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

Key concepts: alienation, cognitariat, cognitive capitalism, compositionism, depression, digital panlogism, double bind, enterprise, estrangement, frigid thought, general intellect, happy singularization, mass intellectuality, schizoanalysis, soul, virtual, wealth, workerism.

Related theorists: Louis Althusser, Gregory Bateson, Mike Davis, Alain Ehrenberg, Epicurus, Friedrich Engels, Michel Foucault, Bill Gates, Hegel, Hans-Jürgen Krahl, Pierre Levy, Herbert Marcuse, Karl Marx, Paul Virilio, Paolo Virno.

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.

Soul in causal model.

(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.

Language and money are immaterial soul of Semiocapital.

(22) Language and money are not at all metaphors, and yet they are immaterial. They are nothing, and yet can do everything; the move, displace, multiply, destroy. They are the soul of Semiocapital.

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.

Estrangement points to creation of autonomous consciousness beyond dependence on work.

(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. The first one defines the sense of loss felt by consciousness when faced with an object in the context of capital’s domination; the second term refers to the confrontation between the consciousness and the sense of exteriority, and to the creation of an autonomous consciousness based on the refusal of its own dependence on work.

Italian Workerist focuses on active subject building community.
(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.

Alienation and schizophrenia rethought by Guattari as multiple form of consciousness.

(23) In the context of French Post-Structuralism, a similar overturning of traditional vision of clinical alienation was finding its work: schizophrenia, considered by psychiatry only as the separation and loss of self-consciousness, is rethought by Felix Guattari in totally new terms. Schizophrenia is not the passive effect of a scission of consciousness, but rather a form of consciousness that is multiple, proliferating and nomadic.
(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.

Questions whether collapse of Global Economy will yield new era of autonomy.

(25) In the conclusion, I will comment on the current collapse of the integrated psycho-machinic organism that is the Global Economy. The collapse of the Global Economy following the recent financial crack could be the opening of a new era of autonomy and emancipation for the soul.

1 Labor and Alienation in the philosophy of the 1960s

Workers and students united in their fight

In 1968 workers and students united to fight capitalist moloch and socialist authoriarianism.

(27) In the year 1968, with a synchronicity previously unheard of in human history, we can see greater masses of people all over the world—workers and students—fighting against both the capitalist moloch and the authoritarianism of the socialist world.

Movements of 1968 first phenomenon of conscious globalization.

(27) From this perspective, the 1968 movements were the first phenomenon of conscious globalization.

Emergence of new historical alliance between mass intellectual labor and worker refusal of industrial labor.

(28) The meaning of those movements was the emergence of a new historical alliance. It was an alliance between mass intellectual labor and the workers’ refusal of industrial labor.

Workerism focused on relation between working class struggles and intellectual and technological transformation.

(29) Italian neo-Marxism, often denominated “Workerism,” is a school of thought focused on the relation between working class struggles and intellectual and technological transformation.

The modern intellectual

Intellectuals must take part fighting for abolition of classes and wage labor to be agent of a universal mission.

(31) Only insofar as s/he takes part in the fight towards the abolition of classes and wage-earning labor does the intellectual in fact become the agent of a universal mission.

Intellectual changes by becoming incorporated in technological process of production.

(32) Only in the second half of the 20th century does the figure of the intellectual start changing its nature, because its function becomes heavily incorporated in the technological process of production.

Intellectual role redefined as mass social subject integrated into general process of production, Virno mass intellectuality.

(33) As a consequence of mass access to education and, the technical and scientific transformation of production, the role of intellectuals has been redefined: they are no longer a class independent from production, nor free individuals assuming the task of a purely ethical and freely cognitive choice, but a mass social subject, tending to become an integral part of the general process of production. Paolo Virno writes of “mass intellectuality,” in order to understand the social subjectivity corresponding to the massification of intellectual competences in an advanced industrial society.

The Italian “Workerist” perspective

Compositionalism redefines Leninist party with general intellect as central productive force.

(34) Compositionalism redefines the Leninist notion of the party as collective intellectual, leaving behind the very notion of the intellectual while proposing a new reading the Marxist notion of “general intellect.”

Cognitariat represents social subjectivity of general intellect, treated as exteriority in Marxist Leninist tradition before emerging as central productive force.

(34-35) At the time of the communist revolutions, in the first part of the twentieth century, the Marxist-Leninist tradition ignored the concept of general intellect, therefore conceiving the intellectual function as exteriority and as a political direction determined within the purely spiritual domain of philosophy. But during the post-industrial transformation of production the general intellect emerged as a central productive force. . . . nowadays what is important is the creation of a new social sphere, that we might want to call “cognitariat,” representing the social subjectivity of the “general intellect.”

