Friday Night 03.04.11 — Field Trip — Franco Bifo Berardi

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Friday Night 03.04.11 — Field Trip — Franco Bifo Berardi
1. About this Friday
2. Bifo: Facebook or the Impossibility of Friendship
3. Alain Badiou: Tunisie, Egypte : quand un vent d’est balaie l’arrogance de l’Occident
4. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri: The Arabs are democracy’s new pioneers
5. About the Interdisciplinary Seminar
6. Reminder / Arendt Conference Fri/Sat
this event is NOT
at 16 Beaver
but at Cooper Union (6:30pm)
1. About this Friday
When: 6.30 pm, Friday 03.04.11
Who: Free and open to all
Where: Rose Auditorium (41 Cooper Square, New York, NY, New York, 10003)
What: Field Trip / Talk
In lieu of an event this week, the idea came to take a field trip to attend a talk by Bifo as a part of the Interdisciplinary Seminar at Cooper Union.
For those who were able or unable to attend Connective Mutations, the seminar at 16 Beaver in 2009 with Bifo, this should be a nice opportunity to see him. The title of the talk seems to be ‘Subjectivation and General Intellect in the Age of Semiocapitalism.’
We hope the talk will attempt to bridge the recent European student movements and his writings on cognitive labour with the recent developments just south of Italy in North Africa and the Middle East.
For more information and to listen to recordings from the 2009 seminar, please visit:
We provide a few texts that may help open up a few questions.
2. Bifo: Facebook or the Impossibility of Friendship
(aptly posted on facebook)
Financial capitalism and precarious work, loneliness and suffering, atrophy of empathy and sensibility: these are the themes that we may extrapolate from The social network the excellent movie by David Fincher.
The story that the movie is about is the creation and early diffusion of the social network Facebook: an enterprirse in the age of financial semiocapitalism. But the focus shifts on the psychological side of the evolution of the Internet, in the framework of the info-acceleration and stimulus-intensification that the broad band has made possible. Love friendship affection – the whole sphere of emotionality is invested by the intensification of the rhythm of the infosphere surrounding the first generation which learned more words from a machine than from the mother.
Although the narration of the beginnings of Facebook, and the following legal conflicts and trials corresponds to the real story, biographical details (for instance the end of a love relation in the first scene of the movie) are not necessarily true, but they are useful for a full understanding of the affective side of social life of cognitarian labor force.
The main character of the film, Mark Zuckerberg may obviously be described as a winner: he is the youngest billionaire in the world, he is the owner of a company that in a few years has become well known worldwide with 500 million subscribers. Nonetheless it is hard to see him as a happy person, and he can be described as a looser if you think of his relation with women, and colleagues. Friendship seems impossible for him, and the success of his website is granted by the artificial substitution of friendship and love with standardized protocols.
Existential unhappiness and commercial success can be viewed as two sides of the same coin: Zuckerberg, in the Fincher movie is so skilled in the interpretation of the psychological needs of his generation because loneliness and affective frustration are his intimate psycho-scape. Desire is diverted from physical contact and invested in the abstract field of simulated seduction, in the infinite space of the image. Boundless enhancement of disembodied imagination leads to the virtualization of the erotic experience, infinite flight from an object to the next. Value, money, financial excitement: these are the perfect form of the virtualization of desire. The permanent mobilization of psychic energy in the economic sphere is simultaneously the cause and the effect of the virtualization of contact. The very word ‘contact’ comes to mean exactly the contrary of what it means: not bodily touch, epidermic perception of the sensuous presence of the other, but purely intellectual intentionality, virtual cognizability of the other. Hard to predict which sort of mutation is underway in the long run of human evolution. As far as we know this virtual investment of desire is currently provoking a pathogenic effect of fragilization of social solidarity and a stiffening of empathic feeling.
The genius of Zuckerberg essentially consists in his ability to exploit the suffering energy of the crowd, collective loneliness and frustration. The original idea of the website comes from two rich Harvard’s twins named Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, who want to hire him as programmer. Zuckerberg pretends to work for them, and actually takes hold of their idea, although he is much more able than they in linking the project to the psychical needs arising from contemporary alienation.
