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Tyler Coburn: Live Response to Franco “Bifo” Berardi's lecture “And: Phenomenology of the End” on September 30


#1

Join us at e-flux on Friday, September 30 at 7:30pm EST for the lecture “And: Phenomenology of the End,” by Franco “Bifo” Berardi. On this very thread, Tyler Coburn (@tylercoburn) will respond live to Bifo’s lecture. The talk will be live broadcast here, so you might open two tabs & follow along by screen both here and there.

A bit more on the lecture:

Everywhere we see signs of exhaustion and collapse. The end is everywhere, but this is only an illusion, because things never stop concatenating, so the end is replaced by the endless replication of the “and.” Simultaneously however, conjunction is replaced by connection. This shift from conjunctive to connective sensibility is the subject of Berardi’s recent book, and of this lecture. What happens to the aesthetic and erotic perception of the world as experience is replaced by simulation? How does this connective mutation reframe the legacy of history?

Franco “Bifo” Berardi is a contemporary writer, media-theorist and media-activist. He founded the magazine A/traverso (1975–81) and was part of the staff of Radio Alice, the first free pirate radio station in Italy (1976–78). Like other intellectuals involved in the political movement of Autonomia in Italy during the 1970s, he fled to Paris, where he worked with Felix Guattari in the field of schizoanalysis. He has been a contributor to Semiotext(e), Chimerees, Metropoli , Musica 80, and Archipielago, and he’s currently writing for the monthly LINUS.

Berardi’s publications include Le ciel est enfin tombé sur la terre (Paris, 1978), Mutazione e Ciberpunk (Genoa, 1993), Cibernauti (Rome, 1994), Felix (Rome, 2001, and London, 2009), Generacion Postalfa (Buenos Aires, 2007), Skizomedia (Rome, 2005), La fabrica de la infelicidad (Rome, 2000, and Madrid, 2004), and El sabio el guerrero el mercader (Madrid: Aquarela, 2006), The Soul at Work (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009), After the future (Oakland: AK Press, 2012), and The Uprising (Semiotext(e), 2012), and the recent books HEROES (London: Verso Futures) and AND: Phenomenology of the end (Lost Angeles: Semiotext(e)), both published in 2015. Berardi teaches Media Theory at the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan, and has lectured in many universities around the globe.

Tyler Coburn is an artist and writer based in New York. Coburn received a BA in Comparative Literature from Yale University and an MFA from the University of Southern California. He also served as a fellow in the Whitney Independent Study Program from 2014-2015. His work has been been presented at South London Gallery; Kunstverein Munich; Kunsthalle Wien; CCA Glasgow; Western Front, Vancouver; Grazer Kunstverein; UCCA, Beijing; and Sculpture Center, New York. Coburn participated in the 11th Gwangju Biennale and the 2014 Shanghai Biennale. His writing has appeared in e-flux journal, Frieze, Dis, Mousse, and Rhizome.


#2

Hello from rainy New York, e-conversants. We’re about fifteen minutes out from the start of Franco Berardi’s talk, “And: Phenomenology of the End.” This lecture will draw upon his book of the same name, published by Semiotext(e) in 2015. While the tome continues many of Berardi’s characteristic themes—particularly, the “embedding of cognitive automatisms at the deep level of perception, imagination, and desire”—there are also some significant developments in his thinking. For one, Berardi returns to his earlier investment in phenomenology. (This book, he remarks, is technically his dissertation.) The phenomenological approach, he remarks, “takes leave from the assumption that knowledge can lead to the perfect totality, and abandons the project of a totalitarian identification of thought and word” (22, 16*).

Another key topic is evolution, which Berardi claims is presently supplanting history. Berardi is thinking of the “bio-social modeling of sensibility,” which, to reiterate the earlier quote, is having such serious neural effects as to contribute to actual evolutionary change in our species.

When evolution becomes the predominant narrative of our era, we not only lose our relationship to history, in Berardi’s opinion, but “[t]he conceptual and practical sphere of modern politics has [also] lost its ground” (23).

