FRANCO “BIFO” BERARDI
Franco “Bifo” Berardi is a writer, media theorist and media activist. Founder of the magazine A/Traverso and Radio Alice in Bologna and an important figure in the political Italian Autonomia Movement, he worked with Felix Guattari in the field of schizoanalisis. Contributor to magazines such as Semiotexte (New York), Chimeres (Paris) and Metropoli (Rome), BIFO is the author of The Soul at Work (2009), After the Future (2011), The Uprising (2012), Heroes: Mass murder and Suicide (2015) and And-Phenomenology of the End (2016), among many other books. He teaches Social History of the Media in the Accademia di Brera in Milano.
If only you could see the things
I have seen with your eyes.”
What is the colour of memory?
The world may be viewed as the sphere of intersection of countless psycho-dynamic trajectories of imagination and projection. A ceaseless negotiation is going on: conflicts, alliances, agreements, changing expectations. The chemical composition of the world is made of the imaginary substances that we secrete all the time, and takes form out there: ever-changing magma in which the flows of projection issuing from human minds meet are searching for an impossible order.
Attention is the faculty that enables our brain to receive and to record the sensory stimuli which come from the surrounding environment and informing the sensitive organism. The sensitive organism is mobilised, motivated, changed and impressed by info-stimulation.
Memory is the effect of this impression, the dynamic recording and re-presentation of fragments of the past experience.
Imagination is the dynamic recombination of memory fragments, engrams: continuous transformation of the past experience into possible future configurations of the world.
What is the color of memory?
Memory, the plastic continuous moulding and remoulding of the traces of experience, filtered and transmuted by the environment, is far from being a static framework of immutable traces of the past. The past indeed is changing in our minds, as we change our position, as we move and distance ourselves from the moments recorded in our brain.
My question is: what is the factor of memorisation? What is the traces selector?
The world that emerges from our imagination is made by the imaginary substance that we secrete, and the selection among traces is influenced by the media environment that is stimulating our attentive brain, and finally the media environment shapes our memo-elaboration of the experience.
The layers of my personal memory have different colours: the visual recording of the ages of my life is not made of the images that I saw with my eyes. Most of the objects that lie in my visual memory are the trace of technical stimulation. My visual memory is the product of the media representation that I happened to be exposed to.
I grew up in the ‘50s in the suburban area of a Central-Northern Italian town. The memory of my childhood is a mixture of grey public events visually recorded in L’Unità, the Communist newspaper that my father read, and of blue skies and bright mornings portrayed in the naively optimistic advertising of that decade.
My memory of the ’60 has the flat brilliant colours of pop art paintings and of the red flags waved by the Chinese young Red Guards portrayed in the posters on the walls of my schoolboy room.
The memory of the ‘70s is grey and smoky, like the screen of the TV before the PAL and SECAM technologies of colourTV. The Red Brigades images were rather dark and the coloured rebellious demonstrations in the streets of my memory are grey.
The ‘80s are in my memory a super-coloured decade: psylocibine in Southern Mexico, sparkling graffiti on the walls of New York city, and the Wired magazine acid-colours at the dawn of the Internet, in 1992.
The way we remember is linked to the media landscape where we have received and organised our objects of memory. Engrams are the re-actualisation of the mediated imprinting of events in our minds.
What is the colour of my memory of the present? What is the colour of my imagination of the present collapse of the Modern civilization, of the spreading war, of the impending environmental devastation? What is the imagination of the financial freezing of the world?
Futurability and the self
“Nexus 6 was designed to copy human
beings in every way except their emotions.
But the makers reckoned that after a few
years they might develop their own
emotional responses – hate, love, fear,
So they built in a fail-safe device.”
Does the future exist? Actually no, there is no such thing as “the” future. Where can you find it? You can find it nowhere. The only way to imagine the time that comes after now is to project a recombination of images that we have stored in our brain. Imagination is this, at the end: it is a remix of our past experiences, it is the enforcement of info-expectations inside the frame of an already existing gestalt. Imagination is the continuous act of reshuffling of fragments of memory.
The future does not exist. Futurability exists: the feeling that our mind is going to experience a different configuration, an evolving perception: intention and leaning towards a possible deployment of the present. Futurables are the layers of possibility inscribed in the present composition of the mind, immanent in the present structure of the world. Futurables are poised to unfold and take the shape of a full-fledged landscape of reality.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, may be.
