Bifo: After the Future
June 21, 2011
“Our future, Berardi argues, has come and gone; the concept has lost its usefulness. Now it’s our responsibility to decide what comes next.”
Gary Genesko directed this teaser video in which Bifo discusses the new book, After the Future.
I’ve taken a little time to transcribe the video, forgive any minor mistakes and mediocre grammar.
AFTER THE FUTURE
You know, all along the modern times the myth of the future has been connected to the myth of energy; think about Faust, for instance. This idea that the future is energy: more and more and more. More speed, more strength, more consumption, more things, more violence. Futurism is the point of passage, the final step to full modernity, and futurism is the exaltation of violence, of despising the woman, for instance. The woman is weakness, is senselessness, is feebleness. Everything the modern energy wants to forget about: forget the woman, despise the woman, exalt war, exalt violence, exalt acceleration. This is futurism.
The end of the future
Now futurism has brought the world to this point of total despair. Futurism without future. This is the present reality we are facing and we have to invent something beyond this obsession of the future because the future is over. And saying that the future is over does not mean that tomorrow we will not get up—we will get up—but please, don’t be obsessed about the idea that want more things, more violence, more speed. We want more time to live.
At a certain moment in the year ’77, as far as I can remember, we had the perception that the future was over. We had the perception that the idea of the constant growth was leading us to destruction and to war, to total exploitation of our life, in the name of the future. So, in some places of the world, for instance in the United Kingdom, where Mrs. Thatcher was taking the power and saying: “there is no such thing as society” so, some people cried “No Future!”. If future has to be a future without society, future where only economy, where capitalism, where wealth and accumulation is legitimate, and society is nothing, if it was this we say: “No Future!”. In some other places in the world—for instance in Italy, in Bologna, and in Rome—students, young proletarians, people said: “we want our life now.”
You see, ’77 was the strangest of the years because in a sense it was the year of color, of happiness, of creativity, of invention of new possibilities for life. But at the same time or maybe suddenly after it became the darkest of moments because we became aware that the possibility of richness, of joy, all of a sudden was destroyed by the restoration of capitalism, of profit, of future.
So what now? You see what is happening now, at the beginning of the second decade of this century that comes after the end of the future. You can see this destruction, this devastation, of the possibilities that modernity has created. You see it in the dictatorship of the financial economy. Financial economy is destroying intelligence, is destroying public schools, is destroying creativity, is destroying the environment, is destroying water, is destroying weather. Everything has to be sacrificed to the growth—this abstract growth—of money, of value, of nothing. So, how can we withdrawal from this kind of craziness. I think that we have to act, and to live, in a post-futurist way which means we have to choose a slowness of pleasure—like the birds in the sky, like the flowers in the fields, they don’t need to work, they don’t need to accumulate, they don’t need to possess. They need to have pleasure, to live, to live in time. Time is not something that you can accumulate. Time is something you can accommodate in, and take pleasure of the decomposition of yourself. Taking pleasure in the becoming-other of yourself. Becoming-other means being yourself without protecting yourself. This is post-futurism, I guess.
Ungrowth is a difficult word to use. I actually don’t really like the word. It is an approximation to a better concept that we should invent. Growth means the constant expansion of capital, of property, of the world of things. But we do not need not more things, we need more time. We do not need more property, we need more joy. The collective intelligence, the social organization of collective brain has created the possibility of producing everything we need without more exploitation. So the problem now is not to restart growth; the problem now is to find a way to enjoy what we already have, and develop the possibility of self-care, of self-therapy, of self-education. Society has to come out from the obsession of growth.
The problem of this word—ungrowth—is that it seems to hint to something less. Not at all. What we need is not less life, less pleasure. We need more life! More pleasure! But more life, more pleasure does not imply more consumption, more merchandise, more work! We are dying because of the huge bubble of work. We have been working too much during the last 500 years. We have been working too much during the last 30 years.
Stop working now. Start living, please.
[Bifo begins this section by reading from Fifth Elegy, Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies]
Angel! If there were a place we don’t know, and there, on some ineffable carpet, the lovers, who never could bring off their feats here, could show their bold love to figures of heart’s wings, their towers of ecstasy, their pyramids that long since, where there was no standing ground, where tremblingly propped together could succeed, before the spectators surround them, the innumerable silent dead: would not these then throw their last, ever hoarded, ever hidden, unknown to us, eternally valid coins of happiness, before their pair, with the finally genuine smile on the assuaged carpet?
