*Franco Berardi Bifo
In the crucial year 1933 Julien Benda wrote the following words, in his book Discours à la nation européenne: “You will makeEurope thanks to what you will say, not thanks to what you are.Europe will be a product of your spirit, of your will, not a product of your being, because there is not such a thing like being European”.
I want to start from these Julien Benda’s words because I want to talk about Europe-ness: what Europe is, what Europe may be, what Europe cannot be. I start from Julien Benda and from this well-known speech on the European nation but I want to change a word in his sentence: he says that “Europe will come out from your spirit”, I will replace the word spirit by the word imagination. I use the word imagination in a very strong and in a very political sense.
What has Europebeen during the past century? first of all Europe has being the project of going beyond war, going beyond a cultural war, philosophical war, not only the war between France and Germany but the war between identitarian romantic and enlightening (sic. romanticism and enlightenment?). So, at the beginning, the European project was essentially a project of Will, spirit and imagination if you want. Then in the Seventies, in the Eighties, the project ofEurope became a project of overcoming the opposition between East and West, between democracy and existing socialism and so on, a project, something existed in the imagination of the Europeans.
What now? What isEuropenow? This is the question I’m trying to answer. What isEuropenow? If we listen to the speeches of Angela Merkel for instance, and all the other European politicians leftist, rightist, no matter…Europeis a dogmatic project of re-assumption, and reinforcement of the neo-liberal ideology, of the neo-liberal regulation that leads to the impoverishment of the European societies to the cut of salaries, to postponing retirement, and finally leads to a sad project of destruction, of devastation, of dismantling the general intellect.
This is the core project of Europe nowadays: destroying collective intelligence, or if you want to say it in a more prosaic way, destroying the school, destroying the university, subjugating research to the narrow interest of profit, to the narrow interests of profits and economic competition.
You know what is the situation of the last generation, of our students for instance: we are teaching things that are good or bad, but finally useless from the point of view of their future, because they don’t have a future.
Not having a future, this is already a kind of refrain, but I think we should start from this consideration, from this obvious knowledge, – the non existing future – as a condition of thought: If we start from the dismantling of the very possibility of a future, we are obliged to go beyond the dogmatism of the reassertion of neo-liberalism.
Let us look at the landscape of philosophical and political thought inEuropetoday, the so called European high culture. The landscape is rather gloomy.
I remember what the philosophical discussion was in the Sixties or in the Seventies in the wake of the Critical Thought that made possible the creation of the European entity in the sphere of dialectical thought.
I remember what the French thought has been in the Seventies and in the Eighties in the age of Deleuze and Guattari, and Foucault, Derrida or Jean-François Lyotard.
Their thought was an attempt to imagine a possible future but it was also much more: a cartography of the coming future of the neo-liberal self-proclaimed deregulation.
I think for instance to the wonderful book of Michel Foucault, La naissance de la Biopolitique, which is probably the most enlightening negative imagination of what was going to happen in the landscape of the world.
And I also think of books like L’anti-Œdipe, Milles Plateaux, and Baudrillard’s Death and symbolic exchange. These are the most important books of the 70’s and of the 80’s, and you can read these books as the negative imagination of the coming neo-liberal revolution.
The work of the French philosophers of the ‘70s and of the ‘80s have been a cartography of the coming dystopia: a way of thinking about the coming future as a dark age of violence and impoverishment.
Then I look at the landscape of German philosophy in the ‘70s and in the ‘80s: for instance I look at the debate between Habermas and Luhmann. This too was an important moment of anticipation of whatEuropewas going to become.
The good and in a sense benevolent idea of the Habermasian dialogic society, the predicted good effects of communication, the illusion, the deception of a democracy-based communication on one side – and on the other side the realistic consideration of Niklas Luhmann who described a future without alternative without possible utopias, the future of governance. That was an high profile discussion, which was focusing the real problematic prospects of the European future.
Governance, this word which has totally invaded the field of political non-thought has been first proposed and de-constructed by Luhmann in the ‘70s and in the ‘80s. What is the meaning of this word, beyond the political manipulation that the ruling class has been doing in the last decades?
As far as I can understand governance is a word which is much used and never defined today, because it is a symptom of the total poverty of the political practice of our time.
If we start from the Luhmann perspective we can understand that governance is the automation of thought, the automation of social existence. Governance is information without meaning, dominance of the unavoidable.
In the governance praxis, the economic dogma is transformed into techno-linguistic automatism. This is governance at the very end.
