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3.3 Modern Economy as an Interand Trans-media Field

The inclusion/exclusion opposition allowed Bourdieu to find similarities across different fields, in order to reveal how exclusions from power can be concealed by institutions and habits. I have already noted the reductive, utilitarian aspects of this concept of power. Here is a further question: is this main opposition sufficient to understand the specific features through which different force lines get the power to structure the various fields? Is it sufficient to understand whether and in what ways a certain “freedom” may emerge in some disconnections of these power lines? Foucault's concept of “bio-politics” (Foucault 2004[1978-1979]) is extremely effective in elucidating the nature of modern society. However, does this concept not offer a too univocal image of society, for those who are searching for gaps and disconnections in which to offer some resistance or alternatives? Walter Benjamin's analysis of the effects of the “media” of photography and cinema in mass society is exemplary, for me, because it does not indicate only one possibility, but a range of possibilities (what he calls the “aestheticization of politics” or “politicization of art”) (See Benjamin, 2012[1935a]; Goldoni, 2013a). And so, looking for answers, I wish to borrow the notion of “medium” from McLuhan and his distinction between “content” and “message”, extending it far beyond the theory of distance media to any use of bodies, thoughts or things and to the effects of these uses on individuals and society. This extension is also possible thanks to the contribution made by philosophers like by J. G. Herder, F. H€olderlin, G. W.

F. Hegel, K. Marx, M. Heidegger, W. Benjamin, G. Débord, T. Watsuji; of

geographers like A. Berque, A. J. Scott; of sociologists like E. Durkheim,

H. Lefebvre. [1]

First, I wish to question the division between means of communication and means of production. Each use of things or production of things is a communication and, conversely, each communication “produces” something according to its medium (its “message”), insofar as it has effects on the organization of time, space, perception, imagination, and desire. Human bodies produce space and time through voices, gestures, actions, language, working, eating, traveling with one's hands or legs, and by many other means. Earth, air, water, food; rooms, walls, doors, roads etc. engender exclusions and passages, organize time and space. They thus produce and communicate at the same time: close media like the house, the store, the workplace, the hotel, the street, the square; the landscape, the city, the metropolis[2]; “distance” media like the market, money, print, firearms, industrial production, railways, cars, airplanes, missiles, drones.. .; the “new” media telephone, radio, TV, Internet. The economy lives through the messages of these (and other) media.

McLuhan's distinction between content and message (McLuhan, 1994[1964]) is crucial. This distinction allows us to understand how different media produce force lines along which life, desires and their energy can flow easily, while other directions are barred. These differences cannot be understood as long as the effects of the media are seen as being governed by their content. The use of a medium can conceal its message (its effects on the organization of space, time, desires, projects and practices) since its use (e.g. that of the mobile phone) seems to be justified by an increased efficiency of its content. But, in this case, its content is another, older medium: speech. Speech, as a medium, acts face to face, producing answers in the context of a conversation that takes place through a physical presence. The mobile phone operates anywhere, regardless of the actual location of the speaker, and suggests a faster mode of communication. Indeed, the “messages” of the two media work differently, and influence the content: mobile phone conversations—often had standing, in a public space—tend to be shorter, more synthetic, less analytically explanatory, and without complex narrative features. Often, there is no awareness of the specific effect of the “message” of a medium on its content. In addition, the more efficiently the “new” medium works, the more it induces a hypnosis, a narcissist “narcosis” with related habits, that will conceal the effect of the message.

Having said this, I wish to make the following brief observations.

There are dominant media in every society, in every age. In the Western modern age, the dominant media were money, firearms, and the press. In the contemporary globalized world the dominant media are money, information and especially the Internet, and the new technological military means of deterrence. Briefly:

(A) If the content of an exchange is the use value of a thing, its “message” is: “let us negotiate!”. If the content of money is negotiation, its message is: “everything is negotiable”. As the nature of the message is pragmatic—that is: I know that I can do something the moment in which I prove to actually be able to do it—it implies that “I can” becomes “I have to”. Furthermore, if I do not, others will do it, threatening to deprive me of my possibilities—this being so-called competition—and so “I have to do it”. Therefore, the “message” of money is its power of negotiating without limits: it does not tolerate quantitative restrictions. This is what Marx noted by arguing that the meaning of money lies in making more money: D–D'. In other terms: capitalism frees its message from its content.

