The magic

Paulo Pasta, Untitled, 2011, Oil On Paper, 150 x 170 cm


Commentary on the film directed by Sylvain Chomet

The plot of the movie The magic (L'illusionniste, 2010) couldn't be simpler. It's the story of Tatischeff, who lives in search of people who can enjoy his magic and tricks. During his travels he meets young Alice, with whom he goes to live for a while in Edinburgh. However, the simplicity disappears when the director, Sylvain Chomet – the same as Belleville's bicycles (Les triplettes de Belleville, 2003), using comic scenes, tells a sad story: that of a magician who, as a professional, but above all as a human being, no longer finds a place in the capitalist world of spectacularization and commodity fetishism.

Sylvain Chomet, perhaps not fully aware of all the implications that appear behind the sequences of images in this story, addresses important questions about the artist, the work of art and its defining criteria, in the world of serial reproduction dominated by exchange value and the profit of capital. The narrative addresses the inadequacy of older professions, which no longer correspond to the real demands of the modern world in contemporary times, and the emptying of the human in social relations. The conception of the animated film is almost realistic, masterfully using depth of field and chiaroscuro, abusing the pastel tones and transparency of watercolors, as if that world were, in fact, disappearing.

The result is simply moving, sublime. The magic, it does not only refer to the protagonist's profession, but also to the enchanting magic of the film itself. As an animated film, it is also an affectionate tribute to cinema – particularly silent cinema, making viewers plunge into a kind of melancholy, especially when they see the disappearance of movie theaters, which lose space for streaming. or for Pentecostal churches.

The story begins in Paris, in 1959. The magician Tatischeff carries with him the only publicity poster he has for his shows. He lives in a world where the transformation promoted by technique in the production of cultural goods and art into merchandise for mass consumption, by the cultural industry, are increasingly explicit and dominant. Mechanical music and television lead men more and more to contemplation and entertainment shows. vaudeville e music hall[I] no longer enchant, not even the inhabitants of small towns.

Tatischeff, in order to survive, is forced to look for increasingly remote places, where technology has not yet arrived and his magic tricks can still provoke some emotion. He ends up in a small village in Scotland, where he meets a cleaning girl, Alice. Both, without family and poor in affection, end up getting closer and developing a reciprocal affection, as if they were father and daughter. The two head to Edinburgh together.

The choice for Edinburgh is not innocent: it is the place where the ancient and the modern coexist. Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, has a very clear divide. A Old Town maintains the medieval setting in its architecture, with its castles, cathedrals and palaces. The streets are narrower and no more than 20.000 people live in the area. On the other hand, the newtown it is marked by modernity, both in its architecture and in the original layout of the streets, making it the preferred area for traders, professionals and businessmen to live and work. This coexistence between the old and the new is present in The magic.

Tatischeff, Alice and other decadent artists (three trapeze artists, a clown and a ventriloquist) live in an old wooden building in Old Town. The apartments are small (bedroom, living room, bathroom), the building does not have elevators and the water supply is precarious. The new city presents itself with its shop windows, restaurants and large shopping malls. In Edinburgh, Tatischeff will discover that, unfortunately, magic and magicians no longer have a place in the "society of the spectacle" and Alice will be completely captured by the city's illuminated shop windows and the "fetishism of commodities" offered by the shops.

The reference, in this article, to the “society of the spectacle” is not related to the broad and vulgarized notion that many sociologists have absorbed from the mainstream media. Rather, it is a concept elaborated by Guy Debord ([1967]1997) that emphasizes the fetishism of merchandise, in order to establish a critique of the category of value that is expressed in the market through prices and of the entire capitalist society. The rigor of Guy Debord's critique of merchandise and value, based on Karl Marx, should have been completed and updated some time ago.

Guy Debord starts from the category of merchandise, but already in his own time, fictitious capital (in Marx's terms) summarizes and raises fetishism and the emptying of the substance of commodity value to the stratosphere. As capital is a social relation, such an emptying will penetrate all its pores. This is why the representations of the “society of the spectacle” are even more marked by the emptying of the real value of social relations. Social relations came to be dominated by fictitious capital, from the gigantic capital accumulation of the 30 glorious post-war golden years.

After the domination of financial capital (as the last capital (Nóvoa, Balanco, 2013; Nóvoa, 2020), synthesis of all other forms of capital), the fetishism of money produces even more subjective damage than in the time of Marx. The volatility of its essence permanently destroys real values. The emptying of real value is expressed in representations through the fetishistic fluidity of value, which becomes anti-value. It is no coincidence that, after depression, the disease that increasingly dominates the psyche in the 2st century is anorexic melancholy. In the critique of political economy in the 3th century and throughout XNUMX/XNUMX of the XNUMXth century, most goods retained real use value.

But, from the last quarter of this century and during the last two decades of the XNUMXst century, more and more mass merchandise appears, without even real use, such as Coca-Cola and MacDonald. Series productions of films and series by Netflix, Globoplay and other platforms streams, are expressions of glamorized and mass media garbage. If capital, mortgages and the “value” of inflationary securities – and without real value, have less and less to do with the direct production of real use values, it is understandable that the alienated relationship between the direct producers (the worker) and the fruit and meaning of their work, escape them and dominate them completely, in an even more strange and destructive way. To them, but also to the consumers of the “consumer society”.

