Ktismatics

6 March 2007

The Surplus Value of Desire

Filed under: Culture, Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 3:20 pm

For Hegel there’s the master, the bondsman, and the thing — the object of desire that passes back and forth between master and bondsman, promising plenitude of being on its owner but always slipping out of reach, the promise remaining unfulfilled, the self always dependent on the other for autonomy. In Lacan the object is the phallus, passing back and forth between child, mother, and father yet never really existing anywhere: a thing defined by its absence. In Girard the object of desire is identified not in itself but in the desire of the other. I don’t desire anything in particular; I desire what the other desires. The other desires something because it bestows plenitude of being, so I should desire it too. Mimetic desire turns into mimetic rivalry.

It seems like the obvious place to go next is the marketplace. The idea is this: what I desire is defined by the other’s desire; the other’s desire is defined by mine. An escalation of desire lands on some object, imbuing it with value that exceeds its use, or even its exchange value. It doesn’t just meet needs; it is a carrier of desire. The excess of desire over use and exchange value, the excess of demand value over supply value, defines the surplus value of a commodity. This surplus value can be equated with its value as an object of mimetic desire, bestowed upon it by mutual imitation and envy and rivalry for securing whatever bestows fulness of being on its possessor.

The problem is that the object of desire never fulfills its promise: it never bestows plenitude on whoever controls it. When you obtain it you experience a sudden thrill: I’m becoming whole at last. But once the moment of acquisition passes, the self recedes back into its former incomplete status. Somehow the promise has slipped away; the object seems to have lost its ability to fulfill desire. Exposed again as incomplete, the person starts looking around again. Desire has slipped off the acquired object and transported itself elsewhere, landing on some other object that is now the focus of mimetic desire. Now the effort to fulfill desire shifts to this new object. Every time desire lands on something new, surplus market value accrues to that object. And the demand for personal fulfillment, rather than being satisfied by acquiring the object, merely increases through the frustration and failure. An ever-increasing intensification of desire ensues, rippling across the marketplace, increasing the overall value of commodities distributed across the marketplace.

Value in this sort of calculation isn’t defined by labor or capital but by the sign value of objects as carriers of personal plenitude, as carriers of desire that is really a lack in every self, a lack that pulls to itself an ever-increasing stream of money. This is why economies can continue to grow even after everyone’s needs are met. The desire for autonomy of being is never fulfilled, and every failed effort to acquire it just jacks up the price of trying again next time. The object of desire is a desire for the desire of the other, which stimulates price competition. And the object is the presence of absence, which means it can continue to suck money into itself without end. And the object is not tangible: it’s a non-object, something that attaches itself like holiness or sin to one thing after another, only to slip away as soon as it’s in your grasp. The futility of pursuing an unfulfillable desire fuels the engine that drives the continual expansion of the economy.

Whose elaboration on Hegel’s master-bondsman discourse is this? Marx coined the term “commodity fetishism,” but he didn’t mean what we’re talking about here. Bataille talks about excess value, but he’s interested more in extravagant expenditure as fulfillment than in the continual pursuit of desire. Debord identifies the commodity as spectacle, but his is a discourse about appearances.

Deleuze and Guattari? From the moment that we place desire on the side of acquisition, we make desire an idealistic (dialectical, nihilistic) conception, which causes us to look on it primarily as a lack; a lack of an object, a lack of a real object (Anti-Oedipus, 1972). That’s the trajectory we’re interested in: desire as lack, as incurable insufficiency of being, as an inability-to-be that is life itself. Deleuze and Guattari explore this idea in the context of psychoanalytic theory, where the “fantasized object” becomes for Lacan the phallus, the object defined by its absence. Desire does not lack anything; it does not lack its object. It is, rather, the subject that is missing in desire.

