STEPPING UP TO A MORE GENERAL LEVEL
Let me appear until I can actually be. (Mignon)
Let me actually be until I can appear. (V.)
Five consequences: The world is “adjusted”. The world disappears. The world is post-ideological. Only those who are already marked will be marked. Existence in this world is not free.
We shall once again summarize the function of the matrices. As we have seen, the matrices mark things in two ways:
1. They mark real events, which, take place in advance as the basis of reproduction, since they only possess social reality as reproduced things and can only become “real” as reproduced things.
2. This reality, in turn (as “daughter matrix”)1 marks the souls of the consumers.
Thus, if events take place marked in advance; and if, on the other hand, the consumer is already marked in advance, that is, he is prepared to receive the commodity, five consequences may be deduced that are decisive for the description of our era:
I. The world “is adjusted” to man; man to the world, like glove to hand and hand to glove, trousers to legs and legs to trousers.
The definition of today’s products or men as “commodities not made to measure” [that is, standardized and “ready-to-wear”] is a commonplace. But our comparison with articles of clothing leads to something completely different and more fundamental: the determination of the class of object, to which today’s world belongs.
It is of the essence of clothing—and this feature transforms it into a particular class—to not be “in front” of us, but to drape us, adjust us and mold us with so little resistance that, by using it, it is no longer noted or experienced as an object.
As everyone knows, Dilthey used the existence of resistance in his argument in favor of the “reality of the external world”. In view of the fact that the relation of man with the world takes place as a collision and as more or less uninterrupted friction, and not as a neutral relation with something (which, according to Descartes, would be revealed to be a phantom that we have made ourselves believe in), it is of extraordinary importance to highlight the world’s “character of resistance”.
And it is all the more important insofar as all man’s activities can be deduced from this fact, that is, as attempts, always renewed, to reduce the friction between man and the world to the minimum, that is, to produce a world that would be better “adapted” for man or perhaps even fit him just like clothing.
And today it seems that this goal is closer to being realized than ever before. In any event, the adaptation of man to the world and of the world to man is so complete that the “resistance” of the world has become imperceptible; and that
II. The world is disappearing as world. This new formulation now makes it clear that even our reference to the class of objects comprised by “clothing” can only serve as a provisional reference, since it is also of the essence of clothing that it should remain imperceptible as an object, since in its use it does not effectively disappear. For only those objects that belong to one class disappear: the class of edible products, whose sole purpose is to be annihilated, that is, to be absorbed. The world of the broadcast belongs to this class.
The idea of a world that belongs in its entirety to this class is not new. As a materialist fantasy of an aetus aurea it is even very ancient. Its name is the Land of Cockaigne.
This Land of Cockaigne, as you will recall, is totally edible, “even the hair and the bones”, precisely because it no longer has hair and bones, that is, it does not contain any inedible parts.2 And the last “resistance”, which is usually represented by the spatial or financial distance of the commodity from the consumer, has also disappeared here, since the objects, the “roasted pigeons” are also “transmitted”, that is, they fly right into our open mouths. Because the pieces of this world have no other purpose than to be ingested, consumed, assimilated, the Land of Cockaigne’s reason for existence consists exclusively in losing its character as an object, that is, not to be there as world.
This constitutes a description of today’s “transmitted” world. If this world comes flying right into our eyes or ears, it has to disappear by being introduced into us without any resistance, as received without static; it has to be ours, it is even transformed into us.
III. Our contemporary world is post-ideological, that is, it has no need of ideology. By this I mean to say that it is more a matter of arranging false views of the world a posteriori, views that differ from the world, that is, ideologies, because the things that happen in the world itself now take place as a pre-arranged spectacle. Where the lie, constantly repeated, is transformed into truth, the explicit lie is superfluous.3
What takes place here is, in a way, the opposite of what Marx had foretold, when, in his eschatological speculations on the truth, he expected a post-ideological situation: whereas he counted on the eventuality that it would be the realization of truth that would bring philosophy (and the latter was for Marx eo ipso “ideology”) to an end, what has now been realized is, contrary to his expectations, the triumph of falsehood; and what has rendered explicit ideology superfluous is the fact that false assertions about the world have been themselves transformed into the “world”.
