The following is a transcript from a lecture at September 14, 2013 in Vancouver by Franco Berardi co-presented by 221A and SFU Vancity Office for Community Engagement in conjunction with the exhibition Due to Injuries… by Brady Cranfield and Jamie Hilder.
My starting point: it’s difficult to talk in Vancouver because I have an idea about this city. I’ve been here before in 2001. I’ve been here in June 2001, just the month before the Geneva G8 Summit, which became, in a sense, the most violent moment of the experience of the global movement in those years. I remember I took part in a meeting somewhere in the city with people—we were talking about the coming summit of Geneva. And on that occasion, already I felt this sort of surprise because Vancouver for me is, in a sense, a city outside of the game, a place which is a lucky place, a sunny place—sometimes, if you are lucky, it’s sunny. I have been lucky. And so I tried to think of Vancouver, but I’m not thinking of a sunny subject. My subject is a little bit foggy. And, and by many points of view, it’s also dramatic. My starting point is the movement in 2011. I take this year—you know I have this sort of obsession with years: ’68, ’77…. And 2011 is, in my opinion—if, in the future, historians will exist (I’m not sure of that), they will probably talk about 2011 as a special moment in the history of social consciousness, and in the history of the interminable, never-ending crisis of capitalism. 2011 has been, for me, the year of the uprising, the year of the insurrection (because I suffer from hallucinations, maybe). But I saw in that year the possibility of something. Remember what happened in London in November, December 2010? Remember what happened in London in August 2011? Thousands and thousands of young people, unemployed migrants going to the streets, taking to the streets, destroying everything in the city, talking with despair, with rage. And think about what happens in Spain in May-June 2011. Six million people occupying the squares all over the country in the acampada. Think what happens in September in New York City, and then in Oakland, and in many other cities in the United States of America. Think of what happens in January, February, in Tunis, in Cairo, in Damascus, and so on. You see a sort of non-coordinated and fragmented insurrection of a strange kind of crowd, a strange kind of population, some would say a multitude coming out from nowhere. And going nowhere: that’s the point, going nowhere.
Because you know how the situation evolved in Cairo, for instance, just to name a city. Or you know that after the explosion of August in London, thousands of people have been jailed by the Nazi state called the United Kingdom. You know what happened in Greece! You know that the Greek people have been pushed into a sort of abyss of misery, of despair, of social desegregation, of depression. And you know that after the uprising, a sort of dissolution, a sort of depression has taken the upside, and has become the dominant tone, the dominant feature of the year 2012 and 2013, and so on. Why so? Why in Europe, have we been unable to transform the rage and the energy, the subversive energy of the London students, of the workers, the public workers? Why have we been unable to transform all this into a common process of social organization, into a common process of transforming the European reality? You know what’s happening in Europe now? Just in two words I will try to tell you what’s going to happen in Europe. Look at Spain, for instance. You know that the Catalans are demonstrating because they want to be independent from Spain. They don’t want to pay the debt instead of Madrid. They don’t want to pay to Madrid the debt that Madrid has to pay to the European Central Bank. Some say, “Ok, the Catalans are a democratic people, a peaceful people, don’t worry, nothing to see, just relax.” And I know that the Catalans are a democratic people. But in Madrid, fascists, Francoist, are in power. And what happens in Spain is a beginning of a process of dissolution of national unity, one country after the other. What happens in Spain today will happen in Italy tomorrow. And think of the hatred that is growing every year in Southern Europe against Germany! This danger, this hatred, is the worst danger for the European reality. The coming back of the anti-German hatred is the poison, which is preparing fascism, civil war in, in Europe tomorrow.