Then there’s Baudrillard in his post-Marxist, pre-simulacrum phase. I don’t have these earlier books, but I think he elaborates the idea of tying a commodity’s value to its being the repository of imitative desire among consumers. Baudrillard deals more in sign values, like a linguist, rather than in desire and master-bondsman, like Hegel. So maybe it is Deleuze and Guattari, though they seem stuck in Freud and Lacan. Perhaps it’s an idea that never originated anywhere in particular; it’s always imitated but there never was an originator. So Baudrillard wins again with his simulacrum and hyperreality paradigms.

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28 Comments »

  1. John,
    This is a great series of posts. I’m rally enjoying. I didn’t see it going here, but I like it a lot where you’ve taken it. This is all so fascinating to me. Your last paragraph, where your trying to sort through it all…I don’t think I can really help. It aall seems very connected to me, for one. For two, man, I have a lot to learn about all these theorists of late. Lazer,
    Jason

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 7 March 2007 @ 9:26 am

  2. It is a fascinating idea and one that has been inadequately explored (except perhaps by Freud but in a different sense?). Maslow’s hierarchy tho logical doesn’t quite do justice to the complexity of personality. The thought of impossible fulfilment and sense of lacking also resonates with Genesis where God senses-declares the lack in Adam…

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    Comment by samlcarr — 7 March 2007 @ 9:55 am

  3. Thanks, Jason — I wasn’t sure where it was going either, or where it goes from here.

    Sam — The link to Genesis and the Creation is apt. God creates man in his image and likeness. Man starts emulating God, naming the various creatures that God shows him. Then what? Man wants to be even more like God: mimetic desire, according to Girard. The serpent promotes the idea of rivalry with God, suggesting that God might even become jealous of man. And what is God keeping from man? That obscure object of desire, that thing that gives God his self-sufficiency. Eat of the tree and you will be godlike, says the Serpent — even though man was made godlike. Instead of focusing on his autonomy, man focuses on his lack. He eats of the tree and what happens? He becomes even more aware of his lack. To eat of the tree isn’t to fulfill one’s desire: it’s to become even more aware of one’s hollowness and vulnerability and nakedness. The fruit of the tree is what we still always seek in the marketplace of plenitude, paying top dollar for something that slips away from us as soon as it’s in our grasp.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 March 2007 @ 11:57 am

  4. John, I’d really like to see you develop this theme, which is revolutionary & yet so basic that I am kicking myself for never having thought of it! P’raps at OST?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 7 March 2007 @ 5:42 pm

  5. And speaking of desire’s demand for excess of what might meet our needs, inevitably leaving us hanging…if 8 is the ideal number, the joining of the two worlds, the 1 after 7…then…what is 8 1/2? Ha ha! I guess for it to have presence in and of itself it has to be a bit of a circus…with lots of things going in circles, dogs chasing their tails and things of the sort.

    :)

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 7 March 2007 @ 6:07 pm

  6. I think Fellini’s angst manifested itself in a different way: maybe it’s Italian versus French and German. But the idea of 1/2 does imply a certain incompleteness, and 8 1/2 is definitely about incompleteness.

    As for the Genesis theme of mimetic desire/rivalry between God and man, the next question has to be: does God too experience the hollowness? Did God tell Adam that he would surely die when he ate from the tree because God had already experienced it? God says at the end of Gen 3 that man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil… are the gods too aware of their mortality? Might be a weird discussion for OST, don’t you think Sam?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 March 2007 @ 7:49 pm

  7. i’m going to give it a try soon as i can get my brain to work properly!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 8 March 2007 @ 10:42 am

  8. Fellini’s angst manifested itself in a different way…but a very similar angst, no? And…is it incompleteness or overcompleteness. “My cup overfloweth”, lol.

    As for the mortality of God – srrikes me a chain locked to appearances. Related to our McLuhan/Baudrillard discussion. Another interpretation/angle on “knowing good and evil” might be very related to your Hegel stuff. God as the only one who knows Himself – “perfectly” – and so the only One who knows (really) you and I, only One capable of judgement.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 8 March 2007 @ 7:13 pm

  9. It’s true: in 8 1/2 you get a sense that the director, played by Marcello Mastroianni, should have settled for 8. Overflowing the fountains, overloading the circuits, the big metal scaffold into outer space just seems pointless somehow — time for a parade.

