Horror of Financialisation

With Oceanic Horror I have not only set out to explore the temporal qualities of horror fiction, and how to potentially utilise these inside a temporal art practice, I’ve also been searching for ways to relate these to our current tempor(e)ality. To avoid winding up in a situation where these two artistic categories solely speak to one another, in a closed circuit feedback loop that only ever exists in a symbolic space, I have searched for ways in which the material would speak into a certain political contemporary setting. A tempor(e)ality, that I conceive of as completely framed by neoliberal ideology (with its mantra of deregulation) and by financialisation. This concept of ‘financialisation’ is the closest I get to a term that frames the form of economic reality that I see running through, and really being constitutive to, our contemporary tempor(e)ality.

The Limits to Financialisation
Financialisation is one of those terms, whose frequent use muddies what is exactly meant when using it. Geographer Brett Christophers cautions any reliance or mobilising of the term for the purposes of both categorisation and explanation. He is concerned 'with the limits to the power of financialisation and its conceptualisation to meaningfully advance our theoretical understanding of capitalism’s cultural and political economies more generally.' (2015) He asserts that there are limitations to the useful and manageable expansion and mutation of a term: 'Stretch a concept too far, invest it with excessive or extraneous signification, and the danger increases of it ultimately disintegrating. Beyond a certain point (the location of which is impossible accurately to pinpoint or predict), the recognisable and coherent—if also often multiply constituted—sense of meaning that once gave a concept its potency risks being lost.' (2015) He suggests, to render such a limited and dispersed (in regards to its multiple sets of use and readings) concept, analytically subordinate. Suggesting instead to assert that the object of research may be 'the growing penetration of financial logics into our daily life-worlds and finance’s increasing dominance of processes and outcomes of capital accumulation and perhaps really the link between the two.' (2015) It is exactly in this framing that I’ve come to understand the term financialisation and also how I intent to use it here; scare quotes aside. Financialisation perfectly frames the idea of the penetrative qualities of finance. I am alert to Christophers’ cautioning in a very specific way. There is something about how a word like financialisation escapes the accountability of what it truly stands for. As a word one throws around, it loses its notoriety, its signature of culpability. Financialisation is a buzzword - much like Globalisation was to the 1990s and Neoliberalisation to the 2000s. The true terror that resides in the concept, of finance drilling out meaningful everyday life existence, filling up the cavities with a substance only generative to itself, leading to, yes indeed, more drilling, goes unchecked in the use of the term as intellectual currency.

Absolute Capitalism
This framing of an economic system increasingly dominating outer processes, concurrent with its growing penetration into inner processes, mirrors what Franco “Bifo” Berardi has called absolute capitalism. In his book ‘Heroes’ "Bifo" asks how we should define the contemporary economic system. He rejects the term cognitive capitalism, 'since only labour can be defined as cognitive'. (2015) Capital is only the exploiter of cognitive activity not its subject. 'The bearer of knowledge, creativity and skills is the cognitive worker'. (2015) Furthermore, despite their widespread use, "Bifo" also seeks to avoid the terms monetarism and neoliberal capitalism. He writes: 'The variation in money supply was only a technical aspect, and Neoliberalism only the ideological justification, of an epochal transformation that took place in the last decades of the twentieth century.' (2015) In the book he describes a long-term anthropological evolution where contemporary capitalism exists as a 'turning point beyond the age of humanism'. (2015) The embodied values of the modern bourgeoisie, was Humanist freedom from the destiny of theology, just as bourgeoisie capitalism was a product of the Humanist revolution. But as capital accumulation grew and the production processes deterritorialised, the bourgeois characterisation of the economic system ended. During the era of bourgeoisie capitalism, the bourgeoisie had to accept a certain limitation to its own economic expansion. The destiny of its own investments were territorially linked to the community and area of land, and hence could not be treated with the sort of indifference that ultimately comes with the emancipation from territorial limitations. 