Naturally, the claim that “world” and “worldview”, that the real and the interpretation of the real, no longer have to be different things, sounds very strange. This strangeness is dispelled immediately, however, when this claim is viewed in connection with other similar phenomena of our times. For example: the fact that bread and slices of bread (since bread is sold only in the form of sliced bread) are not two different things. Just as we cannot bake bread and slice it in our homes, we cannot really grasp or ideologically interpret an event, either, which comes to us in an ideologically “pre-sliced” condition, interpreted and digested in advance; nor can we “make our own images” at home from what takes place ab ovo as an “image”. I said that we cannot; for such a “second elaboration” is not only superfluous, but unrealizable.
Thus, this “not being able” is an extremely particular kind of incapacity; and it is completely new:
When, in the old days, we were incapable of understanding or interpreting this or that part of the world, it was because the object escaped us or opposed to us a resistance that we could not overcome. Now, of course, we have seen that this resistance is not a factor. Yet, surprisingly, it is just this absence of resistance on the part of the transmitted world that impedes the understanding and interpretation of the world. Or maybe this should not be so surprising: we do not understand the smooth little pill that we swallow so easily, but we do understand the piece of meat that we have to chew. The transmitted world that is “received without static” is like the pill. Or to use another image: since this world has proven to be too easy (in a certain way like a réalité trop facile, similar to femmes faciles), it is too obliging and the minute it appears it gives itself up, we cannot properly “take it” nor can we even try to take either it or its meaning.
IV. Only those who have already been marked will be marked. What is true of the transmitted world, that is, that within it the duality that is ordinarily assumed to be one of its obvious features is eliminated, also goes for us, the consumers of the pre-marked world. It is characteristic of the current situation of conformism that man “adapts” to the world, just as the world “adapts” to man; it is moreover the distinction between a situation of the consumer as a tabula rasa who exists in a certain time, and a process, in which the image of the world is impressed upon this tabula. Now, the consumer is always mutilated in advance, ready to be modeled and prepared to receive a matrix; he more or less always assents to the form that will be impressed upon him. Each individual soul is ready to adjust to the matrix, almost like a bas-relief with respect to its corresponding engraved form; and since the matricial seal does not only make its “impression” exclusively on the soul or the cut of its vestments, because the soul is cut in accordance with the latter, so the soul does not leave its mark on the matrix, since the latter has already been engraved.
The coming and going between man and world takes place as an exchange between two imprints, as the movement between reality and the consumers, both marked with the form of the matrix; that is, in a distinctly phantasmagorical way, since in this exchange phantoms circulate with phantoms (produced by phantoms). However, it can nevertheless not be claimed that life becomes unreal because of the phantasmagorical nature of this process. To the contrary, it is really terrible. Yes, really terrible.
V. Therefore, existence in this post-ideological Land of Cockaigne is not free. However undeniable it may be that thousands of events and pieces of the world, from which our predecessors were excluded, today come flying into our ears and eyes; and despite the evidence that we are permitted to choose which phantoms we want among those that are flying towards us, we are nonetheless deceived, since we find ourselves in the hands of the supplier, once it is there, and we have been stripped of the freedom to approach or take any position towards it. And we are deceived in the same way by the phonograph records, which not only convey this or that music, but at the same time the applause and the capricious interruptions, in which we must recognize our own applause and our own exclamations. Because these records distribute not only the object itself, but also our reaction to it, we supply ourselves to ourselves through them.
What takes place shamelessly in the case of these phonograph records, can also take place somewhat more discreetly in other kinds of transmissions; but the difference is only one of clarity; the same thing happens in all transmissions: there is no phantom transmitted that does not possess, as an inherent property and as an integrated and indissoluble aspect, its “meaning”, that is, what we must think and feel about it; none that do not simultaneously transmit, as an added bonus, the reaction that they demand of us. We do not, of course, notice this, because the daily uninterrupted glut of phantoms, which is presented as the “world”, prevents us from ever feeling the hunger for interpretation, for a particular interpretation; and because the more we are stuffed with this pre-digested world, the more profoundly do we forget this hunger.