    Why is knowing good and evil is so closely tied with death or awareness of immortality? I still don’t have a clear bead on that one. So if man understands good and evil but is incomplete and therefore incapable of rendering impartial judgment… that links him to Hegel’s ultimate Master, who is death? Or are we the mirror image of God — he who has seen me has seen the Father, who is also death? Nietzsche calls Christianity a slave morality, and he’s right: if God really does know himself, if God really is complete in and of himself without depending on his followers to validate him through their worship, then he really is the ultimate Master who swallows death in life.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 8 March 2007 @ 8:02 pm

  10. UUhhh…lol…I think that’s where that whole doctrine (unchanging truth) “God is good” thing comes in! That He created the cosmos out of an overflow of his abundant goodness and love. I mean…when I said God knows Himself “perfectly”, it implies that He IS perfect…as in, like, that’s just the way it is.

    This is the REAL problem with “subjectivity”. I mean, knowledge of self and world that depends on the subject is what is considered “subjective”. “Objective” then though depends on speculation. But there’s still someone speculating. Shoot. “Impartial” judgement is different from “objective” judgement, no? But our specualtion is “part” of who we ARE. I’m just saying that a philosophical stance on subjectivity and realism/objecivism isn’t the crux of the issue. Its sin…

    So…in a sense obviously we are slaves to God. Paul said as much on occasion. Its what I take to be one of the primary distinguishing features between Judeo-Christian morality (not separate from cosmology) and a non-Judeo-Christian moraity (not separate from cosmology). But it is a choice of the will: freely choose to be a slave to God or fight for mastery in the world of men.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 9 March 2007 @ 12:55 am

  11. Also…on this post in general…my prof. once said – well, a number of time – that he has no idea how our world holds together, that it makes no damn sense whatsoever.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 9 March 2007 @ 7:37 am

  12. This post is about the buying and selling of souls. In the first scene of David Lynch’s Inland Empire a strange Polish neighbor comes to visit the wealthy actress at her mansion. Neighbor tells actress a story: A little girl went out to play, lost in the marketplace as if half-born…. You go into the marketplace to buy or sell your self, to make yourself whole as master or servant, but you are diminished thereby and lost. In the marketplace is a tree — call it the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It’s seductive, sooo good to eat and sooo good for you. Maybe this is the knowledge of the marketplace, the economy of buying a soul at the cost of a soul, a marketplace teeming with the half-born living dead…

    Christianity resolves the master-slave dialectic resolutely in favor of slavery, where you become a complete subject by subjecting yourself to the one who was made a little lower and crowned with glory and honor. Nietzsche tries to resolve the dialectic in favor of mastery, the Greco-Roman virtuous man, the ubermensch. He rejected tragedy as the inevitable end of such a project. What seemed to take the heart out of him was the Eternal Return, that there can never be anything new under the sun.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 March 2007 @ 8:18 am

  13. Rejecting tragedy is the special privelidge given by modernity. Eternal return…the wind goes in circles.

    And now I have to see Inland Empire, fer sure!

    And I should have shown you this earlier:

    “Grace for Tantalus

    Love is lingering along a long-lost path
    Strung far-our along a God-lit road
    To my house it’s found itself in me
    I thank it for staying and to her I say
    Hello I love you
    Hello I love you

    Grazing and growing like grass in a field
    My soul is swaying like a breeze in the trees
    I stand and stare at the sun it’s shining
    Blazing tall to tips of grass the blades
    Hello I love you
    Hello I love you

    Light is listening to her heart and longs
    Waiting and washing the sounds drip away
    Shaking such weight to her feet she says
    Like light silently I tend to telling spread
    Hello I love you
    Hello I love you

