Felix and Alice in Wonderland

The Encounter between Guattari and Berardi and the Post-Media Era

Michael Goddard

Introduction: The Enigma of the Post-Media Era

Towards the end of his life, Felix Guattari made several enigmatic suggestions about the emergence of a Post-Media era that would have the effect of displacing or at least decentring the hegemony of the mass media as we still know them today. Some of these references are extremely hermetic, for example the essay entitled “Entering the Post-Media Era” tells us almost nothing about what would constitute it, except that it would be the result of a schizoanalytic, minority production of subjectivity whether on an individual, relational, group or micropolitical level leading to “soft subversions and imperceptible revolutions that will eventually change the face of the world, making it happier.” The rest of the essay is devoted instead to an articulation of schizoanalysis along these lines. Elsewhere, in the essay “Regimes, Pathways, Subjects,” he referred to a third pathway/voice of subjective self-reference complementing those of power and knowledge (clearly referencing Foucault) and associated this path directly with the post-media era: “Only if the third path/voice takes consistency in the direction of self-reference—carrying us form the consensual media era to the dissensual post-media era—will each be able to assume his or her processual potential and, perhaps, transform this planet—a living hell for over three quarters of its population—into a universe of creative enchantments.” One might be tempted to interpret these enigmatic utopian statements with respect to subsequent developments of such interactive communicative technologies as the Internet and their related social practices of network culture; after all Guattari’s interest in the then primitively developed French Minitel system is well-known. But since Guattari was always less interested in new technologies per se than in the collective assemblages of enunciation that they become the operators of, it is necessary to take a step back from any na�ve assumption that what Guattari was envisaging was simply the coming culture of digital networks. Furthermore this technological essentialism is ruled out by Guattari, himself, who earlier in the same essay poses this key question: “Why have the immense processual potentials bought forth by the revolutions in information processing, telematics, robotics, office automation, biotechnology and so on, so far only led to a monstrous reinforcement of earlier systems of alienation, an oppressive mass-media culture and an infantilising politics of consensus? What would make it possible for them to finally usher in a post-media era, to disconnect themselves from segregative capitalist values and to give free rein to the first stirrings, visible today, of a revolution in intelligence, sensitivity and creativity?” This is not to say that Guattari’s post-media era has nothing to do with network culture, whose development can certainly be seen to realise and confirm some aspects of the rhizomatic, machinic thought Guattari developed alone and with Gilles Deleuze. Rather this link will be shown to be more complex and to pass via other fields of media experimentation and thought, especially that which emerged around ‘popular free radio’ in Italy in the 1970’s and which was strongly associated with Guattari’s friend Franco Berardi or Bifo. The key element in any media or post-media assemblage is that of the production of subjectivity, which for Gauttari is a directly political or micropolitical phenomenon and this is why the example of Italian free radio and Radio Alice was of such interest to him. To show the transversal relations between the theories and practices of Guattari and Berardi we will largely use as a map Berardi’s own book Felix, which much more than a simple memorial or record of a friendship is a continuation of Guattari’s rhizomatic thought that brings out very important and neglected aspects of both Guattari himself and his thought, precisely in relation to the question of an emergent postmedia sensibility. But before this, it is worth examining the other side of this relation, by means of some of the texts Guattari devoted to these Italian media or rather post-media experiments such as Radio Alice that Berardi was directly involved with.