Thus, the fact that the lack of freedom is presented to us as obvious, that we do not notice the lack of freedom or, should we notice it, we do so tranquilly and with equanimity, does not make the situation any less disastrous. To the contrary: since the terror is delivered in the form of a thousand little cuts, and definitely excludes all images of any possibility of a different situation, or any idea of opposition, it is in a way is more fatal than any privation of freedom, open and acknowledged as such.
We began our investigation with a little story: the fable of the king who gave a carriage and horses to his son who, against the king’s will, was becoming acquainted on foot with the whole region of the kingdom; he accompanied the gift with these words: “Now you no longer need to go on foot.” The meaning of these words was: “Now you are no longer permitted to do so.” The consequence, however: “Now you cannot do so.”
And this “cannot” is the point that we have now so felicitously attained.
Tragicomic resistance: modern man produces resistance in the form of objects of pleasure.
We have pointed out that, because the world of the Land of Cockaigne is now presented to us in a manufactured version, ready to enjoy, we cannot remake it.
However, despite the fact that it is convenient, this impediment is not bearable and acceptable in its plain and unadorned form. In the final accounting, because we are by nature creatures of need, that is, we are not constitutionally prepared for a world that is perfectly adapted to us, for a Land of Cockaigne existence; we are instead formed for satisfying our needs, to obtain what we lack: to set things in order that are unfinished and refractory, in order that they can be “adapted” to us. We were born not only with the need to satisfy ourselves, but also with the “second need” to take part in obtaining this satisfaction. It is unbearable for us to not only be without food, but also without a way to obtain it.
Ordinarily, of course, we are entirely unaware of this “second need”. We do become aware of it, however, if we are unable to satisfy it; while we may be content with the satisfaction of the first need, if it is no longer the result of our own efforts, we feel cheated not of “the fruit of our own labor”, but of the labor required to obtain our fruit; and we do not know what to do, since we expect that, in life, we should for the most part obtain our own livelihood; to sum up: the “second need”, the “second hunger”, supervenes: not hunger for prey, but for hard work; not for bread, but for obtaining it by our own efforts; not for a goal, but for the road to the goal, which then becomes the goal.
Everyone knows that among the “leisure classes”, who are exempt from hard work, the urge for hard work often arises. Neither the fox-hunter, however, nor the weekend fisherman, have an urge for trophies; in any case, it is not their primary concern; they are, instead, eager for the activity itself. They do not seek the prey itself, but the opportunity to participate in the hunt. And if they kill a fox, a deer or a sturgeon, it is often only because, just as the enjoyment of aiming is inseparable from the target, so the enjoyment of the activity of hunting cannot be obtained without the hunted animal. The goal is the excuse for the activity and journey.
This situation has now become generalized, because today (however incredible it may sound) everyone, and even every worker, belongs to the leisure class, something that must not be misunderstood, since by this we are only pointing out that what one needs to live is nowadays entirely at one’s disposal. Even the poorest cotton-picker of the Deep South buys his pre-cooked green beans, that is, ready-to-enjoy green beans. Yes, especially him. So that today it is just as true today as it was in the 19th century: the fact that the worker does not enjoy the fruit of his own labor is no less true today, in the 20th century—and if we were to fail to draw attention to this correspondence the image of our century would remain incomplete—but he does not participate in the labor that supplies him in his home with the objects he enjoys, either (especially the objects of leisure). His life—all of our lives—is doubly alienated: it consists not just of fruitless labor, but also of fruit without labor. A Molussian proverb says: “To eat fish you have to hunt rabbits; and to eat rabbits you have to go fishing. Tradition does not relate that those who hunted rabbits never ate rabbits.”
