collapse.

Berardi: Yes, I admit there is a Hegelian undertone to Autonomism. You read Hegel when you are young and become a prisoner for life of Hegel! I must come to terms with my Hegelianism everyday. Unfortunately, you cannot aufheben the Aufhebung! We must take this question of a paradigm change — this passage from the mono-level of Fordism to the baroque plurality of semio-captial — very seriously. I want to stress this emphasis on aleotority and arbitrarity (the violent law of the determinability of human time). When there is no arbitrary violence, no compulsion, there will be a huge change. However, the voluntarism of the decision is nothing, since we dwell in the kingdom of indeterminability.


About andrewosborne

Andrew Osborne has recently completed his MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmith's.
This entry was posted in Capitalism, Crisis, Deleuze and Guattari, Hegel, Karl Marx, Subjectivity, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi: ‘The Soul At Work: From Alienation to Autonomy’

  1. omova says:

    We have a great lecture by Bifo at IUAV University in Venice…(while I should be there at Goldsmith). As soon as possible I will transcribe it on my blog:
    It should be nice to build a bridge between as!
    Ciao. Nico

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