We’ve been unable to stop this process, like we have been unable to transform the Tahrir Square movement into a real process of self-organization of the Egyptian workers, of the Egyption intellectuals, and so on. Why? Why? What is the novelty? Why has the movement in Europe been totally unable to stop the financial aggression? Why has the movement shown a sort of total ineffectiveness? I remember in the 60s, in the 70s, in the 80s, other movements that were not winning—victory means nothing in the social sphere but those movements were able to negotiate, to stop the aggression, to create forms of autonomy, of self-organization. Now we have been unable to do this—totally, totally unable to do this. And this inability has to be explained. This ineffectiveness has to be explained, not as a political flow or a political lack of understanding. It’s something deeper. It’s something that belongs to the precarious existence of the new forms of work. What does precariousness mean? What is the precarity of work in its deep characterization? Precarity is essentially the total fragmentation of social time, of the social body. Precariousness means that we never meet twice in the same place. Everybody is kind of out and going in different directions everyday, and never meeting the body of the other worker the next day. That means that it’s impossible to transform the rebellion into organization. That means that it’s impossible to create forms of territorial self-organization in the city, and in the place of work. So we are 10,000 people on Saturday in the demonstration, but on Monday everybody’s alone in his cubicle, in front of his computer, in his office, in his school. This is the new social reality that we have to face. And we have to be able to start from this point.
The second novelty of the present situation is a sort of inability to impact, to face, to really meet the enemy: the financial capital which is destroying our lives. Why so? Because, you know, there is a sort of dis-planarity—or can I say, a spatial dis-congruity, discontinuity between the movement and the power. Once upon a time, we knew that it was possible to face the enemy in the street, in the place of work, in the territory, in the real world, in the physical world. And it was possible to fight in a physical way! And so to stop the aggression, and so to start the process of negotiation. This is impossible nowadays because our bodies, our physical reality is unable to meet the ghost of the enemy, which is nowhere. You can burn the bank if you want. It’s an interesting experiment from an aesthetic point of view, but it’s nothing from the political point of view because the power is not there. It’s not inside the bank. The real power is in the figures, in the algorithms, in the immaterial things that we cannot touch, that we cannot meet, that we cannot face, that we cannot stop.
So what happens now? Well just a… a little parenthesis: I want to understand what is the new feature of power nowadays. I call it semiocapital. Semiocapital means—it’s not so difficult to guess—semiocapital means a form of production which is essentially based on the elaboration of semia, of signs, of immaterial things that are virtual things, that are the form of value. In a sense, we can say that semiocapital is essentially a process of subsumption or of capture, of subjection, submission of our linguistic ability, of our cognitive force and activity. So cognition and also sensibility are the new fields of production and the new fields of valorization and obviously also the new fields of exploitation, of suffering, of contradiction, if you want. The aesthetics of the economy: that’s a very interesting subject. Let’s think of the aesthetic genealogy of capitalism. Max Weber speaks of the relation between protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism. But capitalism… oh, yes, he is right of course. Protestant ethics is essentially the ethics of severity, of un-iconic aesthetics, the aesthetics of seriousness, of essentiality, of truth. The aesthetic of truth—this is essential in the modern bourgeois connection between aesthetics and the economy and production, and valorization, and salary. You know the protestant ethics is based on the idea that it is possible to find a measure for the value, for the production of value, the unit of time. You start with time and you can understand how much is the value of this or that good. But the main productive force becomes creativity, cognition, imagination. How can you determine a stable relation between time and value? How can you determine a measure? So all of a sudden, I have the impression that the new reality of capitalism, the new aesthetics of capitalism, is more and more the coming back of the Baroque spirit. What is Baroque? Baroque is essentially the proliferation of the measure, the multiplication of forms, of shapes. In a sense Baroque is the consciousness that God is infinite. So how can you limit the ability of God to invent things? This poor idea of truth, of commensurability, of measure, of honesty, which is the misery of the honest, the serious, protestant bourgeois, of the capitalist modernity: this is over! You say, “Berlusconi is a liar.” Yes! This is his importance: his ability to understand the new power is based on a lie, not because they are bad guys. Sometimes they are bad guys. But because they understand that the multiplication, the proliferation of shapes is the measure, the incommensurability of value nowadays. So we are facing a new reality of capitalism which is impossible to contain, to territorialize, to oppose on a territory, in a determined space or time.