Need to focus on social function of cognitive labor, intellectual labor now transversal function within entire social process.

(35) If we want to define the crux of today’s mutations, we must focus on the social function of cognitive labor. Intellectual labor is no longer a social function separated from general labor, but it becomes a transversal function within the entire social process, it becomes the creation of technical and linguistic interfaces ensuring the fluidity both of the productive process and of social communication.

Subjectivity and alienation

Examine subjectivity through critical culture reading of early Marx where workers renounce human investment of time and energy to receive a wage.

Work treated as zero sum game with humanity.

(36-37) In order to understand the progressive emergence of the theme of subjectivity, we can start rereading Marx’s early work, so relevant during the 1960s in Marxist studies and, more generally, in the field of critical culture. . . . This is what essentially happens: the more the wage earner’s energy is invested in productive activity, the more s/he reinforces the power of the enemy, of capital, and the less is left for oneself. In order to survive, in order to receive a wage, workers have to renounce their humanity, the human investment of their time and energies.

Concept of alienation in misery of worker life against economic machine a Hegelian influence.

(38) Millions of people were experiencing this in their life: the more powerful the economic machine, the more the life of the worker becomes miserable. This awareness spread largely in those years and Marx’s early works were able to interpret it. The concept of alienation defines this thematic field and it came to Marx from the Hegelian conceptual context, authorizing a Hegelian reading of the entire discourse.

Communist revolutionary process restores original identity that has become alienated.

(38-39) the communist revolutionary process is conceived as the restoration of an original identity whose perversion, temporary obliteration—whose “alienation,” in other words—is represented by the workers’ present condition.

Alienation between history and ontology

Alienation at core of Frankfurt School and Existentialism.

(41) The issue of alienation is at the core of the critical thought of the Frankfurt School, and also—although with a completely different inflection—of the Existentialists’ reflection, especially in Jean-Paul Sartre, although from different points of view.

Estrangement versus alienation

Compositionalism founds community independent of capital from inhumanity of workers existence.

(44) Compositionalism overturns the issue implicit in the question of alienation. It is precisely thanks to the radical inhumanity of the workers’ existence that a human collectivity can be founded, a community no longer dependent on capital.

Estrangement an intentionality shifting desire from industrial repetition towards cognitive difference.

(46) Only the estrangement from labor makes liberatory dynanics possible, shifting the flow of desire from (industrial) repetition towards (cognitive) difference. The concept of estrangement implies an intentionality that is determined by an estranged behavior.

Transforming alienation into active estrangement as refusal to work.

(46) Workers do not suffer from their alienation when they can transform it into active estrangement, that is to say, into refusal.

Tronti and Marcuse

Extra productive marginalities should be the focus for changing the social order according to Marcuse.

(47) In one of this most influential books, One Dimensional Man, published in the U.S. in 1964, Herbert Marcuse foresees for the working class a destiny of integration into the capitalistic system. Consequently, he sees the necessity, for those willing to change the social order, of shifting their political attention towards the domain of extra-productive marginalities and away from the direct domain of the productive relation.

Working class caught in web of consumer society, leaving students to protect humanistic consciousness.

(48) The working class has lost any capacity to be autonomous, caught as it is in the web of consumer society: thus Marcuse describe American and European societies. In the last analysis, what Marcuse forecasted in 1964 was a period of growing social peace, where the students would have to act as the bearers of a threatened humanistic consciousness.

Rethink Marcuse statement domination is transfigured into administration.

(49) The statement “domination is transfigured into administration” needs to be rethought in the new light of the creation of a system of economical and financial automatisms without alternatives.

Structuralism and Das Kapital

World for Althusser is produced by past labor and present mental activity.

(56) Althusser developed a theory that took the critique of historicism and the idealist claim for mental reproducibility of reality as its starting point. In this way, Althusser let us see something already implicit in Marx’s text: that the world is first of all a produced world, the product of man’s past labor as well as of past and present mental activity.

Capital mobilizes abstract distribution of time to produce abstract value.

(57) Capital is interested in the production of abstract value. To this purpose, capital doesn’t need to mobilize specific and concrete abilities to create qualitatively useful objects, but an abstract distribution of time without quality.

Ultimate reduction and abstraction is subsumption of mental activity into value production.

(58) The abstraction of labor, that is to say the transformation of human activities into empty performances of abstract time, is progressively expanding to all possible forms of social activity. The final point of this process is the subsumption of the productive labor of mental activity itself the sphere of value-production, which results in its ultimate reduction and abstraction.

General intellect and concrete totality in Grundrisse

Standpoint of refusal of work.

