[iDC] Immaterial Labor and life beyond utility
john at johnsobol.com
Sun Aug 5 18:04:15 UTC 2007
On 5-Aug-07, at 4:57 AM, trebor at thing.net wrote:
> Back in the iDC archive I found Eric Kluitenberg's comments, which can
> perhaps be a starting point to point forward.
> "... the quest for self-determination and meaningful and memorable
> experiences ultimately will hinge on people's understanding that they
> not merely consuming a product, but that they are actually
> in a meaningful social process not guided by an extrinsic logic
> something that rather has intrinsic, or 'sovereign' value. I don't
> that these two can be fused into one as a business process always
> necessarily relies on an external utilitarian motive beyond the object
> itself (profit, market share, enhancing brand recognition, long-term
> consumer franchise, etc..), while we can learn from Bataille that the
> sovereign (experience) is 'life beyond utility.'"
> I'm not sure if life beyond utility is possible today.
> What's your take?
A few comments:
firstly, I think that Eric's strict binary formulation of authentic vs.
commercial experience is misguided. I can think of innumerable examples
of meaningful experiences that combine both, as I am sure any reader of
this post can as well. (Examples from this morning: using my iMac/ISP
to connect to the Internet, buying bagels at the local bakery, reading
the newspaper.) It's a theoretical divide of use for theoretical
discussions but little else.
Secondly, why have you, Trebor, along with Kluitenberg and Bataille,
idealized "life beyond utility"? This is not a universally held ideal.
As with the notion of "Art for art's sake", the condemnation of utility
arises out of a specific technological approach. In a previous
discussion on this list I argued that the notion of aesthetic 'taste',
which also devalues artistic utility (i.e. art is nobler than mere
design), was a consequence of literacy, which idealizes private
creativity and prizes abstract thought. In oral cultures, on the other
hand, all creativity is dialogical and dialogue is inherently public,
contextual and constructive - and therefore always utilitarian. Eric's
highly judgemental binary argument is similar to other oral-literate
binaries, such as the valuing of reproduction over improvisation,
booklearning over apprenticeship, big-pharma over indigenous herbology,
etc. I'm not saying Eric is intentionally aligning himself with
big-pharma, and I understand that Bataille's antagonism towards utility
is a response to regimented industrialism, but the taxonomy and
categories of creative effort being used here are based on a paradigm
rooted in a particular set of values, and those values are tied to a
specific technology whose historic social hegemony is currently being
subverted. And that means that the old critical frameworks and values
don't apply, or shouldn't, when trying to understand this new paradigm.
That very enjoyable post by Matt Waxman about his experiences at the
Italian mercato hinted at these same issues, and (unintentionally, no
doubt) supports my contention that what is most useful in the digital
sphere, as in the oral sphere, is public dialogical communication. That
in fact such public communion is the end purpose of the shopping
experience, and that without it, the commercial transaction would
become meaningless to those with oral values, rather than the other way
around. In other words, you can take the transaction out of the talk,
and you still have the talk, but take the talk out of the transaction,
and you have nothing. And while this may sound as if it supports Eric's
argument, in fact it undermines it, because while he can see and value
talk without transaction (life beyond utility), he does not see or
value talk and transaction. For Eric, the transaction can exist without
talk, and of course he is right, it can. Economic monology is a
socio-economic imperative to which we adhere (willingly, comfortably,
as Matt pointed out) more often than not in the mechanically-reproduced
silo economies of our hyper-literate western world. But for an oralist,
or, I believe, increasingly for digitalists, there simply cannot be a
transaction without dialogue, without a relationship. As the saying
goes, it just won't compute.
Dialogue is the participatory social process that supersedes all others
in value in both the oral and digital spheres. And this is why the
imposition of Marxist critiques - rooted as they are in a penetrating
critique of profoundly monological industrial economies - are unable to
illuminate the deeper meanings and matrices of Web 2.0 phenomena.
I agree that there is much to discuss concerning how the technological
and corporate enablers of this new dialogical culture will, might or
must evolve, but I also think that in order to find useful answers, we
need to abandon some of our old critical tools as brutally and cleanly
as the printers, photographers, writers and other creative actors of
the world have abandoned the historic literate tools of their trades in
bluesology • printopolis • digitopia
-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: not available
Size: 5147 bytes
Desc: not available
Url : http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/attachments/20070805/d89de5b9/attachment.bin
More information about the iDC