Financial capitalism is part of it, is part of the Baroque-ization of the capitalist aesthetic, is part of the semiocapital transformation. What is financial capitalism? Once upon a time, finance was a tool for the accumulation of capital. It was a tool for—you remember—credit and so on was a tool for enterprise. No more. In the old conceptualization of capitalism, you could say that I have money, I invest money in the production of goods, so I can have more money at the end of the process, right? That is the classical scheme, as we know, of the accumulation of capital. It’s no more the reality of financial capitalism, because financial capitalism, as we know very well, is: I have money, I do not produce anything, so I have more money! How can it happen? What is difficult to understand in this process? It’s not so difficult, because nowadays, if you want to have more money, instead of producing something, you have to destroy something! It’s that easy. So the accumulation of value happens differently from the times of Marx, who spoke—the poor guy—of plus value. We have to talk about minus value, a sort of negative, entropic accumulation of money thanks to the destruction of things. The modern, serious, protestant bourgeois together with the worker class—have produced the universe of things. We can destroy that. And you know the process of privatization is the other face of this. Since Thatcher, thirty years ago, capitalists and economists and politicians have been saying everywhere that the main task of good policy is to privatize: privatize schools, privatize sanitation, privatize transportation, privatize sex, privatize affection, privatize everything. How can they go on privatizing? What can they privatize next? You know, we are producing during the day and they are destroying the night. This is what is happening nowadays. In Europe, this is absolutely evident. All of a sudden, four or five years ago we have been saying that Europe is poor. How so? I don’t understand. Europe is not poor. Europe is the place of millions of technicians, doctors, artists, workers, artisans, people who are able to produce the richness and the pleasure of daily life. Europe is the place where, for 500 years, cognitive and physical work has produced what now is privatized and destroyed. So the process of impoverishment of daily life, it’s totally evident. But after 2011, I have the impression that we have become unable to stop, to oppose this process.
So my problem today is trying to figure out what happens next, and also what is the next game? I am trying to describe the coming transformation which is inherent in the process of the submission of cognitive energy, of cognitive work. And I have the impression that we are shifting from a phase or a period of a colonization of the psycho-sphere to a new period, which is a period of neuro-colonization, the construction of a sort of neuro-totalitarianism, which is based on the adaptability of the social nervous system: what is called neuro-plasticity, if you want. Neuro-plasticity is, in my opinion, the next big thing. In April, the President of the United States of America said that the most important project, scientific and technological project of the next decades, will be brain activity mapping. Wow, interesting. Interesting thing. I remember the Genome Project, which has been a successful enterprise from an economic point of view and from the point of view of the creation of the condition for bio-political control and for the bio-political transformation of the human body, a process which has very progressive sides and very dangerous sides. But brain activity mapping is something that directly concerns the main force of production of our age: the brain, the social and collective brain. Investigating, mapping the brain, the individual brain, means creating the condition for a new step in the process of neuro-totalitarianism, of direct control of the mind. Forget about PRISM and those kinds of attempts in the total control of information. Privacy is no more the problem. The problem is directly the ability of the brain to produce and to be controlled by power.
But let’s think about a visible aspect of this transformation. Let’s think about the geo-referential navigators that all of you have in your smartphone. I was in Seoul three months ago, in South Korea. And I was impressed by the fact that people are walking in the streets [mimics walking while looking at a smartphone]. They have small hands so they need both to have their smartphone under control. And they walk like this—doing something, I don’t know what. But the main thing is that if you stop someone and ask, “Please, where is this building?”, they answer, “Of course [mimics interacting with a smartphone]”. Well I am thinking about the transformation of the human faculty of orientation. What is orientation? Orientation is the ability, the singular individual ability, to recognize the urban space, the territory, the world in a personal way, starting from your own experience, from your own emotion. So forget about it! Within a generation, the faculty of orientation will be obliterated in the human mind. Orientation will no more be the ability to singularize the surrounding space. It will be the ability to conform to the common map. The map and the territory will no longer be familiar things. The map is absorbing the territory. And for the human mind, there will be no more territory, only the common, uniform map. Think about Google Glass. This is the real neuro-totalitarian transformation. You will not need to experience things. You will not need to know the person that you meet, talking with her, understanding, imagining, fantasizing, supposing, and trying to create an emotional internal map of that object, that person, that place, and so on. You just will need to touch the sides of your glasses and have the information about the world you are entering. The world will be more and more a pre-packaged, uniformed, non-experimental space.