It is no longer just the socially surplus time for the reproduction of labor power (surplus value, surplus value) that is appropriated by capital, but also “free” time, as well as that in which people are awake (managing their lives or intending to have fun), like the one they're sleeping in. The voracity of Molok-capital wants to be master of all social time.

In other words, the entire psychosomatic and social metabolism[ii] serves capital and its accumulation, even if such accumulation takes place with fictitious values. The magic of images and virtual representations of reality become increasingly abstract and meaningless, reproducing the estrangement that occurs in social processes themselves. Average social time is rapidly and incessantly homogenized by robotics, digital informatics and algorithms, dissolving all individual particularities. It transforms men into a kind of specter of an “abstract man”, who is no longer able to identify his particular social utility, since he no longer has an individuality, nor his own and real personality.

This man becomes superfluous (Vassort, 2012) and, since he is both producer and consumer, incorporating the reproduction of dominant social relations, he also participates in his own domination. What is produced and which becomes “dead work” dominates the “living work” of workers and direct producers, replaces and kills it as never before in the history of capitalism. Man, individual and social, ends up being the victim and accomplice of one and the same process dominated in modernity by capital as a destructive social relationship. Cinema is probably the work of art that most and best appropriates social and human processes. In any case, that's what we feel when we watch The magic. This is why we take it here as a leitmotif for our reading of the world entering the most destructive era of capital's domination.


Tati(cheff)[iii]: the “father”, the artist, the sportsman

The screenplay of the film is attributed to the French actor, producer and director Jacques Tati. In fact, the film was inspired by a letter that Tati wrote to his daughter Sophie (whom he had with a dancer from m and never recognized), in the late 1950s, exactly at the same time that he acted in My uncle (Mon uncle, 1958). Therefore, the similarities between the two productions are intentional. It is not by chance that The magic begins in 1959. The letter was found in the archives of the National Center of Cinematography (CNC), with the title Film Tati #4. Throughout the narrative, Tatischeff contemplates a photo, contemplation always accompanied by a long sigh.

Only at the end of the film is the viewer informed that the photo is of a girl, which can be understood as a reference to the unrecognized daughter. That's because, through a game of images, Chomet reveals the photo and thanks Sophie for access to the original script. It is also interesting to note that children are frequent in the narrative and are always bored with magic tricks, which no longer seduce them. Only Alice, a girl like the one in the photo, is seduced. Maybe that's why, remembering his daughter, Tatischeff accepts to take her with him and participate in her growth and maturity, until she meets her first boyfriend.

Such a course, Jacques Tati did not take with his own daughter and with this gesture he tries a “self-forgiveness”. When writing the letter, it's as if he wanted to make up for it, admitting the mistake of not having recognized his biological daughter. The magic, therefore, is also a biographical essay on Jacques Tati. Having a child and being an artist is no small feat. In the world of commodities, time is made a central issue in all types of relationships. Time is dehumanized. It metamorphoses in the time of a trade so abstract that the enslaved man becomes its appendage.

Jacques Tatischeff (the same name as the magician in the film), better known as Jacques Tati, pursued a sporting and artistic career. Due to his height, 1,91 m, he stood out as a rugby player. His talent for imitations and comic presentations led him to vaudeville and m. In cinema, his career spanned over forty years, from 1932 to 1974. In addition to acting, he also directed and produced five feature films, four of which featured the clumsy Monsieur Hulot as the lead.[iv].

in times of New wave, by opting for the comic and satire, Jacques Tati's cinema did not please the specialized critics, nor did it attract the attention of a more cultured and intellectualized public. On the other hand, since his first film, he has been strongly approved by the great French public. To defend his autonomy, Tati combined important roles in filmmaking: he was artistic director, producer and screenwriter of his films.

Sylvain Chomet's dialogue with Tati's production is clear. The magic is a true tribute to the French director, who died bankrupt and without due recognition from critics. However, he was able to cultivate an audience that would become nostalgic for his comedy, full of humor and irony, but also pessimism and a certain melancholy. This homage is immediately recognizable by the magician's appearance. He is tall and his massive body (which is too big for the chairs and doors) moves with rather awkward gestures. His melancholy gaze is disconnected and uninterested in the immediate world, just like Mr. Hulot.

If the spectator is not able to make this association immediately, Chomet facilitates the task, inserting a scene of My uncle. When Tatischeff hides inside a movie theater so that Alice and her boyfriend don't see him, on the screen, Hulot is running away from his sister's house, without her seeing him. Hulot on the screen and Tatischeff between the armchairs make the same body movements, until Hulot runs to the door of the house and Tatischeff leaves the cinema room. Evidently, this is a game in which the director mixes, like Wood Allen (The Purple Rose of Cairo - The purple rose of Cairo, 1985, e Midnight in Paris - Midnight in Paris, 2011), reality and fiction. The way the scene was constructed gives us the impression that Hulot's image is Tatischeff's image reflected in a mirror, or vice versa.


