The first complete English translation of a remarkable 1956 essay about television from Vol. I of The Obsolescence of Man by Günther Anders, who—using phenomenological analyses, excerpts from his diaries and reflections on daily life—depicts a capitalist world that manufactures a warped “mass-man” by imposing nonparticipation, consumption of images, artificial “needs” (“drug addiction is the model for today’s needs”), separation, “conditioning”, an eternal present, commodified leisure and the dissolution of the individual in vapid mass produced roles, in a text that in many ways anticipates the theory of the “spectacle” of Guy Debord and the situationists.
The obsolescence of man, vol I , part 2: The world as phantom and as matrix: philosophical considerations on radio and television - Günther Anders
Translated in April-May 2014 from: Günther Anders, La Obsolescencia del Hombre (Vol. I), tr. Josep Monter Pérez, Pre-Textos, Valencia, 2011, pp. 105-208.
La Obsolescencia del Hombre (Vol. I) was originally published in Germany in 1956 under the title: Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen I.
Chapter 1 - The world delivered to your home
The Obsolescence of Man, Volume I, Part Two, “The World as Phantom and as Matrix: Philosophical Considerations on Radio and Television” – Günther Anders1
But since the king did not like the idea that his son, straying from the main roads, should be wandering all over the land to obtain his own opinions of the world, he presented him with a carriage and horses. “Now you do not need to walk”, were his words. What they meant was: “You are no longer allowed to walk.” The effective reality: “You can no longer walk.”
THE WORLD DELIVERED TO YOUR HOME
No Means Is Only a Means.
The first reaction to the critique to which we shall subject radio and television will sound something like this: such a generalization is not permitted; what is of interest is exclusively what we do with these instruments, how we use them, for what purposes we use them as means: good or bad, human or inhuman, social or antisocial.
We have all heard this optimistic argument—if we can be permitted to use such an expression—which is a legacy of the era of the first industrial revolution; and in all of its lairs it still lives on with the same unreflective superficiality.
The validity of this argument is more than doubtful. The freedom to use the technology that it presupposes; its faith in the idea that there are parts of our world that are nothing but “means” which can be assessed ad libitum as “noble goals” is pure illusion. The instruments themselves comprise facta that also affect us. And this reality, which affects us regardless of the goal to which we wish to harness these instruments, will not just disappear by verbally demoting them to the status of “means”. In fact, the crude division of our life into “means” and “ends” which is entailed by this argument, has nothing to do with reality. Our existence, replete with technologies, cannot be broken down into discrete signs, strictly delineated, which identify some things as “means” and others as “ends”. Such a distinction is only legitimate in individual actions and isolated mechanical operations. It is not legitimate when we are dealing with the “totality”, in politics or philosophy. Anyone who structures his or her life as a whole with the help of these two categories considers it according to the model of action determined by the end, that is, as a technical process, which is an expression of the barbarism that normally provokes such rage, especially when it is presented in the form of the slogan, “The end justifies the means”. The rejection of this formula displays the same laziness as its acceptance (which is furthermore so rare), since he who rejects it also affirms, although not explicitly, the legitimacy of the two categories. Real humanity, however, only begins when this distinction is rendered absurd: when both the means and the ends are so infused with a cultured way of life and ethical education that, faced with concrete fragments of life or the world, one can no longer understand or even question whether they are “means” or “ends”; only when
The journey towards the spring
Is just as good as drinking from it.
We can, of course, use television for the purpose of participating in a religious service. But what “affects” or “transforms” us in this experience—whether we like it or not—just like the religious service itself, is the fact that we do not participate, but rather consume only its image. This picture-book effect, however, is not only different from the “proclaimed” effect, but very much the opposite of it. What marks us and demarcates us, what conforms us and deforms us, is not just the objects transmitted by the “media”, but the media themselves, the devices themselves, which are not just objects with one possible use, but which determine their use by virtue of their fixed structure and function and, accordingly, also determine the style of our actions and our lives: in short, us.
The readers to whom the following pages are addressed are, in the first place, consumers, that is, those who listen to radio and watch TV. Secondly, professional philosophers and the employees of the radio and television industries. The theme of my reflections will seem strange to the philosophers; and to the specialists, the way I address it will seem strange. Of course, I am not addressing all consumers, but only those to whom it has occasionally occurred, during or after a broadcast, that they were perplexed and asked themselves: “And just what was I doing then? What am I really doing?” It is to these perplexed persons that I must offer a few observations.
Today’s mass consumption takes place as a sum of solo performances. Each consumer is an unpaid domestic worker employed in the production of the mass man.
In the days before the cultural faucets of radio were installed in their homes, the Smiths and the Millers had thronged the movie theaters in order to collectively consume, and therefore as a mass, the commodities that had been produced for them in a stereotyped and massive way. One might be tempted to perceive in this situation a certain coherent style: the confluence of mass production2 and mass consumption; but one would be mistaken. Nothing more completely contradicts the intentions of mass production than a situation of consumption in which some or even large numbers of consumers simultaneously enjoy the same individual specimen (or a single reproduction of such a product) of a commodity. For the interest of those who direct the mass production is indifferent to the fact that this consumption should represent as a whole a “real community experience” or only the sum of many individual experiences. What is of interest to them is not the standardized masses as such, but the masses fragmented into a certain number, as large as possible, of buyers; not the opportunity for everyone to consume the same thing, but the fact that each person should buy the same thing to meet the same need (whose implantation was obtained in the same manner). In countless industries this ideal has been completely or almost completely achieved. To me it seems debatable whether the motion picture industry can attain this goal in an optimal manner because, as a continuation of the theatrical tradition, it still serves its commodity as a spectacle for many people at the same time. This undoubtedly represents an archaic residue. It is not surprising that the radio and television industries, despite the motion picture industry’s enormous scale of development, can compete with the movies: both industries have the added good luck that they sell as a commodity, in addition to the commodities that are meant for consumption, also the apparatus necessary for that consumption; and, unlike the cinema, they can be sold to almost every consumer. Nor is it surprising that almost everyone takes advantage of this opportunity, since this commodity, unlike the motion picture, can be delivered to the homes of the consumers by means of the radios and televisions. So it did not take long for the Smiths and Millers, who used to spend their evenings in the movie theaters, to instead stay at home to “receive” radio comedies or news of the world. The natural situation of the movies—the consumption of the mass commodity by a mass of people—no longer prevails here, something that naturally does not entail any reduction in the scale of mass production; instead, mass production for mass-men—and the production of mass-men themselves—is increasing every day without interruption. Millions of listeners are served the same food for their ears; every one of them was treated, by way of this en masse product, as a mass-man, as an “indefinite article”; each one was thus fixed in this quality, that is, his lack of quality. It just turned out that, for the mass production of radios and televisions, the collective consumer was rendered superfluous. The Smiths and the Millers therefore consume the mass products en famille or even alone; the more isolated the consumer, the more productive: thus we witness the rise of the type of mass-hermit; and, now, there are millions of examples of this type—each one separated from the others, but nonetheless the same as them—who are seated in their homes like hermits, but not to renounce the world, but in order not to miss even a crumb of the world in effigie for the love of God.
Everyone knows that the industry has abandoned its postulate of centralization, which was the indisputable model some thirty years ago, most often for strategic reasons, in favor of the principle of “dispersion”. It is not contradictory that this principle of dispersion should be valid today for the production of the mass-man. And I say, for his production, despite the fact that we have so far spoken only of dispersed consumption. But this leap from consumption to production is justified here because both coincide in a certain way, since (in a non-materialistic sense) man “is what he eats”: mass-men are produced because they consume mass products; this implies at the same time that the consumer of mass-produced commodities, through his consumption, becomes a collaborator in the production of the mass-man (that is, he becomes a collaborator in the process of transforming himself into a mass-man). Thus, consumption and production coincide here. If consumption “is dispersed”, so too is the production of the mass-man. And this takes place wherever consumption takes place: in the presence of every radio and every television. In a certain way, each individual is employed and occupied as a domestic worker. It is true, of course, that he is a domestic worker of a very unusual type, because of the nature of his work: his self-transformation into a mass-man through his consumption of mass-produced commodities, that is, through his leisure. Whereas the classical domestic worker made products in order to assure himself of a minimum of consumer goods and leisure, today’s domestic worker consumes a maximum number of leisure products in order to collaborate in the production of the mass-man. The process is completely paradoxical insofar as the domestic worker, instead of being paid for this collaboration, must even pay for it himself; especially for the means of production (the radio or television and, in many countries, even for the broadcasts), by the use of which he allows himself to be transformed into the mass-man. He therefore pays to sell himself; even his lack of freedom—which lack he has helped to bring about—he must obtain by buying it, since it, too, has been transformed into a commodity.
But even if you reject this shocking way of looking at the consumer of mass-produced commodities as the collaborator of the production of the mass-man, it cannot be denied that in order to create this kind of mass-man, which is today desired, no longer requires effective mass participation in the form of consolidated masses. Le Bon’s reflections on crowds and how they transform man are obsolete, since the depersonalization of individuality and the standardization of rationality are carried out at home. The stage-managing of masses that Hitler specialized in has become superfluous: if one wants to transform a man into a nobody (and even make him proud to be a nobody), it is no longer necessary to drown him in a mass, or to bury him in a cement construction mass-produced by masses. No depersonalization, no loss of the ability to be a man is more effective than the one that apparently preserves the freedom of the personality and the rights of the individual. If the procedure of conditioning takes place in a special way in the home of every person—in the individual home, in isolation, in millions of isolated units—the result will be perfect. The treatment is absolutely discreet, since it is presented as fun, the victim is not told that he must make any sacrifices and he is left with the illusion of his privacy or, at least, of his private space. In actuality, the old expression, “A man’s home is worth its weight in gold” is once again true, if in a completely new sense, since it is worth its weight in gold not just to the owner of the home, who gulps down the soup of conditioning by the ladle-full, but also for those who are the masters of the homeowners: the caterers and suppliers who serve the diners this soup that is their daily fare.
The radio and the television screen become transformed into a negative family table; and the family is transformed into a miniature audience.
It will be understood that this mass consumption is not usually called by its true name. To the contrary: it is presented as something that favors the rebirth of the family and privacy, which is understandable, but an understandable hypocrisy: the new inventions invoke nothing but the old ideals, which can fortuitously be presented as factors that influence purchasing. “The French family has discovered,” we read in Wiener Presse (December 24, 1954), “that television is an excellent means to divert young people from costly pastimes, and to keep children at home … and to give a new stimulus to family gatherings.” This evaluation ignores the possibility that this kind of consumption actually entails, to the contrary, the complete dissolution of the family; and it does so in such a manner that this dissolution preserves or even acquires the appearance of an intimate family life. And it does in fact dissolve it, since what dominates the home, thanks to television, is the broadcast of the outside world—real or fictional; and it dominates the home in such an unlimited manner that it invalidates and renders phantasmagorical the reality of the home, not only that of the four walls and the furniture, but also of the shared family life itself. When that which is remote becomes familiar, the familiar becomes remote or disappears. When the phantom becomes real, reality becomes a phantom. Nowadays, the real home has been demoted to the status of a container and its function is reduced to containing the video screen for the outside world. As a Wiener Presse article datelined from London (October 2, 1954) says: “Social workers removed two children from a house in the East End of London, a one-year old and a three-year old, who had been abandoned. The only furniture in the house, in which they were playing, consisted of a few broken chairs. But in a corner there was an expensive new television. The only food in the cupboard consisted of a slice of bread, a pound of margarine and a bottle of condensed milk.” The last remnants of what had once constituted the home environment, life in common and the atmosphere of normal life, have disappeared. Without even an open confrontation having taken place—or even being necessary—the realm of the phantom was victorious over the realm of the home from the very moment the television made its entry into the home: it came, it was seen, and it conquered. Immediately the walls echo, they become transparent, the glue that holds the family together melts away, shared privacy disintegrates.
Decades ago, one could have observed that the social hallmark of the family, the massive table in the center of the living room, around which the family gathered, had begun to lose its force of attraction, it became obsolete and is now absent from the modern home. Now it has found its true successor in the new gadget, the television; only now has it been replaced with a new piece of furniture, whose social symbolism and persuasive power can measure up against the comparable features of the family table. This does not mean, however, that the television has become the center of the family; to the contrary, what the television set reproduces and embodies is precisely the decentralization of the family, its ex-centricity, because it is the negative family table. It does not provide a common center point, but rather a common avenue of escape for the members of the family. Whereas the table was a centripetal force for the family and it had encouraged those who sat around it to set the shuttles of mutual family interests in motion, to share glances and conversations in order to continue weaving the fabric of family life, the television screen is centrifugal. In fact, the family members are not seated in such a way as to face one another; the arrangement of chairs in front of the television screen is a chance affair and should the family members look at each other it is only by accident, just as any speech between them (if they should ever want or be able to talk) is a result of chance. They are no longer together, but merely placed one next to the other; they are mere spectators. In these circumstances one can no longer speak of weaving the fabric of family life, or of a world in which they participate or which they create together. What takes place instead is only that the members of the family fly towards a realm of unreality at the same time, all of them together in the best cases, but never really share the experience at the point of liftoff; or else they journey towards a world that they actually share with no one (since they do not really participate in it themselves); or if they do share it in some manner, they only do so with all the millions of “soloists of mass consumption”, who just like them and at the same time as them stare at their television screens. The family has been restructured into a miniature audience, and the living room has been transformed into a miniature movie theater and the movie theater has become the model for the home. If there is still anything that the members of the family experience or participate in, not alone, or even as isolated individuals alongside the other members of the family, but truly as a shared family experience, it is only the experience of awaiting the moment and working for the moment, when they will have finally paid off all the installments on their televisions and will once and for all put an end to their lives in common. The unconscious goal of their last life in common is therefore its extinction.
Television and radio speak on our behalf; they thus transform us into minors and subordinates. 3
Television viewers, we have said, converse with each other only by accident—insofar as they still retain the will or the ability to speak.
This is true even of people who listen to the radio. They too speak only by mistake. Their will and their ability to speak diminish with each passing day—this does not mean that they literally fall silent, but only that their garrulousness has assumed a purely passive form. If in our fable we said, in the words of the king, that “Now you do not need to walk” means “Now you cannot walk”, in this case the “Now you no longer need to talk” is transformed into “Now you can no longer talk”. Since the television and the radio speak on our behalf, they also deprive us of our ability to speak; they rob us of our capacity to express ourselves, of our opportunities for speech, and of our pleasure in speaking, just as the music of the phonograph has robbed us of the live music that we used to perform in our homes.
The pairs of lovers sauntering along the shores of the Hudson, the Thames or the Danube with a portable radio do not talk to each other, but listen to a third person—the public, almost always anonymous, voice of the program that they walk like a dog; or more accurately, that walks them like a pair of dogs. Since they are only a public in miniature that follows the voice of the broadcast, they do not walk alone, but in the company of a third person. We may not speak, therefore, of any kind of situation of intimate conversation, which is ruled out in advance; and any intimate contacts that might take place between the lovers are introduced and even stimulated not by them, but by that third party, the deep or crooning voice of the program that (for is not this the very meaning of the word, “program”) tells both lovers what to feel and what to do depending on whether it is day or night. And since they do what they are told to do in the presence of this third party, they do it in an acoustically indiscreet situation. However entertaining their obedience may seem to the two lovers, it is a certainty that they do not entertain each other; rather, both are entertained by that third party which alone has a voice; and this voice does not entertain them only in the sense of conversing with them, or even of just amusing them, but also in the sense of soutenir [supporting them], since as the third party in the alliance, this voice gives them that support and aid that they cannot mutually provide each other, since they do not know what to do with themselves. The fact that even the actual faire amour itself is almost always conducted to the accompaniment of the radio (and not only playing a creative swooning musical), does not need to be shamefully dissimulated for a world that not only knows this is true, but also practices it as something entirely normal. In fact, the radio, which is admitted or desired today in every situation, plays the role of that torch-bearing female guide whom the ancients called upon to witness their amorous pleasures; the difference between the two is that today’s guide is a mechanical public utility, that its torch must provide not just illumination, but also warmth, and must not remain silent under any circumstances, but to the contrary must talk its head off and provide a background of noise in the form of songs or words in order to suppress that horror vacui which does not loosen its grip on the pair of lovers even in actu. This background noise is so fundamentally important that it has even been adopted by the voicepondences, introduced in 1954, those recorded magnetic tapes, which people send to each other. When a lover utters this kind of illiterate love letter, what he is doing is speaking on a pre-recorded musical background, because for his adored addressee it is likely that “nothing more than his voice” would be too bare a gift. What really has to be heard, somewhat like a suitor who has been transformed into a thing, is likewise the third voice.
But the situation of lovemaking is just one example, the most blatant. In much the same way, people keep themselves entertained in any situation, in every activity; and when, by some oversight or carelessness, they speak to each other, behind them speaks, as the principal actor, as the tenor, the voice of the radio and transmits to them the reassuring and comforting feeling that it will continue to speak even after they themselves have had their say—even after they are dead.
And no matter how much they now have a guaranteed right to speak, they have been completely inoculated in their hearing, and have essentially ceased to be ζῶα λόγον ἔχοντα, just as, as eaters of bread, they have ceased to be homines fabri, since they do not give form to their verbal nourishment, nor do they bake their own bread. For them words are no longer something one speaks, but something one merely hears; speaking is no longer something that one does, but something that one receives. It is clear that they therefore “have” the logos in a completely different sense than is conveyed by Aristotle’s definition; and it is just as clear that they are thus transformed—in the etymological sense of the term—into infantile beings, that is, into minors, those who do not speak. No matter in what cultural or political milieu this process towards the condition of ἄνευ λόγου εἶναι [an existence without speech] takes place, its end result is always the same: a type of man who, because he no longer speaks himself, no longer has anything to say; and who, because he only listens—and this is more and more the case—is a subordinate. The initial effects of this development are manifest even today: the languages of all advanced countries have become cruder and poorer; and there is a growing aversion to the use of language.4 But not only this—there has also been a corresponding impoverishment and barbarization of experience, that is, of man himself, because man’s “inner life”, its richness and its subtlety, cannot endure without the richness and subtlety of his way of speaking and not only because language is man’s means of expression, but also because man is the product of his way of speaking; in short: because man is articulated as he himself articulates and is disarticulated to the degree that he does not articulate.5
Events come to us, not we to them.
The consumer goods by means of which such a transformation of human nature is achieved are brought into our homes, just like gas or electricity. The deliveries are not confined to artistic products, such as music or radio dramas; they also include actual events, at least those events that are selected and processed to represent “reality” or to serve as substitutes for it. A man who wants to be “in the swim”, to know what is going on outside, must go to his home, where the events are waiting for him, like water ready to flow from the faucet. For if he stayed outside, in the chaos of reality, how could he pick out anything “real” of more than local significance? Because, in fact, the outside world covers up the outside world. Only after we have closed the door behind us, does the outside world become visible to us; only after we have been transformed into windowless monads, does the universe reflect itself in us; only when we have dedicated ourselves to the tower to such a point that, instead of being prisoners, we become its residents, does the world appear and offer itself to us, and we are transformed into Lynceus.6 The ridiculous promise: “Look how close the good is”, which our fathers had to propose in response to the question, “Why go out into the world?”, will have to be revised and stated in this way: “Look how close the distant is”, or even, “Look, the remote is only near”. And this brings us to the heart of our subject, since the fact that events—the events themselves, not reports about them—that football games, church services, atomic explosions, visit us at home; the fact that the mountain comes to Mohammed, the world comes to man, and not the reverse, is, along with the mass production of hermits and the transformation of the family into a miniature audience, the essentially revolutionary achievement that radio and television has brought.7
This third revolution is the real subject of our investigation, since it is almost exclusively devoted to unique changes that are inflicted on man as a being who is supplied with a world, and to the no less unique consequences entailed by this supply of the world for the concept of the world and for the world itself. In order to prove that what we are dealing with here are truly philosophical questions, we shall provide a list, although not in any systematic order, of some of the consequences that must be discussed in the course of our investigation.
1. When the world comes to us, instead of our going to it, we are no longer “in the world”, but only its consumers, as in the Land of Cockaigne.
2. When the world comes to us only as an image, it is half-present and half-absent, in other words, it is like a phantom.
3. When we have access to it at any time we want (we do not of course call the shots, but we can connect to it or disconnect from it), we are possessors of a God-like power.
4. When the world speaks to us without our being able to speak to it, we are deprived of speech, and hence condemned to be unfree.
5. When the world is clearly perceptible to us, but no more than that, i.e., not subject to our action, then we are transformed into eavesdroppers and voyeurs.
6. When an event that occurs at a particular place is broadcast, and when it can be made to appear at any other place as a “broadcast”, it becomes a movable, indeed, almost ubiquitous object, and has forfeited its spatial location, its principium individuationis.
7. When the event is no longer attached to a specific location and can be reproduced virtually any number of times, it acquires the characteristics of an assembly-line product; and when we pay for having it delivered to our homes, it is a commodity.
8. When the actual event is socially important only in its reproduced form, i.e., as a spectacle, the difference between being and appearance, between reality and image of reality, is abolished.
9. When the event in its reproduced form is socially more important than the original event, this original must be shaped with a view to being reproduced; in other words, the event becomes merely a master matrix, or a mold for casting its own reproductions.
10. When the dominant experience of the world thrives on such assembly-line products, the concept “the world” is abolished insofar as it denotes that in which we live. The real world is forfeited; the broadcasts, in other words, further an “idealistic” orientation.
It is quite obvious that what we have here are philosophical problems. All the points set forth above will be discussed during the course of our investigation. Up to the last point: the surprising utilization of the expression “idealistic”, which must therefore be explained immediately.
Already, in Point 1, we proposed that, for us, as consumers of radio and television, the world is no longer present as outside world, in which we are, but as our world. In fact, the world has changed places in a peculiar way: it is certainly not to be found, as the vulgar formulas of idealism state, “in our consciousness” or “in our brain”; however, because of the fact that it has in effect been moved from the outside to the inside and, instead of being found outside, it has made its abode in my house as an image that must be consumed, as a mere eidos, this translocation is similar in the most surprising manner to classical idealism. Now, the world has become mine, it is my representation, it has been transformed into a “representation for me” (if we understand the term, “representation” in a dual sense: not only in the sense of Schopenhauer, but in that of the theater). The idealist element consists in this “for me”, since “idealist”, in the broadest sense of the word, is any attitude that transforms the world into something that is mine, ours, into something at our disposal, in short: into a possessive: therefore, into my “representation” or into my (Fichtean) “product of positing”. If the term “idealist” is surprising, this is because the “being mine” is in general only asserted speculatively, while here it describes a situation in which the metamorphosis of the world into something that is at my disposal has technically taken place in a real way. It is evident that already the mere assertion proceeds from a disproportionate pretension to freedom, since in it the world is claimed as property. Hegel used the expression “idealism” in this broader sense without any qualms, in his Philosophy of Right, to denominate as “idealist” the predatory animal insofar as it appropriates, annexes and imagines the world in the form of prey or plunder, that is, it makes use of it as “its own”. Fichte was an idealist, because he considered the world to be something “posited” by him, as the product of the activity of his ego, and therefore as his own product. What all idealists have in common in the broadest sense is the assumption that the world is here, it exists, for man, whether as a gift, or as freely created, so that man himself does not belong to the world, he does not represent a part of the world; he is instead the polar opposite of the world. The interpretation of this gift, of this datum as “sensory data” is only one variety of idealism among many others, and certainly not one of the most important.8
If it is true of all the variations of idealism that they transform the world into a possessive: into a domain that is ruled (Genesis), into an image of perception (sensualism), into a consumer good (Hegel’s predatory animal), into a product of “positing” or “production” (Fichte), into property (Stirner), in our case the expression can in fact be utilized with a good conscience, since here all the possible nuances of the possessive are united.
If television and radio open windows to the world, at the same time they transform the consumers of the world into “idealists”.
This claim will naturally sound strange and contradictory after having spoken of the triumph of the outside world over the inner world. It sounds strange to me, too. The fact that both assertions can be held at once seems to indicate an antinomy in the man-world relation. At first sight, this antinomy is insoluble. If it is at all possible, our investigation must go further, since it began by way of contradiction and does not presuppose, in toto, anything but the attempt to explain this contradictory situation.
Because the world is brought into our homes, we do not have to explore it: as a result, we do not acquire experience.9
In a world that comes to man, man has no need to go to the world in order to explore or experience it; that which was once called experience has become superfluous.
Up until recently, expressions such as “to go into the world” or “to experience” have denoted important anthropological concepts. Since man is a being relatively little endowed with instincts, he has been compelled to experience and know the world a posteriori in order to find his place in it; only in this way could he reach his goal and become “experienced”. Life used to consist of a voyage of exploration; that is why the great Erziehungsromane (“educational novels”) dealt with the ways man—although always in the world—had to travel in order to get to know the world. Today, because the world comes to him—as an image—he need not bother to explore it; such explorations and experiences are superfluous, and since all superfluous functions become atrophied, he can no longer engage in explorations and become experienced.10 It is indeed evident that the type of “experienced man” is becoming increasingly rare, and that age and experience tend to be regarded as less and less valuable. Like pedestrians who have taken to flying we no longer need roads; in consequence, our knowledge of the ways of the world, which we formerly used to explore, and which made us experienced, is declining. Simultaneously with this, the world itself becomes a pathless wilderness. Whereas formerly we “stored up” for us like a commodity put aside for future use; we do not have to go to the events, the events are paraded before us.
