Society of Nothing

by R. Artaud


O’ muse of endless bewilderment, I call you. Guide my hand so that

we may together slay the lords of our exile, and all

their innocent machinery.

Aesthetic Surveillance

Modern society advertises itself at every opportunity. Yet it has no need for mere “propaganda”–a specialized social medium that once served to parachute “ideology” into “life.” Instead, the new apparatus of advertising inundates life with messages of every sort: Goods, but also Services, communications, political programs, cultural events, even social activities and institutions. Advertisement as a kind of social hypertext pours through every cultural pore, thereby transforming modern life, which is to say, the everyday. Yet this is not to say this process is monologic. Rather, there is a continual dialectic: life evolves “new uses,” while also communicating its own necessities, desires, and frustrations back. The cycle of communication is relentless, unidirectional only to those committing suicide to the mass flow of goods.

To clarify: today’s modern system fully retrodifies “public space,” which was already co-opted and transformed by Early or Tradition-Systems’ modes of spectacle, show, and display (fairs, parades, patrimony, and even statuary). Yet advertisement seems no mere spectacle. It is not even pure communication, but rather, it synthesizes both in an unusual fashion. Advertising mixed with consumption means not only signs integrated into environments, but also passageways connecting goods with spaces. It even invents semi-complete new spaces–“points of sale,” “entertainment complexes” with shopping, then “media platforms,” such as TV, then “the internet.” Yet it flows well beyond spacing/staging, even visuality. Advertising is universally mobile, and guided by experimental toward Total Surveillance, which will replace surveillance systems themselves with “digital tracking” now spreading up to personal biomaterials, yet also psychic datavectors in (mass) behavior–desires and affects (hence, “affective listening[s]”).

Accordingly, post-Fordist commodification is not “late capitalism.” Instead, too abundant wares invert social hierarchy, while disseminative media hypersaturate reality with “interaction.” Goods, along with all semiotic “consumption matrices” are simulated at once, so as to achieve what Roland Barthes named “myth.” That is, advertising’s “simulation” is not deceptive, let alone “sincere.” Its signs package “values” that blend and multiply, that even deceive. It vanishes boundaries separating “images,” while simulating realities for object-production, demand, “society,” and “life” itself. Myth is not ideology–not falsity. This does not mean it is “better,” but rather more diffusive, simulating everything at once. Certainly, it runs to produce “models” of “desires,” yet this megaeconomic process forwardly perverts them. This means, in the positive: it befuddles, enmeshes, entwines goods, even being in a false simulation that will grow sentient, incisive, and effective. As it implodes pathos into full commodity-form, modern culture declines into dumbness at its outer edge–into a world of advertising, business-policy, etc.

Yet this is not absolute deception!

That brings us to the point: advertisement generates an aesthetic realm by conjuring what Henry Lefebvre considered a synthetic relational system: commodification-space-communication. But the pathos of this sphere are only indirect: it forges a functional aesthetic domain, sustained by a “form” without sentiment and beauty - nor will desire, satisfaction, nor charm materialize here. Instead, infinities of messages trigger an aesthetic regime, incommensurable with desire/satisfaction and meshing with a “tyrannical function.” “Good taste”–for example–is reserved for powerful elites.

Aesthetics is now not semiotic or semiological, but rather a hypertactile social substrate, a universe of visual, verbal, interactive, and addition, spacing, immudialing messages, and atmospherics. Advertisement versions all aspects of reality. Moreover, it innovates continuously, not merely updating formats, like content. It interlocks: visuals, linguistic, fashion, format, even ludic data into mobile mashups. Above all, practical activities–reading, studying, shopping, and even sexuality–melt into undifferentiated communicativeness. But this submergent aesthetic cannot stabilize, yet only swarm: it aest-plashes, unengaging. Advertising hypnagogia precludes engagement because its quality is bound to a swarm of interchangeable signs. Social machinery, rather than persons, processes actualize mass topics–ideology, critical judgments, even “life.” Promotion is this machinery, consisting of aesthetic tropes: products, platforms, activities, and individuals are targeted by advertising themes. But these wares also conflict, are parasitic signals. Still, this doesn’t mean: advertising is enchanting, pleasant, predictable, legible, or strategic. It’s an aesthetic substrate for social reality, which (as commodity form) presses in on all signs and activities.