Alice's maturity as disenchantment in the face of reification

Tatischeff and Alice create strong bonds of emotional transference, as if they were father and daughter. Alice is a poor girl who works to survive. She doesn't think twice about abandoning everything and following the magician, including a boy, with whom she had a strong bond. There is, in this sense, a certain repetition of ruptures in the relationships between children. In My uncle, something similar happens. Hulot identifies more with children, both with his little nephew, who is clumsy like his uncle, and with the children in the neighborhood where he lives, especially a little girl, who is often on the back of his bicycle. Hulot has a fatherly and very affectionate way of touching his nose every time they meet.

At the end of the film, this girl, who wore pigtails and an apron, appears as a beautiful young woman. This image will be rescued by Sylvain Chomet in The magic, since Alice also reaches adulthood throughout the narrative. This moment coincides with her progressive disenchantment with what appears beyond the shop windows and with the difficulty of acquiring its beauties.

As in Tati's films, in The magic the dialogues are not revealed, but they are always present between the characters. They have a meaning, but not to provide information about the narrative. They serve to awaken the viewer's senses and understanding. The language of Tati's films is very sensitive and is expressed through gestures and looks. He almost abolished orality in a kind of silent film nostalgia. But it also symbolizes a difficulty in expressing bitter words in the face of disenchantment that an adult perceives more quickly than a post-adolescent young woman.

Em The magic, the homage to Tati is not only in the form, but, above all, in the content of the film. As in Tati's films, the nostalgic tone of The magic salutes the past and denounces its destruction, also revealing the destruction of the present. Tati(scheff) is afraid to look into the future, which is already in the present, with its procession of strange, bizarre, and reified human relationships that parade in front of us like perverse elves or like the cynical musicians who appear in death in venice (film by Luchino Visconti, 1971) who sing and play happily mocking the death of the rich and noble.

What do we see in the movie? The magic it is also what we see in the reality of social processes. In the contrast between the ancient world (represented by the magic and other artists) and the modern-contemporary world, a tension, a conflict coexists: the progressive destruction of the true work of art, through the mechanization of its production and distribution, but also the destruction (physical, psychological and professional) of the humans who produced true art.

Walter Benjamin's ([1940]1994) diagnosis and prognosis can be read at the same time, when he uses the metaphor of New angel (1920) by Paul Klee, to refer, concomitantly, to the past and the future. As well as, when referring to the work of art losing its aura, due to the technical reproducibility in series. Therefore, Chomet's “cartoon” forces us to think about the work of art, the artists and the people. It forces us to think about its transformations, which are those of social relations subordinated, at the same time, to the commodity and by capital.


Automation as a thingification of human relationships

A recurring theme in Tati's productions is the relationship between man and society, the relationship between man and the progress of the modern world. By using comedy, the director tried to reveal the place of the human being in a technological world of automation and functionality and the growing servility of the human being in relation to the machine, electronic devices, the car. The ideal of the middle-class family, which has its own car and home, also arrived in post-War Europe. Tati portrayed in several of her films the american/european way of life and Chomet also in The magic.

In one scene, Tatischeff goes to work at a night garage to pay the rent for the small apartment he lives with Alice. In addition to not knowing how to operate the automatic car wash, the clientele, made up of snobbish owners of large imported cars, makes his job unbearable. Exhausted, he accidentally sleeps in a luxury car. Due to this “fault”, the boss ends up firing Tatischeff from his job. Leaving in a hurry, he leaves all the money, which he earned as a tip on his first night on the job, in the pocket of his overalls. He has shed his skin, but escapes becoming a slave. Freed from slavery, another nightmare appears: how will he and Alice manage to live in the world without money?

Tati has always sought to reveal in her films the tensions present in the human collectives of the consumer society. In a context of city growth, urbanization and technological progress, there has also been a significant change in values ​​and behavior. As a result, new organizations of time and space were needed, forcing people to relearn how to organize their ideas and their daily lives.

According to Meize Lucas (1998, p. 40-1), “Tati was a careful and meticulous observer of this new society, picking up with keen sensitivity the habits, customs, behaviors, experiences, gestures and unusually comic situations of everyday life. That is, the banality of everyday life, in its various nuances, makes up Tati's filmic universe. (…) There is no problem, a pending question, a secret, that is the germ of a story that accompanies its placement as a fundamental theme and its development and outcome. Tati replaces the dazzling plot with these findings from observation, placed by him in images, sewn by the threads of everyday life”.

This is Tati's laboratory that Sylvain Chomet recovers in The magic. In a mixture of laughter and sadness, Sylvain Chomet reveals a scathing and critical view of the objectification of a world full of past melancholy, which contrasts with a future that is increasingly full of absurdity in the present. This is what he sees in the city of Edinburgh, as a synthesis of the mixture of the new and the old world, which escapes Tatischeff, as it also escapes, in its meaning, all its inhabitants, even those who consider themselves winners. It is clearly visible, in the teenagers who beat to death the alcoholic clown, Tatischeff's neighbor, not only polymorphous perverts, but also, the prototypes of the fascist gangs of the neoliberal current.[v]

They are not ashamed of the cowardice of killing the one who made them laugh at “their miseries”, and who provided them with entertainment to alleviate the lack of emotion in a city steeped in physical, psychological and climatic coldness. This is why the “angel of history”, in Benjamin's metaphor, is afraid to look to the future. This image is very common in the European imagination and whenever some Europeans think of rebuilding the old world, they first think of destroying it and war is their best and most efficient method, from the point of view of reproducing capital with real value.


