In The Society of the Spectacle, Debord explores the explosion of mass communication technologies to argue that alienation has entered a second stage of development. Where the first is objects standing in for humans, the second is images standing in for both (17).
Debord (1, 4) argues that everything directly lived is now experienced through representations, the consequence being we relate to other humans through images—dead representations of lives once lived. The spectacle becomes the basis of our connection to others, a social relation mediated by images. The insidiousness of the spectacle is that it (re)presents a unified, autonomous world, whilst, in actuality, (re)producing a fragmented, solitary one (2-3). Time spent at work is time wasted; time spent in leisure is time for ourselves; activity is negated for inactivity, as if it were an ontological given to despise labour, rather than a historical consequence of capitalism and its alienating work conditions (10, 27). This identification of life with inactivity and leisure, however, is inextricably linked to production. While the spectacle presents itself as free time, it is produced only through labour time—dispossession in the sphere of production, presented back in the sphere of consumption as universal possession (the global village, nationhood, etc) (27, 31). The greater our productive output, the greater our exclusion from it (31).
Debord (26) builds on Marx’s theory of alienation by arguing that capitalism, in separating the proletariat from their labour product, generates a communicative gap between producer and product. The proletariat is unable to comprehend their place and purpose in the world. This is the condition of alienation—a feeling of being pulled and pushed by forces unknown. Debord argues that the spectacle takes this one step further by extending this communicative gap into all of society. Assailed by one-directional messages, the spectacle allows for no dialogue, and therefore, no conscious engagement with what is consumed; as such, dialogue also begins to mirror the spectacle and lack conscious engagement. Representations come to resemble the real, and the real comes to resemble representations (8).
Why is the spectacle so convincing? Because it grants a fantasy of wholeness through visual techniques associated with objectivity. The ocularcentrism of western philosophy and science is replicated through the camera image, elevating the ideal (representation) over the material (sensation) in affirmation of an already decided upon status quo that one cannot reply to (5-6, 12, 15, 18-19). The ultimate effect of the spectacle is the reification of ruling class ideology—the constitution of the status quo as objectively neutral and good (12, 14, 24).
[All images from another trash video I did >.>]
In Ecstasy and Inertia, Baudrillard contests the usefulness of dialectics (the sublation of opposites) in a hyperreal world. He argues that we must instead understand the world through ecstacy and inertia; the reversibility of opposites contained within a singular, empty form.
Baudrillard begins with a new conception of being. Rather than cancel out when met with its opposite, being proliferates towards obscenity–a pointless multiplication of itself, an increase in power, which in doing so, captures all the energy of its opposite, and thus becomes ecstatic (25-27). [For example, Baudrillard (27) defines simulation as the true transparent with all the energy of the false.] This ecstasy arises not out of any particular quality of the object being multiplied, but rather, through multiplication, the process of obscenity itself (27). The object becomes more real than itself, and thus disappears, leaving an over-abundance of signifiers that point only at themselves, and no longer at any referent.
The irony of such an ontology is that the desire to proliferate and compete with other forms is to be seduced/seduce into disappearance (28-29). It is to reach for a vertiginous high that is inevitably empty and fleeting. The end point of proliferation and ecstasy then, is inertia and banality (30). To become obscene, more visible than the visible, is to become ubiquitous, and therefore, invisible once more (30).
Being then, is constantly meeting what Baudrillard (33) calls its ‘dead point,’ the limit of reversibility that delivers it into ecstasy and inertia–into simulation. Baudrillard (34) additionally adds that once in simulation, we will no longer be able to tell when we entered it; to try and discover our point of entry would be to simply simulate a real no longer there, and therefore, to exacerbate hyperreality.
The pure event of ecstasy can have any cause assigned to it, precisely because it has neither an origin nor a destination except its own dead point (34, 36). Ideology as the true transparent with all the energy of the false; conspiracy as the false transparent with all the energy of the true; meaninglessness arising out of an explosion of meaning—hypermeaning—an overabundance that effaces its own purpose in grounding existence, making obscene every and any existence that proposes to be meaningful.
Because a thing’s opposite can no longer be used to contest its existence, Baudrillard proposes that its extreme must be deployed, that obscenity of the thing itself must be used to cast it into banality, and therefore, irrelevancy (25-26). The pure event then, can only be be met with the catastrophe (36). The overdeterminism of hyperreality is met by an empty form, which never carried the pretensions of meaning to begin with (Baudrillard 2008, 15, 30). More empty than the empty, this is how meaninglessness is fought against; a reintroduction of the unspeakable, to give language a place once more.
Baudrillard, J. (2008). Ecstasy and Inertia In: Fatal Strategies. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e). Pp.25-43.
[As per usual, all images from a video-album I made about Madoka and the death drive.]
In Lacan and Deleuze, Zupančič explores the death drive to reveal striking similarities between these thinkers’ understandings of repetition, difference and lack. He argues that lack ultimately structures being for both Lacan and Deleuze.
