The books published by semiotext(e) (distributed by the MIT Press) are never disappointing. the Intervention series in particular, started a propos by the Coming Insurrection, succeeds to produce strong manifestos through the writings of Gerald Raunig (see previous article), Tiqqun, Paul Virilio, Jean Baudrillard etc. and more recently Franco “Bifo” Berardi in his book, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (thank you Greg). The latter is dedicated to a sharp description of the financialization of the world as well as the development of a revolutionary weapon against it: poetry.
Both of those antagonisms have the particularity of belonging in the domain of semiotics – which makes this book perfect for this publisher – and, although they do not seem to have much in common, they can take their part in what I call, the semio-war.
I want to understand the process of dissolution that is underway from the unusual point of view of the relationship between poetry and finance. What has poetry to do with finance, and finance with poetry? Nothing, of course. Investors, stockholders, and bankers are usually too busy, so they don’t waste their time with poetry. Poets are too poor to invest money in the stock market. […]My point here concerns the deterritorialization effect which has separated words from their semiotic referents and money from economic goods.
F. Berardi here introduces implicitly his definition of poetry as a discipline that acquires meaning and beauty from words without necessarily referring to the object they describe. That might be a arguable definition, but just like in mathematics, philosophy is based on axioms that the readers need to accept if (s)he wants to follow the demonstration. The definition of the financial system is easier to agree upon. The paradigm of wealth acquisition has changed indeed, from an industrial and Bourgeois paradigm to a financial gambling elite paradigm. The material production of wealth has been transformed into an immaterial abstract wealth that does not refer to any indicator anchored in the “real”. See the excerpts at the end of the article for a more articulated description.
Of course, this book and this article do not have for goal to make the apology of Fordism and the bourgeoisie. There is no nostalgia involved here. The financialization of capitalism is only the somehow logical sequel of what Karl Marx already denounces in Capital: the separation of the worker with the object (s)he produces. The craftsman who dedicated his profession to the object (s)he produces, changed to an assembly line worker and now dedicates his (her) life to the slow reimbursement of his debts that are indexed on the stock market. Again, this manifesto is not dedicated to “go back” to the status of craftsman, but rather to the invention of a new paradigm. For F. Berardi, this new paradigm could be the one of poet, although he probably understands it in a different manner than the way we think of a poet currently. Such a shift is however so extreme that he cannot see it happening without the release of a spasm of violence to expel the financial virus impregnated within society.
The uprising will frequently give way to phenomena of psychopathic violence. These should not surprise us; we should not condemn these acts as criminal. For too long has financial dictatorship compressed the social body, and the cynicism of the ruling class has become repugnant. The uprising is a therapy for this kind of psychopathology.The uprising is not a form of judgment, but a form of healing.And this healing is made possible by a mantra that rises, stronger and stronger, as solidarity resurfaces in daily life.[…]What we should be able to communicate to the rioters, the looters, the black bloc, and the casseurs is a truth that we have to build together and to spread: that collective mantra chanted by millions of people will tear down the walls of Jericho much better than a pickaxe or a bomb.
This mantra, F. Berardi is referring to, using the biblical story of the Jericho walls falling at the sounds of the Hebrew trumpets (see previous post), is manifested through what he interestingly calls “an act of language”. Such act should not be understood as a chorus in which each of the bodies “sings” the same lyrics, but rather as a harmonious chant for which each voice brings unique tone and words that enriches the harmony. That is the condition for poetry to win the semiowar.
Digital financial capitalism has created a close reality which cannot be overcome with the techniques of politics, of conscious organized voluntary action, and of government.Only an act of language can give us the ability to see and to create a new human condition, where we now only see barbarianism and violence.Only an act of language escaping the technical automatisms of financial capitalism will make possible the emergence of a new life form. The new form of life will be the social and instinctual body of the general intellect, the social and instinctual body that the general intellect is deprived of inside the present conditions of financial dictatorship.
Additional excerpts from the book about the financialization of society:
Franco “Bifo” Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance, Los Angeles: semiotext(e) intervention series 14, 2012.
Finance is the most abstract level of economic symbolization. It is the culmination of a process of progressive abstraction that started with capitalist industrialization. Marx speaks of abstract labor in the sense of an increased distancing of human activity from its concrete usefulness. In his words, capitalism is the application of human skills as a means to obtain a more abstract goal: the accumulation of value. Nevertheless, in the age of industrialization analyzed by Marx, the production of useful goods was still a necessary step in the process of valorization itself. In order to produce abstract value, the industrial capitalist was obliged to produce useful things. This is no longer the case today, in the sphere of semio-capital. In the world of financial capitalism, accumulation no longer passes through the production of good, but goes straight to its monetary goal, extracting value from the pure circulation of money, from the virtualization of life and intelligence.
Financialization and the virtualization of human communication are obviously intertwined; thanks to the digitalization of exchanges, finance has turned into a social virus that is spreading everywhere, transforming things into symbols. The symbolic spiral of financialization is sucking down and swallowing up the world of physical things, of concrete skills and knowledge. The concrete wealth of Europeans is vanishing into a black hole of pure financial destruction. Nothing is created from this destruction, while the financial class is expropriating the outcome of the general labor force and of the general intellect.
In 1972, Richard Nixon did something that can be considered “dereferentialization” in the realm of monetary economy. Breaking the Bretton Woods agreements, the American president said that the dollar would have no reference to reality, and that its value would henceforth be decided by an act of language, not b correspondence to a standard or to an economic referent.
The bourgeoisie, which was a territorialized class (the class of the bourg, of the city), was able to manage physical property, as well as a measurable relation between time and value. The utter financialization of capital marks the end of the old bourgeoisie, and opens the door to the deterritorialized and rhizomatic proliferation of economic power relations. Now the old bourgeoisie has no power anymore, having been replaced by a proliferating virtual class ( a deterritorialized and pulverized social dust, than a territorialized group of people) that is usually referred to as “financial markets.”
In the first pages of Capital, Marx explains that value is time, the accumulation of time. Time objectified, time that has become things, goods, and value. But be careful: not just any kind of time is relevant in the determination of value, but the average social time that is needed to produce a certain good. If you are lazy, or too fast, that does not matter. What is important in the determination of value is the average time that is needed to produce a certain good. This was true in the good old days when it was possible to determine the time that was needed to produce something. Then things changed: all of a sudden, something new happened in the organization of work, and in production technology, in the relation between time, work, and value. Suddenly, work is no longer the physical, muscular work of industrial production. There are no longer material things, but signs; no longer the production of tings which are tangible visible materials, but the production of something that is essentially semiotic.