(Red Desert, Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964)
The organized world thrives on a series of clichés, from which it is complex to detach oneself because, viscous, they stick to our skin. In response, Emmanuel Bonnet, a researcher-associate at Origens Medialab, proposes to investigate in order to become able to question them. This article stems from a course he gave in the MSc.
In 1964, The Red Desert, by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, received the Golden Lion at the Mostra of Venice. The newspaper Le Monde deciphers at the time the neurosis felt by Giuliana, the heroine of the film, "provoked in her by the environment, the setting, the "climate" in which she lives". Here Antonioni sensed the repercussions of the technosphere capable of "upsetting the behavior, psychology, and morals of the individuals who find themselves subjected to it". The end of the film is only an admission of powerlessness: despite her setbacks, Giuliana returns to the starting point. According to Gilles Deleuze's analysis, she has remained on a crest line, stuck between, on the one hand, her clichés that set her in motion, and, on the other, their collapse, which disorients her.
" What's good for the factory is good for the kitchen "
Today, the Anthropocene makes us Giulianas, trapped in the clichés of the organized world, also in the process of collapse. The world would be a sum of problems to be solved, setting objectives to be reached by piloting the activity via indicators and defining a strategy to be implemented. Moreover, the original cliché is that the world is really just a web of organizations, which cannot be discarded. "Our society is a society of organizations," Amitai Werner Etzioni described in 1964 in Modern Organizations. "We were born in organizations, we were educated by organizations, and most of us devote a large part of our lives to working for organizations. Much of our leisure time is spent spending money, playing and praying in organizations. Most of us will die in an organization, and when the time comes for burial, the largest of all organizations, the state, will have to issue an official permit."
But, what is the purpose of these pictures? According to Barley and Kunda (Putting Work Back In, 2011), to organize the distance between organization and practice. The clichés would serve less to better describe the world as it is, than to "produce mobilizing images that rely more on the persuasive power of metaphors than on data" (personal translation). The metaphors used within the organized world (the machine, the living organism or culture) would thus be, in reality, operators of control of reality and the activities that take place in it. This desire for control appears very clearly in Thibault Le Texier's film, Human factor. We understand the agenda of the organized world - optimizing, organizing and making everything efficient to promote production and consumption - thanks to Henry Ford's little sentence "what's good for the factory is good for the kitchen ". Worker, housewife, same struggle for the great ordering of the world; same organizational processes.
The problem is that the organized world seems to offer no alternative to its clichés, other than their collapse. We evolve, according to Emmanuel Bonnet, in an "orgo-centrism", a world centered on organizations, and only on them, as in a form of meta-clichés that encompasses, structures and annexes all the others. Filled with clichés, organizations would allow no other - alternative, complementary or opposite - to flourish: they would then prevent us from seeing the Anthropocene world as it is and would provoke a "loss of the world", an acosmia, a non-world.
A "reverse anthropology "
The collapse of the clichés of the organized world (no, we don't solve everything with KPIs) creates a trouble, which Giuliana experiments throughout the film. But it is a "good" trouble, in the sense that, as you go through it, you perceive new ways of being alive. From this point of view, ecological redirection is an effort to force oneself to go through the ruins left by this collapse. It is a question of deploying a "reverse anthropology" of organizations, through investigative work. Searching for new ways of inhabiting the world then presupposes the emergence of new clichés. This is fortunate: researchers from all over the world, at the crossroads of climate science, anthropology, economics and philosophy of nature, are busy producing new clichés. Emmanuel Bonnet offers us three of them here.
Anna Tsing's ruins. The Anthropocene is not an environmental crisis, it is the new state of the world that has emerged from the ruins of capitalism, in which it is now a question of learning to live. Here we could compare Tsing's bestseller (The Mushroom at the End of the World, Princeton University Press, 2015) with another work: the organized world is, like Martin, the hero of The Apple in the Dark by the Brazilian poet Clarice Lispector, a "builder of ruins" - the title the book was given in French. He has committed a crime and must flee to escape the scaffold. His journey, rich in encounters, leads him to perceive the world in a new way, and his crime turns out to be in fine a liberation. Martin's flight is a troubling metaphor for the ecological redirection of capitalist organizations. So what is an organization in a world in ruins? Can an organization in ruins still claim the status of an organization? Do ruins disorganize organizations? Since they cannot be rebuilt, should the ruins at least be de-organized?
Timothy Morton's Dark Ecology. In The Ecological Thought (Harvard University Press, 2010), Morton explores the possibility of a dark ecology that "introduces [...] hesitation, uncertainty, irony and attention. The form of dark ecology is film noir. In a film noir, the narrator begins his investigation in an a priori objective manner on a situation that is seemingly external to him, before discovering that he is involved. The narrator's point of view is then tinged with desire." Morton here joins Antonioni's The Red Desert: Giuliana takes her neuroses from an industrial world that is both habitable and uninhabitable, and experiments with the desire for the dark described by Morton. Why, indeed, would ecology - which seems more related to infrastructure, ocean acidification and managerial tools than to pretty, brightly colored flowers - be green and luminous? What would an ecologically dark organization be? What would become of Exxon, for example, if it admitted that "our cars run on crushed dinosaur extract", as Morton says?
The undercommons of Fred Moten and Stefano Harney. Moten and Harney, two North American academics (and poet, in Moten's case), published an essay entitled The Undercommons in 2013. In their joint book, they explore ways to create spaces of escape and resistance against the mainstream academic system, an organized world par excellence, particularly from a decolonial and feminist perspective. According to them, we are all in a state of "homelessness", synonymous with the dispossession of our capacities for action by the organized world, which prevents us from self-organizing and, in the case of the university, to study together. In response, undercommons appear and improvise answers to questions that nobody asks. These pockets of resistance concretize the refusal to continue with the clichés of the organized world. How, then, can the organized world allow itself to be encircled by the undercommons? How can organizations and undercommons enter into dialogue without allowing the former to monopolize the latter? How does the collapse of clichés of the organized world resonate with the emergence of clichés of the undercommons? How can different undercommons, which are inherently unstable and fleeting, be arranged?
If, for Deleuze, clichés serve to stand the unbearable, it is clear that today those of organizations no longer manage to play this role: we no longer believe in this world and are no longer fooled by the way organizations take charge of the world. The real world itself appears to be a bad film noir. Between Lispector's Martin, who manages to relearn how to live, and Antonioni's Giuliana, who ends up wandering around an oil refinery as she did at the beginning, there is an injunction: let's not spoil the trouble into which the Anthropocene plunges us.
(translation: DeepL & Alexandre Monnin)