The superindustry of the imaginary

Image: Andy Warhol
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By FERNANDO HADDAD*

Considerations on the recently released book by Eugênio Bucci

The Superindustry of the Imaginary It has to be read for several reasons. You might not agree with all the ideas, not because they are bad, but because there are too many. You will find quotes from Adam Smith, Lacan and Richard Dawkins in a book about image and capitalism, and all of them are very appropriate, very well placed to reinforce the argument, which is only one, which goes from end to end. Disagreements, anyway, may appear throughout the pages, but I find it difficult for anyone to completely disagree with the central thesis of the book. It is very unlikely that anyone will say that the author does not have a definitive point to understand what is happening in contemporary societies, especially after the advent of big tech.

It is good to remember that the original thesis that would end up giving rise to the book that is being released today was defended by Eugênio in 2002, in his doctorate. The world was another. Things have changed a lot since then, but, already in the original text, from the doctorate, he pointed to a disruptive movement, to something that was happening, that was big, and that time only came to confirm. The thesis was approved with praise and distinction twenty years ago, and today these ideas come to us as a testament that science knows how to project and criticize. This book is proof that it is worth studying, exploring, even to prevent the problems that society will face or is facing.

On the concept of superindustry

I would like to point out three aspects that seem very significant. The first is the adoption of the concept of superindustry – which Eugênio makes clear that he uses based on my texts, as in the book In defense of socialism, published by Vozes in 1998, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto. I'm not doing propaganda or self-propaganda, but it's because it's important to record this data.

At the very end of the XNUMXth century, the idea of ​​a post-industrial capitalism looms over the world. In fact, that's not what was happening. Already at that time there was nothing post-industry, but the opposite. It turns out that people tend to see this issue only through the traditional matrix side of economists' minds, which is legitimate. An economist looks at the Brazilian reality and says: “Brazil is deindustrializing”. And it is. The same economist looks at China and says, "China is industrializing." And it is.

But the concept that Eugênio takes, and which is the result of our interlocution, is another. He works with the concept that the industry is the production standard of whatever it is. This is the point. It doesn't matter what you're producing – whatever it is, it's industry standard. It could be the haircut: the haircut pattern of salons that have become professional is industrial. Can be one fast food. The consumption pattern is also industrial. It could be Japanese food, it could be tourism. The big theme parks revolve around the concept of industry, so much so that the tourism industry or the entertainment industry is usually spoken of.

This is the contemporary pattern of production and consumption. A part of religion has become an industrial standard, no longer operating within the framework of traditional capitalism and has been consumed by industry parameters, including from an efficiency point of view: there are goals to be met, goals for collecting tithes, for buying time of television. Religion is also a big industry.

Eugênio transports this concept to the field of the Imaginary. It is daring, but it is what he seeks to demonstrate with great credibility, as he knows this industry inside, as a professional, and outside, as a social scientist. He knows both sides of the counter, and is perhaps one of the few journalists in Brazil and the world with the professional experience and critical capacity that he has. I wouldn't know how to name many people who would be able to contribute to the debate in such a qualified way as Eugênio.

I follow the national and international press. There are very few names that would be able to write like that. the text of The superindustry of the imaginary It advances in a very light way and, at the same time, without that academic ceremony that sometimes hinders the formulation of the argument. The author does not allow himself to be stopped by any kind of rule that could encapsulate him in a school, he is not concerned with joining a school of thought, although he is naturally associated with the critical tradition – this inevitably. He mobilizes knowledge from various disciplines, bringing water to the mill of his understanding of an extremely complex phenomenon that he tries to decipher very competently.

Superindustry, desire and jouissance

Today, agribusiness is a super-industry, organized in a different way than it was initially conceived. Agribusiness is super-industrial from every point of view, whether because of its extreme mechanization, which crosses the territory in a predatory manner without paying the slightest attention to the environmental issue, consuming the land in the way it knows how to consume. You don't stop the advancement of it. In five years we may have an Amazon with soy and cattle. This is absolutely possible.

In the same way, calling a telemarketer a “service” is not having gone there to check how things are. The standard is industrial, the time of speech, the words used, and now voice automation, just see that many responses are given by robots. How are you going to call this a service?

Eugênio and I agree in saying that it is not possible to call this society post-industrial, because this industry has engulfed everything, including what seemed to be its reserve of free time. You are surfing on your cell phone and you are subject to a series of provocations, all the time. It's that thing that it's not me that navigates me, it's super-industry that navigates me. It's not you navigating, it's super-industry navigating you.

If it was already true that industrial capitalism produced needs, if this was already a hallmark of industrial capitalism, now it is no longer what it is about, because it is not needs that are being created. The logic of consumption has become a logic of desire production. Eugênio then resorts to Lacan to use the term jouissance value, as it is not use value that we are talking about anymore. Thus, he captures concepts to show us that he has a point.

Consumption in the private domain

The second aspect I would like to mention is the issue of consumption in intimacy, in private life. I was talking about the industry, but this also impacts consumption. If it's true that the Industrial Revolution made the subject an object, so that we've all been objects since the Industrial Revolution, appendages of a contraption that we don't master, and Eugênio realizes that, in the Super-industrial Revolution, if indeed people could even use that term, everything is engulfed by this system, including what appears to be our private life, where we are supposedly free to make whatever decisions we want.

The book shows that you are engulfed, even when you think you are freely choosing things that are attractive for your pleasure, for your private entertainment. This moment of individual retreat is the moment that most interests contemporary capital, when it catches up with you helplessly. You are not in the factory, you are not in the workplace and, even so, you are completely subsumed by an industrial logic that you have not mastered either, not even in the private sphere.

public sphere

The third aspect is that of the public sphere. The public sphere is taken over, because things are merging in such a way that you can no longer know what your role in society is. The roles of producer, consumer and citizen no longer exist as we imagined, they are interrelated in an absurd way, which has an impact on politics. The public sphere is in every way contained in this super-industrial pattern that dominates relations – including communicational relations. This new spectacle, to use Guy Debord, is harrowing.

When he talks about the public sphere, Eugênio has Habermas in mind from the 1960s, who has been lost over time. Habermas kept changing the subject and his mature books have a different approach, completely different from the approach of this new book by Eugênio. That is why, by the way, I say that he joins the Critical Theory. It is a critical essay, the result of this tradition, which dialogues with the young Habermas, with Guy Debord, with the theorists of modern communication.

Updating the critical tradition

Eugênio's book promotes a reflection on the necessary mediations to understand what are the new ways of capturing people's desire, instincts, inclinations, who think they are free to do things. He updates this debate far beyond the spectacle, the medium and the message, the public sphere subsumed by the media, and takes a step beyond what he himself wrote fifteen or twenty years ago. If you take Eugênio's first books, they didn't go as far as the doctoral thesis already went and they didn't go as far as this book goes now.

It is a book that is of interest to the social sciences in general, because it brings up a subject that sometimes is not addressed; the technologists are on one side, talking about how the internet works today – and we have great books on this – and the political scientists are working with the old tools, but the conversation between the disciplines is not established. Eugênio brings the necessary interdisciplinarity to think about complex phenomena that still escape our understanding, precisely because they are new and complex. Sometimes we still don't have the tools to think about all this, and this book comes to offer us a great contribution.

*Fernando Haddad is a professor of political science at USP. He was Minister of Education and mayor of São Paulo. Author, among other books, of Work and language: towards the renewal of socialism (Quicksilver).

Edited transcript of Fernando Haddad's participation in the book launch.

Reference


Eugene Bucci. The superindustry of the imaginary. Belo Horizonte, Autêntica (Essays collection), 2021, 446 pages.

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