ALL I SEE IS SIGNS. ALL I SEE IS DOLLAR SIGNS

 

Fields seemingly disparate as economy and phenomenology, fascism and affect, which all feature in Franco “Bifo” Berardis recent book, “The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance”, usually tend to be addressed by specialists who’re more likely to make fun of than read each other. And then there’s the thing about texts, such as this, that so loudly decry calculated, governmental crimes against the human psyche, can easily toe the line of so much dismissed as wing-nut, conspiracy-theory propaganda. The high-academic language and neat metaphors Uprising rides on may also help to exclude a large readership.   Now, for my CA-hippie-reared brain, it’s not a stretch to make somatic and intuitive connections between the body, collective shame, and political power tools. The author is also working himself into the recent academic resurgence of Foucaults post-Modernist biopolitical theory, the exertion of state power over physical and political bodies. “The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance”, is no instant gratification, you’ve got to sort of believe in him from the start, but I think if you do,  or if you can not worry about understanding every single part of his sexy Italian post-Marxist-theorist intellect, I think the ideas in this text deliver, and that the histrionics, revelations, and anti-Capitalist aims (barely) contained within it are universally applicable and accessible.   

Uprising is specifically concerned with the implications of competitive financial economy effacing all other language between human bodies, and how a poetics could stop this train.  Berardi spins his argument at a specific pace:  the book seems to go from heavy to lite reading, from dark political data to loose, out-loud thinking.  It goes from bleak to ok-maybe-we-can-do-this. So last night as I was falling asleep thinking of how to even begin to review The Uprising and not sound like a tool, I realized I could just try to copy his style, (formal to fun?) and assume only my friends and similarly insane people are reading this, the insane people who read at all anymore, who maybe trust that there is meaning to be found here, and that that makes reading worth it.   And also because I think that’s what this book is about too: finding meaning in language at a time when it is very uncool to do so, to take a minute.  How else to suggest poetry as the anecdote to the violence of financial Capitalism, and get people to listen? Let’s break it down.  In sections…

 

AUTOMATISMS OF LIVING SOCIETYS ARE SUBJECTED TO ECONOMIC DOGMA (or)

$$$ RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME

One thing Berardi does to help the distracted modern reader though the books tough beginning, and throughout, is to frequently deconstruct the language he’s using to cinch together the poetics of affect and finance.  For the sake of this review, here are some words the carry much of the central weight of his book we’ll (re)define real quick:

Semiotics: a general philosophical theory of signs and symbols that deals especially with their function in both artificially constructed and natural languages.

Financial: deterritorialized and fractal-recombinant form of production.  The French-American mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot defines a fractal as a geometric object which is fractured, broken into fragments, which are not simply fragments but recombinable fragments. 

Financial semio-Capitalism, what we’re living with now, works by simultaneously breaking up the (real) world into infinite fragments, and continuously recombining them into new forms, figures, symbols, marketable images of itself, treating money and marketability as the only unit of (social, emotional, political) value for the stuff of our lives.  More on this later.

 

EVIDENCE:  money THEN Vs. #MONEY NOW

In 1972, Nixon dissociated the dollar from its gold value, effectually breaking the dollar’s reference to reality; i.e. creating no standard, no measurement, no ratio: the universal measurement of reason.  Nowadays,  power and wealth are founded in the total abstraction of digital finance[…]. The Uprising hitches financial Capitalism to poetics by arguing that the late 19th century Symbolist art and language experiments in abstraction, in escaping frames of representation and reproduction, have found their evil twin in the past 40ish years long economic project of American and European financial deregulation and competition; a form of economic disrealite that nonetheless exerts very real, and very harmful, control over the social body.  Increasingly, money produces money without the production of material goods.  Nowadays, the author posits,  the concrete force of productive labor is submitted to the unproductive, and actually destructive, task of refinancing the failed financial system.  While the industrial worker was exploited for her muscular, physical labor, the Cognitarian, Berardi’s term, of today is exploited for her mental, her emotional-psychic laboring for the indeterminate dollar.  And without a standard measurement between use-value and time, the author says, strength, force, violence alone becomes the process of determining a product, a word, an actions value.

 

MATH SUCKS

This “financialization”, the abstracted, everywhere-and-nowhere of Capital,  Uprising says, works by reducing social life to the mathematical implications of financial algorithms. Specifically, the current financial network operates via a positive feedback loop: it acts to oppose changes to the input of the system. Look at this familiar pattern: corrupt right wing politicos come into power, reinforcing vicious cycles of consumption-driven economic policies, sucking money from the public sector, schools and true media (news) outlets, increasing the general public’s ignorance and conformism, lowering social agency, everybody’s depressed, we watch more T.V. and hate everything, & etc.   In a positive feedback loop, homogenization is key, it is a condition in which difference is seen as a threat to be destroyed.  Autonomy, Berardi says, begins with escaping environments of positive feedback. 