Let’s try to understand. You see, I’m trying to find a way out. I’m just trying to escape, to find a possibility for saving something of the singularity, not because I am a romantic guy who loves the old things. No, but because I need the possibility of a process of singularization. If I want to find the possibility of escaping hell, that is my problem. So I am trying to say something about the relation between the semiocapital transformation of the world and that sphere of human activity which was called, once upon a time, politics. You remember what politics was? Politics was essentially the ability to decide, to decide between different alternatives, to criticize a prospect and to look for another prospect. But decision, critique, understanding, politics: they need time, time for elaboration, time for singularization, time for decision. We don’t have time! This is why politics has totally disappeared from the origin of our time. And the ability to decide has been shortened and shortened and shortened. The time for decision is shortened as the info-sphere is going faster and faster and faster. So you see you are obliged to discriminate, to examine, to receive a growing amount of stimulation. And exposure to the increasing rapidity of the info-sphere is cutting into the time for decision. So we are obliged to replace decision with automatism. Automatism is essentially a strategy for deciding when you cannot decide, when you cannot discriminate. This is the reason why the social mind is becoming a sort of swarm. Kevin Kelly, in his beautiful book Out of Control someone probably remembers this beautiful book, and the sort of celebration of the neuro-totalitarian future that he likes, as a liberal? He speaks of hive mind, of swarm, in a sense, of swarm behaviour. What is the swarm? The swarm is a community of individuals who react in a uniformed way to common stimulation. It’s a collective body that is composed of individual minds that are uniform by the point of view of decision, who do not decide but react in a uniform way. This is the swarmification of the mind behaviour that we are living, that we are traversing, that we are experiencing nowadays. Well, this is the landscape that I see in our time. And as I am looking for a line of escape, I think that I am looking for a point of access. The line of escape is the point where something is coming out from the frame, is breaking the frame. And I find this point of access in the separation between the general intellect—at last I use this expression, I don’t say the global mind, I say the general intellect—the separation of the general intellect from the body, from the social body, from the collective body, and also from the individual body.
This is the point of breaking the machine. I mean this point of view, this breaking point, is easily visible in the suffering, in the despair, in the epidemics of suicide, which is underway, especially in the last generation, in the epidemics of panic, in the epidemics of depression, which is the marking feature of the psychology of the daily life of the last generation. We know that according to the World Health Organization, the suicide rate has increased 60 percent in the last 30 years, notwithstanding the fact that many countries in the world forbid the declaration of suicide, notwithstanding the fact that doctors are invited by the authorities in Italy, for instance, not to admit suicide unless it’s absolutely necessary, unless there is a declaration of will to suicide. One interesting thing in South Korea: you have the highest connectivity rate in the world. The number one in connectivity, Samsung Land. Not surprising, by my point of view, South Korea also has the highest suicide rate by far, by very, very far. I mean, in South Korea you have 28.4 per 100,000 people who kill themselves every year. The second country in the world is Hungary, the third is Japan, and the fourth is Finland. Hungary is at 17. 28/17. Well, a relation between connectivity and suicide has to exist. I don’t want to be a determinist, but I think that if we want to understand the wave of specific suffering, the wave of depression, we have to think about the separation of the body from the brain, of the physical erotic body from the general intellect, this kind of hive mind, of automated mind, which is under construction.
Well, I think that we have to start from this point. And I think that the next game is the game of self-organization of the general intellect, of self-organization of the body of the general intellect against neuro totalitarianism. This is the next game. I know that the next game is going to take a long time before becoming a conscious process of self-organization. I know that we still are working in the darkness of politics, democracy—all this shit that means nothing. We need time to become able to understand that the real game is the autonomy of the general intellect and the reconnection between the general intellect and the erotic body of society. What happens in between? What happens in the historical period, which is the coming period of history? What happens before the general intellect becomes able to find a way to reconnect itself with the erotic body of society? What happens next? This is why I’m not that optimistic. I think that the tragedy of the neo-liberal dictatorship is beginning. In Europe, we have seen the first glimpses of this tragedy in Greece. We have seen the first glimpse of this tragedy. We cannot stop this tragedy. We have to start thinking about the next game. We have to be able to create spaces of autonomy, of good life. Like it happened to me in Seoul. Seoul is, by many points of view, the most horrible place I ever seen in the world, a place which has been devastated by Japanese colonization, by the Second World War, by the Korean War, by the Samsung dictatorship, by the highest rate of connectivity, and by a sort of desertification of daily life or urban land, and so on. Nevertheless, I was been invited by a group of very nice people who label themselves autonomous researchers. And it’s like, you know, you go to hell, and in hell you find there’s a room where nice people relax, maybe with air conditioning, where maybe we can smoke marijuana and wait for Satan. Thank you very much.
