Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Society of the Spectacle, Chapter 2

 Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle.

Chapter 2: The Commodity as Spectacle.


The summary from my first reading in 1989:

Through the development of the dominance of exchange value over use value, i.e., industrialization, the rise of Commodity, advent of the Spectacle, etc. Old work for survival was replaced by work for satisfaction. Yet the satisfaction is defined as survival, and the list of what is "needed" grows ever longer. "The real consumer becomes the consumer of illusions" (#47).

Debord sets up his discussion of the spectacle through oppositions: the metaphorical opposition of "fluid" (old reality) vs. "congealed" (spectacle) (#35); the relation between tangible and intangible (#36); quantitative replaces qualitative. He gives a history of commodity production, leading to the triumph of the commodity and of exchange value. The "humanism of the commodity" is its new respect for the working class, as they gain new importance as consumers, a status which had previously been only for the upper classes. This is related to the elimination of labor through automation: "the technical equipment which objectively eliminates labor must at the same time preserve labor as a commodity and as the only source of the commodity." (45) [Because commodified labor is part of the subjection/subjugation process; labor is the (obscured) source of the spectacle's power/agency].  The spectacle is an equivalent form, much like money. 


He discusses the growth of "pseudo-needs" (#51). This immediately brings to mind things like the internet, smartphones, Uber, etc.; things we "can no longer live without." As an (ahem) nominalist I of course cannot endorse Debord's essentialism in distinguishing between "true" (his actual word is "fundamental") needs, and "pseudo-needs," but I can appreciate the term as a move in a game of articulation (as in, drawing the on the language of truth to call such needs into question). Because of their recent historical emergence, and the continuing contestation of technology, social relations, etc., their articulation as "needs" remains uncomfortable; this leaves an opening for Debord and others to insist that they are "pseudo-needs," which could mean either partial (conflicted, not fully need or non-need) or merely fake needs, mimics. This insistence, this use of the term "pseudo-need" to emphasize the difference between these and "fundamental" needs, is a form of resistance against the spectacle.


"The victory of the autonomous economy must at the same time be its defeat" (#51). Debord is a dialecticist, and will see a new contradiction in the spectacle which can be exploited to destroy it; this has some basis in the exchange economy and in the process of subjectification which will presumably be touched on in more detail later. "That which was the economic it must become the I" (52). Presumably the “it” in that sentence is the worker, or the worker’s labor-power. He is referring to the relationship between the subject and class struggle (in Chapter 1 the spectacle was described as "the proletarianization of the world" (#26), so presumably this refers to the broader field of social reproduction (not just the factory) in which the struggle will take place.


Significant articulations/oppositions so far:

real life        spectacle

fluid             congealed

conscious     unconscious

touch            sight

active            passive

unification    separation

No comments:

Post a Comment