Interview with ‘Bifo’: Reactivating the Social Body in Insurrectionary Times

David Hugill and Elise Thorburn [1] have kindly agreed to pub­lish this ex­tended dia­logue with the Italian Autonomist Marxist the­orist Franco Berardi — known as ‘Bifo’. It has just been re­leased in the Berkley Planning Journal as part of an ex­cel­lent spe­cial issue on ‘New Spaces of Insurgency’.

The Italian the­orist Franco “Bifo” Berardi has spent a life­time par­ti­cip­ating in re­volu­tionary move­ments and thinking through their com­plex­ities. He is per­haps best known in the English-​speaking world for his as­so­ci­ation with the Italian Operaista (“work­erist”) move­ment – known col­lo­qui­ally as “Autonomism” or “Autonomist Marxism” — and its prom­inent at­tempts to trans­form com­munist politics by re-​centering the “needs, de­sires, and or­gan­iz­a­tional auto­nomies” of workers as the found­a­tion of polit­ical praxis (Genosko and Thoburn 2011). The Autonomist tra­di­tion is primarily con­cerned with the autonomy of human sub­jects: it is a Marxism that in­sists on the primacy of laborers as active agents. Thus where Western Marxisms have tended to focus on the dom­inant logic of cap­ital it­self, Autonomists have sought to af­firm the power of workers first, un­der­standing trans­form­a­tions in the cap­it­alist mode of pro­duc­tion primarily as re­sponses to class struggle (Dyer-​Witheford 2004); the polit­ical his­tory of cap­ital, in other words, can be read as a “his­tory of suc­cessive at­tempts of the cap­it­alist class to eman­cipate it­self from the working class” (Tronti 1979 quoted in Trott 2007). This in­ver­sion of the dia­lect­ical re­la­tion­ship between labor and cap­ital is thus often con­sidered the hall­mark of Autonomist theory (some­times called the “Copernican Turn”) (Moulier 1989).

What fol­lows are ex­cerpts of three in­ter­views that we con­ducted with Bifo over the course of the in­sur­rec­tionary year 2011. Each of our con­ver­sa­tions co­in­cided with not­able de­vel­op­ments in last year’s mo­bil­iz­a­tions and our interviewee’s en­thu­siasm about those events is evident at cer­tain points in the tran­script. Our first en­counter was at an Edufactory meeting in Paris at which a range of groups had come to­gether to build a common front against the neo­lib­er­al­iz­a­tion of uni­ver­sities in Europe and around the world. The con­fer­ence was held just weeks after the ouster of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the pro­ceed­ings were routinely in­ter­rupted by live up­dates from the on­going re­volu­tion in Egypt. Indeed, news of the emer­gent ‘Arab Spring’ coupled with the en­ergy of at­tendees from on­going stu­dent mo­bil­iz­a­tions in Britain, Italy, Chile and else­where, an­im­ated the con­fer­ence with a palp­able sense that a new cycle of struggle was once again upon us. Our follow-​up con­ver­sa­tions with Bifo — both held re­motely — were an­im­ated by a sim­ilar back­drop of up­heaval as that re­volu­tionary spring bled into an equally op­pos­i­tional summer and then gave to an oc­cu­pied fall. Yet while our in­ter­viewee re­mains gen­er­ally op­tim­istic about the events of 2011 and the “re­act­iv­a­tion of the so­cial body” that they seem to imply, he is also quick to re­mind us that protest alone will not be enough to win the genuine kinds of autonomy that he sug­gests are vi­tally ne­ces­sary. As we shall see, Bifo’s primary con­cern is with the ways in which par­tic­ular dogmas of growth, com­pet­i­tion and rent have col­on­ized the spheres of “human know­ledge.” He ar­gues that the per­sist­ence of these “mental cages” threatens the very sur­vival of “so­cial civil­iz­a­tion” and re­mains crit­ical about the ca­pa­city of protest to in­ter­rupt their per­vas­ive­ness. There are tac­tical im­plic­a­tions to these ob­ser­va­tions and Bifo — both in the text below and else­where — asks tough ques­tions about whether marches and oc­cu­pa­tions are ef­fective strategies for tar­geting con­tem­porary ar­range­ments of dom­in­a­tion. Unlike the geo­grapher Eric Swyngedouw (2011), who in­sists that the seizure of urban space con­tinues to be at the heart of “eman­cip­atory geo-​political tra­ject­ories,” Bifo points to the limits of too en­thu­si­astic an em­brace of space-​based urban struggle. His point is not to deny the im­port­ance of marches and oc­cu­pa­tions but to sug­gest that a more for­mid­able foe resides in the de­ter­rit­ori­al­ized orbit of soft­ware and al­gorithms, fin­an­cial flows and be­ha­vi­oral auto­mat­isms. Indeed, he ar­gues that the he­ge­monic grip of this “epi­stem­o­lo­gical dic­tat­or­ship” has altered our ca­pa­city to feel em­pathy to­wards one an­other, severing fun­da­mental bonds of inter-​personal con­nec­tion. As he puts it elsewhere:

We have lost the pleasure of being to­gether. Thirty years of pre­cari­ous­ness and com­pet­i­tion have des­troyed so­cial solid­arity. Media vir­tu­al­iz­a­tion has des­troyed em­pathy among bodies, the pleasure of touching each other, and the pleasure of living in urban spaces. We have lost the pleasure of love, be­cause too much time is de­voted to work and vir­tual ex­change (Berardi and Lovnik 2011).

Yet Bifo is not a doom­sayer, in spite of this dark dia­gnosis, and he al­ways leaves open the pos­sib­ility of trans­form­a­tion and es­cape. He coun­sels that our best shot at de­liv­er­ance lies in the de­vel­op­ment of new strategies of with­drawal, re­fusal, sab­otage, and the ne­go­ti­ation of new “lines of flight” from late-​capitalist forms of dom­in­a­tion. There are good reasons to be op­tim­istic as we re­flect on the flour­ishing of this new “spring” of res­ist­ance but as Mike Davis (2011: 5) warns us “spring is the shortest of sea­sons.” Bifo’s ob­ser­va­tions are crit­ical re­minders that the hardest work will come as we try to sus­tain, trans­form and hone the in­sur­rec­tionary en­er­gies of 2011. We hope this dia­logue con­trib­utes to that pro­cess in some modest way.

Interview

Q: We’d like to begin by asking about the em­phasis that you and others have placed on the role of fin­an­cial cap­it­alism in un­der­mining what you call “so­cial civil­iz­a­tion.” You’ve sug­gested, among other things, that it is a de­ter­rit­ori­al­izing form of pred­a­tion be­cause its vi­ol­ence is primarily con­ducted through a vir­tual cir­cuitry. With this in mind, we’d like to ask a tac­tical ques­tion: if the ar­chi­tec­ture of con­tem­porary dom­in­a­tion is less and less linked to the con­trol of phys­ical spaces – if its more vir­tual and al­gorithmic than ma­terial and loc­at­able – then where can that dom­in­a­tion be mean­ing­fully challenged? 

A: In my view, ima­gin­a­tion is the central field of so­cial trans­form­a­tion in the age of semiocapital.[2] Capitalist dom­in­a­tion is sus­tained by the per­sist­ence of mental cages that are struc­tured by the dogmas of growth, com­pet­i­tion and rent. The epi­stem­o­lo­gical dic­tat­or­ship of this model – its grip on the dif­ferent spheres of human know­ledge – is the very ground of power. So the task of trans­form­a­tion re­quires us to ima­gine and make sens­ible a dif­ferent con­cat­en­a­tion of so­cial forms, know­ledge, and tech­no­logy. Of course, ima­gin­a­tion will never be enough on its own. We need to build forms of so­cial solid­arity that are cap­able of re-​activating the so­cial body after the long period of its isol­a­tion and sub­jug­a­tion to com­pet­itive ag­gress­ive­ness. Solidarity – in con­trast to this ag­gress­ive­ness – is based on em­pathy, on the bodily per­cep­tion of the pres­ence of the other.

