I dont like shopping malls; they remind me of the weakness of our species when it comes to commodities that they must have, according to the spurious ethos of the prevailing economic system. Hence, when the woman in my life asked me to accompany her to that monstrosity known as the Baywest mall, outside the city, yesterday, to fetch a DVD that was only available at a music and video shop there, I agreed reluctantly. I had never been there in the time it has existed, and was quite proud that I had avoided this monument to greed, which had been built on, of all places, a wetland, which has a very important function in ecosystems.
As it turned out, it proved to be a very creative morning for me. As we walked in my eye was caught by a huge, poster-sized advertisement for some or other smartphone, and I was struck by the exemplary manner in which it graphically encapsulates the passive nihilism of our capitalism-ridden era. I immediately sat down on a bench and wrote this piece, while my partner went her way.
I have written on the varieties of nihilism distinguished by Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century here before (see http://thoughtleader.co.za/bertolivier/2015/12/15/we-live-in-a-nihilistic-age/ ); suffice it to say, therefore, that passive nihilism is the awareness that nothing has intrinsic value (any longer), combined with the simultaneous inability, or refusal, to accept it, followed by turning to anaesthetising practices in order to forget the absence of values. In Nietzsches time passive nihilism assumed the shape of seeing the shocking abyss of non-value and non-meaning, and promptly running back into the arms of the priests in order to avoid this terrible truth. Today, people run into the arms of Mammon, the god of money. So what does this have to do with advertisement for a smartphone? The latter graphically embodies such contemporary passive nihilism, as I shall try and show.
The advertisement in question is a photograph showing a group of children on a beach, the sea behind them, with their backs turned to it, huddling together so that the one taking the selfie (with the smartphone being advertised) can capture them all with one shot, the oceans crashing waves behind them. Here, in one brand-advertising image-configuration, the essence of the passive nihilism suffusing our time is paradigmatically captured.
First, it is significant that the ocean is behind them, their backs turned to it both literally and figuratively it is, in other words, a scene emblematically representing the current alienation between humanity and nature. Second, the smartphone as mnemo-technical device (which might just as well have been a digital camera, tablet or IPad) concretises the kind of enjoyment at stake here: it is mediated enjoyment. What used to be the sensory enjoyment of the sand, sunshine and waves on the beach, has been reduced to that of images on a screen, which, for better or worse, are the product of technical artifice.
In itself this is neither good nor bad, axiologically speaking (i.e. relating to values); as Bernard Stiegler persuasively argues, we are technical beings (Homo and Gyna technologicus) through and through. The difference, condensed in the composite image under scrutiny, is that the latter is symptomatic of a reductive tendency, globally, to replace the variegated spectrum of human experience with only one kind of privileged experience that which is technically mediated, in the process denuding the experiential world of its intrinsic value.
In the present instance the experience of a visit to the beach has been reduced to a selfie, in its turn made possible by the smartphone which is touted as the indispensable condition of an enjoyable visit to the beach. Behind this reductive iconic metonymy of the mnemo-technical capture of social life the destruction of savoir-vivre (knowledge of how to live your life), precisely lurks the Midas-touch of capital, which strives to transmute everything into proverbial gold, but at the cost of life.
To possess such a smartphone, one has to have access to capital, and quite a lot of it, too. Which means that you have to enter the consumerist loop: you have to earn money by working in the capitalist economy, and gain acceptance, not only by the system, but also by your peers, by being a good consumer spending money on consumer goods like the latest smartphone, car, and clothes, having a bank account, and most important, proving your consumerist virtue by demonstrating your willingness and ability to service debt.
All these consumerist-capitalist implications of the selfie on the beach are not incidental, of course; they cut to the cold heart of the matter. The technical capture of peoples attention (here, childrens; catch them young!) serves the objective of keeping the wheels of the consumer economy turning. In the process the natural world always culturally mediated, to be sure becomes a technically mediated world, where the instrinsic value of a beach, the ocean, flowers, mountains, streams, wildlife, is replicated (and concomitantly obliterated) by its mediating substitute, which, in its turn, functions as a metonymy (part for whole) of capital. Needless to stress, the latter is ultimately monodimensional, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.
On the topic of wildlife, a friends tale of his experience during a visit to the Addo National Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape is emblematic of what Stiegler has identified as the capture of peoples attention by means of the capital-serving mnemo-technical devices that function as a conduit for the reduction of the sensory diversity of the world to its ostensibly mediating counterpart (which turns out to be nothing more than a lure of capital).
The friend in question had taken visitors from the Netherlands to see elephant and other wild animals including rhinoceros, lion, kudu and buffalo while driving through the extensive area comprising the park. To his astonishment, when they encountered a sizeable herd of elephant, his visitors proved more interested in looking at the images of these majestic creatures on the viewing screens of their digital camera and video-camera than in the animals themselves, which were quite close to their vehicle. Even when he tried to draw their attention to a particularly striking bull among the rest of the herd, they merely looked up long enough to be able to locate the animal, and then proceeded to marvel at its image framed by the viewing screens of their cameras.