'Workers and the bourgeoisie shared the same urban space, and the same future. If the economy crumbled, it was a disgrace also for the owner, although it was a much worse disgrace for the workers and their families'. (2015) As the predominant site for processes of accumulation is taken over by the production and exchange of abstract signs, semiocapitalism takes the place of industrial capitalism. The extreme manifestation of this predominance of semiosis over physical production, is financial abstraction. But even the term semiocapitalism doesn’t make "Bifo’s" cut: 'Semiocapitalism is, for me, a suitable definition of the present economic system at the global level. However, if we intend to grasp the political dimension of the transformation that Neoliberal deregulation has brought about, I think that it would be more correct to speak of a capitalist absolutism.' (2015) He notes that the word absolute descends from the Latin term ab-solutus; translatable to emancipated from any limitations. In this use of the word absolute, it echoes the meaning of deregulation, as not being limited by restrictions or constrained in any way by constitutional or other precautionary measures. A virtual class without territorial identity has emerged out of the deterritorialisation of production and exchange and the rise of financial capitalism, pushed forward by processes of deregulation. As globalisation of corporate trade 'rendered impossible any all-emcompasing legal control on their activities' (2015), global corporations were given absolute freedom to disregard local authority and to shift their immaterial assets from one location to another. With this globalisation ends the unionised power of workers, since the work force is left scattered and territorially unbound to the employer and its prospects of a future. In regards to the environmental crisis that we are currently in, the deregulatory pursuit of accumulation comes to the forefront in the systematic, limitless, and as "Bifo" argues ultimately suicidal, exploitation of physical resources and the pollution of the environment. "Bifo" concludes: 'This is why I believe that the contemporary global system should be defined as one of absolute capitalism, in which the only effective principles are those of value-accumulation, profit-growth and economic competition. These are all-encompassing priorities, and the overwhelming impetus of its core. All other concerns, including the survival of the planet or the future of the next generation, are subsumed to these greater goals'. (2015) Where the ideology of deregulation may proclaim its emancipating of society from the bounds of rules, what is actually at play is the emancipation of capital from political law and social needs. Inversely, society is subjected to a blind adherence to the law of financial accumulation. This has 'marked the beginning of an age of capitalist absolutism, in which capital accumulation and particularly financial accumulation are entirely independent (ab-solutus, untied) from the social interest.' (Berardi, 2015)

Capitalist Realism is Good Enough
Absolute capitalism forms a limitless space in which all logics must be circumscribed; all ideas redirected through its switchboard circumventing any notion of an alternative. Mark Fisher spoke of this situation as one of Capitalist Realism; 'the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.' (2009) Echoing "Bifo’s" notion, Fisher describes capital realism, not as a particular form of realism, but more like realism in itself. He writes: 'The power of capitalist realism derives in part from the way that capitalism subsumes and consumes all of previous history: one effect of its system of equivalence which can assign all cultural objects, whether they are religious iconography, pornography, or Das Capital, a monetary value.' (2009) In this capitalist realism too, the only effective principles are those of value-accumulation, converting even the practices and rituals of lifeworlds, into merely aesthetic objects; ironised and transformed into artefacts. Following Marx and Engels’ description of how the most heavenly ecstasies of religion is drowned in the icy water of capitalism’s egotistical calculation, Fisher describes capitalism as 'what is left when beliefs have collapsed at the level of ritual or symbolic elaboration, and all that is left is the consumer-spectator, trudging through the ruins and the relics.' (2009) But this turn from belief to aesthetics, from engagement to spectatorship, is really what is upheld as one of the virtues of capitalist realism. It presents itself, exactly 'as a shield protecting us from the perils posed by belief itself'. (2009) It delivers us from the fatal abstraction inspired by the ideologies of the past. The attitude of ironic distance associated with postmodern capitalism is really there to immunise us from expecting too much; from getting any radical ideas. Or as Alain Badiou has remarked: 'A brutal state of affairs, profoundly inegalitarian – where all existence is evaluated in terms of money alone – is presented to us as ideal. To justify their conservatism, the partisans of the established order cannot really call it ideal or wonderful. So instead, they have decided to say that all the rest is horrible. Sure, they say, we may not live in a condition of perfect Goodness. But we're lucky that we don't live in a condition of Evil.' (Cox, 2001) Fisher analogises this premise of capitalist realism to 'the deflationary perspective of a depressive who believes that any positive state, any hope, is a dangerous illusion.' (2009) In this way Fisher highlights exactly that absolutist quality of something that absorbs all imagination, even that of pursuing the good, rather than ‘the less than evil’. In capitalism-emancipated-from-limitations, there is no reason to pursue something better and all endeavours hereof is framed in the language of limitations, restrictions, rules and subjugation; opposed to that of freedom. The language forming in this shielding against past conditions of evil, deems the pursuit of an alternative perilous. Badiou continues: 'That's why the idea of Evil has become essential. No intellectual will actually defend the brutal power of money and the accompanying political disdain for the disenfranchised, or for manual labourers, but many agree to say that real Evil is elsewhere.  […] Under the pretext of not accepting Evil, we end up making believe that we have, if not the Good, at least the best possible state of affairs – even if this best is not so great.' (Cox, 2001) Fisher reminds us that anti-capitalism is actually widely disseminated in capitalism, using the example of how, 'time after time, the villain in Hollywood films will turn out to be the evil corporation.' (2009) And in these anti-capitalist gestures, capitalist realism is actually reinforced. The irony involved in the consumerist product criticising consumerism, or the villainous profiteer acting as antagonist inside the franchise made for profit, feeds rather than challenges capitalist realism. It forms a certain interpassivity; it 'performs our anti-capitalism for us, allowing us to continue to consume with impunity'. (2009)

The Auto-Exploitation of Psycho-Politics
'Freedom will prove to have been merely an interlude.' (Han 2017) This is the opening line of Byung-Chul Han’s book 'Psycho-Politics'. He follows up on this enigmatic entry, writing: 'Freedom is felt when passing from one way of living to another – until this too turns out to be a form of coercion. Then, liberation gives way to renewed subjugation. Such is the destiny of the subject; literally, the one who has been cast down'. (2017) In 'Psycho-Politics', Han describes a certain change in the way that we no longer perceive of ourselves as subjugated subjects, but rather projects. With this passing from subject to project, a sense of freedom attends, expressed in the ways we refashion and reinvent ourselves. Instead of subjugation to what we should, we are compelled by what we possibly can. But in the freedom of Can, opposed to the disciplin of Should, a new form of subjugation resides. 'As a project deeming itself free of external and alien limitations, the I is now subjugating itself to internal limitations and self-constraints, which are taking the form of compulsive achievements and optimisation.' (2017) There is an unlimitedness to the compulsions that the freedom of being ones own project entails. Where the disciplinary Should has a limit, the voluntary Can in contrast has none. Freedom is supposed to be an opposite to constraint, but freedom is now producing coercion – all expressed through the rise of burnouts and depression. A new achievement subject, the one who can rather than should, may think of this self-realisation as an expression of freedom but is in reality a slave. 'In so far as it willingly exploits itself without a master, it is an absolute slave.' (2017) As one becomes an entrepreneur of one’s own self, one really becomes the master and subject of oneself, embodying the master-slave relationship, in one and the same body. By removing all freedoms that could be included in either category, labour is totalised. 