More on depressive hedonia

January 21st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Ian Bogost and his commentators have some interesting reactions to K-Punk’s argument on ‘depressive hedonia’. First, Ian connects it to the never-ending debate over ‘hard’ theory:

Yet, as Fisher points out, when students “want Nietzsche in the same way that they want a hamburger” they miss the fact that “the indigestibility is Nietzsche.”

My answer here is probably to say that nothing is inherently worthwhile /because/ it is hard. It can perhaps, though, be good in spite of hardness, and the hardness (if measured in the depth of attention possible/required) can open a door oto stronger feeling/understanding.

Then there is an interesting comment about distraction as a defence mechanism. Of a student wearing headphones in class:

What if the student needed the headphones primarily as a type of anxiety management against the classroom, placing a symbolic barrier of sorts between himself and the room in which he was expected to participate with a degree of fluency, articulateness and incisiveness that, in this society, it’s just as likely he would feel eminently unequal to. To me, the headphones seem much more a way to insulate one from the angst of socio-academic participation in than it is “to be denied, for a moment, the constant flow of sugary gratification on demand.”

This, IMO, is also true as a much more general rule. The cycle of seeking new things, seeking short-term gratification or acceptance — it’s the result of insecurity. If you have the confidence of being surrounded by love and acceptance, you don’t need by-the-minute demonstration thereof.

Incidentally, for reference, this is the post which formed the basis for that section of Capitalist Realism.

Zizek on capitalist realism

January 21st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

What I love about Zizek’s blurb for Capitalist Realism is that you can so easiy imagine him exclaiming it vocally, complete with excited hand-gestures:

Let’s not beat around the bush: Fisher’s compulsively readable book is simply the best diagnosis of our predicament that we have! Through examples from daily life and popular culture, but without sacrificing theoretical stringency, he provides a ruthless portrait of our ideological misery. Although the book is written from a radically Left perspective, Fisher offers no easy solutions. Capitalist Realism is a sobering call for patient theoretical and political work. It enables us to breathe freely in our sticky atmosphere.

depresive hedonia

January 21st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I have a pretty decent idea of what kind of grumpy old man I’ll become, should I live that long. Like some kind of postmodern atheist puritan, I’ll start to becme vocally opposed to Fun. Or opposed to short-term pleasure, at least — opposed to the capitalist agenda of momentary hedonism.

This kind of addictively shallow pleasure-seeking is closely linked to the constant availability of short-term stimulus. Here’s how K-Punk describes it in Capitalist Realism:

“Many of the teenage students I encoutnered seemed to be in a state of what I would call depressive hedonia. Depression is usually characterized as a state of anhedonia, but the condition I’m referring to is constituted not by an inability to get pleasure so much as it is by an inability to do anything else _except_ pursue pleasure. There is a sense that ‘something is missing’ — but no appreciation that this mysterious, missing enjoyment can only be accessed _beyond_ the pleasure principle”

This is a general social trend, but massively exacerbated by instantaneous new media and mobile communication, and in particular by the commercial interests built around them. In a world of constant, instant news, the economy of attention is built around addiction.

It’s barely a stretch to claim that this is taking its place alongside the better-known socio-cultural distortions which have shaped the world up to now. Planned obsolescence, advertising-fuelled inflation of gigantist consumerist desires — these continue, but news-addiction takes its place alongside them as a market distortion of desire.

It’s a particular problem when combined with ‘walled gardens’, which give one corporation control over the mechanisms of communication, and power to unilaterally change the terms of conversation. We need some kind of ‘escape gardening’, a set of technical innovations and social practices which would let us engage with communities in such closed platforms, while building ways to guide people out of them into the open web, or into interpersonal relationships not mediated by blinkenlights.

Addiction-seeking mechanisms and walled gardens can exist independently, of course, but the latter provides a strong commercial incentive to generate the former.

There are ways out of this situation. But they all require consciously stepping off the hedonic treadmill, and accepting stress and misery on the path towards doing something. There’s no shortage of models for this. Any number of classical philsophical schools, many religious teachings. Walden, and other forms of intentional simplicity. Romanticism, emphasising the intensity of feeling over its quantity or pleasantness. The Aesthetic movement, and the idea of the Lebenskunstler.

But to reach them we need, not necessarily a deceleration, but a willingness to exist in the absence of stimulation.

As you may guess, much of this post comes from my personal frustration at a work-style which requires me to be constantly plugged in, but which hasn’t yet helped me achieve any human closeness or intensity of feeling

tw :yes

We have an opportunity

November 30th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

K-punk on UK student protests:

the ruling class are counting on the street militancy fizzling out as suddenly as it flared up. We have an opportunity here, not only to bring down the government – which is eminently achievable, (keep reminding yourself: this government is very weak indeed) – but of winning a decisive hegemonic struggle whose effects can last for years. The analogy that keeps suggesting itself to me is 1978 – but it is the coaltion, not the left, which is in the position of the Callaghan government. This is an administration at the end of something, not the beginning, bereft of ideas and energy, crossing its fingers and hoping that, by some miracle, the old world can be brought back to life before anyone has really noticed that it has collapsed.

latest from k-punk

May 24th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

k-punk on top form

“Azzellini and Ressler’s daring hypothesis is that Latin America is not some atavism, a residual space yet to be subsumed into global capital, but the vanguard – the first area of the world to adopt neoliberalism and the first to seriously propose an alternative to it.”

I’m not sure I’d count this as daring, quite; the collective ability of Latin American populations to see through, around and beyond capitalism is a wonder to behold.


it is important at this point to stress the aesthetic dimension of capitalist realism, its echoes of socialist realism’s disdain for abstraction and montage, and its similar preference for the homely, the populist, the familiar: that which pushes already-existing emotional triggers.

This is in superficial conflict with the usual understanding of neophilia capitalism in general, and within the culture industry in particular. But at a deeper level, I suspect it really is true; much surface change, but nothing fundamental.

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