Deconstruction, Construction and Reappearance of Capital Logic
Edited by Xi Li
Chapter One. Deconstruct the current contradiction of modernity
Chapter Two. Three Domination Forms of Constructing Capital Logic
(1) Mode of production: Consumerism
(2) Form of governance: Society of the Spectacle
(3) Transmission mechanism: Pseudo environment
(4) Summary: the birth of the spirit of fetishism in the new era
Chapter Three. Reappearing Capital Logic
Proofreading thanks: Joyce Campbell, John Shen and Hamish McLaren
The COVID-19 in 2020 is like a warning, and it has caused an existential crisis, an economic crisis, a political crisis, and a social crisis in contemporary society. People come into contact with a large amount of mixed information from various media every day, and individual disasters and depressing events are also happening in turns all the time. Various politicized contents are constantly leading the chaotic collision of global ideologies, as if forcing us to stand in line with our stand. The spiritual civilization and life experience of all human beings have shown infinite paradoxes. In this difficult social tone to distinguish between true and false, I suddenly realized that I have always been looking at the incomplete phantom of society. This “unreality” stems from my loss of human value and the instantaneous collapse of cognition and belief. This makes me wonder: Why is the world civilization constantly developing, but the spiritual civilization is so nihilistic? What made us accept and follow the development line of this era? How can we find its operating logic in the infinitely complicated information points in society?
As the philosopher Michel Foucault said: “What I have to do is to use this historical analysis to make things more fragile. Or more specifically, to explore why and how these things are constructed into the present It shows that they were constructed through the exact history. Therefore, we should start from the inside of these things, find the strategic logic that enables them to be created, and show that these are just some strategies. By changing some things, or changing strategies, by looking at things from another level, those things that once seemed to us to exist will no longer have their inevitability.”
I will re-explore this contemporary reality dilemma through the three stages of postmodern thought: deconstruction, construction, and reproduction. This is not a critical activity directed at politics, nor is it a useless negative statement of an unknowable reality. Rather, it aims to explore the deep-seated reasons behind the contradiction between contemporary spiritual civilization and life experience and reshape my own spiritual blueprint. I call this- “A spiritual revolution of the self”.
Chapter 1: Deconstruct the current contradiction of modernity
“Do we have the courage to question the narratives and devour myths about the pillars of our civilization? Do we have the courage to be unfaithful to our culture and break our own beliefs? Do we dare to open our hearts unconditionally?”
Although the binary opposition model has tried to explain the world, it is obvious that this judgment model of either black or white, either right or wrong, and either good or evil is not enough to answer my doubts about the current social situation. And Marx’s materialist dialectics provides me with another perspective: all things coexist in a unity and transform, interpenetrate, and penetrate each other. The unity of opposites is contained in everything. I believe that society itself also confirms the law of the unity of opposites. Contradiction itself is driving the movement and changes of things. It is the fundamental content of society and the internal driving force for eternal development.
The construction of modern civilization needs the spiritual guidance of traditional values and culture, and more importantly, it needs to be driven by powerful realistic material forces. A key factor providing the material power for the construction of modernity, and this is “Capital logic”. The logic of capital refers to capital as a dominant modern production relationship, which is the expansion and proliferation completed by the combination of the capitalist production process and the circulation process. Capital Logic has the ability to gobble everything, and the infinite pursuit of profits is its rigid law. Regardless of factors such as culture, country, region, and politics, the biggest reality in society is that the logic of capital has fully penetrated the global society, it has shaped the values and behaviors of modern people, and it has formed the basic spirit of the modern lifestyle. It has become the main force to promote world development.
But like everything, the course of capital logic itself has dialectical internal contradictions. Karl Marx emphasized in Das Kapital (1867-1894): “Capital is a living contradiction.” On the one hand, capital logic has positive identity. Its ultimate goal is to integrate all fields of society by eliminating differences. In its own system, it creates favorable conditions for expansion and proliferation. Therefore, under the rule of capital logic, human beings have created huge productivity and experienced unprecedented prosperity. Social wealth has accumulated massively and living standards have generally improved. Technological progress is rapid and modern Mankind is enjoying the convenience brought about by modernization. The market economy has stimulated the rapid development of the economy, opened up the world market, and continuously integrated the world. “The capital system has changed the world pattern, advocated the liberation of individuality, and made equality and freedom a human society. The common ideals pursued have greatly changed the social values of mankind.”