How do we navigate from one layer to the other, from an instant to the following instant? How do we know that we still live in the same universe that we were experiencing yesterday, how do we know that we still are the same persons that we were a moment ago? Are we the same person indeed? Well, yes and not. Like the ship of Theseus we are continuously dissolving, nevertheless we persist. All the cells of our body, all the engrams of our brain are replaced by different cells and by different engrams, but something remains fundamentally the same. What exactly persists?
What persists is the consciousness of the process: self-identification, the pretence of being the same object notwithstanding the material transformation. The only proof that we are the same person that we were in the past is our memory and self-perception.
Identity is a fake crystallisation of the flow of memories. Identity is the will to give a subjective body to the flow of experience, an external objectivity to the mental secretion that we name “me”.
What is “me”? Who is saying “me”?
What is the stuff that our “self” is made of?
Memory is that stuff, but memory is not the recording of experience, it is the elaboration of experience mediated by our tools of mental manipulation of the environment.
Black, white and grey
After all, they are emotionally inexperienced with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them
with a past… we create a cushion or pillow for their emotions.. and we can
control them better.
They want memories?
It’s the dark corners, the little shadowy places that make you interesting, Deckard….. gusty emotions on a wet road on an autumn night.. the change of seasons….. the sweet guilt after masturbation.”
How do we remember Auschwitz? What’s the colour, what’s the image that we have in our minds?
The foggy colours of course, and the rusty gates, and those grey bony faces and pale naked bodies. The images that we have seen do not have colours. The pictures taken by the Allies, when they entered the concentration camps and found the survivors are black and white and grey, mostly grey.
What do we remember about Nazism? White and black uniforms and well cleaned boots, and the white marbles of the Nuremberg-podium and the black livid grimace of the people acclaiming the Fuhrer.
Black and white and grey, this is the memory that we have of the age of Fascist totalitarianism.
What is Fascism? It is the psychopathic reaction of the majority of people when they feel aggressed by something they do not understand, when the crisis is destroying their expectations, and mythology becomes the only ground for the rebuilding of the community.
The black and white and grey mythology of Modern industrialism and the expressionist contrast of the hard times following the First world war have shaped our expectation and imagination of the (unimaginable) future of Fascism. Fascism is the enforcing of fake memories on the present becoming of society, the fixation of a past image and the rhetorical emphasis placed on an imaginary young age of the world. Nations are retrospective identifications, and nationalism the enforcement of a false memory on the changing existence of people. Nationalism enforces identity on the continuous reshuffling of the collective body.
Post-modern Fascism is coming to us under different colours.
The current wave of migrants who are pushing at the SouthEastern border of the continent is not the sudden materialisation of an unpredictable event.
In the last two decades the European authorities have been aware that a massive in-flow of migrants was imminent. We have seen them arriving from Albania, Romania, then from Afghanistan, and Northern Africa, then from Iraq and lately from Syria… victims of two centuries of European colonialism, victims of two decades of war.
The European Union has refused to acknowledge this migration, and to deal with it in a rational way. The problem has been ignored while millions of undocumented migrants were exploited as low paid workers. The majority of Europeans have enjoyed the economic advantages of this inflow, but simultaneously the average salary has gone down because of the irregular condition of those immigrant workers. Now the situation has become unbearable, millions of people escaping war and misery are sitting all along the South Eastern border in conditions of despair. Europeans do not like concentration camps on their territory so the Union has contracted Turkey to do the dirty job, in exchange of six billions euros.
Reading the books of Isaac Basheevis Singer I wonder why in the ‘30s Jewish people did not escape from Germany, and why nobody did rebel against the preparation of the extermination of Jews, Communists and Roma people, that eventually we have identified under the name of Holocaust,. Well, the answer is here, now: nobody is rebelling against the preparation of the next Holocaust, nobody knows what to do. Now I’ve got the answer. They did not escape because nobody was opening the door, and nobody rebelled because the majority of people pretended not to know, and because the murderers were the winners of a democratic contest.
Inside the corpse
Remember the bush outside your window with the spider in it.
Rachael looks up at him.
Green body, orange legs… you watched her build a web all summer.
Her voice is getting very small.
One day there was an egg in the web
Rachael nods faintly.
After a while, the egg hatched and hundreds of baby spiders came out and
Capitalism is dead, and we are living inside the corpse.
Frantically looking for a way out of the rotting putridity, and not finding it.
What about the next decade? What about the following decades of the Century?
What is the colour of the future?
