Friday, September 30, 2016

Todd McGowan's "Capitalism and Desire"

Todd McGowan is associate professor of film studies at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Enjoying What We Don't Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis (2013) and The Impossible David Lynch (2007), among other books.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets, and reported the following:
Most of Capitalism and Desireis devoted to theorizing the relationship between capitalism and the psyche of those caught up in it, but page 99 is one of the few moments in the book that delves into the materials facts of capitalist production. In this sense, the page is an anomaly, but it does nonetheless provide a jumping-off point for the idea animating the book. Page 99 details the treatment of child laborers employed in the manufacture of lace in the mid-19th century. This is important because it exemplifies the role that sacrifice plays in the functioning of capitalism. Not only do workers have to sacrifice themselves for the sake of profits, but consumers sacrifice their time and money for products that they don’t need.

The senseless sacrifice that capitalism perpetuates doesn’t lead people to challenge the system. Instead, it serves as a source of satisfaction within the system. Capitalism hides sacrifice and thus enables us to find our satisfaction in it without ever avowing the link between sacrifice and satisfaction. All satisfaction depends on some form of sacrifice—of time, of resources, of utility, and so on—but capitalism disguises sacrifice as self-interest, which enables capitalist subjects to engage in satisfying sacrifices while believing that they are just pursuing their self-interest.

This is the connection between page 99 of Capitalism and Desire and the book as a whole. Capitalism doesn’t function through the repression of satisfaction or the curtailing of pleasures. The genius of the capitalist system is that it masks the traumatic nature of how subjects satisfy themselves while at the same time allowing this satisfaction to continue unabated. Subjects invest themselves so wholeheartedly in the capitalist system because it offers respite from confronting the trauma of our desire without demanding its repression. Confronting capitalism, the book argues, entails confronting the trauma of our desire and its constant undermining of our self-interest.
Learn more about Capitalism and Desire at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue