attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: Franco Berardi

Insurrectionary Times

A: I don’t think that we will be able to win a fight against financial capitalism by demonstrating in the street. Destroying banks isn’t useful if we are seeking emancipation from financial dictatorship. Financial power does not exist in the banks; it is embedded in software, in the techno-linguistic automatisms that govern daily life and the psychic automatisms of consumerism, competition and fear. Nevertheless we are in the midst of a process – a movement – that will deploy itself over the course of the next decade, maybe longer, and we have to start from where we are and what we know. What we have today is the memory of past forms that our movements have taken, including occupations, strikes and demonstrations, both peaceful and violent. All of these are part of the legacy of 20th century social movements. Recently, we have tried to resurrect some of these old forms of struggle – these old forms of expression – but this hasn’t worked particularly well. Established forms of peaceful demonstration have absolutely no possibility of changing the politics of financial capitalism. They don’t work when democracy is dead – and it is totally dead, the European experience is demonstrating that clearly. But on the other hand, violent riots or bank bombings are also useless because they don’t challenge the sites of real power. Real power is in the cybersphere, in the algorithms of financial control, in the quantitative analyses that undergird trading, and so on.

We continue to use old forms of action but we will have to begin to imagine new forms that are capable of actually struggling against financial dictatorship. In my opinion, the first task – which we have begun to experience over the last year – is the reactivation of the social body that I have already described. But as I have said, this will not be enough. We will also have to begin to learn to create new forms of autonomy from financial control and so on. For instance, in Italy we have been talking increasingly of “insolvency.” Of course, insolvency means the inability to pay a debt but we don’t think of it strictly in monetary terms. There is also a symbolic debt that is always implied in power relationships. Imagination might mean the ability to create the possibility of insolvency – to create the right to be insolvent, the right not to pay a debt – at a semiotic and a symbolic level. We need to imagine forms of social relationships that escape monetary exchange or invent new forms of exchange, like time banks, new forms of currency, community currency and so on. Do you see what I am trying to say? The process of imagination begins with the reactivation of the social body but next this body has to create new levels of social interaction. Escaping financial dictatorship, in other words, means imagining new forms of social exchange. I don’t know what form emancipation will take in the coming years. I can only propose this little methodological starting point from what we already know.
– Franco Berardi, Here.

New content of any substance might be a while in coming to this blog. I am currently concentrating on an essay for the new group effort I’m involved with alongside Michael of ArchiveFire and dmf of ANTHEM fame. Watch this space.

The visible and the temporal

I share Steven Hickman’s concerns with Paulo Virno and Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s politics of exodus/withdrawal. Its essentially the same tactic that Hakim Bey’s temporary autonomous zone articulated in the 1990s; an intoxicated vision that is still appealing and perhaps necessary as a defensive position/conservation policy but that only really acts as a poetry of the social center, the squat, and the occupation. Viewed differently, from another angle, is also the textbook language of the psychdisciplines diagnostic and symptomological speech; the absence of poetry in the descriptions of depression, post-traumatic disassociation, schizophrenic alienation from the sensus communis of participatory meaning production. There is nothing inherently emancipatory in these conditions, the language for which is now transposed onto the political; a perverse justification of Bifo’s analysis of contemporary alienation of psychopathology.

Describing the TAZ, Hakim Bey writes that

FOUCAULT, BAUDRILLARD, ET AL. have discussed various modes of “disappearance” at great length. Here I wish to suggest that the TAZ is in some sense a tactic of disappearance. When the Theorists speak of the disappearance of the Social they mean in part the impossibility of the “Social Revolution,” and in part the impossibility of “the State”– the abyss of power, the end of the discourse of power. The anarchist question in this case should then be: Why bother to confront a “power” which has lost all meaning and become sheer Simulation? Such confrontations will only result in dangerous and ugly spasms of violence by the emptyheaded shit-for-brains who’ve inherited the keys to all the armories and prisons. (Perhaps this is a crude american misunderstanding of sublime and subtle Franco-Germanic Theory. If so, fine; whoever said understanding was needed to make use of an idea?) [1]

This is the primary way in which we ought to understand the temporary autonomous zone. It is ‘a tactic of disappearance’ that allows the insurgent, who has abandoned hopes for a social revolution, to evade the state. The revolution and the state having both become simulacra- although the armories and prisons still seem to be in operation, and violence still remains very real- it is naturally pointless to attempt to reckon with them. If such a reckoning, with its invocation of violence, meant direct armed struggle against the state then I couldn’t agree more that we ought to abandon that way of thinking; armed struggle, as opposed to revolutionary self-defense, has a history of bloody failure in Europe and North America, and to contemplate violence against the state is to already loss sight of the fact that the state manifests itself in such violence through the corporeal human bodies of the very people who radicals ought to seek to get on board. Elsewhere, Hakim also speaks of spectacular violence, the mediatised image of violence that reifies particular instances of political conflict into eternal images of Terror or deliquency. Again, it would be foolish to step willingly into these stereotypes.

Regardless of the falsity of the assumption that the state is a simulcrum and that power is mere simulation, neoliberal capitalism actually requiring a strong security state and an austerity commanding an open and largely uncontested exercise of power, the fact is that the TAZ is predicated on disappearance. Just as the state and power have ceased to exist as anything other than images, so we have ceased to exist. Yet it is at this point that Hakim Bey also states that the tactic of disappearance has a positive moment. The example given is the withdrawal from state school system and the positive re-articulation of that withdrawal in forms such as home schooling. Here, it is not so much that disappearance implies a ceasing to exist but, instead, that there is a vanishing from view. The body of the child in the school is countable and counted, can be disciplined and set into motion in the circulation of the post-Fordist network of economised existence. When the child’s body no longer appears within an element of this network at the proper time and at the proper place then the entire circulation is threatened. While Hakim’s suggestion is one I like (my partner and I intend homeschooling her son- most of the time), homeschooling does not escape a regime of visibility.

Having disrupted a certain distribution of the sensible it has, just as all strategies of refusal risk doing, invoked a recuperative redistribution. Here in the UK, homeschooling has been integrated into the state system to the extent that parent’s are required to inform the local school and council of their intentions; the council might then make informal inquiries about the form of education your child is receiving and, if they have concerns, will issue a ‘school attendance order’. Further to this, to evidence that your child will receive a good standard of education and that you aren’t just a lazy good for nothing, the state requires that parent’s produce an education philosophy. This involves a whole lot of research into educational philosophies and pedagogy for parents who are often not academically inclined, working part-time, and maintaining a household whilst doing the work of having a child with them whenever they are not working. In other words, if feminists correctly identify that affective labour has always been a component of women’s domestic labour then homeschooling requires that an added dimension of cognitive labour be extracted. There is also the fact that homeschooling is expensive and is, in the main, the preserve of the relatively affluent. Homeschooling is clearly not an option that enacts a tactic of disappearance anymore, if it ever was, and it also seems to be an option that the majority of people simply couldn’t take.

Moving on to another example, Hakim talks about the refusal of work. This is a tactic that I think is radical if we follow the reflections on it that the autonomists, the Metropolitan Indians, and, more recently, Kathi Weeks have taken. Hakim’s discussion of it amounts to the idea that

Refusal of Work can take the forms of absenteeism, on-job drunkenness, sabotage, and sheer inattention–but it can also give rise to new modes of rebellion: more self- employment, participation in the “black” economy and “lavoro nero,” welfare scams and other criminal options, pot farming, etc.–all more or less “invisible” activities compared to traditional leftist confrontational tactics such as the general strike. [2]

These are tactics that don’t seem particularly reflexive. Absenteeism, drunkenness, sheer inattention: these are behaviours that are likely to take any refusal of work into the realm of refusal of employment, opening one up to the prospect of poverty, malnutrition, and homelessness. Maybe this is a perfectly good tactic for young unencumbered people, it hardly seems like a they’d work out well as a mass tactic against capitalism. It also doesn’t take into account what kinds of jobs people are doing. Sure, if I work at a video game store or a call center I can partake of these options, but if I’m a nurse, or distribution driver, or some other socially necessary worker? Sabotage is a tactic that I would think would also land most people in the situation of joblessness, unless they were very good at not getting caught! (I used to work in a particularly scummy office and always had daydreams about performing some “human sabotage”: injecting the water cooler with strong laxatives. I never could get the nerve- or the callousness?- to do it; but the thought did help get me through the day). As to the other options, I don’t want or need to reiterate Marx’s position on the lumpen-proletariat. That said, I have always defended people who have scammed the benefit system but today that is simply not an option.