The future has no colour, as it does not exist. The colour of the future is the effect of a flow of beams that we are projecting on the screen of imagined time. Can we get rid of the dystopian imagination spread by the Cyberpunk literature of the ‘80s? Can we imagine the future outside of the oblique spotlights of Blade Runner? Can we skip the red-blue pill alternative of Matrix?
The Neoliberal deregulation is not just an economic process. Since the beginning it was rather a project of reformation of the soul, and eventually of reformatting of the mind.
In 1981, in an interview with the Sunday Times, Thatcher said:
“I set out really to change the approach, and changing the economics is the means of changing that approach. If you change the approach you really are after the heart and soul of the nation. Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.” (Sunday Times, May 1981 http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/104475).
The final goal of the Thatcher’s revolution was not economic, but political, ethical, almost spiritual. The neoliberal reformation was finally intended to inscribe competition in the very soul of social life, up to the point of destroying society itself. This cultural intention of the neoliberal reformation has been described by Michel Foucault in his 1979-1980 seminary published with the title The Birth of biopolitics: subjection of individual activity to the spirit of the enterprise, overall recoding of human activity in terms of economic rentability, insertion of competition in the neural circuits of daily life. These are the trends that Foucault foresaw and described in that seminary.
Not only the economic profit, but the very cult of the individual as economic warrior and the harsh perception of a fundamental loneliness of humans are the final intentions of the neoliberal change.
Margaret Thatcher also says:
“there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.” (Thatcher, 1987)
During the last thirty years society has been transformed into a sort of blind system of inescapable obligations and interdependences, a prison-like condition of togetherness in which empathy is cancelled and solidarity is forbidden. Cooperation deploys under the rule of competition.
Connective pathways have been embedded in the brain.
Colours have been replaced by shiny synthetic refractions.
I’m not in the business.
Deckard meets her look, understands he cannot comfort her so easy, she will not be one of the boys with him.
I am the business.
She is grim and angry and shaking.
You can hear the clock TICKING.”
The social space has been turned into a worldwide system of automatic connections in which individuals cannot experience conjunction but only functional interaction with other individuals. The process of cooperation does not stop, it is transformed into a process of abstract recombination of info-fractals that only the Code can decipher and transform into economic value. The mutual interaction is not cancelled, but empathy is replaced by competition. Social life proceeds, more frantic than ever: the living conscious organism is penetrated by dead unconscious mathematical functions.
“Everything changes with the device of simulation: collapse of poles, orbital circulation of models (this is also the matrix of every implosive process).” (Baudrillard: In the shadow of the silent majorities)
and he continues:
“Bombarded with stimuli, messages and texts, the masses are simply an opaque, blind stratum, like those clusters of stellar gas known only through analysis of their light spectrum – radiation spectrum equivalent to statistics and surveys – but precisely: it can no longer be a question of expression or representation, but only of the simulation of an ever inexpressible and unexpressed social.” (p. 21)
Felix Guattari was attracted by the technological rhizome of information, and in the emerging net he viewed a tool for liberation, Baudrillard was acutely aware of the dark side of the network: the dissipation of social energy, the implosion of subjectivity, the subjection of mental activity to the logic of simulation.
Baudrillard wrote the book In the shadow of silent majorities at the end of the ‘70s, while Margaret Thatcher was taking control of the Tory Party, beginning the triumphal progress that prepared her victory in the national elections in 1979, and launching the project that we have come to know as neoliberal revolution.
While Guattari was interested in the concept of network (reseau) because he was foreseeing a process of self-organisation of social actors, Baudrillard anticipated the effects of the new post-social power that was emerging under the umbrella of neoliberalism, and taking the form of a network rather that the old form of the hierarchical pyramid.
Social autonomy and neoliberal deregulation are two processes deploying at the same time, and implying each other at some extent. The concept of rhizome maps the explosion of hierarchical disciplinary society, and also the process of capitalist deregulation that paved the way to the precarization of work and to the dissolution of social solidarity.
“Freedom, ‘I’dom, ‘Me’dom
Where’s your ‘We’dom?
This world needs a brand new ‘Re’dom
We’dom – the key
We’dom the key’dom to life!
Let’s be ‘dem
We’dom smart phones
Don’t be dumb!”
The infinite palette of colours of the world wide web is only the Erscheinung (the external appearance) of the foundational binary code. Black and white.
If you put red in a black and white landscape the image looks threatening, and uncertainty takes the upper hand.
Red is breaking the balance, is not a colour, but a menace.