This second alienation between labor and its “fruit” is the characteristic trauma of our Land of Cockaigne situation. It is thus not at all surprising that the urge for hard work emerges in this situation; the need to enjoy, once in a while or at least once, fruit which one has grown oneself; to reach a goal that one has oneself worked to reach; to use a table that one has built oneself; the urge to encounter resistance and the effort to overcome it.
And now modern man satisfies this urge. And he does so in an artificial way, that is: by producing the resistance himself, producing it so that it can be overcome and in order to enjoy the victory over it. Resistance has now become a product.
This procedure is not at all rare. To a great extent, sports (which, not by chance, grew in parallel with industry) has served as this kind of medium of enjoyment. We set ourselves the obstacle of some unclimbable mountain peak (which does not at all intimidate us, but to the contrary, we must keep trying), in order to be able to overcome it and enjoy the process of doing so.
However, incomparably more characteristic of our times is that relatively new hobby, which is wreaking havoc under the slogan, Do it yourself; millions of people are spending their leisure time by placing obstacles in their own paths: they construct technical devices, they reject the entertainment facilities of the era or else they build things themselves that they could buy at the corner store. Already, in 1941, I was employed in a workshop where hand weaving looms were mass-produced by machines; these hand looms were bought by women, who at that time had a hunger to savor, after they got home from work, the pleasure of complicated hand-labor. For men, on the other hand, any broken electric gadget in the home or loose screw in their car is welcome, because it represents the promise of some hard work, which will sweeten their Sunday. And it is not by chance that the pocket watch is a standard feature in the comic strips: the only method that remains to this child of our times, deserving of our sympathy, to make anything himself, consists in taking apart a finished product (since his world of finished commodities does not offer any other kind of raw materials); and, condemned to demolition, after producing raw material from another finished good, to remake it in the form of a second creation; in this way he procures the little pleasure of having made it himself or, at least, almost by himself. The type of difficulty, which he addresses with his own efforts, is identical to that of puzzles, since the creative act goes no further than composing on the basis of finished elements in the style of Hume. The popularity of these games, which are also played by adults, forms part of the same complex of phenomena.
However, he expects full happiness (and he has the right to this happiness, for is it his fault that he was born in such an unhappy time and that his attempts to liberate himself have all misfired?), if he can go on a trip in his car on the weekend to build a fire “by himself” with a device that is guaranteed to produce sparks “in the most primitive manner”; so that he can “on his own”, in the Robinsonian manner, roast his frankfurters, which he has stored on dry ice; or, in the manner of the pioneers, he can set up his tent “all by himself”; or even set up “on his own” the folding table for his portable radio.
That this juvenile movement of adults, this yearning, whose purpose is to free themselves of the supplies of finished commodities, of returning to a previous stage of production (which belongs to the few tragicomic features of the era and which could serve as an authentic theme for a contemporary Vaudeville act) must be sterile, we have made clear enough. These millions of people who vainly wear themselves out after their hard day’s work, since naturally industry has taken advantage of this retro movement, which it has itself stoked, as rapidly as any other movement, which by creating new needs makes new markets for new products. Even before the Do it yourself craze reached its peak, businesses were marketing commodities in the form of prefabricated materials, camping gadgets, for example, and suchlike things, that is, objects whose paradoxical purpose consists in making the activities of the hobbyists as comfortable as possible, who feel the urge to unwind by putting obstacles in their paths and doing things themselves. And naturally the customers, transformed overnight into “independent” contractors, can no longer free themselves from the habit, instilled into their very bones, of what is proclaimed to be “the most practical”, that is, what saves time and effort; this means, they actually buy finished commodities, which are theoretically the most “practical” ones, for their new activity, by means of which is naturally lost, in the blink of an eye, the enjoyment of “doing it by yourself”, since as if by magic their pioneer style tent is already complete, since they have at hand already prefabricated the necessary parts to “do it themselves”, and their contribution is reduced to merely following the instructions on the box. They no longer have anything else to do. The void envelops them once again. So it was a true blessing to have the radio with them and to be able to once again evoke their phantoms. If this is not “dialectical”, I do not know what is.
