Berardi

12/06/17

deaddrops1

I have been reading a lot of Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi recently. He is an Italian Marxist theorist and activist in the autonomist tradition, who is widely published.  One of his most famous works is The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy (2009). He has also written extensively on Felix Guattari, ideas of capital and acceleration, society, the future, the worker and a variety of other dense topics. Berardi is perhaps my new favourite writer – or, given I prefer not to categorise into mere favourite divides, it’s probably more accurate to say he is a new favourite of mine.

His name kept cropping up in multiple bibliographies I was skimming and then I found a fantastic article by him on e-flux which could not be more relevant to my current research. The article is title ‘Time, Acceleration and Violence’ and it opens with this:

What do you store in a bank? You store time. But is the money that is stored in the bank my past time—the time that I have spent in the past? Or does this money give me the possibility of buying a future?’

– Berardi, e-flux journal #27, Sept. 2011

Out of all the articles I have ever read, this one has really stuck in my mind and left a lasting impression on me. I keep thinking about it and experiences or news articles I come across remind me of it too. For me, a Berardi read is always incredibly thought-provoking and at times, slightly unsettling. This read is one of those interesting yet unnerving ones. The article is a discussion of capitalism’s integration into our daily lives, into our cores. It talks about time in relation to the philosopher Henri Bergson; his ideas of duration versus modern days of perception. It discusses the Futurists and their war mongering attitude, Marx, war, competition, money, production, surplus. Its contents stick in your mind for days.

Why it was so prevalent to me?

Firstly, because reading about time is always a prevalent experience. Mainly because it forces you into an awareness of your own mortality. Yet this article goes further, as it links biological time to technological time and the time of capital. A comparison between the two is of course disturbing, as the biological can never compete with the economic. Particularly not in the digital age, where everything is immaterial and carried out online.

That was not the only disturbing element however. Extracts in discussion of the Futurists  were perhaps the most worrying given their accurate analysis:

Also in 1977, “competition” became the crucial word for the economy, whose project was to submit human relationships to the singular imperative of competition. The term itself became naturalized to the point where saying “competition” was like saying “work.” But competition is not the same as work. Competition is like crime, like violence, like murder, like rape. Competition equals war. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari say that fascism is “when a war machine is installed in each hole, in every niche.” And I would say that an economic regime based on competition is fascism perfected. But how does this violence arrive in the economic sphere?’

– Berardi, e-flux journal #27, Sept. 2011

Competition equals war. 

Think about that in relation to history. Think about that in relation to 2003; when the US first entered Iraq, claiming it was a moral act of defence and liberation. Yet capital was in fact the dark motive at heart. When I say the article is disturbing, I am not disturbed by the article itself, as it is merely a commentary exposing ideas and observations. It is the observations which disturb and unsettle me, particularly in wake of the current political and economic climate, both of which are fraught with uncertainty.

Recommended reading:

Berardi, e-flux journal #27, Sept. 2011

 

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Susan Sontag ‘On Photography’

dscn8042   Cover photograph: Dan McCullin

I am currently half way through ‘On Photography‘ by Susan Sontag (1933-2004), a collection of essays which were first published in the New York Review books between 1973 and 1977. Sontag received her BA from the College of The University of Chicago and did graduate work in the realms of philosophy and literature at Harvard University and Saint Anne’s College, Oxford. Throughout  her career she published four books, wrote and directed four full-length feature films, directed several plays and was a human rights activists for nearly two decades. A highly accomplished woman who has also won multiple awards including the 2003 Peace Prize of The German Trade. I know it’s slightly unconventional to review a book whilst you’re only half way through it, however Sontag’s writing is not only incredibly  inspiring and insightful, but also executed in such a fashion that I felt the urge to share my appreciation.

The book was first published in 1977 and this only heightens my admiration for the publication and the author. Sontag is writing about themes way ahead of her time; she essentially predicts the selfie-age, claiming humans since the Victorian era have been narcissistic with their photographic portraits. Of course, cameras have been available to the general public since the 19th century and therefore a history had been fully established by the time Sontag was writing. Throughout her essays, she discusses the power relations conjured through photography, the concepts of truth and fiction, the dissemination through magazines and bourgeois circuits as well as photography as a political and social tool. One of my favourite lines so far is

‘To photography is to appropriate the thing being photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge – and, therefore, like power‘ (Sontag, p.4)

The reason I think this phrase appeals to me is because it is incredibly relevant to our Social Media dictated society today. There is a constant interplay between power and knowledge online, feelings of superiority created through social posting. Interestingly, Sontag also dissects the cultural attitudes to photography; discussing how incredibly hard-working societies such as the Americans and Japanese use the camera on holiday as a supplementary tool. Given the fact the pace of life is incredibly fast and constantly moving in these societies, Sontag claims that as tourists, they do not know how to slow down. The camera therefore becomes a substitution to satisfy the work ethic; it becomes a tourist device which allows them to click away with multiple shots, easing their work-free, holiday-going conscience.

As well as insightful remarks about society in relation to photography, Sontag of course goes into some of its histories, with particular focus on Diane Arbus with her documentation of freaks and outcasts, who claims ‘photography was the liscense to go wherever I wanted and to do what I wanted to do‘ (Sontag, p.41). Walk Evans and James Agee are also discussed in depth with their famous Let Us Know Praise Famous Men, as are other varying photographic documents of America. Given the author was not only writing in a post-World War, post-atomic, but also during the Cold War era, photography’s role in war plays a prominant role throughout the essays. As does photography’s artistic roots in Surrealism, the parallels of which are drawn and perfectly encapsulated in this quote – another favourite of mine

America, that surreal country, is full of found objects. Our junk has become art. Our junk has become history.‘ (Sontag, p.67)

It is a truly brilliant book (so far!), both for those familiar and unfamiliar with the history of photography.It can act as both a starting point and and a furthering of reader’s knowledge. I would also say it is worth reading for the simple pleasure of admiring Sontag’s revolutionary thinking, given the context in which she was writing.