Did Zuckerberg steal the idea from those two undergraduates? Yes and no. Actually in the Network it’s impossible to distinguish clearly the different moments of the valorization process, because the productive force of the net is collective, while profits are private. Here we find the irremediable contradiction between collective intelligence in the net and private appropriation of its products, a contradiction which is shaking the very foundation of semiocapitalism.
This movie is an interesting view on life and work in the age of precarity. The word precarious
means aleatory, uncertain, unstable, and it refers not only to the uncertainty of the labor relation, but also to the fragmentation of time and the unceasing deterritorialization of the factors of social production. Both labor and capital, in fact have no more a stable relation to the territory and to the community. Capital is flowing in the financial circuit and the enterprise is no more based on material assets, territorialized, but it is based on signs, ideas, information, knowledge and linguistic exchange. The enterprise is no more linked to the territory and work process is no more based on the community of workers, living together in the factory day after day, as it takes the form of ever changing recombination of time fragments connected in the global network.
Cognitive workers do not meet in the same place every day, but stay alone in their connected cubicles, and answer to the requests of ever changing employers. The capitalist is no more signing agreements in order to exploit the productive energy of the worker during his overall working life. He is no more buying the entire availability of the worker. He is hiring a fragment of available time, which is a fractal, compatible with the protocols of inter-functionality, and recombinable with other fragments of time.
Industrial workers experienced solidarity because they met each other every day and were members of the same living community, and shared the same interests, while the net worker is alone and unable to create solidarity because everybody is obliged to compete in the labor market and in the daily fight for a precarious salary. Loneliness and lack of human solidarity is not only characterizing the net worker, but also the entrepreneur. The border separating work and enterprise is confused, in the sphere of cognitive work. Although Mark Zuckerberg is a billionaire, the way he is spending his work day is not dissimilar from the way his employees are spending their work day. They all are sitting in front of a computer and type on the keyboard.
The main character of the movie – the Zuckerberg described by Fincher, has a friend, only one: Edouard Severin, who becomes the financer of the starting Facebook enterprise. When the success of the enterprise is guaranteed and demands new financers, Zuckenberg does not hesitate to betray his only friend.
This perfectly depicts the personal relations in the sphere of financial world, but unfortunately this is also depicting relations between workers. Although the movie speaks of a billionaire, it’s also telling the story of social condition of labor. The impossibility of friendship in the present condition of virtual abstraction of sociality, and the impossibility of building solidarity in a society that is turning life into abstract container of competing fragments of time.
3. Alain Badiou: “Tunisie, Egypte : quand un vent d’est balaie l’arrogance de l’Occident”
for Le Monde.
Translation kindly provided by Cristiana Petru-Stefanescu.
The Eastern wind is getting the better of the Western one. How much longer will the poor and dark West, the “international community” of those who still think of themselves as masters of the world, continue to give lessons of good management and behaviour to the whole planet? Isn’t it laughable to see certain intellectuals on duty, disconcerted soldiers of the capital-parliamentarism that stands as a shabby paradise for us, offering themselves to the magnificent Tunisian and Egyptian peoples in order to teach these savage populations the basics of “democracy”? What a distressing persistence of colonial arrogance! Given the miserable political situation that we are experiencing, isn’t it obvious that it is us who have everything to learn from the current popular uprisings? Shouldn’t we, in all urgency, closely study what has made possible the overthrow through collective action of governments that are oligarchic, corrupt and—possibly, above all—humiliatingly the vassals of Western states?
Yes, we should be the pupils of such movements, and not their stupid teachers. That is because, through the genius of their own inventions, they give life to some political principles that some have been trying for so long to convince us that they are outdated. And especially the principle that Marat never stopped reminding us of: when it comes to freedom, equality, emancipation, we owe everything to popular uprisings.