But on the other hand, the negative one-sidedness of capital logic has turned to its own opposite in the proliferation movement in pursuit of maximizing benefits. In the social environment, the phenomenon of resource shortage, ecological destruction, environmental pollution, population expansion, economic crisis, and war threats are increasingly exposed in the process of continuous extreme development. As the historian David Courtwright said: “At the same time, the hungry soul replaced the hungry world.” Human ethics, emotions, spirit, and values have also become elements that have been incorporated into the system of capital logic, and human material production and spiritual survival are constantly being alienated. Tracing to the root cause, what cause this current society has completely transitioned from the capital logic production stage to the capital logic dominance stage. Capital logic has long been separated from the material production process, has evolved to dominate the essential logic of modern society's operation, and has by now developed an independent existence.
“Continuous technological innovation, the combination of the state and the economy, the hidden state of universalization, indisputable lies.” Is this madness in reason, or reason in madness? Is it absurdly true, or is it truly absurd? Are we lost in the contemplation of the world, or is the world lost in our contemplation? On the surface, there are two opposing conclusions, but they can be justified in the current situation. However, all of these are the inevitable results of the continuous evolution of capital logic.
Chapter 2: Constructing the Domination Form of Capital Logic
To make a theoretical response to the increasingly serious spiritual crisis, it is necessary to confirm the new relationship between modern humans and society. At present, people's ideas towards capital logic have developed a general visual picture based on representation. And capital logic, as the dominant logic of this world of appearance, must have its disguised mask. Its mode of production is expressed as “Consumeris”; its ruling form is expressed as “Society of the Spectacle”; and its propagation mechanism is expressed as “Pseudo environment”. In this chapter, I will explain the three phenomena of capital logic under a constructive theoretical paradigm.
(1) Mode of production: Consumerism
The modern production of capital logic is manifested as consumerism. Consumerism is a recognized new social condition. As early as the 1950s and 1960s, this phenomenon has increasingly attracted the attention of many theorists. “It began with Roland Barthes' semiotic critique of popular culture, through Henri Lefebvre's urban sociological critique of the consumption system and matured from Guy-Ernest Debord's metaphysical critique of the consumption spectacle.” But, nowadays, the lifestyle of the new capital era becomes ever more “gorgeous” and “false”.
At the most intuitive level, modern society presents itself as a large accumulation and flow of commodities, namely capital in physical form. Our daily life manifests itself as a society firmly controlled by the ubiquitous consumption system, with expenses floating above production. Circulation, purchase, sale, wealth, and objects are constituted our language and codes. Slogans, logos, and signs form the illusory form of symbols, and the whole society relies on them to communicate. The consumer behavior of the masses has also changed from an inner spiritual life to industry. Leisure not only means the connotation of pure personal experience for the purpose of pleasure and leisure, but it is also a social activity. Commodities have been elevated to unprecedented heights; Consumption seems to be the new fulcrum of human existence.
“The serial deceptive trick” of capital logic
So how did the logic of capital shift from the realm of production to the realm of symbolic consumption of daily life? How does it accomplish this process of alienation, so that human material production in turn dominates human beings? I named this whole process-"The serial deceptive trick".
The first step of "the serial deceptive trick" is to make use of all leisure time to penetrate the publicity of glittering generality, abundant products, and gorgeous advertisements into the daily lives of individual citizens. From enormous screens in cities to social platforms, the quality of "good life" are being constantly imploded to our minds. The mode of visual communication turns the functionality and decoration of commodities into visual symbols, and people's rational cognition and hidden desires all fall into this seductive and affluent society.
Second stage is that capital logic eliminates people's class consciousness. “Commercial visual symbols are always presenting a guiding structure of desire,” and production also pays more attention to the symbolic value of commodities. This is not the purchase and enjoyment of commodities in the usual sense, but an increase in social status and value. It makes people mistakenly falls into consumer behavior itself, class and living standards can be relatively improved; through positive representations, it guides people to imitate and pursue the lifestyle and values of the upper class. People are not only consuming material products; they are also consuming the social hierarchy and intangible differences behind that product.