Millions and Millions of Alice’s in Power

In the late 1970’s Guattari devoted several texts to the phenomena of popular free radio and especially that taking place in Italy. “Why Italy” is the essay that gives the clearest indication of why he considered this such an important phenomenon. First of all there is the concrete context that he has been asked to introduce the French edition of Alice e il Diabolo the principle documentation of this radio and its political trajectory, which interests him since it is a radio of an explicit situationist and Deleuzo-Guattarian inspiration thereby constituting an auto-referential feedback loop between rhizomatic thought and media subversion. More importantly, Radio Alice and its conflict with the apparatus’s of state control that eventually resulted in a massive wave of repression, demonstrates very clearly how the media is a key site of struggle over the contemporary production of subjectivity; in Guattari’s terms, despite its apparent economic and technological backwardness at that time, Italy was the future of England, France and Germany. The molar aspect of this is that the polarising of politics into the mutually reinforcing duality of state violence and terrorism was developed first of all in Italy before being applied elsewhere and could be seen as a embryonic of the global economy of fear under which we live today. However, what is behind this polarisation was the emergence of a new regime of consensus or control in which all previously existing forms of resistance such as trade unions or the communist party would be tolerated provided they fit into the overall regime of consensual control, for which they provide very useful tools for subjective reterritorialisation: the historic compromise between the Italian communist party and the social democrats being just one example of this process. However, groups that still advocated violent rupture with this consensus would be hunted down and eliminated, with no pretense of liberal models of justice or legal rights, which was indeed what happened first in Italy and then in Germany. But Guattari isn’t primarily interested in terror or state repression but rather the molecular revolution that was taking place around Radio Alice, that the emerging consensual state apparatus was not able to tolerate. For Guattari, this is not a mere shift away from traditional apparatus’s of struggle such as the communist party which have become completely compromised with the state in favour of new micropolitical groupings such as Gay liberation or the Women’s movement; these new groupings are no less susceptible to becoming reterritorialisations finding their institutional place in the manufacture of consensus. As he puts it, “there is a miniaturisation of forms of expression and of forms of struggle, but no reason to think that one can arrange to meet at a specific place for the molecular revolution to happen.” While Guattari doesn’t state it explicitly here, this corresponds very closely to the rejection of even micropolitical identities or political forms such as organisational autonomia enacted by Radio Alice; it was not just a question of giving space for excluded and marginalised subjects such as the young, homosexuals, women, the unemployed and others to speak but rather of generating a collective assemblage of enunciation allowing for the maximum of transversal connections and subjective transformations between all these emergent subjectivities. Guattari refers to Alice as a “generalised revolution, a conjunction of sexual, relational, esthetic and scientific revolutions all making cross-overs, markings and currents of deterritorialisation.” Rather than pointing to a new revolutionary form, the experimentation of Radio Alice was a machine for the production of new forms of sensibility and sociability, the very intangible qualities constitutive of both the molecular revolution and the post-media era.

Guattari is somewhat more specific about these practices in the essay “Popular Free Radio.” In this essay he poses instead of the question of why Italy, that of why Radio? Why not Super 8 film or cable TV? The answer is not technical but rather micropolitical. If media in their dominant usages can be seen as massive machines for the production of consensual subjectivity, then it is those media that can constitute an alternate production of subjectivity that will be the most amenable to a post-media transformation. Radio at this time had not only the technical advantage of lightweight replaceable technology but more importantly was able to be used to create a self-referential feedback loop of political communication between producers and receivers, tending towards breaking down the distinctions between them: “the totality of technical and human means available must permit the establishment of a veritable feedback loop between the auditors and the broadcast team: whether through direct intervention by phone, through opening studio doors, through interviews or programmes based on listener made cassettes.” Again the experience of Radio Alice was exemplary in this regard: “We realise [with Radio Alice] that radio constitutes but one central element of a whole range of communication means, from informal encounters in the Piazza Maggiore, to the daily newspaper—via billboards, mural paintings, posters, leaflets, meetings, community activities, festivals etc.” In other words, it is less the question of the subversive use of a technical media form than the generation of a media or rather post-media ecology, that is a self-referential network for an unforeseen processual production of subjectivity amplifying itself via technical means.

