12 avril 2008

reversing the relationship postulated by economic theory

There has been an ongoing conflict between market values and other, more traditional value systems, which has aroused strong passions and antagonisms. As the market mechanism has extended its sway, the fiction that people act on the basis of a given set of nonmarket values has become progressively more difficult to maintain. Advertising, marketing, even packaging, aim at shaping people's preferences rather than, as laissez-faire theory holds, merely responding to them. Unsure of what they stand for, people increasingly rely on money as the criterion of value. What is more expensive is considered better. The value of a work of art can be judged by the price it fetches. People deserve respect and admiration because they are rich. What used to be a medium of exchange has usurped the place of fundamental values, reversing the relationship postulated by economic theory. What used to be professions have turned into businesses. The cult of success has replaced a belief in principles. Society has lost its anchor.

- "The Capitalist Threat" by George Soros

Exchange value could arise only as a representative of use value, but the victory it eventually won with its own weapons created the conditions for its own autonomous power. By mobilizing all human use value and monopolizing its fulfillment, exchange value ultimately succeeded in controlling use. Usefulness has come to be seen purely in terms of exchange value, and is now completely at its mercy. Starting out like a condottiere in the service of use value, exchange value has ended up waging the war for its own sake.


Use value was formerly understood as an implicit aspect of exchange value. Now, however, within the upside-down world of the spectacle, it must be explicitly proclaimed, both because its actual reality has been eroded by the overdeveloped commodity economy and because it serves as a necessary pseudo-justification for a counterfeit life.

The spectacle is the flip side of money. It, too, is an abstract general equivalent of all commodities. But whereas money has dominated society as the representation of universal equivalence — the exchangeability of different goods whose uses remain uncomparable — the spectacle is the modern complement of money: a representation of the commodity world as a whole which serves as a general equivalent for what the entire society can be and can do. The spectacle is money one can only look at, because in it all use has already been exchanged for the totality of abstract representation. The spectacle is not just a servant of pseudo-use, it is already in itself a pseudo-use of life.

- The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord (46, 48-49)

Update: see comments for further material relating to Dziga Vertov, poetry, and my ambivalence about this post.

2 commentaires:

David a dit…


dave a dit…

David, Thanks.

My favorite passage from that article is:

What is the use of the image? One cannot eat it or sleep in it; in the cinema, one cannot even take it home. If it is true that an image has no use-value in the practical, material sense, then it is pure exchange-value. Its use-value is its exchange-value. It circulates commodities through our sensoriums and exchanges itself for us. When we incorporate the image, we ourselves become exchangeable; we have/are social currency. In this respect, the commodity that the image most closely resembles is indeed money, the vanishing mediator, which, from the standpoint of the consumer, is the most general form of pleasure, the general form of social wealth, the means to life; and yet it is not money. One does not spend image; one performs it. As with money, the circulation of the image and its related phenomenological effects, along with the subroutines these imply, are essential for the valorization of capital.

I was conflicted about posting the Soros and Debord here, as my post fails to reach for poetry and instead prefers analysis [This is the appeal of the passage I've quoted above, which at least considers poetry as a possible direction]. However, I recognize that analysis is a necessary base for poetry.

I was also conflicted because this kind of analysis - that is, a critique of capitalist dynamics that offers little in the way of prescription - is essentially the dominant mode of academic communication, a Regime of Truth that (like the dominant Regimes of Truth it purportedly opposes) in fact collaborates with present hegemonies by virtue of its language, its audience, and its self-limitation to the realms of ideology and critique.