The third unconscious

Image: Petrit Halilaj
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By FRANCO “BIFO” BERARDI

Author's preface to the recently published book

This book explores the mutation of the social unconscious taking place today. My point of observation is the one we inhabit in the present: the historical threshold marked by the viral pandemic and the catastrophic collapse of capitalism. From that threshold, what we see before us is a horizon of chaos, exhaustion and progressive extinction.

This mutation was summarized perfectly by the Japanese philosopher Sabu Kosho. In your book Radiation and revolution [Radiation and Revolution] (2020), Sabu Kosho writes with hopeless lucidity: “Philosophically, this is an ontological turn from dialectics to immanence – from totalization by capitalism and the state to the omnipresence of singular events. In this turning point is the imminence of a planetary revolution that will be perceived as the decomposition of the World and the rediscovery of the Earth.”

The concepts that emerge from Sabu Kosho's understanding of the 2011 Fukushima apocalypses are crucial for interpreting the global apocalypses of 2020: the ubiquitous and unstoppable proliferation of the principle of dissolution (radiation, viruses), the erosion of all symbolic and political order, and the return of Earth, so long denied. The Earth, defined by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri as the great deterritorialized one, is reasserting itself and sweeping away the pathetic political power with the force of tsunamis, forest fires and viral epidemics.

I believe that philosophy and psychoanalysis, instead of panicking and cursing chaos, should take this horizon of chaos and exhaustion as the starting point for their reflection. Everything needs to be redefined, especially what happens in the intimate space of desire, emotion, fear.

The Unconscious is a region without history, without sequentiality, without a before and after: it would be impossible to write a “History of the Unconscious”. It is possible, however, to describe the history of the psychosphere of a society, and, in this sense, it is possible to speak of a “third” Unconscious: the third form that the Unconscious takes in the mental environment of late modernity. 

The “first” phase was explored by Freud, who conceived of the Unconscious as the dark side of the well-ordered picture of rational progress.

Science, education and dedication to work were the pillars of modern public life. Marriage, monogamy and the nuclear family were the pillars of modern private life.

Em Civilization's Discontents (1930), Freud states that social normality requires a high degree of denial of desire or repression of desire. Drive (sexual drive or instinctivity). The bourgeois form of “normality” dominant at the beginning of the 20th century produced a particular form of suffering that Freud called “neurosis”. To continue with the tasks of daily life, the modern individual was forced to renounce, repress and possibly obliterate his sexual drives – and this removal was pathogenic. Neurosis was the general form of this pathology.

The picture changed in the last decades of the 20th century, when the acceleration of the infosphere and the intensification of nervous stimulation (internet communication and cultural globalization) threatened the systemic repression of desire and the psychopathological regime of neurosis.

The first intuition of this transformation in the psychocultural landscape can be found in the Anti-Oedipus by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri (Ed. 34), a book that marked the turn from structuralism to creative-rhizomatic thinking, but that conceptually also opened the Pandora's box of desire, therefore anticipating the neoliberal hypermobilization of the energy of dissociated desire of pleasure.

No Anti-Oedipus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri reject the idea that the Unconscious is a kind of deposit containing experiences that we do not want to see, remember, or bring to our conscious life. The Unconscious is not a theater, but a laboratory: the Unconscious is the magmatic force that incessantly brings to light new possibilities of imagination and experience.

Today, fifty years after the publication of Anti-Oedipus, we can read the creative thought of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri as the ambiguous (extremely ambiguous, and extremely rich) casting of a double-edged future: the utopian future of “liberation from desire” and the dystopian future of neoliberal capitalism, where the Desire is celebrated as a drive for consumption, competition and economic growth, while pleasure is constantly postponed.

The media system was fully mobilized to expand the promises of satisfaction, but this acceleration in the flow of information overloaded the human capacity for attention, indefinitely postponing the possibility of pleasure, which ultimately became unattainable. This social regime led to the configuration of a new psychopathological regime, which characterized the last decades: the era of panic, depression and, ultimately, psychosis.

Panic means the perception of an excess of possibilities, the intuition of an unattainable volume of pleasure. A person panics because they are faced with an excess of pleasure that they cannot actually experience. Panic is the escape line from depression, and depression is the soothing return after a journey through panic. This is the internal oscillation of the post-neurotic psychosphere.