A French philosopher called Simondon uses the word individualization. Individualization is the ability to be yourself in separation from the world. Singularity is something different; singularity is the ability to become yourself, creating the world with your becoming-yourself.
The history of capitalism, the history of accumulation, of growth, is the history of the homologation of different lifestyles, of different rhythms, of different relationships with the world. Everything must become similar, homogenous, exchangeable. Singularity is the ability to withdrawal from this kind of homogenization. Singularity is joy in becoming yourself.
In the second volume of the Grudrisse, Marx speaks of General Intellect. General intellect is a fundamental concept if you want to understand something of what is happening now, a century and a half after Marx. General intellect means the connection of infinite fragments of human intelligence in a continuous machine of production.
Cognitariat is a word, a concept, meaning at the same time the general intellect at work and the body—the denied body, the forgotten body—of the general intellect. Because, as you know, the general intellect has a body. An erotic body, a social body. But when we are working in the network machine we forget about that body. This is sickening us. This is producing pathologies. This is producing psycho-pathologies, social pathologies. So, cognitariat, the concept of congnitariat, means: “remember, you—general intellect—you have a body.” This body is precaritized in present conditions.
What does the word precarious, precaritization mean? You see, what is work now-a-days? Work is becoming an ocean, an infinite sea of fragments of abstract time. Fragments, recombine-able fragments, fractals, I would say. Fractals of time, of working-time, of intellectual-working-time, joining, connecting together in the networked machine. So the capitalist does not need to buy you, your person. You have rights, you have a life, you have a family, you have a union. So capital does not need you anymore. He needs your time, your fragments of time. This is precaritization. Forgetting about the body, forgetting about the person, forgetting about the erotic needs and desire of the person. Forgetting about the unions, about the social and political rights of the person, and directly taking your time. Your time fragments, your time fractals, and recombining into a networked machine. Cognitariat is: remember that you have a body. General intellect is looking for the body.
When capitalism connects with the general intellect it starts to produce in a different way—no more things, no more cars, no more iron and metal and steel. Well, iron and metal and steel and cars and things still are there, but what we are really producing is not that. It’s the concept, it’s the sign, it’s the semio, as the old Greeks said. Semiocapital is the new condition of capitalism in a world, in a situation, where the production is essentially semio-production. Production of projects, production of financial figures, production of words, production of concepts, production of simulation. Semiocapital is essentially about simulation. Simulated capitalism. This is semiocapitalism.
Actually, when you think about the present condition, you should be aware it’s not so much about cognitive capitalism. Capitalism is not cognitive, capitalism is financial if you want, is abstract, is simulated. Work is cognitive work. And capital is becoming more and more the immaterial world of production of illusions.
Semiocapitalism is all about acceleration, acceleration of the info-sphere. The info-sphere is the environment filled and saturated with signs. We produce signs, we receive and consummate signs, and the acceleration of the info-sphere is increase and growth in capital value. More signs, more simulations, more and more. And this kind of acceleration is producing an affect of designification of the world. More signs, more information, less meaning. Remember that this idea of enmeshed information was an idea of William Burroughs. Burroughs said, “more information, less meaning.” So what is happening is a kind of pathologization of the psycho-sphere. The acceleration of the info-sphere, the acceleration of the rhythm of information is producing an effect of contraction and of sickness in the psycho-sphere, or the sphere of our psychic and sensual relationships. So, you see, that this process of acceleration is producing an effect of suffering. Suffering is the main problem of the first Internet generation. Of the first generation which learned more words from the machines than from matter. Psychic suffering. Depression. Panic. Attention Deficit Disorders. Epidemic of suicide. This is the mark of the last decade.
Giorgio Agamben, in a text about language and death, says that the voice is the meeting point of body and meaning. Interesting idea. And I would say that poetry is the meeting point of meaning and sound—meaning and music. Because music does not mean only sound, it means rhythm. And what we need is to find our singular rhythm. Singularity is all about rhythm. It is about recording your refrain, your ability to to relate to the stars in the sky, to the ground, to the body of the other, to your own body. So I say the thera-poetry, and I think about the thera-poetic affect of my voice, of writing poetry, poetry, voice, body, coming back from what has been denied because of the acceleration of the info-sphere.
I have a dream, a dream of a website where you can click the link and the screen gets black. You cannot check your mail you cannot check your facebook profile, you cannot go anywhere in the net, you only can listen to my voice. This is thera-poetic in my mind.