At last, people take the initiative to create their own consumption autonomy. Marx directly pointed out: "People get psychological satisfaction in the pursuit and consumption of commodities, along with the realization of pleasure and self-worth, thus concealing or even eliminating the general suffering caused by the alienated labor caused by the capitalist system. And torture.”  “Hedonism replaced the Protestant ethics of asceticism; the collective subconsciousness of modern society is the pursuit of timely satisfaction.” Chasing the symbols created by the media, consciously adapting to cultural diversity, and releasing pressure in consumption has become an important behavior pattern for modern civilization.
Looking back at the relationship between "the serial deceptive trick" and us, society has formed an automatic mode of operation with consumption as the core, and the beneficiaries have also suffered. The sense of identity brought by consumption continues to provide people with psychological pleasure and promise of happiness. Using pseudo-aesthetics and pseudo-sublimation to conceal the fact that human nature is suppressed. Consumption has become the glue and anesthetic of society, and the culture where the poor and the rich are exposed to products seems to be no different. Consumption is a tool for people to vent themselves, and only in this way can they ensure that people's thinking is uniform. This has caused the problem that although people have received some immediate benefits, they have essentially lost their principle. So far, capital logic has used consumerism to overrun the individual, making the entire society a means and tool for capital proliferation. The symbol and the commodity have become an inseparable individual, and the consumption behavior has also developed from a use-value to an insurmountable "hedonic cycle".
(2) Form of governance: The Society of the Spectacle
The modern rule of capital logic is manifested as the society of the spectacle. This theory was first proposed by the French philosopher Guy-Ernest Debord in The Society of the Spectacle (1967). Based on consumerism, Debord further demonstrated the social state after the win-win of commodities and media. “It proves the expansion of capital logic from symbolic consumption to life itself.”
False images world under comprehensive spectacle
Tracing back to the etymology of spectacle, it means seeing, watching. “The spectacle is the result of visual communication, and it is also the culmination of ideology”. In the 20th century, the spectacle society ruled are in two ways: concentrated spectacle and diffuse spectacle. Concentrated spectacle creates a spiritual level and a metaphorical visual communication object in the spiritual space for the audience, showing the characteristics of strong manipulation. On the contrary, diffuse spectacle appears as a cultural hegemony based on identity, showing relative freedom and materialization characteristics. But different from the past, the modern spectacle successfully formed an alliance between the two, combined the centralized control and the hidden characteristics of diffusion, and evolved a more complete new form-"capital logic comprehensive spectacle".
The control form of "Capital logic comprehensive spectacle" is directly displayed as a visible false image. Even the landscape itself has entered the circulation market as a commodity itself, building a pseudo-world that permeates people's daily life through cultural facilities and mass media. Modern society has changed from a material society to a huge accumulation of spectacles, and all production has been unable to break free from the background of spectacle display and sales. The image culture displayed by movies, televisions, commodities, and advertisements permeates the daily life of the general public; massive amounts of information are processed into various pictures and videos by media technology. Images are given almost all advantages, including political, economic, cultural, and ideological. Whether it is the capitalist who made the spectacle or the masses controlled by the spectacle, they are all shrouded in the imaginary world promised by the spectacle. Modern people created a spectacle, but the spectacle separated modern people.
Just when we are addicted to the bizarre modern spectacle illusion, extensive entertainment and confusion form the deepest enslavement. “It concealed its recent process of conquering the world, concealed its own ruling purpose, and lost the revolutionary potential and class consciousness of the masses and the possibility of organizing collective criticism of society. " The spectacle continues to paint a beautiful illusory picture, which completely blocks the possibility of the public perceiving the real world and the opportunity for autonomous rational judgment. It is slowly corroding our cognition and thinking ability, making us gradually lose our own criticality and creativity. Once we rely too much on the image language in the system, therefore we have to accept the fate of being instilled by ideological images. The relationship between people and everything then can only be realized with the help of images and symbols. In this kind of construction of daily life, we will inevitably become one-dimensional people, falling into a dual existence that includes affirmation and doubt.