This word, solid­arity, is a cru­cial word in the lan­guage of our move­ments but it needs to be better un­der­stood. What does solid­arity mean, ex­actly? In gen­eral, we use the word in an eth­ical or polit­ical sense but this does not allow us to grasp its inner meaning. Solidarity, in my view, has to do with psychic and emo­tional re­la­tion­ships between living bodies. When we see that solid­arity has broken down in our daily lives , the form that it takes is usu­ally not polit­ical. Rather, it is an ex­per­i­ence of dis-​conjunction, a breaking down of em­path­etic bonds between living be­ings. The vir­tu­al­iz­a­tion of com­mu­nic­a­tion, the pre­car­iz­a­tion of work, and a range of other con­tem­porary phe­nomena, have dis­con­nected our ca­pa­city to feel em­pathy to­wards each other. In my opinion, this is the main problem of our time. Building and sus­taining solid­arity has to be much more than a polit­ical pro­ject. It is about re­act­iv­ating the sen­tience of the so­cial body much more than it is about polit­ical or­gan­iz­a­tion. Do you see what I mean? Ultimately, what we have is a problem of therapy, which, in my par­lance, does not imply a pro­cess of re-​connecting, or re­du­cing lan­guage, be­ha­vior, or feel­ings to es­tab­lished norms. For me, therapy im­plies a pro­cess of re-​activating em­pathy between living or­gan­isms. This em­pathy is the found­a­tion of the solid­arity we need today.

Q: In your view, has the wave of re­volts and oc­cu­pa­tions that have un­folded over the past year or so, ini­ti­ated this thera­peutic pro­cess, this pro­cess of re­act­iv­ating in­ter­per­sonal em­pathy in the face of par­tic­ular forms of domination?

A: I am still trying to un­der­stand what happened in 2011 but I do think the up­ris­ings can be seen as a chal­lenge to the dis-​empathetic patho­lo­gies that are crossing the so­cial skin and so­cial soul and as the re­act­iv­a­tion of the so­cial body. They can be seen, in other words, as therapy for a psy­cho­path­o­logy, as a pro­cess of healing.

For too long the dic­tat­or­ship of fin­an­cial cap­it­alism has com­pressed the so­cial body and the cyn­icism of the ruling class has be­come in­creas­ingly re­pug­nant to many. This is why we should not be sur­prised that the up­ris­ings have some­times taken the form of vi­olent ex­plo­sions and will con­tinue to do so. Of course, vi­ol­ence is it­self a patho­lo­gical demon­stra­tion of im­pot­ence and there is little tac­tical jus­ti­fic­a­tion for a vi­olent anti-​capitalist move­ment today. Nevertheless, we will con­tinue to wit­ness massive ex­plo­sions of pre­carious rage and vi­ol­ence, like the ones that were un­leashed in Tottenham, Peckham and else­where in the UK in August and in Rome in October. Future up­ris­ings will fre­quently give way to the psy­cho­path­o­logy of vi­ol­ence and this shouldn’t sur­prise us. Neither should we con­demn such acts as crim­inal. But in terms of the thera­peutic meaning of the up­ris­ings in gen­eral, I don’t think it is simply a matter of polit­ical ne­go­ti­ation, of struggle, de­nun­ci­ation and demon­stra­tion. Rather, the main problem that is ad­dressed by the up­ris­ings – from Egypt to the oc­cu­pa­tion move­ment but also the vi­olent riots in London and many other cities in Europe – is the re­act­iv­a­tion of the link between human bodies, which is also a re­act­iv­a­tion of a re­la­tion­ship to the city, to land, to territory.

Q: If ima­gin­a­tion is the crit­ical site of struggle, as you’ve sug­gested, then has it be­come less im­portant for op­pos­i­tional groups to fight battles in ac­tual phys­ical space? Has holding city squares or dis­turbing the ordered func­tioning of various fin­an­cial dis­tricts be­come on ob­solete or merely sym­bolic tac­tical ap­proach or can it still be pro­duct­ively disruptive?