(59) We need to adopt the point of view of labor in its most advanced manifestations, it is necessary to assume the standpoint of the refusal of work, in order to understand the dynamics both of productive transformation and of political revolt. When we do that, we can finally see that social composition is in constant transformation, altering the productive, technological, economic and political contexts. The motor of this constant transformation is the dynamic of subtraction of lived time from the wage-relation.

Abstraction reaches perfection in digital era, beginning subsumption of mental labor into abstracted activity as physical labor.

(61) Abstraction, this centripetal and at the same time unifying force traversing the modern period, reaches its perfection in the digital era. The labor of physical transformation of matter has become so abstract that it is now useless: machines can replace it completely. At the same time, the subsumption of mental labor has begun, and with it the reduction of mental labor itself to an abstracted activity.

Paradigmatic shift beyond technological and productive potentialities of general intellect tangled in slow time of culture.

(62) A new paradigmatic system needs to be found, if we want to understand and, more importantly, liberate the new constellation of human activity, technologies, interfaces and social interactions. But a paradigmatic shift has a different timing from that of the technological and productive potentialities of general intellect. It gets tangled in the slow time of culture, social habits, constituted identities, power relations and the dominant economic order. Capitalism, as a cultural and epistemic, as well as economic and social, system, semiotizes the machinic potentitalities of the post-industrial system according to reductive paradigmatic lines.

Abstract labor best link to digitalization.

(64) The concept of abstract labor is the best possible introduction to an understanding of the digitalization of the productive process first made possible and finally generalized by the diffusion of microelectronics.

Double bind of capital, no dialectical overcoming.

(65) After the experience of the twentieth century, we understand very well that modern history does not proceed towards a positive exit along a dialectical path, and that there is no dialectical overcoming on the horizon. Capital seems rather to be a pathogenic mechanism, a sort of “double bind.” Gregory Bateson uses the concept of a double bind in order to understand a paradoxical form of communication, where the relational context is contradicted by the meaning of communication. . . . A double bind derives from juxtaposing two semiotic codes in a relational context or from the superposition of two different interpretive codes in the development of a unique process.

Hans-Jürgen Krahl’s theory: science, work and technique

Krahl short lived but influential thinker of German anti authoritarian movement.

(66) Hans-Jürgen Krahl died in a car accident one night in 1970. Though not even thirty, he was one of the most influential thinkers of the anti-authoritarian German movement.

Krahl bridged separation between labor process and higher level cognitive activities Leninism held through developing sociality of workers.

(70) Leninism is based on the separation between the labor process and higher-level cognitive activities (that is to say consciousness). This separation is founded on proto-industrial work, since the workers have knowledge of their own abilities, but no awareness of the cognitive system structuring society. The roots of this separation become more and more fragile when the mass workers, forced into an increasingly parceled and alienating work activity, develop their sociality in a dimension that is immediately subversive and anti-capitalistic.

Perception of underlying social system are evident to intellectual workers.

(70) Finally this separation has no further grounding when we discuss the mental forms of social labor, since when each intellectualized operator is the vehicle of a specific form of knowledge, s/he perceives—although in a fragmented, confused and tormented manner—the social system of knowledge underlying the entire productive cycle.

Digital Panlogism

Marcuse hinted at disempowered digital panlogism in idealistic dialectics of self realizing reason.

Marcuse saw technology as great vehicle of reification, trapping world in capitalistic form embodied as technical reason.

(71-72) Marcuse opposed the dialectics of self-realizing reason to functionalist reductions. His position remains an idealistic one, and there is no concrete reference to social recomposition in his theory. He understands, nonetheless, an essential point of the late capitalist process: he sees the tendency towards a total integration of Logos and production through technology. At the horizon of the tendency described by Marcuse we find the digitalization of the world: digitalization as a paradoxical realization of Hegelian Panlogism in a non-dialectical, disempowered and pacified version. . . . The use of algorithms in the productive processes, and their transmission through logical devices, isolates an operational kind of rationality. But in this way the world is subsumed (overturning Hegel) in a digital and logical reduction, and therefore trapped forever in the capitalistic form embodied as technical Reason.

Computer generated totality replaces Hegelian logic.

(73) Absolute Knowledge is materialized in the universe of intelligent machines. Totality is not History, but the virtual assemblage of the interconnections preprogrammed and predetermined by the universe of intelligent machines. Hegelian logic has thus been made true by computers, since today nothing is true if it is not registered by the universe of media machines. The totality generated by computers has replaced Hegel’s totality.

Matrix replaces event.

(73) The matrix is replacing the event. This sit he final point of modern Rationalisierung.

Recognition in networked universe requires compatibility with its generative logic.

(73) To be recognized in the networked universe one must become compatible with the generative logic of the matrix. What does not belong to a codified domain is not socially recognizable or relevant, although it still exists in the domain of irrelevance, of residuality. It then reacts with rage and despair, in order to violently reassert is existence.