As Guattari points out this is miles away both from ideas of local or community radio in which groups should have the possibility on radio to represent their particular interests and from conventional ideas of political radio in which radio should be used as a megaphone for mobilising the masses. In contrast, on Alice, serious political discussions were likely to be interrupted by violently contradictory, humorous and poetico-delirious interventions and this was central to its unique micropolitics. It was even further removed from any modernist concern with perfecting either the technical form of radio (for example through concerns with perfecting sound quality) or its contents (the development and perfection of standard formats); listening to the tapes of Radio Alice is more than enough to convince about this last point! All of these other approaches to alternative radio, that is the local, the militant and the modernist, share an emphasis on specialisation; broadcasters set themselves up as specialists of contacts, culture and expression yet for Guattari, what really counts in popular free radio are “collective assemblages of enunciation that absorb or traverse specialities.”

What this type of radio achieved most of all was the short-circuiting of representation in both the aesthetic sense of representing the social realities they dealt with and in the political sense of the delegate or the authorised spokesperson, in favour of generating a space of direct communication in which, as Guattari put it, “it is as if, in some immense, permanent meeting place—given the size of the potential audience—anyone, even the most hesitant, even those with the weakest voices, suddenly have the possibility of expressing themselves whenever they wanted. In these conditions, one can expect certain truths to find a new matter of expression.” In this sense, Radio Alice was also an intervention into the language of media; the transformation from what Guattari calls the police languages of the managerial milieu and the University to a direct language of desire: “direct speech, living speech, full of confidence, but also hesitation, contradiction, indeed even absurdity, is charged with desire. And it is always this aspect of desire that spokespeople, commentators and beaureaucrats of every stamp tend to reduce, to filter. [...] Languages of desire invent new means and tend to lead straight to action; they begin by ‘touching,’ by provoking laughter, by moving people, and then they make people want to ‘move out,’ towards those who speak and toward those stakes of concern to them.” It is this activating dimension of popular free radio that most distinguishes it from the usual pacifying operations of the mass media and that also posed the greatest threat to the authorities; if people were just sitting at home listening to strange political broadcasts, or being urged to participate in conventional, organised political actions such as demonstrations that would be tolerable but once you start mobilising a massive and unpredictable political affectivity and subjectivation that is autonomous, self-referential and self-reinforcing, then this is a cause for panic on the part of the forces of social order, as was amply demonstrated in Bologna in 1977. Finally, in the much more poetic and manifesto-like preface with which Guattari introduces the translation of texts and documents form Radio Alice, he comes to a conclusion which can perhaps stand as an embryonic formula for the emergence of the post-media era as anticipated by Radio Alice and the Autonomia movement more generally:

In Bologna and Rome, the thresholds of a revolution without any relation to the ones that have overturned history up until today have been illuminated, a revolution that will throw out not only capitalist regimes but also the bastions of beaureaucratic socialism [...] , a revolution, the fronts of which will perhaps embrace entire continents but which will also be concentrated sometimes on a specific neighbourhood, a factory, a school. Its wagers concern just as much the great economic and technological choices as attitudes, relations to the world and singularities of desire. Bosses, police officers, politicians, beuareaucrats, professors and psycho-analysts will in vain conjugate their efforts to stop it, channel it, recuperate it, they will in vain sophisticate, diversify and miniaturise their weapons to the infinite, they will no longer succede in gathering up the immense movement of flight and the multitude of molecular mutations of desire that it has already unleashed. The police have liquidated Alice—its animators are hunted, condemned, imprisoned, their sites are pillaged—but its work of revolutionary deterritorialisation is pursued ineluctably right up to the nervous fibres of its persecutors.”