Because it is fluid, insanely undifferentiated, immense, and semi-intelligent (“A.I.”; tracking contexts, persons, desires) the modern aesthetic is rendered trivializing and banal. Its simulated messages exceed stimuli into somewhat numbing positive feedback, ceaselessly advertising advertising. Messages masquerade as interaction. Misrecognized as interactivity, they blend with everything at once. It has no purpose outside trivializing sentience itself. Mostly useless, trite, everywhere. We might say: what simulation invades and effaces culture. The digital implies living within mass hyperstimulus, beyond semiotics, but without aesthetic quality. Certainly, it offers new experiences; it’s interactive, ludic, and “ludic.” However, it is really for triviality. Trivialization grows everywhere advertising reaches, and this envelops democratization. It has no horizon.

Nothing escapes commodification, including critical culture itself. This is systematized disavowal, but one without natural or psychological denial, i.e., repression, which consummated itself in ideology as collective representation. Rather, the postideological trivializes actuality, because it is lacking adequate sentience to differentiate between elite massification and dispersive marking.

Today, capital erases boundaries among media, markings, graphics, formats, and individuals. It does this by virtually infiltrating “life,” slipping onto “society” like some great net. Trapping passivity–especially–into “positive feedback,” that is, circulation results in trivialized and meaningless self-communication. On this way (over-determined by commodity), society is destabilized because it splinters into an insanely multiplied mass of dissociated signs, which provoke an intensely heady perversion (integrating into a circuit, becoming mass data without organic basis). This being so, it confirms Marx and Engels–without mere dogmatism–as follows: social economy is not a “thing”–that is, person or world-picture–but a process whereby labor and other activities (wages, quotas, seasonal work) assemble into general “abstraction.” Yes, it is the passage of these relations and the production into general social circulation that engenders depression, “an automatic subject as a result of the common movement of all the individual parts of society,” as “the great being outside”: commodity-form. So when commodity-relationally packaged social data are consumed, great trivia spreads (a destabilization among people, not “the” economy, which only grew through statistical-market data accumulating as mass “information” with the Enlightenment).

Hence, commodity as aesthetic basis means something overwhelming: it annihilates semiotic orderings of meaning as well as causalities of a substantively conceived power (class); it instills indifference. It’s the end of figuration. Society passes from configuration, even paranoia/ideology into simulation, remapped by infinite but trivial tics fibrillating points into circuits. Only this system of equivalents, of mass-to-mass transition, deploys itself, growing thoroughly detached from subjectivity, agency, and even ideology. It’s an evil drift from empirical subjects, feelings, and even powers into meaningless tautological masses interacting in feedback. It is a “doomed” drift, marked by indifference, indeterminacy, and vacuity toward essentializing machinicity–i.e. a tautological addition of signs that separately deem nothing.

As innumerable long-established sectors that organized mass data vanishingly await automated stupidization–finance, politics, education, law, culture, science, etc.–advertising multiplies through digital complexity, which both automates and dispersionizes most cultural life. Surveillance increasingly adds signs to lists of, for example, behavioral traits, being, and choosings, while sorting and eliminating according to relevancy to profits (by sub-categorization into demographics, psychometrics, and affinities), it extends an immense sensorial-operational matrix. Accumulating datavector feedback for anticipating “activity,” “behavior,” “interest,” supposing suprasubjective trivia swarming in digital devices, it merges psychic and corporal materiality as mass tracks running in streams ready for analysis (even brainwaves).

It’s automated inundation of mass information–a positive disequilibrium of trivia interacting endlessly–that programmatically entangles all signs into social control without consciousness of a “subject.” Hence, “micro-manipulation” is an effect of automated-triviality without organizing premises. It has no pathology. Triviality is its pathos, not falsity, mystification, illogicality. Drives of “truth” and “consciousness,” of freedom, and humanity are as outdated as literacy, as hypocrisy, or malicious wit. They are products of disengaged and unmotivated social control that stimulates us into triviality (revolving around it) and toward nothing. Not as a totalizing power, but rather as trivializing swarm, it emerges as something obscene.

Desire? There’s nothing beyond trite exchange-media, social tracks of information and interaction, communication with commodities. As relativity reshapes society into a desolate panorama of things (even signs, yet only swarm of commercial and technological data) that stimulates nothingness, then, depression is easy to understand. Yet, it’s the unbound surplus of interactive media (collapsing messages, services, functions into simulations) that initiates depression, not media, technology, data or computers alone. This trivialization process defines a “tyranny of positive feedback”, which generates empty transfers of objects-persons and spaces-flows. This infinite circulation is the wretched essence of exchange. An aesthetic of the Commodity-Fordist-System. Certainly, it generates “the need to consume,” but first it grinds all ties to natural life into mortar to build our prisons.