What is it like to be alive in a consumer culture such as our own? Lacan had one answer. In a lecture he gave in 1971, he claimed that capitalism creates the illusion that we are no longer slaves to the system, but its masters. This happens when we develop the notion that we are free consumers.
Coupled to this switch is a celebration of jouissance, a particular kind of enjoyment of life that insists it is accessible to all and boundless in its extent. Individuals are seduced by notions such as that their lives are ‘works of art’, that they can ‘have it all’, that their ‘power is limitless’.
This ideology becomes so pervasive that individuals come to regard their own lives as objects for consumption. Industries from self-help to pharmacology go into overdrive, and everything from food to cars to garden furniture are sold not for what they do but for the fullness of life they offer.
And life grows darker. For now, the individual, so used to thinking of him- or herself as a consumer, starts to consume themselves. Fulfillment is not found in the richness of life consumerism once offered, but in exploitations and addictions, from workaholism to sexaholism, from insomnia to bulimia nervosa.
(Image: Jonathan McIntosh)