Thursday, October 9, 2008

Consumer Subjects Deconstructed

In the book, Hypersurface Architecture II, edited by Stephen Perella, the author relates a parable for the new age. A father, intrigued by his small daughter's sleeptime blather, bends down to hear the refrain she utters out of her unconcious. Was it something mystical, some mantra keeping its secrets? No. The "mantra" she repeats is "Toyota Cressida. Toyota Cressida."

To me this is our very dreams being appropriated by consumer culture. Our identities are interwoven with our spending habits.

Perella writes of the "deconstruction of the capitalist subject through the very modes of production and technologies that proliferate due to the instrumentalism inherent in consumer economics."He uses this parlance in an architectural context, now that the philosophy of Deconstruction (Post-Structuralism) is united with architectural theory. Perella sees capitalism as the engine that is changing our conception of reality. He says "the reality of a Disney phantasm and the unreality of the O.J. Simpson trial" makes it hard to know reality. The technologies that proliferate in consumer economics (see above) are the images from a paripatetic media which reaches into every part of our lives in the developed world - indeed, into our dreams.

It goes farther than that, much farther. Perella holds that consumer capitalism is changing more than subjects; it is swaying our constructs of space (time too, but I'll leave that to later). Consider this passage from his email to Brian Massuni of September 2007:

In mathematics, a hypersurface is a surface in hyperspace, but in the context of
this journal the mathematical term is existentialised. Hyperspace is four +
dimensional space, but here hypersurfaces are rethought to render a more complex
notion of space-time-information. This reprogramming is motivated by cultural
forces that have the effect of superposing existential sensibilities onto
mathematical and material conditions, especially the recent topological
explorations of architectural form. The proper mathematical meaning of the term
hypersurface is discussed here as being challenged by an inherently subversive
dynamic within capitalism. While in mathematics, hypersurfaces exist in
'higher', or hyperdimensions, the abstractness of these mathematical dimensions
is shifting, defecting or devolving into our lived cultural context. Situated in
this newly prepared context, hypersurface comes to define a new condition of
human agency, of post-humanism: one that results from the internal machinations
of consumer culture, thereby transforming prior conditions of an assumed
stability. Instead of meaning higher in an abstract sense, 'Hyper' means
altered. In both contexts, ideal abstraction and the life-world, operation is in
relation to normal three-space (x, y, z). In mathematics there are direct,
logical progressions from higher to lower dimensions. In an existential context,
hyper might be understood as arising from a lived-world conflict as it mutates
the normative dimensions of three-space, into the dominant construct that
organises culture. In abstract mathspace we have 'dimensional'constructs, in
cultural terms we have 'existential' configurations; but the dominance of the
mathematical model is becoming contaminated because the abstract realm can no
longer be maintained in isolation. The defection of the meaning of hypersurface,
as it shifts to a more cultural/existential sense, entails a reworking of
mathematics. (This is similar to what motivates Deleuze to reread Leibniz.) This
defection is a deconstruction of a symbolic realm into a lived one; not through
any casual means: it arises and is symptomatic of the failure of our operative
systemics to negotiate the demands placed upon it. If one could describe an
event whereby cultural activities could act upon abstractions so as to commute
the normative, etymological context into a context of lived dynamics, what
activity has that capability? The term hypersurface is not simply attributed new
meaning, but instead results from a catastrophic defection from a realm of
linguistic ideality (mathematics). If ideals, as they are held in a linguistic
realm, can no longer support or sustain their purity and disassociation, then
such terms and meanings begin, in effect, to 'fall from the sky'. This is to
describe the deterritorialisation of idealisation into a more material real. In
the new sense for hypersurface, 'hyper' is not in binary relation to surface, it
is a new reading that describes a complex condition within architectural
surfaces in our contemporary life-world.

When we are seeing infomercials exalting the age-reversing properties of coral calcium and James Van Praagh, Ghost Whisperer for our time, contacting Marilyn Monroe at Forest Lawn, we can see what Perella means. Lived conditions, these existential sensibilities, altering our perceptions.

Let's get back to the deconstructed, deterritorialized consumer subject. When political analysts are scrutinizing Al Gore's snicker at George Bush in the 2000 presidential debates and Sarah Palin's folksisms ("you Betcha"), we are seeing people deconstructed by their attributes. When reality TV assembles contestants to evaluate them on performance, motivations, teamsmanship, personality, we are seeing people indiscriminately broken into components and judgements heaved upon them. The ideal image of the contestant is cooperative, hard-working, tireless, and holding celebrity status. It is not based on reality but on promotional image. When a writer's blog features a workshop on the power of personal branding, you know for sure we are being deconstructed. I never thought of myself as a brand; I am a person.

When we in the industrial world are evaluated for our celebrity, for our status, for our selling power, we are somehow not ourselves any more. We are deconstructed and deterritorialized images of ourselves, like our bodies (evaluated for sex appeal) up on some LED board in Las Vegas hustling for Benetton. I believe fleeing capital due to the unjust paractices of mishandled Globalization creates a crunched market and necessitates hyper competition. So, we disgard weakness in favor of uber selfhood. We see image and not the reality of starvation, AIDS, and poverty in our own post-industrial landscapes. We cannot see how we are being lost in a sea of signs, a mediatized culture consuming the consumer.

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1 comment:

Art said...

Hey Stuart,

Too true. And once corporations fully incorporate nueroscience into their advertising and marketing operations, we may not have even a fighting chance.

There will be no way to defend ourselves. As you point out, our own minds will work against us.