Perhaps in the early days of the spectacle, the public still had a clear understanding of this potential threat. But, in the current society, many of our deep-rooted principles and norms are actually part of the spectacle. Even in our consumerism process and unconscious obedience to the spectacle lifestyle, we are continuing to affirm the existing system. When we acquiesced to this development trajectory, then the continuous development of capital logic became inevitable. “The masses can only be silent in the monologue and indulged in the appearance.” Even with the people that are not affected by capital logic they would have no ability to change the status quo, therefore capital logic has succeeded in hypnotized people through spectacles.
(3) Transmission mechanism: Pseudo environment
Pseudo environment, as the propagation mechanism of capital logic, is the key reason for the formation of the chain of consumption and the proliferation of spectacle. If the two theories of “consumerism” and “the society of the spectacle” raise the suspicion that capital logic is overhead the world, then the theory of “pseudo environment” can directly prove to us: Capital logic uses powerful manufacturing and streaming functions to make the entire postmodern society media shrouded in information, constantly transforming reality into a simulacrum. This theory was put forward by American communication scholar Walter Lippmann in his book Public Opinion (1922). “It refers to the hypothetical environment formed after the media use the actual environment as the original blueprint, and will select and process symbolic events or information, and restructure them.”
The transformation of pseudo environment into reality
Although the media is a tool produced by humans to promote human communication, it is unsure that our understanding towards the real world will be truly accurate. Looking at the world around us today, if things don’t appear on television, newspapers or social media, they don’t seem to exist. The rapid information delivered by media can not only provide people with real-time dynamic information, but also actively participate in the global public information space. “With the application and popularization of digital technologies such as film, live broadcast, 3D, IMAX, VR, AR, the pseudo environment constructed by the media is getting closer and closer to the real environment, allowing the audience to have an immersive sense of presence.” It can be said that the current media is not simply a form or tool for carrying information, nor is it just the expansion and merging of information delivery vehicles on traditional video platforms, but presents an extremely open and unified dynamic giant system.
However, it is precise because the current society has become increasingly huge and complex that the pseudo environment has new characteristics: the number is surprisingly large, fragmented, superficial, unorganized, and difficult to select. Even, it has the characteristic of law that does not depend on human will. For example: the dissemination of information by printed media must be based on the abstraction and separation of reality from text and pictures; the dissemination of sound limits the world to the frame of sound language and sound effects; television compresses the world on a flat surface and transmits those specific images that have been screened. The pseudo environment does not express all the information in the real environment, but selectively reflects the objective changes in the real environment. Just as the media culture scholar Li Siqu stated in: “the globe is not equal to the earth; the real image is not equal to the reality itself.” What it provides to people is a world that has been simplified and distorted by technology to a certain extent, a world of images that is far from the real world.
Since people have long understood and transformed the world based on the pseudo environment, this will surely start the reconstruction of social-cultural space. The pseudo environment is constantly catering to people, and it will emphasize the specified content in order to cater to the audience's opinions on critical thinking; the pseudo environment is constantly shaping people, and people will change their judgment due to the content produced by the media. Since the media and content of visual communication activities are shaped by complex factors such as ideology and power, there is now an ideological split in the world. If pushed to the extreme according to its development logic, it will be beyond the knowable and controllable range of the communicator and audience. In this sense, modern humans collectively weave a picture of the objective world. Reality has become the past, and symbolic reality has begun to rule people’s consciousness. After breaking away from the real world, what greets us is the collapse of the boundary between the simulation and the reality, so that it is difficult for people to make a clear distinction between the two.
(4) Summary: the birth of the spirit of fetishism in the new era
In my opinion, the dominated by capital logic has far exceeded the scope of people's experience. In summary, under the interaction of these three capital logic manifestations, the whole society itself is directly manifested as: An economy that develops only for itself; a faithful reproduction of the production process; and an incorrect objectification of human beings. Capital logic has become the “manipulator” of society; economy and politics have become the “spokesperson” of it; culture has become the “propagandist” of it. Capital logic is the main force that exists at all levels, and the masses are completely passive. In this way, capital logic has acquired cultural and philosophical connotations and has become a belief. Obviously, it has forged us the spiritual barriers of the new era.