In the era of the Second Unconscious, neurosis is no longer the general mode of psychic suffering. As the explosion of the unconscious leads us to a condition of hyperstimulation and psychological frustration, psychosis takes the place of neurosis.

The rhizomatic whirlwind of network experience drags the unconscious, which Freud defines as the Inner Australia (the “inner foreign land”), outside of oneself, externalizing it to the point of a psychotic explosion.

I call this articulation between accumulation, semiotic production and nervous stimulation “semiocapitalism”. 

Félix Guattari suggests that schizophrenia be considered a disorder of the free production of meanings. In his thinking, the schizoid becomes the crucial figure in an adventure of liberation, creativity and knowledge. This, however, is just the liberating side of acceleration. It has another side, denounced by Jean Baudrillard in Symbolic exchange and death (1976): the ecstatic acceleration of nervous stimulation (seduction, simulation, hyper-reality) goes hand in hand with neoliberal globalization, causing a disturbance in the sphere of experience.

The psychopathology of semiocapitalism is marked by anxiety, attention disorders and panic. Depression enters as the final symptom of the semiocapitalist regime: the intensity of the social and emotional rhythm becomes unsustainable, and the only way to escape suffering is to mutilate the connection with desire and, consequently, the desiring connection with reality.

Today, in the third decade of the new century, the phase of the Second Unconscious seems to be heading towards a conclusion. We are entering, it seems, a new psychosphere where an Unconscious Third Party begins to form. One must be careful: the shape of this new region of the Unconscious is not easily divisible; nor is it predictable, as the evolution of the psychosphere is not linear. There is no determinism in the psychosphere; there is no map like this Inner Australia, because, according to Freud, the Unconscious has no consistency or logic.

So we cannot know exactly in which direction (or directions) the mental escape will evolve, nor which evolution (or evolutions) will be caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which coincides with a widespread economic and social collapse.

When I talk about the Third Age of the Unconscious, I am referring to an open future, which will be shaped by our consciousness, our political action, our poetic imagination, and the therapeutic activities that we are able to develop during this transition. Having made the necessary reservations, it is now possible to outline at least some disturbances in the current psychic turn.

The threshold is here and now: it emerged with the arrival of the coronavirus in the space of collective awareness. This bio-info-psychic virus has been irreversibly altering our social proxemics, our affective expectations, our unconscious. Although it is still difficult to distinguish the contours of this ongoing mutation, some of its general features are already clear and have entered our field of vision.

Firstly, the proximity of bodies has become a problematic factor, and their survival as part of our social life is under increasing threat. Second, the spread of suffering in the pandemic era (not just medical suffering, but economic, social and, ultimately, mental suffering) has reached such unbearable levels that a form of immunization against emotion may become dominant: autism and alexithymia can enter the dispute for the psychosphere as the internalization of the refusal to feel other people's emotions, and possibly also one's own. What I describe in this book is not a well-defined path of mutation, but a magmatic field of possibilities, in a landscape overwhelmed by anxiety.

In the first part of the book, “On the threshold”, I will describe the effects of the outbreak of the coronavirus on the space of collective sensitivity and imagination.

In the second part, “The imminent psychosphere”, I try to counterbalance the distinct (or even divergent) tendencies that are part of the ongoing psychological mutation, as it affects the spheres of sexuality, social proxemics and desire.

In the third and final part, “Becoming-Nothing”, I sketch the landscape of this century as I see it from the point of view of the present: a world that has aged, the exhaustion of physical and neurological resources, extinction as the meaning of our time . Only a new movement of the imagination can disperse this horizon of probability.

However, if this is the new horizon of the Unconscious, we must remember once again that the Unconscious is not a warehouse, but a laboratory. The most urgent question is not about what the Unconscious perceives and projects outside of itself. The question is this: how can the Third Unconscious find a way out of its own nightmares?

*Franco “Bifo” Berardi is a philosopher, writer, social activist and professor of media theory at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera. Author, among other books, of After the future (Ubu). [https://amzn.to/3IIAj2B]

Reference


Franco “Bifo” Berardi. The third unconscious. The psychosphere in the viral era. Translation: Camila de Moura. São Paulo, GLAC editions. 2024, 176 pages. [https://amzn.to/43SsLEy]


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