 

DEREGLEMENT DES SENS ET DES MOTS

How does language figure into this?  Here’s a depressing thought: the generation is upon us, Berardi says, which will learn more words from a machine than their mother.  Two algorithms define the reduction of linguistic meaning to economic value via a Google search: the first finds the various occurrences of a word, the second links words with monetary value.  Subjected to financial function, language becomes frozen, automatized to functionality without meaning, deprived of its conjunctive ability, the word becomes a recombinant function, a discreet (versus continuous) and formalized (versus instinctual) operator.  Like a virus, our precious internet connection has had the opposite effect of its promised connectedness:  encouraging retreat and a homogenization of affects, while simultaneously eroding empathy, interpretation, and our conjunctive modes of understanding.  Subjected to the pure function of Capital, our communication technology has provided a diminished substitute for the emotional work of being present, for the face-to-face modes of finding meaning between speaking bodies.  

 

SEMIO-CAPITALS MUTATION OF THE SOCIOUS

When the main tool of production is cognitive labor, what happens to the brain?  As communication goes all the way digital, connective, mathematical causality now acts as mediation between human relations to a pre-established standard. Or, increasingly, Money Talks, and it’s the only things that does. And it’s making us both stupid and chronically apathetic.   In order to efficiently interact with the connective environment, to stay “in the loop”, Berardi argues, the conscious and sensitive organism starts to suppress what we call sensibility.  Sensibility I.e. the ability to interpret and understand what cannot be expressed in verbal or digital signs, is a slow movement, while digital-finance, detached from a standard,  is all about velocity, how much value can accumulate and how fast.   We can calculate how much labor time is needed to produce a material object, but how long does it take to produce and idea?

The poet William Burroughs said that inflation is when you need more money to buy less things; Berardi says semio-inflation is when you need more signs, words, and information to buy less meaning.   As the brilliant writer Mahmood Mamdami points out, it is a fractaled, reductionist, static, and A-historical discourse that’s used to justify and motivate American violence in the Middle East and elsewhere, the oversimplified Good versus Evil rhetoric historically used to pathologize cultural difference.   That the News language of today, with regards to suffering, is all fitted into the framework of economic projects, reveals this homogenization and export of our approach to suffering and empathy, this semiotization of affects and feeling.  The submission of the word to the Capitalist machine is turning us into heartless, helplessly dumb little Capitalist machines. 

Away from this end, the book proposes the emancipation of language and affects through the concept of Insolvency: the line of escape for the word from its mere exchange rate.  Put another way, since emphatic, sensual language precedes and exceeds money, in its essence, the word resists financial codification.   If you’re still reading, I love you.

 

1977, TIME, NO FUTURE

Marx first noted Capitalisms main function of abstracting value from usefulness, the separation of activity from use-value.  It doesn’t matter what you make, but how much value your work can produce in a given time. 1977, the year Charlie Chaplan, the last “Modern Man” died, the year the Apple trademark was registered, the dawn of anti-Capitalist Punk, marked the end of Industrial Capitalism  and the beginning of the economic rule of absolute competition, i.e. violence, total war.  1977 was the beginning of the change in relation between time and value through looming specter of debt.  What is debt?  As Berardi convincingly defines it: debt is future time, manifesting a self-reinforcing cycle of panic, guilt, competition, cultural and psychic habits of dependence and fragility, while turning life into time for repaying this metaphysical debt.   It also, Berardi argues, marked the end of social solidarity [which] is not an ideological value, but a continuousness of the relation between individuals in time and space…a perception of the continuity of the body in the body, and the immediate understanding of the consistency of my interest and your interest.  The teacher and scholar Asma Abbas might say, 1977 was the beginning of this affectual homogenization that permits us to witness so much violence and trauma and suffering on TV and in real life and believe it has nothing to do with us, that it is Out There, unavoidable, across the ocean, Not Our Problem, etc. 

 But now, the author says, a resistance to all of this is beginning to take shape.  People who want to be artists and writers these days aren’t doing it for the money, they want to withdraw from any future Capitalism has to offer.   To imagine a politics and ethics that include The Other, that warrant a future that’s not so heartbreaking, we have to break ties with expectations of infinite growth and consumption and expansion of the self.   Similarly, Berardi suggests the recent American and European Uprisings don’t really believe they will effect political change, rather, what these phenomena indicate is a reaction to the violence, the desolidarization,  of economic competition and disempathy, a desire for a landscape beyond panic, loneliness, violence and despair.  […]the current precarious insurrection questions the rhythmic disturbance provoked by semio-capital and tries to overcome our existing inability to tune into a shared vibration.  Stay with me here, were not going to Burning Man… We don’t need a revolution: we need a disturbance of the existing disturbance (Joan Retallack might say “altering geometries of attention”).  And the starting point is not Out There, but In Here:  in the infinite slippage of the transition between signifier and signified, which is based upon the intimate ambiguity of the emotional side of language. 

 

LANUAGE AS EXCESS MOVEMENT:  THE GENERAL INTELLECT IS LOOKING FOR A BODY

Financial semio-Capitalism relies on the exploitation of precarious cognitive labor, Berardi says, and the exploitation of precarious cognitive labor depends upon the intellect in its present form of separation from the body.  I.e. fractaled,  dispossessed of self-perception and self-consciousness.  As finance abstracts work from activity, the Cognitarians time from her experience of worth and sensual interaction with the world, the epidermis of language has become abstracted from the flesh of the linguistic body. 