The point of going over these two social examples of Hakim’s ideas on the temporary autonomous zones is simply to point out that disappearance isn’t a very good strategy. There are other ways of thinking about the temporary autonomous zone (the Munich Republic is mentioned; as are raves, squats, and altered states of consciousness) but these are a couple of the examples of the TAZ being more than a personal adventure. It may sound like I am against the TAZ but on the contrary I find it a compelling account of one possible mode of reworking our relationships and challenging the dominant organisation of the temporalities and spatialisations of our lives. A TAZ can disconnect us from the temporality of production and can be enacted in places where our bodies are not supposed to congregate; they can be times and places of learning new ways to relate to each other; they offer us zones of deceleration and destimulation that might ameliorate some of the impacts of our accelerative culture and attentional economy and thereby enjoin politics with a non-depolitising therapeutics; and they can become points of coalescence around which debate and organisation can occur. They are not unimportant events.

TAZs are necessary elements of resistance but they don’t and can’t overcome capitalism. Indeed, the kind of hymns to invisibility that Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee make are precisely the upshot of this kind of thinking. In The Coming Insurrection, a text by the Invisible Committee that is intimately associated with Tiqqun, we are urged to ‘Stay invisible. Put anonymity on the offense'[3]. Invisibility and anonymity are watchwords of the kind of politics that The Invisible Committee thinks is necessary today:

To be visible is to be out in the open – that is, above all to be vulnerable. When the leftists of all nations continually make their cause more “visible” – whether that of the homeless, of women, or of immigrants – in the hope that it will get taken care of, they’re doing exactly the opposite of what they ought to. To not be visible, but rather to turn to our advantage the anonymity we’ve been relegated to, and with conspiracies, nocturnal and/or masked actions, to make it into an unassailable attack-position. [4]

Ironically, The Coming Insurrection is probably one of the most famous texts written by the radical left in some time, and the Tarnac 9 have likewise been given not a little limelight after one of their acts of sabotage. I am not suggesting that the Tarnac 9 were wrong to have sabotaged the train lines that were vital to the logistics of capital in France, just pointing out an amusing and unfortunate side-effect of violence is notoriety, not anonymity. More importantly than that, is the fact that this hymn to invisibility is predicated on two refusals: the refusal of vulnerability, and the refusal of visibility.
The issue of vulnerability is one that many other bloggers besides me have made a point of emphasis. It is an issue that requires a brief diversion but necessary diversion.

The turn to thinking about vulnerability is a way of rethinking politics altogether. It is a way of thinking about politics that follows from an ontological commitment to the primacy of the corporeal. Briefly, whatever exists, whatever is an affective being, exists as a body. I take this to be the fundamental contribution to philosophy made by the Stoics, and it is taken up again in modern philosophy by the phenomenologist of flesh Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Vulnerability names two aspects of bodies. First of all, it points to the condition of the openness, interwovenness, and interpenetration of bodies with one another. Under this condition we speak of corporealism as transcorporealism; bodies form intermatrices in conjunction, collaboration with, within, across, and despite other bodies. On the other hand, vulnerability also names the condition of being exposed to danger, disaster, injury, trauma, destruction and death. In this second instance we can think a range of specific vulnerabilities. I have touched on the idea of homelessness as a form of spatial vulnerability, and we can think of Marx’s analysis of capitalism as one of economic vulnerability, while psychiatry operates a lot of the time with a stress-vulnerability model of illness in which biological predispositions (vulnerabilities) to certain conditions may be triggered by social and existential conditions (stress). Ultimately, these vulnerabilities are carnal; they are vulnerabilities of the body that leave us exposed to that ultimate vulnerability: death.

In Precarious Life, Judith Butler asks, how is it that a collective can cope with the vulnerabilities that it is exposed to? She provides a pertinent answer for the current discussion when she suggests that

There is the possibility of appearing impermeable. Nothing about being socially constructed as women restrains us from simply becoming violent ourselves. And then there is the other age-old option, the possibility of wishing for death or becoming dead, as a vain effort to preempt or deflect the next blow. [5]

Butler will go on to discuss the commonality of bodily vulnerability, artificially limiting it to human bodies, but here she makes the argument that the desire for impermeability can take one of two forms: first, it can reproduce the violence done onto it, becoming the one who discloses and acts on the vulnerability of the other; or, secondly, it can emerge in the form of death or the dream of death. This tells us something about the invisibility recommended by The Invisible Committee. Like Hakim Bey, they want to disappear from the realm of spectacular violence. Unlike Hakim Bey, they want this to be the precondition of a denial of vulnerability. To be visible, they said, is to be vulnerable. Yet simply to exist is to be vulnerable. If The Invisible Committee were talking in terms of harm reduction, that is, of trying to reduce our exposure to vulnerability, then they might have a point. As it stands, I can’t help but read them as indulging in an idealism that thinks it can escape the condition of carnality through a tactic of disappearance (a move Hakim Bey would never have made). In discussing the events that followed 9/11 in the USA, especially in regards to its aggressive retributionist foreign policy, Butler goes on to note that this particular form of idealism has as its effect a kind of subjectivation that

seeks to produce itself as impermeable, to define itself as protected permanently against incursion and as radically invulnerable to attack. [6]

Butler rightly connects this to the logic of all nationalism and we could equally extend it to processes surrounding medical biotechnology, gated communities, and any kind of process of scapegoating. Indeed, in the work of Ernest Becker and the psychology of Terror Management Theory, it is the manipulation of one’s awareness of one’s ontological vulnerability that is often utilised in order to capture the state and/or win support for exclusionary and/or barbaric political parties and policies. Again, I see no reason not to extend this to almost all vulnerabilities. What was Hitler’s vision of a Reich that lasted a thousand years if not a dream of invulerability? Butler is right to suggest that

‘war seeks to deny the ongoing and irrefutable ways in which we are all subject to one another, vulnerable to destruction by the other…'[7]

and to identify this with Israel activities in Palestine and its security wall, effectively making it probably the world’s largest gated community.

I am not suggesting that The Invisible Committee is fascist or that it is in any way akin to Israel’s imperialist domination of it’s neighbor. That would be a hysterically overwrought. Instead, I am suggesting only that it is this delusion of invulnerability that The Invisible Committee is held enthralled to. In the case of The Invisible Committee rather than being a symptom of some latent fascism, this delusion is probably a kind of adolescent delusion. In fact, it might be a delusion that is particular to the adolescent male. I can remember being an adolescent and chain smoking happily, drinking stupidly, jumping off and into things, saying things sure to get my a kicking, taking substances I had no idea what they were, even throwing heavy objects into the air to see how much they’d hurt when they hit me on the head! I’m smiling thinking about it (that last one in particular), but we can see the logic at work. Death and serious injury don’t befall the young man; smoking doesn’t lead to cancer, and he could never become one of those alcoholics he derides; he won’t hurt himself, or if he does it’ll be a story; if he’s of a particularly nihilistic or depressive stripe (and I certainly was), he may even glory in his proximity to death and disease. In this ‘theory of a young man’ vulnerability is infinitely deferred as the condition of some other group, or else it is affirmed in a heroic disavowal of its reality.

