Life in Lockdown: Franco “Bifo” Berardi
In this new series, authors give us a window into their quarantined days. Here Bifo reflects on how he is haunted by the umbral, and the woman writers he is reading.
I’m sort of obsessed by the concept of threshold, and I think of it in Castellano [Spanish]. I don’t know why, I repeat to myself, silently, the word: umbral. Charming, enigmatic, intriguing and somehow perturbing, the word comes again and again to my mind. Always in Spanish.
I mean the umbral of senility that is shadowing the perception of my own future, the nostalgia of something that did not happen yesterday, that has not happened yet, and will not happen in the time that is left to me.
Also the pestilenza [pestilence, a fatal epidemic disease] I see as umbral.
A personal threshold of no more and not yet. But also universal threshold of a mutation that is traversing the history of mankind. Enigmatically.
Old age is not to be seen (only) as vulnerability, diminution of the understanding, but (also) as a special point of view, as a piercing gaze on the uncertainty of the world that is waiting beyond the umbral.
Some longingly wonder when will we be back to our normal life, when will we be allowed to the beach, and start again the old game. Do they really think that we’ll go back to yesterday, do they really think that beyond the breakdown of normalcy, one day normalcy will be back?
Beyond the umbral there is a time of discovery, of possibility. This is not an interval, a pause, an intermission. It’s not, how can I say?, a parenthesis. It’s a mutation.
I read novels, particularly written by women: the wonderful Disoriental by the Persian writer Négar Djavadi; the icy Chanson douce [in English: Lullaby] by the French Moroccan writer Leïla Slimani; the whimsical novel I miei giorni nel Caucaso by Umm-El-Banine Assadoulaeff, the Azeri who lived in Paris in the Surrealist years; the aggressive post-feminist work by Cristina Morales Lectura fácil; and the disquieting Le Consentement by Vanessa Springora.
But most of all I loved the enchantment of Cara de pan, written by the Spanish (Sevillana, indeed) Sara Mesa. Cara de pan (Face of bread) is called Casi ("almost", in Spanish) because she is not quite something, but almost. She is almost 14, but not quite. She almost escapes school, but not quite. She almost hates her school-mates, as they make fun of her clumsiness, but not quite. She escapes her life at the local park where she goes daily to spend time, read comics and hide from the school. When she meets an old man (el Viejo) at the park, she is perplexed at the beginning, then amused, then curious, almost charmed by the silliness of him. What does he want? What’s his story? Where does he come from? Why is he so kind, so nice, so absent-minded too? What begins is a relationship of fascination and intrigue between two elusive and wounded characters. When he confusedly speaks of a psychotic mother, of a clinic in which he spent time in the past, of the pills that he’s supposed to take, she does not quite understand what he means, but is calm in his presence. So continues this surrealistic friendship, bordering on the threshold of a tender delirium.
It’s the umbral, once more, that is the trigger of my interest, of my fascination. The umbral beyond reason, beyond age, beyond life.
Franco “Bifo” Berardi was the founder of the pirate radio station Radio Alice in 1976. One of the most prominent members of the Italian movement Autonomia, Berardi worked closely with the French psychoanalyst Félix Guattari throughout the 1980s. Since the early 1990s, much of his theoretical work has focused on the relationship between psychopathology, information technology and capitalism. He is the author of Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility and Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide. Read his Covid-19 diary here.