Human beings as commodities

In the consumer society, women were, at first, the most susceptible to the consumerist appeal. For historical reasons linked to the culture of the people, they were the most vulnerable to certain fetishistic appeals and the most sensitive to offers in store windows. It is a reality that has changed in recent decades, as advertising has been committed to transmitting and dictating a standard of beauty, not only for women, but also for men. Incidentally, advertising perversion does not encounter ethical barriers. His watchword is to sell, sell and sell more, and for that purpose, he has no qualms about inverting all signals, incessantly.

Being beautiful almost always means being fashionable, and in this regard, clothes, shoes, cosmetics and hairstyles are at the top of the list of requirements. Capital learned to capture and tame through fashion. But, not only that. Fashion conveys, through newspapers and magazines, television and social networks, new rules of behavior, new desires and dreams and the staging of new gestures. Advertising invests massively in the imagination and fantasy of potential buyers, even those who cannot afford the products.

The power of the media, which transmits and manufactures publicity for capital, is great and it is not only economic. A part of the capital of large companies is invested in advertising. Although the real value of goods is decreasing, as a result of the reduction of the average social time for the production of the mercantile unit (a function of the increase in labor productivity), advertising can “sell” them at very high market prices, very high. higher than its actual value. Using advertising, capital makes commodities more expensive.

Often also, for a time, it produces the opposite: they sell their goods at prices below their real value, with the aim of beating their competitors or expanding the mass of their sales or, simply, burning an excessive stock of overproduction of goods. . Furthermore, advertising adds fetishism to the original fetish of the commodity, inherent in or closer to use value. The first fetish seduces and the fetish of fetishism enslaves the vast majority of consumers, matching them both in their being and in their appearance.

He transforms them into reproducers of his fetish images and agents of the publicity of an exchange value, which only seems to have use value. The image of girls who wear shoes with very high heels, with fingers adorned with gigantic and disproportionate nails painted in flashy colors, or even boys and girls whose bodies are shaped like true weightlifters, are examples of the ongoing dehumanization. People, especially women, with siliconized faces, breasts and buttocks, give us the impression of seeing robots that imitate human beings.

Another glaring example appears in men and women impregnated from head to toe with shapeless and inconsistent tattoos, far removed from the paintings and body ornaments with the most varied functions, between identity and ritualistic, that humanity has used for centuries. The bodies were transformed into “image holders”, which more represent confusion, despair and the death drive than the appreciation of human dignity and hope for the future. One of the most observed images is the skull.

But, not the laughing skull, as La Calavera de la Catrina, engraving in etching on zinc created by José Guadalupe Posada, in 1910, and valued by Sergei Eisenstein in Long live Mexico! (1932), which are paraded in various versions at popular Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico. Today's tattoos are skulls with daggers embedded in the skulls or between crossed daggers, revealing the emptying of humanity from social relations, accompanied by “a desire for destructive violence”.

This is a drama experienced by Alice, but also, at the extreme of the consequences of social alienation, the tragedy of the “drunken clown” who is beaten by “juvenile delinquents”. Due to her social and psychological situation – a poor and needy girl, she was easily and quickly captured by commodity fetishism. Walking through the streets adorned with shop windows in the new Edinburgh, dresses and shoes seem to have legs and a will of their own, and become invasive, overwhelming and “bigger” for Alice's feet. They acquire independent life and eliminate the true characteristic of human life: its ability to consciously choose.

To explain this fascination and reification, which commodities exert on men under the conditions of the capitalist mode of production – because in other previous modes of production it was not like that, Marx ([1867]2013, p. 146-7) wrote: “ A commodity appears, at first glance, to be an obvious, trivial thing. Analysis of it turns out that it is a very intricate thing, full of metaphysical subtleties and theological squeamishness. As for its use value, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether I consider it from the point of view that it satisfies human needs through its properties, or from the point of view that it only receives these properties as a product of human labor. . It is evident that man, through his activity, alters the forms of natural materials in a way that is useful to him. For example, the shape of wood is changed when a table is made from it. However, the table remains wood, a sensible and banal thing. But as soon as it appears as a commodity, it is transformed into a sensible-supersensible thing. Not only does she not keep her feet on the ground, but she puts herself upside down in front of all other merchandise, and in her wooden head worms are born that haunt us much more than if she started dancing of her own accord. ”.

“The mystical character of the commodity does not, therefore, result from its use value. Nor does it follow from the content of value determinations, for, in the first place, however different useful labors or productive activities may be, it is a physiological truth that they constitute functions of the human organism and that each of these functions, whatever its content and form, is essentially the expenditure of human brains, nerves, muscles, sensory organs, etc. Secondly, with regard to what is at the basis of determining the magnitude of value - the duration of this expenditure or the quantity of work - quantity is clearly differentiable from quality of work. Under any social conditions, the labor time required for the production of the means of subsistence was bound to interest men, though not to the same extent at different stages of development. Finally, as soon as men work for each other in some way, their work also takes on a social form.

“Where, then, does the enigmatic character of the product of labor arise, as soon as it assumes the commodity form? Evidently, it arises in that very way.”

