Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi is a renowned theorist of contemporary media, culture and society. He has lectured at the Academia di Brera in Milan, and has been published and invited to speak widely across the US and Europe. This respectable status is the result of a hard fought journey, his political and philosophical trajectory beginning in the radical social movements of 1970s Italy, in struggles that were central to his formation as a writer, thinker and activist.
The year 1977 bore witness to an explosion of youth creativity and revolt inside the European complex. As the towns, cities and suburbs of the UK would see the emergence of Punk rock and its ‘diffused assault’ on the cultural values of preceding generations, Italy would be rocked by youth-led rebellions, spectacular in their intensity, creativity and violence. While the values, aesthetics and innovations associated with Punk rock would eventually diffuse into British society, the creative rebellion occurring in Italy known as ‘Autonomia’ would be met by a wave of state repression aimed squarely at halting its expansion. While the origins of these two expressions share many common co-ordinates, the history of Italian Autonomia remains relatively obscure in the Anglo-speaking world. Emerging in an encounter between a severely weakened Workerism (a social movement that had sprung up from Italy’s factory floors during the late 1960s) and the new youth movements that were beginning to coalesce in 1972, Autonomia was a broad and heterogeneous social movement aimed at nothing less than the radical overthrow of society. Central to all of its expressions lay the idea of ‘worker’s autonomy’, understood as the potential autonomy of labour from capitalism. The ideas, analyses and practices associated with these movements have since been grouped together and described as the product of an ‘autonomist Marxism’. This school of thought has provided a key theoretical lynch-pin for many in the anti-statist left and since the turn of the last century has continued to grow in influence.
A veteran of Italy’s ‘1968’, in the autonomist movement Berardi forged his lifelong personal engagement with social movement media, founding the magazine A/traverso (1975-1981) and the influential pirate radio station ‘Radio Alice’. Like others involved with Autonomia, Berardi was forced to flee Italy at the end of the 1970s in order to avoid persecution at the hands of the state. Arriving in Paris, he immediately struck up a friendship with, and would eventually work alongside, the philosopher and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. He continued his exploration of radical media co-founding the e-zine rekombinant.org in the 1990s, and in 2002 founding the community TV channel Orfeo TV, launching the telestreet pirate TV station movement across Italy.
Berardi’s intellectual work explores the role that media and technology play in the post-industrial capitalism in which we live today, examining issues including digital connectivity, alienation, over-stimulation and automation. Central to this project is an ongoing study of cultural representation and our ideas of the future. His influence is considerable, spanning radical, academic and contemporary art worlds, leading to collaborations with artists such as Warren Neidich. A prolific author of over 20 books, his recent published works include After The Future (2011), The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (2012) and And: Phenomenology of the end (2015). Throughout these works Berardi deftly draws on psychoanalysis, communication theory and autonomist Marxism to illustrate how subjectivity and desire are bound up in the contemporary functioning of capitalism, and together these works form a clarion call for the reclamation of our desired future. On his last visit to London, I met with Berardi at the Soho office of his publisher to discuss these themes as they appear in his latest book, Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (2015).