Difference becomes residual.

(73) When History becomes the development of Absolute Computerized Knowledge difference is not vanquished, or resolved: it becomes residual, ineffectual, unrecognizable.

2 The Soul at Work

Digital labor and abstraction

Work is now typing at a keyboard.

(74) As a general tendency work is performed according to the same physical patterns: we all sit in front of a screen and move our fingers across a keyboard. We type.

Mental labor becoming more specialized despite uniformity of physical activity.

(74) On the one hand, labor has become much more uniform from a physical and ergonomic point of view, but on the other it is becoming much more differentiated and specialized with respect to the contents that it develops.

Interchangeable and depersonalized labor perceived as foreign, selling time.

(74) When labor had a substantially interchangeable and depersonalized character it was perceived as something foreign. . . . The definition of dependent work and wage-earning was adequate for this kind of social activity, which consisted in the selling of one’s time.

Digital technologies shift productive labor to mental labor of planning and enacting simulations.

(75) Digital technologies open a completely new perspective for labor. . . . Manual labor is generally executed by automatically programmed machinery, while innovative labor, the one that effectively produces value, is mental labor. . . . Productive labor (labor producing value) consists in enacting simulations later transferred to actual matter by computerized machines.

Time and productivity disconnected.

(75) The content of labor becomes mental, while at the same time the limits of productive labor become uncertain. The notion of productivity itself becomes undefined: the relation between time and the quantity of produced value is difficult to determine, since for a cognitive worker every hour is not the same from the standpoint of produced value.

Mental labor has become much more specific and noninterchangeable.

(76) Labor has become part of a mental process, an elaboration of signs rich with knowledge. It has become much more specific, much more specialized: attorneys and architects, computer technicians and mall vendors all sit in front of the same screen and type on the same keyboards: still, they could never trade places. The content of their elaborating activities is completely different and cannot be easily transmitted.

Manipulating and recombining absolute abstract signs leads sense that this labor is most essential and personal to worker lives.

(76) Digital labor manipulates absolute abstract signs, but its recombining function is more specific the more personalized it gets, therefore ever less interchangeable. Consequently, high tech workers tend to consider labor as the most essential part in their lives, the most specific and personalized.

Personalization of mental labor the opposite of experience of industrial worker, who saw it as temporary death.

(77) This is exactly the opposite of what happened with the industrial worker, for whom eight hours of wage labor were a sort of temporary death from which s/he could wake up only after the alarm bell rang, announcing the end of the working day.

Enterprise and desire

Enterprise the preferred mode of capitalist activity over labor.

(77) In its capitalistic meaning, the word enterprise acquires new nuances, although it never loses its sense of free and constructive action. . . . Enterprise means invention and free will. Labor is repetition and executing action.

Enterprise enjoyed by those in creative positions with high cognitive level in spite of economic and juridical conditions of workplace.

(77-78) The active in jobs with a high cognitive level, therefore those who could rarely trade their places, do not oppose their labor to the creation implied by the word enterprise: on the contrary, they tend to consider their labor, even if formally dependent, to be an enterprise where they can spend the best part of their energy, independently from the economic and juridical condition in which it expresses itself.

Psychological investment causes desire to center on enterprise.

(78) In order to understand this mutation in the perception of the notion of enterprise, we need to consider a decisive factor: while industrial workers invested mechanical energies in their wage-earning services according to a depersonalized model of repetition, high tech workers invest their specific competences, their creative, innovative and communicative capacities. As a consequence, enterprise (independently from the juridical relation between property and labor) tends to become the center towards which desire is focused, the object of an investment that is not only economical but also psychological.

Time freed by technology absorbed in cybertime.

(79) But it is also true that the time apparently freed by technology is in fact transformed into cyber time, a time of mental processing absorbed into the infinite production processes of cyberspace.

Why do cognitive workers value labor as most interesting part of life becomes key question.

(79) What is happening in the domain of cognitive labor? Why does this new kind of worker value labor as the most interesting part of his or her life and therefore no longer opposes the prolongation of the working day but is actually ready to lengthen it out of personal choice and will?

Nod to books by Mike Davis explaining loss of eros in everyday life.

(79-80) Books like Mike Davis’ City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear show that the quality of existence has affectively and psychologically deteriorated, due to the rarefaction of community ties and sterilizing obsession with security.

Loss of eros in daily life leads to investment in work.

(80) A consequence of this loss of eros in everyday life is the investment of desire in one’s work.

Generalized loss of solidarity, transformation of the other into competitor.

(80) In the last decades, the effect produced in everyday life is that of a generalized loss of solidarity. The imperative of competition has become predominant at work, in media, in culture at large, through a systematic transformation of the other into a competitor and therefore an enemy.


