"Socio Psycho-mancy and the Horizon of Possibility" - an extract from Franco 'Bifo' Berardi's Futurability

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In this extract from the introduction to Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility, Berardi paints a grim picture of a world controlled by "absolute capitalism" and "nationalist aggression." Berardi does not despair at this disorder, but instead views it as an integral part of change. He believes that “a new cosmos is poised to emerge” from contemporary chaos. Pandora’s box may be open, but hope has not yet escaped.

To celebrate the publication of Bifo Berardi’s new book Futurability, we’re offering 40% off all books on our 'Horizon of Possibility' reading list. Click here to see the reading list and activate the discount. Sale ends July 23 at 23:59 UTC.

This book is an attempt to build a psycho-mantic map of social futurability: an inquiry (or divination) on the social becoming of the psychosphere.

From such a point of view we might see the lines of evolution issuing out from the present chaotic social mind’s vibration.

This chaotic vibration is quite visible at the present, in the full-fledged epidemics of aggressive madness that surround us: Daesh, Donald Trump, financial austeritarianism and resurgent national-socialism are signs of contemporary psychotic epidemics.

Every day we experience the sense that opposition to the mounting wave of racism, fanaticism and the ensuing violence is pointless. In fact, this wave is not a political decision, the result of ideological and strategic elaboration, but the effect of despair, the reaction to long-lasting humiliation. The perfect rationality of the abstract computational machine, the inescapability of financial violence has jeopardized the consciousness and sensibility of the social organism, and frustration has reduced the general ability to feel compassion and to act empathically.

Madness? Although the genealogy of despair and aggression can be retraced to a social cause, I think that at the end of the day political reasoning is itself impotent. The only way to healing such emotional distress would be an emotional reactivation of the hidden potencies of the social organism: the Occupy! movement that deployed in 2011 has been the main attempt of our recent moment to summon all the energies of solidarity of which the social organism is capable. The outcome, however, of that movement was so poor that deception has destroyed any lingering sentiment of human solidarity, and the social organism is behaving like a beheaded body that still retains its physical energies but no longer possesses the ability to steer them in a reasonable direction.

I’m not sure that we can judge in psychopathological terms the dismantlement of modern social civilization. The economic interests of the corporations and the cynicism of politicians with no culture and no dignity have paved the way to the present explosion of madness.

Impotence is surely a symptom of disproportion: reason, that used to be the measure of the world (ratio), can no longer govern the hyper-complexity of the contemporary network of human relations.

This kind of disproportion may be labelled madness, in the sense of disorder, chaos, or mental mayhem. However, we must distinguish between different points of view when it comes to the definition of madness.

Is madness an exceptional occurrence that looms at the margins of the rational and reasonable daily business of life? Is it an inescapable disturbance of the ongoing conversation that holds society together?

If we reduce madness to a marginal, unavoidable disturbance that must be managed, that we have to placate and heal, we miss the point. Madness should not be seen as an accident to hide or to fix. Madness is the background of evolution, the chaotic matter that we are modelling and transforming into a provisional order.

Order means here a shared illusion of predictability, of regularity; a projective illusion that can hold for a short or a long period of time, a few minutes or perhaps centuries. An illusion that gives birth to what we call civilization.

We must distinguish two faces of madness: one is the factual meaninglessness of the world, the surrounding magma of matter, the uncontrollable proliferation of stimuli, the dazzling whirl of existence. This madness is the precondition of the creation of meaning: the groundless construction of knowledge, the invention of the world as a meaningful whole.

Then there is the subjective side of madness: the painful sentiment that things are flying away, the feeling of being overwhelmed by speed and noise and violence, of anxiety, panic, mental chaos.

Pain forces us to look for an order to the world that we cannot find, because it does not exist. Yet this craving for order does exist: it is the incentive to build a bridge across the abyss of entropy, a bridge between different singular minds. From this conjunction, the meaning of the world is evoked and enacted: shared semiosis, breathing in consonance.

The condition of the groundless construction of meaning is friendship. The only coherence of the world resides in sharing the act of projecting meaning: cooperation between agents of enunciation.

When friendship dissolves, when solidarity is banned and individuals stay alone and face the darkness of matter in isolation, then reality turns back into chaos and the coherence of the social environment is reduced to the enforcement of the obsessional act of identification.

There is something obsessional in this attempt to narrow the range of vibration out of which emerges possibility, and to reduce the unpredictability of future events.

I could never know to what degree I was the perpetrator, configuring the configurations around me, oh, the criminal keeps returning to the scene of the crime! When one considers what a great number of sounds, forms reach us at every moment of our existence . . . the swarm, the roar, the river . . . nothing is easier than to configure! Configure! For a split second this word took me by surprise like a wild beast in a dark forest, but it soon sank into the hurly-burly of the seven people sitting here, talking, eating, supper going on. 1

‘De remi facemmo ala al folle volo’, says Ulysses in Canto XXVI of The Divine Comedy.

 

 To the dawn
    Our poop we turn’d, and for the witless flight
    Made our oars wings, still gaining on the left.

 

The flight that leads to knowledge is foolish (witless), as it defies the established limits of reason.

The modern world comes out of the imprudence of the geographical explorations, from the desire to answer the question: where are the borders of the world?