Such a portrait of our contemporaries may at first sight appear distorted. For it has become customary to look upon the automobile and the airplane as symbols of modern man, homo viator, a being whose essence is travel (Gabriel Marcel). What is in question is precisely the correctness of this definition. For modern man does not attach value to his travelling because of any interest in the regions he visits, actually or vicariously; he does not travel to become experienced but to still his hunger for omnipresence and for rapid change as such. Moreover, the speed of his movement deprives him of the opportunity for experience (to the extent that speed itself has now become the sole and ultimate experience)—not to mention the fact that the number of objects worthy of being experienced and capable of adding to his experience is continually decreased by his successful efforts to make the world uniform, and that even today he feels at home, in need of no experience, wherever he may land. An advertising poster of a well-known airline, utterly confusing provincialism and globalism, appeals to its customers with these words: “When you use our services, you are everywhere at home.” Everywhere at home: there is indeed good reason to assume that today any trip (even though the man who takes it may sleep comfortably in his electrically heated cabin while flying over the North Pole) is felt to be an antiquated, uncomfortable and inadequate method of achieving omnipresence. Modern man still resorts to this method precisely because, despite all his efforts, he has not yet succeeded in having everything delivered to his home—something that he has come to regard as his inherent right.
The consumer of millions of separate radio and television broadcasts, lying down on his sofa, rules the world in effigie from his home: he connects with it, he allows it to pass before his eyes, he disconnects from it; this master of the multitude of images is by no means any less typical for us than the aviator and the motorist; nor is the latter, when he is driving through the countryside with his radio playing, since he, too, procures the satisfaction and the consolation of knowing that not only does he have to leave in search of the world, but the world also has to come to him and the world (which is now subjected to the penalty of running after him and with him), really only turns for the exclusive purpose of entertaining him.11
“The world turns for him”. “Entertains him.” “Just like at home.”
These expressions point to a mode of existence, a relation to the world that is so extraordinarily perverse that even Descartes’ mauvais genie trompeur (“malicious demon”) would be incapable of devising a comparable deception. Such a mode of existence may be described as “idealistic” in two ways:
1. Despite the fact that we really live in an alienated world,12
the world is presented to us in such a manner that it seems to exist for us, as though it were our own and like ourselves.
2. We “take” (i.e., regard and accept) it as such, although we stay at home in our living rooms; that is, despite the fact that we do not actually “take” it (like the predatory animal or the conqueror), nor do we actually make it our own; in any case, not we, the ordinary consumers of radio and television. Instead, we “take” it because it is served to us in the form of images. In this way we transform ourselves into master of the phantoms of the world, but our mastery takes the form of voyeurism.
We have already addressed the first point. The next chapter will be devoted to the second point.
The world brought into our homes is banalized.13
This is not the place to discuss the origin, the etiology or the symptomology of alienation. The literature on this subject is enormous, and we must take this phenomenon for granted.14 The deception in question here consists, as we have said, in the fact that we, despite living as we do in an estranged world [verfremdete Welt], as consumers of films, radio and television—but not only as such—seem to be on friendly terms with everything and everybody: people, places, situations, events, even the most surprising, or precisely the most surprising, ones. On March 7, 1955, a hydrogen bomb with the friendly name of Grandpa was detonated. This phenomenon of pseudo-familiarization, which for reasons that we shall explain in the next section does not have a name, we call “banalization of the world”: “banalization”, not “insinuation”, because what is taking place here does not consist in our abandonment to the strange or the bizarre, but in the fact that we are supplied with strange people, things, events and situations as if they were totally familiar; that is, it consists in the creation of a banalized situation.15
Some illustrations (we shall take two examples of estrangement at random): while our use of something and our production of things are two different things (since what we use is always ready at hand, while the nature of what we produce in collaboration with others, to the contrary, is unintelligible to us or alien to our lives); while our next-door neighbors, whom we pass by every day for years, usually do not know us and the distance between us and them remains unbridged for years on end, film stars, girls whom we never meet personally but whom we have seen countless times and whose spiritual and physical characteristics are known to us more completely than those of our co-workers, appear to us in the guise of old friends, as chums. We are automatically on a footing of intimacy with them; we refer to them by their first names, as Rita or Myrna. What is delivered to us has become immediate and affects us directly along with it: the abyss has been eliminated. The importance that is attributed to this elimination of the abyss is shown by 3D motion pictures, whose invention and introduction arose not only from an interest in technical improvements or merely from the competitive struggle (against television), but from the desire to confer upon the absence of distance between the transmission and the receiver a maximum degree of sensory and spatial credibility. If it were technically possible—and who can predict what is still in store for us, considering the current dizzying rate of artistic progress?—they will also make us happy with “tele-tactile effects”, by means of which we will be able to palpably feel the blow of the boxer’s left-hook in our jaws. Only in that way will a real closeness be achieved. Although even today the 3D motion picture promises: You are with them, they are with you.
To bring about such a state of affairs, to enable the program consumer to treat the world as something familiar, the televised image must address him as an old chum. In fact, every broadcast has this chummy quality. When I tune into the President, he suddenly sits next to me at the fireplace, chatting with me, although he may be thousands of miles away. (I am only marginally aware of the fact that this intimacy exists in millions of copies.) When the female announcer appears on the screen, she speaks to me in a tone of complete frankness, as though I were her bosom friend. (That she is also the bosom friend of all men is again only a marginal realization.) When the radio family begins to share their concerns with me, I become their confidant, as if I were their neighbor, family doctor or parish priest. (It does not matter that everyone becomes their confidants or the fact that they are there in order to make us their confidants or that we should become the family of neighbors.) All of them come to me as intimate or indiscreet visitors; all of them find me in a pre-banalized situation. Not one of these people who are transported into my house retains even an atom of unfamiliarity. And this is true not only of persons, but of everything else, of the world as a whole. The magical power of banalization is so irresistible, the range of its capacity for metamorphosis is so extensive that nothing can resist it: things, places, events or situations, everything is transformed so that it comes to us with a friendly smile on its face, with a vulgar tatwamasi on its lips. This has reached the point where, finally, we are not just on intimate terms with movie stars but also with the stars of the firmament, and we speak of good old Cassiopeia just as we would speak of Rita or Myrna. And this is not meant as a joke. The fact that laymen and scientists regard it as possible and even probable that the inhabitants of other planets who allegedly operate the flying saucers have, like us and precisely in our time, nothing better to do than to undertake interplanetary voyages, proves that we look upon everything in the universe as “one of our sort”. This is a sign of anthropomorphism compared to which the anthropomorphism of the so-called primitive cultures seems timid. For the purveyors of the banalized universe, the formula of identity of Plotinus and Goethe, “If the eye were not sun-like”, is replaced by the commercial slogan, “If the sun were not eye-like”, since if it were not so then nature could not be sold and, with it, a virtual commodity would be lost. We are thus systematically transformed into pals of the globe and the universe, certainly only into pals, since it is clear that one cannot say that modern man, conditioned in this manner, has a feeling of authentic fraternity, of pantheism, of love of the most distant peoples or, much less, the “sense of the one”.
What we have said of things and persons distant in space, also applies to things and persons distant in time, of the past: it, too, becomes one of our pals. And I am not talking about historical films, in which such treatment is the rule. But even in a serious, vividly written American academic book, Socrates is described as quite a guy—in other words he is put in a category that brings the distant great man seemingly close to the reader; for, needless to say, the reader too is quite a guy. This label gives the reader the unconsciously gratifying feeling that Socrates, if he had not happened to live in that remote past, would be essentially like us, would not have anything to say that is essentially different from what we have to say, and in no case could claim greater authority than we do. More than one person thinks, without any basis whatsoever, that, should he be transported back to the time of Socrates—which must not be taken all that seriously—he would not be one of the lesser lights of ancient Greece. For someone who thinks in this way, Socrates is inferior to us or, in any event, is no better: the idea that Socrates could have been any better than him is ruled out as much by his faith in progress as by his mistrust of privileges of any kind. Others perceive (as their reaction to historical films and similar productions proves) historical figures almost as comical, that is, as hillbillies in the realm of time, as creatures who did not grow up in the capital city, in the Now, and that, for that reason, they act like village idiots of history or superstitious backwoodsmen. Every electrical invention made since their time is looked upon as an eloquent proof of their inferiority. Finally, to many of our contemporaries historical figures appear as non-conformists, as suspiciously queer fellows, for it is obvious that they regard themselves as something quite special—namely, unlike every decent man who chooses to live in the present, they prefer to take up residence in a cavern of the past. But whether a great man of the past is regarded as quite a guy or a provincial hick, these categories denote proximity and are therefore variations of banalization.
But let us return to the case of “Socrates, the guy”: the epithet here is obviously based on the great political principle formulated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man, “All men are born equal”, which has now been romantically extended into the assertion of the Equality of all citizens of the Commonwealth of times past and present. Needless to say, such a romantic extension of the principle of equality suggests not only a false historical proximity, but also a misconception of the common denominator of all mankind—for, after all, the essence of Socrates consists in the very thing that “our sort” is lacking. The method allegedly intended to bring the object close to us, actually serves to veil the object, to alienate it, or simply to do away with it altogether. Indeed, it does away with it, since the past, by being projected onto the single plane of the world of pals and chums, has actually ceased to exist qua history—and this is perhaps even more plausible than our general thesis, that when all the various and variously distant regions of the world are brought equally close to us, the world as such vanishes.
The Sources of Banalization: The Democratic Universe. Banalization and the Commodity Character. Banalization and Science.
So just what lies behind this banalization?
Like every historical phenomenon on such a scale banalization is also over-determined, that is, it owes its very existence to sources of diverse provenance, which had to converge and unite in order to convert it into a historical reality.
Before we go in search of the principal root of this phenomenon, we would like to briefly mention its three collateral roots. We have already addressed one of them in our discussion of Socrates. We call it the democratization of the universe and by this term we mean to refer to:
1. When each and every thing, regardless of how far away or how close it is, is familiar to me; when each and every thing can demand the same right to make its voice heard, which I accept as something equally familiar; when the odium of privilege is attributed to every relative advantage, one has as a matter of course—in an unconscious way, it is true—a structurally democratic totum, a universe, to which certain principles are applied (which are morally and politically accepted), the principles of equal rights and tolerance for all. Viewed historically, such an extension of moral principles to the cosmic level is not at all extraordinary. Man has always recreated the image of the universe in accordance with that of his own society. What was extraordinary was the division, which has been dominant during the last few centuries in Europe, of the image of the world into a practical image and a theoretical image that is completely alien to it. It is therefore not at all surprising to find in the United States, with its powerful democratic tradition, a tendency to realize these principles it proclaims. There is even an academic philosophy that, embracing the most extreme implications of this concept—implies a real negation of the monist or dualist principles of classical philosophy: the philosophy of William James.
2. It is evident that banalization is a phenomenon of neutralization, since it puts everything on the same level or the semblance thereof; therefore, it is also evident that whoever seeks the roots of this trend has to address the basic neutralizing forces of the world. Democracy itself (that is, its absurd extension to non-political domains) is a neutralizing force.
The basic neutralizing force today is certainly not of a political, but of an economic nature: it is the commodity character of all phenomena. Is this also a source of banalization?
The first reaction we will hear will be: impossible. Impossible, because, as everyone knows, the commodity character alienates, and banalization, which makes things familiar, is apparently at the very opposite end of the spectrum from alienation.
The question is not so easily resolved, however. As true as it is that everything that is transformed into a commodity is alienated, at the same time it is just as true that every commodity, insofar as it is meant to be purchased and transformed into part of our life, also must be banalized. More precisely:
Every commodity must exist in such a way that, in its manual use—adapted to a need, a style and a standard of living—it is accommodated to the taste and is pleasing to the eye. Its degree of quality is defined by virtue of the degree of this adaptation; expressed negatively: it depends on the low resistance it provokes when it is used and the low level of raw alien residues that its enjoyment leaves behind. Thus, since the broadcast is a commodity, it, too, must be presented in a way that is pleasant to the eyes and the ears, it must be easily assimilable, ready to enjoy, not alien, with no bones or pits; that is, in such a way that it is directed at us as if it were our simile, cut to our measure, as if it were part of our condition.
Viewed in this way, banalization appears to shed its negative qualities and seems to refer to nothing but the fundamental fact that, as homines fabri, “we make something from something else”, adapting the world to our measure, or in other words, it is reduced to “culture” in the broadest sense of the word. The fact that everything we do is a form of “banalization” is, in a certain way, undeniable; but this indiscriminate use of the expression, to which a derogatory connotation is added, is completely unacceptable, since in the last analysis we cannot define the act of making something by referring to its most signal defect: for example, we cannot denounce all carpenters because one of them supplies us with wood that is not wood, while others provide us with tables made of wood, which are incomparably more suitable for us. In fact, there is no deception here. What is deceptive is the adaptation only because it offers a product as if it were really made of wood. And this is the case in the banalized world, since the latter is a product that, due to its venal commodity character, is offered tailored to the buyer and in a way that it is convenient for him; that is, since the world is inconvenient, the commodity simulates precisely those properties that the world completely lacks; and, in spite of everything, this product has the audacity or the innocence to claim that it is the world.
3. As the last root of banalization, for which everything is equally close to us, we shall finally refer to the attitude of the scientist, whose legitimate pride consists in converting what is most remote into something of the greatest familiarity by way of his research and, in the process, he alienates what is most intimately part of his life: he devotes himself cum studio to that which is to him, as an individual, of no importance at all and neutralizes sine ira what is closest to him; in short: he neutralizes the distance between what is nearby and what is remote. The scientist can undoubtedly pursue and persevere in this attitude that neutralizes everything, his “objectivity”, only by way of a dazzling moral cunning, by way of an act of violence against himself, by way of an ascetic renunciation of the natural perspective of the world. To believe that he can separate this neutrality from that moral root of his own and deliver it to anyone, and therefore also to anyone who leads a non-ascetic existence, not dedicated to knowledge and overwhelmingly opposed to this neutrality, is an error not only of science, but also of the moral tasks of its popularization. But this error is the beginning of praxis; in a sense, today, every reader, radio listener, consumer of television, spectator of highbrow cinema, is transformed into a vulgar double of the scientist: he, too, expects everything to be equally remote and nearby, which usually does not by any means imply that he has to concede to all phenomena the same right to be known, but rather the same right to be enjoyed. However, since today knowing is presented as pleasure and learning as fun, the border between the two has been erased.
Banalization is a camouflaged form of alienation itself.16
With these observations we have not yet presented the principal root of banalization; nor have we plausibly shown the reason for the particular fact that this process, the existence of which can be confirmed in various ways, does not even have a name. It is really very strange that this phenomenon, despite the fact that it is no less powerful, nor less symptomatic of our times, nor less disastrous, than alienation, which is evidently its antagonist, should have remained so concealed, while alienation itself (and of course this is accomplished by means of the banalization of the term, that is, by rendering it innocuous) is not ignored.
But is banalization really the antagonist of alienation?
Not at all. And thus we arrive at its principal root, the root that, at the same time, also allows us to understand why it has never had a name until now. As paradoxical as it may sound, the principal root of banalization is alienation itself.
Anyone who confers credibility upon banalization; and who views it as the antagonistic force opposed to alienation, falls victim to a widely disseminated fraud. Mere reflection on the question of whether banalization helps or hinders alienation renders the notion that banalization is the antagonist of alienation superfluous, because the response to the question is erroneous: it is useful to alienation. In fact, its main function consists in masking the causes and symptoms of alienation, and their utter misery; it deprives man, who has been estranged from his world and for whom his world has become alien, of the ability to recognize this fact; briefly: it consists in throwing a cloak [of invisibility] over alienation, in denying the reality of alienation for the purpose of allowing it free rein for its unconstrained action; what it achieves, by relentlessly filling the world with images of apparent familiarity, offering the world itself, including its most distant regions, geographically and temporally, as one big home, as a universe of comfort. It is this function that explains the existence of banalization. Behind the latter, as the boss who gives the orders, is alienation itself. To view these two forces as if they were two estranged brothers or hostile enemies would be absurd, and as naïve as it is non-dialectical. Instead, both collaborate like a pair of hands that cooperate harmoniously: in the wound inflicted by alienation with one hand, the other hand rubs the balm of familiarity. And even if it is not always the same hand, since, finally, one can view the two processes as a single process and banalization as an action of camouflage on the part of alienation, which proffers itself ingenuously disguised as its antagonist, in order to seemingly testify against itself, in order to assure a balance of forces and to cast aspersions on its own rule … just as Metternich did, when he founded a liberal opposition newspaper apparently against his own policies.
There is a Molussian tale about an evil gnome who cures a blind man; not by removing the scales from his eyes, however, but by blinding him with another kind of blindness: the gnome made him blind also to the fact that he was blind, it made him forget how to really perceive what was real; it did this by plunging him into an uninterrupted series of dreams. The disguised alienation of banalization is like this gnome: it, too, seeks to give comfort to man, who is dispossessed of his world, by way of images conveying the illusion that he even has a whole universe, one that is familiar, his own universe, equal to his former world in each and every one of its parts; and this is brought about by making him forget what a non-alienated existence and non-alienated world is like. The situation in which we find ourselves is actually even more ensorcelled than that of the blind man of the tale, since in our case the gnome that plunged our blindness into the darkness of forgetting is the same one that cast the spell that blinded us in the first place.
So it is not at all surprising that alienation implements this operation of self-deception surreptitiously, and that this operation is not even once called by its own name. What interest could the powerful have, who are alienating our world, in directing our attention towards their activities? Even if it were only by way of the introduction of a word, in calling our attention to the fact that they need to cloak its alienation by supplying us with substitute images and to the fact that they are successful in doing so? What is really surprising is the fact that they actually succeed in keeping under wraps an everyday phenomenon that is as widespread and public as banalization merely by not giving it a name. In any case, it cannot be denied that this is the way it is. For this purpose they supply their images, but they do not say anything about the nature of their supply. And they can do this without worrying as long as we, who are at the receiving end of the delivery, allow ourselves to be really deceived and, although deceived, we feel just fine. It is as if, wounded by alienation, we had rendered ourselves incapable of noticing that we find ourselves under the effects of the drug of banalization; and we are too drowsy from the drug to even feel that we are wounded; it is thus as if the two circumstances mutually reinforce one another.
But even assuming that banalization does not arise by way of the operation of camouflage and deception on the part of alienation, it is still incontestable that it is itself alien. Yes; it, too. Because, usually, since what alienation does is cause what is near to become remote, and what banalization does is transform what is remote into something familiar, the effect of neutralization is in both cases the same: by way of this neutralization the world and the position of men within the world is distorted, since it is a part of the structure of the “existence-in-the-world” distributed in concentric circles of nearness and remoteness around man, and man, for whom the totality is equally near and far and everything interests him in the same way, is either an indifferent god or a completely unnatural man. And we are not talking about Stoic gods here.
In fact, there is nothing that more disastrously alienates us more from ourselves and the world than the fact that we pass our existence almost uninterruptedly accompanied by these false family members, these spectral slaves, that in our bedroom—now that the alternation of sleeping and waking had given way to that of sleeping and listening to the radio—we perform a ceremony so somnolent that the first fragment of the world serves us as a morning audience, so that they question us, look at us, sing to us, encourage us, console us, they instill us with vigor or they make us more relaxed and thus we begin the day, which is not our day; nor is there anything that makes self-alienation more unquestionable than starting the day under the aegis of these pseudo-friends, since even if we could frequent the company of real friends, we prefer to continue to live in the company of our portable chums, since we do not consider them to be replacements for real men, but as our real friends.
One day I was riding the bus and I greeted a woman in front of me who was listening to a masculine voice, evidently one she very much liked, which resonated vigorously from her diminutive portable radio; she flinched with surprise, as if I was the ghost rather than the man in the little box, as if I were guilty of having violated the peace of her home by intruding myself in her reality, into the reality of her love life. I am convinced that today there is a an endless number of persons who, if you were to confiscate their radios, would feel more cruelly punished than prison inmates, whose freedom has been confiscated, but who are allowed to keep their gadgets: the latter can continue to enjoy their lives in a fortunate extroversion, since their world and their friends are at their disposal as listeners—so what has changed?; the unfortunate wretch, however, who has been deprived of his gadget, immediately feels as if he were the prey of a panic fear of being deaf in the void and feels like he is suffocating amidst his loneliness and worldlessness. I remember that when I was living in New York, an eighteen-year old Puerto Rican came to the house of the woman from whom we rented an apartment, whose radio had suddenly fallen silent as if it were the end of the world: this young man had come to listen to this radio to hear the beloved voice of one of his phantom friends from Los Angeles, which he did not want at all to miss; when with a press of a button he heard that voice—he not only knew the frequency but also where it was on the dial—he began to moan softly, relieved, and broke out in tears, happy for having once again found the ground under his feet. Naturally, without even a glance at the landlady or at me. Compared to this rediscovered, never-seen accomplice, we were unreal.
On the question of whether alienation is still an ongoing process.
It is possible that there is something amiss with the thesis that our need for “insinuating supplied friends” and for the “banalized world” also alienates us, the men of our time. And not because the proposition goes too far, but because it does not go far enough, since a currently unjustified optimism speaks from the basis of the assumption that, although we are beings nourished exclusively on substitutes, models and illusions, we are still “egos” with a separate selfhood, and that therefore we are still capable of having a real identity without being capable of being “our true selves” or of recovering “our true selves”. Hasn’t the time come and gone since “alienation” was still possible as action and process, at least in some countries? Do we not find ourselves now in a situation in which we are not “our true selves”, but only the sum total of substitutes with which we are stuffed to the gills on a daily basis? Can one dispossess the dispossessed, pillage the pillaged, cause the mass-man to be alienated from himself? Is alienation still an ongoing process? Or is it rather a fait accompli?
Not so long ago we ridiculed the “soulless psychologies”, which scoffed at categories such as the “ego” or “selfhood” as ridiculous metaphysical leftovers, as falsifications of man. But were we right to do so? Wasn’t our disdain pure sentimentalism? Was it those psychologists who falsified man? Weren’t those psychologists of falsified man, man as robot, justified in their pursuit of robotology instead of psychology? And justified as well in their falsehoods, because the man whom they studied was precisely man in his falseness?
- 1 This English translation is based on: Günther Anders, La Obsolescencia del Hombre (Vol. I), tr. Josep Monter Pérez, Pre-Textos, Valencia, 2011. Originally published in Germany in 1956 under the title: Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen I. The 2011 Spanish edition of Volume I consists of: a Preface to the Fifth German Edition (dated October 1979); an Introduction; and the four main parts of the book, entitled, “On Promethean Shame”, “The World as Phantom and as Matrix: Philosophical Considerations on Radio and Television”, “Being without Time: On Beckett’s Waiting for Godot”, and “On the Bomb and the Roots of Our Blindness to the Apocalypse”. The English translation of Sections 2 through 7 that follows below is based for the most part on an abridged and revised English translation of Sections 2 through 7 of Part Two (“The World as Phantom and as Matrix: Philosophical Considerations on Radio and Television”) that was published under the title, “The World As Phantom and As Matrix” in the journal Dissent in 1956 (tr. Norbert Guterman, Dissent, Vol. 3, No. 1, Winter 1956, pp. 14-24). This article may be viewed online (in April 2014) at: http://thiva.egloos.com/2023093 and a PDF file of the same article can also be accessed at: https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/22307294/the-world-as-phantom-and-as-matrix-ucsb-department-of-history.) [American translator’s note.]
- 2 This is how we translate the term, Massenproducktion, which refers not only to the mass production of products, but also to the fact that it is production whose products are intended for the masses. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 3 We have translated Unmündige as “minors” and Hörige as “subordinates”. Unmündige literally means a person who has no voice and therefore cannot speak for himself. Similarly, hörig is a person who listens and acts in obedience to what he hears: he is thus subordinated or, more broadly speaking, “he belongs to”, “is a dependant of” (which is the other meaning of the German root word, hör); hence the sense of “obedience”. As we shall see below, un-mündig is the literal translation of the Latin in-fans (composed of in and the verb, for/fari, which means to speak). [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 4 We have already experienced a prelude to this increasingly more generalized atrophy of language in the decline of the epistolary art, caused by fifty years of the telephone, and which has gone so far that today the letters that were ordinarily exchanged among the educated people of a hundred years ago, generally seem to us to be masterpieces of friendship and precise communication. The subsequent atrophy that has taken place, however, affects not only the refinement of their mode of expression, but also men themselves, since they articulate themselves by way of their mode of expression. [Author’s note.]
- 5 Today, nothing is more misplaced than the doleful or arrogant complaint of the irrationalist who claims that our language does not correspond with the richness and profundity of our experience. The great men of the past, with whose richness and profundity we can hardly compare, completely measured up, in regard to their use of language, to their experiences; the power of their way of speaking embraced even the most extreme topics and the inadequacy of language, the rejection of speech, they only declared quite recently, always compared to its supreme essence. The less one has to say, the more rapidly does one transform mysticism into a necessity, poverty becomes wealth and the more arrogant one becomes in displaying the immensity of one’s own experience with the failure of language. Young people rapidly end up with the ineffable. The real need and our contemporary confusion do not consist in the fact that “we can, by talking too much, destroy” our alleged richness and profundity, but quite the contrary, that we can throw our richness overboard (to the extent that we possess such a quality) and blind our profundity, because, as far as our supply of language goes, we have begun to unlearn how to speak. [Author’s note.]