I would suggest that The Invisible Committee and Tiqqun operate according to just such a “theory of the young man”. The young man withdraws into invisibility and thereby overcomes his vulnerability. His precariousness and precarity are superseded simply by disappearing from the gaze of the state and the diktats of capitalism. It is not the young man who is vulnerable, it is the homeless, the women, and the immigrants; groups who would do better to just keep out of the light, stay quite, and drop-out. I want to make an assumption that is probably unfair: for the young man the homeless should just think of themselves as partaking in the refusal of housing; immigrants should see themselves as refusing the national state; and women should think of themselves as…I’m not sure. On this point, we could remind The Invisible Committee that feminism and women’s struggle are fighting some pretty broad conditions from lower pay to a vast systematic and international trade in their flesh: the sexual market of rape. Drawing attention to this is making oneself too visible (a bad thing) and therefore too vulnerable (another bad thing). I think that it is less unfair to suggest that there is more than a hint of patriarchal attitudes underneath this formula. I am not the first to think that there might be some patriarchal assumptions at work in The Invisible Committee/Tiqqun’s work (cf. Nina Power’s review of Theory of a Young-Girl). And, as China Meiveille’s concept of unseeing brilliantly points out in The City and The City, many people are invisible because they are unseen, because people refuse to see them; including victims of state violence, when it chooses to look away.

In the adolescent delusion of the young man there is something about visibility provoking vulnerability itself. For the Invisible Committee, visibility is tied intimately with recognition. In the same passage as cited above, they continue to sing the praises of anonymity:

To be nothing socially is not a humiliating condition, the source of some tragic lack of recognition (to be recognized: but by who?), but on the contrary is the precondition for maximum freedom of action.[8]

I don’t want to seem like an uncool, unhip, ultra-theorist or anything, but could you imagine walking up to a trafficked sex worker, a homeless man having to degrade himself further to get into a shelter, or a psychiatric patient being refused basic dignities any other human being takes for granted, that they shouldn’t feel humiliated, that they are in fact free? I’m not suggesting that members of The Invisible Committee would actually do this, they don’t seem like stupid people. I can only put this down to being another symptom of the young man’s delusion. In fairness, they do state that to be “nothing socially” is the “precondition” of freedom rather than constitutive of freedom itself. Still, this is a bit like saying that being raped is the precondition for being sexually liberated. Of course, “to be nothing socially” is a reference to Marx’s early definition of the proletariat as

a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong, but wrong generally, is perpetuated against it; which can invoke no historical, but only human, title; which does not stand in any one-sided antithesis to the consequences but in all-round antithesis to the premises of German statehood; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society, which, in a word, is the complete loss of man and hence can win itself only through the complete re-winning of man. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat. [9]

In a sense then The Invisible Committee/Tiqqun are repeating Marx. Except that Marx doesn’t go so far as to see proletarianised existence as not being one that involves humiliation just because it is also the precondition for freedom. As Marx writes in his “Comments on James Mill”, under the credit system

Mutual dissimulation, hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness are carried to extreme lengths, so that on the man without credit is pronounced not only the simple judgment that he is poor, but in addition a pejorative moral judgment that he possesses no trust, no recognition, and therefore is a social pariah, a bad man, and in addition to his privation, the poor man undergoes this humiliation and the humiliating necessity of having to ask the rich man for credit.

Marx recognises that proletarianised existence is a humiliation and that it is humiliating. Even given this, the problem with visibility stands because to be visible is to demand recognition. In “Bloom Theory”, Tiqqun stake out a vision of a society of nihilism and detachment that many of us, in our darker moments, would share. It is also a world in which we are forced to cover-up the nothingness of ourselves through the wearing of masks. These ‘masked nothings’ are the identities each of us assumes; identities such as worker, student, father, citizen and so on. For Tiqqun

Being nothing, remaining outside all recognition, or presenting oneself as a pure, non-political individuality, is enough to make any man at all a being whose disappearance is uninscribable. However inexhaustible the obituary eulogies may be — eternal regrets, etc. — such a death is trivial, indifferent, and only concerns he who disappears; meaning, that is — in keeping with good logic — nobody. Analogous to his entirely private life, Bloom’s death is such a non-event that anybody can eliminate him. That’s why the expostulations of those who, sobs in their voices, lament the fact that Kip Kinkel’s victims “didn’t deserve to die” are inadmissible, because they didn’t deserve to live, either; they were outside the sphere of deservingness. To they extent that they found themselves in the hands of Biopower, they were already the living dead, at the mercy of any sovereign decision-making, whether that of the State or of a murderer.[10]

Here Tiqqun reiterates its agreement with Agameben’s frankly confused reading of the world as a concentration camp and of each one of us as an exemplar of homo sacer, the sacred man who may be sacrificed but who can’t be killed. Sacred Man, also referred to as bare or naked life, is the life that has been fully brought inside of the biopolitical order that constitutes itself as a zone of indistinguishability; always already somewhere between life and death. In such a situation recognition can only ever be the recognition of the sovereign. Thus, preferring to escape such a total subsumption of the corporeal under the sovereign’s power, Tiqqun and The Invisible Committee advocate simply not appearing. All that is left is to withdraw and, as Butler suggests, to play dead.

Visibility, appearing to power, seems to thus be fundamentally about the production of identities that the Blooms of this world must wear; masks that give us the appearance of a stabilised, substantial being but which elide the facts. It is for this reason that earlier in The Bloom Theory, Tiqqun state that all recognition is ‘recognition in and therefore of the spectacle’. Not only are we fully captured by the biopolitical regime but we are also fully immersed within the totally integrated spectacle. To be visible, to appear, is always to be visible within and therefore as the forces of domination, as one fraction of it set against another fraction of it, but fundamentally knowable, containable, and disarmed ahead of time.

This does not accord with the experience of activists or with the confused coverage of recent events. Since Tiqqun wrote these texts, there has been a student movement, a series of riots, the emergence (and yes, waning) of Occupy, a series of occupations, and public parties in the street. No one is suggesting these projects have become a coherent mass revolutionary movement, but they have challenged the picture of a totally invulnerable capitalist order. Instead, we have seen a certain distribution of the sensible challenged. Indeed, if the recent beginnings of a rewakening of the left have been anything then they have been a way of contesting temporalities, spatialities, and therefore also of visibilities. Tiqqun and The Invisible Committee tackle visibility as a unilateral and binary phenomena: either you appear or you disappear; either you enjoy spectacular visibility or you engage in invisibility. We might ask invisibility to whom, and to what? Invisibility at what time? This is to think tactically, and to recognise that any politics is going to involve a certain coordination of visibilities, or the carnal overlapping and interfolding of the visible and the invisible. It seems as though there is a kind of conflation going on between different kinds of visibility and the liberal quest for the recognition of identities. Yet, even among ourselves, those of us who read Tiqqun and might participate in temporary autonomous zones, must recognise one another. If not, then Tiqqun’s is going to be a lonely undertaking.

More interestingly, Paulo Virno discusses withdrawal as an exodus. When asked if he means a simply flight from the city or the factory or whatever location you’re in, he replies

No, I am not referring necessarily to a territorial exodus, but rather to desertion in one’s own place: the collective defection from the state bond, from certain forms of waged work, from consumerism. Some authors, like Albert Hirschman, affirm that sometimes in protests, the voices don’t manage to reach a change and are then only able to leave the game, run away. For that it is not only necessary to destroy certain things but also to construct, to have a positive proposal, so that exodus will no remain a solitary act.[11]

A desertion in one’s own place. In another interview Virno states that

By exodus was understood as a radical politics that does not want to construct a new state. In the end, it is only that and, then, is far from the model of the revolutions that want to take power, to construct a new state, a new monopoly of political decision; to the contrary, it is – in every case – to defend power, not to take power and, also the things that you said yesterday when you were speaking on the university – of the richness of relations – this positivity of experience as something that later deserves to be defended but that, in the meantime, should be [seen as] something already constructed in terms of sociability, productive relations, knowledges, networks of our part. [12]

So this desertion in one’s own place is a political desertion; a desertion of the political politics of those revolutionaries that seek to capture the state apparatus but, in its notable absence, this also implies that it is not the anti-politics of those who would seek to smash the state. There is also a sense in which, as it refers not to a taking leave of a space, a particular form of nomadism in which one does not have a place to take leave of except one’s own; and one’s own space is always the spatiality of the body.

