Franco “Bifo” Berardi: The struggle for new subjectivities

Stanley Spencer, The Resurrection: Reunion

Last Wednesday, Franco “Bifo” Berardi affirmed in a public Zoom organised by the Untref [Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero] that politics had died. He was referring to politics as the belief that the will can create new collective projects and transform structures (extant between Machiavelli and Lenin). We are witnessing, he said, the collapse of the aggressive and long dominant white, male, colonial, capitalist mind (and politics seems to die with that culture). According to him, then, it is time to start from another place: from the poetic, the erotic and the right to defend new ways of life, to depart from the rotten corpse of capitalism. This is beautiful: the beauty of Bifo as the somatic luminous prophet of darkness shines in this reasoning with particular force. As he writes in a recent book: as the old people of the north die (and the fascism that beset us), we must create spaces for the new lives in danger, that of the young people of the south.

Among those who reject this prophetic discourse because they see it as lacking in “strategic thought”, there are optimists – who sustain the belief in politics on the basis of a crude diagnosis -, and there are pessimists – as there is no alternative to capitalist rot, the best thing would be to stick to politics as an activity without any strong conviction.

While Bifo spoke, the police of the province of Buenos Aires held a public protest, in which their demands for wages and working conditions gave way to a visible political threat (a growing reactionary threat in the region and in the country, where the police are a very important actor in this process). It is impossible to limit the reading of this episode to the precariousness of police work, without adding a word about the fact that the police continue to be an instrument (itself precarious) of regulation for a broader social precariousness (it would have been quite another thing, at least, to hear the police saying: “we no longer want to be the controllers of the precariousness of our communities”). When the media said that the armed police surrounded Olivos [official residence of the president of Argentina], it was inevitable for those of us of a certain age to remember the mobilisation in the streets and squares to avoid the military-carapintada coup, during the second half of the 1980s. Is Bifo right in saying that really existing politics is no longer capable of posing real problems (the problem of precariousness and exploitation with its burden of violence, the role of the police in that system), or that it is no longer capable of recreating new collective projects, or of proposing deep transformations?

If we accept that every conjuncture is defined by the coexistence of more than one simultaneous time, perhaps we can try to think that, if on the one hand conventional politics has lost its relationship with strategy (in a strong, critical, transforming sense) without the appearance of an alternative revolutionary politics to replace it; on the reverse side of the political – there where Bifo’s zoom counts – the invention of strategies is continually reborn, on new grounds, in new ways of conceiving perhaps the “will”, in new ways of feeling and thinking. In every formation of a new will, the problem of strategy is raised again, and perhaps a new concept of the “political” is proposed.

Diego Sztulwark

How to rebuild subjectivity when there is fear at the approach of lips?

Franco “Bifo” Berardi

The Italian philosopher, Franco “Bifo” Berardi, participated in a virtual conference: Respiración umbral: virus y literatura [Threshold breathing: virus and literature]. “What happens in the imagination of a generation that enters the world of affectivity with the prohibition of bringing their lips close to other lips?”, asks Bifo, to then unfold the idea of the phobic sensitisation of bodies. El umbral. Crónicas y meditaciones [Threshold. Chronicles and Meditations] is his new book published by Tinta Limón. The meeting was organised by the UNTREF, coordinated by Daniel Link and with the participation of Diego Sztulwark and Diego Bentivegna. We share the transcript of “Bifo’s” interventionsone half of a conversation, so to speak -, as published on the Lobo Suelto website (13/09/2020).

First of all, I apologise for producing so many writings. It is an obsessive problem but, at the same time, in the last period I have found it necessary to do a work of analysis on what is happening. It is a self-therapeutic work and it tries to be therapeutic. When you know a little about the things that I have written, that I have said – like Diego Sztulwark, an old friend – you may smile when you hear me say that I propose to be therapeutic, because I am not describing, in these books above all, a situation that can be defined as optimistic or easy to face, quite the opposite. I think we are in a situation that I like to define as a “threshold”. Why? Because the threshold is the passage in which we move from light to darkness, but also from darkness to light.