(B) If the content of the telephone is speech, its message is the power of speaking at any moment, at a distance. The message of the mobile phone is that everyone can speak anywhere. If the content of the Internet is a constellation of media (TV, cinema, music, writing with mobile characters, (virtual) money), the message is:

“you can see, show, listen to, make music, write, buy, sell a lot of things (the offer goes increasingly faster beyond the present quantitative and qualitative boundaries) in any part of the world, in every moment.”

The impact of the interaction between money, the mobile phone and the Internet on the economy is quite evident (See also Logan, 2010, 116 ff., 235 ff.). Their combined message is:

“I can (I have to) increase the disposability of everything in any part of the world, at any moment!”

This is the essence of power over things, or of what Heidegger called the essence of technology (Heidegger, 1954). This way, money develops at the highest level an extra-national space and time, while it becomes more and more virtual. That is the current financial capitalism.

The intertwining of money and digital industries is not only an obvious

effect of their great profits, but also a result and sign of an analogous tendency, within each of these media, towards an unlimited power over time and space.

(C) So-called information seeks to legitimate this power. If the content of the information is the news, the message of the TV or, somehow, even of the Internet is:

“What reaches the screen is true”.

The “share” belongs to the structure of the truth of the medium.

The fact that economic power successfully buys information is not only the result of an obvious calculation, but the sign and effect of a deep sympathy between the two media.

These love affairs, marriages or even arranged marriages between different media happen by means of elective affinities, osmotic shifts of function from one domain to another.

Economics speaks of “externalities”. I would rather speak of transmediality.

(D) The trans-national armed police control of conflicts (See Schmitt, 1974) requires money, the Internet and so-called information in order to gain legitimacy. In turn, money, the Internet and information require a trans-national armed police to govern the conflicts they produce. Their combined message is:

“What is profitable is right—it is not profitable to disagree.”

(E) The dominant politics is the result of the ways in which these media cooperate: their combinations build geometries of convergent and partially intersecting surfaces, where the energies of individuals and societies are brought to flow. These surfaces become walls very difficult to cross for those who go against the flow. However, the media cannot work without zones of reciprocal friction and conflict.

  • [1] Herder conceived of life as a human relationship with the environment or nature as one inseparable unity, such that it is impossible to draw a line between what is human and what is natural. In this way, nature cannot be conceived only objectively, nor human action only subjectively. The relationship between human and nature is manifested in signs that can be brought to “expression” through various “organs”. In the case of men, organs are those of their bodies in every respect, and “language”. Each organ is a “medium” (Herder (1994[1787]), pp. 703, 710, 770–774; Herder (1989[1784–91]), book 3 chapters 3, 4, book 5 chapters 2, 3). This theory had a major influence on Goethe and his conception of the metamorphic relationship between man and nature, on H€olderlin's concept of “spirit” (as the result of the elaboration of the “signs” of the world or of a “sphere” through different organs, like language: see H€olderlin (1993[1797]); Goldoni, (2013a)), and on Hegel's theory of “spirit” (through logical dialectic). From here, the concept of medium was developed into the notion of “means of production” by Marx. Benjamin (2012[1935a]) widened the concept of “means of production” to include photography and the cinema. Débord (1992[1967]) extended the concept of “fetishism” to the whole society. The notion of instrument plays an important role in Heidegger's Sein und Zeit (1986[1927]) and in his later investigations of “technology” (Heidegger (1954)). In turn, Berque (2009) developed his theory of the “milieu” partly by engaging with Heidegger and Tetsuro Watsuji (2011), whose theory is explicitly indebted to Herder. See also Debray (1991). These concepts may be viewed in relation to McLuhan's notion of medium, and combined with it
  • [2] See e. g. Simmel (1903); Walter Benjamin's essay on Paris (2011[1935b]) ; Lefebvre (1970); Scott (2008)
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