Franco Berardi also speaks in this language when he states that he wants

To call forth a big wave of withdrawal, of massive dissociation, of desertion from the scene of the economy, of nonparticipation in the fake show of politics.[13]

Steven Hickman notes that these positions are all idealist. Yet it isn’t just that they are idealist it is also that it is a language a language of retreat. Even if we agree that the state isn’t what we want to win, is our imagination so impoverished that the state is the only way that we could think about taking power? Even the idea of living in the cracks isn’t as easy it was when Hakim Bey wrote the first treatment of disappearing. As Simon Critchley has discussed we need to produce the interstices that we can then occupy:

politics is the praxis of taking up distance with regard to the state…an internal distance that must be opened from the inside…[because] there is no distance within the state. [14]

I think that this is a worthwhile strategy if they it isn’t meant to be a withdrawals but an opening, a very visible opening, that tend to the creation of new publics. This is essentially what Occupy was, for a time, in its contesting of the distribution of the sensible and the coming together of bodies; they were also, temporary and partial no doubt, cleavages in the temporality of production- a kind of political economic strike. That thought, the thought of a combined political economic moment, is leading me to look at the traditions of council communism and anarchosyndicalism in more depth. These are traditions that emerge within and against the state as openings in the place where one already is: at work. Of course today, work time is all time, so the question would be whether or not something like councils and revolutionary unions could be established in places, until post-Fordist recomposition, were not considered workplaces. If all time is work time, and all places are work places then why not a mother’s union? why not a service worker’s council? why not a homeless union? As long as these unions are taken up as spaces within and against the state. The strength of these two neglected traditions is that they are a kind of desertion in one’s own place; they both support strikes (as either general or mass strikes) and neither of them involve a throwing off of the vast material ‘worldwide distribution systems of goods and services networks’. Instead they call for the self-management of these material networks in order to re-craft our relationship to production and to one another in a way that acknowledge the necessity of forms of visibility and seeks to find strength in the affirmation of our vulnerability.

[1] Hakim Bey. The temporary autonomous zone: the will to power as disappearance. Here.
[2] Ibid.
[3] The Invisible Committee. The Coming Insurrection. Here. p.49.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Judith Butler. Precarious Life: the powers of mourning and violence. p.42.
[6] Judith Butler. Frames of War. p.47.
[7] Ibid. p.43.
[8] Op. cit. The Invisible Committee.
[9]. Karl Marx. 1844. Comments on James Mill: Éléments D’économie Politique. Here.
[10] Tiqqun. Bloom Theory. Homo Sacer/Sacred Man. Here.
[11] Paulo Virno. Between disobedience and exodus. Here.
[12] Paolo Virno. 2012. GENERAL INTELLECT, EXODUS, MULTITUDE – AN INTERVIEW WITH PAOLO VIRNO. Here.
[13] Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. Political therapy. Here.
[14]. Simon Critchley. Infinitely demanding: ethics of commitment, politics of resistance. [hardback] p.113.

This post originally appeared as a response to Steven Hickman at noirrealism.

On this pure semiopath that : this is, once again, played out in Virilio as a kind of prophetic theory-fiction around his idea of cocooning. Houellebecq’s novel is the future (the future without futurity) that emerges out of Virilio’s ideas. In this regard it is interesting that the (awful) cinema version The possibility of an island is not the story of this film but tries to mash together elements of Atomised and Lanzarote in order to present a kind of inverted image of technognostic/Singularity ecstatic thought, hope, utopia. With both men I share the fear that PoI might sketch a possible future, not a literal one but one that is already emergent, already with us, in the production of what you are calling the “semiopath” but which I have always (and incorrectly) thought of as a post-traumatic subject…increasingly I prefer to think of it as the dis-embodied subject.

In that respect, if there is a tradition of taking a psycopathy and rendering it as the metaphorical lens for the age, then I think I could suggest that these men are tracing out the contours of this disembodiment… schizophrenia begins with disembodiment, but undoubtedly the most obvious (and lethal) form of the disorder is anorexia nervosa. It is the eating disorders that are the psychiatric metaphor for our age, just as they are among the most widespread symptoms of our perversely post-scarcity, post-affluent society. One can even think of Houellebecq’s ideas on the sexual economy that followed sexual liberation (I think he speechifies on this in Whatever but it may be Platform) and how the anorexic symptomology relates directly to this deregulation of bodies, pleasures and desires.

Funnily enough, I was reading The Map and the Territory while on a clinical placement with a CBT therapist in an eating disorders unit (a job I would love, btw) and could see the return of the organic at the end of that novel as an acute correlate to so many of those women’s (I didn’t work with any men) disavowal of their own bodies. The complexified auto-affection that comes undone through intensification; the rigidity of thought; the alexythimia and hedonic dysphoria; the obsessiveness of the mundane; the possible rejection or inability to cope with adulthood, majority, reason; the use of psychostimulants. I will need to return to these theme, central to my way of thinking about and orienting my clinical practice. Ballard may have left psychiatry, and in ‘To Stay Alive’ Houellebecq may only have seen in it a tool of survival (indeed, an institutionalisation of coping mechanisms), both of these men have equal right to claim to understand the psychopathology of our age…as much as any contemporary Freud or Kreaplin might.

Communism in recovery

In spite of the association of violence with political will, however, I would argue, as did Arendt, that the new glorification of violence of the late 1960s was caused by a severe frustration of the faculty of action in the modern world. That is, it expressed an underlying despair with regard to the real efficacy of political will, of political agency. In a historical situation of heightened helplessness, violence both expressed the rage of helplessness and helped suppress such feelings of helplessness. It became an act of self-constitution as outsider, as other, rather than an instrument of transformation. -Moishe Postone, History and helplessness: mass mobilisation and contemporary forms of anticapitalism.

As a psychiatric worker this absolutely appeals to me intuitively and theoretically. The violence in the riots of 2011 and the violence that is fetishised by certain left factions are born out of helplessness. Indeed, one could see the current historical moment, the movement of the left from its position of despair to optimism is also analogous to the psychiatric patient dragging themselves out of a kind of learned helplessness. The rejection of electoral politics by the majority of people could be seen as a symptom of learned helplessness: do they refuse to vote because they don’t care, or because “it won’t make any difference”; whenever you hear someone saying that they wish that there could be a world without classes, without a state, without injustice, without violence against women and so but that can never be because “that’s just the way things are” they are also talking the language of learned helplessness. In a similar respect, I wonder if the Zizekian call for a Master is a symptom of such learned helpness (the need for a savior; an externalisation of the locus of agency), or if it is instead a return to being able to think in terms of heroism, and therefore evidence of a recovery of agency and imagination?

In the 1960 and 1970, American psychologist EP Seligman was carrying out research on dogs to investigate the phenomena of classical condition (Pavlov’s dogs; the formation of an association between a stimulus and a resultant that influences behaviour). In the course of his research Seligman noticed that those dogs that received unavoidable electric shocks would fail to take evasive action in situations where avoidance-escape behaviour would have removed them from an aversive stimulus. The control animals, those dogs that did not receive such electric shocks, were able to flee the threatening situation with no difficulty. Repeating the experiment with human participants (and noise rather than electricity), Seligman found his dog results were reproduced. Seligman proposed that there was a structure of expectation that expected the uncontrollability of outcomes through intervention, and therefore the belief that intervention and action would be futile. He named this expectational-behavioural feedback loop learned helplessness. Essentially, repeated failed attempts to perturb a situation and produce a change inculcate in the attempters that it is pointless to even really try. Isn’t this the structure of the experience of the left?