- 6 The image of “ivory towers”, which man builds and in which he secludes himself in order not to see reality, is completely obsolete. It was not so long ago that it was by building towers that reality itself was created, which is their construction manager and housekeeper. Thus, we do not live in them as fugitives from reality, but as its obligatory lessees. If we live in them, however, it is not in order to devote our attention to an illusory, completely different world, but so that we can live in its image. Not in its true image, of course, but in that false one that it, for real interest, desires that we should consider it as “the real thing”. We close ourselves off, then, to separate ourselves from it while apparently it is displaying itself to us. This distraction, however, is naturally set in motion with a realistic intention of the highest degree: so that, by way of its false image, we should really mark ourselves, that is, persuade ourselves that now our human reality is optimally useful. Those who put up resistance are called “introverts” and its docile victims, “extroverts”. [Author’s note.]
- 7 The idea of “the world that comes to us” is so familiar to us that we consider anything that goes beyond our terrestrial experience as visitors: yesterday Martian flying saucers and today supermen from Sirius. [Author’s note.]
- 8 The classical formulation of the world as “gift” is encountered in the story of Creation, which introduces the world as created for man. It is not by chance that modern idealisms should be post-Copernican; in a certain sense, all of them represent attempts to salvage this Biblical “for us”, which was so compatible with the pre-Copernican image of the world; that is, an attempt to preserve a disguised geo-centrism and its concomitant anthropocentrism in a de-centered universe. [Author’s note.]
- 9 The author is indulging in a play on words involving the expressions that mean “to go on a journey” (auf Fahrt gehen) and “without experience” (un-er-fahren): in a way, it is assumed that experience is obtained from the journey (as he already pointed out with regard to the journey of Ulysses). [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 10 It is certainly not by accident that this “getting to know the world” is disappearing at the same time and in the very same cultural space where the trauma of the physical “getting to know the world” was being abolished in the same way with technical means. [Author’s note.]
- 11 Now they are even installing televisions in cars; as of December 1954 you can by a General Motors Cadillac equipped with a television. [Author’s note.]
- 12 In conformance with the usual linguistic practice we translate entfremdete Welt as alienated world. In order to indicate this “alienation”, however, the author uses the term Verfremdung, which is taken from Brecht and which refers to the “re-location and re-utilization” of something (or someone) that, due to this relocation, loses its own place and, in this sense, is “alienated” (dislocated or distorted); in the latter context we translate the term as estrangement, whenever “to estrange” (also) means “to exile to a foreign country”. In any case, Anders himself explains subsequently how he uses this term, which is necessarily a novel use of the word insofar as it refers to a situation that is itself new. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 13 We have translated the term Verbiederung as “banalization”. The author uses this term to refer to the process of transforming “all that is remote and strange in order to transform it into something apparently domestic and home-like” (as he says at the end of the next footnote). The root bieder refers to what is common, familiar, homely, or welcoming; Anders emphasizes the “apparent” or superficial aspect of this process; thus, in order to emphasize its negative connotation, which goes beyond “making something popular or familiar”, we have chosen the term “banalization”, which upon closer examination is nothing but another way to say “alienation”, or it is even a form of “alienation”. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 14 Books and magazine articles, which have appropriated the use of these words that were originally so revolutionary, use them today with such ease and such skill that they confer the appearance of familiarity upon a phenomenon that has been thus deprived of its force and its strangeness. We no longer view it as it was viewed a hundred years ago, when it was introduced in the context of work, the commodity, freedom and property, that is, in a revolutionary context. The expression has become not just presentable in high society but it has even become the badge of membership in the avant-garde, and there is no self-respecting interpreter of modern art who does not brandish this badge. It does not matter whether or not this is intentional; the effect of this common use of the term consists in depriving alienation of its morally scandalous sting, i.e., in its alienation (according to the proper linguistic sense of the word). What you get from your enemies serves to disinherit them. This process of dilution has the following sources: 1. German sociology of the late 1920s (Karl Mannheim), whose contribution consisted in extracting from Marxism certain terms in order to embed them in a different context or in the language of everyday life and thus to deprive them of their bite. In the early 1930s this sociology spread to France and, at the end of the 1930s, to the United States. 2. Surrealism, which, during its fleeting alliance with communism, flirted with Hegelian terminology. Those who currently use the expression do so in a naïve way, since they follow in the footsteps of the epigones of the thirties and some of them are quite surprised when they find out who originally coined these everyday words that are so dear to them. Even this brief reflection on the current use of the term “alienation” shows the process of transformation that proceeds in a totally contrary direction: pseudo-familiarization and domestication. But this process is not identical, for example, with the well-known process of the configuration of words according to stereotypes; what this process involves in making something into a familiar appearance is not limited to terminology; its plunder is, rather, the world, the entire world; its pretension is no less universal than that of estrangement: just as the latter affects all that is familiar and intimate in order to transform it into the unfamiliar, cold, reified and public, the apparent familiarization appropriates all that is remote and strange in order to transform it into something apparently domestic and home-like. [Author’s note.]
- 15 Before we provide examples, we shall prophylactically point out that, although the border between these two terms can sometimes be blurred, what we call banalization does not coincide, for example, with “popularization”, since banalization treats its object in a consummately disrespectful way and profits from the deterioration and damage inflicted on the consumer, while what is accurately referred to as merely popularization, like all mere information, is a transmission not only of the object of information, but also with respect to itself. [Author’s note.]
- 16 We will also point out with respect to what has already been said about Verfremdung that, in another book by Günther Anders, Hombre sin mundo (Pre-Textos, 2007), we translated this term with the word re-utilization, since in that book it refers more to alienation as a method (as Brecht did, for example, in “The Case of Galileo”) insofar as it involves the re-use of something or someone in a different domain, one that is not originally its native element, and is therefore alien to it: it is exiled. [Note of the Spanish Translator.] [Hombre sin mundo: “Man without World”, originally published in Germany in 1984 under the title, Mensch ohne Welt. Schriften zur Kunst und Literatur—Note of the American Translator.]
Chapter 2 - The phantom
The world is brought to us in our homes. Events are served to us in abundance.
But how are they served to us? In the form of events? Or only as their copies? Or only as reports about the events?
In order to be able to answer these questions, which are addressed in the following paragraphs, we shall translate them into another language; and let us ask ourselves: how are the events broadcast in the home of the receiver? How is the receiver in them? Are they really present? Or only present in appearance? Are they absent, then? And in what way are they present or absent?
The man-world relation is unilateral; the world, neither present nor absent, is transformed into a phantom.
On the one hand, they really seem to be “present”: when we listen to a radio broadcast of a battle in a war or a parliamentary debate, we are hearing not only reports about explosions or about the speakers, but those phenomena themselves. Does this not mean that the events, which we previously were unable nor were we permitted (nor should we) to influence, are now really in our homes and we in them?
Of course not, for does the fact that we have free access to the voices of the world and that the latter has the right to be in our home, while we on the other hand are without any rights at all and have no voice in the delivered events—does this constitute a living present? And the fact that we cannot respond to anyone, although they speak to us, or seem to interrogate us, nor can we intervene in any events, whose noise roars all around us? Is it not a property of the real present that the man-world relation is reciprocal? Is this relation not severed here? Has it not become unilateral, up to the point where the world is perceptible to the listener, but not vice-versa? Is the listener not subject to the radical stricture: don’t talk back? Doesn’t this silence signify powerlessness? Is not the ubiquity that is bestowed upon us the present of the slave? And isn’t the slave absent, insofar as he is treated as a non-being, like air, and cannot have anything to say?
Evidently, he is absent, too. However, it would for the same reasons be possible to interpret this unilateral relationship in the opposite way, that is, as the guarantee of freedom and presence, for is it not freedom when, due to this unilateral process, we can participate at a distance in any event, that is, without incurring any danger and remaining invulnerable; with the privilege to use it as enjoyment and entertainment? And is that person not truly present who cannot be vanquished, in other words, relegated to absence, by any occurrences, of which he is a witness?
This sounds plausible too. And it would be altogether understandable if someone were to interrupt these questions, all this back and forth about whether the broadcast is present or absent, and point out that this does not have any meaning. “What the radio or the television delivers to us,” I can hear someone say, “are images. Representations, not presence! The fact that the images do not allow any interference and treat us like air is something that is obvious and has been a commonplace for a long time under the rubric of ‘esthetic appearance’.”
However, as convincing as this may sound, the argument is false. First—and this is a fundamentally phenomenological fact—because there are no “acoustic images”: the gramophone does not present us with any kind of image of the symphony, but with the symphony itself. If a mass meeting is brought to us over the radio, what we think we hear is not any kind of “image” of the shouting crowd, but its noise, despite the fact that the crowd itself is not physically within our reach. Furthermore, as listeners—at least when we are dealing with the broadcast of an art form (a drama), including its apparent character—we find ourselves in an attitude that could not be less esthetic: whoever listens to a football game does so as an impassioned fan, he believes that it is really taking place and has nothing to do with the “as if” of art.
No, these objections are incorrect. What we perceive are not mere images. But in the same way, we are not really present in the real. In fact, the question: “Are we present or absent?” is without meaning. But not because the answer “image” (and along with it, “absent”) is understood by itself, but because the nature of the situation brought about by the broadcast consists in its ontological ambiguity; because the events that are broadcast are, at the same time, present and absent, real and apparent, there and not there; in short: because they are phantoms.
On television, image and reproduction are synchronized. This simultaneity is the form of the atrophy of the present.
“But,” it will be objected, “what is true for radio broadcasts is not true for television. You cannot deny that the latter supplies us with images.”
This is a more difficult issue. They are not, however, images in the usual sense of the word. The essential aspect of images in the history of human representation was the fact that between the latter and the object reproduced by the latter there was, despite the fact that it was not explicitly expressed, a temporal difference, a temporal disjunction. This disjunction is expressed in German by the words “in conformance with”:1 either it presents an image in conformance with a model; or it produces something real that conforms to a model. Therefore, either the image follows its theme as a copy or commemorative monument, in order to recall its past, that is, to retrieve it and preserve its present; or it precedes its object as a magical object of evocation or as an idea, blueprint, prototype, in order to subsequently disappear, once it has been left behind by the event or object which takes place or is created; or finally—and even this mode of neutralization still represents a relation with time—it was a means to transfer us or to make us imagine that we are transferred to a dimension outside of the present, beyond time. It would be hard to find any images that do not effectively present any of these temporal relations of man with the world; and it is doubtful that one can call the forms that lack this disjunction, “images”. So it is this type of form that defines the images that television transmits:
For in these images one can no longer speak of a temporal relation with the reproduced, despite the fact that they take place as if in a movie in time. In them, what we have called the “temporal disjunction” has been reduced to nothing; they are presented simultaneously and synchronized with the events reproduced by them: just like the telescope, they show something that is present. And does this not mean “presence”? Are not the forms that show something that is present, images?2
This problem has not gone unremarked, but the denomination it was given was insufficient. Resort was had to what was close at hand, to the already existing expression “instantaneous” and with this word it was thought that one could dispatch the phenomenon. This term, however, only obscures the problem. For images in the most legitimate sense are instantaneous, since they attempt to capture the ephemeral moment; in accordance with their function, as images they are closer to commemorative monuments, even to mummies, than they are to televised phantoms. In these phantoms, however, it is no longer just a matter of that preservation of memory, since not only are they presented, but they also disappear at the same time as the events that they reproduce; therefore, even though they may at times be congealed, their lives are as brief as the lives of the events themselves. If they are instantaneous, they are at most images of the moment for the moment, and therefore similar to the images in a mirror, since they are simultaneous and synchronous and perishable like the image reflected in the mirror and, therefore, pure present from any point of view.
Having said that, however, are we not just playing around with the word, “present”? Are we not taking advantage of the fact that the term oscillates between two meanings in order to suggest imaginary problems? For there can be no doubt that we are using it in two senses: on the one hand, to describe a concrete present; that is, the situation in which man actually finds himself with other men or with the world and simultaneously grows (=concrescunt) by interacting with, encountering and confronting them. On the other hand, we use it to show mere formal simultaneity; that is, the fact that man and any event whatsoever, being at the sharp point of the same nunc, share the same worldwide moment. It is not by chance, however, that this double meaning should be possessed by this word—and not only in German; this double meaning is instead based on the fact that one cannot really demarcate the border, in the fact that an event or a part of world is of such small interest to us when the “present” is defined only in the sense of simultaneity. The present goes beyond what is only simultaneous; the latter is the limiting case; it is what is of least interest to me, and therefore most alien; but, on the other hand, since it has not even been withdrawn into a non-datum, it shows that it still interests me.3
But even if it were to be possible to draw a solid line to separate the two meanings, it would not be we who would be playing such a duplicitous game, but television. For this game is precisely the principle of the broadcast, since its power consists in presenting only or almost only the simultaneous in such a way that it functions as the real present, in conferring upon what is present only formally the appearance of a concrete present, in completely dissolving the borderline, which was already blurred, between the two “presents” and thus between the relevant and the irrelevant. Every broadcast of images proclaims—and rightly so: “Now I am me; and not only me, the broadcast, but me, the transmitted event”. And by means of this “now I am me”, by means of this act of making present, it becomes a phenomenon that goes beyond everything that is purely image; and since it is likewise not something that is really present, it becomes an intermediate thing between being and appearance, which, when we spoke of the radio broadcast, we referred to as a “phantom”.
In this respect, not only is there nothing to object to with regard to the dissolution of the borders between the two presents, but it must be welcomed, if it is undertaken correctly, since today there are too many things that we dismiss unjustly because they are “only simultaneous”, that is, as adiaphoron, despite the fact that they affect us and can interest us, they are nostra res and comprise the most concrete and threatening present. The danger of parochialism is no less pressing than that of false universalism. Techniques for the expansion of our moral horizon of the present are absolutely necessary, techniques that would allow us to see beyond the horizon of our senses. This expansion, however, is not provided by television; television instead dissolves our horizon to the point where we no longer recognize the real present; and we even fail to devote ourselves to the event that should really interest us, not even that apparent interest, that we have learned to devote to the apparent presents transmitted right to our homes.
It is not necessary for us to add that the number of phantoms of the present is unlimited. And since the principle that reduces the consumer and the event to a common denominator is abstract and precise, that is, it consists in the mere common now, it is also universal. There are no events that fall outside of the universal now; therefore, there is nothing that cannot be transformed into something that is allegedly present. However, the more present it becomes, the less present it was. Among the fans of radio and television that I have met, not one of them, by means of his daily portion of simultaneities, was educated to be a friend of the world or even just to be contemporaneous with his era. To the contrary; I have encountered many for whom this daily bread has deprived them of the world, and left them without any reference points, dispersed, that is, it transformed them into mere contemporaries of the now.4
Digression: interpolation concerning an extinguished passion. The disoriented person lives only in the now. Television and radio produce an artificial schizophrenia. The individuum is transformed into divisum.
Several decades ago, there was a series of poets (Apollinaire or the young Werfel, for example),5 who, in a variation on the old formula, were always “in various marriages at the same time”, or, formulated more seriously, they were disoriented and “fugitives” everywhere, in the metaphysical sense of ubique simul. Often beginning with the word, “now”, in their poems they detailed what happened at the same moment in Paris, Prague, Cape Town, Shanghai, or anywhere else. It is indisputable that what drove these poets to compose their particular hymnal catalogues of fragments of the world was a real metaphysical excitation: perhaps they confused non percipi and non esse; that is, they considered as non-existent, as lost, everything that, existing, went unnoticed; in any case, they were profoundly afflicted because, condemned to always remain in a single contingent here, they had to abandon their quest to escape everything that exists. They cherished the hope of rendering present the disoriented yonder and, therefore, absent by way of a kind of spell: they desperately tried to reunite them and to fit them into the focal point of an ubiquitous momentary now, in which all these places and events would be found and could participate. One could speak of an attempt to perform metaphysical magic, since what they sought to accomplish was to annul the discretionary nature, which was unbearable for them, of events that were separated from each other (and therefore absent), of which the world consists, by way of the magic spell of the quality of the ubiquity of the now; that is, they sought to establish the moment as a magic charm against space as “principium individuationis”. However mistaken their passion may have been, it certainly was a final variation of the Eleatic passion: the desire to metaphysically discredit multiplicity. The fact that they viewed what was most unreal, in the instant of the now, the “properly existent”, in that it had to be manifested by revoking the multiple as illusion, was almost tragic; a mere testimony of the fact that we no longer possess really metaphysical principles, not even the most fashionable pantheists, any more than the “system” does in its last resort, which converts the “totality into the real”. Certainly, they, too, were therefore the last. However, how vital they were, compared to our contemporary fans of the now! It would be hard to discover in the latter the least glimmer of that passion for the now.
Naturally, it was no accident that these poets arose at the historical moment when the technique of disorientation (by way of illustrated magazines and things of that kind) began to acquire massive proportions. It was just that the poets desperately tried to accommodate disorientation, while the purpose of the techniques of disorientation and the machinery of entertainment consisted, to the contrary, in producing disorientation or in favoring its development. What “disorientation” (usually understood in too “disoriented” fashion, that is, only as a metaphor) attempted to do was to deprive men of their individuation, or, more precisely, to dispossess them of the consciousness of this loss by depriving them of their principium individuationis, their spatial orientation; in other words, by moving them to a place in which, ubique simul, they always find themselves in another place, and no longer occupy any particular point and are never with themselves, never in any particular affair; in short: nowhere. It will be objected that the victims of this technique of disorientation are not really victims, since industry, with its supply of disorientation, has simply adjusted to a demand, something that is not entirely false, but certainly does not explain everything, since the demand has also been produced.
Concerning men who, by way of their daily labor, are boxed in the limited space of a very specialized job that is of little interest to them and, furthermore, exposed to boredom, one cannot expect that at the moment that they abandon that scene of pressure and boredom, that is, after work, they should be capable of or should want to recover their proportio humana, that they should reencounter themselves (if their self-identity still exists) or even that they should still want to do so. Instead, since the conclusion of compression seems to be an explosion and those who are so suddenly liberated from their work no longer know anything but alienation, insofar as they are not just exhausted, they succumb to a thousand alien things, it does not matter what they are; consequently, after the calm of boredom it is appropriate to return to the flow of time and imprint another rhythm on the scenes that change so rapidly.
There is nothing that so completely satisfies this understandable hunger for the ubiquity and rapidity of change than radio and television broadcasts, since they counterbalance anxiety and exhaustion at the same time with tension and release, rhythm and inactivity, tutelage and leisure, they serve all these purposes at once; they even spare us the trouble of succumbing to that disorientation, since it is thrown into our arms; in short: it is not possible to resist such a diversified temptation. It is therefore not surprising that the abomination of being in two or one hundred marriages simultaneously, which caused those poets so much suffering, has now become the normal situation of a more ingenuous leisure (in appearance); that is, in the situation of all of those who, just sitting there, go on voyages and have now become accustomed to being everywhere at the same time, that is, nowhere, up to the point that they actually no longer inhabit any place at all, at least no place, much less a home, but at the most their temporary inhabitable place, which changes with each passing moment: the now.
However, we still have not completely described the “disoriented character” of our contemporaries, since its climax is found in a situation, which can only be called artificially produced schizophrenia; and this “schizophrenia” is not only a collateral effect of the machinery of disorientation, but is expressly intended and, in addition, demanded by its customers, although not by this name, of course.
What do we mean here by “schizophrenia”?
That situation in which the ego is divided into two or more partial beings, at least in two or more partial functions; in beings or functions, which are not only not coordinated, but which are not at all capable of being coordinated; and not just this, but the fact that the ego is not capable, either, of attributing any importance to this coordination; even more, the ego emphatically rejects such coordination.
Descartes, in his second meditation, described as impossible à concevoir la moitié d’aucune âme. Today, the divided soul is an everyday phenomenon. In fact, there is no feature that is more characteristic of our time, at least of its leisure time dimension, than its inclination to devote itself at the same time to two or more disparate activities.
For example, the man in the tanning salon, working on his tan, while his eyes swim through an illustrated magazine, his ears are attending to a sporting event and his teeth are chewing gum: this figure of the simultaneously passive player and of the hyperactive character who is doing nothing is an everyday phenomenon all over the world.
The fact that this figure is an ordinary sight and is accepted as normal does not make it any less interesting; to the contrary, it is its very existence that demands a full explanation.
If one were to ask the man in the tanning salon what it is that “he” is actually doing, that is, just what it is that is entertaining his soul, of course he could not provide an answer; he cannot answer because the question relating to “him” is based on a false premise, i.e., on the assumption that he is the subject of the act and the entertainment. If in this case one can still speak of “subject” or “subjects”, they consist only of his organs: his eyes, which are being entertained by their images; his ears, which are being entertained by their sporting event; his teeth, which are being entertained with their gum; in short: his identity is so radically disorganized, that the search for “the man himself” would be a search for something that does not exist. He is disoriented, then, not only (as before) by a multitude of places in the world, but in a plurality of particular functions.6
The question about what it is that drives man to this disorganized frenzy of activity and that makes its particular functions so autonomous (or autonomous in appearance) has actually already been answered. But we shall repeat: it is the horror vacui; fear of autonomy and freedom; or, more exactly: the fear of articulating for oneself the space of freedom that leisure places at one’s disposal, the fear of the void to which one is exposed by leisure; the fear of having to fill up one’s free time by one’s own efforts.
His job has so definitively accustomed him to being kept busy,7 that is, to not being autonomous, that at the moment when he leaves work he cannot face the task of really self-directed activity, since there is no longer any “self” that can assume responsibility for this activity. All leisure today has secret family resemblances with unemployment.
When at that moment he is abandoned to himself, he buries himself in his particular functions, since he does not exist as an organizing principle. Naturally, however, these functions of his are repeatedly exercised merely for the purpose of keeping himself busy; hence the fact that, at the very moment he is rendered unemployed he sets to work with both hands at the first good opportunity that arises; and the first one is good enough, because it is nothing but a container and represents a support, something to which he can fix a function.8 One container, or one support, is not enough in any event; each organ needs its own, because even if there is only one organ that is unoccupied, this would represent a breach through which the flood of nothingness could be introduced. To only listen or to only see is completely insufficient, without taking into account the fact that the exclusivity of such “only doing this or that” would demand a capacity for abstraction and concentration, something that is not at all the case when one lacks an organizing center. This is, furthermore, the reason why we will always need continuous music in silent films and why we will begin to breath with difficulty when music disappears and only the visual dimension remains. In short: in order to be rendered impermeable to nothingness, every organ has to be “occupied”. And being occupied as a description of the situation is incomparably more accurate than being kept busy.9
However, since occupation does not have to consist in work—because we are dealing here with leisure—what occupies the organs can only be means of enjoyment [stimulants]. Each organ, each function goes in search of its consumption and its satisfaction by consuming.
This need not inevitably consist in a positive enjoyment, but—unfortunately language does not have a term for it—only in the fact that it cannot set in motion fear or hunger, which appear when there is a lack of objects of enjoyment; just as breathing as such does not need to produce a positive enjoyment (in fact, it only rarely does so), but the lack of air on the contrary results in suffocation [hunger for air] or panic.
This term, “hunger”, is the motto, since each organ believes that it suffers hunger at the moment when, instead of being occupied, it is exposed to the void and, therefore, it is free. Each moment of non-consumption is poverty for the organ; the best example of this is the inveterate smoker. Thus, horribili dictu, freedom (=free time=not doing anything=non-consumption) is identical with poverty. This is also the cause of the demand for means of consumption that can be consumed uninterruptedly and therefore do not entail the danger of satiation. And I said “danger”, because the condition of being satiated would limit the time of enjoyment; therefore, dialectically, it would be transformed into non-consumption; therefore, into poverty: this is the explanation for the role of the constant chewing of gum and of the radio that plays non-stop.10
Of course, the perverse identification of freedom and poverty—and consequently, of the privation of freedom and happiness—is nothing new:
The “total work of art” of the 19th century had already speculated on the horror vacui and provided works that totally claimed man, surprising all his senses at the same time; history shows us the degree of rapture enjoyed by those who were surprised in this way and how those who were charmed in this way enjoyed the total deprivation of their freedom. We need only note the currently popular term, “charming”, whose genuine meaning is now hardly understood by anyone, in order to understand what I am referring to. And it shows good breeding to pay very high prices for “charming” depictions. Nietzsche was the first, and until now almost the only person, who discerned the dubiousness of this “charm” and who expressed it in words. Certainly, the charm of that time, which saw its consecration in Bayreuth, was still absolutely human compared to today’s charm, since the idea of the “total work of art” still had as its presupposition the old and honorable idea of man; that is, man was still recognized as a being, who even in his surprised and charmed condition could claim to create a unitary work in itself, that is, to be one; and the one still deserved a defeat that would still be homogenous in itself.
This remnant has been lost today. The discrete principle of the most pure addition is entirely sufficient. What is normal today is the simultaneous supply of completely disparate elements; not only physically disparate, but also disparate with regard to feeling; disparate not only with regard to feeling, but also with regard to scale: no one would be surprised to see, while eating breakfast, while reading the comics, a girl in the jungle being stabbed between her lovely ribs with a knife, while your ears are caressed with the three part harmony of the sonata of Claire de Lune. No one has any problem accepting both at the same time. Up until recently psychology could still question the possibility of such a simultaneous consumption of two contents and feelings that are so disparate. The fact, demonstrated tens of thousands of times every minute these days, seems to make this possibility more plausible.
Up until today, the cultural critic had seen the destruction of man exclusively in the latter’s standardization, that is, in the fact that the individual, transformed into a mass-produced being, was left with only a numerical individuality. Now he has even lost this numerical individuality; this numerical remnant itself has been divided, the individuum has been transformed into a divisum, it has been decomposed into a multiplicity of functions. Undoubtedly, the destruction of man cannot go any farther; man cannot become more inhuman. In this sense, the “rebirth of integral perspectives” celebrated by today’s psychology with such zeal and confidence is all the more abstruse and hypocritical; it is in fact only a maneuver to conceal under the academic toga the theory of the fragments of man.
