I have been writing a lot about Baudrillard lately (in my dissertation, that is) and felt the need to just reiterate one more time that he actually said some pretty important things. It seems as though Baudrillard has two simulated public personae: first, the hero of cultural studies and PoMo hipsters, who still think it is the shit to experiment with the idea of reality in order to appear smart (acting as thought the ultimate horizon of Baudrillard’s work was to make people go “woooh, that is sooo trippy!”), and second, the so-called enemy of traditional Marxists, since he attacked the idea of false needs that lies at the heart of traditional Marxist definitions of alienation and ideology, which, when considered from a rigorous theoretical angle is nothing more than the knee-jerk reaction of orthodox Marxism opposed to rethinking its own system (which is what Marxism is supposed to be famous for), which is precisely why orthodox Marxism has such problems describing the present situation accurately (luckily, there are many very smart non-orthodox Marxists out there who do amazing work–not Laclau and Mouffe, however!).
In order to do some reconstructive surgery on Baudrillard’s public persona I would just like to share with you his theory of contemporary alienation, which, I think, can be extended in very interesting ways in relation to descriptions of “affective labor.”
“Free to be oneself” in fact means: free to project one’s desires onto produced goods. “Free to enjoy life” means: free to regress and to be irrational, and thus adapt to a certain social organization and production. (…) The goal is to allow the drives that were previously blocked by mental determinants (instances) (taboo, superego, guilt) to crystallize onto objects, concrete determinants where the explosive force of desire is annulled and the ritual repressive function of social organization is materialized. The freedom of existence that pits the individual against society is dangerous. But the freedom to possess is harmless, since it enters the game without knowing it. (…) The ideology of personal fulfillment, the triumphant illogicality of drives cleansed of guilt (deculpabilisees), is nothing more than a tremendous endeavour to materialize the superego. It is a censor, first of all, that is “personalized” in the object. (…) This could possibly be a definition of the specific form of contemporary alienation: in the process of consumption internal conflicts or “deep drives” are mobilized and alienated in the same way as labor power is in the process of production.”
First: I did it again. I changed the font and have no idea how to reverse it. Second: I believe this to be a definition of alienation that has dramatic implications when discussing productive processes within an immaterial economy based upon information exchange, forcefully challenging Jameson’s assertion that theories of alienation do not apply to the postmodern condition. Two literary works I just wrote about that in different ways illustrate the force of Baudrillard’s argument are Ellis’ American Psycho and, how else could it be, Pattern Recognition. More on that, however, at a later point. I have to keep this short again today, as I have lots of writing left to do, but I promise to also post something in the future on the significance of this definition of alienation in times of immaterial labor.