We are right to be revolted. Just as with politics, our states and those who take advantage of it (political parties, unions and servile intellectuals) prefer management to revolt, they prefer claims, and “orderly transition” to any kind of rupture. What the Egyptian and Tunisian peoples remind us is that the only kind of action that equals a shared feeling about scandalous occupation by state power is mass uprising. And that, in such a case, the only watchword that can federate the disparate groups of the masses is: “you out there, go away”. The extraordinary importance of the revolt in this case, its critical power, is that repeating the watchword by millions of people will show the worth of what will undoubtedly and irreversibly be the first victory: the man thus designated will flee. And no matter what happens afterwards, this triumph of the popular action, illegal by nature, will be forever victorious. That a revolt against state power can be absolutely victorious is a lesson universally available. This victory always indicates the horizon where all collective action, subtracted from the authority of the law, stands out, the horizon that Marx called “the failing of the state”.
That is, one day, freely associated in the spreading of their own creative power, peoples could do without the gloomy coercion of the state. And it is for this reason, for this ultimate idea, that a revolt overthrowing an established authority can determine unlimited enthusiasm throughout the world.
A spark can set a field on fire. It all starts with the suicide through burning of a man who has been made redundant, whose miserable commerce that allows him to survive is threatened to be banned, and with a woman-officer slapping him to make him understand what is real in this world. This gesture expands within days, weeks, until millions of people cry their joy in a far-away square and the powerful rulers flee. Where does this fabulous expansion come from? The propagation of an epidemic of freedom? No. As Jean-Marie Gleize poetically puts it: “a revolutionary movement does not expand by contamination. But by resonance. Something emerging here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something emerging out there”. This resonance, let’s name it “event”. The event is the sudden creation, not of a new reality, but of a myriad of new possibilities.
Neither of them is the reiteration of something we already know. This is why it is to say “this movement is demanding democracy” (implying the one we enjoy in the West), or “this movement is demanding social improvements” (implying the median prosperity of the small-bourgeois in our countries). Born from almost nothing, resonating everywhere, the popular uprising creates unknown possibilities for the whole world. The word “democracy” is practically never mentioned in Egypt. There’s talk of a “new Egypt”, of “the real Egyptian people”, of constituent assembly, of an absolute change of existence, of unprecedented possibilities. This is about the new field that will be there where the previous one, set on fire by the spark of uprising, will no longer be. It stands, this new field to come, between the declaration of overthrowing forces and the one of assuming new tasks. Between what a young Tunisian has said: “We, the sons of workers and farmers, are stronger than the criminals”; and what a young Egyptian has said: “Starting today, 25th January, I take charge of the affairs of my country”.
The people, and only the people, are the creators of universal history. It is very surprising that, in our West, governments and the media consider that the revolts in a square in Cairo are “the Egyptian people”. How come? Isn’t it that, for these men, the people, the only reasonable and legal people, is usually reduced to either the majority in a poll or in an election? How is it possible that all of a sudden hundreds of thousands of revolted people have become representative of a population of eighty million? It’s a lesson to remember, and we will remember it.
Once a certain threshold of determination, obstinacy and courage has been passed, a people can indeed concentrate its existence in one square, one avenue, a few factories, a university … The whole world will be witness to this courage, and especially to the amazing creations that accompany it. These creations will stand as proof that a people is represented there. As one Egyptian protester has put it, “before, I used to watch television, now it’s the television who is watching me”.
In the midst of an event, the people is made up of those who know how to solve the problems that the event imposes on them. It goes the same for the occupation of a square: food, sleeping arrangements, protection, banderols, prayers, defence fight, all so that the place where everything is happening, the place that has become a symbol, may stay with its people at all costs. These problems, at a scale of hundreds of thousands of people who have come from all over the place, may seem impossible to solve, especially since the state has disappeared in that square. Solving unsolvable problems without the help of the state, that is the destiny of an event. And it is what determines a people, all of a sudden and for an indeterminate period, to exist, there where it has decided to gather.