Evaluate wealth on quantity of goods or quality of joy.

(81) We can evaluate wealth on the basis of the quantity of goods and values possessed, or we can evaluate wealth on the basis of the quality of joy and pleasure that our experiences are capable of producing in our feeling organisms.

Wealth as capacity to enjoy the world available in terms of time, concentration, freedom.

(81) The only answer available to this question is naturally an economic one: wealth means possessing the means to allow us to consume, namely the availability of money, credit, power. . . . But one could instead conceive of wealth as the simple capacity to enjoy the world available in terms of time, concentration, and freedom.

Mental time destine to accumulation rather than enjoyment.

Economic discourse ignores issue of having time to enjoy what our work purchases.

(82) The more we invest our nervous energies in the acquisition of purchasing power, the less we can invest them in enjoying ourselves. It is around this issue—completely ignored by economic discourse—that the question of happiness and unhappiness in hyper-capitalistic societies is played out today. . . . Wealth understood as enjoyment decreases proportionally to the growth of wealth understood as economic accumulation, for the simple reason that in the latter framework mental time is destined to accumulation rather than enjoyment.

Reduction of erotic sphere, wealth accelerates loss.

(82) But the two perspectives produce the same effect: the expansion of the economic domain coincides with a reduction of the erotic sphere. When things, bodies and signs become a part of the semiotic model of the economy, wealth can only be experienced in a mediated, reflected and postponed way. . . . Therefore wealth is no longer the ability to enjoy things, bodies and signs in time, but the accelerating and expansive production of their loss transformed in exchange value and anxiety.

Sad condition of metropolitan life might as well be sold for money.

(83) The reasons behind the new love of working are to be found not only in a material impoverishment derived from the collapse of social warranties, but also in the impoverishment of existence and communication. We renew our affection for work because economic survival becomes more difficult and daily life becomes lonely and tedious: metropolitan life becomes so sad that we might as well sell it for money.

Labor, communication, community

Humanistic meaning of enterprise is responsible human initiative.

(83) Regaining something of its original humanistic meaning, the word enterprise refers to the responsible human initiative of transforming the world, nature and one’s very relation with others.

Humanistic enterprise subdued to capitalist rule.

(83-84) But there is an ambiguity that needs to be understood: enterprise is subdued to capitalist rule, the two are not at all the same thing. The desperate attempt to find freedom, humanity and happiness where the accumulation of value reigns rests on this potential difference.

No relation to pleasure or communication in classical industrial labor.

(84) Classical industrial labor and specifically the organized form of the Fordist factory had no relation with pleasure. It had not relation with communication either: communication was actually thwarted, fragmented and obstructed as long as workers were active in front of the assembly line.

Workers communism developed as place for socialization and organization against capital; now social media and cell phones reconnect family and friends.

(84-85) Therefore industrial workers found a place for socialization in subversive working communities, political organizations or unions where members organized against capital. . . . In the communist organization workers could leave their conditions of abstract labor to rediscover concrete communication through a common project, a shared mythology.

Workers do not have time to build communities under globalized capitalism.

(85) But capital’s deterritorialization has taken place rapidly, infinitely more rapid than the time required for workers to build their communities.

Cognitive labor puts communication to work, stripping its gratuitous and erotic content.

(85-86) Cognitive labor is essentially a labor of communication, that is to say communication put to work. From a certain point of view, this could be seen as an enrichment of experience. But it is also (and this is generally the rule) an impoverishment, since communication loses its character of gratuitous, pleasurable and erotic content, becoming an economic necessity, a joyless fiction.

Brain workers versus chain workers.

(87) Within mental labor as a whole we need distinguish properly cognitive labor, where intellectual energies are engaged in a constant creative deterritorialization, and mental labor of a purely applicative kind, which is still prevalent quantitatively. Even within the mental labor cycle, we can distinguish brain workers from chain workers.

Cognitive labor in the network

Capture of work inside the network through digital support and distribution of labor among productive islands.

(88) The digital transformation started two different but integrated processes. The first is the capture of work inside the network, that is to say the coordination of different labor fragments in a unique flow of information and production made possible by digital infrastructures. The second is the dissemination of the labor process into a multitude of productive islands formally autonomous, but actually coordinated and ultimately dependent. As we have said, cognitive labor manifests itself as info labor, that is to say as the infinite recombination of myriad information, available through a digital support. When cooperation means transferring, elaborating and decoding digitalized information, it is evident that the network works as its natural frame.

Transversal command permeates every fragment of labor time.

(88) The function of command is no longer a hierarchical imposition, localized in the factory, but a transversal, deterritorialized function, permeating every fragment of labor time.

