“The Market” is an abstraction, a deformed representation of human social relations. It is a collective hallucination that possesses reality only because we allow it to do so.
If the previous two sentences make sense to you, then you have grasped the mystery of the commodity– the commodity fetish– and its fullest expression: reification.
What is a market? A mechanism that is intended to serve human needs. And yet when we flip on CNN to watch the anchor-lady hologram jabber “The Market” seems to morph into a supernatural entity whose mysteries cannot be penetrated. It appears to us as an occult force– inscrutable and omnipotent.
Victor Pelevin understands that the Wild West economy of New Russia has simply substituted one form of alienation for another. In the process of “shocking” the Russian economy, of asset-stripping the State and imposing consumer culture, the lives of ordinary Russians capsized. The forces at work manufactured a nation of Type Two Subjects incapable of understanding the world and themselves except according to the principle of exchange. In this sense the “liberation” of Russia from “totalitarianism” (a much-misused word with an interesting history) was in fact a kind of degeneration. Instead of the dead hand of the Communist State squeezing the life from the people, now The Market became the all-seeing eye which surveilled them, the radio signal jamming their brain waves, the New Reality which demanded anal-oral wow behaviors. The proper analogy here is with The Matrix:
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.
As we move ahead to Mark Fisher, we’ll see that some of the basic ideas we’ve used to discuss Pelevin have been modified and adapted to analyze and describe postmodernism. The basic opposition between surface and depth, appearance and essence, ideology and truth, will become more complex. To a large extent, Pelevin gone beyond the basic co-ordinates of Marxist thought in Homo Zapiens. The virtual (type two) subject produced by media has, in a meaningful way, already dispensed with “reality” altogether. Such an insight is very close to the ideas formulated by Jean Baudrillard, particularly his concept of the Simulacrum. Baudrillard believed that representations now outstrip their referents, that postmodernity is characterized by the disappearance of the real. Models and representations of reality, he argued, have become so overpowering and pervasive that the real, in a sense, no longer exists.
For now, we need to make sure that we grasp Pelevin’s fable of consumer capitalism. It’s interesting to note that his critique represents the New Russia as inalterably fallen– emptied of all meaning and social “truth”– and that in order to do so he must retain at least a shred of that truth. Even if there is no escape from the HZ condition, such an impasse requires its inverse– an unalienated situation located somewhere in the past. In other words, Pelevin’s dark vision of New Russia seems to depend on a (severely circumscribed) humanist vision. In this respect he echoes Marx.