“Industrial civilization liberated people from the bondage of gods, and at the same time put people under the rule of capital and enslaved them.” Nowadays, what the masses chase is no longer just religion and gods. It also includes the publicized and promoted life itself that covers every corner of life. Marx put forward the common core of economic life and religion, he likened the mystery of the commodity world to commodity fetishism and pointed out that fetishism is the sublime object of ideology. Later, Debord replaced the term commodity with spectacle to express his belief that spectacle has the same function as a religion, which makes the public divorce from reality, return to fantasy, and implant illusions into secular life.
Today, the fetish spirit created by capital logic evokes a kind of mysticism in contemporary status symbols and commodity signs. The festival condenses the usual happiness into temporary pleasure, allowing people to forget time, and creates temporary eternity. All kinds of fashionable and popular symbol systems have surpassed the visual value and become the supreme "fetish god" that controls the mundane life. People are full of worship for the world they have created, immersed in secular prosperity, and obsessed with the imagination of desire. The popular urban culture has a rich life tension, it has a strong aggressiveness, forming a global cultural structure centered on the metropolis. The urban landscape is presented as the concreteness of architecture and the distortion of scale. The prosperity of mechanical reproduction makes the relationship between reality and imitation a complicated and irreconcilable issue. The world is no longer flat or three-dimensional, but multidimensional and dreamy, presenting endless symbolic meaning and expressing the dreamy vision of infinite time and space. The fetishism of the new era not only enhances people's life interest, but also suppresses people's real desire, which makes humans appears to be extremely isolated during this period of history.
The reality presented by the symbol system of capital logic breaks away from the limitation of language, becomes unconstrained, and reaches the state of freedom. However, the attainment of endless freedom does not usher in the sublime, it only leads to the separation of people from the real world. Human beings themselves become emptied, reality disappears in the fog of images and symbols, and its essence is meaningless. It turns out that capital logic is the material power and spiritual power that dominates all areas of modern life; the spirit ether and the radiant light that guides the human heart.
Chapter 3: Reappearing Capital Logic
“True philosophy is the essence of the spirit of our own age. Philosophy not only from the inside in terms of its content, but also from the outside in terms of its performance, it must integrate and interact with the real world of its own era.”
In the previous two chapters, based on the theoretical changes of theorists in various periods, I launched an essential process of judging the development of contemporary society. I connected the common ground of the three theories of “Consumerism”, “The Society of the Spectacle” and “Pseudo environment”. Trying to construct the sum of the characteristics of the current society from the three directions of capital logic production mode, ruling form and communication mechanism. Through these analyses, we can know that the expansion of capital logic has reflected the breaking of the real laws, and it has constructed a symbolic world above reality. The commercialization, symbolization, spectacleization, symbolization, characterization and simulacification of life and society are ontological. I can't help but lament the sorrow that cannot escaped from the capital logic has become the spiritual shackles of huamnity. Growing up during this period of time, I find myself as an ordinary person among the rest, confronting a world filled with visual symbols, I am at ease under the guidance of dazzling scenes.
Although the decline and uneasiness of spiritual civilization is a doomed process, I want to regard capital logic itself as a field of conflicts of various discourses. If we want to destroy the control and suppression of capital logic over people in the process of modernity, we must remain vigilant and critical of this process of subtle infiltration. Debord once pointed out: “If we want to overcome the control of the consumption system, we must move towards an artistic change of life in order to achieve the transcendence and overcoming of the rule of imagery and illusion.”
By engaging in simulation work, I use art to narrate a point of view, getting a balance between reality and virtuality. Coming to New Zealand as a second-generation immigrant, my background has also granted me a unique cultural perspective that enables me to engage in unusual critical thinking. My social class is on the edge of the comsumer market. But as Isidore Isou, the initiator of Lettrism, said: “Because they are not yet bound by their family and work, they are fortunate enough to be free from the control of the capitalist market, so they enjoy relatively extraordinary freedom.” Therefore, how to integrate one's own position to think independently? How to imply my perspective through visual art? How to use the existing image paradigm to complete the feedback and response to the symbolic world? These are the ultimate goals of my practice.
