Friday, 19 October 2012

We are living in an immaterial world...

So the tap in your kitchen starts to drip. You call the plumber. He tells you, there's no way to fix it - "No such thing as replacing the washer these days. Have to replace the whole thing." You duly go to the DIY superstore, where you are confronted with a range of tap options so wide that you could not have imagined it. There is, it seems, a tap for every tap-whim, a tap for every tap-fancy, a tap for every tap-fetish. But, without whim, fancy or fetish, you do exactly what it has been predicted you would do: choose a middle-of-the-range tap, a decent tap, a tap that does what it says on the tin.

But there's the rub. The tap you buy does not do what it says on the tin. One year later, it too begins to drip. Only now, you are not so naive as to call the plumber to fix it. There's no such thing as replacing a washer these days, after all. So, in time with your new tap's tortuous percussion, you reflect on how immaterial is this world we are living in...

We have learnt by now to be concerned at how our practices of consumption have degraded all of those areas of human life that ought not to be merely for sale: education, health, family feeling, romantic love...But even this concern is out of date. For, our practices of consumption too are now degraded, by almost totally ephemeral practices of exchange, whose material component is all but negligible. Of least importance in the story of the tap is the tap. Of greatest importance in the story of the tap is: the affirmation of the endless obsolescence of the things to which we might, if we got the chance, moor ourselves; and the impression, of a level of response to our particular wants so replete as to feel to us tailor-made. The story of the tap, in short, tells the tale of how anything in which we might have invested ourselves is taken from our grasp, substituted for by the spectacle of all of the ways in which we are about to get precisely the thing we wish for. This is what consumption has come to: the endlessly-refreshed feeling that the world is ours for the taking.

Ergonomics is the science of our time. It designs a world that comes to meet us. Before we have the time or space to exert ourselves, we are already getting what we want. Our most instinctual movements are responded to. With the result that we encounter no obstacle that we can make sense of, meet no resistance that we can comprehend, come up against no limitation that can make us feel that we are, after all, only human. But instinct is a poor substitute for endeavour. For, as Hegel said, "we are not, by nature, what we should be." Not feeling that we are only human reduces us to a state of being that is less than human.

If I could only have dismantled that tap, and turned my gaze from myself for just a moment in an effort to understand its workings. But instead, I went to the DIY superstore, and turned my gaze on a range of options so vast as to be comprehensible only as encompassing a tap just made for me. Instead, in other words, I turned my gaze once more upon myself. And now that the tap drips once more, I shall turn my gaze once more upon myself... 

Being materialistic had its merits: it did at least give us some things to contemplate...

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