In my hibernation late last year, I tore through a copy of Gomorrah that my brother had left behind. It’s a remarkable book.
One of the things I wanted to say/write/announce afterwards was that this text absolutely needs to sit alongside all the talk of The Wire as an attempt to do a ‘cognitive mapping’ of contemporary global (and local) politics.
Roberto Saviano does a savvy (!) job of connecting the crime networks to global politics to changes deep in the economy. All the while maintaining a snappy narrative.
As it turns out, Jameson beat me to it. Punk. In Valences of the Dialectic, he quotes large chunks of Gomorrah in the essay on ideological analysis. Oh well. Good for him. Good for you.
So. Your program, in order of importance: Saviano, then Jameson.
“Distinction in a culture of mass consumption is demonstrated by acquiring a consumer item which has just come onto the market before others acquire the same item; small time differences in the act of consumption exhibit social distinctions just as they demonstrate fine shades of physical prowess in sport. By privileging individual consumer choice the free market insinuates that all relationships, not only those between persons and consumer items, are provisional and revocable. Insofar as individuals designate themselves as members of a group, what counts is the difference of the group as a whole from what it was a year or a month before. The time of childhood too is inserted into the temporality of consumption. Benjamin, commenting in the inter-war years on the accelerated tempo of technology, as exemplified particularly in the rapid changes of fashion, observed that ‘the worlds of memory replace themselves more quickly’ so that ‘a totally different world of memory must be set up even faster against them’. Whereas the traditional and religious upbringing of earlier generations interpreted childhood dream states for them, ‘the present process of childrearing boils down simply to the distraction of children’; for in a world of objects that changed its face drastically in the course of a generation, parents could no longer counsel their children, who were increasingly left to their own devices. Benjamin was prescient; childhood has now become more securely locked into the temporality of consumption. The child now learns his or her trade as a consumer, the purchase of music being a principal activity. Children no longer need to work as auxiliary factory hands; the child’s labour now is to produce the consumption of music while the music industry produces the demand for it. This is, as it were, a new form of music while we work. The child thus receives an education in that most necessary activity, the drawing up of wish lists. In this way the child acquires an early training in the meaning of obsolescence: a fascination with the new which, as Andreas Huyssen has well said, includes the foreknowledge of its obsolescence in its very moment of appearance.”—
Paul Connerton in How Modernity Forgets.
(Just one quote chosen from a very quotable book…)
He’s talking in this section about the temporality of contemporary societies and how this has accelerated — from the temporality of production (in industrial economies) to the temporality of consumption. The temporality of consumption then feeds back into the way we as workers, as producers, come to labour.
This tempo shift really takes off after WWII and was noticed by people like Debord, Adorno and Lefebvre. It becomes pronounced with a shift to the service economy — with its short-term ‘products’ (gym visits, take-away dinners) contrasting with the longer-lasting durables (spoons, garden hoses, washing machines) of an earlier phase.
Time, in the current phase, is focussed on desire and not discipline. Desire must constantly be (re-)generated. Durables are a hard sell in that way. Much easier to get people back for a service. The turnover of capital is much faster in this scenario.
"Under the control of working time," he writes, "people were needed who aspired to the condition of well-oiled machines. Now they are needed to aspire to the condition of omnivorous children. As commodities are produced, desires are entrapped in commodities. To this end, a media system, capable of periodically publicising the ranking of consumable objects, is needed to organise their rapid turnover. Ranking lists of desirable objects proliferate. Only what speaks to purchasers about purchasing tends to be heard or seen or read."
I like the point here about the child bearing reared for consumption via music. I certainly can’t escape this claim. I started very young and have gone hard ever since. Walls of CDs etc.
I would still argue for the value of some music escaping simple logics of art-as-commodity… but I don’t think that invalidates the argument here.
Bill is a left-wing extremist who came up with a money-making scheme. He offers tours of the sites of “the famous May Day riots”, sometimes in English, sometimes in German. Bill is American, so he finds the English tours easier to give. They also attract more people.
He hands out flyers advertising “revolutionary Berlin” and featuring a picture of Berlin’s iconic television tower and a communist red star. The tour even has its own website and Facebook page.