So what I’m trying to do is to understand and conceptualise the dark aspects of the passage that we are living. The first thing we have to do is look the beast in the eye, to place ourselves at the level of the tragedy that we are living. Only through the understanding of the trends that we are experiencing can we change, to transform the rhythm of our own breathing. I believe that the explosion of the virus, at the beginning of this year, is not the cause of the catastrophe we are experiencing, it is the catalyst. It can be said that it was an element of precipitation of other catastrophic processes that were developing. First, the process of environmental catastrophe of which the eruption of the coronavirus is an effect and, at the same time, an accelerator. Second, the alienation of global capitalism, which in the last ten or fifteen years has characterised social life, has struck social life.

The way to recover capitalist accumulation has been to impoverish social life in all its aspects. It began with the impoverishment of the health system which in Europe, in Spain, in Italy, in England has been the direct cause of the tragic situation of the spring of 2020. The capitalist financial recovery has produced an impoverishment of life and, at the same time time, of the infrastructures that make life possible. So, the catastrophic trends were already inscribed in the social process; covid has only precipitated them. The autumn of 2019, from Santiago de Chile to Hong Kong, from Beirut to Paris, to Barcelona, was an autumn of convulsion as if the suffocated, asphyxiated body of society, especially of young people, rebelled without a clear strategy, without a possible unifying line, but with the same rejection of neoliberal asphyxia. Then came the contagion and contagion has exploded these processes.

Now what I ask myself, in the midst of a precipitation that becomes increasingly dangerous at the economic level, at the geopolitical level, in a situation like the one we are experiencing, where do we have to look, what has to be the main object of our observation. And my answer is: subjectivity, or rather, the process of subjectivisation. We need a subjectivisation of solidarity, a collective, happy subjectivisation to face the effects of the Apocalypse. If I look at subjectivisation, I look first at bodies. I look at the statement of the chief Canadian medical officer who has said, very irresponsibly, catastrophically, stop kissing, prohibit kissing. And if you have sex – because sex is necessary economically and demographically, it seems – don’t forget to put on your sanitary mask. I do not have a positive or negative opinion on this statement. Politics is dead. Good politics today is only politics capable of accepting the discipline of scientists, the discipline of doctors. But that is not politics, it is not the invention of a possible transformation; the invention of a possible transformation – depends today and tomorrow – on the social unconscious, on the social imaginary. What happens in the imagination of a generation that enters the world of affectivity with the prohibition of joining their lips? This is my main obsession: how can we reconstruct subjectivity – in psychoanalytic, political, poetic terms – when there is fear at the approach of lips? This is a little of how I am going to present the discussion from my point of view.

The pandemic and the threshold

We are on a threshold. I like to say it like that. At the threshold we can glimpse a panorama of possibility, these possibilities are like an oscillation that can evolve in different directions, but first of all we have to describe the conditions in which the subjective oscillation becomes possible. What are these conditions? Someone asks if physical distancing is affective and political distancing. Of course it is. I know very well that there is a rhetoric – which I share to a certain extent – that there is a feeling of solidarity among those who are in real danger, but at the same time what is even truer is that a generation of children, of young people, is growing up internalising the fear of the relationship with the other’s body. In psychoanalytic terms, I would call it a phobic sensitisation to the lips, to bodies. In a phobic sensitisation many things can happen. It can happen that fear becomes a true epidemic of depression or autism.

This afternoon’s discussion is also dedicated to the relationship between literature and the effects of the pandemic. There is a black American writer named Octavia Butler who wrote a book in 1993 with the title Parable of the Sower, where she narrates a violent, shattered America like the one we see today on the TV screen. In this North America, there is a three-year-old girl who suffers from a terrible disease called “empathy.” The doctors are treating her, because this girl, when she sees someone suffering or dying on the street, suffers a little herself. In her brain there is an empathetic dysfunction. This story interests me very much: why can the multiplication of suffering and fear produce an effect that is properly defined as autistic? Autism seems to me the most likely psychic condition after this process. But when I say probable, I am not saying that we are going in this direction, I am saying that we have first of all to reflect and act in anticipation before this possibility; first of all, recognising it, analysing it.

