“The admonitions to be happy, voiced in concert by the scientifically epicurean sanatorium-director and the highly strung propaganda chiefs of the entertainment industry, have about them the fury of the father berating his children for not rushing joyously downstairs when he comes home from his office. It is part of the mechanism of domination to forbid recognition of the suffering it produces, and there is a straight line of development between the gospel of happiness and the construction of camps of extermination so far off in Poland that each of our own countrymen can convince himself that he cannot hear the screams of pain. That is the model of an unhampered capacity for happiness. He who calls it by its name will be told gloatingly by psycho-analysis that it is just his Oedipus complex” (Adorno Minima Moralia p62-3).
This is old Adorno in elegiac grumpy mood. From a great book, redoing his schtick about the camps. I think the same points might be made today perhaps about trinkets, about plastic toy workshops in the South, brought here by container, packaged ready for Christmas, to teach kids to love capitalism.
So, lets talk about why we want to play with plastic. Materialist comprehensions of the commodity, objects, souvenirs or trinkets (these are not the same) are different to those of the psychoanalytic approach, which takes individuals and their drives, desires and motives into first account. The fetish is not just a deviant displacement, not just a sexual misrecognition (mommy-daddy) but a feint or trick that hides a deeper social malaise to do with distribution and ethics. I know, but…
Plenty of space for a long convoluted discussion of value, labour, circuits, modifications to the formula, etc etc, but we might get locked up for too long in the study. Someone will ask: ‘Why shouldn’t everyone get to shop, get a load of things, trinketize?’ In Australia during the Soviet era, I remember there used to be an advertisement that went something like: “in some countries they don’t have advertising”. A forlorn family sat bored in a spartan room. Indeed, versions of the queues for bread or the wait for a state-manufactured car are still the loaded ideological tropes of anti-communism, as seen in bitter-sweet triumphalist films like “Goodbye Lenin”. In the Grundrisse Marx devotes considerable pages to the impact of money on ‘traditional’ societies (pp145-172) but, again, who is to say that people with feathers should not want to shop? The problem is not scarcity or abundance of things, though this may be a factor, but the distribution thereof, their production for profit, the manufacture of needs (for things) and decisions about what things are made when and where. More than wanting beads and blankets are at stake.
The problem is not the lack of (plastic) things in various sectors of the world, soon to be rectified by the opening of a hyper-mega-super-market chain very close by, but that the abundance and success of capitalism amounts only to this: it presents itself as an immense collection of commodities. If we at all see this as a success, even as we critique it, (‘who wants all this stuff’ – Deleuze and Guattari) we have given ourselves over to commodity fetishism through and through.
It may bore some people to death, but I’m interested again in the coding of flows arguments D&G offer in Anti-Oedipus – the territorial machine and the technical machine need the social machine to activate them – though we have to understand these machines as interrelated, there can be no move in space or technology without the social, without memory, without labour. Flows must be coded through the machine, marked, inscribed – and so perhaps capitalism is this coding, but it is not always the same, it has fashions and trends – history – and is not a ‘haunting’ such that ‘in a sense capitalism has haunted all forms of society, but it haunts them as their terryfying nightmare, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes’ (A-O p140). Codes? Trinkets to be calculated, to be inscribed and counted in some way (general equivalent, abstraction, numbers). But with capitalism this inscription-calculus becomes an abstract coded/coding flow of desire, which in a way makes Deleuze and Guattari improbably advocates of a return through Marxism to psychoanalysis.
Was that Teddy A I saw in the sports sction of the department store on saturday? Was he buying golf clubs? A set of tees or balls for xmas then.
When what we might be doing instead is sideways inscribing, perhaps reinscribing, twisting desire and flow elsewhere – like these two likely lads – anti-war protest coppers (go figure!) at May Day last year [they say ‘US-UK Force No to America’ – bad grammar, but the sentiment is clear, no? see pic].