All people, who are faced with this mercantile process, can be fascinated and motivated to buy more and more. It is very difficult that even the most critical critic of the world of commodities has not been touched, at least once in his life, by the fetish of the commodity. It is often not enough to have two or three pairs of shoes, three or four sets of clothes, one or two bags.

And what about the cars? Even if we are not touched by a beautiful car, we end up admitting that, to its utilities, the sensation of “movement power” can be added, which produces false feelings of freedom and power. Depending on the year and brand of the car, such power turns into status. In the world of most ordinary market, there is always a need to buy more because we need to eat and dress every day. Furthermore, for the logic of capital, objects – even new ones with little use – are programmed to be discarded quickly, making room for another model, more current and more in line with fashion.

Advertising thus assumes a social reproductive function of value that is of the utmost importance, particularly under the domain of fictitious capital, from the process of neoliberal financialization. We no longer live in the era when Marx wrote and published Book I of The capital, and in it the chapter on the commodity and its fetishism. At that time, all merchandise really needed to have undisputed use value and the scope of advertising could not be compared with what is elaborated in this field in series today (Silva, 2013).

Since the market is finite and globalization has reached the planet (Chesnais, 1996), big capital began to experience the difficulty of where to find “spaces” – not just geophysical ones, to invest profitably. The creativity of advertising, and the ideologies it produced, began to play a major role in artificially boosting sales. The division of society into “identity tribes” has facilitated the creation of specific markets, niches that become profitable environments. Salaried workers, young students, black, gay, lesbian and trans women and men have their own clothing, hairstyles, cosmetics, a whole “mise-en-scene” that have been exploited by fashion capital and by the production of models by television networks in an impressive way.

In this process, the idea of ​​emancipation was replaced by the ideology of “entrepreneurship”. It has become an ideal to be the owner of your own business, although, in most cases, the bank or the medium/large company, which subcontracts the small boutique startups, is the one who benefits economically. But the division also occurs politically and promotes competition, based on the ideology of neoliberal meritocracy.

The phenomenon of planned obsolescence is becoming more and more prevalent. Each season, new collections of clothes, shoes and accessories are launched and, thus, a calendar is established in which the products of the previous season are “out of date”. With electronic equipment, the situation is even worse and more chaotic. Every day, dozens of new equipment items are released, each time more efficient, even if users don't have the time or ability to use even 30% of the potential of these devices. With “more memory”, more functions and more agile, the new devices make obsolete a multitude of other still new devices.

To illustrate, just think of cell phones and tablets, equipment dominated more by their fetishistic values ​​than by their use or exchange values. Sporting the latest model is a demonstration of power, even if it transforms its user into an automaton, and this is one of the most important consequences of cutting-edge technologies and what has commonly been called “artificial intelligence” (Chomsky, 2023).

In this way, the “psychological qualities” that people attribute to goods and machines are, in fact, qualities that they themselves would like to have and that, by possessing these goods, they believe they have, without realizing the “voluntary servitude” that they come to feel. to practice. But, the circle of causality, which explains these psychological feelings, is not really produced by the commodity. It is a question of social constructions of subjective values, codified in the dominant ideology, disseminated by exchange values ​​and by the needs of capital, which ends up disguising all social and human relations in things.

Marx ([1867] 2013, p. 147-8) helps us again: “The commodity form and the value relation of the products of labor in which it is represented have, on the contrary, absolutely nothing to do with its nature. physics and with material relations [dinglichen] that result from it. It is only a determined social relationship between men themselves that here assumes, for them, the ghostly form of a relationship between things. So, to find an analogy, we have to take refuge in the nebulous region of the religious world. Here, the products of the human brain seem to have a life of their own, as independent figures that relate to each other and to men. This is how the products of the human hand appear in the world of commodities. This I call fetishism, which attaches itself to the products of labor as soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from commodity production.

Marx seeks to find, in the totality of the social process, the connections between the objective and subjective factors in the social formations of the capitalist mode of production. The connections between the phenomenon of fetishism, which is produced in the human brain as a result of social relations, cannot be explained outside this world, and this is true for all subjective phenomena that pass through the cognitive apparatus of man, as an individual and as a being. Social. This is also true of certain physiological and purely individual reactions.

Some diseases, considered of genetic origin, may or may not manifest themselves, depending not only on the personal history of each individual, but also on the social relationships that he maintains and as a consequence of the healthier or more unhealthy conditions of the relationships in which he is immersed. . That is why we can find a certain need between neoliberal capitalism and psychic illnesses, and a tendency of certain health sectors to consider such manifestations as exclusively endogenous to the structure of the individual, disregarding the way in which social life works, often directed towards and by the competition of productivity and capital's incessant profit (Déjours, 2009; Hirigoyen, 2002; Fromm, [1955]1983).

Capitalist production relations are, due to their immanence, reifying and fetishistic. From these relations pulse, as central phenomena, the dominant ideology (which is the result of the domination of certain classes or fractions of classes) and alienation. Exploitative social relations are the original essence of the dominant ideology, of alienation and, consequently, of its very foundations. Likewise, if the phenomenon of fetishism has existed since prehistoric times, it was only under capitalism that it acquired gigantic power, capable of enslaving entire human masses.

