Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Pairings: 24/7, The Forgotten Language, Solaris

It’s been a while since I recommended a pairing.* This one is actually a trebling (?), since it involves two books and a film.

“24/7 is a time of indifference,” Jonathan Crary suggests in 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (2013),
against which the fragility of human life is increasingly inadequate and within which sleep has no necessity or inevitability. In relation to labor, it renders plausible, even normal, the idea of working without pause, without limits. It is aligned with what is inanimate, inert, or unageing. As an advertising exhortation it decrees the absoluteness of availability, and hence the ceaselessness of needs and their incitement, but also their perpetual nonfulfillment.

…In its profound uselessness and intrinsic passivity, with the incalculable losses it causes in production time, circulation, and consumption, sleep will always collide with the demands of a 24/7 universe. The huge portion of our lives that we spend asleep, freed from a morass of simulated needs, subsists as one of the great human affronts to the voraciousness of contemporary capitalism.

…Sleep poses the idea of a human need and interval of time that cannot be colonized and harnessed to a massive engine of profitability, and thus remains an incongruous anomaly and site of crisis in the global present.

…Sleep is an irrational and intolerable affirmation that there might be limits to the compatibility of living beings with the allegedly irresistible forces of modernization.
While the book is insightful, and its arguments are all interesting if not all entirely convincing,** it does tend to meander away from its central topic, which is kind of a shame in that the discussion of sleep and dreaming could have been taken further.

In particular, Crary’s discussion of Freud’s and others’ “devaluation of the dream” is true as far as it goes. The “psychoanalytic reduction” of dreams to infantile wish-fulfillment
refuses the possibility of dreaming as a ceaseless and turbulent convergence of the lived present with ghosts from a fugitive and still indiscernable future.*** …Dreams may well be the vehicles of wishes, but the wishes at stake are the insatiable human desires to exceed the isolating and privatizing confines of the self.
But this section completely ignores the work of humanistic neo-Freudians like Erich Fromm and Karen Horney. Their exclusion from the critical-theory “canon” is sad both for their legacy and for the tradition itself. Fromm’s work on dreams in The Forgotten Language, for all the book’s problems, is especially relevant to Crary’s thesis. Under contemporary conditions, Fromm argues,
the human mind, of both rulers and ruled, becomes deflected from its essential human purpose, which is to feel and think humanly, to use and to develop the powers of reason and love that are inherent in man and without the full development of which he is crippled.

In this process of deflection and distortion man’s character becomes distorted. Aims which are in contrast to the interests of his real human self become paramount. His powers of love are impoverished, and he is driven to want power over others. His inner security is lessened, and he is driven to seek compensation by passionate cravings for fame and prestige. He loses the sense of dignity and integrity and is forced to turn himself into a commodity, deriving his self-respect from his salability, from his success. All this makes for the fact that we learn not only what is true, but also what is false. That we hear not only what is good, but are constantly under the influence of ideas detrimental to life.

…We are exposed to rationalizing lies which masquerade as truths, to plain nonsense which masquerades as common sense or as the higher wisdom of the specialist, of double talk, intellectual laziness, or dishonesty which speaks in the name of ‘honor’ or ‘realism’, as the case may be. We feel superior to the superstitions of former generations and so-called primitive cultures, and we are constantly hammered at by the very same kind of superstitious beliefs that set themselves up as the latest discoveries of science. Is it surprising, then, that to be awake is not exclusively a blessing but also a curse? Is it surprising that in a state of sleep, when we are alone with ourselves, when we can look into ourselves without being bothered by the noise and nonsense that surround us in the daytime, we are better able to feel and to think our truest and most valuable feelings and thoughts?
Solaris is discussed in 24/7, but Crary refers to the 1972 film by Andrei Tarkovsky, while I suggest the 2002 Steven Soderbergh version (both are adaptations of the 1961 novel by Stanislaw Lem). An essential element of the film is Cliff Martinez’ music:

* The video has since been removed, but the film I’d paired with Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided back then was The Assassination of Richard Nixon.

** For one, I don’t agree with his views on blogging!

*** I very much dislike this idea of sources of resistance found only in remembrances and imaginings, as I’ll discuss in more detail in an upcoming post. Crary’s basic point here is valid, though.

No comments:

Post a Comment