Diego raises the question of what is politics in the era of extinction as a new horizon. First of all, the word extinction has entered the political vocabulary only in the last two years – it seems to me – but there has also been a clearing away, a rejection, a denial of the trend of extinction. I have read Donna Haraway’s latest book and I quote her a lot because I find it enlightening. In the introduction to her book Staying with the Trouble – I don’t know if it is translated in Argentina – Donna Haraway says: we have to recognise that if the demographic trend announced of 11 billion people by the end of the century and, at the same time, if the tendencies towards environmental collapse of entire areas of the globe, especially the mountains – look at what is happening in California today -, then these trends are going to produce an effect that cannot be the extinction of human civility, of the civility of mankind; we have to reflect from this point of view. This is the horizon that we discover coming out of the pandemic. When we discover a horizon, we also have to look for the tools that allow us to change direction, to invent something new.

Is politics this tool? I do not know. It seems to me that politics as the capacity to govern a social ensemble from a point of view of progressive rationality does not have much force, much credibility. I believe that the main work that must be done is essentially to disassociate, disentangle, liberate, emancipate communities that give themselves a rule, a rhythm, a way of life, a horizon that is different, that is schismogenetic, in the sense that it abandons the history of humanity. I believe that human evolution can only go through a schismogenetic process. Naturally what I am saying is very serious, because it implies that we are not capable of facing the probable reality of a world population that is plunging into a condition of increasing misery and suffering. I know, but only by recreating the conditions of an exodus of sensibility, of consciousness and cognition, of the cognitive condition, only from that can we rethink the future of the human community as a whole.

Poetry as premonition

When we speak about poetry we do not know very well what we are talking about. We try to define it, but it always eludes us. The word poetic could be said with art, but it seems to me that the word art has too much contact with the market, with valuation, I am not interested in all that. I am not interested in poetry, in a strictly literary sense. But what interests me, then? I’m interested, first of all, in the prophetic capacity of the poet. At the beginning of the pandemic, I reread books by William Burroughs, by Philip Dick, Salman Rushdie’s last book, Quixote. I have read Quixote. It is a delirious anticipation of an apocalypse produced by emptiness. So, poetry as a sensed premonition of something that is happening in the dimension of the psycho-sphere, in the social psyche. But poetry is also sublimation – Freud said it, we know it from psychoanalysis -, and sublimation is something that has always seemed ambiguous to me. It means that when I cannot bring your lips to my lips, as I wish to do, I can write verses, I can draw images, I can make gestures that act in the same direction of seduction and erotic involvement at the linguistic level of the other. But I believe that only up to a point.

There is a third level that can be talked about, which is the transformation of rhythm. Poetry is essentially that: the investigation, the search for a rhythm that allows us to find a harmony with other bodies, with nature, with death. It is a third level, the transformation of our inner rhythm and the relationship with the surrounding chaos; in the end poetry is an extension of the imaginary dimension, the imaginational. An extension of a capacity to imagine something that could not be imagined within the dominant language. We have discovered that millions can be distributed to people who are not going to work. We have discovered that basic income can be given. We have discovered that the impossible is possible. When the possible has become impossible, the task of discovering dimensions of reality that we cannot see falls to poetic activity.

Teleworking and distancing

It can be said that a paralysis of subjectivisation has manifested itself in an obvious, almost scandalous way in the lockdown, in social distancing, in the fear of proximity, but this trend already existed. It has already existed for decades, in the tendency towards virtualisation, digitisation, disembodiment of social relationships and even erotic relationships. There is already a literature on the psycho-pathological effects of this distancing, of this virtualisation that triumphs with mandatory distancing. An emotional atrophy like the one that has occurred in recent decades is something that not only makes impossible some forms of political solidarity that we have known in the past century, but at the same time forces us to seek new dimensions of this solidarity.

For example, I believe that in the near future we will witness the formation and exodus of small, large and medium-sized communities, which create the conditions to cooperate and, at the same time, live in a harmonious relationship with nature and, above all, in a harmonious condition with the bodies of others. The community, the network of communities, the abandonment of the metropolitan dimension, of the urban dimension, that is a trend that we already see in Europe. I have many friends who talk about this possibility, who want to leave the city to live in places where there are many friendly bodies.

