Geert Lovink recently gave a speech on Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s phd thesis, which is being published by Semiotex(e) sometime next year. In the meantime, Lovink muses on Bifo’s relationship to Deleuze (particularly the “Dark Deleuze” formulated over at AnarchistWithoutContent), the collapse of the counterculture in the face of neoliberalism, the dawning of neuro-capitalism, and the persistence of resistance under a regime of depression and apparent futility. Brought here via Nettime!
EDIT: Here’s the link to the original, which I missed somehow when I posted this this morning. My apologies!
Being a decade younger, I heard for the first time from him and
his activities around 1980, when stories about Radio Alice were
spreading throughout Europe. True, the Amsterdam free radio scene,
operating out of the squatters movement of the time, had a multitude
of (local) roots but Radio Alice was certainly one of them. The
Bologna uprising of 1977, in which Bifo played a crucial role,
predated our most tumultuous year, 1980, and was thus a an important
source of inspiration for the revolts in Amsterdam, Zurich and Berlin.
What we shared was our common desire to find out what ‘autonomy’
could look like in different parts of Western Europe which lacked any
trace of its own ‘operaist’ workers movement.
Part punk and new wave, part rainbow coalition (feminism, anti-nuclear
eco protests, anti-racism), part post-industrial turning techno, the
sense of ‘no future’ in this late Cold War period was widely
spread. The march into the institutions was over and doors were
closing. Even the Situationists had closed shop. Being aware that
well-meaning alternative proposals were no longer effective, we set
up temporary encampments for anger & beauty. In these dark times of
mass youth unemployment, the common language was one of refusal. After
the lived utopia of the late 1960s with its failed experiments, my
generation grew up in the shadow of armed struggles of others. Slowly
but steadily we said goodbye to solidarity with the post-colonial
national projects. After our own movements started to disintegrate,
even our own militants went on a self-marginalising path (however,
without taking other with them in their misery). By the second part of
the eighties we were on our own, in a harsh neo-liberal technological
world that inevitably forced the Media Question and the Globalization
Question upon us. The ‘slow cancellation of the future’ (as Mark
Fisher calls it in Ghosts of my Life) happened under our very eyes,
leaving head space to dream how computer-aided social networking
should look like.
I cannot but think strategically, in a political sense, about
Berardi’s timely mapping exercise that he performed here. Every
insight breathes the sense of intense debate and collective
consideration, set in 1975, 1996, 2011, 2020 and beyond. Suffice to
say, this PhD thesis has neither become a hermetic Hegelian Magnus
Opus, nor a boring academic residue of an author’s wild years.
Quoted sources are treated like equals. There are zero traces of
a plagued genius or arrogant theory celebrity that suffers from
melancholy. The tone remains urgent. We may or may not be depressed,
but at least we’ve made the quantum jump to start studying
depression. This is not become we indulge in our collective defeat,
but we want to unlock the general sensibility. Let’s make our
As you all might know, I do not belong to the Church of Deleuze with
its evangelical positivism, but I am fine to say that Berardi’s
thesis is, again, an Exercise in Becoming. This doesn’t mean that
the work remained unfinished. Structure, purpose and method are all
clearly defined. As an experienced thinker, working in the essay
tradition, Berardi has taken the risk to start all over again. He has
neither written a genealogy of the time-stricken present. Nor did he
walk into the trap to start 5000 years ago. His starting point lies
somewhere in the stagnation yet conflict-rich decade of the 1970s and
ends with a warning of a “neuro-totalitarism in the making.”
In his doctoral thesis Berardi maps mental and cognitive mutations in
Western society that have occurred since the 1960s in the field of
aesthetic and emotional sensitivity. This has, for instance, happened
in terms of a transition from the alphabetical and the mechanical
to the digital notation systems in the networked media sphere, the
area of my expertise. This transition is not merely one that can
be measured in terms of speed or cost efficiency. There is more to
this than just an increase of convenience, speed and accessibility.