This is because the revolution unleashed by Alice was not reducible to a political or media form but was rather an explosion of mutant desire capable of infecting the entire social field because of its slippery ungraspability and irreducibility to existing sociopolitical categories. It leaves the forces of order scratching their heads because they don’t know where the crack-up is coming from since it doesn’t rely on pre-existing identities or even express a future programme but rather only expresses immanently its own movement of auto-referential self-constitution, the proliferation of desires capable of resonating even with the forces of order themselves which now have to police not only these dangerous outsiders but also their own desires. This shift from fixed political subjectivities and a specified programme is the key to the transformation to a post-political politics and indeed to a post-media era in that politics becomes an unpredictable, immanent process of becoming rather than the fulfilment of a transcendental narrative. In today’s political language one could say that what counts is the pure potential that another world is possible and the movement towards it rather than speculation as to how that world will be organised. As Guattari concludes: “ The point of view of the Alicians on this question is the following: they consider that the movement that arrives at destroying the gigantic capitalist-beaureaucratic machine will be, a fortiori, completely capable of constructing an other world—the collective competence in the matter will come to it in the course of the journey, without it being necessary, at the present stage to outline projections of societal change.”

Apart form anticipating many of the subsequent problematics of the counter-globalisation movement, what this citation tells us most of all about the post-media era is that it is not something that can be given in advance; it is instead a process of the production of subjectivity, the becoming of a collective assemblage of enunciation whose starting point is the emptiness and coerciveness of the normalising production of subjectivity that the mass media currently enact. This already gives us some indications as to what aspects of digital network culture might be able contribute to this emergence of a post-media sensibility and which elements in contrast merely help to add sophistication and diversity to normalisation processes under the guise of interactivity. However, to gain a different perspective on these questions we will now turn to the book by Berardi, Felix, which poses these exact problematics and constitutes the other side of the Guattari-Berardi, rhizomatic thought-media subversion encounter.

Felix, from the Encounter to Rhizomatic Thought

The first striking element of this book is its title, Felix not Guattari, thereby indicating that this is an intimate portrait, not an abstract account of a body of thought. The name Felix, of course, also has the meaning of happiness, which this book also poses as a directly political question. The subtitle too is also instructive: “Narration of the encounter with the thought of Guattari, visionary cartography of the coming time.” This book is neither the personal, subjective account of Berardi’s encounter with Guattari, nor an objective account of the latter’s thought but rather something inbetween, a form of free indirect discourse in which Guattari himself and his thought will be situated both in relation to his own time and our own present that he didn’t live to experience but anticipated through his rhizomatic and cartographic practice of thinking.

For the purposes of this paper the focus will be on the first part of the book, particularly those sections dealing directly with Berardi’s encounter with Guattari, his account, influenced by Guattari of planetary psychopathology and especially the chapter entitled postmediatic sensibility. The second part of the book provides a reading of all four of Guattari’s works with Deleuze as well as his sole-authored Chaosmosis and argues strongly against the relative neglect of Guattari’s contribution to the rhizomatic machine he constructed with Deleuze across the works they authored together. Berardi is in no way taking the opposite position of devaluing Deleuze, in fact he devotes a chapter of the book to one of the most concise and insightful accounts of Deleuze’s thought without Guattari that one could find. Rather he insists that both thinkers constitute equal parts of a rhizomatic machine that was put into motion by their encounter and that leaving one half of this machine in shadow prevents any understanding of its functioning. However, it is the first part of the book that is most relevant to the encounter between Guattari and Berardi and the question of the post-media era that concerns us today.

The Encounter with Guattari from the Virtual to the Actual

If Felix comes out of the promise Berardi made on Guattari’s death to write a book about his friend, the fact that it took eight years to complete, gives some indication that the continuation, rather than the explication of this thought is no straightforward task. Berardi points to some of the subsequent historical developments such as the development of the Net, the genome project and the development of the bioinformational paradigm, that indicate the becoming-rhizome of the world that Guattari had been able to foresee and pre-map. Simultaneously, the thought of Deleuze and Guattari which, at the time of Guattari’s death had a limited circulation, has gained a huge amount of attention especially on the Internet from those involved with that form of collective enunciation known as the network. Finally, new political struggles over globalisation beginning with Seattle in1999, have demonstrated the political efficacy of this rhizomatic tendency. In Berardi’s words, “collective agents of rhizomatic enunciation and the insurrectional process are the same thing.” On the plane of knowledge, there is the proliferation of evermore journals and books in the fields of philosophy, politics, psychoanalysis and aesthetics based around rhizomatic thought. All the above fields, as well as those of biotechnology and cyberthought are thoroughly traversed by the concepts constructed by what Berardi calls the neo-logistic machine of Deleuze and Guattari.