Austerity has destroyed Europe. The impoverished crowds are resorting to the aggressive reaction of nationalism.
Western white men perceive the effects of globalisation as a threat to their colonial superiority.
Trump, Netaniahu, Jaczinski, Orban, Putin, Hollande, are the result of a panic crisis of the majority of people. As you panic you are led to look for authority, someone who will guarantee the consistency of the world.
Why are white american death rates raising and raising? Why do they die for heroin overdose?
“The visibility of drug users may be partly attributed to the nature of the epidemic, which has grown largely out of dependence on legal opioid painkillers and has spread to white, urban, suburban and rural areas.
Nationally, 125 people a day die from drug overdoses, 78 of them from heroin and painkillers, and many more are revived, brought back from the brink of death — often in full public view. “ (Katharine Seelye, New York Times, March 6th 2016)
The white middle class has been hit hard by the consequences of the mortgage crisis, and this is the result:
“Death rates are rising for white, less-educated Americans. The economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton reported in December that rates have been climbing since 1999 for non-Hispanic whites age 45 to 54, with the largest increase occurring among the least educated…. Why are whites overdosing or drinking themselves to death at higher rates than African-Americans and Hispanics in similar circumstances? …. And here is one solution to the death-rate conundrum: It’s likely that many non-college-educated whites are comparing themselves to a generation that had more opportunities than they have, whereas many blacks and Hispanics are comparing themselves to a generation that had fewer opportunities… When whites without college degrees look back, they can often remember their fathers who were sustained by the booming industrial economy of postwar America. Since then, however, the industrial job market has slowed significantly. The hourly wages of male high school graduates declined by 14 percent from 1973 to 2012, according to analysis of data from the Economic Policy Institute.” (Andrew Cherlin: Why Are White Death Rates Rising?, NYT, Feb. 22 2016).
The hourly wages steadily declined during the last three decades, while exploitation has steadily increased. Suicide seems to be the only way out from panic, depression and misery. Supporting Trump is a therapy against suicide, drug overdose and depression.
Although he is infuriating the establishment of the Republican Party, Trump is true when he says that he is expanding the Republican camp by mobilising an audience that used not to be involved in the political game: he is clearly attractive for people who hate Politics and Reason. Problem is that currently Reason and Politics are repulsive for the majority of the American male.
The supporters of Trump are the vanguard of the emerging wave of anti-global racism. Trump represents the unconscious of a country that was built on the red-skins genocide, on the slavery of millions of blacks, and on contemporary mass-incarceration. The American unconscious is loaded with these burdens, and the black President has unchained a dangerous madness in the white American mind.
In 1855 Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau published the book Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, (Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines) that partially influenced the racial views of Adolf Hitler and of National Socialism. According to Gobineau race is the deciding factor in history, and the superior white race – who in his opinion is the only subject of civilisation – is threatened by the process of miscegenation.
“The word degenerate, when applied to a people, means (as it ought to mean) that the people has no longer the same intrinsic value as it had before, because it has no longer the same blood in its veins, continual adulterations having gradually affected the quality of that blood. In other words, though the nation bears the name given by its founders, the name no longer connotes the same race ; in fact, the man of a decadent time, the degenerate man properly so called, is a different being, from the racial point of view, from the heroes of the great ages. I agree that he still keeps something of their essence; but the more he degenerates, the thinner does this “something ” become. “ (Essay…)
Although it is devoid of any scientific foundation, the Gobineau’s theory offers plausible explanations for the anxieties of the late modern world. This ignorant ideology has resurfaced in different forms during the Twentieth Century and is resurfacing in a similar way today: the Trump’s apparently irresistible rise reverberates the anxieties of the white middle class in America. The echo of racism is resounding in the European popular reaction against migrants, too.
The nationalist crowds are unable to get rid of the financial maze of abstraction, and blame racial integration as the source of social impoverishment and miscegenation as the source of the decline of the Western civilisation.
Painful to live in fear, isn’t it.
Deckard is doubled over, hugging his thigh.
But that’s how it is to be a slave.
The future is sealed off.”
Symbolism broke the relation between sign and meaning. The poetical word was disconnected from its referential meaning and charged by the force of impression, sound, music: the magic of words is the evocation of a sensuous reality that is not referential, but creational. Emancipation from the denotational function of semantics, autonomy of the sign, and finally evocation. Hundred years after the Symbolist outbreak, Virtually reality turned the poetica intuition of evocative signs into the technical practice of creation of immersive environments.