The movement that goes by the name of Creative Self-Expression belongs in the same context, which has already been around for some time: for example, “creative painting” or “creative writing”;4 a movement that inspires thousands of people to do something themselves after work or on Sunday or in their twilight years of old age (if one is no longer suited for a job, don’t worry: life begins at seventy); that is, to devote oneself to activities that, for once, now, “labor” and “fruit of labor” are visibly interconnected. Naturally, this movement is also a measure against the uninterrupted supply of finished products, especially of already interpreted images of the world; it is also an attempt to smuggle a little hardly consolatory effort into the absence of hope of existence in the Land of Cockaigne. It, too, however, is naturally condemned to fail. I do not want to speak of the young people of this movement who, in part from boredom, in part for hygienic reasons, in part simply because it is considered to be a must, have suddenly become “creative” and hardly have any kind of work that matters to them; nor do I want to speak of the fact that the only thing that matters to them is that they express something. What is decisive is the fact that “creative existence” is taught in courses for the masses, in tele-courses over the radio (how to get creative); that is, the prefabricated elements of creativity are also supplied directly to the home. To summarize: this tragicomedy is in no way different from that of the artificial Robinson. It, too, is an excursion, undertaken with the whole panoply of luxury of finished commodities of modernity, by the obsolete man towards an obsolete stage of existence and production; an excursion that, naturally, can never reach port, since the type and style of the journey contradict its very goal.
Once again: the real as copy of its copies. The metamorphosis of the actress V. into a reproduction of her reproduction.
The most shocking claim of our entire investigation was the conclusion that today the real is stage managed in view of its reproductions, even in honor of them; that it has to be adjusted to its reproductions, since the most immense social reality is adjusted to them and, thus, it becomes the reproduction of its reproductions.
In order to prove that this claim is not just a theoretical paradox, I shall conclude with the description of a very concrete event: the fact that the metamorphosis of the actress V. into a reproduction of her reproduction does not proceed from the domain of radio or television, but from the motion picture industry, does not presuppose any essential difference. In our concluding paragraphs we have on various occasions extended the horizon of our examples; and intentionally, since it would have been wrong to consider the categories of “phantom” and “matrix” to be the only ones that interest us, as the monopoly of radio and television, which is where we originally began our inquiries. The domain of the application of these categories is much wider; and the validity of our results is much more general than we had foreseen at the beginning of our specific investigation.
Here are some excerpts from my California diary:
When, about six months ago, the producer M. saw V.’s screen test, he thought: “Just for once, sweetheart, be more photogenic. Then we’ll see.” What he was thinking was: until you have used our phantoms more effectively than you can with the matrices of the way you really look, before you have molded yourself in accordance with their model, you cannot be considered as any kind of phantom that really counts.
V. had always been proud of her absolutely unique look, but her longing for a career as a phantom was incomparably more vehement. With the help of what was left of her family’s savings, a family that she had forgotten long ago, and of her former friends, also long abandoned and scorned, and with disregard for all the pleasures of life, she devoted herself to the task of molding herself with ascetic single-mindedness. And since no one can do this alone, she enlisted the help of all the specialists of the applied arts (which constitute a kind of career here), who consider a real human being as bad material that needs to be improved, while they devote all their attention to the phantom as it “should be” and therefore they make their daily bread on the difference between reality and phantom, that is, they make a business out of the longing of those who, like V., want to subject themselves to an operation to eliminate this difference. So V. began to dash from beauty salon to masseur, from masseur to beauty salon; she put herself into the hands of weight-loss institutes and specialists in the elimination of wrinkles, and even surgeons; and all to her ruin, as she was to see, and for their profit; she let them reconstruct her from top to bottom, inside and out; she faithfully slept the requisite hours by the sweat of her brow, sometimes here and sometimes there; she weighed the leaves of her salad, instead of savoring them; instead of smiling at me, she smiled at her mirror; instead of doing it for the pleasure of doing it, she did it out of duty; in short, she had never worked so hard in all her life; and I doubt that the initiation rites that the virgins of the Vedas had to undergo were more atrocious than those that V. had to submit to in order to be solemnly accepted in the world of phantoms. It is not at all surprising that she soon became nervous, not to say unbearable, and that, as if she already