Notes for Franco Berardi The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy

Key concepts: alienation, cognitariat, cognitive capitalism, compositionism, depression, estrangement, general intellect, happy singularization, schizoanalysis, soul.

Related theorists: Epicurus, Friedrich Engels, Michel Foucault, Bill Gates, Karl Marx.

Preface by Jason Smith

Soul as clinamen of body; compare to Galloway protocol as chivalry of objects.

(9) The soul is the clinamen of the body. It is how it falls, and what makes it fall in with other bodies. The soul is its gravity.

Soul at work moves center of gravity in cognitive capitalism to mobilization of mood.

(9-10) To speak of a soul at work is to move the center of gravity in contemporary debates about cognitive capitalism. . . . The soul is not simply the seat of intellectual operations, but the affective and libidinal forces that weave together a world: attentiveness, the ability to address, care for and appeal to others. The contemporary subject of cognitive capitalism—Bifo speaks of the cognitariat, but perhaps there are other names—is not simply a producer of knowledge and a manager of symbols. Capitalism is the mobilization of a pathos and the organization of a mood; its subject, a field of desire, a point of inflexion for an impersonal affect that circulates like a rumor. The cognitariat carries a virus.

Psychopathology of collective soul.

(10) The Soul at Work calls itself an experiment in “psychopathology,” and it describes how something in the collective soul has seized up.

Depression occurs when social brain cannot manage accumulation of complexity and speed of flows of information.

(10) Depression occurs, Franco “Bifo” Berardi argues, when the speed and complexity of the flows of information overwhelm the capacities of the “social brain” to manage these flows, inducing a panic that concludes shortly thereafter, with a depressive plunge. Depression is so widespread today, Bifo argues, because the contemporary organization of production of surplus-value is founded on the phenomenon—the accumulation—of speed.

Invokes Gates speed of thought as mirror to form of governance of democratic imperialism.

(11) This organization of work, in which just-in-time production is overseen by a permanently temporary labor force, is mirrored in the form of governance characteristic of democratic imperialism, sustained as it is by appeals to urgency, permanent mobilization, suspensions of norms: governance by crisis, rule by exception.

Question is how has work become central locus of psychic and emotional investment.

(12) The Soul at Work wants to answer this question: How did we get from the particular forms of workers' struggle in the 1960s, characterized by widespread “estrangement” or workers from the capitalist organization of production, to the situation today, in which work has become the central locus of psychic and emotional investment, even as this new libidinal economy induces an entire range of collective pathologies, from disorders of attention to new forms of dyslexia, from sudden panics to mass depression?

Importance of 1977 for Italian autonomia movement antagonistic will giving way to colonization of soul by logic of desire and its entry into the production process.

(12-14) Something happened in 1977. Bifo hangs his story on this mutation. It's the year when the refusal of work reaches a fever pitch in the Italian autonomia movement, the year that the logic of antagonism and worker needs—what Mario Tronti called the “antagonistic will” of the proletariat—gives way to a logic of desire, in which social productivity can no longer be accounted for in strictly economic categories, and in which the insurrectionary vectors no longer map onto the old imaginary of social war. . . . This colonization of the soul and its desire—the entry of the soul itself into the production process—spawns paradoxical effects. It transforms labor-power into what managerial theories call human capital, harnessing and putting to work not an abstract, general force of labor, but the particularity, the unique combination of psychic, cognitive and affective powers I bring to the labor process. Because this contemporary reformatting functions through the incitement of my specific creative and intellectual powers, I experience work as the segment of social life in which I am most free, most capable of realizing my desires: most myself.

Method of compositionism to distinguish from workerism.

(14) The Soul at Work analyzes the contemporary dynamics of capital in its “cognitive” phase using a method it calls compositionism. This term is used by Bifo to avoide the misconceptions induced by the use of operaismoworkerism . . . encompassing a wide range of tendencies represented by thinkers such as Paolo Virno, Antonio Negri, and Maurizio Lazzarato. This tradition is founded on three imbricated theoretical breakthroughs: the axiom asserting the primacy of worker's struggles in the development of capital, the study of the changing composition of the working class as the key for deciphering novel forms of political organization and action, and Marx's description (in the Grundrisse) of the emergence of the “general intellect” as a form of worker power that threatens to destroy the bases for organizing production to extort surplus-value.

Marx general intellect reformatted to include emotion, affect, aesthetic deployed in contemporary experience of work as soul, attempting to decipher politics opened by paradigm of cognitive worker.

(16) Using the thesis of the general intellect as a starting point to describe the dynamics of cognitive capital, it reformats this concept to include the range of emotional, affective and aesthetic textures and experiences that are deployed in the contemporary experience of work, and gives it another name: soul. . . . And almost importantly, it attempts to decipher the possible forms of politics opened by a new class composition whose paradigm is the cognitive worker.

New communism endlessly constituting new poles of autonomy via therapeutic contagion rather than Engels administration of things, withering away the political.

(16-17) The enigmatic final lines of The Soul at Work ask us to contemplate the possibility of a communism that is no longer the “principle of a new totalization,” but an endless process of constituting poles of autonomy communicating via “therapeutic contagion.” . . . Communism means the withering away of the political. But the post-political era opens not onto an administration of things, as Engels once dreamed, but to what is here daringly called therapy—that is, with the articulation of “happy singularizations” that defect from the metropolitan factory of unhappiness.

