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.]