Berardi’s initial encounter with Guattari took place in a very different context, however, and was in the first instance a virtual one. Desperate to escape military service in 1974, Berardi decided to fake madness in order to be sent home. A French friend had told him of a psychoanalyst who “saw the world more from the point of view of a schizo than that of a psychaiatrist,” and sent him one of his books, A Tomb for an Oedipus Complex. Berardi used this text to help him falsify a schizo episode, in front of a medical colonel, who promptly sent him home thereby giving Berardi the impression that Guattari had saved him from the military barracks. The second virtual encounter also took place in confinement, this time in prison in 1976 under suspicion of having placed a bomb in a the office of the Christian Democrats, when a friend handed him a copy of Anti-Oedipus. According to Berardi, “inside was the map of the existential and theoretical wanderings in which at this time I was going to get lost. To proliferate and lose oneself, this was the meaning of the collective enterprise that the movement was attempting in Italy.” On his release, and inspired by these perspectives, Berardi started with some friends the revue A/Traverso: A Little Group in Multiplication which would later lead to the formation of Radio Alice. Berardi acknowledges that the idea of contagion as a model of post-political organisation implied by this title was directly inspired by Guattari: “the idea that social processes and political and cultural transformations are contagions, proliferations of a virus that spreads throughout the social body producing mutations is an idea that belongs to the molecular vision of Felix.”

The actual encounter between Berardi and Guattari only happened in June 1977, after the creative insurrection that had taken place in Bologna around Radio Alice and the subsequent wave of repression had already been played out the preceding Spring. This worked out badly for Berardi who, from speaking at public meetings, meeting with other autonomists and publishing the beforementioned revue was accused of instigating class hatred and other crimes. In the meantime violent conflict had broken out in Bologna, as a result of the shooting of a young militant by the police, followed by a massive wave of arrests. Although in June Berardi, like many others had fled to Paris, the Italian authorities had convinced the local police that he was a dangerous figure, and the anti-terror squad came to arrest him while on the way to have lunch with a girlfriend. This time, Guattari really acted to release him from captivity, mobilising the whole network of the Parisian intelligentsia, creating in a short time the conditions for Berardi’s release and permission to remain in France. The very day of his release he went to Guattari’s place and they wrote together an appeal against the repression in Italy and against the historic compromise between the Communist Party and the Christian Democrats, which would be signed by Deleuze, Foucault, Barthes, Kristeva, Sollers and Jean-Paul Sartre and which had a big effect in Italy. This created the conditions for the convention against repression that took place in Bologna the following September, in which Guattari participated. While this was a massive and joyous event with tens of thousands of people participating, it also for Berardi marked the end of the movement in Italy and the drift towards the duality of terrorism and the state anullment of dissident social forces that it was unable to halt. According to Berardi, it was as if every-one there was waiting for the “magic word,” capable of opening the path to a new history, a libertarian and egalitarian history that would avoid “the reflux, the violence, the catastrophe, the isolation and the dissolving of every solidarity.” As Berardi puts it, they “didn’t manage to find this magic word.” In retrospect, Berardi says that something was botched, maybe even in the very idea of a convention against repression, therefore buying into negativity and dialectics rather than a meeting to affirm the creative power and capacities of the movement itself. Of course this would not have changed history whether on an Italian or a global scale where the furious capitalist counter-offensive, the imposition of Thatcherism, and the attacks on the form of life of the working class was already being prepared, but it might have helped transform a generation of rebels into autonomous experimenters. While most of Berardi’s subsequent contacts with Guattari concerned the problems of helping political expatriates from Italy and Germany in the wake of the rising tide of repression, Berardi claims that Guattari’s philosophical creativity doesn’t bear many traces of these defeats and the need to struggle for mere survival. Instead it “succeeds in delineating a panorama much broader than our forces are able even today to take in. In this way, the song of the times that must come are sung.” Following Guattari’s death and during the radical shifts in the world from the fall of the Soviet Empire to the expansion of the global economy and the spreading of ethnic and religious conflicts, Berardi says he considered Guattari’s rhizomatic thought as a map and tried to see the tracings of the real in continuity with the lines contained in this map. The map doesn’t represent these developments but is rather a co-existing rhythm, an operation, a style, which he seeks in this book to reconstruct and so to “make the harmonies, refrains and dissonances of the contemporary planetary rhapsody resonate beginning with this map.”