All of reality is becoming phantasmagorical, everything that is fictitious is becoming real. Deluded old women are knitting clothing for phantoms. And they are trained for idolatry.
After that long, but not superfluous, digression on the “divisibility” of disoriented man, we shall once again return to our more narrowly defined topic: the threat posed to man by radio and television.
As we have discovered, what is “sent” to man, right into his home, is ontologically so ambiguous that we cannot answer the question as to whether we must treat it as something that is present or absent, as reality or image. This is why we have given this ambiguity another name, all its own: phantom.
The theory of ambiguity has been challenged, however, by our hypothetical adversary. According to the latter, to ask about the meaning of presence or absence is pointless, because broadcasts comprise an esthetic appearance and thus our attitude is also esthetic; and the problem of appearance in esthetics was formulated in a satisfactory way a long time ago.
To argue in this way, however, is just putting new wine in old bottles. The old categories no longer function. No objective observer, no matter what his attitude may be towards his radio or television, would ever entertain the idea of claiming that he obtains his enjoyment from an “esthetic appearance”. But he does not do so because he is incapable of it, that is, because the essential characteristic and what is most disturbing about these broadcasts consists in the fact that they circumvent the alternative of “being or appearance”. It is indeed true that events are becoming phantoms by being broadcast; it is not the case, however, that they thereby acquire the “as if” character of art. The attitude with which we view the broadcast from the point of view of a political process is fundamentally different from the attitude we adopt with regard to the performance of the trial scene in Büchner’s Danton. To describe it without ambiguity is difficult, not only because our theoretical concepts of the new reality are still incomplete and awkward—which indeed they are—but because the positive intention of these broadcasts is precisely to produce ambiguous attitudes: what has been produced is non-serious seriousness or a serious lack of seriousness, that is, an oscillating or fluctuating situation, in which the difference between seriousness and lack of seriousness is no longer valid and in which the listener can no longer respond; he cannot even propose the question: in what way is the broadcast material of interest to him (whether as being or as appearance, as information or as fun) or in what precise capacity must he receive the supply that is delivered to him (whether as a moral and political being or as a mass consumer).
The ambiguity of seriousness and joking is fully manifested in radio and television broadcasts, that is, where it is a matter of continuing to utilize the concept of “appearance”, which comes from the theatrical tradition. There, dialectically, it so happens that affairs conceived as fiction (insofar as they are transmitted with the same technologies, which convert real occurrences into phantoms) function as if they were real. Just as, where life functions as a dream and dreams function as if they were life, so too, in this case, every phantom becomes real, because all of reality is presented as a phantom. Where every real event is granted something of the nature of the apparent by way of its transmission, the apparent occurrence (from the invented dramatic stage scenery) must sacrifice in its transmission its specific apparent esthetic character. In fact, this character is no longer observed, or it is hardly ever noted that the fictitious event makes us believe that we are its real witnesses, its real visitors, its real victims. I am thinking above all of the radio adaptation that Orson Welles broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, which was about the invasion of the earth. Just as on that occasion, in a crude adoption of Hamlet’s principle of the “theater within the theater”, the broadcast represented a radio news report (in the production of this beautiful appearance this aspect is allegedly what comprised its artistic merit), it could by no means be distinguished from a real radio news report. We shall not address the question of whether it attempted to differentiate itself from a real news report and, if so, what was a more important factor: stupidity or a lack of scruples. Furthermore, even the occasional explanations of the theatrical character of the broadcast would have been useless, because, among the listeners, who thought that such an invasion was possible, once they heard the catastrophic news that “the Martians are here”, none of them would have been capable of just sitting calmly in his easy chair to await the upcoming explanation. In any event, the apparent appearance is brought to us in part as a real event and in part as real information, pertaining to that event, concerning that event, and therefore it provoked real panic. Furthermore, it was the first “solitary mass panic”, because each instance of panic took place inside four walls, without direct contact with that of the neighbors; and it had just as much in common with the “esthetic attitude” as the cry of terror in a burning house has with that of joy at a campfire.
This case, however, a “classic” in the history of radio, is not unique. What is true about it is also true of all radio drama, at least of all those broadcasts that, rather than stylized portrayals of the past, are about the present, even of those that, with regard to their content, seem to be completely inoffensive, since these too mix being and appearance, interest and apparent interest, in a way that deceives the listener with respect to the possibility of being serious. I do not want to be misunderstood here: in this case, the lack of seriousness does not reside so much in the fact that the serious is used and consumed in a non-serious way, but in that the non-serious is offered and received in a way that is too serious. It is this seriousness that supposedly makes the joke funny. I am referring to those serial broadcasts, certainly not gruesome, often even sentimental, in which the everyday lives of the members of fictitious families are followed for years on end and which are anything but harmless. In the United States I am acquainted with a good number of elderly single women whose social circle, that is, whose “world”, is exclusively composed of these non-existent beings. These elderly ladies are so deeply interested in the state of health of these phantom members of the family that, when one of them dies or falls in love, they cannot sleep. Their relations are with phantoms; and the meaning of their lives consists in this: without them they would have nobody, life would not be worth living. In the winter they make mittens for their phantoms; and if, along the way, a baby phantom makes its appearance, the radio network offices are inundated with packages full of diapers, knit rompers and caps, which later, behind the backs of the donors, are donated to completely anonymous, but real, hospitalized children.
“How is Walt?”, someone asked one of these poor creatures in 1943.
“Prisoner of War in Germany”, she responded without hesitation.
The person who asked the question was confused. “In Germany? I thought he was in the Pacific.”
“Oh, you mean that Walt! Why didn’t you say so at first? I thought you meant Walt.”
“Walt” was a nationally well known figure in the soap opera Portia Faces Life and in a way a member of the family for any radio listener.
To many people, these hard working old ladies might seem merely comical or pathetic. To me, they are depressing; with their knitting needles, they are like the Grim Reaper in our world of phantoms. If we previously defined as “unilateral” the contradictory situation in which man experiences a supposed world, but without being capable of controlling it; while, on the other hand, the world just ignores man, although it talks to him endlessly, these Grim Reapers embody in the most shocking way the absurdity of this situation: on the one hand, they are not even at the level of unilaterality, since, otherwise, they would not knit anything; on the other hand, however, they seem to have accepted this as something normal: not even once have I ever heard them complain that their family of phantoms never did anything for them, that they just treat them like air, that there is no real contact and that they have accepted the role of the listener who listens to her own misfortunes on the radio. What is most regrettable and scandalous about this situation lies in the fact that the fictitious family really succeeds in replacing the real family; that it really can provoke, encompass and satisfy the anxieties and tenderness of the mother and grandmother that are expressed in the real family; a family that, on the other hand, being completely “imaginary”, does not take the least notice of the existence of its fans, that is, it makes fun of the real feelings that anyone can experience (and which it produces massively, in order that they be consumed in solitude).
Now I see that someone will object: “Why not? Why should we prevent these old ladies from enjoying such agreeable feelings? Is it not something good to have feelings? And are not the emotions that we experience good things? And are their sensations also phantoms and deceptions?” To this one can only respond, with a love of the outmoded truth and without any other basis, that whoever still lives with such real and agreeable feelings, which develop in a vacuum, that is, to which nothing real corresponds, is even more radically and scandalously deceived than someone who only lives on false opinions; and that lies are not better because those who are deceived, even with complete good faith, accept them as truths; lies have no other purpose and it is precisely by this means that they achieve their goal and their triumph. However, these addicts of phantoms are deceived with respect to their existence as persons, since for them subjectivity and world are definitively separated. And it is hard to decide what is the most scandalous thing about this: the fact that here a handful of sensations and the very love for one’s own grandchild is mechanically and massively produced and imposed on millions of women; or that all of these women need to love only the grandmother’s love instead of “her” grandchild (which in fact does not exist), that is, to be sensitive and sentimental.
The abuse that is inflicted here on the human dignity of feelings is depressing; the transformation of people of any age into receptors of sensations or into radio listeners or voyeurs is odious; and, finally, it is altogether disheartening that criticism of these phenomena should be considered to be a sign of spiteful envy.
For millennia, idols were capable of provoking and claiming (the abuse of) real feelings: respect and humility. This appears to have come to an end. So that now the place of the idols of the gods is occupied by imitations of men. The little knit rompers that are piling up in the headquarters of the radio broadcasters for children who do not exist are hardly different at all from the idolatrous offerings that in other times were deposited on the steps of the false altars. The abuse that is today inflicted on feelings is not less now than it was then. It is incomprehensible why indignation concerning this contemporary form of abuse should be any less vigorous and justified than the indignation directed at the abuses of the past.11
Modern ghost stories: the phantom world and the real world collide. A phantom is threatened.
The foolish old grandmothers, however, who are not really of this world anymore or who are only clinging to it because it is here that they have the opportunity of experiencing phantom feelings, represent a special case, one that is too pure. Only exceptionally do phantoms manage to fully overcome reality as a competitor, entirely replace it, and assure the monopoly of the emotions of the consumers. Usually something different happens, an intermediate case: the creatures of the two different worlds bump into each other, collide, compete, and merge. Of course, they are from two ontologically different worlds, not like in the stories (compared with the fantastic reality of today’s stories without imagination) of science fiction, creatures from two different planets. In short: the normal cases are ghost stories. I am not using this expression figuratively, since what perfectly applies to the essence and non-essence of the ghosts is the fact that, abandoning the society of their equals, they cross the threshold of their world, they come to our world and enter into conflict with the real. And that is what they are doing today. In fact, at every moment and in the world of each person, ghostly battles are being waged. If they often pass unnoticed it is not just because they are now a part of our everyday lives (just like the battles between the spirit and the flesh), but also because many of the creatures who compose the real world have been definitively overcome by phantoms, they are reproductions of phantoms, exactly the same as phantoms; therefore, because the diversity of the contenders has been disfigured by the victory of the phantoms. We do not have to offer proofs of the fact that innumerable real girls have adopted the appearance of images from the motion picture industry, because, if they had resigned themselves to appear for what they really are, they would be incapable of competing with the sex appeal of the phantoms and, in a consummately non-phantom way, that is, in their pitiful real lives, they would be relegated to a second rate existence.
A particularly noteworthy example of a collision between phantom and reality, that of the conflict between a television phantom and a citizen of London, was published not long ago in the newspapers. It went as follows:
There was—or still is—in London a woman, a petty bourgeois housewife, who was fascinated by a handsome television star, so much so that she never missed a chance to watch him on television at home. No department store sale could deter her, no threat from her husband could intimidate her: every morning, at a certain hour, after having bathed and washed with her Sunday soap and after having put on her best dress, even if only for a lover in effigie, her miserable little kitchen-dining room was transformed, for a heavenly fifteen minutes, into the main room of the house; and the whole business was very real for her.
If someone had asked her, of course, she would not have denied that she had to compete with a hundred thousand other women; but since she always watched the television program in private, that is, in “solitary mass consumption”, the experience of shared property (which would inevitably have been formed in the theater or the cinema) remained completely rudimentary. Briefly, she “had” something going on with him, something that was to her all the more pleasant insofar as it was he who had started it and had come calling upon her; he, who came to her every day and spoke with her; although on the other hand she would not have been able to deny that the affaire had something of a voyeuristic quality about it and that he was never going to profess his love for her; this alone makes it clear that the question is quite complicated and completely phantasmagorical. But we must also add that it involves a lover whose gallantry, charm, perpetual good humor and inexhaustible repertoire of flirtatious advances should have made it clear to her real husband (who worked at a low-level, high-stress job at the gas plant, and with whom she had up until that time lived without too much enthusiasm, but not especially miserably, either) that he could not logically entertain even the thought of successfully competing with such a rival. Before he discovered the truth, this real husband had begun to get on her nerves: she soon began to hate him as a matter of course, not only because he, evidently out of malice, when he came home from work, hungry, only demanded his food, just when her lover (who, due to his phantom nature, possessed the incomparable virtues of not ever requiring food or shouting at her) was getting ready for their evening rendez-vous. Thus, the real man and the phantom confronted one another, the collision took place, regardless of whether it was merely a phantom or semi-phantom collision, since the real man was gnashing his teeth while the phantom was still speaking in a tranquil and sweet tone and “he treated her like air” [that is, ignored her]; the real man had to contemplate how his woman was hanging on every word of the other man and the phantom did not have to do anything; the real man was defenseless because the other was nothing but a phantom; the phantom, on the other hand, was sovereign, for that very same reason. Thus, the stage of the confrontation between husband and lover was prepared for a clownish conclusion. He attempted to suppress his hatred; she threw fuel on the flames; and this not just once, but repeatedly: it was the regular theatrical prelude to what soon became a furious rage. The temptation to “teach her a lesson” once and for all was naturally very strong; but he could not do so, because he owned the television; and not only for that reason, but because it was his most precious possession, his pride and joy, his status symbol and, above all, he had not yet paid even half the installments; not to mention that watching it was his exclusive occupation and his only consolation in the evenings. Venting his rage would therefore be contrary to his own interests. Since there is nothing that conveys more malice than the fierce silent struggle between interests devoted to destruction and interests devoted to possession, nothing so productive of furious rage as repressed anger, in short, since he had to lash out at something, it was best to do so against something of little value which, at the same time, was yet more solid than the television; that is why he hit her. But this, too, was of no avail, since she absorbed the blow in silence, with the look of a martyr directed at her lover (who had not entered the room and was still talking sweetly); she was able to do this because, as the subsequent testimony before the court confirmed, her attacker had evidently never forgotten the fact that the woman’s power of resistance was limited—and thus its value had to be underestimated—that is, he did not hit her as hard as he could have. So he was unable to prohibit her from receiving further visits from the phantom; much less go back to her and inculcate their old love in her by force.
It is probable that for this uselessly infuriated man it would have been a hundred times better to find her with a living rival, with a proper competitor from the real world, even with one who had really seduced his wife, but one whom he could have really thrown down the stairs, rather than to see her with this immaterial entity to whom it was not prohibited to break up the peace of the home, a thing that infested the home, which, even though it did not eat, made you lose your appetite, which even, although not capable of love, destroyed his marriage, and if it had been a living rival he would not have seen his wife, who was once so simple, turned into such a nervous wreck. It is not surprising that, in the end, the desperate husband had no other remedy than to send an ultimatum to the accursed phantom, that is, to write a threatening letter saying, get out or else…. Since this alternative implied a death threat and the post office, unacquainted with the subtle difference between phantoms and real men, sent the letter to actor X, who had never even heard of the existence of his lover but nonetheless had to seriously concern himself with his non-phantom life, the epilogue of the whole affair was the Court’s judgment, which was published in the English press. But the jury is still out.
By means of its small format, television transforms every event into a synchronized stage set of bibelots.
To produce in the consumer a “non-serious seriousness”, as we said, and a “serious lack of seriousness”, is the positive intention of production, since only if the consumer is insidiously accustomed to this indecisive and oscillating situation, can he also be sure of himself as a mass-man, that is, as a man who is no longer capable of making any decisions. The indecision between being and appearance, which may itself be an incidental phenomenological property of the broadcast, is used to morally opportune effect.
How the fictitious is transformed into something horrible or half-serious has already been demonstrated by the Old Ladies, who are knitting rompers for phantoms, and Orson Welles’ radio broadcast; how the fictitious as something half-serious comes into conflict with the real and, also, how it can even imply real and quite serious consequences, has been illustrated by the example of the phantom who received a death threat. Now we must show, conversely, how the real is transformed into something non-serious and innocuous, that is, how it is banalized. We shall thus return to the phenomenon we previously discussed so that we will now fully understand it. But unlike our first analyses, here we do not have to make any general diagnoses about banalization, but instead we have to reveal the nature of a technical ruse employed by the latter; the ruse to which we refer is the small format of the images that appear on the screen.
It will naturally be objected that the small format is not a technical ruse at all, but a technical shortcoming; and, furthermore, provisional, since this problem can be solved. And this is true. But it is doubtful whether anyone would want to do this or that it will ever be done.12 And this is because its minuscule character, even though this was not its original intention, has proven to be highly opportune, a welcome defect, since it has performed a very specific task: circulating the macrocosmos as microcosmos and transforming every world event into a stage set of bibelots.13 I say “bibelots”, because the miniature format of the screen now performs the function that was in other times performed by bibelots. Those little porcelain busts of Napoleon, for example, that were displayed on the fireplace mantels of our great-grandparents, did more to dilute the effect of the catastrophe of the Grande Armée than the most voluminous historical tomes. Today, however, the same process is achieved more easily and quickly, since if you want to make someone believe that there is a naive existence in an innocent world, you do not use the most naïve version a posteriori, but at the same time as the event, as a synchronic bibelot (when not even “in advance” and, for reasons of prophylaxis, before the event). As soon as we sit in front the little screen, we are immediately caused to wear spectacles that, just like opera glasses in reverse, allow us to see any scene of this world as innocent and scaled to human dimensions; or more precisely—since the majority of today’s gifts are camouflaged obstacles—we are incapacitated for seeing in any other way, that is, they prevent us from recognizing that the world, events, decisions, outrages, of which we are transformed into the witnesses and victims, are incalculable, and indescribable. What this gives us is a false general view; false, not because by its means we “overlook” (in the sense that “we do not see”) this or that particular event, but to the contrary, because it makes us believe that, by its means, “we take in at a glance” (in the sense of “mentally grasping”) the incalculable immensity of the world. Even if the screen could optically deliver what the philosophical systems of the past tried to offer—that is: the totality of the world—this “totality” of the world would not be, in the Hegelian sense, the “real”; and this, because it would be the totality, that is, because it would conceal [and distort] the magnitude of our world and the immensity of our actions due to the panoramic model. The television screens are certainly not the only artifacts that commit this fraud of proportion: maps seem to do the same thing. But maps present themselves honestly and clearly as reduced panoramic vistas, while the scenes on television, which we see at the same time that they are happening, claim to be the events themselves.
In today’s cultural criticism, there is too little emphasis on the fact that, together with sensationalism, it is true that anti-sensationalism is also a characteristic of our times, strictly allied with it and no less dangerous; while the former falsely exaggerates, the latter placates; if for the former every mosquito bites like an elephant, the latter turns every elephant into a mosquito. As soon as one sits in front of the screen, any attempt to remove oneself from the conversion of the world into a phantom caused completely by the ruse of reduction now becomes difficult and for anyone who attempts to undertake such a procedure, it is an arduous task. Anyone who has ever had the dubious pleasure of watching an automobile race which is offered up on the screen like a puppet show, will incredulously have to assert that, until the fatal accident, it was not so bad: one knows that what one has just experienced there has really taken place at the very same moment, while you watched it on the screen; but one only knows this; this knowledge has no life; one cannot connect the diminutive image with what occurred so far away somewhere, nor can one connect the now of here with the now of there; that is, one cannot conceive of the now as something really shared [as “one”], with a single now-there-and-here; this is why our emotional response is also small and imaginary, considerably smaller even than the emotional effects that are produced in us by merely fictitious catastrophes that take place in the theater.
Having said this, this coincidence does not have to take place. What must happen and does in fact happen is rather that by way of the televised image we are dispossessed of the capacity for thinking of the latter as real, and, in general, of assuming responsibility for the fact that “in addition”, in addition to what is delivered to us, there is also the real event. The purpose of the broadcast of images, the delivery of the total image of the world—and here we return to a formulation of our first few paragraphs—consists in turning off the real and doing so precisely with the help of the supposedly real itself, that is, in making the world disappear under its image.
It is certainly not possible for us to imagine an atomic explosion. But it is equally certain that the frustrated attempt to imagine it or the despair caused by this frustration is incomparably closer to the reality, and more suited to the immensity, of such an event than the perception, seemingly “present”, of the televised image, which falsifies the inconceivable, because it is a panoramic view, and it fools us, because it situates us within the image.
- 1 “In conformance with” corresponds to the German preposition nach, which appears in the German term Nachbild, which we translate as “copy”, which follows the “model” [Vor-bild]. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 2 During the production of a television program I had the dubious good luck to see and hear an actor who was performing a sketch in a house next door and, at the same time, his seven projections on television. What was interesting about this experience was: 1) the fact that, in my sight, the actor was divided into seven identical brothers, but only had one voice, which echoed in both houses; 2) the fact that the images were more natural than the original, since the latter, in order to confer a natural aura to the reproductions, had to be “made up”; and 3) (and this, more than just interesting, was shocking) the fact that the seven incarnations of the actor no longer seemed strange: this is the kind of normality that we expect from mass produced products. [Author’s note.]
- 3 Events of subconscious relevance, however much they may be present in our body, are not “present”, but only simultaneous; and not because they are not consciously present, but rather because they are not “presented” [they are not “data”], because they are irrelevant. [Author’s note.]
- 4 Here the author introduces the terms, Welt-freund (equivalent to Menschen-freund, a lover of man, which we have translated as “friend of the world”), Zeitgenosse (contemporary of the era) and Jetzgenosse (contemporary of the now). [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 5 Franz Werfel (Prague, 1890 – Beverly Hills, 1945). A Czech author who wrote in German; a Jew, who fled into exile in France and then the United States. He wrote lyrical poetry of an expressionist type, but he later shifted towards historical and political realism. [Author’s note.]
- 6 If we are justified to see in the tumor a sui generis disease, i.e.: the situation in which the central force of the organism is no longer in any condition to maintain all its cells under its control, so that the latter begin to multiply independently, then the autonomization of the particular functions that we are discussing here is the psychic analogon of the tumor. [Author’s note.]
- 7 This expression indicates the passive sense, which is conveyed by the German construction beschäftigt werden. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 8 In this connection, see the work by Beckett, Waiting for Godot, in which the author causes the actors to put on and take off their shoes and exchange them with the other actors, so that their hands have something to do. [Author’s note.]
- 9 In this case, to be occupied (besetzt, with military connotations) underscores even more strongly the passive aspect of being kept busy (beschäftigt, which refers to having something in one’s hands, being entertained). [Spanish Translator’s Note.]
- 10 At the same time, in the background of the “simultaneously passive player”, completely distorted, of course, one finds the ideal of the maximum output of work and the principle of economy. Translated to the world of leisure, this means: by the sweat of one’s brow one seeks to provide oneself with as much leisure as possible; producing at the same time everything that is fun: crossword puzzles and gum and music on the radio, etc. And this because otherwise leisure is wasted. [Author’s note.]
- 11 This fraudulent provocation of excitement and the organization of substitute satisfactions, which flow into a vacuum, recalls a habit that is normal in a completely different sector of modern life; the principle that lies at the basis of these two very disparate procedures is identical: as everyone knows, today it is the usual practice to allow stud bulls to mount, instead of cows, so-called dummies, that is, fakes or fictions. The term, fake [Attrappe] comes from attrapper=to catch; [and attrapper comes from the same root as the English word, trap]: so, one allows the bulls to mount the trap, they are allowed to “fall into the trap”. And this is because their inclination, while they were in their primitive state, was to go about this business with a great deal of waste, that is, in a way that was not profitable; because the process of animal reproduction had fallen scandalously behind the reproductive ideal of industry, something that is no longer the case, insofar as the process is captured, attrappé. The fake is therefore an apparent reality in the service of commodity production. In this case an apparent piece of meat at the service of the meat industry. In a similar way, today the sensations of men, up until now “squandered”, are placed at the service of industry. And when feelings, for a lack of a partner, have withered, industry produces new feelings, creating fake imitations of partners, since it knows that these feelings in turn require the production of new fakes, which keep them active. [Author’s note.]
- 12 Of course, the temptation posed by purely technical possibilities of improvement is sometimes so irresistible that they are implemented despite the fact that, in this way, the desired social function is not at all furthered, and is even undermined. On the other hand, however, large corporations have often purchased the rights to technical innovations in order to suppress them. The history of technology is also a history of “suppressions”, despite the fact that the public relations image of technology is one of unbridled development. [Author’s note.]
- 13 Unlike the “sublime” [the “great”], which beginning with Longinus became a topic to be addressed by philosophy, the “small” has generally gone almost entirely unnoticed. A strange exception is that of the young Burke, who in a way, reformulating the meaning of rococo, directly identified the small with the beautiful. This identification is based on the experience of: small=inoffensive=open=defenseless=pathetic=beautiful=not a threat to our freedom. Since “freedom”, at least modo negativo, is exhausted in its determination, this “beauty” evidently preserves a certain affinity with that of Kant, something that becomes more clear insofar as for Kant the “great”, that is, the “sublime”, which exceeds all human proportion, represents the concept opposed to the “beautiful”. In contemporary esthetics the small hardly exists at all, despite the fact that, as beautiful, gracious or light, it represents for much of humanity the only esthetic category. [Author’s note.]
Chapter 3 - The news
At the beginning of the previous chapter we asked: “In the form of what type of images are events delivered to our homes?” And we gave the ambiguous answer: “In the form of phantoms”; in this way we pointed out that they are not presented either as themselves or as mere images of the events, but as a tertium.
Is this really so strange, however? Is it not even an utterly everyday affair, to which we only attribute a strange appearance by way of a strange expression? And is this true of any kind of information?
What does this mean?
Let us assume that our coal bin is empty. We are informed of this fact. What information do we receive here? What is “delivered to our home”? The object itself? The empty coal bin?
Or an image of the coal bin that is empty?
Neither the one nor the other, since what we receive is an “object” sui generis, a tertium, which in a particular way is found outside of this alternative, that is, the fact that the coal bin is empty; therefore, a fact. That this fact is not identical with the empty coal bin itself is an obvious phenomenological assertion: the fact itself is not empty; but it is equally obvious that the fact, which is transmitted to us by the report that the coal bin is empty, is not exhausted in the being-image.