Since assembling the idea, learned helplessness has become positively viral, being applied to pretty much all psychiatric conditions, to prison populations, to older people in care homes and so on. The authors of the website You are not so smart have even extended the application of the theory of learned helplessness to everyday life:

Every day – your job, the government, your addiction, your depression, your money – you feel like you can’t control the forces affecting your fate. So, you stage microrevolts. You customize your ringtone, you paint your room, you collect stamps. You choose.

This is the social psychology of capitalism. I have seen this first hand in patients of long-stay psychiatric wards and I have lived it during a period of long term unemployment (studies of both of which in relation to learned helplessness have proliferated since Seligman’s day). Isn’t this also the economy of the false choice that infects every aspect of contemporary life (coke/pepsi etc.)? You get to choose, but just enough to make sure you don’t make a real choice. This is precisely the trap that has broken apart and out of which the anti-cuts protests and the anti-Austerity movements have sprung. For Seligman, learned helplessness was to be understood as a form of depression, but it is clear that this has been a depression of what Franco Berardi calls “the social brain”. It is not that you or I have been depressed, although we might very well have been, but that we have all been subjected to depressive processes of subjectivation; the entire field of the production of subjectivity has been depressed. In discussin such a depression I want to make it clear that I reject the false dichotomy that presents itself as a political antagonism. On the one hand, depression is often portrayed a neurochemical condition, a “brain disease”. I argue that even when it is not theorised in this way the casual pharmacological treatment of it as such displays a kind of political faith (in a phrase designed to modify Santayana’s “animal faith”) that it is. The first half of Steven Soderbergh’s last film, Side Effects, does a wonderful job of exploring this faith and the complex relationship of psychiatry, the pharmaceutical industry, professional patients (people who have the knowledge about this brain disorder and the “fact” that prozac will make it better), family, and capitalism- and its affects- before losing its way. On the other side of this debate is the position that says depression is a social and political problem. The latter position is passionately argued by Mark Fisher in his excellent Capitalist Realism and in a good deal of interviews. I support Fisher’s calls for a politicisation of depression and, following psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff, I would also claim that diagnoseslike “depression” often serve to produce markets for psychiatric drugs and

allows the state to delegate a difficult area of social policy to supposed technical experts, and thus to remove it from the political and democratic arena. (Here).

I agree with this critique but I do think it is important to realise that neurobiology does play a demonstrable role in depression. There does seem to be a distinction to be made between biological dysphorias and situational dysphorias, and there is a job to be done to disentangle these phenomena from one another in specific cases. At the least, medication can and does have a role to play in the treatment of severe cases of clinical depression regardless of whether or not they are over-prescribed (the overprescription of morphine would not detract from its observable and subjectively reported ability to alleviate symptoms). Medications and other treatments should be viewed as tools rather than as totems to be revered or destroyed. Spend some time with someone who is so depressed that they are refusing to eat, to move, or to do anything but sleep. Now watch them in that state for months on end. It is unlikely that they would be capable of joining in any effort to politicise depression or to express it as what it often, but not always, is: political rage that has learned to view the situation of expressing itself as hopeless.

My general point is that it is just as ludicrous to reduce the problem of depression to the social field just as much as it reduce it to the neurochemical. The brain and the social field are not distinct from one another in some absolute way but are part of a circularity that operates via the body as korper and as leib. I don’t think Mark Fisher believes that the body and the social world are fundamentally distinct in this way, so it is strange that he should treat neurochemical and the social field in this way. If it is carried out for tactical reasons in a polemic against psychiatry, then I can’t follow him in that work. Psychiatry is neither monolithic in theory, disciplinary composition, or practices. As someone on the “inside” as it were, and with a history of close relationships with people who have undergone treatment, and having been assessed myself for panic in my adolescence (doctor: “you’re a student of philosophy? well, don’t worry…it;s not an existential crisis!” chuckle chuckle, indeed) I am aware of the problems. I have spent most of my training to enter the profession being critical of it and am a member of the Soteria Network, which offers a candidate model for a new psychiatry. The embodiment of mental disorders is striking- and is something I am writing about. The embodiment of depression is especially striking: the is an abandonment of voluntary motility-mobility, the alteration of gait (which at least one physiotherapeutic study suggests can be something that is treated with positive results), which psychiatric researchers Fuchs and Schlimme see as a result of a process whereby

the body loses the fluidity and transparency of a medium and becomes conspicuous, turning into a heavy, solid body, which puts up resistance to the individual’s intentions and impulses. (Here)

The depressive body is the body that is all korper and not enough lieb; in refusing to recede into the background it makes itself too evident and doesn’t allow for the enaction of world through meaningful comportment; it remains an heavy obstacle that must be taken into account in such a way that “intuitive attunement” to affordances in the environment through sensorimotor intentionality fails. As Fuchs and Schlimme further argue

The open horizon of possible experiences shrinks into a locked atmosphere, in which everything becomes permeated by a sense of lost possibilities.



The depressive subjectivation processes are once that operate on bodies in order to produce bodies that are exhausted and, as Deleuze put it, ‘the exhausted don’t possibilitate’. Depression is not the mood of the melancholic that introjects some lost object in order to angst over it, but it is the very real loss of the capacity of affection and to experience a world. At its excessive side, depression can take on a psychotic edge that indulges in mood-congruent delusions such as Cotard’s disorder or those of excessive guilt, the sense that one has committed some terrible crime and must/will be punished for it.

Returning to Fisher, I absolutely agree with him on the question of the ‘affective consequences of the kind of cyberspace-matrix that the yound especially are embedded in’ (Here). This is why I think that the rejection of Paul Virilio has been far too fast and that e has, at least in part (and I’d say in the useful part) been mischaracterised.

I don’t know what Virilio’s relationship to Althusser might be, but he can certainly be positioned among the post-Althusserians. It is possible to think of Virilio as a profoundly reactionary thinker- he does himself no favours here, we might attribute it to a combination of his Catholicism and his agora-phobia (his fear of the public)- yet he is not exactly alien or hostile to Marxian thinking. First of all, Virilio is consistently traced back to Benjamin; if there is any thinker that Virilio is claimed to be a disciple of it is Benjamin, with all his fragmentary thinking, his love of discontinuity and his catastrophic thinking. For my own part, it is resolutely the catastrophic thought that I am attracted to- obviously this is relatable to what I call catastrophia.