A: I don’t think that we will be able to win a fight against fin­an­cial cap­it­alism by demon­strating in the street. Destroying banks isn’t useful if we are seeking eman­cip­a­tion from fin­an­cial dic­tat­or­ship. Financial power does not exist in the banks; it is em­bedded in soft­ware, in the techno-​linguistic auto­mat­isms that govern daily life and the psychic auto­mat­isms of con­sumerism, com­pet­i­tion and fear. Nevertheless we are in the midst of a pro­cess – a move­ment – that will de­ploy it­self over the course of the next decade, maybe longer, and we have to start from where we are and what we know. What we have today is the memory of past forms that our move­ments have taken, in­cluding oc­cu­pa­tions, strikes and demon­stra­tions, both peaceful and vi­olent. All of these are part of the legacy of 20th cen­tury so­cial move­ments. Recently, we have tried to re­sur­rect some of these old forms of struggle – these old forms of ex­pres­sion – but this hasn’t worked par­tic­u­larly well. Established forms of peaceful demon­stra­tion have ab­so­lutely no pos­sib­ility of chan­ging the politics of fin­an­cial cap­it­alism. They don’t work when demo­cracy is dead — and it is totally dead, the European ex­per­i­ence is demon­strating that clearly. But on the other hand, vi­olent riots or bank bomb­ings are also use­less be­cause they don’t chal­lenge the sites of real power. Real power is in the cy­ber­sphere, in the al­gorithms of fin­an­cial con­trol, in the quant­it­ative ana­lyses that un­der­gird trading, and so on.

We con­tinue to use old forms of ac­tion but we will have to begin to ima­gine new forms that are cap­able of ac­tu­ally strug­gling against fin­an­cial dic­tat­or­ship. In my opinion, the first task – which we have begun to ex­per­i­ence over the last year – is the re­act­iv­a­tion of the so­cial body that I have already de­scribed. But as I have said, this will not be enough. We will also have to begin to learn to create new forms of autonomy from fin­an­cial con­trol and so on. For in­stance, in Italy we have been talking in­creas­ingly of “in­solv­ency.” Of course, in­solv­ency means the in­ab­ility to pay a debt but we don’t think of it strictly in mon­etary terms. There is also a sym­bolic debt that is al­ways im­plied in power re­la­tion­ships. Imagination might mean the ability to create the pos­sib­ility of in­solv­ency – to create the right to be in­solvent, the right not to pay a debt – at a se­mi­otic and a sym­bolic level. We need to ima­gine forms of so­cial re­la­tion­ships that es­cape mon­etary ex­change or in­vent new forms of ex­change, like time banks, new forms of cur­rency, com­munity cur­rency and so on. Do you see what I am trying to say? The pro­cess of ima­gin­a­tion be­gins with the re­act­iv­a­tion of the so­cial body but next this body has to create new levels of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion. Escaping fin­an­cial dic­tat­or­ship, in other words, means ima­gining new forms of so­cial ex­change. I don’t know what form eman­cip­a­tion will take in the coming years. I can only pro­pose this little meth­od­o­lo­gical starting point from what we already know.

Q: We want to build on this dis­cus­sion about the “re­act­iv­a­tion of the so­cial body” by asking you a ques­tion about al­li­ances and move­ment building. It’s our view that the ways that we talk about ques­tions of “class” have been pro­foundly di­min­ished in North American pop­ular dis­courses. The geo­grapher Neil Smith re­cently sug­gested that it has gotten so bad in the United States that there are now really only three classes that are ac­know­ledged in public de­bate: mil­lion­aires, home­less people and the middle class (Hugill and Smith 2011: 88). In this con­text, we are ex­tremely in­ter­ested in your com­mit­ment to un­der­standing “pre­cari­ous­ness” as a central di­men­sion of the con­tem­porary. Do you see pre­cari­ous­ness as a cat­egory that can be mean­ing­fully mo­bil­ized as a basis for coming to­gether and identi­fying with each other? In other words, do you think the idea of pre­cari­ous­ness it­self is sub­stan­tial enough to form the basis of a new class politics?