La Depressione Felix or Overcoming the Felicist Hypocrisy

At this point, Berardi poses a crucial problem affecting rhizomatic thought and one of its major critiques; he states that the “Felix Machine” attaches itself to the point of maximum openness of the provisory and nomadic community but doesn’t accompany its dissolution. On a personal level this means dealing with the experience of depression, a subject which philosophy has tended semi-consciously to avoid as something which shouldn’t be talked about publicly. In Guattari’s work depression is not a subject but a voice as indicated by the title of his book on the 1980’s, The Years of Winter. But not all the blame for depression can be ascribed to this winter as it is fundamental to desire itself. Berardi rather cryptically puts it like this: “desire is cruel, autonomy is cruel, beauty is cruel and the irresponsible dance is cruel. Desire presents the account and the subject cannot pay it, while singularity cannot not pay it. Depression is this account.” Depression is intimately related to desire, in that it is both the dispersion of desire and the entropy against which desire and sense must struggle to exist. This is not only an affective condition but a directly political one that was experienced by a whole generation involved with militant struggle, with the collapse of all the new movements of the 60’s and 70’s in the context of the realpolitik of Thatcherism and Reaganism. In works such as Anti-Oedipus with its Spinozist emphasis on the cultivation of joyful affects, there could be no place for such sad passions, which were instead associated with Oedipal repression and capitalist reterritorialisation (even the sad militant comes in for harsh treatment). However as Berardi points out there is also the time of depression, when the provisory community of desire or the joyful creation of concepts both of which are conglomerations of desiring energy no longer have a hold on the world which instead tends towards dispersion and dissolution. One could say that the affirmation of desiring-production in Anti-Oedipus has links with romanticism and the concept of extasis or pure expenditure, via Christian mysticism and Bataille; it is a youthful utopia. Berardi suggests that in Deleuze and Guattari’s last work What is Philosophy there is instead a senile utopia based around friendship rather than desire, in a markedly different social context in which there is a recognition of the illusions surrounding the idea of a revolutionary community of desiring production (Berardi compares this illusion to the Hindu concept of Maia and the Buddhist one of Samsara). But he claims that today we need neither a youthful nor a senile utopia but rather a sober cartography of the current conditions of the world, a cartography that Guattari undertook in the form of a prescient analysis of “Integrated World Capitalism.” This concept which Berardi develops into one of planetary psychopathology rather than the now long dispersed psychedelic social utopia of Anti-Oedipus is the starting point for any emergent post-media sensibility (Berardi seems to be implying that while at the time Anti-Oedipus was not utopian since it was in direct contact with real social movements from 68 to Autonomy, with the dispersal of these movements it takes on an atmosphere of utopian nostalgia)