'Today, everyone is an auto-exploiting labourer in his or her own enterprise. […] Even class struggle has transformed into an inner struggle against oneself.' (2017) All this is served as freedom, so who would resist it? Who would not want to be free? Han writes: 'Neoliberalism represents a highly efficient, indeed an intelligent, system of exploiting freedom. Everything that belongs to practices and expressive forms of liberty – emotion, play and communication – comes to be exploited. It is inefficient to exploit people against their will. Allo-exploitation yields scant returns. Only when freedom is exploited are returns optimised.' (2017) As capital lays hold on individual freedom, using it for its own propagation, it amounts to servitude. Capital takes advantage over individual freedom in order to produce more of itself. Or as Han puts it: 'Capital reproduces by entering into relations with itself as another form of Capital: through free competition. It copulates with the Other of itself by way of individual freedom.' (2017) As allo-exploitation is transformed into auto-exploitation it affects all classes and renders impossible any social revolution based on the difference between exploiters and the exploited; since these are both absorbed into the classless self-exploiter. The achievement-subject is isolated in this auto-exploitation and for this reason the idea that a political 'we' could rise up, and undertake collective action, seems impossible. Thus, 'now, under the neoliberal regime of auto-exploitation, people are turning their aggression against themselves. This auto-aggressivity means that the exploited are not inclined to revolution so much as depression.' (Han, 2017)

In this writing moment, I recognise the weight of guilt that comes with the notion of not possibly doing all I can. I turn a certain aggression towards myself, beating myself over and over, with the assurance of not living up to the task, of failing. Or as Han describes it: 'People who fail in the neoliberal achievement-society see themselves as responsible for their lot and feel shame instead of questioning society or the system. Herein lies the particular intelligence defining the neoliberal regime: no resistance to the system can emerge in the first place.' (2017) An icy feeling of familiarity stabs me, with this notion of shame-inducing auto-responsibility, in the work with art or in the participation in a competitive academic framework. In the way art workers are pitted against one another in the struggle to attain funds, exhibitions or research positions, one’s colleagues are inherently always also one’s competitors, and the grounds for friendship are dismantled. When can a relation be said to be free of purpose? Han points out that being free originally meant being among friends; freedom and friendship having the same root in Indo-European languages. He writes: 'A real feeling of freedom occurs only in a fruitful relationship – when being with others brings happiness.' (2017) But in the way we auto-exploitatively pursue freedom, as that optimisation of oneself, leading to utter isolation (always reserved towards the other since they might constitute a threat to the full realisation of our potential), being with others does not bring happiness and we’re not freed at all.

Chaos and Dyst-Irony
In the rather bleak landscape that Franco "Bifo" Berardi lays out in 'Heroes' (a certain bleakness that is indeed accustomed to his writing) he does identify a crack of light breaking through the darkness. An opening in the hermetic setting, in the absolute, coming into being through his reading of Félix Guattari and his notions on Chaosmosis and the chaoide. "Bifo" understands Guattari’s notion of chaosmosis as the creation of a new order emerging from the present chaos. He writes: 'Chaosmosis is the osmotic passage from a state of chaos to a new order, where the word order does not have a normative or ontological meaning. Order is to be intended as harmony between mind and the semi-environment, as the sharing of a sympathetic mindset. Sympathy, common perception. Chaos is an excess of speed of the info sphere in relation to the ability of elaboration of the brain.' (2015) Chaos forms, as our consciousness proves too slow to process the accelerated streams of information of our tempor(e)ality, making us unable to translate the world into cosmos or mental order. To move past this chaos and the chaosmic spasms it induces in its subjects – as in the 'painful vibration[s] which forces the organism to an extreme mobilisation of nervous energies' (Berardi, 2015) – a certain transformation is needed. "A jump to a new refrain, to a new rhythm; chaosmosis is the shift from a rhythm of conscious elaboration (refrain) to a new rhythm, which is able to process what the previous rhythm could not process. A shift in the speed of consciousness, the creation of a different order of mental processing: this is chaosmosis." (Berardi, 2015) In order to perform this shift from one rhythm to another, between refrains, we need a living decoder of chaos: a ‘chaoide’. The chaoide is described as a sort of de-multiplier or a linguistic agent able to disengage from the chaosmic spasms. It is 'full of chaos, receives and decodes the bad vibrations of the planetary spasm, but does not absorb the negative psychological effects of chaos, of the surrounding aggressiveness, of fear.' (Berardi, 2015) "Bifo" highlights the importance of producing and circulating these chaoides, that he describes as forms 'of enunciation (artistic, poetic, political, scientific) which [are] able to open the linguistic flows to different rhythms and to different frames of