    Fount of springing raining down-side up
    Sprouting far out from a God-lit vessel
    Exodus of thirsty the thirst drunk not dry
    I thank her silence to God I then say
    Hello I love you
    Hello I love you

    Welcome to my table where freely given’s euphoric
    Where your home’s a-risen from dark’s darkest
    To the golden giving of lightest of lifted
    Up here may you sit and feeding you sing
    Because, hello I love you
    Hello I love you

    Fruit from my vine freely may you pluck
    Water depths from my well in you will you see
    In your home you’re welcomed already I am
    Stand and drink from my full pond eternity
    Where, Hello I love you
    Hello I love you”

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 9 March 2007 @ 6:14 pm

  14. Tantalus for whom the fulfillment of desire was always just out of reach — looking in the wrong places perhaps? As David Lynch said in response to some film critic’s question at the NY Film Festival, The words coming out of your mouth are beautiful.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 9 March 2007 @ 9:51 pm

  15. Well, Mt. Olympus seems like a half-decent place to start looking. Better than flattened surfaces.

    And thank you, sir :)

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 10 March 2007 @ 6:46 am

  16. K,

    Just revisiting some old posts on desire.

    Good stuff.

    K: It seems like the obvious place to go next is the marketplace. The idea is this: what I desire is defined by the other’s desire; the other’s desire is defined by mine. An escalation of desire lands on some object, imbuing it with value that exceeds its use, or even its exchange value.

    For Girard, the stock market is the most obvious example of his mimetic desire at work. Stocks are valued in the exchange based purely upon their demand: high demand = high stock price. So, the incentive is to desire the stocks that others desire. It is a blatant example of mimetic desire at work…..a stock can be valued high regardless of its “true” value to the shareholder.

    The market can get carried away with this, and the object (the “true value” of the stock) disappears. Is this scenario something of a hyperreality? When the buying and selling on Wall Street detaches itself completely from the “reality” of the value of the stocks and begins to operate on pure mimetic desire?…..somehow this usually comes crashing down. Reality usually catches up, no?

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    Comment by Erdman — 23 November 2008 @ 9:15 pm

  17. I wonder if you might humor me in speculating on what might happen if we focused all of our mimetic (or other) desires into the hyperreality. In days gone by, mimetic desire might manifest itself in plots of land or desires for women. Girard says that ancient laws and also sacrificial rituals (involving the scapegoat) were put in place to control mimetic desire, that is, to keep it from becoming violent, mimetic crisis. But this is all predicated on mimetic desire attaching itself to reality…..I’m wondering, what happens if our mimetic desires come to fruition in hyperreality. What if it is no longer someone else’s wife we want? What if it is the porn star? Or the actress who leaks the sex video?

    If mimetic desires no longer attach to reality (i.e., a specific person) and go the route of hyperreality, then is it possible that the violence resulting from mimetic desire can be curbed? Hyperreality promises endless desire and desire fulfillment. It’s almost as if there were no such thing as coveting anymore. In the past, one had to allow a desire to fester for a while–that’s the covetousness: you want what you can’t have. But in hyperreality, you can have whatever you want, whenever you want it.

    It is almost as though there is a sense in which we can then bypass the need to desire the desires of the other (real) and simply desire the desires of those in hyperreality. But in hyperreality, there is no need for mimetic crisis–we can just have what we want as soon as the desire is birthed.

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    Comment by Erdman — 23 November 2008 @ 9:23 pm

  18. I’m sure there’s a mimetic process at work in driving market prices up and down. One might expect that mimetic desire would just keep escalating continually, that prices would go up up up. This is exactly what the mavens have been saying for a long time: the stock market will always go up long-term, house prices will always go up, oil prices, etc. Stock market values are predicated more on investors’ expectations of companies’ future growth prospects than on past results.

