Reading Bifo

I started reading a book yesterday, by Franco “Bifo” Berardi, called After the Future. The subject is relevant to me politically, personally, and religiously as well, seeing as how entwined the fall of vernacular polytheism was with the stories told by modernity: linear time, progress, the exultation of the human, conceptions of utopia, and so on. It covers the history of the 20th century following the publication of the Italian Futurist Manifesto, and outlines just when social consciousness started turning from utopic to dystopic in the late 70’s – and why even the fever-dreams of dystopia and apocalypse have failed, leaving us with little more than a thick fog of confusion and malaise. I think this cultural backdrop played no small part in the beginning of the rejection of revealed, progressivist religion in the West, leaving atheists and cyclic-minded pagans in its wake.

I’ve got a feeling that this book, and my subsequent readings inspired by it, will be influencing a lot of writing for some months to come, so here’s a quote from his The obsession with identity fascism, being relevant to the discussion going on lately and all.

Fascism, that strange word, that shapeless word. For a long time I strove to find a concept able to define the different (and contradictory) forms of authoritarianism, of nationalistic or ethnic aggression and so on, but without success. In his article ‘Il fascismo eterno’, Umberto Eco recognises that ‘the characteristics cannot be marshalled into a system, many are mutually contradictory and are typical of other forms of despotism and fanaticism. But it is sufficient for one to be present for a fascist nebula to coagulate’.

There follows a list of Ur-fascism’s characteristics: the cult of tradition, the refusal of modernism, action for action’s sake, the fear of difference, and so on. But, as interesting and pertinent as these characteristics are, Eco himself recognises that the effort of definition seems ultimately to end in frustration because the object continues to get away. For example, after having said that fascism is contrary to modernism, it must be recognised that historic fascism played a role in the modernisation of society in both Italy and Germany. In the absence, then, of a satisfactory and comprehensive definition, we run the risk of defining fascism as everything that disgusts us, and of identifying fascism, simply, as the party of imbecility and violence: as the party of evil. And this, naturally, doesn’t work, it doesn’t define anything. The problem is that that to which we are referring, using this word—fascism—which is imprecise and historically far too dated, is an extremely vast field of forms of life, behaviours, ideologies, prejudices that have, in the last analysis, a single element in common: the obsession with definition. The obsession to define is, in the last analysis, the characteristic common to the field of phenomena that we define as ‘fascism’; it is simultaneously comprehensible and difficult to define.

‘Fascism’, in its maximum conceptual extension (encompassing nationalism and religious fundamentalism, political authoritarianism, sexual aggression and so on . . .) can be brought back to a fundamental obsession: the obsession with identity, the obsession with belonging, with origin, with recognisability. This obsession has grown, extended itself, exploded over the course of our century, precisely because our century is a century of deterritorialisation, of cultural contamination and de-identification. The pressure (pulsione) that seems to guide fundamentally those behaviours which fall within the ambit of ‘fascism’ is the pressure to recognise ourselves as identical, identifiable, and therefore belonging to a community (of language, faith, race . . .). based upon origin. Only origin bears witness to belonging, and as we know, origin is an illusion, a legend, an attribute that is more or less shared, but unfounded. Ethnic identity does not exist, any more than linguistic identity. While each of us comes from a history of crossbreedings and contaminations that can neither be attested nor authenticated, there are illusions of ethnic belonging; while each of us speaks our own dialect that can never be fundamentally translatable by another speaker, there are illusions of linguistic comprehension. Living together is premised on these. The more the field of ethnic identifiability, of comprehensibility, of origin are perturbed, the more acute becomes the need to identify, to the point of obsession.

[…]

…in the process of this super-identity’s formation, an enormous quantity of human material is discarded: the majority of humanity, which remains outside the cabled circuit of the globalised techno-economy. This material residue identifies itself through aggressive cults, founded on the illusion of an originary authenticity in need of restoration. Only the affirmation of an identity makes survival possible in a world increasingly dense with conflicting territorial projects, in a world dominated by the paradox of growing wealth that produces an expanding misery.

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