In the work that made him known worldwide as a great thinker of the first half of the 1923th century, Georg Lukács dedicates a long chapter to what he calls “reification”, an attempt to deepen the reading that Marx made in the chapter on merchandise. This is what Lukács ([1989]97, p. 98,110-XNUMX, XNUMX) says about this phenomenon: “It is no coincidence that the two great works of Marx's maturity, whose objective is to describe the whole of capitalist society and lay bare its fundamental character, begin with an analysis of the merchandise. Indeed, at this stage of society's evolution, there is no problem that does not lead us, in the final analysis, to this question, and that should not be sought in the solution of the enigma of the structure of the commodity. It is evident that the problem can only rise to this degree of generality when it is posed with the magnitude and depth that it reaches in Marx's analyses, when the problem of the commodity does not appear only as a particular problem, but as the central, structural problem of society. capitalist society in all its vital manifestations. Only in this way is it possible to discover in the structure of the mercantile relationship the prototype of all forms of objectivity and all forms of subjectivity in bourgeois society.

“(…) The essence of the structure of the commodity has often been pointed out. Its basis is that a relationship between people takes on the character of a thing and thus acquires a “phantom objectivity”, an autonomy that seems so strictly rational and comprehensive that it hides every trace of its fundamental nature: the relationship between people”.

“(…) The metamorphosis of the commodity relation into a thing endowed with a 'phantom objectivity' cannot, therefore, be limited to the transformation into merchandise of all objects intended for the satisfaction of needs. It impresses its structure on all human consciousness; the properties and faculties of this consciousness are no longer merely linked to the organic unity of the person, but appear as "things" that man "possesses" and "exteriolizes", just like the various objects of the external world. And there is, according to nature, no form of relationship between men, no possibility for man to assert his physical and psychological "properties", which do not submit, in an increasing proportion, to this form of objectivity.

Every wage earner dies a little every day, due to the need to be able to live, but he can only survive his existence, since it is, in fact, lived by capital and its meaning in no way belongs to him (Brohm, 2007). His existence is alienated, without him being able to perceive it, and all his discomforts are experienced as being part of the natural order of life. He experiences his social relationships without realizing that it is absolutely strange, for example, that he builds buildings all his life and does not have a roof over himself and his family. In addition to this crowd of workers, there is a whole mass of people who are excluded from the labor market. They fail to see themselves as the true productive force of the commodity world's wealth, and ultimately your death turns you into a commodity for the funeral companies.

However, to understand and explain the effects that commodity fetishism has on social consciousness, it is necessary to link subjective phenomena with objective phenomena. In addition to the need to buy, commodity fetishism also develops a strange and ridiculous feeling of inferiority, in those who insist on wearing fashions from previous seasons, and even more so in those who do not have the possibility to buy any fashions. In the same way that, with a Harley-Davidson or a Ferrari, a man feels full of power and thus feeds his narcissism and sees himself with a very high social status, the “poor mortals” who can consume an ordinary car , will also feel part of this social theater and its more luxurious or mundane shows.

Directly productive workers, such as, for example, those who produce the same popular cars, have the illusion of producing fundamental social utilities and feel very important for this. Similar feelings are experienced by those who construct highways or buildings. To some extent, productive workers have an aura similar to that of artisans who saw the fruits of their labor as a personal achievement, in addition to an inevitable identity and social recognition. But the further we get into the world where exchange value dominates, that social identity and aura will disappear, as will the artisans themselves.


Appearing to be: the enchanting and disintegrating society of the spectacle

It is through this process that we are impacted in The magic. Alice is delighted with the red shoes, somewhat “childish” in design, that she got from Tatischeff. But upon arriving in Edinburgh, she notices that girls her age wear high heels. White heels become her fetish. Gaining them from Tatischeff, she can barely keep her balance, she walks with her legs bent and her ankles twisting with each step. But it does not matter. What matters is the feeling of being in fashion and, in any case, belonging to the herd.

How often do we see this type of behavior happening around us every day? The vast majority of wage earners, for example, try to imitate the prevailing fashion through which capital makes a profit. But even the rich imitate the fashions instituted by capital. The need to belong to a herd, to a tribe, is, at the same time, an objective and subjective need, which allows survival in a world that demands the massification of customs and ways of being. Appear to be, that is the question! This affects all forms of expression in everyday life and has very serious and even tragic consequences, expressed in what we call the spectacularization of barbarism, which found its first implementation in the aestheticization of Nazi politics, with the creation of a pop star hitlerist.

Therefore, we can agree with Vassort (2013, p. 191) when he states that, “contemporary massification is, therefore, the result of an absolute rationality and reification, a rationality and reification that become the absolute curse of barbarism and, as Adorno observes, of totalitarianism. None of the social classes escapes this curse, called by Primo Levi “inner desolation”, because, in the dialectical development of capitalism, if capital seems to destroy work, both are intrinsically linked or “paradoxically united”, and this barbaric massification reaches , in the same desolation of culture, the possessing and dispossessing classes, favored and disfavored, dominant and dominated.

The process of change that Alice goes through is impressive. She arrives in Edinburgh as a young girl, her hair shoulder-length and with bangs which accentuate her childlike air, her clothes simple and relatively old. In the passing of a season (from winter to spring), she blossoms and becomes an “adult” woman, since to be an adult is to look fashionable. It is more important to seem than to be. Alice starts wearing flowing dresses that accentuate her slim waist, high heels and gloves, her hair tied in an elegant bun. She dresses exactly like the mannequins in Edinburgh's fashion windows and feels good about it.