Integrated World Capitalism and Planetary Psychopathology

The concept of integrated world capitalism, the idea that capitalism was re-organising itself on a global scale is a commonplace today but when Guattari was first articulating it in the early 1980’s it was almost a scandal; political commentators at that time, while not seeing the Soviet bloc as a genuine social alternative, still saw the horizon of politics as defined by the dualist conflict between these two powers, a conflict that Guattari was prescient enough to see as a superficial mask for the real transformation in the direction of integrated world capitalism. The risk of nuclear holocaust which was the dominant theme in world politics at that time was of little interest to Guattari who saw instead the unleashing of a new “100 years war” along very different lines, predominantly between the privileged north and the excluded south, a prediction the truth of which has been more than confirmed by subsequent events. More importantly than just prophesising globalisation, however, Guattari’s concept of Integrated World Capitalism, contains an analysis not present in most discourses of Globalisation, namely the recognition of capitalism not as an abstract category but as a semiotic operator. This means that the pervasiveness of capital is not dependent only on an effect of abstract overcoding mainly operative in the moment of exchange but on the technologically mediated integration of the diverse moments of the production process from the project phase, to the informational and material phases. Capital becomes understood as an imposed or rather proliferated model understood as a semiotic operator, that is as a rule of generalised trans-codification. It also allows for the understanding of capital in relation to the new proliferations of margins, the residue of this process whether in the forms of diverse nationalisms and tribalisms (reterritorialisations) or minorities and subcultures (deteritorialisations).

Berardi takes this analysis further in his own concept of planetary psychopathology, which takes Guattari’s concepts and places them in proximity with the contemporary world as transformed by the acceleration of globalisation and virtualisation processes that took place since Guattari’s death. Basically the world itself has become more clearly rhizomatic than it was previously; for example, one only has to look at the immediate relations between affects such as euphoria and depression and the contemporary functioning of the global stock exchange to see the direct investment of desire in the social field that Deleuze and Guattari anticipated in the 1970’s. Of course the fluctuations of the stock market were always dependent on mass affectivity but the global interlinking of the world’s economies coupled with the instantaneity of informational communications has turned it into a much more direct barometer of social desires.

For Berardi much of this situation corresponds to Guattari’s concepts of mental ecology or ecosophy developed in his last book Chaosmosis. Taking inspiration from Bateson who claimed that there is “an ecology of bad ideas just as there is an ecology of weeds,” Guattari wanted to broaden ecology to deal not only with the natural atmosphere but also the mental atmosphere, arguing that these ecologies are inseparable. For Berardi, this has been proven over the course of the 90’s in which the rise of Neo-Liberalism has had as a consequence not only devastating effects on the physical environment but the destruction of “the psychic atmosphere in which humanity lives and communicates.” Berardi goes so far as to claim that “the cultural devastation produced by neo-liberalism has incorporated the social investments of desire, provoking a drying up of productive social creativity and determining a veritable emotional plague, an aggressivity of all against all, an obsessive fear of contact, a wave of ideology-free Nazism, a racism of pure proximity.” This is the condition for the emergence of a planetary psychopathology that both the monetary economy and new forms of infinite warfare are intimately linked to (this would be Berardi’s analysis in his most recent works such as The Sage, The Merchant , The Warrior.) This analysis, while seemingly far removed from Guattari’s analysis of integrated world capitalism is in fact its direct extension in relation to perhaps the central domain of Guattari’s thought namely schizoanalysis. Berardi acknowledges the extent to which his vision of the psychopathic global condition is indebted to Guattarian schizoanalysis in the following terms: “Felix Guattari taught me to see social processes as productions of the unconscious and to see the unconscious as the laboratory in which the scenarios of social actions are produced. There is no need to think of power as a cold machine composed of decisions and wills. When we use words like euphoria or depression or panic to describe the behaviour the stock exchange or markets we shouldn’t think that these are only metaphors. It is instead an adequate description of the psychopathologies that traverse the social mind in a situation of informational overload and competitive stress.” Disturbing as the devastation of the natural environment might be, the de-eroticisation of social relations in the direction of cold functionality, in which the other becomes perceived as a danger and potential factor of contagion (Berardi is making here direct reference here to the Aids crisis) is no less disturbing. Considering that the primary operator of this pathological subjectivation is the mass media it is probably time to return to the problematic of the post-media era, which presents itself as the need to confront this drastically psychopathological or at the very least depressing situation.