Some topics to consider, when Berardi begins…

*Page numbers are drawn from the version of this book published by Aalto University in 2014.


#3

Berardi discusses a number of books, films, and artworks over the course of his book. Throughout this thread, I’ll include a few, framed by excerpts from his commentary. I’m curious how you find these case studies to bear upon the topics at hand:

Cultural Object Number One: Warren Neidich, The Cacophony of Memory

“[The] works of the neuroscientist and visual artist [Warren] Neidich (Cacophony of Memory, A score that is not a score) are hinting at the problem of neuroplasticity, the ability of brain to reframe the relation between the rhythm of the receiving mind and the transmitter’s rhythm: the chaotic universe is sending signs which are no more filtered by the grids of a shared semiotic order” (188).


#5

Still waiting, so I’ll throw in some anecdotes…

Berardi has opted for a slim black lectern, absent of the freestanding sketchpad that he employed to memorable effect in his 2012 conversation with Hito Steyerl, when he mapped a short history of poetic and financial speculation since the late 19th Century—frenetically and expressively—across its pages. Berardi’s lecture, following from his book The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, included the memorable claim that Donna Summer was the first human to ever become a robot, in this 1978 performance of “I Feel Love.”


#6

Stephen Squibb introduces Berardi by reading a section from The Uprising on solidarity. Squibb notes that, with this excerpt, he’s highlighting one of the many intellectual and political genealogies from which Berardi—polymath par excellence—draws. Here’s a section of that excerpt:

“Since the 1980s, precarity has provoked a process of desolidarization and disaggregation of the social composition of work. Virtualization has been a complementary cause of desolidarization: precarization makes the social body frail at the level of work, while virtualization makes the social body frail at the level of affection” (128).


#7

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Berardi has taken the lectern. “The end never happens,” he states, “because of the conjunction.” With this term, Berardi is describing a mode of concatenation that’s increasingly being lost in the present age of connection, which “starts to prevail when the automating interfaces of the information machine pervade and innervate the linguistic sphere” (11). Whereas connection could not exist without logic and its technological extensions, thus rendering it ever functional and ever structural, conjunction “is a creative act” and “event, not structure,” capable of creating new pathways of meaning and new constellations of things (12-13). If connection foreshadows the coming of “the inhuman,” per Lyotard—an age when intelligent machines threaten the very foundations of humanism—then conjunction takes a different leap beyond the human; “sensibility,” a key facet of conjunctive concatenation, “involves the inorganic,” understands “the unspeakable,” and can shape “the world without interrupting it’s [sic] becoming” (30-33)

Now, it’s crucial to note that while Berardi treats connection as a historical phenomenon—one becoming increasingly prevalent—connection and conjunction are not dialectical opposites: “[t]here is always some connective sensibility in a conjunctive body and there is always some conjunctive sensibility in a human body formatted in connective conditions" (16).

I find this to be one of the more hopeful passages from Berardi’s book, for whatever fatalism we may ascribe to the connective body, we can also recognize a conjunctive possibility that can be kindled, refined, restored. Such, at the least, is my inference. What do the rest of you think?


#8

Berardi is an incredibly energetic, physically dynamic speaker. I’m tempted to make an animated .GIF…



#9

Cultural Object Number Two: Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

“If you want to understand Trump,” Berardi says, “read Jonathan Franzen,” who understands better than most the decomposition of the (American) brain.

Here’s more from Berardi’s book: “The Corrections, a novel by Jonathan Franzen, speaks of the psychopathological micro-shifts and of the psychopharmacological micro-adaptations of the humanity increasingly devastated by depression and anxiety: the attempts to adjust to an existence that must be normal and pretends to be normal while the brain is unable to deal with the surrounding chaos and the intimate chaos as well. Corrections are the adjustments needed in a volatile stock market in order to avoid losing the money invested in private pension funds that might suddenly disappear” (45).


