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Franco “Bifo” Berardi: “We are entering the age of extinction”

An interview with Franco “Bifo” Berardi.

Originally published by el Periódico (21/06/2020). Translated by Autonomies.

One of the more well known philosophers of our day has not asked for additional time to reflect on the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic – he has signed articles and given ‘streamed’ talks, like the one organized by the Palau Macaya of the Fundació La Caixa – is the Franco “Bifo” Berardi (Bologna, 1949), a rebel formed in the events of May ’68 and who has long warned that we live inside the “corpse of capitalism” and do not realise it. (Lobosuelto! 22/06/2020)

Was this the way out of the “corpse”? A pandemic?

Yes. It has come from a biological dimension, has circulated through the media orbit and has inserted itself into the psychic sphere, changing the perspective. But getting outside of the ‘corpse’ is not enough.

Is there cleaning to do?

It is time to invent ways of surviving that privilege the useful over the accumulation of (abstract) monetary value. I think that we are leaving the time when expansion was possible and desirable for a part of society, and we are entering the age of extinction.

No more bad news, please!

To pursue expansion, capitalism began to massively destroy the physical resources of the planet and the nervous energies of humans. It laid the foundations for extinction. When depression produces political effects of aggressiveness, enmity and fear, extinction is likely.

Is there no turning back?

No, not if we do not manage to remain outside the ‘corpse’, if we agree to return to the normality of the market, of capitalism, of psychotic acceleration. The pandemic condition – added to climate change – is the moment to redefine the horizon of the economy, of the social relation, of intimacy itself.

By what path will happiness pass beyond the idea of growth?

‘Happiness’ and ‘growth’ are incompatible terms. I propose that we forget complicated words like ‘happiness’. May I rephrase the question?

Go ahead.

The question is: by what path will the satisfaction of the basic needs of the community pass?

And the answer?

It lies in what already exists: in our knowledge, technology and power of production, but focused on the interest of all. In the coming months – and years – we will be forced to choose between increasing misery and the redistribution of existing wealth. If an exploiting minority intends to maintain its privileges, years of civil war will occur everywhere on Earth. The way to avoid it? Equality!

What do you mean by “equality”?

I do not mean resignation, but a frugal perception of joy and wealth. ‘Wealth’ is the pleasure of things and events, and above all, it is the time to enjoy what we have. The reconquest of time – which paradoxically has made the covid possible – is crucial. We must be able to combine security and sensuality.

You used to invite us “to recognise pleasure in the body of the other”. And now you see.

When I think about the future, the most difficult thing to imagine is how we will perceive the body of the other in the street, in a cafe, in bed. We are likely to come out of social distancing with an instinctive fear of the other’s body, of their lips.

As happened in the 80s, with AIDS.

It was a psychic bomb, yes. But now there may also be a powerful movement of rapprochement and sensuality, because the ‘online’ dimension will become a memory of a distressing time, as a symptom of the disease. Here I see the germ of a true cultural, aesthetic and social movement.

Affects, work, school and leisure, at the moment, all pass on screens.

The screen is the place of security, but it is also the place of anesthesia, of the ablation of sensuality. Can we imagine a humanity that frees itself definitively from physical tenderness, from the seduction of the eyes, of the lips, of the hands that touch each other delicately?

Can you?

No, I can’t imagine it, period. If I imagine it, it is the worst dystopia: an efficient, exact world, perfectly compatible with financial mathematics, but dead. I would sink.

When you are so sunken, devastated, you paint. What theme have you repeated these months?

There is an image that returns to my mind and to my collages: Pope Francis releases two white doves to symbolise love, peace, the covenant with God. A black crow approaches the dove and devours it. I am an atheist, but every time I paint this image I tell myself that chance gives rise to terrifying aesthetic fantasies.

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