Then there’s Warby Parker, as in Warby Parker Presents Beck Song Reader, a sunglasses company whose chunky, bohemian frames look like the kind of things an Upper West Side intellectual might have worn during the 1960s or ’70s. Proceeds from the album go to 826 National, a nationwide nonprofit committed to helping school-aged kids with creative and expository writing, co-founded by Dave Eggers, who, is also the founder of McSweeney’s. At some point describing the project becomes a Russian nesting doll of branding and attribution, brought to you by someone in conjunction with someone else for the benefit of yet someone else. Between Parker, McSweeney’s, Wes Anderson, and the album’s lineup itself, Song Reader crystallizes the maturation of the white indie set to the new ruling class—an arc traced by Beck’s own career. This is a world of people who are mellow, organized, emotive within reason, a little retro and graced with just a zest of modernity.
Well, there sure is a whole lot of surplus or excess wealth out there, only it’s a surplus that’s misrecognized as individually rather than socially produced and that in turn is appropriated by an infinitesimally small fraction of the population. And then on the other hand here are all these artists with huge student loans to repay, struggling to survive, their creativity narrowed by necessity, their art as surplus folded back into scarcity. They have zero chance for commercial sales and no more government support to turn to. Rather than the N.E.A. they have to hit up today’s Medici-like mega-patrons like the Warhol Foundation, or they simply turn to each other through crowdsourced funding and community supported art schemes. That’s a pretty tense situation. And pretty interesting. All these people walking around, in all these different places, saying, “I just want to do things for their own sake.” I have no problem with that whatsoever. More artists out in the world thinking that, in a society able to create such incredible wealth, more people should be able to spend their time freely, doing whatever it is they want to do.
Did I post this already?
The way that Boltanski and Chiappello talk about the new labor is much like how Robert Morris talked about his new artwork in ‘66. It’s not that the artwork is less important, it’s just less self-important. And that’s the new labor management idea: you transcend categories as your different contexts ask you to be different things. That’s a parallel between business literature and artworld discourse. The free agent and the social practice artist are both talked about as transcending categories, and the problem is—there are those people who get paid handsomely, who make a great living off doing that: hedge fund managers, venture capitalists. They’re the people that do precarity well and win at it, but it’s the same system that produces the people who don’t do so well. The hedge fund manager does a million different things and on the other side so does the person who works twelve different jobs in order to make one paycheck and has to be available 24/7 in case Walmart wants them to work the late shift or over the weekend. It’s precarity. Individuals who transcend categories are not only part of the system, they’re at the center of it. Then you’re not talking about the institution in the same way. In an information world, the institution is not brick and mortar. It’s discourse, it’s connections, it’s networks and moving around certain data in terms of its valuation—whether it’s hot or not or passé. If the old discourse about the old institution was about objects, if you came to terms with the institution by thinking about the context around objects, then the new primary unit is the subject, and you have to talk about the context around the subject.
The room of the modern person is stark, but in its simplicity it exudes wealth and sophistication. There is just an iPad and a simple bed or futon. None of the old-time accouterments, which signified intelligence, artistic interest, or a curiosity about the world, are evident. There are no magazines, books, or records anywhere. Just perhaps some high priced toiletries in the bathroom. Everything she needs is on the iCloud.
How long before we’re convinced that hands, arms, legs, and appendages are just bothersome?
The cyber-lords have already convinced us that maps, paper, pens, and even push buttons are somehow incredibly inconvenient and clumsy, leaving us scraping and pawing like drooling bug life on their flat digital dildos. Google’s search engines and applications have likewise taught us to refrain from using our apparently out-of-date and hopelessly inefficient brains.
What’s next? Giving up all thought, consciousness, history, and agency.
Hoarders are the only thing standing between these incomprehensibly rich, all-controlling, indecent, digital super-despots and the complete destruction of any alternative consciousness — and indeed any non-official history or interpretation of the world.
Ian Svenonius in Jacobin!