#10

Berardi elaborates on the shift from conjunction to connection, describing the latter as the “syntactization of the production of meaning. From the sphere of semantics, we are shifting to the sphere of syntactics.”

What’s lost in this shift is the “vibrational, mutual understanding” we find in the conjunctive mode. Simply put, with “[t]he development of linguistic competence,” we lose our capacity for empathy (15).

On the face of it, this could seem counterintuitive, for surely social media networks have made us vibrate with one another like never before. Yet Berardi argues that we need to disabuse ourselves of the working categories of virtual subjectivity—individual, collective, crowd, multitude—and recognize that all of these social configurations are “involved in automatic chains of behavior, and driven by techno-linguistic dispositives” (24).

This raises a few questions. For one, Berardi depicts machinic control as so totalized that it seems difficult to imagine how we might reclaim the conjunctive mode. What do you think? Will the “social brain” engendered by the “info-sphere” be forever hindered from developing beyond present forms of control (35)? I can’t tell if Berardi is suggesting that the conjunctive can only operate beyond these forms, or if we can reclaim it from within. Thoughts?


#11

Approaching the end of his talk, Berardi asks, “How can you shift from a dimension of everything to recomposition […] a new attempt to give meaning to life?”

By recomposition, Berardi is describing a process integral to the conjunctive mode: “the meeting, converging and conjoining of singular bodies in a provisionally common pathway” (17). The community that results from recomposition is “a community of desire, not of necessity” (17-18). Here Berardi reiterates some of the points covered above, seeking to bypass relationships built on functionality—to foster empathy against the impersonality of syntax.

The stakes are high, because—according to Berardi—we’re living inside the corpse of capitalism. It’s imperative that we find a way out (it’s sickening to continue in this way) but we’re still searching for an exit.


#12

Cultural Object Number Three: Animales de compania by Ruth Goméz

Animales de compania by Ruth Goméz uses ferocious images to tell the story of a generation of well dressed anthropophagi, young beasts in ties; they run and run to avoid being caught by fellows, colleagues, friends, and lovers who wound, kill and eat them as soon as they fall into their grip, with terrorized smiles and dilated eyes” (46).

Immediately following this description, Berardi reflects:

“This art is no denunciation. The terms “denunciation” and “engagement” no longer have meaning when you are a fish getting ready to be cooked. // Artists of the twenty-first century no longer show that kind of energy, even though they keep using expressions taken from the lexicon of the past century, perhaps because they are scared by their own truth. Artists no longer search the way to a rupture? They seek a path that may lead to a state of equilibrium between irony and cynicism, they seek a way to suspend the execution, at least for a moment” (46).

I’m going to close my thread with this quote, because as many of us are artists, culture workers, creative practitioners, et. al., I want you to weigh in. Do you agree with Berardi’s characterization of the twenty-first century artist? Whose execution are we talking about? I’m starting to worry that artistic practice is merely a way of staving off certain inevitable death at the hands of [insert system of macro-control here]…

Help me, please…


#13

This is just a quick thought…

the idea of coming to a realization that “we are” techno-linguisticly driven brings to my mind that we might as well not stop by disabusing us from “categories of virtual subjectivity”. There are other categories preformatting our behaviour into patterns (eg living in consumer-society, role-models, capitalist/ neo liberal work ethic, or the way our cities are built). That said it’s impossible to get beyond these forms to then (let’s say) start reclaiming autonomy or to find better ways for coexistence. Maybe there are chances for conjunction inside these systems that we don’t take? Picking up on the “Social Media” instance: Why do people not abolish facebook and connect on their own terms? This would not wipe out the problem, but it’s a practical step one of which maybe moves us away from automated social connections. It does not address the whole picture, as Berardi (who I have unfortunately not read at length yet) talks of structures embedded deep insinde our culture and psychology. But changing habits is something one can engage on a personal level and something which might make things look quite different. Although the majority might be indifferent about all this in the first place.