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Posted by FRANCO "BIFO" BERARDI over 3 years

1994 27953

About Blank






I spent the first years of the ’80s in Manhattan. I went there as a writer for a musical magazine based in Milano. I wrote about the after punk no wave scene of New York, about street art, and Keith Haring's graffiti, and Rammelzee and Basquiat.

In 1977 the city of New York had declared financial bankruptcy, and many industrial investors flied away to more healthy states of the country. When I got to New York the urban landscape was impressive: wide areas looked like abandoned cemeteries, deserted factories, empty stores.

A visionary Major, whose name was Ed Koch, had a brilliant idea: he opened the city to the artists and young adventurous people inviting them to give a new life to downtown areas, particularly to the East Village and Lower East side. Special grants and low rents were offered for urban renovation.

Thousands flocked and restructured lofts turning them into places of creation, technical and existential experimentation, and cultural exchange. Musicians, artists, tech-savvies made the city a sort of laboratory of the possible futures.

Then AIDS came. Things are always more complicated than our explanations, of course, but I think that this is a way to describe the most intimate core of the digital mutation that followed decades of social solidarity and free eroticism. The acquired immunity deficiency syndrome jeopardised and overturned self-perception in daily common life, dissolving the community of erotic egalitarian friendship that we had formed in the two previous decades.

Depression may be described as the condition in which the conscious organism loses ability to find meaning in the surrounding world. But the meaning does not lie in things, or in the signs of language. It is generated by the endless shift from an interpretation to the next, from the uncertain and ambiguous exchange of gestures. Meaning is the effect of affective communication among agents of language.

As meaning emerges in the relational dimension, the possibility of meaning dissolves when the community of bodies disaggregates. This is the starting point of depression.

Digital technology has spread during the decade that followed the eruption of the Aids epidemics. Although it was generated by sexual contact, AIDS was mainly a psycho-media epidemic. It was based on the communication of a retrovirus, but it resulted in the communication of fear. When the contact with the other's body became a danger, when the perception of danger spread in the social unconscious, language transmigrated from the conjunctive to the connective sphere.

Image: Diagram "All the unrest that can support ...". Diego del Pozo Barriuso. Madrid, 2016.

purity and depression

In my opinion Purity is not the best novel of Jonathan Franzen. However, in my view, this book is the key to understand Franzen's universe. It gives a new sense to the whole flux of words of the previous books, revealing the general design of the colossal work of this author.

The novel speaks about the white American sensibility on its different faces: the resurfacing racist psychosis, and the escape to the sphere of digital abstraction. 

Purity is the obsession that lies behind the depressive mind-scape of the two previous novels, The Corrections and Freedom. Purity is a novel about the obsession of truth, of moral integrity and of perceptual distinctness.

Sweeping away the dust of indeterminacy, removing imprecision, denying the plurality of possibles, these are the conditions for entering the sphere of digital formatting. The obsession of purity wants to erase ambiguousness, but simultaneously it must remove the intimate consciousness that nothing is pure in the living sphere, and that truth does not exist. In order to gain access to the universe of purity, Franzen speaks of the slow painful embedding of the connective modality in the human mind, of the neoliberal jeopardising of social solidarity, and of the paralysis of sexual empathy, and fear of contamination. This is why I start from the cultural shock that AIDS did provoke when I want to retrace the anthropological and psychological genealogy of subjectivity in the age of the Internet.

The aim of the Internet was to liberate humanity from the tasks - making things, learning things, remembering things - that had previously given meaning to life and this had constituted life. Now it seemed like if the only task that counted was to search engine optimisation If you had enough money or tech capability you could control your Internet persona, and thus your destiny and your virtual afterlife. Optimise or die. Kill or be killed. 



 Image: "The virus that Navigate in Love". Parra Miguel Urrutia, 1991/2016.



Neoliberal ideology is charged with the rhetoric of the individual freedom, however its systematically erasing individual freedom. Competition and conformism are narrowly intertwined: individuals are not autonomous subjects pursuing autonomous projects of life. They are fractals, connective units that need to interoperate perfectly if they want to be effective. The code that translates all languages is the code of financial rentability. Individuals are fragments of precarious cognitive time, fractals that flow ceaselessly in a process of recombination. 

They want to fulfill the promises of neoliberal individualism, the injunction be yourself. So they wear glamorous shirts with provocative words, have apocalyptic tattoos on their biceps, and take pills for panic crises and anxiety. 

The digital connection is the continuous recombination of pre-formatted segments of nervous energy: the indetermination of social life is replaced by the code determination, and in the end, neoliberal individualism leads to automated fractalisation. This is the sad freedom that Franzen is talking about. 

The digital self is obliged to get purified of the residual human empathy, compassion and solidarity, in order to escape the spirals of misery and failure. This is the dynamics that has been put in motion in the years of Margaret Thatcher and AIDS. 



Stagnation-deflation began in Japan twenty years ago, and now it is spreading all over the world. The suicidal trend that is now exploding everywhere (the kamikaze style) was anticipated in Japan. Fukushima has inaugurated the age of environmental catastrophes. 

Now I read an article about a new Japanese trend: according to a survey made by Durex corporation, two thirds of young Japanese people have never had any sexual encounter, and have no intention to search for it. Young men invest the short time that is free from their work in homosocial drinking: salary men spending time in a bar together without salary men of the same office. 

The pharma corporation Pfizer has reduced deliveries to the Japanese shops because of little demand. Stippy is the name of a blog where young people explain their increasing disregard for sex. According to a report by the Health Ministry, one third of the marriages are sexless. 


Image: 1996/2016."Psychotherapeutic Holocaust". Chilean Gay Movement march in the 90 Movement Sexual Archive / Mums Diversity. Santiago de Chile.


Immersive simulation

The talk about Virtual Reality started in the 80s, when Jaron Lanier published a short article titled "Communication without symbols". I remember the first data gloves and Computer assisted virtual environments (CAVE). The concept was there, but the technology was not up to the task. Now its starting to be at the level of perceptual simulation of experience. 

Can experience be simulated? That is the philosophical question that I dont want to develop here.

In the 90s Internet attracted all the financial and intellectual resources, and immersive technologies went out of the radar. Now they are back.

Oculus rift and similar gadgets are the current state of art but things are going fast in this field, and the sphere of simulated life is going to expand towards unpredictable ends.