At Public Seminar, McKenzie Wark provides a much-needed survey of the work of Franco “Bifo” Berardi. Summing up the importance of Berardi’s work, Wark writes: “If anyone has found a genealogy, and an affect, for early twenty-first century life as many of us live it — it is Bifo.” Here’s an excerpt from the longish piece:
The moment of 1968 put all of these late-Marxist theories to the test. For Berardi, it was a moment of alliance between mass intellectual labor and refusal of industrial labor. Students had become a mass, a form of intellectual labor absorbed into production. (George Perec’s novel Things: A Story of the Sixties neatly captures the affective side of this.) It was the end of the intellectual as universal conscience and the beginnings of a full subsumption of intellectual labor into production, although one that might produce its own modes of refusal.
One such moment of refusal was 1977, that “last reawakening of consciousness” Berardi, who was only 20 in 1968, is more a thinker shaped by the late 70s. This was when Italian autonomists, Berlin squatters and British punks all seemed to be acting on the same intuitions about the absorption of manual and intellectual labor into production, and the same desire to strike out for another life. “That 1977 moment therefore used the ideology of happiness as a powerful critical instrument against the Taylorist factory and the Fordist production cycle, but also against the social and disciplinary structure based on the factory model.”
After that – often neglected – high watermark of refusal, the landscape changes. Berardi’s whole body of work can be read as an attempt to understand how and why. After 1977 we see the spread of post-Fordist models of labor and of digital technologies that will make them possible. Before 1977, desire was located outside of capital; after, desire means self-realization through work…
The rhetoric of desire is thus rather exhausted itself. Here Baudrillard’s critique of it turns out to be prescient. He understood desire’s in-folding into commodified acceleration. Desire turns out not to be an outside. There was a critique in advance here of something like Hardt and Negri’s multitude, presented as if it was a boundless positive energy. Rather: the so-called black hole of the masses, who absorb all communication but refuse to respond.
Drawing on Matteo Pasquinelli, Berardi speaks rather of libidinal parasites, and a ‘thermodynamics’ of desire in which it is actually quite limited – maybe imploding, and perhaps suffering what Dominic Pettman calls peak libido. Berardi: “having abandoned a certain Spinozist triumphalism, we can admit that libidinal energy is a limited resource.” Desire is an ambivalent field, not a divine force. “The schizo vision thinks that the proliferation of desire can endlessly erode all structures of control. The implosive vision sees proliferation as the diffusion of a derealizing virus.”
This is an era then of Thano-politics (what I called thanaticism), where the soul becomes fully commodified, and commodities become what Rachel Law and I called weaponized adorables. It is post-political to the extent that it is no longer possible to consciously and mythically organize information around a shared project. It is a time of “soul troubles” Of war against collective intelligence. Power even turns against one of its own servants – the university.
Image: Franco “Bifo” Berardi