Q: Thank you so much for your wonderful talk. My question has to do with how is it possible speculate that this type of political economy that you describe is, on a deeper level, based on a type of philosophy of science, an epistemology that has informed a particular idea of mathematics, then physics, and then machines that have risen out of this. In fact, what we consider mathematization is a particular type of mathematization based on integers, discrete math, based on set theory, and that maybe not all machines are like this. Maybe this type of speed is… maybe we need another kind of speeding in a different dimension that can get us out of this. And what you’re saying could fit into that as well, or they could meet somewhere. Maybe capitalism is not the engine of acceleration it pretends to be. Maybe it’s actually, like how some people argue, it’s only interested in a particular type of acceleration, a particular type of future that it can afford, and it can prolong its life, secure its longer life. Maybe there’s a way to… of course the project is political, but maybe the project could also be scientific and philosophical. Maybe we can get out of this from a different angle, and work at it from a different angle.
Franco Berardi: Thank you because you are suggesting to me two very important points that, in a sense, I could not discuss in my presentation. The first one is, as you say, the process of using the term mechanization of abstraction, let’s say. The growing abstraction of the production process. Karl Marx speaks of abstract labour. But abstraction is not only that kind of abstraction. I mean the difference between the production of goods in relation to use value, and so on. We are living within new levels of the abstraction process, one being the process of virtualization as an abstraction from the physical body, and the second being financial abstraction. You know, the financialization of capital nowadays is based on the disappearance, not only of physical goods, but also the disappearance of money. It’s no more money, the abstract thing, but simply the algorithm referring to money. This is why I find it so difficult to imagine a process of organization of the social body in the field of concrete life. Because concrete life is unable to face, to stop, to dismantle the abstract aggression. It’s what I call dis-planarity or discontiguity, spatial discontiguity. The second point that I find interesting in your question is about acceleration. We know that some brilliant philosophers and artists are talking about acceleration and its possibility for escape. And it’s interesting from many points of view because it’s in line with the idea that in the tendency is implied the possibility. Marx’s conception is all about that. I mean, Marx does not say we should go back to the old time of feudalism. He says, “Ok, capitalism is increasing the exploitation, the productivity” and so on, in the beautiful pages of “The Fragment on Machines,” in the second volume of The Grundrisse. He says the liberation from the exploitation of industrial work is based on the acceleration of the rhythm of the machines. Thanks to the machines themselves, we become free from the machines. Wonderful idea yes, yes, yes. But don’t forget when you say that in the tendency is implied the possibility, you are not talking of something that will happen. Possibility is not necessity. And I am very interested in Nick Land’s idea of acceleration. But I think it’s false. It’s false. It’s not true because it implies necessity where there is possibility. So the possibility of transforming acceleration into an orbitalization, a coming out from the machine itself, depends on the subjective ability to create the condition for the slow life. Because life is slow! I mean the rhythm of the body, the rhythm of the mind, the rhythm of desire is not infinitely acceleratable.
Q: Just as a footnote, I wanted to add that I wasn’t particularly referring to Nick Land, but to the people who come out of Nick Land and criticize him. The type of acceleration I find interesting is not Landian: it’s more like post-Landian and it has more to do with people like Negarestani, and Ray Brassier, and Benedict Singleton, and people who wrote the Accelerationist Manifesto that was published a couple of months ago. And they make sure that they mention how they agree with you about the problems of the Landian acceleration. So I just wanted to add that footnote there that I completely agree with your critique of Land.
Q: I’m curious do you have any concrete strategies for how people might unite the general intellect with the erotic body? Or will we have to wait in hell for a little bit until we see how that can happen?