    For the whole economy to grow it means that consumers have to want more: not just replacing what they use up but actually increasing the total amount of stuff they have, year after year. What’s the motivation for people continually wanting more forever? Is it that the crap available to be bought always adds incrementally more pleasure to life? This is the official rationale of the economy. Is it that everyone always experiences lack, a void that can never be filled but that people keep trying in vain to fill by endless cycles of desire, buying, and disappointment? This is Lacanian theory, and also Girardian.

    What I think distinguishes Girard is the scapegoat as circuit-breaker, putting at least a temporary stop to overheated desire throughout the society? Is it possible to interpret the current crash in terms of scapegoat theory? Are there identifiable sides competing with one another for access to the desired thing? Not really: desire and competition permeate the system; everyone desires what everyone wants; everyone competes with everyone. But it’s all so diffuse and abstract that one never identifies anyone in particular as the ideal or the rival. If Girard is right, then there should be a buildup of hostility with no clear target to direct it at. I think that’s part of the motivation for identifying an enemy outside the gates: the Red menace, terrorism, etc. — just like 1984 said. But the Iraq and Afghanistan misadventures seemed to generate even more hostility in American society rather than defusing it. One could propose that the timing of the financial meltdown, building slowly over months and even years but finally coming to a head just before the presidential elections, represented a massive shift of pent-up violence toward the Bush administration and the Republican party. What the war was unable to do, the financial crisis accomplished: bringing down the reigning party.

    This idea of the political leader as scapegoat is integral to Girard’s interpretation of sovereignty — also Bataille’s. The ruler is in charge of the people but he’s also the people’s representative, proxy, stand-in. But he’s also different from everyone else, set apart, outside the society. Bush was insistent on positioning himself outside and above the society by emphasizing his executive privilege and authority to go outside the bounds of the constitution and international law. In doing so he becomes godlike, or perhaps demonic, in his otherness. This is the position of the sacrificial victim or scapegoat: both exalted and damned, representative of the people but also other than the people, target of pent-up hostility but also savior. So maybe the market tanked just at the right moment to assure Bush’s demise as scapegoat, and McCain’s as well.

    Do I really believe this sort of analysis, where the collective unconscious of the American and world economy converges on a scapegoat event? I’m not sure; I hadn’t really given it any thought until you got me thinking about it, Erdman. What do you think?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 24 November 2008 @ 8:02 pm

  19. “But in hyperreality, you can have whatever you want, whenever you want it.”

    This is an interesting idea, Erdman. Mimetic crisis is predicated on scarcity of that which is desired. In a mimetic reality, scarcity actually exacerbates desire: only those whom we most admire and seek to emulate are able to get access to the scarce resource. In our culture achievement of scarce resources is attainable by beauty, talent, power, and money, but the greatest of these is money. As you point out, Erdman, technology has to a large extent eliminated scarcity for many kinds of goods and services. The original thing isn’t as important when simulacra can be produced and distributed at very little cost.

    Producers erect artificial barriers to widespread access — intellectual property laws, restricted downloading access, purposely restricted signal strength and bandwidth, etc. Mimetic desire is intentionally stimulated through advertising by those who artificially maintain scarcity by erecting barriers to access. If these barriers were removed and access really became universal and virtually free, would the mimetic aspect of desire fade, or would it always shift to other objects that continue to be scarce? Is free love less desirable than love available only through contractual commitments? Do we like movies and music only because we have to pay for them? I personally think not. What think you, Erdman?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 25 November 2008 @ 4:06 am

  20. K: Mimetic desire is intentionally stimulated through advertising by those who artificially maintain scarcity by erecting barriers to access. If these barriers were removed and access really became universal and virtually free, would the mimetic aspect of desire fade, or would it always shift to other objects that continue to be scarce? Is free love less desirable than love available only through contractual commitments? Do we like movies and music only because we have to pay for them? I personally think not. What think you, Erdman?

