Franco “Bifo” Berardi – The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance
When Marx talks about abstract labor, he is referring to the separation of a worker’s activity from concrete usefulness, which is what happens under capitalism. The use-value of the worker’s product is only a step toward the real thing which is value, which is surplus value…The capitalist cares only about how much value his work can produce in a given unit of time. This is the beginning process of capitalist abstraction.
In the late-modern phase of capitalism, digital abstraction adds a second layer to capitalist abstraction: transformation and production no longer happen in the field of bodies, and material manipulation, but in the field of interoperativity between informational machines. Information takes the place of things, and the body is canceled from the field of communication.
We then have a third level of abstraction, which is financial abstraction. Finance means that the process of valorization no longer passes through the stage of use value, or even the production of goods (physical or semiotic.)
(From The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, by Franco “Bifo” Berardi)
The Uprising revels in the commonplace that financial instruments are fictional, as in not real. But if these contracts are merely “fictional” or “symbolic,” how did they manage to sink the global economy? If the same logic applied to literature, we’d be living in a world of flesh and blood Hans Castorps, and we would also have very little need for novels or poetry. Speculation leads to failure. In a contract where one person bets on one thing, and another person bets on its opposite, someone will lose. No one loses this way in literature (except for the writer blurbed by Jay McInerney).
If Berardi is right about one thing, it is that financial capitalism is semiotic. It thrives on interpretive value, on the meaning we have too long attributed to money as a medium. More than that, though, finance is properly aesthetic. The French philosopher Jacques Rancière, a friend to symbolist poets like Mallarmé, has identified the “aesthetic regime of art” with the period when literary representation broke down. The “aesthetic regime” began when the mass circulation of novels and poetry reduced the classical hierarchy of roles to a scrapheap. In the aesthetic age—we’re still in it—no privileged connection between form and social position remains intact; in fact, the emergence of the aesthetic led us to a moment when everything, even idle matter, can speak.
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.
Christian Marazzi – The Violence of Financial Capitalism
Marazzi’s second key argument in this area regards the informalization of work and its extension into all parts of our lives. Here, he references coproduction, or the outsourcing of production costs into the sphere of circulation and consumption. In coproduction, by providing their feedback, their suggestions, and their preferences, consumers participate at no cost to producers in the creation of new products and services. Marazzi cites crowdsourcing, the interactive and constantly demanding aspects of Web 2.0, Google’s use of beta testing, and even Ikea’s assemble-it-yourself furniture as ways in which companies increasingly shift the costs of their production onto consumers, while imposing a sense of scarcity that allows them to maintain profits through copyright laws. “New constant capital…is constituted…by a totality of immaterial organizational systems that suck surplus-value by pursuing citizen-laborers in every moment of their lives, with the result that the working day, the time of living labor, is excessively lengthened and intensified” (55).
So this cognitive labor, these commons we produce through social media, through facebook and viral videos and all other signals we send out signifying our desires, our abilities, our ideas, all become new resources for capital to mine, and our rate of work increases unconsciously to occupy all aspects of our lives. For Marazzi, under empire (specifically, Hardt & Negri’s empire), every citizen-consumer now fills the place of peripheral countries under imperialism: subjected to a debt-trap, maintaining consumption through debt, and constantly providing a new field of commons to be expropriated by capital in the form of affects, emotions, and crowd-sourcing.
For me, the strangest thing about this mutation of the fairy tales of the upper classes is how close it comes to the gospel of Marxism — and even closer to something yet more close to my heart, the critique of everyday life by the likes of Debord, Vaneigem, and the rest of the Situationist International. Like the technocratic libertarians of the new creative class, they railed against boredom as a cardinal sin, despised the life-wasting rot of the office job and the daily grind, and encouraged an embrace of creativity, art, and wonder as a means of navigating the world of the ordinary. But while the Situationst critique was always and inextricably socialist in nature, the new creatives have flipped the script into a story about the inevitability and desirability of the preservation and accumulation of capital. The Situationists wanted to destroy the existing order so that every man and woman, no matter how ‘ordinary’, could live a life of creativity and discovery; they wanted to tear up the sidewalks and discover the beach underneath it. The new creatives want the beach all to themselves, as a reward for converting creativity and discovery into cash; the sidewalk, one assumes, is to be patrolled by non-creative goons whose job is to keep the equally non-creative masses at arms’ length.
Taking time means giving each other the means of inventing one’s own future, freeing it from the anxiety of immediate profit. It means caring oneself and the environment in which one lives, it means growing up in a socially responsible way. To overcome this crisis without questioning the meaning of consumption, production, and investment is to reproduce the preconditions of financial capitalism, the violence of its ups and downs, the philosophy according to which “time is everything, man is nothing.” For man to be everything, we need to reclaim the time of his existence.
(From The Violence of Financial Capitalism, by Christian Marazzi)
ALL PANELS IN THIS POST WERE WRITTEN, DRAWN AND COMPOSED BY EDDIE CAMPBELL;
ALL BUT ONE OF THESE IMAGES CAN BE FOUND IN HIS 2012 GRAPHIC NOVEL THE LOVELY HORRIBLE STUFF, WHICH IS PRETTY MUCH A BEAUTIFULLY DECORATED BANNER THAT HAS BEEN CAREFULLY PLACED OVER THE ABYSS…