It is not the case that all photography has (and has always had) such a reductive effect regarding the experiential value of the visible world, of course. When photographs serve the purpose of directing ones attention back to the extant world natural or cultural, and whether in memory or in actuality the latter is left intact, instead of being replaced by its technically replicated counterpart. When we travel throughout South Africa or to other countries, often to climb foreign mountains, my partner takes photographs of beautiful landscapes, rivers, mountains and animals. These photographs are reminders, when we look at them afterwards, of the beauty and variegatedness of the world, instead of being fetishes that are increasingly replacing the world, to the point where they rekindle the desire in us to revisit these places.
Put differently, as long as photographs are a record, reminders and a celebration of the visible world, its indispensable axiological role in human life remains intact. But when techno-mediated images of the world become what Baudrillard calls hyper-reality, that takes the place of the visible world and makes it disappear, as it were, the very (malleable) foundation of value in human experience is eroded, and nihilism prevails.
Read more here:
- The nihilism of Mitch McConnell - The Boston Globe - May 6th, 2020
- Rick and Morty and Nihilism: Embracing a Show That Cares About Nothing - tor.com - May 6th, 2020
- 'Stay Classy San Diego' and Other Sordid Tales of the Pandemic - OB Rag - May 6th, 2020
- Thanos Used The Infinity Stones To Make... The Perfect Woman? - Screen Rant - May 6th, 2020
- Guinea-Bissau PM and three ministers test positive for COVID-19 - Face2Face Africa - May 6th, 2020
- Mark Lanegan's Autobiography Is The Most Raw And Brutal Rock Memoir Ever Written - Kerrang! - May 6th, 2020
- 'After Life' Ponders Whether Life is Worth Living - Book and Film Globe - May 6th, 2020
- Is It OK to Laugh During Dark Times? - The New York Times - May 6th, 2020
- I thought I was being safe. Then I found out I had been exposed to coronavirus. - Grist - May 6th, 2020
- There's no excuse for coronavirus aid to small businesses running out - The Week - April 20th, 2020
- 'The Platform' explained: Two economists on Netflix phenomenon - Los Angeles Times - April 20th, 2020
- Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner on the Band's New Album - SPIN - April 20th, 2020
- David Hockney Says Smokers Have Developed an Immune System Against Coronavirus - Observer - April 20th, 2020
- A Novelists Ambition to Define America - The Atlantic - April 20th, 2020
- The American Dream Is Collapsing. Are We Too Angry to Fix It? - Esquire - April 20th, 2020
- Trump Toys With a Let-Them-Die Response to the Pandemic - The Nation - March 24th, 2020
- How to mix compassion and cooperation into social distancing - Herald and News - March 24th, 2020
- It's Absolutely Ok to Dump Someone Over Their Awful Pandemic Behaviour - VICE - March 24th, 2020
- 'Bad Boys For Life' Digital Release Coming This Month, Blu-ray in April - /FILM - March 24th, 2020
- Five Questions with D. Vance Smith, author of "The Arts of Dying" - UChicago News - March 24th, 2020
- Editor's Column: Viruses don't care, we have to - Rio Blanco Herald Times - March 24th, 2020
- Trapped by the White Mans Devils - laprogressive.com - March 24th, 2020
- Coronavirus, climate crisis, conflicts: Meme-ing our way through the 'apocalypse' - The Conversation CA - March 22nd, 2020
- The Weeknd Wants to Give the World Philip K. Dick - Rolling Stone - March 22nd, 2020
- It's Absolutely Ok to Dump Someone Over Their Awful Pandemic Behavior - VICE - March 22nd, 2020
- Nihilistic journalism and the shunning of alternative voices in media - IOL - March 22nd, 2020
- The saddest generation: Why Gen Z is the most anxious generation ever - Digiday - March 22nd, 2020
- 6 Takeaways From the Weeknds New Album, After Hours - Pitchfork - March 22nd, 2020
- Hollywood A-listers band together to torture the quarantined - Washington Examiner - March 22nd, 2020
- This Is No Zombie Apocalypse Novel, Author Says But We Can Learn From Them - WBUR - March 22nd, 2020
- Will the pandemic derail the global climate talks? - Grist - March 22nd, 2020
- Hitting the nihilism on the head - Camden New Journal newspapers website - March 17th, 2020
- Drinking Beer in Bushwick Amid a Pandemic - The Cut - March 17th, 2020
- Democrats respond to Republican nihilism by narrowing their field down to two tradition-bound institutionalists - AlterNet - March 17th, 2020
- COVID-19, climate crisis, conflicts: Meme-ing our way through the 'apocalypse' - The Conversation CA - March 17th, 2020
- The Walking Dead star says the coronavirus pandemic isnt the end of the world. We have to adapt and survive. - Business Insider - March 17th, 2020
- Coronavirus: What will become of the world? - Free Press Journal - March 17th, 2020
- Brisbee: The world is terrifying right now and I need your help - The Athletic - March 17th, 2020
- Therapy? Greatest Hits (The Abbey Road Session) Back on their old stomping ground - The Irish Times - March 17th, 2020
- OXZ were the first Japanese punk band to take on the patriarchy - i-D - March 17th, 2020
- Rick And Morty: 5 Jokes That Are Destined To Be Timeless (& 5 That Won't Age Well) - Screen Rant - March 17th, 2020
- Just wash your hands - The Indian Express - March 17th, 2020
- Maurizio Cattelan and When Art Ridicules Art Itself - Merion West - February 15th, 2020
- Repetitive and laboured White House Farm finale is too focused on the details - review - The Independent - February 15th, 2020
- Review: The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood - HeraldScotland - February 15th, 2020
- Strauss victims call on inspector general to investigate ties between Jeffrey Epstein and Abigail Wexner - OSU - The Lantern - February 15th, 2020
- Oscars 2020: Brad Pitt Won, and Its About Time - GQ - February 15th, 2020
- Matt Bomer's Acting Education Is Only Beginning - Backstage - February 15th, 2020
- How to Avoid Despair - The Atlantic - February 15th, 2020
- Photo Flash: First Look At BE HERE NOW At Everyman Theatre - Broadway World - January 26th, 2020
- Young Arabs Must Know the Truth About the HolocaustFor Their Own Good - The National Interest Online - January 26th, 2020
- The Impeachment Trial Is The End Of Democracy As We Know It - WBUR - January 25th, 2020
- Emojiland Asks, Is It Really So Great to Be Alive? - TheaterMania.com - January 25th, 2020
- Why Senate Republicans should eagerly call witnesses to testify | TheHill - The Hill - January 25th, 2020
- Abortion brings Haitianisation of The Bahamas - Bahamas Tribune - January 25th, 2020
- TikTok memes like WW3, impeachment, and Australian fires prove the platform is political - Vox.com - January 25th, 2020
- Color Out Of Space Movie Review - Book and Film Globe - January 25th, 2020
- Joe Pera Talks With You Is the Best Thing Adult Swim Has Ever Done - VICE - January 25th, 2020
- Review: The Sunset Limited (Boulevard Theatre) - WhatsOnStage.com - January 25th, 2020
- The 10 best TV shows to watch this week, from The Goop Lab to Curb Your Enthusiasm season 10 - inews - January 25th, 2020
- Avenue 5's Zach Woods and Rebecca Front on nihilism and pet peeves - The A.V. Club - January 19th, 2020
- Revealed: The fight to stop Samuel Beckett winning the Nobel prize - The Irish Times - January 19th, 2020
- How Broadways Jagged Little Pill tries to reinvent the jukebox musical - Vox.com - January 19th, 2020
- GUEST VIEW: How the 1920s can inform the 2020s in health care - Odessa American - January 19th, 2020
- What Nihilism Is Not - The MIT Press Reader - January 18th, 2020
- Sea Girls face the slippery slope of nihilism on 'Ready For More' - Vanyaland - January 18th, 2020
- 'Ghost poetry': fight over Samuel Beckett's Nobel win revealed in archives - The Guardian - January 18th, 2020
- Mullane: Why kids suffer mental health problems - Opinion - The Intelligencer - January 18th, 2020
- Jenee Halstead eyes the vacuum of the Internet age with 'Disposable Love' - Vanyaland - January 18th, 2020
- Laughing at Death: Tolland native putting his stamp on the national comedy stage - Journal Inquirer - January 18th, 2020
- Malami: Bring It On... Or Go To Blazes! By Bayo Oluwasanmi - SaharaReporters.com - January 18th, 2020
- These quotes by acclaimed author Haruki Murakami will pierce your soul - Hindustan Times - January 18th, 2020
- This terrifying theory proves how Trump's reign could live on to 2028 - indy100 - December 25th, 2019
- Joker Production Designer Mark Friedberg On His Initial Reluctance To Work On Warner Bros. Pic & Embracing The Strange Beauty Of A Crumbling World... - December 25th, 2019
- In the S.C.-set Opera "Adams Run," the Climate is the Only Crisis - Charleston City Paper - December 25th, 2019
- Nihilism - AllAboutPhilosophy.org - December 23rd, 2019
- Nihilism | Supernatural Wiki | Fandom - December 23rd, 2019
- Nihilism: Examples and Definition | Philosophy Terms - December 23rd, 2019
- SparkNotes: Crime and Punishment Quotes: Nihilism - December 23rd, 2019
- Nihilism | Psychology Wiki | Fandom - December 23rd, 2019