In Berardi’s view we need to go beyond rights, beyond access and
comfort to understand the psychic impact of the actual information
flows that reach our synapses. The premise here is that we cannot keep
up. Or mental clock is not in sync with those of our systems, the
news, the data flows at work and inside the traffic when we travel
through multiple time zones.
A new sensibility is required, but most of us cannot always deliver.
Instead, we get lost, we lose track, get disrupted, remain numb, get
depressed and fall into a state of (convenient) lethargy. The shock of
the present is no longer felt—and this is what makes us different
from the pre-war generation of Walter Benjamin and Ernst Juenger. We
no longer sense the chock. Our affective sensorium grew up with the
New. The fact that a phenomenon has never been with us, yet overnight
appears and rules the world, no longer surprises us.
The procedure which Berardi follows is one making new connections
between concepts and affects. The building blocks are already there.
The prime aim of this thesis is not to bring into being new concepts.
The goal here is a meta one: drawing up maps of possible futures.
Berardi’s study fits into the recent turn from the Joyous to
the dark Deleuze. As the Anarchist Without Content blog puts it:
“those who knew Deleuze consistently note his firm commitment to
joyful affirmation and his resentment of negativity. Beatifying this
sentiment, Deleuze has been used to establish a canon of joy. But what
good is joy in this world of compulsive positivity?” According to
its author, Andrew Culp, it is “time to move from the chapel of joy
to the darkness of the crypt.” Many of the characteristics of Dark
Deleuze also count for Berardi. The overall task of ‘destroying
worlds’ can be exemplified here with collapsing financial markets,
epidemics as signs of failing health care, crumbling infrastructures,
lacking social services due to budget cuts and environmental
degradation. The word ‘mutation’ often appears in the thesis. The
same can be said of elements and movements such as withdrawal and old
autonomist motives such as the interruption. The politics here is
cataclysmic, not molecular.
An example of the Deleuzian turn is Berardi’s social media analysis.
Internet is no longer seen as speculative conceptual realm for
alternative media practices (in the tradition of Berardi’s own
trajectory from the print magazine A/traverso and Radio Alice to
local television experiment of Telestreet and websites such as
Rekombinant). He writes: “Multitasking implies the quick shift from
an informational frame to another. Human mind seems to be perfectly
suited to perform multitasking, but this kind of practices are
triggering a psychological mutation, and this mutation is producing
new forms of mental suffering like panic, attention deficit disorders,
burnout, mental exhaustion, depression.” Cyberspace is now seen as a
source of permanent overproduction. Users are no longer described in
terms of programmers or designers but are ‘receivers’ that fail to
process the incoming information and have to take a variety of drugs
in order to keep up.
Berardi describes cyberculture as the ideology of the ‘general
intellect’. “Modern history has been marked by the interaction,
the conflict, the negotiation and the alliance between the
Intellectual, the Merchant and the Warrior.” But what is the place
in all this for the figure of the hacker, and their alliances with
designers, artists and other bohemian types, and can we dream up new
forms of sociality, new roles, and professions and institutional forms
that can steer this century in another direction?
Drawing the map, overseeing the newly formed territory, is a first
necessity and requires a visionary mindset. Our present seems to
only be captured by ‘what if’ scenario thinkers. The hermeneutic
‘what is’ philosophy no longer plays a role in future diagnostics
and has been sidelined by academic namedropping and formalistic
reasoning. In the case of Berardi we can, again, sense of theoretical
There are only new beginnings of never-ending stories, re-inventions
of forgotten concepts and motives. This is theory-as-poetry at its
best: traces of possibilities (Mark Fisher) that combine dark insights
in the catastrophic everyday with prophecies of brighter things to
come, once the collective desires can, again, be unleashed (and not
All in all, his thesis offers a rich collection of concepts, proposals
and visions that other theorists, activists, researchers and artists
can further build upon. Indeed, there is no end. With Berardi we
enjoy the plasticity of subversive ideas. Resistance is never
static. Political strategies need to mutate. This process needs
time, cybertime. Sometimes we can only claim this time in the act of