enjoyed the privileges of a phantom, she began to take vengeance on the surrounding world, she treated us as if we were air, since as air she had every right to breathe us in and expel us again. She led this kind of life for about six months and they reworked her old Adam or her old Eve to such a degree that nothing was left of them; and then, when the new human, the phantom, emerged from her with an unsuspected radiance—the epiphany took place about two weeks ago—she once again went to see her phantom agent. Actually, it is not entirely true to say that it was she who went to see him. With her new hair, her new nose, her new figure, her new walk, her new smile (or maybe with some old hair, worn by someone else a long time ago, and with her nose and her smile that are seen everywhere these days), she was a finished commodity, an indefinite article, completely different; “Everything’s different”.5 “So much the better”, she says; and she is right, for she told us after her second screen test, that the dealer in phantoms had not recognized her and that she immediately considered this to be a good sign and (if this expression is fitting in this context) she had more “self-confidence” in this second test. And today, after two weeks, behold, everything worked out for the best, the news is in, the improbable has occurred, the second test was accepted as o.k., she fulfilled her life’s dream; and this fulfillment would be contractually confirmed. In other words: She has risen to the status of a matrix of matrices, she can serve as a matrix for those cinematic images, which in turn will serve as matrices for our tastes. Naturally, she claims that she is incredibly happy because of this. I am not so sure that this is true. The process of molding has so seriously deteriorated her that it is hard for me to say that it is actually she who is happy. Maybe the other one, the new one, is happy; but I do not know her and I could walk right by her without recognizing her. And since only she exists, since the woman who is walking down the street at my side moves like the one who passed her screen test and whom I can expect in the future; that is, since today she has been transformed into the copy of her image, into the reproduction of her future reproductions, she has disappeared; and the final goodbye, that she will bid me, although not yet explicitly pronounced, is only a matter of days.
It is not the admirer that is admirable, but the admired.
Despite the fact that, as we said above, this metamorphosis does not belong to our original range of examples, it is nonetheless particularly instructive, since it demonstrates the recognition of the primacy of the image as opposed to the real as the vital motive for action and transformation into a matricial image as a vital process. The thesis defended in our investigation, in the sense that today being an image amounts to being “more existent”, is totally clear on the basis of this case; that is why we shall pause to consider it in more depth.
It would be too easy to dismiss V.’s anxious desire to become an image simply with the terms, “vanity” or “yearning for fame”. Vanity and yearning for fame: the yearning to be spoken of and gazed upon by other people; and the hope to be more or at the very least to be through that “existing in others” explain nothing; this yearning and this hope are instead, in themselves, problems, and furthermore very opaque ones.
Like thousands of other people, V. grew up in a world in which only phantoms (pictures) were seen as supposedly important and the phantom industry (not without reason) was considered to be a sensationally real industry. She had been molded by this world by the matricial power of these phantoms and their prestige. For her, “to exist” in some way within this world of images, but as a non-image, as a non-model, had from the very first become a torment and soon became the cause of an infinite feeling of inferiority and nullity. We must clarify the etiology of this feeling of inferiority, since it is the first time that it appears in history, and (although it has not yet been discovered by individual psychology, which only deals with feelings of inferiority) it is its current form, since the world of models, which intimidates the insecure, is not composed of people like us, but of phantoms of men and even of things.6 V. did not feel inferior to the threatening model of her parents or siblings, of her rivals at school or the beach, but to the reproduced images. And her neurosis was not proof of a lack of “social” adaptation, but—in our introduction we have already referred to a similar case—a symptom of a lack of technical adaptation to the world of images. In a similar way, as it might have been a torment to a bourgeois to live as an anonymous non-aristocrat and “not to count for anything” in an exclusively aristocratic world, to her it was unbearable to live in a world of model phantoms. She constantly suffered from the feeling that she was a negligible quantity, or even a nullity; from the fear of having to realize one fine day (as long as she had not achieved her ascent, her conversion into a phantom) that she had never existed in the final accounting: she suffered from the lack of ontological prestige. Thus, by engaging in her professional struggle, her struggle to transform herself into a phantom, she did so in order to be more, simply to be. Reversing the expression of Mignon: “Let me appear until I can be”, she would have said: “Let me be until I can appear”; to be capable of being apparent.
