Notes from a seminar with Francesco ‘Bifo’Berardi

Some notes from a seminar at Doch Stockholm
March 29 – April 1, 2010

Origin from the italian autonomia movement the media activist and political theorist Bifo has a formulated a question that activates philosophical as well as psychological concerns: Is it possible, under present conditions, to form a collective process of subjectivation?

So what are the present conditions? Bifo describes the rat wheel that european workers are running within. The european laborer is dependant in cognitive and communicative capacities that we use to the uttermost. But capital does not buy persons anymore, but rather small snippets of time. Work is everywhere, it has no certain relationship to a specific physical time or place. The same goes for capital. The bourgeoise of 20th century was attached to a territorial dominance of the urban landscape. But we no longer talk about a bourgeoise because we can no longer see a clear connection between the capitalists and the territories of exploitation.

The acceleration of labor is intense, and we work under constant competition, which sometimes creates panic. Here, Bifo turns to Guattari influenced schizo-analysys to better understand what happens. When panic occur there is a break in the narcissistic investment that we put into our labor. This means an abruption of the desire to work, produce and reproduce. We get depressed (a word that Guattari would never use, though). We feel guilt and debt due to our incababilities. To get out of this depressed state of mind we use amphetamine, (not necessarily literally). On the adrenaline high we go back to work. The wheel keeps turning and we are back to work.

Cognitive labor reduce manual labor time, but the working hours is going up anyway. And even when we are not at work we are immersed into cognitive processes that cannot be separated from the part of our productive force that we sell. The problem with cognitive labor is that it effectivly mobilize our “soul” meaning language, affects, identifications, but also our ability to engage emotionally in social and intimate relationships. It has all been subsumed by the presumably ever-flowing non-stoping forces of capital.

But even capital can get exhausted. After the dot.com crisis at the turn of the millennium the terrorist acts of 9-11 layed ground for a psychic mobilization of the west that lasted untill the next crisis starting emerging from the failing car industry, the raising crude oil prices and overvalued subprime mortgage market. So no matter all the prozac we have fed on and all the money that the state has put into the failing financial markets the workers and markets of the west are approaching an extensive fatigue.

In  the dark visions that Bifo lay out modernity and capitalism are about to go separate ways. We cannot presume that civilization as we know it is here to stay. Europe is falling apart along the lines of the catholic south and the protestant north. The economic union doesn’t serve anyone anyone and what else is it that could keep the EU together? A decivilization process has surfaced in Italy, where about 130000 public teachers are fired in a 2 year transition plan to make the schools private or run by the catholic church. We have to keep thinking about Europe and not be suprised when it goes dirty.

And how about the process of collective self-subjectivation? Well, it’s extremly hard to imagine autonomy today. It is even hard to find affinity with a group of people and keep some distance to the productive/disruptive forces of capital at the same time. Bifo suggest some kind of schizo-analytical group therapy session as a starting point for organization of autonomy. Time as well as space is of course important factors and in order to get time to meet each other we must spend less, to work less. But refusal of work is harder than ever before, Bifo is not a happy spinozian. The game might very well be over.

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