Thus, what the news brings us is neither the thing nor its image. Would it not be natural to assume that broadcasts are simply news, due to this structural similarity?
In order to address this question we have to indulge in a digression, that is, we must first investigate the nature of the news in general. This digression is all the more urgent insofar as our arguments up to this point have made it apparent that, in an unjustifiably exclusive way, we have been arguing for the privileges of immediacy.
The pragmatic theory of judgment: the informed person is free, since something that is absent is made available to him; he is not free, because instead of the thing he only receives its predicate.
What, then, is news? What is its function?
In making something which is absent known to the person being informed; and this in such a way that the latter, the receiver, knows about what is absent only indirectly, without any personal experience of it, on the basis of a delegated perception. The appearance of the term, “absent”, assures us that we have not abandoned the domain of our inquiry, which certainly involves the problem of the ambiguity of presence and absence. The definition of news demands a more profound explanation.
To speak means: to speak of what is absent: it means: to present something which is not present to someone who is not present.
This relation between presence and absence even applies to the most direct form of speaking, the imperative, since it invites the receiver, that is, the absent one, to listen attentively and participate and therefore he is invited to presence. But while the imperative is directed at the recipient from absence, the information transmitted to the latter is meant to evoke from him that which is ordered. In fact, there is no form of speech that would be anything but senseless noise, if it were not to concern what is absent; nothing that takes place behind the backs of the thing or “person” involved, the “third party”, fundamentally absent; nothing that has any other intention than to make the absent present. Naturally, this relation with the absent has inherited the language of the act of indicating: dico—δεκνμι, for he who indicates refers, fundamentally, to the present only because that which is absent (absent from the vision or the attention of he to whom the indication is directed) and solely with the purpose of bringing to the latter the presence of the object and to provide him with the possibility of directly experiencing or effectively grasping the object.
This possibility does not appear to be allowed to the receiver: he is neither brought closer by way of the news to the object, nor is the latter brought closer to him. Or is it?
It is, since also by way of the news something is made present. Certainly not the object itself, but rather some property of the object; something about the object; a new object, a very special one, which is called a factum, and not by chance, because it has been manufactured from the old object. But the new object is “special” because, unlike the first object, it is fundamentally mobile and transmissible. Despite this difference, however, he who receives the new object, the factum, that is, the receiver, also has the old one; or more precisely: by way of the new he has something of the old. And much more:
The news that transmits the factum prepares the receiver to behave as if the object were present, to include it in his calculations and his practical decisions. The basis of existence of the news consists in giving the receiver the possibility of guiding his decisions in accordance with it.
Viewed pragmatically, the news really makes the object “present” in him and therefore makes him “present” in the object. The receiver is up-to-date on the object. And this word “on” is not merely a caprice of language; it rather points to a “being above something”, the ability to have disposal of something, which the receiver now has over the object and over the situation that has been changed by this power. At the root of the report: “The coal bin is empty”, I am prepared to order more coal. In other words: if the receiver, instead of the absent object itself, only receives something “from it”, only something separate, what is received is not a defective substitute, but precisely what “is separated” from the object; this moment of the object, that really or allegedly interests the receiver and towards which he really has reasons to devote his attention; to which he must accommodate himself.1 Thus, what is important to him is expressed, elaborated and prepared for him in the news; and he is notified in this prepared situation. In the language of logic, what serves as a suitable expression on innumerable occasions for this surprising capacity, but which so seldom surprises the one who “is separated”, this prepared person, is called the predicate. The predicate is therefore a commodity manufactured for the receiver. Given that the news delivers this manufactured commodity, this “fact” separated from the original object, it presupposes a partition; the action of this partition is called judgment.2 For this reason, the news can be separated into two parts: S [subject] and p [predicate]. Instead of the single object “coal bin”, the receiver experiences the factum of two parts: “The coal bin is empty.” However, the news is not divided into two because it is a judgment, but because the judgment has two parts because it is news.
In other words: the predicate, which is usually only addressed in formal logic, has a much more general interest. As we have suggested by emphasizing the “on”, it indicates freedom (of choice): someone who, due to the predicate he has received, has disposal over something that is absent, can incorporate it into his calculations and accommodate himself to it, he has extended his horizon of presence and power, he has become independent of the contingency of his being located in a certain place, he is both here and there. Someone who, by way of the news, receives the relevant (that which “is separated”) as something separated, isolated, prepared and predicated, as a manufactured commodity of the λέγείν, without having to be overwhelmed by the weight of the irrelevant, which is born by all objects of perception, is disencumbered and liberated from his own labor.
On the other hand, however—and only this second perspective is decisive for us—the news also represents a privation of freedom. And, surprisingly, for the same reason that it is an apparatus of freedom; once again, because it does not offer the absent itself, but something “about what is absent”, something “referring to what is absent”. But now this fact acquires a different emphasis. Now we emphasize: the news offers only one part of the absent object; exclusively that part because of which judgment is called judgment; only what is prepared, the “predicate”. The news places nothing else at the disposal of the receiver; that is, even before the latter can form a judgment, it orients him towards a choice, it determines a limine with respect to this choice, it prepares it. For the person who listens to the news, the predicate does not disappear in the subject; instead the subject is lost in the part, in the predicate. All news, as part of what is delivered, is therefore already a prejudice, which can be true, but also false; every predicate is already a prejudice; and by means of all contents of the news, the receiver is spared the object itself, since it remains in the shadows behind the predicate, which the only thing that is actually delivered. The receiver is transformed into a dependant, because he is constrained to a particular perspective (that of the predicate) and because he has been spared the object, which supposedly contains the judgment.
Take it or leave it; that is what the news seems to tell the receiver. “Either accept part of the absent, the absent in its version as a divided, pre-judged commodity, or you get nothing.” The messenger becomes the master of the lord.
Generally, the difference between immediate and mediated experience is absolutely clear. Given that immediate experience, i.e., perception, includes pre-predicated images, while the mediated experience, by means of the news, is divided into the form, “S is p”, there can be no doubt concerning the form of experience or any confusion of the two forms. Even a bookworm or a reader of newspapers, who lives on the horizon of mediated experiences and is nourished on them, hardly ever, at least when engaged in the experience, thinks that he is directly experiencing the mediated (or vice-versa), however much he may later, when some informational content has begun to sprout in his storehouse of knowledge, yield to uncertainty regarding the question of whether this was due to a direct experience or an indirect one.
We shall now address this point.
Broadcasts eliminate the difference between thing and news. Broadcasts are camouflaged judgments.
In effect, what is actually ambiguous about radio and television broadcasts consists in the fact that, from the start and as a matter of principle, they place the receiver in a situation in which the difference between living and being informed, between immediacy and mediation, has been eliminated; which results in his being confused as to whether he is facing a thing or a fact, an object or a factum. What does this mean?
As we have seen, the characteristic of the factum consists in its difference with respect to most objects, in its mobility: while the messenger cannot transport a burning house, he can expedite and transmit to the receiver the fact that the house is burning. Thus, in broadcasts the objects themselves are expedited, or at least their phantoms: what comes to me is the symphony, not the fact that someone is playing it; the speaker, not the factum that he is speaking. Transportability, previously the property of facts, appears to have infected the object itself. Has it not therefore been transformed into a fact?
The question sounds odd, since the facts, at least the news that conveys facts, are divided, as judgments, into the two parts S and p. The broadcast images, on the other hand, do not appear to be thus divided. The speaker, to whom I am listening, is “he himself” and not “something about him”. Is this not true?
It is not.
Let us assume that the candidate Smith appears on television in order to present his platform to the voters. It will be taken for granted that this Smith will show what kind of a pleasing personality he is; that he is obliged to smile in the most charming way possible. With this simple assertion, however, we have not fully described his attitude. His charm will be highlighted as his exclusive trait in order to make us forget that he is something more than just this smile. What appears on the screen will therefore be, despite the fact that the candidate Smith (let us call this S) is apparently fully presented, exclusively the fact or the claim that he is a pleasing personality (let us call this p); therefore, it is exclusively the case that “S is p” and, therefore, p instead of S. What we are going to see will therefore be “the subject that is coterminous with its predicate”, according to the formula that we used in the analysis of the news as judgment. We could even have the right to see only this p, since it is not rare for this quid pro quo of subject and predicate to become a reality; that is, that in the end, S is transformed into his own predicate, that he is not—nor can he be—anything but his predicate; therefore, that, condemned to be p, he functions effectively as a professional smile. Frequently, the history of the lie ends up imposing the lie as truth.
The presentation of the candidate achieves precisely the same thing as the news. No, even more, because it is a kind of news that is intended to adorn the fact that it represents a pre-established judgment. And this is in fact a powerful addition, since in this manner the effects that, as we just saw, correspond fundamentally to the judgment are concealed: and with them, therefore, what forms part of the prejudice and the privation of freedom. To persuade the consumer that he will not be persuaded, judgment, transformed into an image, renounces its form of judgment; but by apparently being transformed into the S that acts and which is the object of attention (in the S, whose vivacity does not betray its partition into S and p), it does so in no case as explicitly as normal judgment.
This procedure, although it takes place every day, is philosophically very amazing, since it represents a reversal of the normal sequence. Whereas generally, and basically, the news follows the event that it announces and is accommodated to it, here the factum is accommodated to the judgment. The following phrase has precedence: Senator Smith is a pleasing personality; S recedes behind it and therefore also the image of S, which acts as if it were the man himself, that is, as something that is still not subject to judgment. Actually, however, he is the same man, S, not as p, but himself in his decorated version, which no longer permits any hint of the structure of judgment. What serves as the pretext (in the sense of “to allege”) for the judgment transformed into an image is thus no pretext at all (in the sense of “prepare”, “predict”, “pre-judge”). That is why the expression, “adorn” is completely fitting, because the adornment, which is brought about here, is negative: the judgment surrounds itself with an apparent nakedness, it adorns itself with the ornament of the predicates it lacks.
Commodities are disguised judgments. Phantoms are commodities. Phantoms are disguised judgments.
But now it will be claimed that our example is not at all characteristic of the totality of such phenomena. It will be objected that not every phantom is the exhibition of a p, or advertising—since our example belongs to that category—or even a judgment or a prejudice. It must be admitted that not every phantom is engaged in advertising in as penetrating a manner as the candidate Smith, imagined for that purpose. What remains, however, is the fact that all phantoms, as they are delivered to the home, are commodities. And this is decisive because it is as such that they are judgments.
Once again, this sounds odd. What does judgment, which pertains to logic, have in common with the commodity, whose place is in the economy?
The answer is: the predicate.
Every commodity, insofar as it is displayed and offered—and it is a commodity only as such, as an offer—is its own judgment and, furthermore, its own self-praise. Its mere appearance already recommends it; in the display case it is already encountered as the visible prejudice of its own quality. Certainly, however: it is no more susceptible to being broken down into the phrase, “S is p” than our candidate Smith; its quality is not enunciated, at least not necessarily (although it often is enunciated in the text of print advertisements); but in any case it is decorated. And decoration indicates that its p (that is, what “is separated”, its real or alleged quality) is separated from it and, as an enticing bait, is highlighted and emphasized in such a way that all that is visible is its enticing character and not the commodity as a whole. What it offers to the spectator is therefore, first of all the perspective, from which the spectator must “take into consideration” this commodity, which is already determined and provided in advance before it is delivered.
The commodity’s character as a judgment is thus undeniable. While in the previous paragraph we demonstrated that the negative efficacy of the news consists in curtailing the freedom of the receiver, in orienting the latter with regard to the point of view from which he has to take what is absent into consideration, in establishing by means of the predicate and transmitting this point of view as a manufactured commodity; this also describes the function of the commodity on display. Now, instead of the receiver, we have the customer, who is still separated from the commodity by the television screen, and who is still “absent”, and who must be snatched from his absence and attracted by way of the p displayed to transform him into a buyer. But this difference does not obviate the parallel.
At the beginning of our investigation we noted that events transformed into phantoms and delivered to people’s homes are commodities. What is valid for any commodity, that is, that it is a judgment, even if a decorated one, is also valid for them.3 They, too, are assertions about events, despite the fact that, “displayed in their nakedness and adorned with the ornament of the predicates that they lack”, they are offered as the events themselves. Since no judgment is so perfectly faithful, so simple, so seductive as the one that, supposedly, is the thing itself, its power of deception consists in its renunciation of the “S is p” schema outlined above. What we are consuming when we sit down in front of our radio or television is, instead of the scene of its preparation and the alleged thing S, its predicate p; in short: a prejudice that is presented in the form of an image, which, like every prejudice, conceals its character as a judgment; however, since that is still what it secretly is, it spares the consumer from having to take the trouble to make any judgments. Actually, the consumer does not consider this idea, no more so than he would with regard to the other prepared commodities, for example, pre-cooked canned food, which he buys so he does not have to cook it himself. What is true of the news, that is, that it transforms us into dependants, because it shows us (or it even might not show us) the absent only in its version as a manufactured commodity, excused, prepared and “predicated”, is even more valid for broadcasts: we are exempted from making our own judgments; and much more radically insofar as we cannot exempt ourselves from accepting the supplied judgment as reality itself.
- 1 The theory, which is today so vehemently promoted, that the transposition of the truth in the judgment is eo ipso a distortion of the concept of the truth, must be reduced at the moment when by “judgment” we really understand that which lies at its origin: news. By way of its function as news, that is, by way of that which prepares the absent to be ready to accommodate itself to the present, that is, to treat the absent as the present, the judgment delivers a decisive “de-occultation”. Only the exchange of news, that is, speech, opens up the world, constitutes the truth of man as society and serves as the basis, finally, for “universalism”, which corresponds to logic. [Author’s note.]
- 2 This argument has an etymological basis because in German, judgment is Ur-teil and partition, Teilung; both words have a common root in the word, teil. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 3 It would be pointless to speak of broadcasts which openly present themselves as advertising broadcasts for soap or gasoline. [Author’s note.]
Chapter 4 - The matrix
The totality is less real than the sum of the realities of its parts. The realistic whitewash of models has the purpose of modeling experience.
Of course, what is prepared to be sold are not the only things that are broadcast. Under certain circumstances, the broadcast is not even prepared and objectively real; in fact, this is true of many of them; and since to the lie, nothing is more pleasing than an alibi of the truth, or at least of a partial truth, they even prefer this. No self-respecting lie contains falsehood. What is prepared in the end is rather the image of the world as a totality, composed on the basis of individual broadcasts, and that total type of man, who is nourished exclusively on phantoms and “frauds”. Even if every particular thing was broadcast faithfully as such, the totality—even if it were only because much of what is real is not displayed—would be transformed into a prepared world, and the consumer of the totality would be transformed into a prepared man. This totality is therefore less real than the sum of the realities of its parts; or, modifying the famous Hegelian saying: The totality is the lie; especially the totality. The task of those who supply us with the image of the world thus consists in deceiving us by composing a totality on the basis of many truths.
What is presented as the totality is not, of course, a theoretical, but rather a pragmatic image of the world; and this expression does not necessarily mean only that what is offered to us an alleged world, instead of truths, does not conclude1 in a mere “subjective world-view”, but it represents a practical apparatus, an apparatus of practices [of training], whose purpose is to mold our action, our resignation, our conduct, our free time, our tastes and, along with these things, our praxis in its entirety; in any event, an apparatus that, in order to conceal its deployment as an apparatus, presents itself at the same time disguised as “world”. It is an instrument in the form of a pseudo-microcosmic model that, in turn, pretends to be the world itself.
This formula sounds quite obscure, but an analogy will help to clarify what I mean here. In planetariums we find objects of this same type, since they are, on the one hand, apparatuses, since their purpose is to encourage us to train our understanding (the world of the stars) and our praxis (identify the stars); on the other hand, however, they are presented as microcosmic models and, as micro-models, they are meant—without any malice, of course—to give rise to the illusion that it is the star-filled sky. The comparison with a pseudo-planetarium would be completely justified, with an astrologer for example, that, although incorrectly claiming to be the model of the star-filled sky, would want to train us to see the real world of the stars according to its image. An object of this particular type is therefore the “world”, which is constructed and transmitted to us by way of broadcasts: a stimulating model, with which we must enter into training, practice behavior patterns with its help, models of forms of behavior, and induce reflexes; and to do this so profoundly that, by way of this induction, we shall not be capable of behaving in any other way in the real world except in accordance with the stimulating model and we will not allow ourselves to be dealt with and used by the world except according to this model. What is intended is therefore a congruence of the real world and the model, which, however, must not be presented in the form of a theoretical affirmation of identity, since such an affirmation would amount to a concession that there was previously a difference between them, but as a pragmatic equation, that is, as an effective attitude in the world and as a way of dealing with the world, in which the suspicion would not even arise that the world is not congruent or identical with the model, and, if it manages to arise, it will not be effective. An example of this pragmatic equation is provided by the annals of National Socialist Germany: for the reader of Der Stürmer2 who had experienced by way of the models of the Jew published in the magazine and, by way of the model of the “Judaized world”, his conditioning, his imprinting, the difference between real Jews and his stimulating model was not just insignificant, but did not exist at all; he was so ignorant of the fact of the duality of reality and image that he was only capable of treating real Jews—and, in fact, he did exactly that—as if they were nothing but their images. One could almost describe this process as magic in reverse, because whereas the magic spell makes the image what must be produced in the original of the image, here the reader sought to produce the image within reality, to the extent that it was still capable of being distinguished.3
In a certain sense, these images in Der Stürmer, even though they were very old and were by no means at the psycho-technical level that National Socialism had already reached at the time; and it is not unthinkable that the scorn directed at Streicher by those who carried out his goals of liquidation was due, in the final accounting, to the primitive backwardness of his method. For the manufacture of stimulating models and controlled reactions nothing is as important as the effective concealment of the fact that it involves the manufacture of anything. This act of dissimulation, however, was not performed by Der Stürmer; that is, out of contempt for the pretensions of its consumers, it was not thought to be necessary to conceal the fact that it was lying; a lazy negligence that caused a scandal even among mass murderers. Expressed positively: for the model industry it is of the utmost importance to confer upon its models the highest dose of realism. In order for the model of stimulation to be effective as a totality, it had to be offered as “reality”. In fact, National Socialism also followed this principle; and the photos that it posted for this purpose form part of the classical stock of models of stimulation that lie in a realistic way.
Today, the obsolete models of the Streicher variety are almost completely out of fashion.4 In general, it has been accepted as a principle of production that models attain their maximum effectiveness when they are given a maximum of realism; and there is almost no illustrated or film magazine and certainly no weekly in which this principle is not followed. We do not live in the era of surrealism, but in that of pseudo-realism; in the era of decoration, that is dressed up as an era of revelations. When one lies—and who does not?—one no longer does so lightly, but as if one were photographing oneself; no, not as if one were being photographed, but one is effectively photographing oneself. The medium of the photograph, as such, is credible and “objective” to the point that it can absorb more falsehood and permit more lies than any other means. That is why anyone who wants to create reality the way it is created by models realistically conceals his models by means of the photograph. In order to do so, however, in order to disguise reality with an alleged image of the real, he needs in turn a special image of the real, the super-real; if you prefer: “surreal”; in any case, dazzling; briefly: the sensational image is transformed into the quintessence of reality, where models have to be produced. This might sound surprising, insofar as one generally associates the “model” with something monotonous. But the thing is not so simple. Instead, the sensational belongs essentially the model and not only because it is at the service of its recovery and concealment, but also because, as it is, it tends to be transformed into a model: in fact, there is nothing that is more stereotypical than what is allegedly new every day and nothing is so similar to the super-mysterious murderer of the past as the super-mysterious murderer of today. Actually, if a historian of a hundred years from now were trying to piece together a mosaic of our time on the basis of the anthology, which the illustrated magazines offer as “the reality of today”, his result would generally be not only absurd and exceedingly hideous, but also much too boring.
Thus, despite the fact that, as we have said, the manufacturers of models implement their sensationalist pseudo-realism for the purpose of concealing the fact that they want to produce a world of models and, therefore, to prevent the customer from suspecting that he is being fed models, the customer expects, and even demands, very particular types of sur-réalité, of garish reality, that is, of models. This is hardly surprising, since the type of matricial forms supplied daily has already configured the demand of the customer; the latter, too, demands sensation and models, both at the same time and in the same objects. What the buyer of the illustrated newspapers seeks is the never-before-seen, what was never heard of yesterday and the day before yesterday and this extremely limited universal world, composed of murderers, stars, “flying saucers” and other planetary mechanisms, this world that calls itself the “peoples world”, the “wide world”, the “multicolor world”, the “big world”, in spite of the fact that, as an ingredient, the world has never been so infinitesimal. Anyone who wants to try—and these attempts fortunately never cease—to break with the numerus clausus of these themes and this kind of presentation, has to be forewarned not just with respect to the exasperated opposition of the manufacturers of models, against whose rules of the game one would clash, but also with respect to that of the customers, whose horizon of expectations is now equally petrified, and who consider as meddling or as false—or else they would not even accept it—anything that crosses the borders of the extraordinary things that are experienced as typical: most of the time, the atypical is completely “not given”. And up to this day not only is there no answer to the question—a question that itself has not even been explicated sufficiently—about what method truth must introduce in order to compete with the lie, that is, so that the truth, too, will be believed: if it is permitted (in case that one is capable of it) to dress up as a lie, since the world of the lie is composed of truths.
But even the formula spelled out above, “When one lies, it is no longer done lightly, but as if one was photographing oneself; no, not as if one was photographing oneself, but that one is effectively photographing oneself”, is now superseded. The maximum pseudo-realism is naturally reserved for the phantom of television, since it can convince its consumers that it is not a reproduction of reality, but reality itself. The consumer is lost in thought—how can reality itself be unreal? How can it declare against itself? The lie never had a better apparatus: one no longer lies against reality with just the help of false images, but with the positive engagement of the assistance of the consumers themselves.5
If, faced with “pragmatic identification”, that is, the identification of the stimulating model and reality, one was once exposed to certain hesitations and doubts—since every image, as such, can produce in the spectator a minimum of scepticism—today this process functions with an almost ideal ease. Seeing the model, the spectator thinks he is looking at the world itself; reacting to the model, he thinks he is reacting to the world itself. Irritated or agitated by the real, so that, when the world is really presented to him—and the models are manufactured as training apparatuses for this case—he only perceives it the way the models have trained him to perceive it, nor does he feel anything more than, as feelings, had been prefabricated in him. The models are, then, aprioristic conditioning forms; but not only of the intuition, not only of the understanding or feelings, but also of behavior and action; that is, matrices of a range of applications and of a universality of benefits such as the most speculative philosophers had never foreseen; and definitely, much less for the era of empiricism, in which we supposedly live.
The only kind of mentality that can be compared with this is that of the “primitives”, who (at least to the degree that the assumptions of Frazer, Lévy-Bruhl, Cassirer, etc., are true) live in a code of perception and behavior so clearly closed and fixed that they cannot “take into consideration”, either theoretically or practically, anything that is not presented to them by way of this code.
Naturally, the expression “aprioristic conditioning forms” cannot be understood literally, that is, in the sense of Kant’s definitions. It is impossible to imagine any traits that would be less “innate” than those produced and branded in men. Nevertheless, they are indeed “aprioristic”, to the extent that, as molds and therefore as conditioning forms, they precede experience, feeling and behavior and “condition” them. And since these conditioning forms not only prejudge about the how, but also about the what has to be experienced, felt, etc., and what not, their power has an extraordinary force and their field of influence is incredibly extensive. Anyone who has been marked by them is no longer prepared to do anything but what the broadcasts have prepared him for in his home: only that is what he sees, thinks, feels, loves and does. It is in this capacity for producing matrices and trainees that the goal of the broadcasts consists. As we have seen, however, given the fact that the matricial forms must not betray the fact that they are matrices, conditioning forms must be presented in the form of things and matrices as fragments of the world.
This last claim is of fundamental importance for our entire investigation. And this is for two reasons:
1. The alleged “ontological ambiguity” of these broadcasts, their nature as phantoms, which occupied our initial considerations, is thus stripped of its enigmatic aspect: since the manufacturer of matrices wants to conceal the fact that the models are models and the conditioning forms are conditioning forms, he offers them as “world” and as “things”. But this means: as phantoms, because phantoms are nothing but forms, presented as things. The phantom character of broadcasts is revealed, then, as a desired effect, and its alleged “ontological ambiguity” is revealed to be merely the phenomenal form of a moral ambiguity, that is, a fraud.
2. The concept of “idealism”, which we introduced at the beginning of our investigation, by virtue of our subsequent reflections acquires a necessary complement. Recall that we depicted as “idealist” every possessive attitude towards the world, every attitude for which the world appears as “only my world” because I effectively appropriate it. But there is a fundamental difference between the fact that a conqueror (or, as in Hegel, a predatory animal) makes it his own, and that the world should be made mine and how it could be made mine. Many things can be “mine”, even the number tattooed on the arm of a prisoner in a concentration camp. If, as it has been described, the world is supplied to the mass-man in the form of a totality of models, instead of the world a totality of representations is introduced; but it is only “his” because it has been branded on him. “That my representation should be for you the world”, says the will of those who produce matrices. That is the kind of thing Hitler used to say. It would have been unthinkable for a follower of Hitler to claim: “The world is my representation.” And not because, as a mass-man, he considers his representation as his world, but because what was for him the “world” had been imagined by another person and had been delivered to his home.6
The imprint of needs. Offers: today’s orders. Commodities are thirsty, and we experience thirst with them.