    I actually tend to think in a non-structuralist manner about this. In other words, let’s not think about the issue in terms of how “human nature” might react to certain things (like scarcity or excess). Let’s not think in terms of how human beings are “structured” or “wired” or whatever. Let’s suggest that how we respond has to do with what kind of an orientation we have toward the world. Let me explain.

    So, as you point out, corporate advertising has a vested interest in facilitating mimetic desire and/or producing a sense of lack/emptiness that increases desire for what one doesn’t have. As you say, corporate marketing wants to set up artificial barriers that we can only cross if we pay for it. But in order to keep this machine running, we must always have desires that exceed our economic means. As such, we are continually producing–working harder and harder for “shit we don’t need (Fight Club).

    My point in my recent post was to suggest that the church participates in this same economy of lack. I was rather vague, let me suggest a more concrete example from traditional Protestantism: you will always lack b/c you are a depraved sinner, so keep up your faith (don’t doubt!), work hard to “serve the Lord” on earth, and this way you will store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. It is the same type of economy of lack, in my opinion, because it keeps people forever feeling as though they are insufficient in and of themselves and dependent upon producing “spiritual fruit” for the institution. Mimetic desire comes into play, b/c we always compare ourselves to other “good” Christians and desire the spiritual life and the spiritual treasures that they have. As such, we begin to compete for what others desire: a good prayer life, the right doctrine, a successful ministry, energizing worship service experiences, bringing converts into the fold, giving money, or being a part of programs that do good deeds for the less fortunate.

    Okay…moving along…

    What if this is not, in fact, the way we were structured? What if this economy of lack is primarily imposed on us by those who have power interests? What if the economy of lack (and the mimetic desire that feeds it) is necessary for maintaining the institutions (e.g., the church, corporate American, etc.)?

    This, incidentally, seems to me to be the point at which I can’t tell if Lacan is a structuralist or a post-structuralist. For example, is “desire” something that is inherent (part of our “nature” or “structure”)? Or is it something imposed on us by the powers that be (the symbolic other)?

    The real question for me is this: Is this economy of desire something that we can simply choose not to participate in? If so, what are the ramifications? As I have suggested elsewhere, I don’t think it is “wrong” to participate in mimetic desire. Maybe it isn’t even ever completely possible. But it does seem possible to step out of the economy of desire simply by perceiving one’s self as not needing to participate in it. In other words, I think of this as realizing that there is no Wizard of Oz, after all, but only an old man behind a curtain. Once this realization sinks in–once we realize that all that glitters is not gold–then it actually seems easy to begin to psychologically/spiritually reconstruct ourselves. This, I think, may be Paul’s main point in Romans: “reckon” yourselves dead to sin. In other words, start with a new perception of yourself–not as someone who needs to participate in the old law-flesh death cyle of desire.

    This is what I mean by a new orientation.

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    Comment by Erdman — 28 November 2008 @ 12:10 pm

  21. I think that a theory like Girard’s is only as good as the scope of its explanatory power. In other words, what effect does the scapegoat interpretation have on how we perceive our world in the past, present, and future?

    I think mimetic desire is a good explanation….but at this point, I lump mimetic desire in with other elements of what it means to live “under law”…in other words, mimetic desire is a part of living one’s life according to a struggle between law and flesh, as opposed to re-orienting one’s self into a more free-er way of being.

    But I do tend to think that your above explanation (in a Girardian/mimetic way) of the current political scene has a lot to commend itself.

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    Comment by Erdman — 28 November 2008 @ 12:14 pm

  22. As a side note….I assume that most religious folk would defend themselves against my above “economy of desire/lack” accusation by suggesting that this is merely a “positive” or “creative” form of mimetic desire, since it is ultimately for the glory of God and the good of human kind. This is probably where Daniel (from my blog) would come from.

    As you can guess….I’m not so convinced.

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    Comment by Erdman — 28 November 2008 @ 12:16 pm

  23. “My point in my recent post was to suggest that the church participates in this same economy of lack.”