Zupančič begins by defining two broad theories of the death drive. Whilst both view the death drive as a compulsion to repeat traumatic events, one is a psychological explanation, and the other, a transcendental one (163, 166). The psychological explanation posits that repetition acts in lieu of remembering a traumatic experience; that it originates from repression, the minimisation of pain by the pleasure principle (164). Compulsion allows us to cope with what we cannot face. The transcendental explanation posits that the trauma at the origin of repetition is not something experienced consciously, but is rather, a trauma before and beyond experience, that constitutes our ability to experience in the first place (164, 171). Anxiety comes to replace repression, a mechanism that is “beyond the pleasure principle” (165).
This transcendental explanation flips Freud on his head by positing the death drive as prior to the pleasure principle (166). Zupančič argues that both Lacan and Deleuze converge in viewing the death drive as an endless repetition of a state of tension—a repetition arising from the death drive’s inability to bind the unbindable excess prior to, and constitutive of, consciousness (165-166, 171). In and through repetition, the excess arises again, leading to a mobilisation of anxiety which is, of course, never completely resolved (167).
Zupančič then moves to the concept of difference and how it relates to repetition. For Deleuze, repetition is not identical, but rather, differentiating, for every repetition produces difference (which allows us to distinguish one repeat from another) (167). Form cannot be considered outside of repetition, as some instantiation of an transcendent essence, for only through (material) difference does (abstract) essence arise. In addition, repetition is greater than the forms it produces, for repetition both produces difference and Difference, the mechanism which differentiates repeated (different) forms apart (167-168, 172-173). [There is difference and that which differentiates.] There is no original thing through which form is produced in the image of, and then subsequently compared to. Rather, it is pure Difference, and thus, negativity that constitutes thingness into being (as multiple different forms at once).
Zupančič turns to Lacan’s re-envisioning of Freud. While Lacan maintains Freud’s belief that the infant is polymorphously perverse, this fragmented multiplicity of partial drives (which operate through the register of the Symbolic) is ultimately the result of a singular pulsating negativity (the death drive operating through the register of the Real) (168). As with Deleuze (1994, 38, as cited in Zupančič 2017, 168), “individuating difference precedes . . . individual differences.” Drawing on set theory, Lacan likens the death drive to the empty set—a nothingness contained in the One, which is not reducible to the One, and iterates the One with every repetition; or as Zupančič clarifies through Deleuze: being is not One; being is Difference, which is One (169-170). All multiplicities arise out of One, but a One that contains nothing, and therefore, acts as pure Difference.
Zupančič ends with a critique of Deleuze through Lacan’s concept of subjectivation. While Zupančič (166) does not disagree with Deleuze’s argument that every repetition is an affirmation of life he does not consider affirmation-in-itself to be revolutionary, and sees repetition for its own sake as indifferent to emancipation as it is to repression (176). For Lacan, without an encounter with the Real through which Being can be thought, the symptom that drives compulsion cannot be addressed; a new signifier is necessary for a new subjectivation (175-177).
[I’m so sorry about all these trash images, but god I’m tired and can’t be bothered finding suitable ones. Anyway, here’s the obligatory trash video I made about Derrida which has nothing to do with Bauman ( .-.)\ ]
In Liquid Modernity and Power, Bauman argues that there has been a shift in the exercise of power from solid to liquid modernity, and that the dominant technique of power is no longer discipline but rather seduction (111).
We can see this shift through a material analysis of the factory and corporation. The line managers of the factory floor were essentially suppressors of individual autonomy, hired to discipline the working class through regimentation and supervision so that they could be transformed into precise instruments of capital (116). This technique, however, was expensive, for it generated alienation, resentment and boredom—the conditions for class struggle.
With the birth of the corporation and the experience economy, the suppressing effects of discipline could no longer be utilised in a competitive environment that demanded creativity (in addition to efficiency). The manager no longer managed, but rather, demanded self-management from each worker (117). Each worker became an entrepreneurial subject (in competition with every other worker), capitalism commodified spontaneity in the form of creative labour, and one’s job security became tied to one’s ability to ‘one-up’ the colleagues around oneself.
While less alienating (if not more exploitative), such a state returns us to anomie—a state of perpetual uncertainty and a self-worth ever fleeing the present moment. As Haugaard (the interviewer of the article) states, without object permanence, routinisation or habitus, there can be no ontological security (118). The only regularity found is in compulsive behaviours (115).
We can witness this shift on an ideological level as well. Whereas the old elites differentiated themselves from the masses through cultural capital (through their uniqueness, and thus, their legitimacy to rule), the new bourgeoisie emphasise their similarity with the masses, thereby creating a fantasy of equality and meritocracy (we’re just like you) (122).
From solid to liquid modernity, culture shifts from a source of enlightenment, to a source of entertainment (124-125). Rather than interpellated into a norm, one is interpellated into fantasies, each one appearing more exciting than the previous, pesudo-novelties that lock us into consumptive loops through the affective bankruptcy engendered from their fleeting joys.
In summary, the anxiety produced within production is ameliorated through the compulsion of consumption. Consumption, however, by providing a wealth of offers without any standards, generates only further anxiety (125). There is, essentially, no foundation to build regularity upon—no standard to judge oneself to. Thus in liquid modernity, both production and consumption leave us deeply anxious, never sure of our own worth, except through our own spectacularisation, an ecstatic chase of ever multiplying productive and consumptive subject positions, all captured within an ideology of hyper-individualism.