Derrida for CEOs

by Rob Horning

20 July 2006


Derrida famously declared, “Il n’ya pas de hors-texte”—there is no outside of the text—a foundational postulate of postmodernism that points to the intertextuality of all culture,  the absence of a transcendental point above the fray from which to observe cultural phenomena, and perhaps above all, the lack of ontology for things outside the manner in which they are represented—that being, the “real,” adheres somehow to the order of language, not the order of material objects. Most people who never sat in a graduate seminar think this is nonsense, but I found some support for Derrida’s dictum in a remarkable declaration mentioned in this AdPulp post. “Three years ago at Madison and Vine, Coca-Cola’s then CEO stood up and told the room his company was not in the business of selling sweet drinks, but was in fact a media company selling brand impressions.” That’s a pretty astounding statement—Coca Cola doesn’t sell soda, they sell the name “Coca-cola”—but it seems inescapable, self-evident, when you think about it. The material world recedes as the nebulous concept of the brand, which exists only as language, becomes primary. The products themselves are effluvia, arbitrary conduits for the brand, in which all value is stored. If we can’t consume a product as an idea, as a lifestyle, as a set of prepared, intertextual connotations, we really can’t at this point consume it at all. The water pours dowen our throat, but if it’s not Evian or Dasani or whatever, we won’t even notice it; it’s is below the level of consumption and thus sub-real.

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