What are presented to us are therefore pre-marked objects, whose claim is to comprise “the world” and whose goal consists in marking us with their image. By saying this, however, we are not claiming that this branding process is accomplished violently; in any case not in such a way that violence, where it is employed, would be perceived as such or recognized if even in the form of pressure. Usually, the pressure of the imprinting process is just as imperceptible to us as the pressure of the ocean is to the fish of the depths of the sea. The more unnoticed is the pressure of the imprinting process, the more certain its success. That is why the most advantageous circumstance is when the matrix that is being imprinted is perceived as a desired matrix. If this goal is to be attained, it is necessary to mark the desires themselves in advance. Thus, it is part of the task of standardization and production not only to standardize products, but also needs (thirsting for the standardized products). This takes place in an increasingly more automatic way, that is, by way of the same products that are supplied and consumed on a daily basis, since needs (as we have seen) are ruled by what is sold and consumed on an everyday basis. Not absolutely, however. Often, there is a certain gap between the marketed product and need: there is never an absolute congruence between supply and demand. That is why, in order to close this gap help must be mobilized, which takes the form of nothing other than morality. Of course, even morality, if it is to be useful as an ally in this battle, must be strictly delineated in advance, so that anyone who does not desire what he must receive is stigmatized as “immoral”, that is, non-conformist, and the individual is compelled by way of public opinion (that is, by way of its spokesman: its “own” individual conscience) to desire what he must receive. And this is indeed the case today. The maxim, to which we are exposed at every moment of our lives and that wordlessly, although not tolerating any opposition, appeals to our “better self”, sounds (or would sound, if it were to be articulated) like this: “Learn to need what is offered for sale!”
These offers are therefore today’s commandments. 7
Viewed from the perspective of the remnants of the customs that have survived from previous eras, what we have to do and leave undone is defined today by what we have to buy. It is almost impossible to exclude oneself from a minimum of these purchases, which are offered and imposed as must-haves, that is, as “purchases that must be made”. Any person who would try to do so would put himself in danger of being considered to be “introverted”, he might have to sacrifice his prestige, lose his job, be left without resources, and even become morally and politically suspect, since not buying amounts to a kind of sabotage of consumption, a threat to the legitimate demands of the commodity and, in this sense, is not just a passive act of omission, but a positive behavior, similar to robbery, when not to something even more scandalous: for the thief, with his stolen goods (in his own way, and certainly not in so many words) always makes it clear that, just like anyone or like any customer, he faithfully acknowledges the quality of attraction and the mandate of the commodity and therefore proves his status as a conformist, and, if he is caught, he can formally take responsibility for his crimes, whereas the person who does not buy commodities dares to render himself deaf to the claim of the commodity, to insult the universe of commodities with his renunciation and then, even to hypocritically invoke the alibi of negativity, that is, that he had not done anything and, in this way, to escape the strong arm of the law. “Better ten thieves than one ascetic” (Molussian saying).
The mere fact that I had no car and therefore could be caught in flagrante not buying anything and, ultimately, of having no needs, was the cause in 1941 of the following embarrassing incident in California:
Yesterday, in the Los Angeles area, while I was walking along a highway, a police car pulled over in front of me with its siren wailing and blocked my path.
The policeman shouted at me: “Say, what’s the matter with your car?”
“My car?”, I asked him, not understanding what he was talking about.
I shook my head.
“At the shop for repairs?”
Once again I shook my head.
The policeman paused in thought, since it seemed to him to be impossible that there should be a third reason for not having a car. “Then why aren’t you driving it?”
“My car? But I don’t have a car.”
This simple piece of information also went right over his head.
To help him understand, I explained that I had never owned a car.
Now I really stuck my foot in it. A clear case of self-incrimination. The policeman stared at me with his mouth hanging open. “You never had a car?”
“Look, no”, I said, pondering his powers of comprehension. “That’s the boy.” And then I waved to him in a friendly and innocent way and attempted to resume my walk.
But he would have none of that. To the contrary. “Don’t force me, sonny,” he thought and pulled out his citation booklet, “don’t tell me any stories, please”. The pleasure of interrupting the dull boredom of his job with the capture of a vagrant almost gave him a friendly, innocent air. “And why haven’t you ever owned a car?”
I thought for a second about what I should not say in response. So instead of saying: “Because it never occurred to me to get a car”, I responded—and for added emphasis, I shrugged my shoulders and assumed a distracted look—“Because I never needed a car.”
This answer seemed to put him in a good mood. “Is that so?”, he then exclaimed, almost with enthusiasm. I sensed that I had committed a second, even worse mistake. “And why don’t you need a car, sonnyboy?”
Sonnyboy shrugged his shoulders, afraid. “Because I had more need of other things.”
“Aha!”, the policeman said thoughtfully, and he repeated the word, “books”. Evidently he was now certain of his diagnosis. And then: “Don’t act the moron!”, which is how he made it clear to me that he had discovered that sonnyboy was a “highbrow who was faking imbecility” and that, in attempt to simulate an inability to understand that offers were orders, pretended to be an idiot. “We know your kind”, he thought, giving me a friendly poke in the chest. And then, with a sweeping gesture that indicated the distant horizons: “And where do you want to go?”
This was the question that I most feared, since I still had sixty-four kilometers of highway until San L; and once there, I had nowhere to go. If I had tried to define for him the absence of a goal for someone who is on the road, I would definitely have seemed like a vagrant. God knows where I would be sitting now if, at that very moment, L. had not arrived, truly like a deus in machina, if he had not pulled up alongside us with his imposing six-seat sedan, if he had not stopped suddenly and gestured to me, inviting me to get into his car, something that not only left the policeman flabbergasted, but also seriously challenged his philosophy.
“Don’t do it again!”, he snapped, as I got into our car.
What is it that I am not supposed to do again?
Evidently, I must not refrain from buying what is offered in the form of a command to everyone.
When in these offers you recognize the commandments of our time, one is no longer surprised that even those who cannot afford to do so also end up buying the commodities that are offered. And they do so because they are even less capable of affording not following orders; that is, not buying the commodities. And since when has the appeal to duty [Pflicht] respected those without resources? And since when has duty [Sollen] ever exempted the have-nots from its commands? Just as, according to Kant, one must comply with one’s duty even when, or especially when, it is contrary to one’s inclination, so today one has to comply even when it is contrary to one’s own “responsibility”. Especially today. In the same way, the mandates of the offers are categorical. And when they announce their must-have, to appeal to one’s own precarious situation of duty-and-responsibility would be pure sentimentalism.
Of course, this analogy is a philosophical exaggeration, but it nonetheless contains a kernel of truth, since it is no metaphor to truly claim that today there is hardly anything in the spiritual life of contemporary man that plays as fundamental a role as the difference between what one cannot afford and what cannot be afforded; and this difference furthermore becomes real in the form of a “battle”. If for the man of our time there is a characteristic conflict of duties, it is none other than the no-holds-barred, ferocious and exhausting battle that takes place in the hearts of customers and within the bosom of the family. True, “no-holds-barred, ferocious” and “exhausting”, because the fact that the object of the struggle can make us stupid and the battle itself could take place as a comical version of real conflicts, does not at all detract from its bitterness and must suffice as the fundamental conflict of a contemporary bourgeois tragedy.
As everyone knows, this tragedy usually ends with the victory of the “mandate of the offer”; that is, with the acquisition of the commodity. But this victory is dearly bought, since from that very moment the customer begins to experience the servile compulsion of paying in installments for the acquired object.8
But it makes no difference whether he pays in full or pays in installments: from the moment that the buyer has the object, he also wants to enjoy his possession. And since he can only enjoy it by using it, he uses it because he has it and, in this way, it becomes his creature [as an instrument without any will]. But not just for that reason. Because he now has the object, morally there is no question about the fact that its possession implies getting the most out of it. In principle, to do otherwise would be like buying bread but not eating it. Turning on the television only now and then, or using the radio only occasionally, would mean voluntarily renouncing something that is already totally paid for or being paid for on installments, without benefiting anyone, that is, wasting it. And naturally this is hardly ever the case. If someone uninterruptedly endures the products delivered by the radio and television and allows himself to be marked by them, at least he does so for ethical reasons, too.
But this is not sufficient, either, for once you have something, not only do you use it, but you also need it. Once you go down the path of using something, this use demands that you continue along that same path. In the end, one does not have what is necessary, but needs what one has. Each situation of ownership is consolidated and psychologically established as the normal situation. This means: once one lacks a popular consumer item, one experiences not just a lack, but hunger. But we are always lacking something, since all commodities, for the advancement (and by way of planning) of production, are goods that, although they may not be consumable in the strict sense of the word, like bread and butter, are ordinarily used and their lack concerns their user; if the latter has an object and uses it, he tends to need it: need grinds its heel in the face of the consumer. And in a certain sense, drug addiction is the model for today’s needs; which is to say that needs owe their “existence” and their “nature” to the physical existence of particular commodities.
The most refined of these commodities, however, are those that fortuitously produce cumulative needs. The idea that God or nature has implanted in man a fundamental need for Coca-Cola will not even be claimed in the country where it is produced. There, however, people’s thirst has become accustomed to Coca-Cola; and this—here we come to the main question—despite the fact that its ultimate secret function does not consist in quenching thirst, but in producing it; moreover, in producing a thirst that is transformed into a specific thirst for Coca-Cola. Thus, here the demand is the product of the offer; the need, the product of the product; but at the same time the need created by the product functions as the guarantee of the further cumulative production of the product.
This last example shows that, if offers are described as “today’s commandments”, one cannot underestimate their imperative character. The essence of this character does not lie only in the expressed imperative propositions or merely in the noisy mandate-demand: “Buy your Mozart underwear! Buy it immediately! It is a must!”, to which in the end one can offer some resistance with a little self-control, despite the fact that one was treated in advance as if you already owned these things. The imperative lies rather in the possession of the product itself. Its orders, although silent, do not in fact tolerate any opposition. Every commodity, once obtained, in order to continue to be usable or, at least, in order not to become immediately unusable (also for reasons of prestige: in order to be surrounded by objects of its own class), demands the purchase of more commodities; each commodity hungers for another commodity, no, for other commodities. And each one also makes us hunger for others: buying commodities is not hard, but it is very hard to possess them, since the owner of the commodity must himself become the hunger for that commodity (the hunger for soap, for gasoline). And as hard as it might be to feed the hungry mouths of the growing family of objects that have been transformed into his property, he has no other choice than to accept their needs; and this is what he does, even before he knows he is doing it. Whoever needs A also needs B; and whoever needs B, also needs C. He does not just need, therefore, to buy A over and over again (as in the case of Coca-Cola), but must buy instead the entire succession of commodities: B—demanded by A, C—demanded by B, D—demanded by C, and so on in infinitum. With each purchase he sells himself: each purchase is a form of adopting a growing family of commodities, which reproduce like rabbits and that he must financially support. On the one hand this implies a certain convenience, that is, the fact that he hardly needs to worry about his way of life, or about making his own decisions, since what he must do every day is proclaimed by the hungry members of the family of commodities; and time goes on. On the other hand, however, it also means that he is organized, tutored, and hounded by these thousands of family members, that keep him going; that he spends his life subject to a dictatorship; that he has discarded in advance his right to choose future needs; that is, he never has the time or the freedom to make known or even to perceive his own needs.
The naïf will warn about the danger of allowing oneself to be led by this kind of “hungry commodity”; naturally, however, this is derisory, because there are no commodities that are not hungry. And there are no such commodities, because it is not the individual commodity that is hungry, but the universe of commodities as a whole; because what we call the “hunger of things” is nothing but the interdependence of production, that is, the fact that all products are interrelated and refer to one another. It is of course impracticable to remain outside of this universe of commodities and production, as any attempt to remain outside the world would also be, and therefore, any attempt to be, but not to be in the world. And if a madman were to perform the experiment of making himself independent, even if only from a few of these gadgets that constitute our world, electricity for example, he would quickly perish. No gaps can be allowed in the system, in which one participates nolens volens when you are born these days, for otherwise the system would be utterly lost.
The fact that all commodities, which are offered to us as “commands” and are thus purchased, in turn conceal needs, which become our needs, represents the climax of the matricial phenomenon, for our needs are nothing but the copies or reproductions of the needs of the commodities themselves. And what we are going to need tomorrow is written neither in the stars nor in our hearts; nor is it in our stomachs; but in the refrigerator, which we bought the day before yesterday, or in the radio, which we bought yesterday, or in the television, that we bought today; and tomorrow we will be at the beck and call of the dictates of their needs, with a palpitating heart.
The first axiom of economic ontology: that which only happens once does not exist. Digression on photography.
We just said: the fact that not only our experiences, but even our needs, are molded, represents the maximum service of the matrix. And this is certainly correct, insofar as we see ourselves as objects and therefore as victims of this molding process, since there is no deeper stratum than that of our needs. Even with this observation, however, we still have not comprehensively described the capacities of the matrix.
This is because the matrices mold not just us, but the world itself. This claim would appear to be stating the obvious, since it seems only to refer to the fact of assembly line production. But it will be clearly seen that it is not so obvious when we return to our original set of examples, to the production of phantoms in radio and television. From that perspective, our claim means that the artificial models of the “world”—and the transmissions that come to us as their reproductions—not only mold us and our image of the world, but the real world itself; that this molding process has a boomerang effect; that the lie really lies to itself; in short: that the real is transformed into the copy of its images.
In order to understand the specific procedure by which the real is transformed into a copy of its images, we have to begin very much ab ovo.
At the beginning we observed that the real or alleged events delivered to our homes, just because they are delivered, become commodities and, insofar as every event is delivered to our homes in the form of innumerable individual specimens, all of them are transformed into mass commodities. The relation between event and transmission is therefore a particular case of the specific relation between model and reproduced commodity.
Yet if one asks which is real—“real” in the economic sense—the model or the reproduction, the answer is: the reproduction, the reproduced commodity, because it is only thanks to it that the model exists. And the commodity becomes all the more real, as more specimens of it are sold; for its part, the model is real only to the extent that, thanks to its quality as a model, it makes possible the “realization” of the maximum number of sales of its reproductions. If there was such a thing as an academic ontology of economics, that is, a theory of being based on how the latter appears from the perspective of contemporary production and consumption, its first axiom would be something like this: Reality is produced by way of reproduction; ‘existence’ is only in the plural, only as a series. And its negative form: “One time is no time at all; what is only unique does not ‘exist’; the singular still belongs to non-being.”9
This axiom sounds absurd and it is in fact hard to grasp. And this is because what is acknowledged as “existent” is neither the “universal” nor the “particular”, but a tertium: the series; that is, because it involves something that intersects with the classical alternative of nominalism/realism, something with which we are familiar. However, this does not prevent the axiom from being instilled into our very bones these days, and especially those of us who are far from being philosophers:
Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to watch travelers, especially those from the most highly industrialized countries, in Rome or Florence, will have noted how irritated they are when they are confronted with unique things,10 that is, when they come face to face with those great historical objects, which survive as specimens of the unique in the world of the assembly line. In fact, for the most part these tourists bring along with them a remedy against this annoyance: a kind of syringe, the use of which provides them with the immediate reestablishment of their peace of mind; more precisely, a device, with the assistance of which they can immediately transform any unique object into a “theme”, which for its beauty or its ineffable nature would be too irritating to them, and enables them to transform any too-individualized article into an “indefinite article”, that is, into an object which, in the universe of reproduction, can have a legitimate existence as a reproduction; in sum: all these travelers are equipped with a camera. And like magicians who do not even need to touch their targets, they tour the world en masse, without pause, pour corriger sa nature: to eliminate the defect, which every work of art, due to its uniqueness, represents within the assembly line world; to find a place for it, by means of reproduction, in the assembly line universe, from which it was excluded up until now; that is, to “capture it” photographically. Once they have taken their snapshots, they are at peace.
This “capture”, however, also means embrace, since what these magicians achieve by way of their reproduction is, at the same time, possessing the objects. We do not need to add, “only in effigie”. The mode by which these objects are “possessed” is the very same mode of possession to which our tourists are accustomed. It is only because they possess the objects in effigie that they “possess” them. And since they know no other way of existence than the one that prevails among effigies—the assembly line commodities of their world among, with and from which they live are generally reproductions, copies of models—the copies are real to them. Since they do not photograph what they see—since what they see, they only see to photograph, and what they photograph they only photograph in order to possess—what they photograph is not the “real”. For them the “real” is instead the photograph, that is, the individual specimens of assembly line reproduction, embraced in the universe of series and transformed into its property. Expressed ontologically: they have replaced the esse=percipi with an esse=haberi.11 For them, it is not the Piazza San Marco in Venice that is properly real, but the Piazza that is in the photo album in Wuppertal, Sheffield or Detroit. In this way, it can be said at the same time that that what counts for them is not being there, but only having been there. And this is so not only because having been there increases their prestige in their fatherland, but because only what it was represents a secure possession. While the present, due to its fleeting nature, cannot be “possessed” and remains an inconsistent, unreal, unprofitable good, that is, it does not endure, what has been is the sole reality, insofar as, as an image, it has been transformed into a thing and therefore into property. Formulated ontologically: existence is only having been. If—and this is highly improbable, since to photograph and to philosophize seem to be mutually exclusive—among these magicians we were to discover one who did not behave like this, but who was very well aware of what he was doing, who justified his past life by shooting photographs in the following way: “Because in my life there has never been anything superfluous, wasted or unprofitable, I have transformed each past event into a reproduction and thus into a material object; and I have brought home most of them in black and white, some in color and even a couple of motion pictures, so that now I can always continue to possess them: each thing is, because it endures; each thing is, because it is an image.” To be therefore means has been and to be reproduced and to be an image and to be property.
Any attempt to provide more details concerning the close relation that exists between the techniques of reproduction and memory (which, not without reason, is called “reproductive”) would lead us too far afield. Here we shall only point out that it is ambiguous: on the one hand, we are remembered by way of photos; but on the other hand—and this is more important—the souvenirs transformed into things have atrophied memory, as feeling and capacity, and have replaced it. To the extent that contemporary man still concedes any value to conceiving of himself as a “life”, to obtaining an autobiographical image of himself, he composes it on the basis of photos, which he has himself taken. The images of what he had been no longer need to be remembered: they are mounted in an album; nor do any of them need to stand out from the others: at most by being at the end of the album. Here and only here is where his past resides, just like the Basilica of San Marcos. Only with the help of the snapshots mounted in the album, and therefore secured against oblivion, he reconstructs his past; and he keeps his diary only this form, as a photo album. To him it is merely an unimportant coincidence that his life, reconstructed in this manner, is composed almost exclusively of trips and journeys and that all the rest of it does not seem to count as “life”.
This is basically the museum principle, which has now triumphed as the autobiographical principle: each person’s life is presented to him in the form of a series of images, as a kind of autobiographical gallery; but in this way, no longer as something past, since the past has been projected to the sole realm of being an image, available and present. Time, where is thy sting?
If one were to offer Mister Smith a trip to Italy, but only on the condition that he not take any photographs under any circumstances, that is, that he not prepare any kind of record for tomorrow, he would reject the invitation as a terrible waste, that is, as an almost immoral proposal. If he were forced to go on such a trip, he would be the prey of panic, since he would not know what to do with the present and with all the things worth seeing “all ready to be photographed”; in short: he would not know what to do with himself. That is why it is only rational that the travel agencies do not attempt to seduce their customers with the invitation, “Visit lovely Venice”, but with “Visit unforgettable Venice”. It is already unforgettable even before you have seen it. You do not have to visit it because it is beautiful, but because it is unforgettable; just has you have to buy a pair of pants because it will not wear out. It is not unforgettable because it is beautiful, but because the traveler can be confident that it is beautiful because he is guaranteed that it is unforgettable. Thus, for anyone who travels in this manner the present is degraded to a means to procure this “what will have to have been”,12 on the pretext—it is hardly worth the trouble to speak of it—of the only valid commodity of reproduction of the future perfect; that is, of something unreal and phantom-like. It would be superfluous to point out that this is not the only way to travel.
The second axiom of economic ontology: that which is not profitable does not exist.
In the same way that, in the view of our putative ontologists of economics, the dignity that corresponds to the unique specimen is indeed slight, so too is the ontological dignity of unproduced things in general just as minimal, that is, that of natural objects; especially that of the unusable natural elements, which are discarded in assembly line production. These elements are considered to be so much dead weight that, because it has no economic value, does not deserve anything better than non-existence either, that is, it deserves in effect to be annihilated. This is why the second axiom of economic ontology states as follows: That which is not profitable does not exist; or it does not deserve to exist. Our times show with sufficient clarity that anything can be condemned to this absence of value, to become disposable dross, depending on its economic situation: and people are just as much subject to this rule as nuclear wastes.
Compared to the real existence of assembly line products, intended to satisfy needs (or which “foresee” these same needs that they will then satisfy), in the view of the ontologist of economics, nature as a totality, despite its immensity, lies outside the boundaries of the foreseen, outside the boundaries of what for him represents the field of “providence”. For him, nature is in itself only κατὰ μβεβηκός, only accidental, although, as a raw material for products, it, too, participates in “existence” and “value”, but both only in the form of loans, that is, that they are borrowed in advance by the products, which can acquire part of them. However, what nature really conceals that is unprofitable, that is, those pieces that the producer not only cannot use, but which he cannot even eliminate, the excess of the universe, for example, the Milky Way, represents in the view of this ontologist, to the extent that he will admit its existence, a metaphysical scandal, a material outrage, that nothing can justify, installed without any reason and, in a certain way, only explainable by entrepreneurial incompetence on a cosmic scale. Probably, the current nihilist complaint about the “meaninglessness of the world” is the expression, at least, of the cosmic sorrow of the industrial era; a cosmic sorrow that is precisely founded on the suspicion that, when all is said and done, the excess of the universe is neither usable nor profitable, it is superfluous, a waste and it exists for nothing; and obviously it has nothing else to do but to metaphysically loaf around in space, which has been put at its disposal for incomprehensible reasons.13
But I have qualified this notion: “To the extent that the ontologist will admit the existence of the unusable”, since he almost never accepts the existence of the unusable, any more than the classical systems of theodicy accept the existence of χαχόν, for example, in Plotinus, in that which is accepted14 in a certain place within the system and, in this way, is stripped of its negative quality. Naturally, this analogy does not have to mean that the economic ontology has given way to a regular theodicy, and that it has affirmed explicitly as a dogma that “there is nothing that cannot be used”. Explicit dogmas do not suit it. Its activity, however, much more convincing than any theory could ever be, seems to be inflamed by an almost sportsmanlike ambition to cleverly deceive nature: by the ambition to “show it”, to point out to it that its metaphysical indolence serves no purpose and that its affectations, its resistance, its pretense of independence with respect to the universe of production, are useless; by the ambition to violate it, to impregnate it, to compel it by force to be fertile and to prove to it ad oculos that it can be exploited to the very end (and hopefully this will be achieved by way of the invention and production of the most absurd needs, which will even adapt nature’s dregs). However perfectly sure of itself and overwhelming this provocative attitude may seem, it is not completely free of fear and trembling. Even the Titan feels the cosmic dread of the industrial era and the fear of not being capable of meeting his challenges and that his victim (despite perhaps frigidly and mockingly retaining her maximal fertility) can have her revenge by way of an excess of yield. The struggle, accompanied by this fear, then adopts a restless form; and just as the violated one (that is, the world of nature) seems to emerge from each embrace with a new virginity and with each morning springs back as if it did not even notice what had been done to it, the struggle is becoming more violent and is even beginning to take on the wrathful aspect of the struggle of Sisyphus.
But we shall leave aside this audacious and not altogether credible mythological image. The greatest possible effect is, in any case, the following: There must not be anything that is not usable! And its positive imperative version: Everything must be usable! In a certain sense, the economic ontology is at the same time an ethics, which is proposed as the task of redemption of the chaos of the world from its situation as raw material, its “sinfulness”, its “inauthenticity”, that is, its goal is to transform the “inauthentic” into the “authentic”, and chaos into a universe of products; in short: to establish an aetas aurea of manufactured products, so that “at the end of the days of chaos, with millions of mature, fine and golden forms, it comes forth (as) a completely fermented and red-hot Apollonian picture”.15
With the expressions used here it has been suggested that in this manner economic ontology is also a doctrine of justification: what previously only existed as a contingent and unfinished world, is now justified, since it is shown to be the indispensable material for elaboration and for finished products.16 And with this also the existence of the human producer himself, since without his labor, realized by the sweat of his brow, the transformation and salvation of the world would not take place. In the view of economic ontology, then, our mission is to cause the world to “return to itself” [to be itself] and, to help it to fulfill its destiny, to bring it to us: in the steel mills, the factories, the electric and nuclear power plants, radio and television stations. The latter are the “houses of being” in which man attempts to submit the world as a whole to this process of transformation: a task so immense that the classical definition of homo faber no longer fits a humanity swept away by this fever for transformation. The classical homo faber was content to use parts of the world to produce his own world, one that was not provided by the world directly and in this he saw his destiny and his freedom. What he did not need for this purpose he left alone. Contemporary man, on the other hand, sees the whole world as eo ipso merely a material; he prefers to impose new needs upon himself, rather than to leave what exists intact and without use; and he wants to remake the world as a whole, transform it and “finish it”. His pretension is not, of course, either less or more universal than that of the religious or philosophical-systematic schools of thought. He is the blacksmith of existence; or at least, its shepherd.
It will surely be surprising to encounter this expression here, in this truly non-Heideggerian context; it is true that the abyss between “shepherd” and “blacksmith”, that is, between Heidegger, who assigns17 “language” as a “home” to “being”, and economic ontology, which brings the world of the above-mentioned sorrows and massacres right into our homes, is enormously wide. That being said, however, it is undeniable that they have something in common: the particular basic assumption that existence needs our help, since as it is it needs to be “inhabited”, without us it cannot live for even one instant nor can it be properly set in order and it has to find its stable and its place in us. In both cases one sees the effort to provide “idealism” (in the sense of our definition) with a realistic source and a justification; and this prescription to the world or to being itself of the need that it should become my world. The basis of both philosophies is the desire to procure for man a metaphysical mission, to make him believe that he has a purpose, that is, to justify ex post facto, as a mission, what he does anyway. This desire is by no means incomprehensible. In both cases we are dealing with a protest against the current “position of man in the cosmos” or, more precisely, against the fact that man does not occupy any position at all in the cosmos; that, degraded by naturalism to being a part of nature amidst millions of other parts of nature, he has been dispossessed of the illusion of his anthropocentric privilege. Both philosophies show how extraordinarily difficult it is to respond to and to endure this lack of privilege, since in both an attempt is made to introduce by the back door, as if it were contraband, a special position, a mission, the world’s absolute need for man. The “shepherd” is, precisely, the center of the flock and, as such, he is not a sheep. If man is the “shepherd of existence” or of the world, then he “is” not such a shepherd only in the same sense as the world, but in another, different and special sense; and the glory of his metaphysical distinction in turn becomes resplendent. The same thing is true of the “blacksmith of the world”. In both philosophies it is therefore a matter of a shame-stricken anthropomorphism, of a new variety, since what they affirm is precisely not that the world is there for man, but, to the contrary, that man is there for the world. In both, the role attributed to man is that of a cosmic altruist, that of a cosmic manager, who does not belong to that which he looks after, and whose only concern is the good of the world and of existence.
Although it might seem fascinating to note that two such disparate contemporary philosophies share, as modern-day philosophies, fundamental theoretical underpinnings, that have nothing in common with any previous philosophies, what is decisive for our inquiry is naturally only economic ontology, that is, the conviction that the world, as it is, is not a finished world, nor a real world: properly speaking, it even is not; that it will only really be to the degree that, re-elaborated by us, it will be finished and put into circulation, that is, that it should disappear in reality as world.
For this philosophy, the idea that there should be events that are not used, re-elaborated and put into circulation, and that they should not be referred to man, that they should be anonymous, emerge for no reason, develop and then disappear into nothing, is simply unbearable; it is just as unbearable for it as the notion that maybe, somewhere, there might be wheat fields or orchards of fruit trees whose grain and fruit would mature and then rot, without being harvested, would be to us. What merely exists, is as if it did not exist at all. What only exists, is a waste. If it had to have been, it has to be harvested. And this harvest, the harvest of the event and of history, takes place largely in the form of broadcasts: the moribund, if it is broadcast, is given a new lease on life; defeat, if it is reproduced, is turned into victory; private speech, if it is reproduced thousands of times, becomes public. Only here and now, they are. But what they were before being transformed into something common disappears into vain appearance.
Phantoms are not only matrices of the experience of the world, but the world itself. The real as reproduction of its reproductions.
Thus, in the sense of economic ontology, neither the individual nor nature, but only the sum of the finished products is “really existent” in the form of series of reproductions. It is essential for these products not to be addressed except with regard to their function (the satisfaction of a need), and this only consists in the quality that makes them marketable and usable. No product fully achieves this goal: due to its volume, weight and capability of being consumed, each one drags along with it a sinful burden of attributes, in which the buyer is not interested. Irreverent in a way, each one, just like the soul, seems to be ashamed to be chained to a body, to belong to nature. The idea that is pursued is to reduce this corporeal remnant to an infinitesimal minimum, and to achieve an angelic or semi-angelic state of existence.18
This is the case not only with regard to material products, but for all products; not only for the physical substance, from which the material products are manufactured, but for all productive processes involving the re-elaboration of a product; it therefore also applies to the substance itself, which is elaborated in “broadcasts”, that is, to events.
Insofar as these events are accepted as “parts of nature” and as particular events, they are worthless; they are raw material; they drag along with them a sinful burden of attributes, which cannot be used; they cannot “pass” the censorship of economic ontology. In order to have any validity they have to be multiplied; and, since the multiplication of matter without qualities would not have any meaning, they have to “be processed”, worked over by the selection machine, that is, sifted. They are only valid in this “processed” condition. The question concerning what or how the event “really” was or is, is rendered impertinent, since we are dealing here with a commodity. One does not ask about what fruits have been passed through the machinery in order to be able to manufacture the jam you are about to eat. Instead, one comes face to face with the product: “This is the real thing”, if it functions in its use; if it is presented as something that one needs; and if it verifies its credentials by disappearing by being used.
This concept of the truth of the product and the commodity, that is, of their accreditation, is most completely fulfilled in connection with events, which come in their “processed” condition as radio or television broadcasts: they do not bear the burden of any dead weight; nor any kind of burdens that the consumers have to take upon themselves: neither journeys, nor efforts, nor dangers. They are so perfect that even after being consumed, there is no remnant left over, not a pit or any hair or bones; not even the product itself (as is the case with the book after one has read it). The consumer good disappears in consumption, as takes place with pills. Without taking into account the invisible effect, which consists in the fact that the consumer, through the commodity, once again becomes a mass-man, everything continues as before. Nothing needs to be arranged or washed; nothing has happened, nothing has been left over, nothing is left; the absence of consequences is complete. In the end there is a danger that the consumer can be required to be supplied with undesired cultural goods. There is no threatening education [Bildung].
This explanation, however, is insufficient. Not only is our bread an artificial product, but so, too, is its raw material, the grain, which, although it grows, does so in a manner that is most favorable for its use as a product. As for culture, especially the current mass-produced form of culture, what is essential is not just the supplementary elaboration of the substance offered by destiny, but the manipulation of this same substance. In fact, there is no kind of production that does not involve intervention in the raw substance as soon as possible, that is, that does not allow it any time to remain “mere raw substance” and that does not strive to fix it and transform its development in the first stage of production. And this is also true of the “broadcasting” industry: its raw material consists largely of events; that is why an attempt is made to cultivate them, that is, to see to it that they take place in such a way that they are prepared for their function of being finished commodities; an attempt is made to confer upon them as soon as possible or in advance an optimal disposition for reproduction; that is, to endeavor to make them serve without difficulty as the basis for their own reproduction. The real—the alleged model—has to be in conformance with its eventual copies, so it can be recreated in the image of its reproductions. Everyday events have to be adapted in advance to their copies. There really are numerous events that only take place as they do in order to be usable as broadcasts; and there are even some that only take place because they are desired or needed as broadcasts. In such cases, one can no longer determine where reality ends and the play begins. “When judges, witnesses and lawyers … have to perform their activities while aware of the fact that perhaps millions of people are watching them, the temptation to indulge in theatrics must be overwhelming” (statement of judge Medina, quoted in the New York Herald, September 13, 1954). Of course, the question about where reality ends and appearance begins is already badly posed, because radio, television and the consumption of phantoms are also such concrete social realities that they can compete with most of the other realities of our time and even determine “what is real” and “how it really happens”. The lines of Karl Kraus, with which he thought to provoke a scandal:
In the beginning was the press
and then the world appeared
are now completely banal, since today we have to say:
In the beginning was the broadcast
For which the world takes place.
This upside-down, not to say perverted, model, of the relation between the model and the reproduction is certainly nothing new to us: compared to their millions of reproductions, the models, the real stars of the motion picture industry, are worth nothing; and the same way that they, the “real” stars, traverse Hollywood in flesh and blood, they are actually nothing but poor phantoms of their reproductions: phantoms that vainly seek to rise to the level of their original blueprints.
Today, many events have a lot in common with Hollywood stars: football games, trials, political demonstrations, which are hardly seen at all, and are unreal in comparison with their broadcasts that are heard and seen by millions; they would be, in any event, if their superfluity was not predetermined because they are reproduced and rebroadcast. They are already conceived in advance not for those who originally participate in or attend them, but for the millions of persons who listen to and watch their reproductions. Many of these events, for example, are not important enough to be broadcast; they are only important enough to be broadcast, they only acquire a historical reality through the broadcast and are organized solely because the broadcast is important. Theatrum mundi.
Today, then, to an ever-greater extent, the “real original” is nothing but the excuse for its copies. And to “really” participate in these “original events” excites our contemporaries no more—who have in turn been transformed into copies—than it would excite the reader of a book to be brought into the presence of the typeset original of a book, or for the inhabitant of Plato’s cave to get hold of the idea.19
Here we are, then, the seated brotherhood of a contemporary Lynceus, “born to see, destined to contemplation”, and we watch attentively. But Lynceus does not seem to be our pattern, our model. And we do not look at things the way he does; but, by not leaving our home, we expect the prey to fall into our net, like the spider. Our home has been transformed into a trap. But what is trapped in it is for us the world. Outside of this, there is nothing.
Here we are, then, sitting down and a piece of the world flies into our net and it is ours.
But what flew to us did not really fly; it was thrown to us. And what was thrown to us was not really a piece of the world, but a phantom. This phantom, however, was not a copy of the world, but prey driven into our nets by the matrix. And this driven prey is ours only because it must be converted for us into a matrix, because we must recreate ourselves in its image. And we have to recreate ourselves so that we cannot call anything else “ours”, nor shall we have any other world besides this.
Here we are, then, seated before our prey, which claims to be a phantom, a copy, the world. And we consume it and we make ourselves like it.
So, if there were to be someone among us who, being a veritable Lynceus—“born to see, destined to contemplate”—were to try to unmask this lie and were to set himself on the path of really “seeing what is distant” and “seeing what is near”, he would soon enough abandon his quest and return to his previous state of complete deception, since he will encounter nothing but the models of the images, which had to model his soul, the models modeled according to these images, the matrices necessary for the production of matrices. And if we were to ask him about what there really is that remains of the real, he would respond that its destiny is merely to become truly real in the unreality of its hunting drives.
- 1 The individual images, which at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century articulated and denominated “world-views”, were merely inoffensive and modest precursors of today’s “stimulating models” [inducers]. No other “world-view” has been able to survive. Only those world-views have survived which were able to clearly establish themselves as stimulating models, which actually renounce even the appearance of a world-view, however much they might tolerate—as a superfluous luxury, of course—the fact that academic world-views might be derived from them. [Author’s note.]
- 2 Der Stürmer was an anti-semitic weekly published in Nuremberg by Julius Streicher. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 3 Because the idea of the millions of people murdered is unimaginable, the added intuition that this annihilation took place because of, or as a substitute for, images, can hardly increase our horror. The basic idea that at a certain moment became obvious to us from the faith in the progress of humanization as the fruit of education; the idea that humanity was implanted at the world-historical moment, when human sacrifice was carried out in the form of an image, that is, when Isaac was replaced by the ram, in a much more fruitful way than by sacrificing men instead of images, this idea cannot be betrayed. [Author’s note.]
- 4 This fact is related, by the way, to the international decline of caricature and satirical magazines: making fun of power—and real caricature always consisted in this—has simply become an all-too-delicate enterprise. It is true that the sketches in Der Stürmer were not real caricatures or satires, because they chose only victims as such for their depictions. [Author’s note.]
- 5 The model of this lie structurally corresponds to that of all contemporary counterrevolutions, which have to win with the help of those against whom they are directed. [Author’s note.]
- 6 That this is true, is generally accepted today. It is true that it is not true as a philosophically relevant fact, as was the case in Marx, since for the latter what he called “ideology” arose by way of a particular ensemble of “idealism” and the Hegelian “master-slave schema”; for him, “ideology” meant the representation of the world of the master, which eo ipso was also valid for the slave without class consciousness; that is, the representation, which naturally was not the property of the slave, but of his owner. This is all he is referring to with his thesis that the philosophy of an era is always that of the ruling class. This Marxian schema is not applicable in its original form to the contemporary relations of mass society; this is because every commodity, regardless of whether we are talking about cigarettes, movies or world-views, is produced from its inception in such a way as to promise the maximum consumption; that is, that in advance the real or alleged desires of the consumer have to be taken into account. And because the producers are also consumers of commodities (cigarettes, movies or world-views) produced by themselves; which has the dialectical consequence that the “ruling class” is equally marked by mass products, which were not made for it, but for the masses. Instead of the Hegelian “The master becomes the slave of the slave” we would have to inscribe the formula: “The master becomes one slave among other slaves”. [Author’s note.]
- 7 These days one often hears justifications for molding man by connecting him with existing moralities. For example, anyone who opposes this molding is stigmatized as “unchristian” or “undemocratic”. The “argument” goes as follows: anyone who does not participate demonstrates a lack of humanity, that is, a “lack of Christianity”, or else he is claiming an extra ration, that is, privileges. In Link’s famous book, The Return to Religion, any person who, instead of consuming the guilty conscience supplied directly to his home, has scruples of conscience, is considered to be “introverted”, that is, socially ill. Concerning this book, which is not one of the more edifying treatises ever published, but was a bestseller in 1936, and was printed in eighteen editions in nine months, by one of the best publishing houses, and in which Christ is presented as a model of “extroversion”, see my review in Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, 1938 (1 and 2). [Author’s note.]
- 8 By way of this mode of payment the renunciation of freedom is completed, which began with obedience to the mandate of the offer: the buyer, who still owes the remaining balance of his payments, feels that he is constantly in debt; and not only to the seller, but also to the supplied commodity. He even considers his possession as something undeserved; as he uses it, however, he does not have a free relation with it. And since he lives the good life by having such a commodity, he must spend the rest of his life working harder so he can remain at the exalted level thus attained; and in this way he begins to forfeit the possibility of being his own master. [Author’s note.]
- 9 In a certain sense, this axiom is supported by the exact sciences: for the latter, what is “real” is only what continues to exist under the same conditions, that is, what is regular. Their maxim could be: “What cannot be repeated, I will not consider to be existent.” The arrogant pride of the intellectuals of the 19th century that was marshaled against religion (identified with “miracles”), the pride of the scientist that was directed against history, consists of nothing but the equation of being with plurality, that is, the norm. [Author’s note.]
- 10 The possession of an object, which only exists as a single specimen, for example, a work of art, certainly represents a value and, as a monopoly, is a display of wealth and confers a sense of aristocracy. Artisanal creations and mass products cohabit intimately today. The more mechanized his products become, the more their producer surrounds himself with products of ancient manufacturing technique. [Author’s note.]
- 11 The specifically most fascinating feature of the photograph is based on the fact that it unites within itself two of today’s most crucial activities: reproduction and acquisition. We must in addition point out that anyone who acquires in this way has to take into account, just like the fisherman or the hunter, only the necessary tools, since what he acquires (that is, views) is freely available … which, in today’s commodity-based world, simply represents a fabulous exception. It is not by chance that in English, you “shoot” a photograph, as if the theme was a hunted animal. What is fascinating about photography is the fact that it is simultaneously acquisition and fun, that is, a kind of leisure activity, which makes leisure pleasant for the illiterate because it has the form of an apparent occupation, and often even as a kind of job or, in short, it is presented as a hobby. The hobby, in turn, belongs to the circle of problems of the world of the phantoms, since it is a kind of relaxation that is in some respects similar to work; or even a sort of a job, which is undertaken in order to relax after one’s real job. It is not necessary to delineate the connections between all of these phenomena here, since they are obvious upon even the most cursory examination. [Author’s note.]
- 12 Es wird gewesen sein: this involves the Futurum II or the future perfect, like one who claims, for example, with respect to an action: “I had to have written it.” [Spanish Translator’s Note.]
- 13 Too much. Too much water flows
completely superfluous since last night.
Too much, yes, too much world was made,
Too many coastlines, that want to be mentioned,
Too many winds, that blow uselessly.
Who will count or praise so many things?
What cartographer marks the anonymous
coral reefs, which are at the bottom of the sea,
the seams of gold, that no one has yet seen,
the constellations, that still do not have a name?
Without meaning, to ridicule and only to emerge
all that excess abundance is there.
And is there a man, who, without error,
can recite everything that is there without fail;
who will count it all to the very end
and who will catalog it in the lists?
Where would his gratitude be? Where would even one person hear him?
Even he, too much! His eulogy, mere noise!
Too much! Open the curtains for me
and let the candles burn out!
(From: “Der fiebernde Columbus” [Columbus Delirious].) [Author’s note.]
- 14 This term means, first of all, as well as “conceded”, “yielded”, that is, withdrawn before the overwhelming power [Übermacht] of the real, to which one gives up one’s own place. I establish myself by accommodating myself to it. In a second stage one overcomes this lack of freedom, at least in part: religion and philosophical systems are the means by which one yields to it its own space, its own place, in which, by way of localization, it is acknowledged and, at the same time, limited; the divinity becomes the prisoner of his temple, χαχόν is imprisoned in its place in the system. Today, finally, “accept” means only to accept something in such a way that it should be at my disposal and not a bothersome nuisance. I adapt it to my needs. [Author’s note.]
- 15 This surprising statement, in a passage from a letter written by the young Rilke (1904), in fact sounds like a description of the eschatological situation in which the substance of all unshaped things will assume its forms. Rilke, of course, describes this in a very vague and obscure way, since he conceals the process of production, by means of which he thinks that he can attain this situation, that is, to guide our associations in a positively false direction: he makes us think of aged wine or goldsmiths, that is, of process of production that are as delicate as they are impersonal. Nonetheless, his dream is nothing less than that of the total violation of the substance of the world. And if in him as well, the alchemical representations of the golden age seem to be passionately renewed, this is only possible because they recall precisely the eschatological representations of economic ontology. In fact, such affirmations, especially the Nietzschean idea of the Apollonian (which, as Erich Heller correctly points out, is the almost literal source of the quote from Rilke), have to be reinterpreted in the light of the background of economic ontology. The fact that Nietzsche gave a totally new version of the discussion of the pair “substance and form” with his introduction of the mythological pair “Dionysian-Apollonian”, would remain obscure if we were not to take into account the fact that, in the era of industrialization, “substance” (=the world of unqualified matter) and “form” (=product) began to assume a universal significance, which the first metaphysicians did not even dream of. (The passage from Rilke is taken from Erich Heller, Enterbter Geist, Suhrkamp, 1954.) [Author’s note.]
- 16 The author’s argument rests upon the concept of “finished” [fertig]. Thus, justification [Recht-fertigung], which is a theological concept, indicates “plenitude” in the sense that the “justified existence” is the “full” and “finished” existence; and, in the same sense, the “finished product” [Fertigware] is such as the fruit of a process, the “elaboration” [Verfertigung] of the shapeless or unfinished material (substance). [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 17 This assumption is not only completely unfounded, but also an anthropomorphism, which, by being presented in disguise, is no better but only more strange. For it is strange that man, with “no place to lay his head”, should be imputed to be his own need for shelter and home, that he would deceive himself because, no longer being the guest of existence, he has to be its shepherd or its landlord. No, whoever wants to have a “home” is always and fundamentally only the individual, whether we are talking about a snail, a man or a family; only the separate, the individual, precisely because he is separated and, in the vast world, is defenseless, lost and too small in his home. Thus, never the world itself, not to speak of its existence. The world (insofar as it could have any preoccupations) has other worries than looking for and finding a home. [Author’s note.]
- 18 A considerable amount of abstract painting imagines these angels of the industrial era, that is, incorporeal paintings. The popularity of today’s sketches, whose outlines are distinct lines that leave the internal part of what is represented completely empty, would be incomprehensible if this style were to have arisen solely from an artistic taste. [Author’s note.]
- 19 Concerning this reference to Plato, see the first chapter of this book. Today, in the United States, everyone knows from their own experience how little it matters for hundreds of thousands of people to really be present at a boxing match or a football game, because the original events have something unreal about them, since they are organized in such a way to dazzle the spectators and, like Plato’s ideas, need to be realized; in short: because they find their ideal realization in their best reproductions. Naturally, there will always be experts who, scorning the copies, will still take pleasure only in the original bloody nose; just as there are experts who, ridiculing the reproductions, can only view Giottos in Padua. But these snobs only prove the rule. [Author’s note.]
Chapter 5 - Stepping up to a more general level
STEPPING UP TO A MORE GENERAL LEVEL
Let me appear until I can actually be. (Mignon)
Let me actually be until I can appear. (V.)
Five consequences: The world is “adjusted”. The world disappears. The world is post-ideological. Only those who are already marked will be marked. Existence in this world is not free.
We shall once again summarize the function of the matrices. As we have seen, the matrices mark things in two ways:
1. They mark real events, which, take place in advance as the basis of reproduction, since they only possess social reality as reproduced things and can only become “real” as reproduced things.
2. This reality, in turn (as “daughter matrix”)1 marks the souls of the consumers.
Thus, if events take place marked in advance; and if, on the other hand, the consumer is already marked in advance, that is, he is prepared to receive the commodity, five consequences may be deduced that are decisive for the description of our era:
I. The world “is adjusted” to man; man to the world, like glove to hand and hand to glove, trousers to legs and legs to trousers.
The definition of today’s products or men as “commodities not made to measure” [that is, standardized and “ready-to-wear”] is a commonplace. But our comparison with articles of clothing leads to something completely different and more fundamental: the determination of the class of object, to which today’s world belongs.
It is of the essence of clothing—and this feature transforms it into a particular class—to not be “in front” of us, but to drape us, adjust us and mold us with so little resistance that, by using it, it is no longer noted or experienced as an object.
As everyone knows, Dilthey used the existence of resistance in his argument in favor of the “reality of the external world”. In view of the fact that the relation of man with the world takes place as a collision and as more or less uninterrupted friction, and not as a neutral relation with something (which, according to Descartes, would be revealed to be a phantom that we have made ourselves believe in), it is of extraordinary importance to highlight the world’s “character of resistance”.
And it is all the more important insofar as all man’s activities can be deduced from this fact, that is, as attempts, always renewed, to reduce the friction between man and the world to the minimum, that is, to produce a world that would be better “adapted” for man or perhaps even fit him just like clothing.
And today it seems that this goal is closer to being realized than ever before. In any event, the adaptation of man to the world and of the world to man is so complete that the “resistance” of the world has become imperceptible; and that
II. The world is disappearing as world. This new formulation now makes it clear that even our reference to the class of objects comprised by “clothing” can only serve as a provisional reference, since it is also of the essence of clothing that it should remain imperceptible as an object, since in its use it does not effectively disappear. For only those objects that belong to one class disappear: the class of edible products, whose sole purpose is to be annihilated, that is, to be absorbed. The world of the broadcast belongs to this class.
The idea of a world that belongs in its entirety to this class is not new. As a materialist fantasy of an aetus aurea it is even very ancient. Its name is the Land of Cockaigne.
This Land of Cockaigne, as you will recall, is totally edible, “even the hair and the bones”, precisely because it no longer has hair and bones, that is, it does not contain any inedible parts.2 And the last “resistance”, which is usually represented by the spatial or financial distance of the commodity from the consumer, has also disappeared here, since the objects, the “roasted pigeons” are also “transmitted”, that is, they fly right into our open mouths. Because the pieces of this world have no other purpose than to be ingested, consumed, assimilated, the Land of Cockaigne’s reason for existence consists exclusively in losing its character as an object, that is, not to be there as world.
This constitutes a description of today’s “transmitted” world. If this world comes flying right into our eyes or ears, it has to disappear by being introduced into us without any resistance, as received without static; it has to be ours, it is even transformed into us.
III. Our contemporary world is post-ideological, that is, it has no need of ideology. By this I mean to say that it is more a matter of arranging false views of the world a posteriori, views that differ from the world, that is, ideologies, because the things that happen in the world itself now take place as a pre-arranged spectacle. Where the lie, constantly repeated, is transformed into truth, the explicit lie is superfluous.3
What takes place here is, in a way, the opposite of what Marx had foretold, when, in his eschatological speculations on the truth, he expected a post-ideological situation: whereas he counted on the eventuality that it would be the realization of truth that would bring philosophy (and the latter was for Marx eo ipso “ideology”) to an end, what has now been realized is, contrary to his expectations, the triumph of falsehood; and what has rendered explicit ideology superfluous is the fact that false assertions about the world have been themselves transformed into the “world”.
Naturally, the claim that “world” and “worldview”, that the real and the interpretation of the real, no longer have to be different things, sounds very strange. This strangeness is dispelled immediately, however, when this claim is viewed in connection with other similar phenomena of our times. For example: the fact that bread and slices of bread (since bread is sold only in the form of sliced bread) are not two different things. Just as we cannot bake bread and slice it in our homes, we cannot really grasp or ideologically interpret an event, either, which comes to us in an ideologically “pre-sliced” condition, interpreted and digested in advance; nor can we “make our own images” at home from what takes place ab ovo as an “image”. I said that we cannot; for such a “second elaboration” is not only superfluous, but unrealizable.
Thus, this “not being able” is an extremely particular kind of incapacity; and it is completely new:
When, in the old days, we were incapable of understanding or interpreting this or that part of the world, it was because the object escaped us or opposed to us a resistance that we could not overcome. Now, of course, we have seen that this resistance is not a factor. Yet, surprisingly, it is just this absence of resistance on the part of the transmitted world that impedes the understanding and interpretation of the world. Or maybe this should not be so surprising: we do not understand the smooth little pill that we swallow so easily, but we do understand the piece of meat that we have to chew. The transmitted world that is “received without static” is like the pill. Or to use another image: since this world has proven to be too easy (in a certain way like a réalité trop facile, similar to femmes faciles), it is too obliging and the minute it appears it gives itself up, we cannot properly “take it” nor can we even try to take either it or its meaning.