    I agree. One might say that the church is built on an economy of lack. People aren’t complete in themselves: they lack something at the core of their being, and that lack is completed by Jesus. There’s also mimesis at the heart of the religion: desire what Jesus desires, desire to be like Jesus, desire to become Jesus. It’s been argued that the capitalist economy learned its organizing scheme from Christianity. For Max Weber the “spirit of capitalism” is built on the Calvinist angst of never knowing whether your own personal transformation truly demonstrates that you’ve been saved and regenerated, so there’s the consistent pressure to keep doing, keep saving — so this motivation fires up the supply and production side of the economy. Weber didn’t talk about the angst of always being incomplete, which motivates the demand-consumption side, but that’s what completes the circuit. The workers who never feel like they’re doing enough are THE SAME PEOPLE as those who never feel complete in themselves.

    “What if this economy of lack is primarily imposed on us by those who have power interests? What if the economy of lack (and the mimetic desire that feeds it) is necessary for maintaining the institutions (e.g., the church, corporate American, etc.)?”

    Very possible, Erdman, and an excellent point. The Garden of Eden story exemplifies mimetic desire:Eve wants what God wants, Eve wants to be like God, Eve wants to be a god. But God wields power over the Garden and imposes an artificial condition of scarcity on the forbidden fruit, making it all the more desirable. Power itself operates in an economy of scarcity: if only some people have it, then everybody else wants it all the more. I read an article by Zizek (I’ll see if I can find it and link to it), where he equates what Marx called the fetish value of commodities — their intangible mimetic value beyond their use value — with the profit margin. And for the capitalist economy to keep running smoothly this fetish-profit has to end up in the possession of the capitalist elite, who occupy the position of gods in the economy, holding the scarce resources of money and power which make them desirable and which makes everyone else want to buy what they’re selling.

    Here’s the link to Zizek’s essay. It’s written as a review of Hardt & Negri’s book, but it stands alone. Zizek writes in his usual oblique style that makes his argument hard to pin down. As I read the essay Zizek is defending capitalism, contending that without fetish profits and a capitalist class worth desiring then society sinks into inertia.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 29 November 2008 @ 9:04 am

  24. Certainly throughout history the religious big shots have wielded power and gotten rich by virtue of their exalted status, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise if the evangelical superstars derive similar benefits. But we move on…

    “But it does seem possible to step out of the economy of desire simply by perceiving one’s self as not needing to participate in it.”

    I would agree with this assertion, Erdman, but for a few obstacles. One, because the mimetic economy is so all-pervasive it’s hard to secure a place to stand that’s beyond its influence. We’ve grown up in a world of mimesis, our psyches have been shaped by it, so it’s difficult to transcend ourselves and see things for what they are. Surely you agree with this position, Erdman, in light of your sympathetic readings of Gadamer and Heidegger. So the escape is from the system is also an ongoing struggle against self-deception.

    Two, I think it’s easier to escape the mimetic economy as a consumer than as a producer. As a consumer you can act as an individual. But to live you have to make money somehow, and that depends on selling your services to customers. Is it possible to do it in a way that doesn’t rely on feeding the customers’ mimetic desire? You might find a handful of buyers who aren’t persuaded that they want what everyone else wants, but can you accumulate enough of them to make a living? You can, of course, go along with the system as a producer: do work you don’t value but that pleases the customer, whore yourself. But now you’re part of the problem, aren’t you, by positioning yourself as a cog in the desiring-machinery? And you’ve also alienated yourself from your own work, just as Marx said.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 29 November 2008 @ 12:13 pm

  25. K: You might find a handful of buyers who aren’t persuaded that they want what everyone else wants, but can you accumulate enough of them to make a living? You can, of course, go along with the system as a producer: do work you don’t value but that pleases the customer, whore yourself. But now you’re part of the problem, aren’t you, by positioning yourself as a cog in the desiring-machinery? And you’ve also alienated yourself from your own work, just as Marx said.