In Virilio there are a few elements worth considering: speed, information overload, “the democracy of emotions” (massification-synchronisation and the destruction of the time of deliberation”, which taken together form what I call “acceleration“. At the same time there is also his denunciation of the myth of progress, and the idea of the accident. These two elements can be called Virilio’s “catastrophism”. Taken together these two interactive moments form part of the thought of Franco Berardi and Bernard Stiegler, although it is a moment that both of these thinkers either underplay or ignore and which we don’t see many treatments of. This is undoubtedly due to Virilio’s reactionary comments but, much more likely, also his designation as a postmodernist. Heidegger’s Nazism is more deserving of forgivenness than is Virilio’s percieved sin of postmodernism, and Zizek’s adoration of Christology and the whole turn to St. Paul is worth more attention than a man who genuinely has faith. At any rate, Virilio’s alleged postmodernism is as false an allegation as is that against Marx that thinks he figures the social revolution as the end of history. In Virilio’s own words:

I believe that technical modernity, modernity taken as the outcome of technical inventions over the past two centuries, can only be stopped by an integral ecological accident, which, in a certain way, I am forecasting. Each and every invention of a technical object has also been the innovation of a particular accident. From the sum total of the technosciences does arise, and will arise a „generalized accident”. And this will be modernism’s end. (John Armitage (Ed.), Paul Virilio:from modernism to hypermodernism and beyond, Sage, 2000, p. 26)

So, only an ecological accident that is a generalised accident- here I think Virilio is talking about something like ecological collapse brought on by industrial processes that is yet to occur, but nonetheless is certainly with as a latent possibility (or if you prefer sf speculations, the nanotech paranoia surronding cancerous “grey goo”)- only this endangering of the world itself will end modernity; a planetary accident, climatological-geological, something involving extinctions. This is a dark vision, although it escapes pessimism because it is atemporal; this is a possibility right now (“does arise” and “will arise”; the future is already here). The relation of modernity to this technical modernity is interesting because Virilio is often taken as a techno-determinist, although he denies this. At any rate, or rather at full speed, for Virilio modernity as technical modernity- modernity as the ability of our hominid species to intervene technologically “for technical intervention’s sake” in its factical conditions- is far from over (shale gas drilling and the 3D printer are the latest forms of this obsessive thrust). Indeed, Virilio appears as a kind of technomoralist in the sense Ballard gave to this position; standing at the blind curve on the clifftop road with the sign reading “for god sake slow down”.

In Virilio’s hands the one form of the ‘absent causality’ that capitalism denies is the body. This actually places him closer to feminism than most of the post-Althusserians. Specifically, it puts him in proximity to the feminist theory of Silvia Federici. In Federici’s Caliban and the witch, the central claim is that the original version of primitive accumulation- the first violent expropriation- was that of the enclosure of the female body (for Federici historical accusations that feminism is a “splitter” movement or sectarian faction misses the point that capitalism is capitalist-patriarchy— this is another good reason to criticise the blindness of the SWPs central committee and Alex Callinicos). This is not the full story though. For Virilio the absent causality is also the dark side of technology. In Virilio’s eyes capitalism must always make technology as a system appear as if it was always a neutral development, when it is actually one that has catastrophic structurally integral consequences. This is the meaning of the oft-quoted phrase that the invention of the train is also the invention of the train crash and this is what Virilio terms “accident” (it is also why, back in 2008-2009, Virilio spoke of the financial collapse as “an accident”).

In a fairly crap interview with hipster central magazine Vice magazine, we find this exchange

Q.Do you mean “accident” in the same way that some say “event” in modern-day philosophy?

PV: Yes, except that for me, an accident is the event of speed. Our accidents are linked to the acceleration of history and of reality. The French were occupied by the Nazis by surprise. They didn’t react well because they didn’t understand the speed of it all. They were taken by speed. Today’s events, like the stock-market crash, are speed accidents. I call these “integral accidents” because they trigger other accidents. There is an amplification of pure events in history. Today, history is entirely accidental. Look at 9/11. It’s not an event, it’s an accident. But we consider it to be as important as yesterday’s events. It’s like a declaration of war without a war.

The outside that Virilio wants to highlight as being folded into the interiority of capitalism is the integral accident. At the same time, in this interview, we also see Virilio anticipating Timothy Morton on the burial of plutonium:



‘Imagine placing nuclear waste in a hole. How do you tell people in 200,000 years that there are dangerous substances there? It’s not science fiction anymore. How do you communicate with those people? What language will they speak? The length of the threat isn’t considered here. And it’s the same for stocking nuclear weapons. They are everywhere.)

What we see then is that in Virilio’s “accidentology”, his phenomenology of the accident, that there is precisely a diagnosis of times when ‘the structure internally cannot control its own excesses’. (Bruno Bosteels, Here).


Elsewhere Virilio speak of the need for a ‘a university founded on the disaster we’re discussing, the progress that turns to catastrophe…’ and isn’t this precisely a call for a place of thought for thinking capitalism? For Zizek, the problem is that Virilio remains a figure of

the conservative-leftist Kulturkritik (from Adorno to Virilio), which bemoans the stupidity of the manipulated masses, and the eclipse of the autonomous individual capable of critical reflection. (Here).

This is a quick rejection, with Adorno and Virilio serving as a kind of abecedarian gesture at a multiplicity of sad and, the implication is, elitist theorists. Yet if revolutionary theory is going to speak to anybody, if it is to be made applicable to people’s concerns, if it is to address itself to and allow itself to be heard by the workers then it Virilio offers a language and terrain that is familiar to so many people simply because they actually live it!

Virilio also gives a language and a function to the point of a vanguard- an intellectual vanguard that may or may not be instantiated as a party (I am making no a priori judgements in these notes): to offer a different temporality, to be able to slow down, to take time, to look things over, to understand rather than react. To continue the language of my previous post, the vanguard operates on the physiology of revolution via the activation of the conscious control on the spontaneity of the autonomic system (in Virilio’s analyses of panic, we can continue this language to speak of an overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system…indeed, at this level of analysis this language ceases to be metaphorical).

In this way Virilio isn’t at all ‘bemoan[ing] the stupidity of the manipulated masses’- it is technology that is doing the manipulation, or rather it is the user-technology relationship itself and so it is a kind of auto-manipulation, and so the insinuation that they have been foolishly tricked by some media elite is off the cards. Rather, it is that Virilio is arguing against the various forms of techno-mediatic spontaneity that appeal to the creative impulses of the working classes. Indeed, the way that capitalism subsumes the cognitive-affective capacities of the species (whatever the hell the “general intellect” is) is what Virilio discusses under the term “endocolonisation”.

As to the eclipse of the autonomous individual; actually, Virilio is critical of a what he sees a tendency towards a cocooning of the body inside of a technological shell and of a panic-stricken siege mentality that imprisons the sensuous body behind a thousand screens, with forced feedback technology displacing the erotic sensualities of masturbation and sex. This is the vision painting in Michel Houellebecq’s novel The possibility of an island and it is actually a vision of the apotheosis of the autonomous individual.

In each instance of analysis Virilio is looking at this particular situation and looking for an element that has been excluded at the level capitalist discourse but which is, nonetheless, very much an operational presence, ready to reveal itself at any moment. In this regard, Virilio isn’t so much a pessimist in the philosophic sense as he is a hyper-pessimist in Foucault’s sense, insisting not that x,y or z are good or bad but that they are dangerous.

In other words, Virilio is looking at what can be used with an awareness of the risks, and he is trying to think outside of the temporality of the present in order to properly think that present. In seeking to think the accident, to critique the pseudo-liberations of postmodernism, and to find a time for deliberative thinking that manages to detach itself from the “communism of affects” (spontaneity), Virilio is being far more Leninist than Zizek is willing to tolerate.

The real problem with Virilio as a philosopher is that he remains caught up in human exceptionalism. This is, of course, dictated by his Christianity (his “anarcho-Christianity”, as he puts it in an interview with John Armitage, and links it to anarcho-syndalicalism). Yet for all that, he is one of those thinkers who early on included an analysis of a dimension of nonhuman materiality in the shape of technology and technological objects, and, for those of us dedicated to therapeutics and politics, a degree of pragmatic humanism is essential.

In his analysis of speed and communicative technologies, Virilio is also performing an analysis of the processes that produce the depression of the social field that has produced the learned helplessness of the left (and of the workers in general) and that has compounded clinical depression in individuals. As acceleration accelerates, we get more and more sedentary, more and more (inter)passive and domesticated. The point of this side-step through Virilio hasn’t been to mount a defense or championing of his bleak vision but to note that there is a well established approach to understanding this new mediatic environment that understanding it as explicitly linked to capitalism. The task then, and this is a process already under way, but which needs to be better understood and directed, is to unlearn helplessness and thereby lift hopelessness. It might also be to engage with the new logic of the youth born fully integrated into a post-internet media landscape. This is beginning to happen but it is an unsteady course and there is always the possibility of relapse.