There can be no communism without communist movements. The popular uprising we are talking about is manifestly without a party, without any hegemonic organisation, without a recognised leader. It should always be determined whether this characteristic is a strength or a weakness. It is in any case what makes it have, in a pure form, without a doubt the purest since the Commune of Paris, all the necessary traits for us to talk about a communism as movement. “Communism” here means: common creation of a collective destiny. This “common” has two distinctive traits. First, it is generic, representing in one place humanity in its entirety. In this place there are people of all the kinds a population is usually made up of, all words are heard, all propositions examined, all difficulty taken for what it is. Second, it overcomes the great contradictions that the state pretends to be the only one capable of surmounting: between intellectuals and manual workers, between men and women, between rich and poor, between Muslims and Copts, between people living in the province and those living in the capital …
Millions of new possibilities for these contradictions spring with every moment, possibilities that the state—any state—is completely blind to. We see young female doctors, who have come from the province to treat the wounded, sleep in the middle of a circle of fierce young men, and they are more at ease than they’ve ever been, knowing that no one will touch a hair on their heads. We can equally see an organisation of young engineers addressing youngsters from the suburbs to ask them to hold on, to protect the movement with their energy for combat. We also see a row of Christians standing in order to keep watch over the Muslims bent in prayer. We see vendors feeding the unemployed and the poor. We see each person talking to their unknown neighbour. We can read thousands of banners where each and everyone’s life is mingled to the grand History of all. All these situations, inventions, constitute the communism as movement. It’s been two centuries since the unique problem is the following: how can we establish in the long run the inventions of the communism as movement? And the unique reactionary statement is: “that would be impossible, even detrimental. Let’s put our trust in the state”. Glorious be the Tunisian and Egyptian peoples who remind us the true and unique political duty: faced with the state, the organised fidelity to the communism as movement.
We do not want war, but we are not afraid of it. The pacifist calm of gigantic movements has been talked about everywhere, and it has been linked to the ideal of elective democracy that we bestowed upon the movement. We should, however, note that there have been hundreds of dead, and their number increases each day. In many instances, these dead have been combatants and martyrs of the initiative, then of the protection of the movement itself. The political and symbolical places of uprising had to be kept by paying the price of fierce combat against the militia and the police of the threatened regimes. And who has paid with their own lives if not the youth from the poorest classes? The “middle classes”, of whom our inspired Michèle Alliot-Marie has said that the democratic outcome of the movement depended on, and on them alone, should always remember that during the crucial moment, the duration of the movement has only been guaranteed by the unrestricted commitment of the people’s militia. Defensive violence is inevitable. It still goes on, in difficult conditions, in Tunisia, after the young provincial activists have been sent to their destitution.
Can we seriously think that all these innumerable initiatives and cruel sacrifices’ fundamental goal is to make the people “choose” between Souleiman and El Baradei, just as we here resign to arbitrate between Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Strauss-Kahn? Will that be the only lesson of this splendid episode?
No, a thousand times no! The Egyptian and Tunisian peoples tell us this: to rebel, to construct the public space of the communism as movement, defending it by all means and making up its successive steps of action, that is the reality of the popular politics of emancipation. It is not just the Arab states that are anti-popular, of course, and, fundamentally, with or without elections, illegitimate. Whatever their future, the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings have a universal significance. They prescribe new possibilities whose value is international.
Visit Le Monde to read the article in French. For an alternative translation, please visit lacan.com.
4. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri: The Arabs are democracy’s new pioneers
The leaderless Middle East uprisings can inspire freedom movements as Latin America did before.
One challenge facing observers of the uprisings spreading across north Africa and the Middle East is to read them as not so many repetitions of the past but as original experiments that open new political possibilities, relevant well beyond the region, for freedom and democracy.
Indeed, our hope is that through this cycle of struggles the Arab world becomes for the next decade what Latin America was for the last — that is, a laboratory of political experimentation between powerful
social movements and progressive governments from Argentina to Venezuela, and from Brazil to Bolivia.