Franco Berardi: That’s the question! I don’t know. This is why I say that we have to prepare for a difficult period, because there is no strategy for the self-organization of the general intellect. You should not translate the Leninist idea of the creation of a strategy for the working class into the field of the general intellect. It’s not the same. It’s not the same because look at what the Leninist problem was. The problem was those people, the workers, the industrial workers, were doing something that had nothing to do with their life. They were doing repetitive actions, gestures. They were obliged to do that. They didn’t have any intimate relation with their daily life. They thought they could create a strategy, an organization, a political process, a revolution, which is outside the factory. Then everything would change, and so on. It did not work so well but the idea was understandable, was sensible. Now you are dealing with people who are intimately linked to their work. They are exploited, but at the same time they are exploited because they are giving their own life, their own soul. So the trap of cognitive labour is that you like what you do. You are expropriated from your own life. No, the process of self-organization of the general intellect will be, I say it in a metaphorical way, a platform, let’s say a technical platform for the autonomization of what we are already doing. We are already doing what has to be done. We are already doing those things that can give happiness, richness, prosperity to humankind. We have not to go to an other place—it’s already here! The problem is it’s entangled. The concept—it’s not a strategy—it’s just a concept. The concept is this entanglement, not the subversion, not the revolution… you don’t need to subvert, you need to disentangle, you see what I mean? Taking it and bringing it outside from the tangle that…. But it’s a purely intellectual process. It’s a process which belongs and pertains to intellectual activity itself. We cannot shorten it. We cannot say, “well let’s do it in two days, in a week, in two years.” No! It takes all the time that it takes, the disentanglement of our…. I am really thinking that the problem is that what we do as doctors, informaticians, engineers, and so on, and poets, what we do is a useful activity. It’s inside the useful activity of the cognitive work that the alternative can be found. But it takes the time it takes. Inside the specificity of that work itself. There is no political shortening of the process, you see.
Q: Thank you so much for your talk. I thought I was going to fall asleep but I didn’t at all. It was super interesting. But I’m really interested in the mapping of the brain to further the sense of disorientation and our ability, our faculty to orient in the space, and based on experiences and feelings. But I’m wondering what do you recommend we should be mapping? What histories? And also this idea of the colonization of the brain, and I wonder if the neuro-decolonization could be a strategy, or the neuro-plasticity of the brain can be used against this neuro-totalitarianism that you’re speaking about?
Franco Berardi: Actually, yes. I mean, I think that the concept of neuro-plasticity is an interesting concept because it’s totally open. What’s the meaning of the word? The brain is not specified. The level of biological evolution of the brain, contrary to the deterministic idea that everything is implied in genes, is that the epigenetic process is continuously redefining the ability of the brain to map the territory. And so this is, I mean, this is what we know about the brain. We don’t know so much but this we know. Let’s try to translate this idea of plasticity of the brain at the collective level, at the level of the social brain. Some interesting philosophers, like Catherine Malabou, are trying to redefine the relation between the unconscious and the brain. And Catherine Malabou says Freud has displaced the problem from the level of neurology to the level of psychology, from the level of cerebrality to the level of sexuality—sexuality being the process of language, not only of sex. And now in a sense we have to go back to the pre-Freudian space, not in the sense that we have to go back to the determinist, mechanistic idea of the neuro system. But we have to recognize—think about Alzheimer’s, for instance, think of the traumatic disorders. These are not psychological processes; these are neurological processes. I think that, also, the relation of the brain with capitalist acceleration is not only a psychological problem, but it’s essentially a neurological problem. The collective brain is unable to go so fast, is unable to be autonomous, singular. And at the same time, to follow that rhythm, this is producing psychopathologies that are not part, or cannot be only explained in terms of psychoanalytic suffering. They have to be explained in terms of neurological disturbances, of neurological disease, redefinition, and pathologies. So they are not psycho- but neuro-pathologies, in a sense. I know that there is a very dangerous outcome of such an idea, which is the idea of adaptation. I mean the idea that we are suffering but there is the possibility to redefine or manipulate the brain so that it becomes able to face the acceleration. What is really happening with the psycho-pharmacological drugs? Prozac is the way to face acceleration, precaritization, and the unhappiness that capitalism is producing in our lives. So this is the dangerous outcome of the neuro-plastic thing. I’m saying what you say. There is an ambiguity in the concept of neuro-plasticity. We have to accept this ambiguity. We are forced to accept this ambiguity. I mean we have to create a sort of psychoanalytic and political ability to deal with the suffering in a way which is not only healing the individual brain, but is also disentangling the collective brain from the capitalist angle.