The painful research of the picaresque swindler, who seeks to answer the unanswerable: who am I? Whence do I come?

The modern world results from the research of a non-theological order, and this research leads to the establishment of the bourgeois order whose measure (ratio) is time, labour and value accumulation.

This order was based on the semiotic organization and coding of the energies unchained by the explosion of the old Medieval theocratic order and by the enhancement of human experience that followed the technical innovations of printing books and traversing oceans. This order is the result of an act of nomination that gives meaning and scope to the evolving flows of information and discovery and technology.

Then entropy came and slowly dissolved that order: at the end of the capitalist cycle, the richness produced by labour is turned into misery and the freedom of knowledge is restricted by a new theology based on economic dogma. But the enforcement of dogma cannot replace the old bourgeois convention based on measure. When labour time and value start diverging, when the speed of info-stimulation is too fast for rational elaboration, then madness becomes the general language of the social system.

Capitalism is a dead dog, but society is unable to come out from under the rotting corpse, so the social mind is devoured by panic and furious impotence, until finally it turns to depression.

The social mind looks for a new form of semiotization which might better adapt to the mutating composition of the world, but the vibration of its creation takes the form of a spasm, a frantic painful jolt of the soul and body itself.

Signs of the spasm can be detected all around, and the reaction to it assumes a variety of paranoid guises: Donald Trump boasts about the past glory of America and of reclaiming the legal use of torture. The European Union is torn apart by financial absolutism and nationalist aggression, and is building concentration camps for migrants on the coasts of Turkey, Egypt and Libya. An army of Muslim zealots behead innocent people, for God’s sake. In the Philippines, a self-proclaimed murderer is elected president and calls for mass violence against social drop-outs.

Seventy years after Hitler’s defeat, Hitler is back, multiplied by a dozen imitators, some of them are endowed with nukes.

The contours of the social convention have been swept away and unfiltered flows of imagination invade the social mind. The schizo runs in many directions as she sees the horizon of possibility, but she is unable to give shape to her pursuit of this horizon, so it forever eludes her.

In the last decades, the social mind has been taken in by a vortex of bipolar disorders: a long succession of euphoria and sadness have led to the present secular stagnation and to a state of steady depression.

The horizon of possibility is perceived as an infinite sprawl of connecting, flashing points. This perception generates anxiety and panic: the paranoid obsession with order tries to reduce the horizon to repetition, belonging and identity.

Power is based on the hypostatization of the existing relations of potency, on the surreptitious absolutization of the necessity implied in the existing rapport de force. Force crystallizes in a paranoid fixation to re-compact the world through rituals of identification. The relative necessity of the rule is arbitrarily transformed into absolute necessity: absolute capitalism is based on this deceptive trick of logic. Accumulation, profit and growth are surreptitiously turned into natural laws, and the field of economics legitimises this deception.

When society enters a phase of crisis or approaches collapse, we can glimpse the horizon of possibility. This horizon itself is hard to distinguish, and the territory that borders this horizon is hard to describe or to map.

The horizon of possibility can be best described by the words of Ignacio Matte Blanco in defining the unconscious: ‘The unconscious deals with infinite sets that have not only the power of the enumerable but also that of the continuum.’2

The explosion of the semiotic sphere, the utter intensification of semiotic stimulation, has provoked simultaneously an enhancement of the horizon of possibility and a panic effect in the social neuro-system.

In this condition of panic, reason becomes unable to master the flow of events or to process the semio-stimulations released into the Infosphere. A schizophrenic mode spreads across the social mind, but this distress is double edged: it is painfully chaotic, but can also be seen as the vibration that precedes the emergence of a new cognitive rhythm.

According to D.E. Cameron, schizophrenia may be defined as an over-inclusive mode of interpretation.Schizophrenic thought, in fact, appears to ‘over include’ various irrelevant objects and environmental cues in the interpretation of an enunciation: the schizo seems to be unable to limit attention to task-relevant stimuli because of an excessive broadening of the meaning of signs and of events.

This is why Guattari sees the schizo as the bearer of paradigmatic change (of ‘chaosmosis’, in Guattari’s parlance). The schizo in fact is the person who has lost the ability to perceive the limits of metaphoric enunciation and tends therefore to take the metaphor as a description. The schizo, then, is the agent of a trans-rational experiment which may lead to the surfacing of an entirely new rhythm.

We may call this dimension ‘chaotic’ because it does not correspond to the existing laws of order, nevertheless the possible emerges from this sphere of chaos.

The intuition of an infinity of possibility is the source of contemporary panic, what can be described as a painful spasm. In Guattari, however, the spasm has a chaosmic side: from chaotic hyper-intensity, a new cosmos is poised to emerge.

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1. Witold Gombrowicz, Cosmos: A Novel, trans. Danuta Borchardt (2005), pp. 54-5
2. Ignacio Matte Blanco, The Unconscious as Infinite Sets: An Essay in Bi-logic (1975), p.17 
3. D.E. Cameron, 'Early Schizophrenia', American Journal of Psychiatry 95: 3, pp. 567-82

 

To celebrate the publication of Bifo Berardi’s new book Futurability, we’re offering 40% off all books on our 'Horizon of Possibility' reading list. Click here to see the reading list and activate the discount. Sale ends July 23 at 23:59 UTC.