    According to Acts 2, the believers experienced a miraculous demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Peter speaks to the crowd with boldness. Then this:

    42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

    There is a certain charm to the simplicity of the early believers. Of particular note is that they shared all things in common. Presumably, this speaks to your comment about what might happen if a group of like-minded people decided they wanted to escape the Producer-Consumer dependency cycle that facilitates mimetic desire.

    Do you think that the Acts 2 model might have some validity as an example?

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 2 December 2008 @ 7:00 pm

  26. K: We’ve grown up in a world of mimesis, our psyches have been shaped by it, so it’s difficult to transcend ourselves and see things for what they are. Surely you agree with this position, Erdman, in light of your sympathetic readings of Gadamer and Heidegger. So the escape is from the system is also an ongoing struggle against self-deception.

    Yes, I do agree.

    Also, I think I am tending to agree with your general direction in interpreting Genesis 2-3 and “the fall.” The text is truly centered on law, consequence, and power play. Contrary to popular interpretations of the Garden narrative, the text gives no indication that God had fellowship with the man and woman or that he extended his love toward Adam/Eve.

    Popular interpretations also tend to suggest that God’s heart was broken when humanity sinned b/c the fellowship was cut off. But there is simply no textual indication that such was the case. On the contrary, God seems to expect that human kind will fail the test, and humanities “failure” doesn’t really seem to be the colossal fall that many have made it out to be. God simply doles out the punishments and then shrugs his shoulders and says, “Humanity is now like one of us, knowing good and evil.”

    The fall seems to be part of the plan, part of the design. I see in Genesis a simple commentary on the relationship of law, desire, consequence, and morality, and much of it resonates with our discussions of Lacan and Girard. Hence, Genesis becomes to me more an account of the structures of law/desire/consequence, and it seems as though it has much less to do with “sin,” per se. Paul, of course, doesn’t seem to see it this way: sin entered the world through Adam and through Adam all sinned. But taken at face value, the Genesis account seems to be simply discussing the way things were ordered from the beginning: a structure centered on mimetic desire, law, and power.

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 2 December 2008 @ 10:12 pm

  27. The Acts 2 description of early Christian socialist utopia on earth: do you know if there are other secular accounts to verify the Biblical text? It says in the gospels that people followed Jesus because he performed miracles, and here in Acts it’s the apostles performing them — it would be nice to offer people that sort of tangible evidence to fuel the communal passion. There are, as you know Erdman, Christians of various stripes who think the way to go is to set up small communities like this, outgrowths of resistance rooting themselves in the cracks in the Empire’s pavement, rather than trying to change the world system as a whole. Many non-Christian socialists and green freaks etc. share this same ideal.

    I too am seeing Genesis 2-3 in this light, Erdman. What’s interesting is that such a reading doesn’t require any sort of metaphorical interpretation — it’s a straight-ahead reading of the text. As you point out, a lot of the love-and-fellowship business has been read into the story, but it doesn’t actually appear in the text.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 3 December 2008 @ 12:15 pm

  28. No….I’m not sure if there is secular evidence to back up the socialist Christian utopia…however, I’m guessing that it didn’t last too long b/c the Pauline epistles show strong signs that the church moved toward institutional control and conformity.

    I mean, I don’t really expect that this sort of thing will happen all that often. I just think Acts 2 gives us something of a suggestion of the possible.

    I tend to be amongst those who are looking for change on a very small scale….between the cracks of Empire, as you say. I am tending to agree with those who believe that humanity as a whole is herd-like in its craving to be a part of the crowd. “The crowd is untruth,” says Kierkegaard, and I tend to agree. I mean, I don’t think it has to be that way, in any dogmatic sense. I just tend to see it that way based on my own observations and experiences.

    Like

    Comment by Erdman — 7 December 2008 @ 1:39 pm


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