Idol Worship, Idle Worship (4): Ending the Exchange

This is the last in a series of four posts.

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In the world of financial capitalism, accumulation no longer passes through the production of goods, but goes straight to its monetary goal, extracting value from the pure circulation of money [. . .].

—Franco “Bifo” Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (2012)


God is the vanishing point, the breaking point, of all circulation.

“In the beginning, the void was lighted by an immense burst of laughter,” René Daumal writes in You’ve Always Been Wrong.* “Yet it’s not enough to laugh,” he adds a bit later. That is because, he says, “The perception of the arbitrary [that is, of whatever cannot be explained by man’s cherished “reason”] excites man’s fury and so revolt is inevitable.” Instead of laughing, along with the God who, in the beginning, created all things, man invokes the spirit of seriousness.

However, Daumal goes on to suggest that what truly calls out for revolt against it is precisely such seriousness. Though Daumal does not mention it, that spirit is the same ugly dwarf, the “spirit of gravity,” that tries to weigh Nietzsche’s Zarathustra down until he is made to vanish by a burst of an uncanny laughter coming from elsewhere.  What one must finally revolt against is taking anything seriously—most especially including revolt itself.

Man, that oh-so-serious creature, revolts against the ludicrous, against what has no weight, what defies reason, what is purely arbitrary, aleatory. “But I,” writes Daumal, “who watch you taking your revolt seriously can still laugh.” On the serious man’s behalf, he asks, “Is there then nothing that can be done if everything is ludicrous?” To which he answers: “Of course: abandon that accidental but inevitable fury [Notice how nicely paradoxical that remark is: the fury at issue is “accidental,” yet still “inevitable.” How can one possibly take that seriously?] and then take it back [More jokes! “Abandon it,” but then “take back” what’s been “abandoned”?] as an idol-breaking force; [then] it will be one more way of laughing [. . .].”

Our contemporary global economic system leaves no room for the worship of God, or therefore for laughter. That ubiquitous system for the accumulation of profits normalizes the worship of the idol of money. That is, it makes worship of that idol the norm to which everyone and everything is supposed to conform—and to force conformity to the law of which the police and all other apparatuses of “law enforcement” are dedicated. To survive, one must conform to the law of gainful employment, and not waste one’s time. What is so seriously called “life” in such a system is no laughing matter.

Now, isn’t that funny?

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I am not actually sure of what I am talking about when I say the word art You aren't either—nobody is exactly.

Yet it seems that in a recent poll, twenty-four to twenty-five percent of young German people interviewed by journalists answered the question "what do you want to do when you're an adult" by stating that they wanted to be artists. What are they picturing? What do they think being an artist means, exactly? Are they thinking about the rich possibilities that the art market offers? Well, maybe, but I don't think so. I think that they are saying that they want to be artists because they feel that being an artist means to escape a future of sadness, to escape a future of precariousness as sadness. They are thinking, well, precariousness and sadness can become something different, something not so sad, not so precarious, if they withdraw their faith, if they withdraw from any expectations a capitalist future can offer. I don't want to expect anything from th[at] future, so I start my future as an artist.

—Franco “Bifo” Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance


That from which, by Berardi’s interpretation, such young people as the quarter of German youth interviewed in the poll at issue“withdraw their faith” is not God. It is an idol. It is the idol the worship of which is enjoined upon everyone by the system of global capitalist accumulation. That idol is hollow, as all idols are, and it offers no more than hollow hopes to its worshippers. The idol of money hawked globally by the capitalist system of today holds out to its worshippers no more than the hollow hope for a hollow future.  It is a future that is really no future at all, but is no more than the endless recirculation in ever varying guises of ever more worthless “goods”— goods “actual” or “virtual,” depending on whether they occupy space on earth or on the internet—that are really good for nothing. 

Insofar as what has been held out to such young people as “faith” itself has meant for so long no more than magically counting on the idols promoted by power, counting on those idols to deliver them such a bogus futureless future—to keep on giving them, round after endless round, “their little poison for the day, and their little poison for the night,” as Nietzsche says—it is not really faith at all. It is just superstition and idolatry. In “withdrawing their faith” from that idol, the young risk losing nothing—save, that is, their hopelessness. What they gain, however, whether they ever even know it or not, is true faith, and with it true hope.

The true hope that comes from true faith, true worship, true belief, is no expectation of imagined rewards for following orders and behaving as one is told by those who claim to be “authorities” on the matter of how one ought to behave. As opposed to being full of any such expectation, which is always idolatrous, genuine faith is full, instead, of open expectancy, as Kierkegaard taught—an expectancy which, in and as the very expectancy that it is, is already granted what it expects: “victory” itself, as Kierkegaard knew, and said. Only the hope that consists of such pure expectancy—like the expectancy of the child filled with wonder on Christmas morning, who is open to receive whatever that wondrous day brings as wonderful, and therefore is never disappointed—is real hope. All else is mere bargaining.

If one worships by adopting prescribed postures of worship, and going through all the prescribed motions while reciting all the prescribed prayers, and does so in hopes of reward, then one is not really worshipping at all. Rather, those who “worship” in such a way are really just doing business as usual, trying to cut themselves the best deal.

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One of the old sayings from the desert solitaries of the first centuries of Christianity is that monks who still know that they are praying are not really praying, only those monks who no longer know that they are praying are really praying. The same goes for worship in general: those who are still aware that they are worshiping—most often, very acutely aware of it, and anxious to call attention to the fact that they are doing it (having forgotten their way to the closet, to borrow a Christian Gospel metaphor)—are not really worshiping. Only those who don’t even know they are worshiping, but who renounce all the false gods, those mere idols, set before them are really worshiping.

Such true worshipers are the artists of heaven, just as they hoped to become.


* Translated by Thomas Vosteen (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995 [original French edition 1970], p. 23). Daumal was a French writer who died in 1944, when he was only 36. He is best known for his posthumously published allegorical novel Mount Analogue.