"There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more" – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1974: 156)
I’ve just finished the latest book from Franco ‘Bifo’ Beradi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance and I thought that I would put together a few hastily penned observations – less a review, than some rough first impressions.
1) The book revisits arguments that the author has already set out in early texts including The Soul at Work, Precarious Rhapsody, After the Future and the recently published Skizo-Mails. There is nothing really new here and many sections of the book are distinctly familiar.
2) The main argument focuses on how one might come to “think of a process of subjectivation when precarity is jeopardizing social solidarity and when the social body is wired by techno-linguistic automatisms which reduce its activity to a repetition of embedded patterns of behaviour?” (13). For Bifo, contemporary financial power operates through the exploitation of “precarious cognitive labor” (8). This is, according to Bifo, the “general intellect,” in its present configuration: alienated, fragmented and robbed of any meaningful connection to sensuous human activity (8).
3) This is, so Bifo argues, a linguistic or semiotic crisis. Bifo draws, in this respect on the work of other post-workerist writers – Christian Marazzi, Paolo Virno, and Maurizio Lazzarato – and how they have come to conceptualize the relationship between language and the economy. As Bifo argues, “the implication of language in the financial economy is crucial in the contemporary process of subjectivation” (16). Bifo goes on to suggest that the ongoing financialization of the capitalist economy depends on the abstraction of both work and communication. “The word,” he writes, “is no longer a factor in the conjunction of talking affective bodies, but a connector of signifying functions transcodified by the economy” (19). There is something to this view and I don’t dispute that the world of semio-capital depends on an “abstract level of economic symbolization.” At the same time, Bifo’s view strikes me as too all-encompassing. Reading Bifo, one does get the sense that the subsumption of language by financial capital is a fait accompli. Very little attention is given here to the antagonisms and contingencies that run through the very heart of finance capitalism. Nor does Bifo fully attend to the recrudescence of primitive accumulation within contemporary neo-liberalism. If, as he suggests, the conjunction between violence and the financialization of capitalism is “absolutely structural” (88), the exercise of such violence – and the linkages between the automated algorithms of neo-liberal dogma and the violent predations of primitive accumulation – requires further critical treatment.
4) To counter the “subjugation of the biopolitical sphere of affection and language to financial capitalism, Bifo proposes a poetic form of subversion: “I am trying to think about the process of emancipating language and affects” (16). In order to do so, Bifo attempts to trace what he describes as “the parallel histories of poetry and finance”:
“From symbolism to futurism, up to the experiences of the beat generation and fluxus, poets have anticipated and predicted the trajectory of the global economy and of the ordinary business of life. It has mostly been a frantic anticipation, a dystopic prophecy, as poets forebode the coming distortions and perversions of the huge deterritorialization that would come with capitalist globalization” (35).
This is not, I would argue, a view that would hold up to careful scrutiny nor does it do justice to the complex history of modern poetry. And yet, Bifo insists that it is through poetry that the “process of reactivating the emotional body, and therefore of reactivating social solidarity” must begin (20). Poetry, according to this view, opens up a space of possibility for “reactivating sensuousness…in the sphere of social communication.” Not only does poetry thus eschew the disagreeable logics of exchangeability, it is, if we believe Bifo, world-making:
“Poetry is language’s excess: poetry is what in language cannot be reduced to information, and is not exchangeable, but gives way to a new common ground of understanding, of shared meaning: the creating of a new world” (147).
While I might share Bifo’s desire here for an insurgent aesthetics that challenges the conditions of contemporary precarity, I am uncomfortable with the dichotomy that he sets up between poetic resistance and mathematical finitude. Bifo’s account of poetic practice is also patchy at best and there seems to be little real awareness of the relationship between modernism and sensuous particularity (I am thinking here of the work of T.J. Clark or Jay Bernstein’s fantastic book Against Voluptuous Bodies: Late Modernism and the Meaning of Painting). In saying all of this, I do not mean to foreclose on the possibility of a radical aesthetic sensibility that may produce a “new space for sharing, producing, and living” (147). Nor do I mean to diminish the abiding interest in poetry within radical philosophy (I am also thinking of Badiou’s Philosophy for Militants and his forthcoming The Age of Poets). I’ll save that for another post…
5) I find Bifo’s take on the “irreversibility” of financial capitalism deeply unsatisfying. Collapse, according to this view, is inevitable. There is no future only the endless deadening refrain of neo-liberal ideology. The only hope for autonomy is to therefore withdraw from the “current bio-economic totalitarianism” (9). Such a poetic escapism – what Ben Lear has rightly described as a “lifeboat communism” – seems to be nothing more than a retreat into a predictable form of alternative politics. We need to find, if anything, new ways of assembling a collective politics of protest rather than simply admitting defeat at the level of the political.
There is much more that I want to say about Bifo’s The Uprising especially his inability to really attend to the impasse of affective labour (there is a curious vitalism coursing through The Uprising). I think that deserves a separate post that I hope to sketch out shortly. If I have criticised Bifo here, I should say that there is still much to recommend in this book especially Bifo’s take on the post-68 Left and his understanding of precarious labour. More to follow soon…