Network dependency exemplified by cell phone.

Global labor as endless recombination of fragments, just like network protocol phenomena.

(88-89) Both simple executing workers and entrepreneurial managers share the vivid perception that they depend on a constant flow that cannot be interrupted and from which they cannot step back save at the price of being marginalized. . . . Cellular phones are probably the technological devices that best illustrate this kind of network dependency. . . . Global labor is the endless recombination of a myriad of fragments that produce, elaborate, distribute and decode signs and informational units of all sorts. Labor is the cellular activity where the network activates an endless recombination. Cellular phones are the instruments making this recombination possible.

Cellular phones provide connecting function at mass level for knowledge workers.

(89) But for this combination to become possible, a single, infinitely flexible (and constantly reactive to the calls of Semiocapital) productive segment is not enough: a device is needed, capable of connecting the single segments, constantly coordinating and localizing in real time the fragments of info production. Cellular phones, the most important article of consumption of the last decade, provide this very function at a mass level.

Cellular phones realize the dream of capital as workers constantly traverse cyberspace, making them always reachable and productive only when necessary.

(90) The mobility of the product was made possible by the assembly line while workers had to remain motionless in space and time. Info-workers, instead, constantly move all along the length, breadth and depth of cyberspace. They move to find signs, to elaborate experience, or simply to follow the paths of their existence. But at every moment and place they are reachable and can be called back to perform a productive function that will be reinserted into the global cycle of production. In a certain sense, cellular phones realize the dream of capital: that of absorbing every possible atom of time at the exact moment the productive cycle needs it. In this way, workers offer their entire day to capital and are paid only for the moments when their time is made cellular. . . . The entire lived day becomes subject to a semiotic activation which becomes directly productive only when necessary.

The factory of unhappiness

Happiness is a matter of ideology, not science.

(90) Happiness is not a matter of science, but of ideology. This is how it should be addressed.

Totalitarian and democratic discourse place happiness on horizon of collective action rather than individual freedom, producing infinite sadness.

(91) Both the totalitarian and the democratic political discourse have placed happiness on the horizon of collective action.
(91) Totalitarian regimes, like Nazism, Facism and the authoritarian Socialist states, denied freedom to their people in the name of a collective and homologated happiness, thereby producing an infinite sadness.
(91) But even the liberal economy, with the cult of profit and success represented in a caricatured but persuasive manner in advertising discourse, ended up producing an unhappiness caused by constant competition, defeat and guilt.

Self-realization and the refusal of work

Alienation as loss of authenticity.

(92) In its philosophical meaning, alienation meant a loss of human authenticity, the exchange of what in men and women is more essentially human for something materially valuable, such as a salary, money, or consumption goods.

The personal is political.

(93) Then in the 1970s feminist and gay movements identified with the idea that “the personal is political.” They meant that is was not only political power and the government of the republic that was at stake in the social struggle. What was at stake was first of all the quality of life, pleasure and pain, self-realization and respect for diversity: desire as the engine of collective action.

Self realization fundamental to reconstruction of social model fitting digitalization.

(94) The aspiration to self-realization became fundamental in the reconstruction of a functioning social model perfectly fitting digital productive modalities. Social history can be seen as the uninterrupted story of the refusal of work and the reconstructions of the productive system, where reciprocal resistance and reaction coexist. . . The workers’ struggle for power pushed capital to use machines instead of workers, exactly as Karl Marx had anticipated in his Grundrisse.

Entire production process reduced to elaboration and exchange of information.

(95) Thanks to digitalization, every concrete event not only can be symbolized, but also simulated, replaced by information. Consequently it becomes possible to progressively reduce the entire production process to the elaboration and exchange of information.

Information defined as creation of form inoculated into objects, making them exchangeable.

(95) Information is a creation of form, which is inoculated into the object or the event. It is the creation of value, the production of goods. Every object, event, and commodity can be replaced by algorithmic information capable of transforming that object or that event into exchangeable existence.

Cultural and psychic evolution accompanying digitalization puts cognitive faculties to work, seeming to valorize personal peculiarities.

(95-96) The formation of the info-productive model was accompanied by a cultural and psychic evolution in the labor force, substantially changing the very perception of activity. In classic industrial society, workers felt expropriated of their intellectuality, individuality and creativity. In high tech production cognitive faculties are in fact put to work, and personal peculiarities seem to be vaolirzed.

Intellectualization of labor opens new perspectives for enterprise and self realization through work.