A: Precariousness is not a mar­ginal fea­ture of con­tem­porary labor re­la­tions. It is the gen­eral char­acter of work in the age of glob­al­iz­a­tion. We shouldn’t abandon class cat­egories but they need to be re­defined in every sense. The working and cap­it­alist classes have changed dra­mat­ic­ally since the dawn of in­dus­trial cap­it­alism. The de­ter­rit­ori­al­iz­a­tion of prop­erty and work is the gen­eral trend that has lead to wide­spread pre­car­iz­a­tion. The old bour­geoisie was a ter­rit­ori­al­ized class, linked to the phys­ical prop­erty of factories, built en­vir­on­ments and ma­terial as­sets. They were in­tim­ately con­nected to par­tic­ular ter­rit­ories and ter­rit­orial com­munities, which were the mar­kets for what they pro­duced. Today’s pred­atory fin­an­cial class has no ter­rit­orial af­finity, no in­terest in the fu­ture of par­tic­ular com­munities. The ac­cu­mu­la­tion of cap­ital is no longer based on the phys­ical prop­er­ties or the growth of phys­ical quant­ities of goods but on the ab­strac­tion of di­gital and fin­an­cial signs. Labor has been sim­il­arly de­tached from ter­ritory and com­munity. Workers no longer meet in the phys­ical space of the factory and if they do it is usu­ally pro­vi­sional, tem­porary, pre­carious. This is why I think that pre­cari­ous­ness has be­come the gen­eral con­di­tion of labor in ad­di­tion to the gen­eral con­di­tion of so­cial ex­ist­ence and self-​perception. At its core, pre­cari­ous­ness means the frag­ment­a­tion of the work force. People no longer meet in the same place and so­cial time has be­come frag­mented, fractal­ized. The re­cent wave of move­ments are a way to re-​connect some of these frag­ments that might oth­er­wise have no way, no time, no space to meet. This, es­sen­tially, is what an oc­cu­pa­tion is. I use the lan­guage of re­act­iv­ating the so­cial body but one could also call it an at­tempt to bring to­gether that which has been broken apart by the gen­er­al­iz­a­tion of pre­cari­ous­ness. I see the Occupy move­ment, for ex­ample, as an at­tempt at re­com­posing the broken body of the pre­carious community.

Q: Elsewhere, you’ve spoken about how the gen­er­al­iz­a­tion of pre­cari­ous­ness and crisis has made space for new al­li­ances to be formed, in­cluding between aca­demic or uni­ver­sity workers, so-​called “cog­nitive” laborers, and other kinds of workers. Would you ex­pand on this on little?

A: I am in­ter­ested in looking at this problem through ques­tions of sub­jective con­scious­ness, the ways in which crisis has been per­ceived by dif­ferent so­cial sub­jectiv­ities. Over the last decade our con­scious­ness of the cent­rality of “cog­nitive labor” has been in­creasing. For ex­ample, in just the last two years in Italy the uni­ver­sity has be­come one of the central foci of struggle. The situ­ation is be­coming so dra­matic every­where that new forms of al­li­ance and con­nec­tion between the so­cial crisis and the problem of the uni­ver­sity are being made and this is new. For ex­ample, in Italy, in re­cent months, a new or­gan­iz­a­tion has been cre­ated called United Against the Crisis – it is a meeting point for metal­workers and stu­dents and re­searchers. In some sense, it is re­min­is­cent of the 1960s or 1970s but it is also new in ab­so­lutely new in other ways.

Q: How suc­cessful have these ex­per­i­ments in al­li­ance building been?

A: Well, in January 2011 there was a gen­eral strike of the metal­workers all over Italy and it was very suc­cessful. In my re­gion around 90% of workers were striking in their factories. And what was in­ter­esting was that the squares were full not only of metal workers but also of stu­dents. Just after that, in Porto Marghera (an im­portant city for working class memory be­cause every­body as­so­ci­ates it with autonomous workers move­ments of the 1960s and 1970s) the FIOM (Federazione Impiegati Operai Metallurgici), the main union of metal workers, and the so-​called dis­ub­bid­i­entes, which is a na­tional or­gan­iz­a­tion of stu­dents and pre­carious workers, de­cided to hold a common meeting that roughly 2000 people at­tended. It was the first time in 40 years that uni­on­ists and stu­dents met to­gether to de­cide common ac­tions against the crisis. I want to stress the nov­elty of this. The gov­ern­ment and leading classes had been saying for so long that nothing was hap­pening but now it has be­come com­pletely evident that we have a massive awakening of so­cial cultures.