Breaking "Spectacle" with "Spectacle"
No one is omniscient and omnipotent, and it is impossible for anyone to make an analysis based on the full picture of the real world. They must simplify and “model” the analysis of an event, and then incorporate them into their own cognitive framework. Only in this way can we more easily understand the extremely complex things in the real world. The existence of video art completes the imagination domain constructed by the public, and it is the best presentation medium for this kind of “modeling”. Just like the concept of “Agenda Setting” in communication studies, the image itself is to create a convincing environment and situation to unfold the author's imagination and understanding of the world. For example, through montage techniques, the lens language is edited to have completely different meanings; through the scheduling of the soundtrack, the rhythm of the film is grasped, thereby affecting the mood of the audience.
My practice process itself is dealing with contemporary art. By placing my creation in this symbolic culture, the work is also displayed as a symbolic content. I call this process: breaking “spectacle” with “spectacle”. This means that I output my own views through visual culture and art forms. What it conveys is to use visual representation as a “bunker” to achieve a comprehensive and in-depth attack and subversion of capital logic. Its purpose is to use capital logic to criticize itself through the characteristics of image narration. This is also my stimulating attempt under the domination of capital logic.
The work “Spirit Ether” unfolds in a non-linear narrative structure, it visualizes a world filled with visual symbols. I transformed the capital logic from an abstract concept into a visualization, utilizing macroscopic thinking to piece together the fragmented afterimages of the capital logic left in the appearance, and constructed its numb and complicated panorama of governance. The combination and interchange between different scenes in the video; the city scene is full of concrete buildings and dazzling posters and advertisements all based on metaphors, exaggerations and distortions of the social appearance of reality. Various symbolic signs frequently appear in the details of the work, which are used to deepen the audience's association and memory and convey unlimited publicity significance. A large number of elements repeatedly jump in the intuitive impact and hazy feeling, it creates a restrictive but penetrating visual effect. This way of reappearance is also ironic: the mixed areas appearing in the video are actually taken for granted in real life and can be seen constantly. What we encounter is panoramic domination. What we face is fragmented reality.
In the research process of this practice, I deeply analyzed three animated films created during the 1980-2000 period of Japan’s economic bubble: “Akira” (1988), “Neon Genesis Evangelion” (1995) and “Paprika” (2006). This era is very similar to the spiritual civilization turbulence and survival crisis that all humanity has encounter in 2020. The reflections on the phenomenon of the times of internal and external troubles in these films; the portrayal of people's spiritual displacement under the background of the times; and the dystopian city scenes constructed have profoundly affected my creative thinking and aesthetic presentation. In addition, I also refer to science-fiction films “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “On the Silver Globe” (1988) and “The Congress” (2013) from Western countries. They are characterized by their strong apocalyptic atmosphere, which deeply satirizes the flaws in human nature and puts forward a vision for the future of mankind. These not only brought me a global perspective, but also showed me how artists from different regions and periods used artistic forms to describe their own era and their aspirations.
Arthur Schopenhauer said: “Thinking is more important than reading.” In my opinion, creation is more important than consumption. In “Spirit Ether”, I provided a process of reorganizing the social appearance, expressing my social criticism and individual reflection. When faced with this kind of question that I could not answer, I used the most authentic attitude to justify my role in this society, my own awe of the unknown.
I still firmly believe that we and the world are a relationship that shapes each other. Culture is never used to serve capital; it is used to awaken the world. I want to live in front of concrete reality; accept the concept of diversification; capture the major themes of times; observe the social value of the historical process; present individualized contemporary thinking; constantly establish a new cognitive framework; Create the freedom of your own mind. The process of developing this work helped me summon the unattainable possibilities. This is the pursuit of noble ideals and truth, and it is also the ultimate meaning of self-spiritual revolution. We may not know what the future under capital logic will look like, but we can consider how to face today's reality. We must all find our own answers.
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