(96) The intellectualization of labor, a major effect of the technologic and organizational transformation of the productive processes in the last two decades of the twentieth-century, opens completely new perspectives for self-realization. But it also opens a field of completely new energies to the valorization of capital. The workers’ disaffection for industrial labor, based on a critique of hierarchy and repetition, took energies away from capital, towards the end of the 1970s. All desires were located outside capital, attracting forces that were distancing themselves from domination. The exact opposite happened in the new info-productive reality of the new economy: desire called new energies toward the enterprise and self-realization through work. No desire, no vitality seems to exist anymore outside the economicd enterprise, outside productive labor and business. Capital was able to renew its psychic, ideological and economic energy, specifically thanks to the absorption of creativity, desire, and individualistic, libertarian drives for self-realization.


Open source, network model, productive collaboration arose through recombination of capital and cognitive labor.

(97) The model of the network, the principle of productive collaboration and open source took roots in society thanks to the alliance between recombining capital and cognitive labor.

Monopolization of information technologies behind illusion of independent enterprise.

Neoliberal fairytale of perfect self regulation underpinned by power relations, violence, mafia.

(97) The alliance of the 1990s happened under the sign of a neoliberalist ideology that glorified the market, describing it as a space capable of perfect self-regulation. Perfect self-regulation, of course, is a naïve fairytale since real economic play involves power relations, violence, the mafia, theft and lies. Thus monopolies come to dominate information technologies, the media system and all those other sectors where cognitive workers had invested their energies in the illusion of being able to constitute independent enterprises.

Aggressive energy needed to stimulate competition, constant mobilization of psychic energies; 1990s were a decade of psycho pharmacology.

(97) In order to stimulate competition, a powerful injection of aggressive energy became necessary, a sort of permanent electrocution producing constant mobilization of psychic energies. The 1990s were the decade of psycho-pharmacology: a Prozac-economy.

Panic and crisis at heart of Greenspan clinical diagnosis of irrational exuberance.

(98) When in 1999 Alan Greenspan spoke of the “irrational exuberance of the market,” his words were more of a clinical than a financial diagnosis. Exuberance was an effect of the drugs and of the over-exploitation of available mental energy, of a saturation of attention leading people to the limits of panic.

Dot com bust prelude to 2008 recession, both manifestations of breakdown stressed out of cognitive workers.

(98) The crisis, which was only a faint anticipation of the 2008 final catastrophe, was the first manifestation of the breakdown suffered by swarms of cognitive workers more and more affected by psychopathological syndromes and stress.

Panic depressive syndrome and competition

Ehrenberg ties depression to competition and responsibility rooted in ideology of self realization and the happiness imperative.

(98-99) In his book La Fatigue d’etre soi, Alain Ehrenberg discusses depression as a social pathological syndrome, specifically depending on situations characterized by competition. [quoting p.10] “Depression begins to develop after the disciplinary behavioral models and rules of authority and conformity to the prohibitions that assigned a destiny to social classes and gender collapsed faced with the new norms pushing each and everyone to individual action, forcing individuals to become themselves. Because of this new norm, the responsibility of our lives is now fully assigned to each of us. Depression then manifests itself as pathology of responsibility, dominated by the feeling of inadequateness. The depressed individuals are not up to the task, they are tired of having to become themselves.” Depression is deeply connected to the ideology of self-realization and the happiness imperative.

Failure necessary but not acknowledged by social norms.

(99-100) Competition implies a risky narcissistic stimulation, because in a highly competitive context, like that of a capitalistic economy and specifically of the new economy, many are called but only a few are chosen. Social norms do not acknowledge the possibility of failure, since this failure would be assigned to a psychopathologic context. There is no competition without failure and defeat, bu the social norm cannot acknowledge the norm of failure without questioning its own ideological fundaments, and even its own economic efficiency.

Drugs are the other side of the new economy.

(100) The other side of the new economy is naturally the use of psychostimulant or anti-depressive substances. This is a hidden, negated, removed side, but absolutely decisive. How many, among new economy operators, survive without Prozac, Zoloft or even cocaine?

Panic and depression are the pathologies of the new economy.

(100) Social psychologists have in fact remarked that two pathologies are of great actuality in these last decades of liberalist hyper-capitalism: panic and depression.

Panic felt when overwhelmed by infinity.

(100) Panic is the feeling we have when, faced with the infinity of nature, we feel overwhelmed, unable to receive in our consciousness the infinite stimulus that the world produces in us.

Vastness of Infosphere overwhelms comprehension as sublime nature did the Greeks.

Stress from overwhelming vastness, expansion, velocity leading to collapse.

(101) The infinite vastness of the Infosphere is superior to the human capacities of elaboration, as much as a sublime nature overcomes the capacities of feeling that the Greeks could summon when faced with the god Pan. The infinite velocity of the expansion of cyberspace, the infinite velocity of exposure to signs perceived as vital to the survival of the organism produce a perceptive, cognitive and psychic stress culminating in a dangerous acceleration of all vital functions, such as breathing and heart beat, leading to collapse.