Q: There aren’t many pre­ced­ents for these kinds of al­li­ances between stu­dents and uni­ver­sity workers with other kinds of workers in con­tem­porary North American con­texts. So, on this side of the ocean, we don’t have much of a blue­print to begin building them today. Can you tell us how these con­nec­tions were forged and sustained?

A: In Italy there is a long legacy of stu­dents and workers “united in the struggle.” In fact, this was one of the main slo­gans in the 1960s and 1970s. And it wasn’t just rhet­oric either. It was really some­thing deep. Of course, this was thirty or forty years ago and in the mean­time many things have happened. But over the last five or six years, the pre­car­iz­a­tion of workers has cre­ated a new common ground between workers and stu­dents. Students are pre­carious workers in most in­stances and factory workers know that pre­cari­ous­ness for stu­dents is also a problem for them, a black­mail to be used against them. Additionally, the public dis­course and the con­scious­ness of gen­er­al­ized pre­cari­ous­ness has been growing dra­mat­ic­ally over the last few years and this has had a sig­ni­ficant im­pact. I think that the problem of pre­cari­ous­ness is felt dif­fer­ently in Italy and Europe than it is in North America. Precariousness is some­thing that is in­herent to labor re­la­tions in North America. Of course, I can’t give sug­ges­tions to North American act­iv­ists but I think that working to un­der­stand the new char­acter, the new cru­ci­ality, that pre­cari­ous­ness has taken on in the present time is of crit­ical im­port­ance. Once upon a time, pre­cari­ous­ness was a mar­ginal space of labor in gen­eral but today it is fixed labor that has be­come mar­ginal. And so, we need to do things like change the per­cep­tion of what a stu­dent is. Most stu­dents are pre­carious workers, first and foremost.

Q: Can you elab­orate? In what sense is a stu­dent a pre­carious worker?

A: First of all be­cause stu­dents are in­creas­ingly learning in small par­cels, small frag­ments, small fractals of know­ledge, and they are be­coming more and more ac­cus­tomed to think of their know­ledge not as know­ledge but as in­tel­lec­tual avail­ab­ility to ex­ploit­a­tion. In North American forms of edu­ca­tion this is already well es­tab­lished, it is nothing new. It is new in much of Europe and it has begun to pro­voke some re­ac­tions. But it is also a fact of a net­worked and glob­al­ized world. What does pre­cari­ous­ness mean today? What is the re­la­tion­ship between pre­cari­ous­ness and glob­al­iz­a­tion? It means that you can buy a frag­ment of labor in Bangkok, a frag­ment in Buenos Aires, and a frag­ment in Milan and that these three frag­ments be­come the same product from the point of view of cap­ital. Knowledge is headed the same way. You no longer need – from the point of view of cap­ital – to know in the hu­man­istic sense, the meaning, the fi­nality, the in­timate con­tra­dic­tions of know­ledge, you just need to know how par­tic­ular par­cels of know­ledge can be made func­tional. There is some­thing new and some­thing old in this. Herbert Marcuse’s (1964) One Dimensional Man already iden­ti­fied this problem of the func­tion­al­iz­a­tion of know­ledge but in his time it was only a kind of pre­dic­tion about how cap­it­alism would be trans­formed. Today, this func­tional con­sid­er­a­tion is the dom­inant form of our re­la­tion­ship to know­ledge. So, we should ques­tion people about what is hap­pening to our know­ledge. Are we really learning things, knowing things? Or are we simply learning how to be­come part of the pro­ductive ma­chine? Additionally, I think we need to ask people, es­pe­cially young people, about their suf­fering in the re­la­tion­ship with know­ledge, with com­mu­nic­a­tion and so on. I think that the problem of psychic suf­fering is of central im­port­ance our time. Problems of de­pres­sion, panic, massive sui­cide, are very real. Do you know that sui­cide has be­come the main cause of death among people between 18 – 25 years old? Suicide is be­coming a polit­ical weapon. I’m not only thinking of Columbine or of Mohamed Bouazizi, the man who killed him­self and started the Tunisian re­volu­tion. Suicide has some­thing to do with know­ledge. When your know­ledge is be­coming more and more some­thing that does not be­long to you, this is a problem of per­sonal iden­tity, of psychic identity.