Q: I see the kind of fundamental human evolution as a basis of a categorization, like you said a mapping of the human genome, or maybe just our kind of fascination with categorization. And I think you touched on a point where… sorry, I’m trying to collect my thoughts…. So I think you touched on the fact that categorization is a kind of sceptical… you are sceptical of the mapping of the human genome and the brain. And I feel that maybe technology gets in the way of why exactly the human brain is thought to even be mappable. Maybe this will become a very antiquated idea within maybe 1000 years, just as in the way that the earth might be flat, is that it is even a possibility that it can be mapped. And in terms of how you said the suicide rate in South Korea is due to it being the most connected in the world, there’s some kind of correlation with it. And when you come to the point where you’re using technology in order to map out everything, or attempt to map out everything, you become only mentally articulating the world around you, rather than physically. And I want to know how this ties into this idea of what we can do in the physical world in order to compensate for so much of the mental aspect of… in order to physically articulate our surrounding versus the mental framing. Because technology becomes this completely trusted thing in our world, like you said in Google Glass, or something about technology being such a reliant, pre-packaged experience. So I want to know what your scepticism is in terms of technology….
Franco Berardi: I’m not sceptical when I think of the mapping of the genome. I’m not sceptical when I’m talking of mapping the brain. I’m frightened, which is different, you know. The genome mapping, the genome project, has produced very effective results from the point of view of knowledge and from the point of view of therapeutic technologies, and so on. And it’s good from many points of view. It’s dangerous from other points of view. When it comes to the brain activity mapping, I see also the possible usefulness of this mapping, but I mostly see the dangers of it, because I’m not thinking it’s a process of mapping it in an abstract situation. I see this process in the conditions of capitalistic exploitation of the cognitive work. For instance, all this Snowden and PRISM, and then the problem of privacy and control: I don’t think that it’s really a problem of privacy. I think that it’s essentially a problem of penetration of the global exchange of information, of stimulation. It’s something that has very much to do with the translatability of our productive and consumptive abilities. This is the real danger implied in PRISM. And so the brain activity mapping is in the direction of a neuro-control of the collective energies. At the same time, I know that it’s not a process that I am sceptical of. I know it can be effective. It can be dangerous. It can be also the beginning of a process of saving knowledge of the collective brain itself. It depends on the social and also, you know, on the empathic conditions of this process. I mean it depends. If solidarity—if social solidarity is the frame in which this process happens, it’s going to be good. If competition is the frame, it’s going to be very, very bad. And I see that competition, profit, exploitation is the frame of this process.
Q: Thanks for your talk, Franco. Just because you’re working on the relationship between financial capitalism and poetry, I’d love to get you to speak about poetry, because I’m thinking that maybe as a way to start off, some thoughts would be just to think about, if you could explain or elaborate on the decisions behind talking or choosing the term semiocapitalism. Because everything you’re talking about in regards to financial capitalism suggests that we’re not talking really about a relationship about representation that we normally associate with the idea of semiotic activity. So what would be the quality of the semiotic activity in a time, under capitalism, which has no time for representation, allows no time for representation? What does poetry do for you in that moment, where it’s both appropriated and disallowed in some sense?