Collective panic generates aggressive behaviors.

(102) Collective panic generates phenomena such as irrational aggressiveness against immigrants, senseless mass violence in stadiums, as well as other, apparently normal behaviors, like those characterizing personal relations in the contemporary urban space.

Permanent electrocution the normal condition when network technologies used competitively.

(102) Permanent electrocution is the normal condition of a system where network communicative technologies are used in a competitive social situation, projecting the organism in an infinite, hyper-fast flow of economically relevant signs.

Collapse from panic crisis and depressive detachment.

(102) Once the organism gets overtaxed to an unbearable degree, a panic crisis may lead to collapse, or the organism might detach itself from the flow of communication, manifesting a sudden psychic loss of motivation called depression by psychologists.

Depression disinvests energy used narcissistically.

(102) With depression we are affected first of all by a disinvestment of the energy previously used in a narcissistic way. Once the organism realizes that it is unable to sustain further competitive tension, that it is a loser in the relation that was absorbing all of its motivation, what takes place is a sort of zero degree of the exchange relation between the conscious organism and its world.

Examples of aggressive young workers on the verge of panic.

(103) The aggressive young people addicted to amphetamines, riding in super-accessorized cars and going to work ready to give their best to increase their share in corporate earnings and to obtain their bosses’ approval are all in the waiting room of panic. In the same way their younger skinhead brothers beat each other up every Sunday in the soccer stadium, expressing a form of panic accumulated weekly during their normal working week.

Competitive society drug dependence ignored by political culture.

(103) Political culture refuses to acknowledge that the legal drugs one can buy at the pharmacy, a source of astonishing profits for Roche and Glaxo, as well as the illegal ones, a source of profit for the mafia, are an essential factor (and in fact the most important one) of competitive society.

Virtual class and cognitariat

Definition of virtual as reality whose tangible physicality has been eliminated.

Frigid thought as a-critic exaltation of digital technologies, artificially euphoric but desexualized.

(103) Virtual is a reality whose tangible physicality has been eliminated. Frigid Thought can well be recognized in the network world, where the relation to the other is artificially euphoric but substantially desexualized as well.

(103) Frigid Thought is the a-critic exaltation of digital technologies.

Physical encapsulated while virtually present.

(104) Those who can, isolate themselves in a pressurized and hyperconnected capsule. They are physically removed from other human beings (whose existence becomes a factor of insecurity), though ubiquitous, virtually present in any possible place according to their desires.

Virtual class through removal of social corporeality of Semiocapital work flows.

(104) The notion of virtual class stresses the socially undefined, elusive character of the work flows produced by Semiocapital. The virtual class is the class of those who do not identify with any class, since they are not socially or materially structured: their definition depends on the removal of their own social corporeality.

Cognitariat complementary concept of virtual class emphasizing denied carnality and avoided sociality of semiotic labor flow.

Possibility of conscious community in cognitariat, while virtual class only produces collective intellect.

(105) But I’d like to find a complementary concept, capable of defining the (denied) carnality and the (avoided) sociality of the mental labor at work in the production of Semiocapital. Therefre I use the notion of the cognitariat. The cognitariat is the semiotic labor flow, socially spread and fragmented, as seen from the standpoint of its social corporeality. The virtual class has no needs, but the cognitariat does. The virtual class is not affected by the psychic stress determined by the constant exploitation of attention. The cognitariat is affected. The virtual class cannot produce any conscious collective process except as collective Intellect. The cognitariat can identify itself as a conscious community.

Cognitariat social corporeality of cognitive labor.

Cognitariat is embodied immaterial soul, incorporating other aspects besides intellect.

(105) Cognitariat is the social corporeality of cognitive labor. What is at stake within the social definition of cognitive labor is precisely the body, sexuality, mortal physicality, the unconscious.

Social existence of cognitive workers must be conceived beyond intellect.

(105) But the social existence of cognitive workers does not exhaust itself with the intellect: cognitive workers, in their concrete existence, are bodies whose nerves become tense with constant attention and effort while their eyes are strained in the fixed contemplation of a screen.

3 The Poisoned Soul

From incommunicability to over-communication

Need new idea of wealth valuing time for pleasurable enjoyment over accumulation.

(140) The postmodern domination of capitalism is founded on the refrain of wealth, understood as cumulative possession. A specific idea of wealth took control of the collective mind which values accumulation and the constant postponing of pleasurable enjoyment. But this idea of wealth (specific to the sad science of economics) transforms life into lack, need and dependence. To this idea of wealth we need to oppose another idea: wealth as time—time to enjoy, travel, learn and make love.

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.