Q: Do you see a re­la­tion­ship between this psychic suf­fering and the vir­tu­al­iz­a­tion of com­mu­nic­a­tion that has been as­so­ci­ated with new kinds of technology?

A: This is a tricky and dif­fi­cult ques­tion to an­swer be­cause I see a pro­found danger in re­ac­tionary tech­no­phobia. I am ab­so­lutely not a tech­no­phobe but I do want to ques­tion the am­bi­guity of new tech­no­lo­gies. It is evident that new tech­no­lo­gical forms are in some sense tools of em­power­ment for so­cial move­ments – we see what has happened in Egypt and Tunisia, for ex­ample. This is clear enough but it is only part of the ques­tion. The other part con­cerns the re­la­tion­ship between bodily per­cep­tion of so­ciety, af­fective per­cep­tion of so­ciety, and work. Thirty-​five years ago I read a book called The Show and Tell Machine, by an American an­thro­po­lo­gist called Rose Goldsen. I read this book in 1978 or 1979 but I was so struck by one sen­tence that I can still re­peat it, “we are breeding the first gen­er­a­tion that will learn more words from a ma­chine than from mothers.” I re­member that Freud said that the main place of af­fective cre­ation – of the cre­ation of per­sonal af­fec­tion – is lan­guage and the re­la­tion­ship between lan­guage learning and bodily af­fec­tion. The dark side of new tech­no­logy is this dis­tance from the body of the mother, and by the “body of the mother” I mean the body in gen­eral, the ability to per­ceive one­self lin­guist­ic­ally in re­la­tion­ship to the body. This is being lost. You know, psy­chi­at­rists say that twenty years ago the word panic meant nothing, but today panic is a new symp­to­mo­logy. Today, it ef­fects 15% of the young people, es­pe­cially women. And this is ab­so­lutely new. So why is this hap­pening? It is be­cause panic is a problem of the re­la­tion­ship between the body and in­form­a­tion, the ac­cel­er­a­tion of in­form­a­tion in con­di­tions of com­pet­it­ive­ness. This is patho­genic. There are new forms of patho­logy that are emer­ging from the ac­cel­er­a­tion of the tech­no­lo­gical rhythm of in­form­a­tion and the sep­ar­a­tion of the body from the so­cial pro­cess. Our so­cial pro­cesses are less and less bodily pro­cesses and more and more in­form­a­tional pro­cesses. I like the Internet very much and par­tic­u­larly the pos­sib­il­ities that it cre­ates. I don’t want to re­nounce it but I see that the new tech­no­lo­gies have this dark side but I don’t have a solu­tion. There are key prob­lems here in terms of sub­jectiv­a­tion, polit­ical un­der­standing and so on, and we should work on this am­bi­guity, this double bind. I think we need to be cau­tious about the tri­umphalism that as­so­ci­ates new tech­no­lo­gies with demo­cratic pos­sib­il­ities etcetera. Yes there are these pos­sib­il­ities but new tech­no­logy does not mean only that.

Q: Do you in­vest any hope in the ca­pa­city of new tech­no­lo­gies — par­tic­u­larly vir­tual com­mu­nic­a­tion tech­no­lo­gies – to ac­com­plish the re­act­iv­a­tion of the so­cial that you men­tioned at the outset of this interview?

