In His Book, Breathing – Chaos and Poetry, Bifo Berardi Offers Guidance and Inspiration for Living in Today’s World

In the European Night: Will the Union Survive?” by Center for the Study of Europe is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Atman: in Hinduism, the spiritual life principle of the universe, especially when regarded as inherent in the real self of the individual; distinct of ego, mind, and bodily existence. 

Prana: the cosmic vibration that we perceive as rhythm 

“So order turns into chaos, but in the chaos we should detect the outlines of an implicit new harmony for the challenge we now face is this: we must make visible an order where now we see only incomprehensible darkness. The word “order,” actually, is misleading: we are not speaking of order, we are in fact speaking of rhythm. A new rhythm is what humankind needs.” – Bifo 

In the wake of the all-too-optimistic Occupy movements, the AIDS crisis, thousands of police murders, and most coincidentally in this case, the words “I can’t breathe,” muttered for the first time by the victim Eric Garner upon being held in an illegal chokehold in 2014, there simply could not be a better time to reread Bifo’s treatise on how just exactly one is to conduct oneself in a world that has been and that continues falling apart, and on the necessity of grieving. 

In his 2011 book, The Uprising, Bifo proposed his theory that economic recovery could not and will not ever happen. He uses the subject of poetry to illustrate our entering-into an abstract world in which recovery is possible, which, as he explains, is an illusion. Five years later, in Breathing, Bifo further elaborates upon these ideas and reestablishes poetry as ”the excess of the field of signification, as the premonition of a possible harmony inscribed in the present chaos.” 

Whether heard by a reader of poetry or by the common man who does not read poetry, or even by someone who knows well the sympathies to be expected when met with a new Semiotext(e) publication in a bookstore, when the word ‘poetry’ is uttered in the context of an anarcho-political landscape, one might generally assume in advance that, with it, Bifo intends to share the relationships of politics and socio-economics with those of art, romanticism, and the invigoratingly beautiful steps toward liberating oneself spiritually through them– or as Arthur Rimbaud puts it, the “rational and prolonged derangement of the senses.” However, within just two pages of Breathing, anyone would be able to see in quite clear terms what Bifo has in fact established, and that although the rebellious sentiment and beauty of literal art and poetry may also be lagniappe to the reader, he does not purport that they have the ability to save us. When Bifo says poetry, he means a natural harmony inscribing all of us, walking in step with one another– a living breathing organism that provides metaphorical oxygen. That is what, for Bifo, is the salve to the disillusionment of the postmodern culture we live in. 

Realism, nihilism, romanticism, primitivism, religion, postmodernism, conservatism, surrealism, transcendentalism, and finally (the most threatening), neoliberalism–the list goes on

and on and will continue, as if every one of these thousands of different movements has let us down and will continue letting us down, along with any new -ism conceived henceforth; philosophy as a whole has proven itself to be shit and will continue being shit. 

“Is there measure on earth? There is 


No created world ever hindered 

The course of thunder.” 

– Holderlin. 

This is not to say that, situationally, they may not be individually applied to settle specific debates, but rather that their application no longer is (and perhaps never has been) capable of solving our lives in a universal way. Rather, at least in my own interpretation of Breathing, what Bifo is trying to tell us is that: no, we will never put an end to chaos, and furthermore we ought not be able to or even wish to; the world will not be changed. As exemplified in the tragedies of the murders of Eric Garner and George Floyd, we are suf ocated by this chaos. Chaos feeds on war and war feeds on chaos, and therefore we are doomed. In addition to this, though, on the other hand, we have inscribed in each of us the natural faculties not just of breath but of collective breath– not only lungs, but the ability to use them socially, semiotically. 

“Let’s find a way to rhythmically evolve with the cosmos. Let’s go out of this century of measure, let’s go out to breathe together.” – Bifo 

In the first chapter of Breathing, Bifo expounds on a theory of Felix Guattari’s, which establishes that ‘chaosmosis’ is the means through which one rebalances the relationship between the human mind and chaos. To do so is necessary, since the establishment of order in society aims to diminish and weaken the oscillation of singularities. In the second chapter, titled “VOICE SOUND NOISE”, he elaborates by proposing that, as a society, we are all at the expense and will of a mind-numbing, artificial, and incoherent feed of endless and impenetrable hum of noise which surrounds us at all times. This anesthetizing din is fed by us and feeds us. Hitler once wrote in the Manual for German Radio, “Without the loudspeaker, we would never have conquered Germany.” From here on, Bifo endorses the idea that rhythm is mental perception of time, and that music is therapeutic and implies order to that which has none. 

If one wishes to understand anything, one must first put faith in that which cannot be understood and allow themselves to be moved by it, before they reach the capacity to intellectualize what follows suit. 

Bifo is not a romantic in the ordinary sense of the word. No, with testicles the size of dump trucks and the books of Friedrich Holderlin, Dylan Thomas, Rainier Maria Rilke, and Ludwig Wittgenstein to shield him, what Bifo as visionary proves here is that which is unable to be proven–”the sound of one hand clapping,” as the famous Zen koan goes. His work aims to prove

that inside of each of us is a force that is calculated, predetermined, and most importantly, when pursued, is able to carry us in unison through the coldest, most barren and desolate landscape which the world we live in has become; that it is after all possible to reconcile through the means of our own internal, intrinsic, and spiritual nature, in harmony with others, as well as ourselves– and, most importantly, that without this, we are and will forever be hopeless. 

“Poets cut the fabric of the umbrella and their incision discloses the unbearable vision of the true firmament. The poet’s action is literally apocalyptic, and it begins the unchaining(or disentanglement) of the hidden possibilities lying there since the beginning, since the cosmic primeval origins of human history.” – Bifo

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