In this sense Niklas Luhmann was like a kind of Philip Dick of the political thought, he was like the Johnny Rotten, of the political imagination. He was speaking about the no future, the coming no future, which is here now.
Starting from this no-future that the political thought of the Seventies and of the Eighties had proclaimed, and cartographied in advance, we can today understand what is happening in the present European nightmare.
Those thinkers have been able to imagine and to criticize, but now?
Now cynicism has invaded the sphere of thought, not less than the sphere of politics.
Look at the sadness of the French cynical thought: think of what has become the intellectual landscape ofParis: a monument to sadness, a monument to cynicism. Paris today is a city were thought has been transformed into journalism, into the continuous repetition of this kind of illusion of European arrogance which has paved the way to the financial collapse, to the infinite war that Bush has proclaimed, and Blair Sarkozy Aznar Berlusconi have supported.
The cynical non-thinkers who inhabit the Parisian scene of today have paved the war to the abyss of dogmatism and violence and racism and impoverishment and financial dictatorship. The nouveaux philosophes are only the cynical replay of dogmatic words which have paved the way to Neoliberal Fascism and war.
A light of possible intelligence and openness seems to come not from philosophy but from art.
I am actually not sure of what I am talking about when I say the word art, you don’ either, no, nobody knows exactly.
Yet it seems that in a recent poll, 25-24% of German young people interviewed by journalists have answered the question “what do you want to do when you’ll be an adult”. They answered “I want to be an artist”. What are they thinking about? What do they think that being an artist means exactly? Do they think about the rich possibilities of the art market? Well, maybe, but I don’t think so.
I think that they say I want to be an artist because they feel that being an artist means “to escape the future of sadness, to escape the future of precariousness as sadness”.
Well, precariousness and also sadness can become something different, something not so sad, not so precarious, if I withdraw any faith, if I withdraw any expectation from the capitalist future. I don’t want to expect anything form the future so I start my future as an artist.
Art is probably not the good word in this context, is not the good word to say what I really am trying to say. I would propose a small rebranding and would propose the word poetry. Not only because it’s more marginal and crazy… but also because in the very etymology of the word there is the idea of creating a new bridge, of creating, of producing, of making something that does not actually exist in the present. This is the meaning of the word.
But also, because the word poetry has something to do with what we really need now: a de-automation of language. That’s the main problem that art, poetry, has the possibility of doing: de-automation of language.
You know, in the history of the 20th century I see a strong relation between poetry and finance, and I see a possible relation between poetry and finance in the times that come.
In the past century poetry and finance have shared a common destiny of de-referentialisation, loss of referential meaning, separation of signs from their referential task. Poetry and finance have shared the common destiny of aleatorisation.
Since the symbolist age, and during all the century, poetry has attempted to cut the relationship between the sign, the word, and the referent, reality.
Finance has been doing the same: cutting the relationship between money and the so called real economy, cutting the relationship that makes things valuable, that makes labor valuable in terms of time.
So, the financialization of capitalism has canceled and forgot the referent, and created a dogma in place of the referent. A dogma which is violence, as Christian Marazzi explained in his last book.
How can you regulate a system where no relation between time and value is more possible? How can you regulate a linguistic system where there is no more relation between sign and meaning, signifier and signified?
The only way to regulate this relation is violence. This is the effect of dereferentialisation, of aleatorisation, and precarisation of the economy and of language.
But, you know, language has been more and more subjugated and transformed into a system of automatisms, of techno-linguistic automatisms, and finance is the evidence of this kind of subjugation of language.
So what is poetry now? What poetry can be in the coming insurrection ofEurope? What poetry can be in the essay of liberation from the financial dictatorship?
If I can say something about poetry, I would say that poetry is the process of de-automation of words, the process of rediscovery of the possible meaning for words and for life, the possible meaning for social relations and production, and knowledg.
This is why I say: let’s think about poetry as a possible starting point for the future imagination of Europe.
*Franco Berardi Bifo este coordonator al Future Art Base in cadrul Aalto University Helsinki si preda teoria sociala a comunicarii la Academia de Arte din Milano. A fondat publicatia “A/traverso” (1975-1981) si primul radio pirat din Italia, ”Radio Alice”, (1976-1978). A propus si declansat fenomenul telestreet (mici telveiziuni pirat, de strada sau cartier care sa lupte cu videocratia lui Berlusconi). Important teoretician si activist al miscarii Autonomia in Italia anilor 1970 si in prezent unul din “starurile” teoriei contemporane – a articulat si dezvoltat concepte ca “capitalism cognitiv”, “semiocapitalism”, “cognitariat”, etc.