A: Of course I do. I am not a re­ac­tionary, nor am I a nos­talgic person who wants to go back to a time of low-​tech com­mu­nic­a­tion. The tech­no­lo­gical struggle is part of a living body of so­ciety but the problem is that during the last twenty years, the so­cial con­di­tions, new tech­no­lo­gies have also can­celled or ob­scured the pos­sib­ility of a bodily re­la­tion­ship between so­cial be­ings. In one sense, so­cial net­working and so­cial media tech­no­lo­gies have been useful in calling bodies to the street but this dy­namic of vir­tual em­bod­i­ment has to be re­act­iv­ated from the point of view of the body, of erot­i­cism, of so­cial re­la­tion­ships. I don’t want to sug­gest that we should forget about new tech­no­logy, but rather that we have to in­scribe these tech­no­lo­gies within a new bodily re­la­tion­ship to each other in phys­ical space, not only in vir­tual space.

Works Cited

Berardi, Franco Bifo. 2011. After the Future (Oakland and Edinburgh: AK Press).

Berardi, Franco Bifo and Geert Lovink. 2011. “A Call to the Army of and to the Army of Software,” pub­lished on­line by the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam http://​net​work​cul​tures​.org/​w​p​m​u​/​g​e​e​r​t​/​2​0​1​1​/​1​0​/​1​2​/​f​r​a​n​c​o​-​b​e​r​a​r​d​i​-​g​e​e​r​t​-​l​o​v​i​n​k​-​a​-​c​a​l​l​-​t​o​-​t​h​e​-​a​r​m​y​-​o​f​-​l​o​v​e​-​a​n​d​-​t​o​-​t​h​e​-​a​r​m​y​-​o​f​-​s​o​f​t​w​a​re/

Davis, Mike. 2011. “Spring Confronts Winter,” New Left Review 72 (Nov/​Dec), pgs. 5 – 15.

Dyer-​Witheford, Nick. 2004. “Autonomist Marxism and the Information Society,” pub­lished on­line by Multitudes, http://​mul​ti​tudes​.sam​izdat​.net/​s​p​i​p​.​p​h​p​?​p​a​g​e​=​r​u​b​r​i​q​u​e​&​a​m​p​;​i​d​_​r​u​b​r​i​q​u​e​=​464.

Genosko, Gary and Nicholas Thoburn. 2011. “The Transversal Communism of Franco Berardi” in Franco Berardi After the Future (Oakland and Edinburgh: AK Press).

Goldsen, Rose K. 1977. Show and Tell Machine: How American Television Works and Works You Over (New York: Doubleday).

Hugill, David and Neil Smith. 2011. “Revolutionary Ambition in the Age of Austerity: An Interview with Neil Smith,” Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action #13, pgs. 81 – 90.

Marcuse, Hebert. 2002 (1964). One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (London and New York: Routledge).

Moulier, Yann. 1989. “Introduction,” in Antonio Negri The Politics of Subversion: A Manifesto for the Twenty-​First Century (Cambridge: Polity Press).

Swyngedouw, Eric. 2011. “Every Revolution Has Its Square,” pub­lished on­line by cities@manchester blog, http://​cit​iesmcr​.word​press​.com/​2​0​1​1​/​0​3​/​1​8​/​e​v​e​r​y​-​r​e​v​o​l​u​t​i​o​n​-​h​a​s​-​i​t​s​-​s​q​u​a​re/

Trott, Ben. 2007. “Immaterial Labour and World Order: An Evaluation of a Thesis,” Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organisation 7(1).


[1] David Hugill is a PhD can­didate in the Department of Geography at York University and a vis­iting Fulbright re­searcher at the University of Minnesota. Elise Thorburn is a PhD can­didate in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario and one of the editors of Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action. The au­thors would like to thank Bifo for the time and en­ergy he com­mitted to this project.

[2] Berardi uses the term “se­mi­ocap­ital” to de­scribe a late-​modern mo­ment in which “im­ma­terial signs” have taken the place of phys­ical things as the prin­cipal ob­jects of cap­it­alist val­or­iz­a­tion. In After the Future (2011: 100), he in­sists that today we should speak of se­mi­ocap­it­alism be­cause “the goods that are cir­cu­lating in the eco­nomic world – in­form­a­tional, fin­an­cial, ima­ginary – are signs, fig­ures, im­ages, pro­jec­tions, expectations.”

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