Franco Berardi: Yes, talking of poetry and finance is paradoxical from many points of view. So it’s a metaphor up to a point, but it’s not only a metaphor. Let’s look at what poetry has been during the last century, not only poetry but art in general. Poetry and art in general has started from the condition of representation and, little by little—starting, let’s say from French symbolism, French impressionism, also it has become an activity of evocation, of creation of the world in many senses, by many points of view. Mallarmé says, “I don’t want to say the rose, I want to evoke the rose. I want the rose to come out because of my voice. My voice is creating the thing. The physicality, the erotic energy of my voice is creating the poetical world.” So in a sense, Mallarmé and Futurism, the thread of abstraction, of essentialism, and symbolism, different threads going in the same direction, this thread has created the possibility of understanding and also of imagining the possibility that language creates a world in the field of poetry. But, you know, also in the field of the economy, because what is the difference with financial capitalism? The ability of language to create the world, the ability of self-referential acts of language to create expectations, fears, and financial collapse, or corporation profits, and so on and so on. So this is metaphorical, up to a point, but it’s the emancipation of the sign that poetry has made possible. When the sign, the word, the figure, the linguistic product becomes emancipated from the word, it becomes able to create its own world. You know, virtuality is all about that, so I’m not saying something so strange. But this is only the first part of the story. This is the past. This is what happened during the past century, and I don’t want to say that Mallarmé is guilty of the Wall Street domination of the world, of course. I don’t call poets guilty of something, no. But I think it points at a power. And this power now can play another game, a different, almost subverted game. What is the game that poets, artists can play in the coming time? In my opinion, it’s the game of reactivation of the erotic body of society. If poetry and art have been a force of abstraction during the last century, now it has to become a force of re-concretization, which does not mean the return of representation. It’s not a claim to the realistic power of the linguistic representation. Giorgio Agamben says, in a book titled Language and Death, he says that the voice is the meeting point of meaning and flesh. It’s true. I mean, the voice, not language, the voice is the singular erotic point of contact, the meeting of meaning and of the body. This is my intuition: that art can become the process of reactivation of the body and the meaning. Meaning in this case means many things; it’s not only meaning as the content of language. It’s the world. So, the relation between the singularity, the erotic singularity of the voice. This is clear when you come to think of what is a mantra. What is a mantra? Mantra is the collective emission of energy. Mantra is the ability to create a common energy, which is, in a sense, destroying the walls of Jericho. That is the power of the mantra. And at the same time, mantra can become mantra, meaning solidarity. Mantra means the ability to breathe together, to find a common energy of invention, not only of the social process of transformation, but also of the social process of production, of production of the world. This is, you see, the double face of the relationship between poetry and finance: abstraction in the past and maybe the coming back of the body in the future time.
Q: I wanted to ask about, the ideas you’ve outlined in your talk and neuro-totalization seem to me to be very pertinent and visible in the western world. And I wonder if you might speak more to the question of how that relates to what we might see as processes of primitive accumulation that have re-emerged in parts of the post-colonial world, how your ideas relate to that.
Franco Berardi: Well, you know, I’m very cautious when I hear the word post-colonial. Because it can open some ambiguities of understanding. A process of colonization belongs to the past. And a different process of colonization belongs to the present. The present colonization is essentially a colonization of the psychological and also neurological dimension. So for instance, the distinctions between west and east or north and south starts to become more and more problematic. And because we are already in a dimension of deterritorialization of the processes of production, of the processes of affectivity and so on…. An aspect of that for me is absolutely crucial in the present if we want to understand the new forms of colonization, which is the massive immigration of affective and sexual work. Particularly think of the millions of women who are living in Manila, Nairobi, and who go to New York City or Milan where millions of women are leaving their children alone, and to go work in their office. I am not calling the mother to her “holy” role. I simply am pointing and trying to understand what kind of psychic bump we are producing in the mind of those millions of children who are talking with…. You know, the problem of colonization now is essentially the problem of language. The relationship between language and the body, which is the gate, the door, or entrance to language. The access to language has always been the relation with the body of the mother. Now the body of the mother is dissolved and replaced by the screen, by the machine, or by the displaced neo-colonial body of a mother who has left her children in Manila and Nairobi. You see how difficult it is to talk about post-colonial.
Q: What about the mother who is still in Nairobi? How do the theories that you’ve outlined today, what consequences do they have for the life of many people on, say the African continent?
Franco Berardi: But the mother who still is in Nairobi, more and more, is listening to the same music and communicating in the same Facebook as the mother who is in Manhattan or Milan. This is, I mean the imaginary world of the global mind today is less and less a territorial space. So what I mean is that it’s not a subject I’m very familiar with, but I tend to see the problem of the post-colonial in terms of the neo colonial as essentially mental, virtual colonization.