But at the same time there is a problem and it is the problem of salaried work. Teleworking is a provisional, temporary condition, but it is at the same time a trend that is not going to diminish in the future, it is going to expand, and the greatest challenge of teleworking, and in general of all forms of cognitive work, is the challenge of salaried work, the end of the salary as a form of physically or digitally controllable work compensation. It is something that seems to me increasingly in crisis, and more and more marginal. The issue of basic income today has become an absolutely necessary issue for a future that is not a future of social war in all spaces. But we always talk about the same problem: let us give new possibilities, such as the possibility of emancipation from salaried work. However, where do we build, where do we find a solidary, social subjectivity capable of implementing these possibilities?

Literature as an element to understand the world

I have to make a somewhat shameful confession: I have not read Proust, it bored me from the beginning. I don’t know why; it is my fault. I have read two, three parts, but it is not part of my literary universe. The authors that I have read the most in the last few months – I can say it because I have more or less tried to follow a line – are, first, writers like Sara Mesa, from Seville, like Octavia Butler, like Margaret Atwood, or like Joyce Carol Oates. So, feminine sensibility as the ability to generate attunements that patriarchal culture cannot even imagine, that is, the process of disidentification. There is a little book by Sara Mesa called Cara de pan that I found very suggestive at this level. It is the perception of a girl versus the perception of a mad, angry old man, 60 years old, and they become friends, they live in a world. It is a kind of possibility of perception that escapes entirely from the perception that we have received from the history of patriarchy and capitalism.

The second direction that has interested me very much, it is my obsession at the moment, is the final crisis of the United States of America. I feel, I perceive, very clearly that the United States of America as a federal, national, unitary State does not exist. We see it because they have a false unity, but what is being verified is, on the one hand, the unleashing of a real war against the poor, against black people. A criminal, civil war of the white majority, of the almost white American majority. Second, and more catastrophic in the long run, is the massive arming of the American people and the collapse of the unity of the military system and the security services. The crisis in the relationship between the White House and the FBI. The crisis of the relationship with the military system. I have read Philip Roth, American Pastoral, Joyce Carol Oates, A Book of American Martyrs, Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections, which is a book about the decomposition of the white, patriarchal, male, American brain. And to finish, I have read Quixote, by Rushdie, which is a reading of the maddening of the American mind whose background is the end of the American world, the end of the American abyss. This is my obsession right now, it doesn’t matter if Trump wins or Biden wins, it’s exactly the same thing because the process has already been mobilised. If Biden wins, the civil war could be precipitated dangerously. Those are my readings. Writers that I have read to understand what is happening in the world at a geopolitical level and, on the other hand, to rethink perception, sensitivity, the way of appreciably filtering the relationship with nature.

Lazzarato, the strategy and criticism of automatisms

We have to inquire into the word strategy. Maurizio Lazzarato always writes interesting things, but maybe I do not agree with his way of interpreting the word strategy. It is not very clear, or it is clear but in a direction that does not interest me. It is the will in relation to strategy. The human will – to me – is a faculty that has been greatly overrated by political thought. We believe that the will is so important that we decide. And we decide, but what we decide is relevant only to a small part of the whole of human history, of society, of the community, etc. And above all, it is the will and rational consciousness that allows us to act on decisions, analyse, understand reality and decide. This force of will has existed to some extent, from Machiavelli to Lenin. Machiavelli thought of the power of strategy as a manifestation of the human will, more precisely of the male will. Machiavelli speaks in The Prince of political power as the ability to subdue Fortuna that is female, and therefore capricious and fickle. This is politics as a domain of the will, which reaches as far as Lenin, who carried out an essentially voluntaristic action, in the good and bad sense of the word. But as the speed and complexity of informational processes, political processes and forms of life increase and become more chaotic, at this point it seems to me that human will, political will, is increasingly worthless as well, deciding less, and less frequently.