interpretation.' (2015) The chaoide is envisioned as a tool for the elaboration of both the surrounding and the eternalised chaos. Chaosmosis in this sense means the 'reactivation of the body of social solidarity, reactivation of imagination, a new dimension for human evolution, beyond the limited horizon of economic growth.' (2015) The absolute nature of the chaos that surround us, and is internalised by us, has a paralysing effect; an entrancing landscape of 'frailty, fear of precariousness and the premonition of a catastrophe that is impossible to avoid'. (2015) To avoid this type of paranoiac paralysis, "Bifo" suggest that we face and dissolve dystopia with irony. He points out that most people do know that financial dictatorship is destroying their life, so there is no point in drawing up that dystopia, but what should rather be of concern is the problem of knowing what to do about it. 'It is possible that nothing can be done, that power has become so deeply entrenched in the automatisms regulating daily life, connecting our interchanges, and infiltrating our word, that bio-financial control cannot be undone or avoided. So what can be done when nothing can be done?' (2015) Ironic autonomy is proposed as an answer to this disheartening question. By this "Bifo" means the contrary to participation, to responsibility, to faith. The language of this autonomy is dyst-irony (dystopian irony), a scepticism towards one’s own assumptions and predictions, and those of others. If paranoia knows that there is no way out, we need a method of ignorance. 'We need to assume some distance from what seems to be inscribed as an imminent-immanent tendency in the present cartography of events. The spectrum of the possible is much larger than the range of probability. We need to correct dystopia with irony, because irony (far from being cynical alliance with power) is the excess of language that opens the door to the infinity of the possible.' (2015) In dyst-irony despair is not to be feared, since it does not delimit the potential of joy; joy is simply a condition of proving intellectual despair wrong. Despair, as acknowledgment of the truth of our present situation, is contested by the joy of knowing that the only truth, is shared imagination and projection. 'Irony is about the independence of mind from knowledge; it is about the excessive nature of the imagination’. (Berardi, 2015)

Ocean of Stupidity
On a similar note Byung Chul Han, identifies a resistance towards the psycho-politics of the auto-exploitating pursuit of freedom, in the abandonment of intelligence. Originally meaning choosing-between (inter-legere), intelligence cannot exercise free choice, since it is stuck in this in-between that depends on the system in operation. It can only select among the offerings afforded by the system. 'Intelligence follows the logic of a system. It is system-immanent. A given system defines a given intelligence. Accordingly, intelligence has no access to what is wholly Other.' (2017) Only the idiot has this access. In the pursuit of unbounded communicative exchange and information circulation allowing for capital to move faster, idiosyncrasy poses an obstacle. 'Communication achieves maximum velocity when the Same reacts to the Same. In contrast, the resistance and recalcitrance of otherness, of foreignness, troubles and impedes the smooth communication of the Same.' (2017) In this sense the idiot represents a practice of freedom, raising above the horizontal plane of information and network with the Same, into the vertical receptiveness to something else. 'By nature, the idiot is unallied, un-networked, and uninformed. The idiot inhabits the immemorial outside, which escapes communication and networking altogether.' (2017) As a modern-day heretic, the idiot now represents a figure of resistance against the violence of consensus. Han argues, that in today’s increasingly coercive conformism it is more urgent than ever to heighten this form of heretical consciousness. The idiot as subject to nothing, gains access to a sphere of de-subjectivation and de-pschologisation. A negativity, 'wresting the subject out of itself and liberating it into the immensity of an empty time. The idiot does not exist as a subject - he is more like a flower: an existence simply open to light.' (2017) One must practice such a de-psychologisation in order to even dream an opposition to the absolutism of capitalism. Plunge or nosedive into the ocean of stupidity from where one can escape the subjugation of Neoliberal psycho-politics, with its techniques of domination through psychological programming and steering. In this ocean - potentially offered through a poetic or artistic turn overthrowing the logics of domination - we can perhaps rid ourselves from the restrains that absolute capitalism holds over our imagination and open 'onto a mode of existence that still has no name: an unwritten future.' (Han, 2017)