Mark Fisher has made calls recently to hear the end of the left’s Beckettian mantra “fail again, fail better” in favour of a kind of renewed heroism that dared to think it could win. For myself, I think that this means the embrace of a kind of communist pragmatism that is capable of recognising that as hominids adrift in the world we are a being permanently trying to cope. The question then is what allows us to cope? The Leninist question of what is to be done, to repeat myself, becomes the question “what can be done” and, to borrow from the solution-focussed therapies, we can begin by asking “what has worked for us before?” This orientation is my own reason for backing Left Unity and for keeping in contact with anarchist groups as well as keeping abreast of socialists that one wouldn’t consider radical or necessarily communist. It is born out a desire to be faithful to this moment of reinvigoration and confidence. This calls for a strategy of tactical openness, of a willingness to be truly experimental and to not foreclose possibilities while they are flourishing and while they can be made use of and put to work for a better way of coping with being alive. Therapy might well be the opium of people in the hands of the capitalists, but what would a political therapeutics look like that sought to enable resistance to capitalism? If the left is in recovery after a period of depression then let us look bear in mind what Franco Berardi that

When dealing with a depression the problem is not to bring the depressed person back to his/her normality, to reintegrate behavior in the universal standards of normal social language. The goal is to change the focus of his/her depressive attention, to re-focalize, to deterritorialize the mind and the flow of expression. Depression is based on the stiffening of existential refrain, on the obsessive repetition of the stiffened refrain. The depressed person is unable to go out, to leave the repetitive refrain and s/he goes and goes again in the labyrinth. The goal of the schizoanalyst is to give him/her the possibility to see other landscapes, and to change the focus, to open some new ways of imagination. I see a similarity between this schizoanalytic wisdom and the Kuhnian concept of paradigmatic shift when the scientific knowledge is taken inside a conundrum.(Here)

The left should not be seeking to return to its old forms or to abandon its new ones. I seek to begin with the determination of what is in our power and what is not, and acting based on that diagnosis increasing what calls under our agency and enflaming the potency of our efficacy. To speak in plain language: its by thinking and by doing what we can that we can risk building ourselves as a united front and produce a left wing movement that can defend and, why not?, even attack capitalism. But to do this, we can’t just go back to how we were, with our old refrains that we got stuck in; we can’t be statists and antistatists, anarchists and Leninists and so on. For now, at least for a little while, we should risk a degree of wilful naivety in the hope that through experimenting we might make something new. I myself am no hero, and don’t seek to be one; these comments reflect only an attempt to grapple with the situation we find ourselves in. Yet perhaps this aversion to heroism has been part of the problem…



Catastrophic antipolitics

In Baudrillard’s catastrophic vision I see a new way of thinking subjectivity: a
reversal of the energetic subjectivation that animates the revolutionary theories
of the 20th century, and the opening of an implosive theory of subversion,
based on depression and exhaustion.

In the activist view exhaustion is seen as the inability of the social body to
escape the vicious destiny that capitalism has prepared: deactivation of the
social energies that once upon a time animated democracy and political
struggle. But exhaustion could also become the beginning of a slow movement
towards a “wu wei” civilization, based on the withdrawal, and frugal
expectations of life and consumption. Radicalism could abandon the mode of
activism, and adopt the mode of passivity. A radical passivity would definitely
threaten the ethos of relentless productivity that neoliberal politics has
imposed.

-Franco Berardi, After the Future (p.107). 2012.
The mother of all the bubbles, the work bubble, would finally deflate. We have
been working too much during the last three or four centuries, and
outrageously too much during the last thirty years. The current depression
could be the beginning of a massive abandonment of competition, consumerist
drive, and of dependence on work. Actually, if we think of the geopolitical
struggle of the first decade – the struggle between Western domination and
jihadist Islam – we recognize that the most powerful weapon has been suicide.
9/11 is the most impressive act of this suicidal war, but thousands of people
have killed themselves in order to destroy American military hegemony. And
they won, forcing the western world into the bunker of paranoid security, and
defeating the hyper-technological armies of the West both in Iraq, and in
Afghanistan.

Undoing one’s belt

Precariousness, Catastrophe and Challenging the Blackmail of the Imagination

Franco BIFO Berardi

Abstract

In the forthcoming future I do not see any predictable form of subjectivation, of resurrection of consciousness and emancipation: the social civilization is over, the Neoliberal precarization of labor and the media dictatorship have destroyed the cultural antibodies that in the past made resistance possible. As far as I know. But what I know is only what I can see from my limited point of observation. The limitations of knowledge present the only potential for ethical imagination in the present age of catastrophe.

In the forthcoming future I do not see any predictable form of subjectivation, of resurrection of consciousness and emancipation: the social civilization is over, the Neoliberal precarization of labor and the media dictatorship have destroyed the cultural antibodies that in the past made resistance possible. As far as I know. But what I know is only what I can see from my limited point of observation, of course.

In the 20th century the moral revolt against exploitation was based on the realistic prospect of winning the autonomy of society from the cultural and economic domination of capitalism. This was a realistic approach based on the analysis of actual lived and material conditions.
But during the last decades I have witnessed a mutation of possibility induced by the shifts in capitalist economy, and I have come to think that this mutation is irreversible: not only has it affected the social sphere but also the semiotic, biological and psychic spheres.
Therefore, my knowledge and my understanding cause me to disown the possibility of an alternative society.

The dissociation of capitalism and modernity is accomplished: capitalist rule is liquidating modern civilization. Humanism, enlightenment, socialism and the cultural regulators of modern democracy have been swept away by the forms of cultural, economic and social deregulation that is implied in capitals final assault. The privatization of every living space and activity and the spread of competition and economic brutality through the social sphere have deeply affected the self-perception of the social body. In my knowledge and my understanding this process seems now inevitable and irreversible. Not only has it destroyed the structures of social civilization that modernity created, it has also jeopardized the affective fabric of the social environment and reprogrammed the cultural expectations of the new generation.

My knowledge and my understanding do not show the possibility of any acceptable development out of the present catastrophe. But catastrophe, a word whose etymology stems from the Greek Kata (for moving) and Strophein, (for beyond), is exactly the point where we move beyond the present and a new landscape is revealed. I do not see that landscape because my knowledge and my understanding are limited, and the limits of my language are the limits of my world.
My knowledge and understanding are missing the event, the singularity that might open onto that new landscape

So I must act as if.

As if the forces of labor and knowledge may overcome the forces of greed. As if the cognitive workers may overcome the fractalization of their life and intelligence. I must resist simply because I cannot know what is happening after the future, and I must preserve the consciousness and sensibility of social solidarity, of human empathy, of gratuitous activity, of freedom, equality and fraternity. Just in case, right?

We dont know what is going to happen next, in the empty space that comes after the future of modernity. I must continue to resist because this is the only way to be in peace with myself. In the name of self-love, we must resist. And self-love (by which I mean loving myself (and by extension others) as a social, cooperating, laboring, loving body) is the basic ethical rule that I prize, and which capitalism does not.

Our present ignorance of what might come has to be seen as the space of a possibility. We have to start from the ignorance of the general intellect. The force of our collective intelligence in boundless. Theoretically. But it lacks any consciousness of itself. Intelligence without self-consciousness. I am talking of the self-consciousness of the general intellect, millions and millions of people worldwide producing the info-flow that makes the planet go around.

Creating a form of self-consciousness of the general intellect is the political task of the future. And it is not only political, but philosophical, epistemological, and, in the end, therapeutic. Poetry and therapy (thera-poetry) will be the forces leading to the creation of a cognitarian self-consciousness: not a political party, not the organization of interests, but the reactivation of the cognitarian sensibility. The ignorance of the general intellect is the starting point.