Is There a Post-Mediatic Sensibility? Felix and Alice in Wonderland

At this point Berardi narrates the story of Guattari’s involvement with and enthusiasm for Radio Alice and other free radio stations, a story in which he was “very active.” He makes the point that unlike most critical thinkers with the exception of Walter Benjamin, Guattari had no fear of new technolgoies but rather embraced their potentials even when these had barely been developed. For example he was enthusiastic about the communicative potentials of the Net, well before the world Wide Web was developed and when his only experience of it was the rather primitive French minitel system. According to Berardi his thought was already a network thought even before the existence of the technical network. At this point he takes on the criticisms of Richard Barbrook who form a state Marxist position accuses Deleuze and Guattari (who he labels as holy fools) of collusion with neo-liberalism claiming that their thought operates by the same logic hence accounting for its popularity with Californian IT developers and enthusiasts of Wired magazine etc. Berardi acknowledges that there is a link between high tech capitalism and rhizomatic thought even going so far as to accept the derogatory (for Barbrook) label of techno-nomadism. The link is however not one of collusion but of adopting an immanent network approach to both critique and subversion. Berardi argues that it is this approach rather than an outdated Marxist-Leninism that will have any possibility to subvert the reigning neo-liberal high tech ideology because it is able to intervene in its own lines and rhythms of development, which completely leave behind the powers of conventional Marxist-Leninism. It is only through a mobile techno-nomadic thought that one is able to discern the possible lines of flight operative in the current world situation. As Guattari put it in Chaosmosis, “democratic chaos contains a multitude of vectors of resingularisation, of attractors of social creativity in search of actualisation. This has nothing to do with the Neo-Liberal affirmaiton of randomness and its fanaticism for the market economy.” According to Berardi, the free radio phenomenon was a kind of general proof of the existence of these vectors of resingularisation, or attractors of social creativity. Today, of course, it is clear that this phenomenon was a direct precursor of the phenomenon of the Internet model, which incarnates what Guattari called “Postmediatic civil society.” According to Berardi these free radios and especially Alice, based as it was on an explicit model of trans-semiotic communication and auto-organisation, “anticipated a process of techno-communicative self-organisation which in turn prefigures the overcoming of the mediatic epoch. The awareness of this fact makes Guattari a precursor of libertarian cyberculture.” For Guattari, Radio Alice was not an instrument of information but a device for destructuration of the the mediatic system aiming for the desturcturation of the social nervous system, which in the succeeding decades has continued with effects of liberation but also of panic and catastrophe.

Perhaps we are at the point at which the question is no longer what is the post-media era but rather what are the lines along which it will develop and what interventions are possible along these lines. Because if the postmediatic era means the era of mass networks this is not in itself a positive development but one that holds as many catastrophic potentials as liberating ones, after all the spheres of both neoliberal eocnomics and infinite warfare have also become rhizomatic and post-mediatic in their own way even if this is very far from the future of the media era hoped for by Guattari. The question is one of how to compose networks of subjective auto-organisation that are able to assume an autonomy from neo-liberal economic and military networks and their associated deadening of relationality, affect and desire in the direction of pure functionality and aggressivity. This evaluation in Guattari’s work was expressed in terms of an ethico-aesthetic paradigm which saw in aesthetic practices indications of how networks might operate as vectors of resingularisation and the conjugation of singular events rather than instruments of normalisation and adjustment to the techno-economic-military exigiencies of the neo-liberal paradigm. It is in terms of this conflict between paradigms that the potentials for the post-media era envisaged by Guattari will continue to be played out and hopefully in some spheres actualised in an ethic-aesthetic auto-organisational direction.

little site banner