We cannot more clearly formulate her anxious desire to exist by way of appearance than she did herself with two or three outbursts:
Her self-transformation had hardly been completed, when she exclaimed (with scorn for her past life, which showed just how high up the ontological ladder of success she believed she had climbed): “My God, what was I until now!” What she was certainly thinking was: I was a nothing; and a nothing because previously “I had only existed”, “I was just there”; always only as herself, always only alone and always only where she had existed. Because she, expressed negatively, as non-manufactured and non-reproduced was not taken into account as an object that was worthy of consideration; because she had not found any verification of her existence; because there was no consumer who noticed her existence; because there was no large number of consumers who, molded by her, had verified her existence en masse. In short: she had not been a model, or any kind of mass commodity, she had not been a what, but only an anonymous who. And within the world she inhabited she was right: compared to the status of existence of a “what” in the world of Hollywood, anyone who is only a “who” is a nothing and is not “there”.
Naturally, V. did not say this in so many words. But in her view, these arguments would have been truisms: self-evident facts, which ordinarily do not need to be expressed. And if she accepts as an axiom of economic ontology that “the unmanufactured does not exist”, that is, that “reality is only produced by way of reproduction”, in reality these are self-evident facts. What V. had done was in fact merely to have put these axioms into practice, and she had no reason to be suspicious of them, since in her world they were valid and functioned smoothly.
The fact that I could not allow her exclamation to pass without reply: “What was I until now!”, but instead had to argue with her because she believed that she had attained her “genuine existence” only at the moment when it was expropriated, that is, when she had been robbed of her true self, was certainly not altogether decent, considering how hard she had worked: she who, by the sweat of her brow, had succeeded in becoming a “what” instead of a “who”, while I, who still had to go hither and thither as a mere “who” and was even somewhat satisfied about just being there, must seem to her like a ridiculous troll. And so she made fun of me: “You and your ego!”, she mockingly replied. “Who cares about such things anymore?” And because, with that last expression, she converted demand into the measure of value and into the criterion for existence, she silenced me.
I said that she felt, in the world of images, like a bourgeois in an exclusively feudal world: like “air”, like “nobody”. And really, when I attempted to get used to her new style of behavior: her gestures, her tone of voice, the way she walked, I could only compare it with the conduct of a snob who has achieved and exaggerated her belonging to the nobility. It is not by chance that the Greek term that denotes “noble” is ἐσϑλός, which is derived from the same root as “to exist” and designates he who counts as “existent”, whose degree of existence is superior to that of the others. In this sense, the degree of existence of V. was superior to that of the others, since she was there (she existed) as a manufactured product, as the prospective model for innumerable copies, as a mass-produced commodity, while before, in her shameful prehistory, she existed as an unprocessed raw material and as a one-of-a-kind loser, she only formed part of the obscure background, of the miserable plebs of the consumers.
Naturally, it sounds odd to say that her ascent to the level of a mass-produced commodity is what conferred nobility upon her: mass and nobility are mutually opposed. But if we were to formulate it in this way: “Her ascent to the world of matrices”, in which she transformed herself into a model; or “the ascent to the world of images”; or “the ascent to the world of mass-produced commodities”, it all amounts to the same thing, since only models are transformed into images by means of their massive multiplication.7
Moreover, the superiority of mass products has another origin: a considerable part of today’s commodities are not actually there for us; instead, we are ourselves, as buyers and consumers, those who are there to assure their further production. Thus, if our need to consume (and, as a result, our lifestyle) has been created—or at least marked—so that commodities can be sold, we are only means, and, as such, we are ontologically subject to the ends. But someone like V. who manages to raise herself up from this obscure background to the luminous heights where, instead of living on consumer goods, she is herself taken into consideration as a consumer good, she is only “worthy of consideration” insofar as she forms part of a different way of existence.