But subjectivity and desire are inextricable from a functioning Capitalist System: the codification (marketing) of human emotions and embodied communication are central to the production and consumption that make Capitalist society run.  Every day, it is a politics within determining what you and I feel for, die for, and what you and I will live for.  So (!)  Alive, right inside our problem, the book says, lays the anecdote: The Voice: the point of conjunction between meaning and flesh…the bodily singularity of the signifying process, [which] cannot be reduced to the operational function of language.   And poetry, Uprising posits, by dismantling and rewriting the techno-linguistic automatisms enslaving us, can act as the “voice of language”, the here and now of the word[…] sensuously giving birth to meaning. 

                                                 

LANGUAGE AS BRINGING REALITIES INTO THE WORLD

Poetry is what in language that cannot be reduced to information, and is non-exchangeable, but gives way to a new common ground of understanding, of shared meaning: the creation of a new world.    If the perception of time by a society, as the Guattari says, is shaped by social refrains (agencement), insolvency means disclaiming the economic code of Capitalism as a transliteration of real life; it is an insolvent enunciation that rejects of the refrain of symbolic debt, and echoes in its place a new refrain: We’re not going to pay the debt.   It’s Bartelbys “I’d prefer not to”.   If semio-capital reduces language to its exchange value, requiring social communication to adapt to the limited digital environment, poetry is the excess of sensuousness exploding into the circuitry of social communication, and opening again the dynamic of the infinite game of interpretation: desire.  The enjoyment of time without the expectation of accumulation. I love that.  Beginning with the desiring, bodily force of enunciation, poetry acts as the voices singular vibration, and the resonance of this vibration, Berardi says, can create a new common space for creating a future we actually can and want to live in.

The book says sensibility, our ability to interpret non-verbal signs, has become victim to the precarization and fractalizatiion of our time, damaging our ability to understand and negotiate the  continuousness of the relation between individuals in time and space[…]and the immediate understanding of the  consistency of my interest and your interest.  If the opposite if this, compassion, is sensibility open to the perception of unaccountable human beings, essentially, it’s about Becoming-Other.  This is the most important point in The Uprising.   (On a side note, it’s my opinion that the processes of insurrection and insolvency involve taking stock of the great and often silenced dialogue between artists, scholars, visionaries, prophets and more, who, despite different ideas, have worked to bring together and understand our relationship to The Other.  Hegel, Franz Fanon, Edward Said, Eve Sedgwick are just a few of those who’ve greatly enriched this dialogue). 

 

END/BOOK AS CAPITAL / TENSIONS

The Uprising ends with a section on irony and cynicism, and quite appropriately for the Now What a reader begins to feel as Uprising winds down.  Berardi has, after all, created a marketable product, the published book, and with the rhetorical trope of ending the book on a loose, open, non-ending note the author seems to express an awareness of the irony of his own project;  that is, if we give him the credit for this self-reflexive wink, which I’m very much tempted to.  He doesn’t say Irony is the highest form of poetry, but that it’s an historical example of language excess, as poetry is a reopening of the indefinite, the ironic act of exceeding the established meaning of words.  Foulcault writes of the Diogenes and other ancient philosophers known as cynics and their practice of hard truth-telling.  Ironic humor, a sort of mock-Power, tribal clowning, have always provided autonomous paths to insolvency from corrupt powers. 

Art, the book says, can create the aesthetic conditions for the perception and expression of new modes of becoming.  We can look to artists and thinkers like David Hammond, Suzanne Stein, drag performers, noise music, Rachael Blau du Plessis, Kate Bornstein, A.L Steiner and A.K. Burns whose works seem to address this idea.   For irony, look at the work of artists who “represent” themselves, such as those over at Vanessa Place Inc  who are marketing Poetry as a form of money, dryly performing the accoutrements of big business as farce. Irony:  what you say is not what you think.  The artist Amanda Bags makes amazingly astute arguments about our dominant, limited forms of communication, and the basic human rights granted or withheld in relation to ones willingness to conform to them.  (check out some of her incredible work here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnylM1hI2jc 

I think experiencing the work of artists like these could help generate this return to sensuous communication Berardi calls for, and to turn ones attention to them may be a more direct route to insolvency then actually reading his book.

But I do like ending on the idea that the power of the “general intellect” is already in our bodies, that Insolvency is only a matter of re-enunciating our natural, human rhythms, refrains, what Guattari calls ritournelles. I believe that there is no litmus test for suffering and heartache, that we are coextensive beings, singing into and reliant on each other for meaning, open to the perception of uncountable sensuous beings, beyond the financial freeze[…]  That every one of us is The Other, and at the same time must constantly work at Becoming Other; that without a relation to Other there is no One.  Our concatenations’, our common voice, is what gives meaning to Us, and we cannot be substituted.  I think if our social reality has a mathematics, it could only be Chaos: the milieu of all milieus, noise music.