In relation to automatisms, of course, in this Maurizio is right: they are strategies, but they are not strategies of the will. They are strategies of brutal interests on one side, which manifest themselves through psychic automatisms. How can we imagine that the financial capitalist class that hates everyone, as Maurizio says and he is right, how can we think that the will of the capitalist class has created this situation without considering the very self-destruction of capital. I do not think you can. I believe that, at a certain point, the will of the capitalists has not been able to control a machine, an automaton – Autómata y caos, the book which thanks to Hekht’s companions I have published, and even though I had not read Maurizio’s book then and therefore I could not respond directly, implicitly answers his work.

There is the chaos of the infinite wills that are desire, that are the forms of the manifestation of the unconscious. This is the cause of the real body, of social corporeality and of the embodied mind. And, on the other side, there is an automaton that is being built through an interlacing of automatisms. In this process, the will is clearly retracting, retreating, to the point that today the political will, when rational, is completely bound to disciplinary health care. But when it assumes a mad-criminal-genocidal expression, as in the case of Trump, Bolsonaro and others, it is manifested as the autonomy of the political. The autonomy of political will is dead. We have to invent something that is born from within subjectivity, but which manifests itself and which constructs itself through forms of counter-automatisms, before all else, at the psychic level. Today however the counter-automatism is verified, it can be implemented only when we have the strength, the ability to leave, to depart; financial automatism cannot be stopped, it is abandoned. A way of life is created that does not depend on the latter and that defends itself if necessary with all the tools available to it. We have to defend our possibility of abandoning the corpse of capitalism.

La Malinche: betrayal and translation [traición y traducción]

What is Malinche? First of all, she is a woman. Second, a woman playing a double game. On the one hand, she is the traitor who betrays her people, her ethnic group, her community to put herself at the service of the conqueror. But, on the other hand, her people had enslaved her. Malinche was enslaved, she was subjected to the violence of her own people, so it is the forgetting of identity. I have no flag, no homeland, no people, and no community. I am a singularity. She is the lover of Cortés, the mother of the first Mexican, but at the same time, historians tell us, she performs an essential function that is the function of a translator. The traitor is a translator. We know that the translator is a traitor, but the traitor also becomes a translator and translates the words of Cortés and the priests, the conquerors for the Nahuatl-speaking peoples. This translation, in some situations, not only allows the salvation of groups of people in their community, but above all it establishes, it creates a new, syncretic cultural tradition that allows some Latin American peoples, especially the Mexican people, to propose an ambiguity and autonomy at the linguistic, cultural, religious, social level, etc.

So, the figure of Malinche interests me a lot because it is the figure of someone who recognises that the mega machine is destroying our culture. The end of a culture is the end of a world. The only way we have to convey a human message is to speak the enemy’s language, to speak the enemy’s language to betray it from within. That means we have to speak the language of the digital machine in order to betray it, to change or redirect the direction in which the digital machine is moving. Thus, similarly we have to expect something from the generations that are living in their deepest unconscious, in their childhood, adolescence, an enormously profound transformation of the unconscious. How can eroticism be reinvented? How can social solidarity be reinvented? How can friendship be reinvented on the basis of this new condition? Malinche can do it. She is the only person who can do this.

Chaosmosis and schismogenesis

There are two words that seem crucial to me. One is the word chaosmosis of Félix Guattari. The other is schismogenesis, a word coined by Gregory Bateson. Chaosmosis is a perfect concept to define what we are experiencing. Chaosmosis means that we have entered into a process of acceleration, but not only of acceleration, also of the painful intensification of our relationship with the technical and social environment. This acceleration produces what Félix Guattari calls a chaosmic spasm. What is a spasm? A movement of the muscles, of the body, of the organism; a movement so accelerated, so irregular, so chaotic that it produces pain, physical or mental suffering. There is a mental spasm which is a spasm that manifests itself in the form of panic, but it can also fall into the dimension of depression as an attempt to stand out from the spasm. Chaosmosis is the process that allows us to find a new linguistic, cognitive, aesthetic, erotic rhythm of our organism.

Publisher and source: Tinta Limón Ediciones

Complete Conference, in spanish …

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1 Response to Franco “Bifo” Berardi: The struggle for new subjectivities

  1. dmf says:

    thanks for the translation

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