When the sensuousness of Symbolism disappeared, what remained in the poetical scene of the XXth Century was the abstract structure of semiosis.
The Russian Formalist School (Opoyaz) and the French Ouvroir de Literature potentielle (Oulipo) conceived of poetical language as abstract recombination. After the Cubist recombination of the materiality of visual space, Mondrian discovered the rhythm of metropolitan geometry, and finally abstraction emerged as the deep overarching tendency of the Futurist Century.
Then social activity was turned into the abstraction of money, and abstract labour emerged as the general force of valorization.
The monetary magical moment started in 1971 when the President Nixon declared that the relation between American money and the economy was abolished. The dollar was declared free from the old regime of fixed exchange, and money was disconnected from the physical reality of the economy. So the age of economic indetermination began.
In the age of industrial capitalism money and value used to have a referential meaning: they were the indicator of the physical reality of products and assets, they were the proof and the measure of labour time embedded in the object. After Nixon no more.
The digital financialisation opened the window to a new sphere of the economy. Non-referential symbols (algorithms figures, derivatives) invaded the daily business of life, and turned it into an abstract predatory game whose outcome is destruction.
Money was declared a self-fulfilling prophecy, the credit card was accepted as cornucopia, and the whirlpool did start.
A second wave of abstraction was sweeping the world.
Abstraction at the second degree.
As in the sphere of abstraction concreteness is residual, the body is removed from the sphere of info-economic circulation, where only abstract signs circulate and carry a meaning. But the body is still there, nervous and bloody and violent and blessed and suffering and reacting. Residual and restless.
At a certain point in the history of financial capitalism, the body comes back, but it is separated from the soul, and from the brain.
The comeback of the brainless and soulless body results in a global civil war.
Here we are: war has been privatised and is hidden in every niche of social life, and popping up at random, in an airport, a night-disco, in a school where a child kills scores of mates for no reason. Look at the borders of Europe, as we are paying the Islamist strongman of Turkey, and commission to him the construction of concentration camps.
Migrants are the living legacy of colonialism, immiseration and war.
The past comes back, soulless and brainless: fascism and war.
Where do you get the memories?
In the case of Rachael, I simply copied and regenerated cells from
the brain of my sixteen-year old niece. Rachael remembers what my little niece remembers.”
Look at this image:
Zuckerberg (Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona, February 2016) walking beside a seating army of zombies wearing oculus devices I glimpse a futurable inscribed in the present: a billionaire superman with a rictus grin, striding straight past human drones, tethered to machines and blinded to reality by blinking plastic masks.
Recently I saw a picture of Mark Zuckenberg walking along a crowd of seating zombies with Oculus around their head, looking at the synthetic world imagined by somebody else. After a flamboyant apparition at the dawn of the digital age, Virtual reality technology has been neglected as the world wide web invaded the space of cultural and social innovation. Nevertheless, the Virtual reality technology has been developed for the massive production of video-games. Now Oculus is bringing back the excitement of immersive simulation, and immersive technology is going to be the next step in the building of the shared illusion that in techno-fanatics intentions is going to replace the experience of the physical and historical world.
Empathy and anaesthetisation play together in the dimension of Immersive technology. The connection between human terminals of the global network machine has been made ubiquitous by the smartphone. What will come after the smartphone?
The designer-programmer demiurgos creates the interfaces of the post-real experience, and according to Zuckerberg the deployment of immersive technology will be the next step in the evolution of the Ultimate Automaton: headsets that provide “immersive 3-D experiences”—movies and television, naturally, but also games, lectures, and business meetings. These headsets would eventually scan our brains, then transmit our thoughts to our friends the way we share baby pictures on Facebook today.
According to Zuckerberg: “Eventually we’re going to have technology where we can communicate our full sensory experience and emotions to someone through thought,” (Interview with Zuckerberg by Max Chafkin, Vanity Fair, Oct 2015)
As it invented a pre-formatted tool for human-to-human connection, Facebook enabled a jump in the history of network evolution. Language and affection are reduced to a formatted alphabet of icons: emoticons, likes, formatted friendship, and so on. An automated alphabet of emotions and thoughts. Now, as the world’s environment is decaying, a simulated shared environment is going to replace the environment that once upon a time we used to call: the world.
The horrible futurable imagined by the cyberpunk literature is here: dystopia has became true, but the evolution is not linear, and reality invent new pathways, new bifurcations. So we don’t know what the future of the immersive technology will be.
Neuro-totalitarianism or lines of escape? May be both.