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A Quick Theory of the Self

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Monday, Nov 9, 2009
Marketing and friendship have become inextricably intertwined, so that having a friend is an inherently commercial operation.

The narratives of subjectivity are supplied by the institutions that one encounters in society; these take the inchoate and infinitely generative biological, neurological, genetic stuff that is the raw material of identity and bound the set, permit it to take coherent, knowable shape. The institutional framework provides means to think identity out of the raw material. It reduces the infinite possibilities to a select finite set that suits the existing social order. It supplies a grammar, a syntax to the genetic stuff that makes it speak something comprehensible to the individual and his society. (Lacan’s and Althusser’s version of subjectivity—we route the inchoate stuff of self through social institutions so that they mirror/speak it back to us, and we obtain self-knowledge, the selfhood that society makes out of us.) This self then reproduces the institutions that made it, doing the work that sustains their power to shape subsequent generations. That is, until technological disruptions change the reproductive circuit.


In consumer society, marketing is the main discourse for impoverishing the narratives of self. It provides idealized prefabricated social imagos around which any given individual’s self can crystallize. But Web 2.0 platforms are taking over for marketing, or at least marketing is evolving through these platforms into something more integrated with the discourse of friendship. Marketing and friendship have become inextricably intertwined, so that having a friend is an inherently commercial operation. Worse, the same came be said of having a self—it will need to be grounded in commercialized, corporatized discourse before we apprehend it—our self-knowledge comes to us preloaded with the prerogatives of corporate consumerism, which has at that point transcended the need for overt marketing, as the marketing is interwoven with the ways, the language, the terms, the categories in which we know ourselves.


Social networks externalize those ways, integrate them as a seamless, coherent platform. The narratives of subjectivity are even more impoverished by the restricted classifications of digital data possible within these platforms, though it remains generative to the subject himself—it seems to solve the (false) mystery of self more completely than any technology heretofore offered—but the sad irony is that the technologies produce the mystery and the ersatz solution. The self we are compelled to produce online is winnowed, smaller, with less potential for growth and less curiosity, the more we produce it and add to the archive that will dictate our future choices.


Its permanently insecure subject and its economy of identity are geared toward reproducing not the capitalist system necessarily but its own peculiar consumerist modalities. The hyperpersonalization that emerged from capitalist individuation combined with a return of communal needs in the new form of the digital network. If you go to the most recent issue of Fibreculture, you can read all about that.

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