[iDC] Immaterial Labor and life beyond utility

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Thu Aug 16 01:50:50 UTC 2007

Hi Eric,

glad you joined in and provided some context for your words...

On 13-Aug-07, at 7:15 PM, Eric Kluitenberg wrote:

>  ...  in the Bataille discussion the issue is about
> whether a particular human activity is guided by external aims beyond
> the activity itself (as most human actions are) versus a type of
> activity that is guided only by its intrinsic dynamic - Bataille
> thinks there are forms of experience that leave all external
> objectives behind, all demands of use and utility, are in a way
> complete within themselves, and he suggests that only by leaving all
> demands of usefulness behind us can we come in contact with that
> which is  of sovereign importance to us (as human beings). Obviously
> his suggestion is entirely radical and seems also deeply mystical and
> invites countless rebuttals of inconsistency in his argument. Still,
> this idea I find intriguing and the radically of his suggestion is
> something that can neither be imagined within the Phillips type of
> 'Experience Economy', nor is it something specific for a particular
> time or age. I read it much more as an invitation to life.

this is a lovely summation of a kind of deep experience of harmony and 
that quite arguably exists on a different plane
as you suggest
from the 'experience economy'
tho it might as arguably
without, i think, diminishing its power, be said to exist at the one 
extreme of a single continuum, on which both can be found

>> Secondly, why have you, Trebor, along with Kluitenberg and
>> Bataille, idealized "life beyond utility"? This is not a
>> universally held ideal. As with the notion of "Art for art's sake",
>> the condemnation of utility arises out of a specific technological
>> approach.  In a previous discussion on this list I argued that the
>> notion of aesthetic 'taste', which also devalues artistic utility
>> (i.e. art is nobler than mere design), was a consequence of
>> literacy, which idealizes private creativity and prizes abstract
>> thought. In oral cultures, on the other hand, all creativity is
>> dialogical and dialogue is inherently public, contextual and
>> constructive - and therefore always utilitarian.
> And here I entirely disagree. I don't believe that all creativity is
> dialogical in nature, that it is constructive (in a constructionist
> sense I assume), that therefore all this type of activity is always
> (emphasis on 'always') utilitarian.

Nor do I
my formulation is very specifically focused on the utilitarian nature 
of creativity in oral cultures
contrasting it with the non-utilitarian ethos of literate aesthetics

> Here it might be useful to point
> out where my use the idea of 'life beyond utility' originally came
> from -

> (snip)
> At that time I was also reading some older texts of BILWET / ADILKNO,
> the ever brilliant writer collective from Amsterdam, and most notably
> in the Media Archive they wrote about "sovereign media" - media that
> 'emancipated' themselves from the need for an audience - the signal
> is simply there, you can pick it up... And obviously they referred
> back to Bataille and his alternative general economy and his ideas
> about the "sovereign" in describing this "UTO" (Unidentified
> Theoretical Object)....

i would argue that although this approach sounds radical,
it is in fact tautological
literacy seeking relief from monological society by reaching to ever 
greater extremes of literacy
because of course
> media that
> 'emancipated' themselves from the need for an audience - the signal
> is simply there, you can pick it up.
is simply another name for a book
and the notion of 'sovereign media' echoes the old familiar 'art for 
art's sake' creed of literate aesthetics
as opposed - again -  to dialogical oral dynamics, wherein expression 
without an audience is meaningless
or - for that matter - the neo-orality of digital culture, which is a 
neither pre-literate orality, not post-oral literacy, but post-literate 
dialogical culture

> (snip)

> The quote Trebor picked up is
> indeed a bit too strict in creating certain binaries, but it was
> primarily a response to a completely fraud business scheme - cultural
> theorists without a job selling their half-baked ideas to the
> business community re-branding literature and theatre as 'experience
> economy' - brought to you by Phillips - give me a break!

personally i am very much in favour of the experience economy
and while i am not sure we mean the same thing by it
i do remember that Phillips campaign vaguely
and i'm not afraid to admit that as far as i can recall i found it 
quite inspiring
tho i should probably revisit it before saying so

your outrage at the 're-branding of literature' as experience economy 
is understandable
writers are generally highly resistant to any attempts to dethrone 
literate values from their position of socio-economic and intellectual 
even tho myself i am currently busy trying to build an ebook platform 
that does exactly this

but  i have less sympathy for your outrage at the rebranding of theatre 
as 'experience economy'
what else would you have it be?
rooted as it is in ritual
that most meaningful of experiences
that most utilitarian of experiences

> (snip)

> What is called "web 2.0" stands
> in a direct lineage to Usenet and many other systems, and ideas that
> far preceded the internet.

here at least we are in complete agreement
and so i'll sign off and wish you well


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