She represents the "modern". Beside her passes a little girl, just as she was when she arrived in Edinburgh. The girl's look at Alice is one of fascination, as if she were in front of a cathedral of aesthetics. Already Alice, despite the short time, no longer recognizes herself in the girl. Her gaze is alienated. She no longer remembers what it was like before. For Alice, the important thing is to be the reflection of the window and the well-dressed girls of Edinburgh are icons for her.

In his anxiety and need to please Alice, Tatischeff does not realize the “bad” he is doing. By convincing the girl that he is capable of making appear, as if by magic, all the things she needs or simply wants, he contributes to her alienation. Alice is unable to realize that the objects she wants have a price and that it takes a certain amount of money (labor time) to pay for them. She simply wants more and more.

A clear example of this situation is the scene in which she is walking with her boyfriend and tries to buy a necklace, with a coin that the magician took from behind her ear. Unable to do so, she asks her boyfriend to purchase the necklace. The boyfriend simply claims he can't. She doesn't quite understand why the young man doesn't do some magic to get the money to buy the necklace, as Tatischeff had done so many times. Completely enchanted by all the clothes, jewelry and shoes in the shop windows and the city lights, she becomes completely alienated by her illusions, unable to defend herself against the wares and her fetishes. This spatial and social ensemble composes a dazzling spectacle, in which she participates as if she were an actress. But it is pure staging experienced as reality, or in other words, real life alienated.

Alice (and the choice of her name was not by chance) lives in an imaginary world, in a “land of wonders” and dreams, in a freedom without the knowledge of necessity. And yet, it is immersed in the march of capitalism, which involves men in its webs of consumer goods and in its spectacle of dilution of beings and their humanities, in reified, empty, fictitious social relations. Neither Tatischeff nor her boyfriend can explain why the things that haunt her dreams depend on something else called money.

What could be “possessed” by magic, at the tip of the fingers, cannot be done without the “magic” of a strange alien who has historically intervened in human social relations. Neither can explain this phenomenon to themselves, but the reality principle of the commodity world has made them recognize that the money fetish is a real "illusion", as hard as rock or base metal.

Marx reveals, in his Manuscripts ([1844]2004, p. 81), how the commodity alienates the producer: “The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself. The worker ends his life in the object; but now it no longer belongs to him, but to the object. Consequently, the greater this activity, the more objectless is the worker. He is not what the product of his work is. Therefore, the larger this product, the smaller it itself is. A externalization (Entäusserung) of the worker in his product means not only that his work becomes an object, an existence external (äussern), but, far beyond that, [which becomes an existence] that exists out of it (ausser ihm), independent of it and foreign to it, becoming a power (Power) autonomous before him, that the life he has given to the object is hostile and alien to him”.

In the cinema of life, nobody manages to understand that the goods and the prices that represent them in stores are the incarnation of nature's work for free and the value added by human work, moreover, an increasing part that is not paid. Alice is delighted with this society full of windows, lights and beautiful things, but at the same time frustrated because she cannot have them. Nor does she see anyone with a desire to share. Not much different is the situation of the magician and other artists. The naive Tatischeff, who is always deceived and never receives all the money he is entitled to, tries to adapt to this consumer society, without success.

He tries to juggle a night job in a parking lot with his magic shows in the m, but ends up failing. His manager sells his shows to the manager of a large shopping mall. Tatischeff ends up in a shop window, conjuring up merchandise with his magic tricks, which finally elicits applause from a female audience. He doesn't work more than one afternoon. And it seems to be with this work that he becomes aware of the harm he is doing to Alice and to all those people who are enchanted in front of the shop window and his magic tricks.

The objects of her desires simply appear without any relation to the labor time required for her creations, as if by true magic. Tatischeff himself becomes a slave to his ability to deceive, as if he could really make gold or make money appear out of thin air, in a world where the use value of commodities has less and less real value and only exchange value is what matters. it actually matters.


The "chicken that lays the golden eggs" does not exist

After this experience, Tatischeff leaves the little money he got to Alice, with a sad message: “magicians don't exist”. He climbs to the top of a mountain and frees the rabbit, who accompanied him on his work as a magician. Disillusioned and disoriented, Tatischeff takes a train to an unknown destination. He shares a cabin with a girl and her mother. The little girl drops the pencil she was drawing with on the floor. He notices that it is exactly like hers, only much smaller. He hides the two pencils in her hand, suggesting that he would do a magic trick, to give the girl the illusion that her pencil has grown.

But at the last minute, he hands the little pencil back to the girl. Un/fortunately, living with Alice, this poor magician was able to realize that “deceiving”, even for fun, in the world of merchandise and profit, can be very destructive. In a society of spectacularization and profit fetishism, even harmless magic can become a dangerous accomplice of capital. This, which appears in his representation as current money, contains an illusion as great as those embodied in the “useful qualities” of certain perishable goods. The use value of commodities can be emptied, completely destroyed, and still acquire exchange value, as in the extreme case of war armaments.