Sparked by unemployment
These revolts have immediately performed a kind of ideological house—cleaning, sweeping away the racist conceptions of a clash of civilisations that consign Arab politics to the past. The multitudes in Tunis, Cairo and Benghazi shatter the political stereotypes that Arabs are constrained to the choice between secular dictatorships and fanatical theocracies, or that Muslims are somehow incapable of freedom and democracy. Even calling these struggles “revolutions” seems to mislead commentators who assume the progression of events must obey the logic of 1789 or 1917, or some other past European rebellion.
These Arab revolts ignited around the issue of unemployment, and at their centre have been highly educated youth with frustrated ambitions — a population that has much in common with protesting students in
London and Rome. Although the primary demand throughout the Arab world focusses on the end to tyranny and authoritarian governments, behind this single cry stands a series of social demands not only to end dependency and poverty but to give power and autonomy to an intelligent, highly capable population. That Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak or Muammar Qadhafi leave power is only the first step.
The organisation of the revolts resembles what we have seen for more than a decade from Seattle to Buenos Aires and Genoa and Cochabamba, Bolivia: a horizontal network that has no single, central leader.
Traditional opposition bodies can participate in this network but cannot direct it. Outside observers have tried to designate a leader for the Egyptian revolts since their inception: maybe it’s Mohamed ElBaradei, maybe Google’s head of marketing, Wael Ghonim. They fear that the Muslim Brotherhood or some other body will take control of events. What they don’t understand is that the multitude is able to organise itself without a centre — that the imposition of a leader or being co-opted by a traditional organisation would undermine its power.
The prevalence in the revolts of social network tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, are symptoms, not causes, of this structure. These are the modes of expression of an intelligent population capable of organising autonomously.
Although these movements refuse central leadership, they must nonetheless consolidate their demands to link the most active segments of the rebellion to the needs of the population at large. The insurrections of Arab youth are certainly not aimed at a traditional liberal constitution that merely guarantees a regular electoral dynamic, but rather at a form of democracy adequate to the new forms of expression and needs of the multitude. This must include, firstly, constitutional recognition of the freedom of expression.
The hope
And given that these uprisings were sparked by not only unemployment and poverty but also by frustrated productive and expressive capacities, especially among young people, a radical constitutional response must invent a common plan to manage natural resources and social production. This is a threshold through which neo-liberalism cannot pass and capitalism is put to question. And Islamic rule is completely inadequate to meet these needs. Here insurrection touches on not only the equilibriums of north Africa and the Middle East but also the global system of economic governance.
Hence our hope for the Arab world to become like Latin America, to inspire political movements and raise aspirations for freedom and democracy beyond the region.
Each revolt, of course, may fail: tyrants may unleash bloody repression; military juntas may try to remain in power; traditional opposition groups may attempt to hijack movements; and religious hierarchies may jockey to take control. But what will not die are the political demands and desires that have been unleashed, the expressions of an intelligent young generation for a different life in which they can put their capacities to use.
As long as those demands and desires live, the cycle of struggles will continue. The question is what these new experiments in freedom and democracy will teach the world over the next decade.
( Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are co-authors of the trilogy Empire, Multitude and Commonwealth.)
5. About the Interdisciplinary Seminar
The Interdisciplinary Seminar was designed twelve years ago to contribute a regular and sustaining discussion on artistic practice for the students of The School of Art at The Cooper Union and the creative community that surrounds them.
The Seminar consists of two complementary parts: a weekly presentation series that is open to the entire Cooper community and its guests and an intimate meeting between the seminar’s students, the course’s faculty and the invited speakers. The weekly lecture presentations by artists, theorists, activists, designers, writers, curators, and many others involved in art, politics, and culture—create an open forum for the presentation of difficult concepts and forms and a framework to unpack the philosophical, critical, historical, and political factors that condition the context for our work.
This site contains the schedule, lecture descriptions and bios for all the lecture presentations for the semester as well as supplemental information for Cooper students who want learn more about a speaker and discover how these discussions contribute to practice.
The lectures and seminar are organized and led by Doug Ashford and Colleen Asper.
6. Reminder / Arendt Conference Fri/Sat
For those of you who were interested in the Arendt discussion, please note that the conference will take place on Friday and Saturday in New York city.
Link to conference schedule: