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.]