Why are the cognitarians weak, disunited and unable to assert their rights as laborers, and their knowledge as researchers? Because they live in a dimidiated form: their collective brain is detached from their collective body; their communication is less and less a conjunction of minds and bodies and more and more a connection of frozen digitalized fragments. The new space of activism is here, in the meeting point of poetry and theory and creation of new paradigms.

Our knowledge and understanding are unable to grasp the singularity which is around the corner. Only radical imagination can do it. What is imagination? I would say that imagination is the cognitive faculty which recombines the contents of our memory and of our experience in a creative way. Radical imagination today essentially means imagination free from the blackmail of the economy, free from the epistemological domination of economics.

The global collapse of September 2008 marks the impossibility of a new start inside the frame of economic thought. Throughout the history of civilization perception has been molded by artificial regimes of images and techniques of representation. Through digital technology the image begins to proliferate vertiginously and our faculty of imagination undergoes rapid acceleration. The image is not the mere perception of empirical data brought to our visual attention by material reality: it is rather the effect of a semi-conscious elaboration within our minds as the image mingles with our previous experiences, our hopes, fears and desires. As a result the social, historical and technical mode in which we receive and elaborate images acts upon the formation of the imaginary. The imaginary in turn shapes the imagination, the activity whereby we produce images and imaginary worlds, which precedes us being able to bring those into being in real life. The repertoire of images at our disposal limits, exalts, amplifies or circumscribes the forms of life and events that, through our imagination, we can project onto the world, put into being, build and inhabit. Techno-communicative and psycho-cognitive mutations are as interdependent as organisms and their ecosystems. The conscious organism is also a sensuous organism, a bundle of sensitive receptors. We become thinking, imagining, social and cooperative beings not only through thought but also through sensing and feeling.

The world we inhabit today looks like the projection of fragments, images of various origin that we combine in various sequences. Therefore, the nucleus of personal identity is fleeing and dissolving in all directions. Radical imagination is the ability to recombine the contents of our experience of exploitation, of suffering, of exhaustion, in a way that Felix Guattari would label creation of a new retournelle, Chaosmose, calling forth of a new relationship between the environment and the human organism.

Rehabilitation revolution

Prison call centre plans revealed
Ministry of Justice planning to run call centres from inside prisons as marketing email boasts of a ‘rehabilitation revolution’

The Ministry of Justice is planning to set up call centres inside jails as part of its work programme for prisoners, according to documents promoting the scheme.

Details of the plans have emerged after marketing material from an MoJ- supported company, which described the call centre scheme as a “rehabilitation revolution”, were passed to the Guardian.

The MoJ stressed that the company, UrbanData Ltd, was no longer involved in the programme as it had filed for liquidation this month but the department confirmed they are still interested in setting up call centres from inside the prison estate as part of their programme for expanding ONE3ONE Solutions, formerly known as the Prison Industries Unit.

In a leaflet sent out to various organisations late last year, UrbanData said it could offer “lower costs and overheads” if businesses signed up.

“The opportunity for your organisation is a higher corporate responsibility profile by engaging in a high-profile initiative supported by the Ministry of Justice, lower costs and overheads for trained contract centre agents, flexible resources that can deal with overflow calls and specific projects, all dedicated to growing and supporting your business,” the leaflet read.

Advertising the scheme as a “fantastic rehabilitation revolution” the flyer added that prison-run call centres could offer trained operators “with British Regional [sic] accents as an effective alternative to off shoring operations”. A marketing email sent with the flyer confirmed the plans to get prisoners to work manning phones were backed by the government.

“Working in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, we are establishing call centres inside prisons,” it said.

“We are training prisoners to become qualified contact centre operators. This gives them employment during their prison term and also prepares them for a more productive life when they return home,” the email said.

The Prison Industries Unit which was rebranded as ONE3ONE Solutions after the 131 prisons in the prison estate, has used inmates to make uniforms and office and garden furniture or package headphones for companies such as DHL and Virgin.

However putting call centres inside prisons would be one of the first instances of prisoners serving lengthy sentences coming into direct commercial contact with the public. The idea is already established in the US.

It follows revelations that prisoners from open jails in Wales were being paid just £3 a day to work in private call centres outside of prison walls.

It is unclear how much prisoners would be paid at call centres inside prisons but under current rules prisoners on “work experience” are paid £3 a day, with no set maximum to the work experience period.

The MoJ said there were varying levels of pay for those working inside prisons with the lowest being around £3 a day.

In a ONE3ONE prospectus, David Cameron urged businesses to take advantage of the opportunity working prisoners offered. “Prisoners working productively towards their own rehabilitation will contribute to the UK economy and make reparation to society,” he wrote.

“Many businesses, large and small, already make use of prison workshops to produce high quality goods and services and do so profitably. They are not only investing in prisons but in the future of their companies and the country as a whole. I urge others to follow their lead and seize the opportunity that working prisons offer.”

Sandra Busby from the Welsh Contact Centre Forum said she did not think such a scheme would undermine her members’ interests but was worried about them complying with data protection and Ofcom legislation. “There’s a lot of legislation you’ve got to be very, very careful about,” she said.

An MoJ spokesperson said, “Prisoners who learn the habit of real work inside prison are less likely to commit further crime when they are released. For that reason the Prisons Service is looking at a number of potential schemes to increase work opportunities in prisons.

“All contracts with outside employers must comply with a strict code of practice which sets out that prisoners cannot be used to replace existing jobs in the community. Prisoner wages, for those in closed prisons, are set by prison governors and companies have no control over the level of payment.”

– The Guardian. Here.

The very blood in our veins had been replaced.”  Even though the shift into so-called “cognitive” labour has been overstated – just because work involves talking doesn’t make it “cognitive”; the labour of a call centre worker mechanically repeating the same rote phrases all day is no more “cognitive” than that of someone on a production line – Antonio Negri is right that the liberation from repetitive industrial labour remains a victory. Yet, as Christian Marazzi has argued, workers have been like the Old Testament Jews: led out of the bondage of the Fordist factory, they are now marooned in the desert. As Franco Berardi has shown, precarious work brings with it new kinds of misery: the always-on pressure made possible by mobile telecommunications technology means that there is no longer any end to the working day. An always-on population lives in a state of insomniac depression, unable to ever switch off.

– Mark Fisher, The future is still ours. Here.

Bifo: Exhaustion as post-futurist mood

Many have accused Bifo of being banal, especially in his rethinking of communism as a kind of therapeutic singularity(perhaps this follows from my belief in capitalism as a motor for psychopathology and a movement into the practical field of mental health practice). I find his work the only ‘communist’ project I can engage in, articulating as it does the Gramscian will of optimism and intellect of pessimism. I can quite happily admit to being a complete Bifo fanboy.

Bifo finds in the term I’ve been using to describe our current condition, ‘Exhaustion’, as something we ought not resist but make use of.

Only if we are able to disentangle the future (the perception of the future, the concept of the future, and the very production of the future) from the traps of growth and investment will we find a way out of the vicious subjugation of life, wealth, and pleasure to the financial abstraction of semiocapital. The key to this disentanglement can be found in a new form of wisdom: harmonizing with exhaustion.

Exhaustion is a cursed word in the frame of modern culture, which is based on the cult of energy and the cult of male aggressiveness. But energy is fading in the postmodern world for many reasons that are easy to detect. Demographic trends reveal that, as life expectancy increases and birth rate decreases, mankind as a whole is growing old. This process of general aging produces a sense of exhaustion, and what was once considered a blessing—increased life expectancy—may become a misfortune if the myth of energy is not restrained and replaced with a myth of solidarity and compassion.

– Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi

Read in full here.

I’ll also post this video again which is a kind of precis of Bifo’s recent work:

I am unable to disagree that Exhaustion is first of all the Exhaustion of the future.

I’ll also embed this recent talk by Bifo for the e-flux journal.