Work exploiting desire as site of libidinal and narcissistic investment binds us to our own unhappiness.

(17-18) Work is a matter of discipline, the production of docility. When work becomes the site of libidinal and narcissistic investment, spinning a web of abjections and dependencies that exploits rather than represses desire—we become attached and bound to our own unhappiness.

Ideal of Marx really free working composing damned seriousness.

(18-19) Labor will be attractive, says Marx following Fourier, because it is no longer work at all but its negation and overcoming, the accumulation of joy and the collective composition of a commons. Such pleasure will not be mere play or, God forbid, “fun,” but what Marx calls “damned seriousness”: “Really free working, e.g. composing, is at the same time precisely the most damned seriousness, the most intense exertion” (Grundrisse, p. 611; my italics).

Individual self realization and happy singularizations become shared possibilities and elaboration of forms of life in communism to come.

(19) The task of the communism to come is the constitution of poles of autonomy where what Marx calls the “individual's self-realization” and Bifo calls “happy singularizations” become shared possibilities. . . . Now we know: the aesthetic paradigm of the communism to come will consist in the singularization and elaboration of forms-of-life, a communism whose song will free the space in which it resonates, and spreads.


Soul as vital breath converting biological matter into animated body, citing Epicurus.

(21) The soul I intend to discuss does not have much to do with the spirit. It is rather the vital breath that converts biological matter into an animated body.

Transition from industrial exploitation of body to Semiocapitalism exploiting mind, language and creativity.

(21) Industrial exploitation deals with bodies, muscles and arms. Those bodies would not have any value if they weren't animated, mobile, intelligent, reactive.
(21-22) The rise of post-Fordist modes of production, which I will call Semiocapitalism, takes the mind, language and creativity as its primary tools for the production of value. In the sphere of digital production, exploitation is exerted essentially on the semiotic flux produced by human time at work.

To continue Foucault shift to new forms of alienation and precariousness of mental net work.

(22) If today we want to continue the genealogical work of Michel Foucault, we have to shift the focus of theoretical attention towards the automatisms of mental activity, language and imagination, and therefore towards the new forms of alienation and precariousness of the mental work occurring in the Net.

Reestablish relevance of Marxist language with respect to languages of post structuralism, schizoanalysis and cyberculture.
(22) In this book I will examine anew the Marxist language which was dominant in the 1960s, trying to reestablish its vitality with respect to the languages of post-structuralism, schizoanalysis and cyberculture.

Alienation, estrangement and totalization compared to biopolitics and psychopathologies of desire.

(23) In Marx's parlance, as in Hegel before, alienation (Entausserung) and estrangement (Entfremdung) are two terms that define the same process from two different standpoints.
(23) Alienation is then considered not as the loss of human authenticity, but as estrangement from capitalistic interest, and therefore as a necessary condition for the construction—in a space estranged from and hostile to labor relations—of an ultimately human relationship.
(24) In this book I want to compare the conceptual framework of the '60s based on the Hegelian concepts of Alienation and Totalization to the conceptual framework of our present, which is based on the concepts of biopolitics and of psychopathologies of desire.

Outline of the book.

(24) In the first part of the book I want to describe the relationship between philosophy and theories of labor in the '60s.
(24) In the second part of the book I will account for the progressive mentalization of working processes, and the consequent enslavement of the soul.
(24) In the third part I will retrace the evolution of several radical theories, from the idealistic concept of Alienation to the analytical concept of psychopathology.
(25) In the fourth part of the book I will try to outline the effects of the precarization of labor—especially of cognitive labor—and the effects of the biopolitical subjugation of language and affections.
(25) In the conclusion, I will comment on the current collapse of the integrated psycho-machinic organism that is the Global Economy.

Articulation of apparent freedom in coercion by control mechanisms also exemplifying loop around in temporal reading instances tied to their note taking after first pass done.

(192) Ever since Fordist discipline was dissolved, individuals find themselves in a condition of apparent freedom. Nobody forces them to endure subjection and dependency. Coercion is instead embedded in the technicalities of social relations, and control is exerted through the voluntary yet inevitable submission to a chain of automatisms.

Makes my blood boil to be a part of it, capture of wandering soul to dispose of its intelligence, creativity, language.

Commercial circuits of fitness and sex for little used body with intelligence, sensibility, creativity, language given over to work.

(192) The neoliberal values presented in the 1980s and 1990s as vectors of independence and self-entrepreneurship, revealed themselves to be manifestations of a new form of slavery producing social insecurity and most of all a psychological catastrophe. The soul, once wandering and unpredictable, must now follow functional paths in order to become compatible with the system of operative exchanges structuring the productive ensemble. The soul hardens, and loses its tenderness and malleability. Industrial factories used the body, forcing it to leave the soul outside of the assembly line, so that the worked looked like a soulless body. The immaterial factory asks instead to place our very souls at its disposal: intelligence, sensibility, creativity and language. The useless body lies flabbily at the borders of the game field: to take care of it and entertain it, we put it through the commercial circuits of fitness and sex.

Capital operating on depersonalized time explains embodied spirit behavior instrumenting media ecologies PHI.

(192) When we move into the sphere of info-labor, Capital no longer recruits people, it buys packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and contingent bearers. De-personalized time is now the real agent of the process of valorization, and de-personalized time has no rights.

Berardi, Franco. The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy. Trans. Francesca Cadel and Giuseppina Mecchia. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e), 2009. Print.