This being taken into consideration, this being worthy of consideration, was especially plausible in the case of V., since she, as part of the Motion Picture Industry, had been transformed into something that really had to be seen (=considered).
Since she is taken into consideration only to be seen (=considered), naturally she can no longer have anything to do with a devil like me, who, at the very most, is on rare occasions taken into account as a consumer of phantoms. The connection with something real is, for a phantom, a real mismatch, simply “impossible”, between a commodity and a consumer. In order to find companionship, V. would have to seek to be surrounded by her peers: phantoms; or “she does not have to”, since the circle of phantoms is a world in itself (which everyone can see, but no one can enter), in which she will be accepted automatically. There she will undoubtedly find someone, a “something”, who will also be a “that”; something that, just like her, lives exclusively for the universal “being seen”, something that also had a heart like a maggot, with whom she can be a commodity-heart and a commodity-soul and who would be for her a “considerable match”.
If in these cases it were simply a matter of formal intelligence, V. would not have been entirely incapable of understanding what I was thinking, since she was not without intelligence. But such understanding does not depend only on intellect, but on the status that one adopts. The status of nobility, to which she now belonged, prevented her from understanding something of this kind anymore: if it was beyond her, she would not be able to understand not because it was above her, but, to the contrary, because it was beneath her; that is, because she was too far above me for her to be capable of understanding me. This is why it was so indecent of me to accuse her of malice or to get in an argument with her. It was not she who was doing these things; she only went along with everyone else. And it would have been almost conceited for her to swim against the current and to deny the assumption that everyone in her circle acknowledged as normal and obvious: that to become a commodity represents a promotion and that being enjoyed as a commodity is a proof of existence.
- 1 This expression is derived from the phonograph industry, which displays better than any other the horrifying chaos in which the relation between the “original” and the “copy” is found today. In this industry there is the so-called “mother-matrix”, which is the reproduction of a voice, which, in turn, reproduces a composition. This reproduction of the reproduction, however, as is demonstrated by the expression “mother-matrix” (and therefore, “mother-mother”), actually counts as the “original” compared to the “daughter matrix”, despite the fact that it is a reproduction of a reproduction of a reproduction, it becomes a “master matrix”, that is, the mother of all the records based on it in the mass system and which are put on the market in order to become the matrices of our taste. [Author’s note.]
- 2 The German expression “mit Haut und Haaren” indicates the totality; in our case, in the context of the edible, we have translated it with this expression, “even the hair and the bones”, since the author will again refer literally to this idea in order to point out that this fantasy is incorporeal. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 3 Wo sich die Lüge wahrlügt, ist ausdrückliche Lüge überflussig, in the German text. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
- 4 We do not have to be intimidated by this word, creative: faced with the pretext of the habitual consumption of finished commodities any modest attempt “to do something by oneself” is felt as an act of creation, at least comparable to the art of Michelangelo. [Author’s note.]
- 5 Given the fact that the number of those persons who, like V., allow their differences to be eliminated, is incomparably greater than the small number of matrices that are needed in the motion picture industry, in California there are thousands of phantoms, whom one would never suspect were once other persons in a previous life, or have any idea what they once looked like. Since they never had the good luck to be transformed into matrices, however, and since they will still have the look of phantoms for a while and will always have the illusion that they will be able to perform as illusions, they “provisionally” work as drugstore-girls or as hop-girls, until the day-to-day grind wears them down and causes their old natures to re-emerge from under the glamour of phantoms. [Author’s note.]
- 6 See the first chapter of this volume. [Author’s note.]
- 7 On the other hand, every mass-produced commodity is also a copy, that of its model. And every model, in turn, is a model only for its reproductions; and it is all the better a model, the more numerous are its copies, that is, the more success attends its mass production. [Author’s note.]