On Theory And Finance: Review Of Berardi’s “The Uprising”


Jonathon Kyle Sturgeon in The American Reader:

Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s newly translated book The Uprising: On Poetry and Financeis light on two things: poetry and finance. What Berardi gives the reader instead is a poetics loaded with quasi-literary keywords and bits of post-Marxist critique, a poetics that is semiotized and Search Engine Optimized for the reader of contemporary theory. If we were to give this poetics a name, we might call it reverse symbolism, for Berardi means quite literally to reverse the project of symbolist poetry, or what he calls “the main thread of twentieth century poetic research.” The symbolist culprit, the moving target of Berardi’s reversionism, is what he calls the “dereferentialization” of language, the tearing apart of the signifier and the referent. To put this in another way, The Uprising argues that symbolist experiments with language in the early twentieth century have found their deepest expression in our current predicament. We now find ourselves in the throes of a symbolist “semio-capitalism” where the word and the world are no longer linked together in meaning.

Semio-capitalism is a portable concept; it is easy to pack and travels light. In parable form, it goes something like this:

Financialization and the virtualization of human communication
are obviously intertwined: thanks to the digitization of exchanges,
finance has turned into a social virus that is spreading everywhere,
transforming things into symbols. The symbolic spiral of financialization
is sucking down and swallowing up the world of physical things, of
concrete skills and knowledge. The concrete wealth of Europeans is
vanishing into a black hole of pure financial destruction.

Now, I’ve never seen a symbol “suck down” or “swallow up” anything—including matter, skills, and knowledge—but Berardi does tie another knot between symbolist poetry and finance: deregulation. Citing Rimbaud’s phrase “dérèglement des sens et des mot,” Berardi, through sleight of hand, hitches the symbolist (or proto-symbolist) “deregulation (or derangement) of the senses and the word” to the economic project of financial deregulation that took place throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s in Europe and America. The idea is that symbolism “deregulated” language by divorcing it from the world in much the same way that financial deregulation led to a disconnect between financial instruments and the value of labor.