IV. Only those who have already been marked will be marked. What is true of the transmitted world, that is, that within it the duality that is ordinarily assumed to be one of its obvious features is eliminated, also goes for us, the consumers of the pre-marked world. It is characteristic of the current situation of conformism that man “adapts” to the world, just as the world “adapts” to man; it is moreover the distinction between a situation of the consumer as a tabula rasa who exists in a certain time, and a process, in which the image of the world is impressed upon this tabula. Now, the consumer is always mutilated in advance, ready to be modeled and prepared to receive a matrix; he more or less always assents to the form that will be impressed upon him. Each individual soul is ready to adjust to the matrix, almost like a bas-relief with respect to its corresponding engraved form; and since the matricial seal does not only make its “impression” exclusively on the soul or the cut of its vestments, because the soul is cut in accordance with the latter, so the soul does not leave its mark on the matrix, since the latter has already been engraved.
The coming and going between man and world takes place as an exchange between two imprints, as the movement between reality and the consumers, both marked with the form of the matrix; that is, in a distinctly phantasmagorical way, since in this exchange phantoms circulate with phantoms (produced by phantoms). However, it can nevertheless not be claimed that life becomes unreal because of the phantasmagorical nature of this process. To the contrary, it is really terrible. Yes, really terrible.
V. Therefore, existence in this post-ideological Land of Cockaigne is not free. However undeniable it may be that thousands of events and pieces of the world, from which our predecessors were excluded, today come flying into our ears and eyes; and despite the evidence that we are permitted to choose which phantoms we want among those that are flying towards us, we are nonetheless deceived, since we find ourselves in the hands of the supplier, once it is there, and we have been stripped of the freedom to approach or take any position towards it. And we are deceived in the same way by the phonograph records, which not only convey this or that music, but at the same time the applause and the capricious interruptions, in which we must recognize our own applause and our own exclamations. Because these records distribute not only the object itself, but also our reaction to it, we supply ourselves to ourselves through them.
What takes place shamelessly in the case of these phonograph records, can also take place somewhat more discreetly in other kinds of transmissions; but the difference is only one of clarity; the same thing happens in all transmissions: there is no phantom transmitted that does not possess, as an inherent property and as an integrated and indissoluble aspect, its “meaning”, that is, what we must think and feel about it; none that do not simultaneously transmit, as an added bonus, the reaction that they demand of us. We do not, of course, notice this, because the daily uninterrupted glut of phantoms, which is presented as the “world”, prevents us from ever feeling the hunger for interpretation, for a particular interpretation; and because the more we are stuffed with this pre-digested world, the more profoundly do we forget this hunger.
Thus, the fact that the lack of freedom is presented to us as obvious, that we do not notice the lack of freedom or, should we notice it, we do so tranquilly and with equanimity, does not make the situation any less disastrous. To the contrary: since the terror is delivered in the form of a thousand little cuts, and definitely excludes all images of any possibility of a different situation, or any idea of opposition, it is in a way is more fatal than any privation of freedom, open and acknowledged as such.
We began our investigation with a little story: the fable of the king who gave a carriage and horses to his son who, against the king’s will, was becoming acquainted on foot with the whole region of the kingdom; he accompanied the gift with these words: “Now you no longer need to go on foot.” The meaning of these words was: “Now you are no longer permitted to do so.” The consequence, however: “Now you cannot do so.”
And this “cannot” is the point that we have now so felicitously attained.
Tragicomic resistance: modern man produces resistance in the form of objects of pleasure.
We have pointed out that, because the world of the Land of Cockaigne is now presented to us in a manufactured version, ready to enjoy, we cannot remake it.
However, despite the fact that it is convenient, this impediment is not bearable and acceptable in its plain and unadorned form. In the final accounting, because we are by nature creatures of need, that is, we are not constitutionally prepared for a world that is perfectly adapted to us, for a Land of Cockaigne existence; we are instead formed for satisfying our needs, to obtain what we lack: to set things in order that are unfinished and refractory, in order that they can be “adapted” to us. We were born not only with the need to satisfy ourselves, but also with the “second need” to take part in obtaining this satisfaction. It is unbearable for us to not only be without food, but also without a way to obtain it.
Ordinarily, of course, we are entirely unaware of this “second need”. We do become aware of it, however, if we are unable to satisfy it; while we may be content with the satisfaction of the first need, if it is no longer the result of our own efforts, we feel cheated not of “the fruit of our own labor”, but of the labor required to obtain our fruit; and we do not know what to do, since we expect that, in life, we should for the most part obtain our own livelihood; to sum up: the “second need”, the “second hunger”, supervenes: not hunger for prey, but for hard work; not for bread, but for obtaining it by our own efforts; not for a goal, but for the road to the goal, which then becomes the goal.
Everyone knows that among the “leisure classes”, who are exempt from hard work, the urge for hard work often arises. Neither the fox-hunter, however, nor the weekend fisherman, have an urge for trophies; in any case, it is not their primary concern; they are, instead, eager for the activity itself. They do not seek the prey itself, but the opportunity to participate in the hunt. And if they kill a fox, a deer or a sturgeon, it is often only because, just as the enjoyment of aiming is inseparable from the target, so the enjoyment of the activity of hunting cannot be obtained without the hunted animal. The goal is the excuse for the activity and journey.
This situation has now become generalized, because today (however incredible it may sound) everyone, and even every worker, belongs to the leisure class, something that must not be misunderstood, since by this we are only pointing out that what one needs to live is nowadays entirely at one’s disposal. Even the poorest cotton-picker of the Deep South buys his pre-cooked green beans, that is, ready-to-enjoy green beans. Yes, especially him. So that today it is just as true today as it was in the 19th century: the fact that the worker does not enjoy the fruit of his own labor is no less true today, in the 20th century—and if we were to fail to draw attention to this correspondence the image of our century would remain incomplete—but he does not participate in the labor that supplies him in his home with the objects he enjoys, either (especially the objects of leisure). His life—all of our lives—is doubly alienated: it consists not just of fruitless labor, but also of fruit without labor. A Molussian proverb says: “To eat fish you have to hunt rabbits; and to eat rabbits you have to go fishing. Tradition does not relate that those who hunted rabbits never ate rabbits.”
This second alienation between labor and its “fruit” is the characteristic trauma of our Land of Cockaigne situation. It is thus not at all surprising that the urge for hard work emerges in this situation; the need to enjoy, once in a while or at least once, fruit which one has grown oneself; to reach a goal that one has oneself worked to reach; to use a table that one has built oneself; the urge to encounter resistance and the effort to overcome it.
And now modern man satisfies this urge. And he does so in an artificial way, that is: by producing the resistance himself, producing it so that it can be overcome and in order to enjoy the victory over it. Resistance has now become a product.
This procedure is not at all rare. To a great extent, sports (which, not by chance, grew in parallel with industry) has served as this kind of medium of enjoyment. We set ourselves the obstacle of some unclimbable mountain peak (which does not at all intimidate us, but to the contrary, we must keep trying), in order to be able to overcome it and enjoy the process of doing so.
However, incomparably more characteristic of our times is that relatively new hobby, which is wreaking havoc under the slogan, Do it yourself; millions of people are spending their leisure time by placing obstacles in their own paths: they construct technical devices, they reject the entertainment facilities of the era or else they build things themselves that they could buy at the corner store. Already, in 1941, I was employed in a workshop where hand weaving looms were mass-produced by machines; these hand looms were bought by women, who at that time had a hunger to savor, after they got home from work, the pleasure of complicated hand-labor. For men, on the other hand, any broken electric gadget in the home or loose screw in their car is welcome, because it represents the promise of some hard work, which will sweeten their Sunday. And it is not by chance that the pocket watch is a standard feature in the comic strips: the only method that remains to this child of our times, deserving of our sympathy, to make anything himself, consists in taking apart a finished product (since his world of finished commodities does not offer any other kind of raw materials); and, condemned to demolition, after producing raw material from another finished good, to remake it in the form of a second creation; in this way he procures the little pleasure of having made it himself or, at least, almost by himself. The type of difficulty, which he addresses with his own efforts, is identical to that of puzzles, since the creative act goes no further than composing on the basis of finished elements in the style of Hume. The popularity of these games, which are also played by adults, forms part of the same complex of phenomena.
However, he expects full happiness (and he has the right to this happiness, for is it his fault that he was born in such an unhappy time and that his attempts to liberate himself have all misfired?), if he can go on a trip in his car on the weekend to build a fire “by himself” with a device that is guaranteed to produce sparks “in the most primitive manner”; so that he can “on his own”, in the Robinsonian manner, roast his frankfurters, which he has stored on dry ice; or, in the manner of the pioneers, he can set up his tent “all by himself”; or even set up “on his own” the folding table for his portable radio.
That this juvenile movement of adults, this yearning, whose purpose is to free themselves of the supplies of finished commodities, of returning to a previous stage of production (which belongs to the few tragicomic features of the era and which could serve as an authentic theme for a contemporary Vaudeville act) must be sterile, we have made clear enough. These millions of people who vainly wear themselves out after their hard day’s work, since naturally industry has taken advantage of this retro movement, which it has itself stoked, as rapidly as any other movement, which by creating new needs makes new markets for new products. Even before the Do it yourself craze reached its peak, businesses were marketing commodities in the form of prefabricated materials, camping gadgets, for example, and suchlike things, that is, objects whose paradoxical purpose consists in making the activities of the hobbyists as comfortable as possible, who feel the urge to unwind by putting obstacles in their paths and doing things themselves. And naturally the customers, transformed overnight into “independent” contractors, can no longer free themselves from the habit, instilled into their very bones, of what is proclaimed to be “the most practical”, that is, what saves time and effort; this means, they actually buy finished commodities, which are theoretically the most “practical” ones, for their new activity, by means of which is naturally lost, in the blink of an eye, the enjoyment of “doing it by yourself”, since as if by magic their pioneer style tent is already complete, since they have at hand already prefabricated the necessary parts to “do it themselves”, and their contribution is reduced to merely following the instructions on the box. They no longer have anything else to do. The void envelops them once again. So it was a true blessing to have the radio with them and to be able to once again evoke their phantoms. If this is not “dialectical”, I do not know what is.
The movement that goes by the name of Creative Self-Expression belongs in the same context, which has already been around for some time: for example, “creative painting” or “creative writing”;4 a movement that inspires thousands of people to do something themselves after work or on Sunday or in their twilight years of old age (if one is no longer suited for a job, don’t worry: life begins at seventy); that is, to devote oneself to activities that, for once, now, “labor” and “fruit of labor” are visibly interconnected. Naturally, this movement is also a measure against the uninterrupted supply of finished products, especially of already interpreted images of the world; it is also an attempt to smuggle a little hardly consolatory effort into the absence of hope of existence in the Land of Cockaigne. It, too, however, is naturally condemned to fail. I do not want to speak of the young people of this movement who, in part from boredom, in part for hygienic reasons, in part simply because it is considered to be a must, have suddenly become “creative” and hardly have any kind of work that matters to them; nor do I want to speak of the fact that the only thing that matters to them is that they express something. What is decisive is the fact that “creative existence” is taught in courses for the masses, in tele-courses over the radio (how to get creative); that is, the prefabricated elements of creativity are also supplied directly to the home. To summarize: this tragicomedy is in no way different from that of the artificial Robinson. It, too, is an excursion, undertaken with the whole panoply of luxury of finished commodities of modernity, by the obsolete man towards an obsolete stage of existence and production; an excursion that, naturally, can never reach port, since the type and style of the journey contradict its very goal.
Once again: the real as copy of its copies. The metamorphosis of the actress V. into a reproduction of her reproduction.
The most shocking claim of our entire investigation was the conclusion that today the real is stage managed in view of its reproductions, even in honor of them; that it has to be adjusted to its reproductions, since the most immense social reality is adjusted to them and, thus, it becomes the reproduction of its reproductions.
In order to prove that this claim is not just a theoretical paradox, I shall conclude with the description of a very concrete event: the fact that the metamorphosis of the actress V. into a reproduction of her reproduction does not proceed from the domain of radio or television, but from the motion picture industry, does not presuppose any essential difference. In our concluding paragraphs we have on various occasions extended the horizon of our examples; and intentionally, since it would have been wrong to consider the categories of “phantom” and “matrix” to be the only ones that interest us, as the monopoly of radio and television, which is where we originally began our inquiries. The domain of the application of these categories is much wider; and the validity of our results is much more general than we had foreseen at the beginning of our specific investigation.
Here are some excerpts from my California diary:
When, about six months ago, the producer M. saw V.’s screen test, he thought: “Just for once, sweetheart, be more photogenic. Then we’ll see.” What he was thinking was: until you have used our phantoms more effectively than you can with the matrices of the way you really look, before you have molded yourself in accordance with their model, you cannot be considered as any kind of phantom that really counts.
V. had always been proud of her absolutely unique look, but her longing for a career as a phantom was incomparably more vehement. With the help of what was left of her family’s savings, a family that she had forgotten long ago, and of her former friends, also long abandoned and scorned, and with disregard for all the pleasures of life, she devoted herself to the task of molding herself with ascetic single-mindedness. And since no one can do this alone, she enlisted the help of all the specialists of the applied arts (which constitute a kind of career here), who consider a real human being as bad material that needs to be improved, while they devote all their attention to the phantom as it “should be” and therefore they make their daily bread on the difference between reality and phantom, that is, they make a business out of the longing of those who, like V., want to subject themselves to an operation to eliminate this difference. So V. began to dash from beauty salon to masseur, from masseur to beauty salon; she put herself into the hands of weight-loss institutes and specialists in the elimination of wrinkles, and even surgeons; and all to her ruin, as she was to see, and for their profit; she let them reconstruct her from top to bottom, inside and out; she faithfully slept the requisite hours by the sweat of her brow, sometimes here and sometimes there; she weighed the leaves of her salad, instead of savoring them; instead of smiling at me, she smiled at her mirror; instead of doing it for the pleasure of doing it, she did it out of duty; in short, she had never worked so hard in all her life; and I doubt that the initiation rites that the virgins of the Vedas had to undergo were more atrocious than those that V. had to submit to in order to be solemnly accepted in the world of phantoms. It is not at all surprising that she soon became nervous, not to say unbearable, and that, as if she already enjoyed the privileges of a phantom, she began to take vengeance on the surrounding world, she treated us as if we were air, since as air she had every right to breathe us in and expel us again. She led this kind of life for about six months and they reworked her old Adam or her old Eve to such a degree that nothing was left of them; and then, when the new human, the phantom, emerged from her with an unsuspected radiance—the epiphany took place about two weeks ago—she once again went to see her phantom agent. Actually, it is not entirely true to say that it was she who went to see him. With her new hair, her new nose, her new figure, her new walk, her new smile (or maybe with some old hair, worn by someone else a long time ago, and with her nose and her smile that are seen everywhere these days), she was a finished commodity, an indefinite article, completely different; “Everything’s different”.5 “So much the better”, she says; and she is right, for she told us after her second screen test, that the dealer in phantoms had not recognized her and that she immediately considered this to be a good sign and (if this expression is fitting in this context) she had more “self-confidence” in this second test. And today, after two weeks, behold, everything worked out for the best, the news is in, the improbable has occurred, the second test was accepted as o.k., she fulfilled her life’s dream; and this fulfillment would be contractually confirmed. In other words: She has risen to the status of a matrix of matrices, she can serve as a matrix for those cinematic images, which in turn will serve as matrices for our tastes. Naturally, she claims that she is incredibly happy because of this. I am not so sure that this is true. The process of molding has so seriously deteriorated her that it is hard for me to say that it is actually she who is happy. Maybe the other one, the new one, is happy; but I do not know her and I could walk right by her without recognizing her. And since only she exists, since the woman who is walking down the street at my side moves like the one who passed her screen test and whom I can expect in the future; that is, since today she has been transformed into the copy of her image, into the reproduction of her future reproductions, she has disappeared; and the final goodbye, that she will bid me, although not yet explicitly pronounced, is only a matter of days.
It is not the admirer that is admirable, but the admired.
Despite the fact that, as we said above, this metamorphosis does not belong to our original range of examples, it is nonetheless particularly instructive, since it demonstrates the recognition of the primacy of the image as opposed to the real as the vital motive for action and transformation into a matricial image as a vital process. The thesis defended in our investigation, in the sense that today being an image amounts to being “more existent”, is totally clear on the basis of this case; that is why we shall pause to consider it in more depth.
It would be too easy to dismiss V.’s anxious desire to become an image simply with the terms, “vanity” or “yearning for fame”. Vanity and yearning for fame: the yearning to be spoken of and gazed upon by other people; and the hope to be more or at the very least to be through that “existing in others” explain nothing; this yearning and this hope are instead, in themselves, problems, and furthermore very opaque ones.
Like thousands of other people, V. grew up in a world in which only phantoms (pictures) were seen as supposedly important and the phantom industry (not without reason) was considered to be a sensationally real industry. She had been molded by this world by the matricial power of these phantoms and their prestige. For her, “to exist” in some way within this world of images, but as a non-image, as a non-model, had from the very first become a torment and soon became the cause of an infinite feeling of inferiority and nullity. We must clarify the etiology of this feeling of inferiority, since it is the first time that it appears in history, and (although it has not yet been discovered by individual psychology, which only deals with feelings of inferiority) it is its current form, since the world of models, which intimidates the insecure, is not composed of people like us, but of phantoms of men and even of things.6 V. did not feel inferior to the threatening model of her parents or siblings, of her rivals at school or the beach, but to the reproduced images. And her neurosis was not proof of a lack of “social” adaptation, but—in our introduction we have already referred to a similar case—a symptom of a lack of technical adaptation to the world of images. In a similar way, as it might have been a torment to a bourgeois to live as an anonymous non-aristocrat and “not to count for anything” in an exclusively aristocratic world, to her it was unbearable to live in a world of model phantoms. She constantly suffered from the feeling that she was a negligible quantity, or even a nullity; from the fear of having to realize one fine day (as long as she had not achieved her ascent, her conversion into a phantom) that she had never existed in the final accounting: she suffered from the lack of ontological prestige. Thus, by engaging in her professional struggle, her struggle to transform herself into a phantom, she did so in order to be more, simply to be. Reversing the expression of Mignon: “Let me appear until I can be”, she would have said: “Let me be until I can appear”; to be capable of being apparent.
We cannot more clearly formulate her anxious desire to exist by way of appearance than she did herself with two or three outbursts:
Her self-transformation had hardly been completed, when she exclaimed (with scorn for her past life, which showed just how high up the ontological ladder of success she believed she had climbed): “My God, what was I until now!” What she was certainly thinking was: I was a nothing; and a nothing because previously “I had only existed”, “I was just there”; always only as herself, always only alone and always only where she had existed. Because she, expressed negatively, as non-manufactured and non-reproduced was not taken into account as an object that was worthy of consideration; because she had not found any verification of her existence; because there was no consumer who noticed her existence; because there was no large number of consumers who, molded by her, had verified her existence en masse. In short: she had not been a model, or any kind of mass commodity, she had not been a what, but only an anonymous who. And within the world she inhabited she was right: compared to the status of existence of a “what” in the world of Hollywood, anyone who is only a “who” is a nothing and is not “there”.
Naturally, V. did not say this in so many words. But in her view, these arguments would have been truisms: self-evident facts, which ordinarily do not need to be expressed. And if she accepts as an axiom of economic ontology that “the unmanufactured does not exist”, that is, that “reality is only produced by way of reproduction”, in reality these are self-evident facts. What V. had done was in fact merely to have put these axioms into practice, and she had no reason to be suspicious of them, since in her world they were valid and functioned smoothly.
The fact that I could not allow her exclamation to pass without reply: “What was I until now!”, but instead had to argue with her because she believed that she had attained her “genuine existence” only at the moment when it was expropriated, that is, when she had been robbed of her true self, was certainly not altogether decent, considering how hard she had worked: she who, by the sweat of her brow, had succeeded in becoming a “what” instead of a “who”, while I, who still had to go hither and thither as a mere “who” and was even somewhat satisfied about just being there, must seem to her like a ridiculous troll. And so she made fun of me: “You and your ego!”, she mockingly replied. “Who cares about such things anymore?” And because, with that last expression, she converted demand into the measure of value and into the criterion for existence, she silenced me.
I said that she felt, in the world of images, like a bourgeois in an exclusively feudal world: like “air”, like “nobody”. And really, when I attempted to get used to her new style of behavior: her gestures, her tone of voice, the way she walked, I could only compare it with the conduct of a snob who has achieved and exaggerated her belonging to the nobility. It is not by chance that the Greek term that denotes “noble” is ἐσϑλός, which is derived from the same root as “to exist” and designates he who counts as “existent”, whose degree of existence is superior to that of the others. In this sense, the degree of existence of V. was superior to that of the others, since she was there (she existed) as a manufactured product, as the prospective model for innumerable copies, as a mass-produced commodity, while before, in her shameful prehistory, she existed as an unprocessed raw material and as a one-of-a-kind loser, she only formed part of the obscure background, of the miserable plebs of the consumers.
Naturally, it sounds odd to say that her ascent to the level of a mass-produced commodity is what conferred nobility upon her: mass and nobility are mutually opposed. But if we were to formulate it in this way: “Her ascent to the world of matrices”, in which she transformed herself into a model; or “the ascent to the world of images”; or “the ascent to the world of mass-produced commodities”, it all amounts to the same thing, since only models are transformed into images by means of their massive multiplication.7
Moreover, the superiority of mass products has another origin: a considerable part of today’s commodities are not actually there for us; instead, we are ourselves, as buyers and consumers, those who are there to assure their further production. Thus, if our need to consume (and, as a result, our lifestyle) has been created—or at least marked—so that commodities can be sold, we are only means, and, as such, we are ontologically subject to the ends. But someone like V. who manages to raise herself up from this obscure background to the luminous heights where, instead of living on consumer goods, she is herself taken into consideration as a consumer good, she is only “worthy of consideration” insofar as she forms part of a different way of existence.
This being taken into consideration, this being worthy of consideration, was especially plausible in the case of V., since she, as part of the Motion Picture Industry, had been transformed into something that really had to be seen (=considered).
Since she is taken into consideration only to be seen (=considered), naturally she can no longer have anything to do with a devil like me, who, at the very most, is on rare occasions taken into account as a consumer of phantoms. The connection with something real is, for a phantom, a real mismatch, simply “impossible”, between a commodity and a consumer. In order to find companionship, V. would have to seek to be surrounded by her peers: phantoms; or “she does not have to”, since the circle of phantoms is a world in itself (which everyone can see, but no one can enter), in which she will be accepted automatically. There she will undoubtedly find someone, a “something”, who will also be a “that”; something that, just like her, lives exclusively for the universal “being seen”, something that also had a heart like a maggot, with whom she can be a commodity-heart and a commodity-soul and who would be for her a “considerable match”.
If in these cases it were simply a matter of formal intelligence, V. would not have been entirely incapable of understanding what I was thinking, since she was not without intelligence. But such understanding does not depend only on intellect, but on the status that one adopts. The status of nobility, to which she now belonged, prevented her from understanding something of this kind anymore: if it was beyond her, she would not be able to understand not because it was above her, but, to the contrary, because it was beneath her; that is, because she was too far above me for her to be capable of understanding me. This is why it was so indecent of me to accuse her of malice or to get in an argument with her. It was not she who was doing these things; she only went along with everyone else. And it would have been almost conceited for her to swim against the current and to deny the assumption that everyone in her circle acknowledged as normal and obvious: that to become a commodity represents a promotion and that being enjoyed as a commodity is a proof of existence.
- 1 This expression is derived from the phonograph industry, which displays better than any other the horrifying chaos in which the relation between the “original” and the “copy” is found today. In this industry there is the so-called “mother-matrix”, which is the reproduction of a voice, which, in turn, reproduces a composition. This reproduction of the reproduction, however, as is demonstrated by the expression “mother-matrix” (and therefore, “mother-mother”), actually counts as the “original” compared to the “daughter matrix”, despite the fact that it is a reproduction of a reproduction of a reproduction, it becomes a “master matrix”, that is, the mother of all the records based on it in the mass system and which are put on the market in order to become the matrices of our taste. [Author’s note.]
- 2 The German expression “mit Haut und Haaren” indicates the totality; in our case, in the context of the edible, we have translated it with this expression, “even the hair and the bones”, since the author will again refer literally to this idea in order to point out that this fantasy is incorporeal. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 3 Wo sich die Lüge wahrlügt, ist ausdrückliche Lüge überflussig, in the German text. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 4 We do not have to be intimidated by this word, creative: faced with the pretext of the habitual consumption of finished commodities any modest attempt “to do something by oneself” is felt as an act of creation, at least comparable to the art of Michelangelo. [Author’s note.]
- 5 Given the fact that the number of those persons who, like V., allow their differences to be eliminated, is incomparably greater than the small number of matrices that are needed in the motion picture industry, in California there are thousands of phantoms, whom one would never suspect were once other persons in a previous life, or have any idea what they once looked like. Since they never had the good luck to be transformed into matrices, however, and since they will still have the look of phantoms for a while and will always have the illusion that they will be able to perform as illusions, they “provisionally” work as drugstore-girls or as hop-girls, until the day-to-day grind wears them down and causes their old natures to re-emerge from under the glamour of phantoms. [Author’s note.]
- 6 See the first chapter of this volume. [Author’s note.]
- 7 On the other hand, every mass-produced commodity is also a copy, that of its model. And every model, in turn, is a model only for its reproductions; and it is all the better a model, the more numerous are its copies, that is, the more success attends its mass production. [Author’s note.]