If Tatischeff's situation is difficult, that of his artist neighbors is much worse. The poor clown (who puts on his red nose and reminisces about his glory days, listening to circus music on an old record player) starves, becomes an alcoholic, is beaten up by juvenile delinquents, and makes several suicide attempts. The ventriloquist sells his artwork dummy for food and turns to alcoholism. He ends up begging on the steps of Edinburgh. His doll, which remains in a shop window, also became a commodity, first selling for six lire, before becoming free. Even free, it remains exposed, as no one is attracted to it.

A different fate, but no less difficult, befalls the trio of trapeze artists. Always in good shape and in good spirits, they do gymnastics with their elastic bodies, while uttering a permanent “ap, ap, ap” that gives rhythm to their work together. At first, we are led to believe that they are the only ones, among so many decadent artists, who still find a place in modern society and who manage to succeed with their talents. But throughout the story, we are told that, in fact, they are no longer trapeze artists.

They adapted their physical skills and training to ride great billboards, that convey advertising messages in the field of beauty and success. They became "exciters" of alienated desire and "prostitutes" began to help deceive many people. Doing pirouettes, they “punch” their timecard at the beginning and end of their workdays. From artists, they became exploited workers and, contradictorily, producers of “ideological surplus value”. Its entertainment art has become the fetish “commodity”, which produces consumer fetishism.

This sad show of decadence by former circus artists illustrates the march of capitalism, which annihilates men trapped in the webs of consumption. He ends up reducing art to a mere exchange value with no real use value, or something similar, a fetish value. From art-evasion to art-entertainment, from art-dazzling to art-fascination, capital appropriates itself, subjugating artists and their talents to the gears of the desperate pursuit of profit, accounted for “symbolically” by money (increasingly in titles) in balance sheets, bank accounts and speculative investments.

Increasingly, profit is a promise of future profit or a pseudo-profit. It is based on stock exchanges, mortgage pyramids and insurance policies that multiply, trying to secure what cannot be secured, since real surplus value disappears within the mechanisms of capital reproduction (Chesnais, 2016). The capitalist world-system is crammed with commodities (overproduction of value) and, therefore, with a mass of surplus value that it cannot realize. It is also overcrowded with money capital. The inflation of values ​​and the social limits of the globalized market expose the limits that emanate from the logical structure of the reproduction of capital under the domain of financial capital.

The overwhelming rage that displaced a large part of productive capital to speculation – as a result of the gigantism of accumulation carried out after the Second World War, also found its limits. The financialization phenomenon – as an expression of such an impasse of the overaccumulation of fictitious capital, also showed its limits in the 2007/2008 crisis and its creeping continuity until today.

Em The magic, we see, one by one, beings destroyed in their professional choices. To survive, they develop a network of solidarity among themselves. The ventriloquist buys vegetables and Alice makes soup, which arrives just in time for the starving clown, on the brink of suicide. Life triumphs, even if momentarily, over death. But these relationships of affection and respect only exist between them. Different is the relationship of this small group with other characters in the story: the entrepreneurs. Life becomes more and more strange, bizarre, difficult to understand. Life becomes something difficult to accept and, above all, to live. People don't know why, because these adversities seem to be normal, natural, inevitable. But it is strange that "progress" engenders misery and destruction.

All this had already started when Jacques Tati produced his comedies. The 1950s and 1960s were golden years for the post-war overaccumulation of capital and years of technology explosion, such “progress” seemed to have no end. The 1970s, 1980s and 1990s marked the entry and affirmation of neoliberalism. New elements join those that appeared at the time that The magic intends to represent. One sees the deepening of “destructive investments” in the arms industry and the increasingly dominant phenomenon of an aspect that gives particular expression to financial capital (financialization) and produces the domination of fictitious capital.

In the “society of seeming to be” the progressive domination of the phenomenon of the fall in the rate (and mass) of profit, produced – under the agency of doctrine, governmentality (Foucault, [1978-79]2008) and neoliberal normalization, the fictitious profit fetishism: it is more profitable to buy shares on the stock exchange and sell them more expensive later on (thus transferring the previously accumulated surplus value from others) than to invest in direct production, increasingly restricted to natural and market spaces . Algorithms, for example, have become an excellent investment and trading tool. Making decisions about transactions in the financial markets, using the algorithm as a tool of advanced mathematics, almost eliminates the need for the operator of the financial markets. Human action is minimized and decisions are accelerated to the extreme. The fluidity of this capital permeates human relationships that become even more acutely tenuous, derisory, meaningless. The avalanche and mutability of ideas is a corollary.

The acceleration of time by technologies translates into images, reducing people to the representation of automata roles, ventriloquists in the representation system dominated by fictitious capital. All direct personal communication is outdated. It is the transition from “being” to “seeming” affirming the phase of “appearing to be” and that of “seeming to have”. The staging of this puppet show, in which relationships become incredibly futile, based on fictitious productivity, has never been seen before.

Universities around the world – places where critical knowledge is produced – have become, above all, spaces for neoliberal production of fictitious value. Scientific cooperation has gone from growing individualism to absolute competition, even in the field of human sciences that is not directly linked to material production. Capital suffers from overwhelming despair and spares no space for the goal of producing “immaterial” profit. Of its most fictitious values, it becomes the absolute leader of this soliloquy spectacle, monotonous in search of profit.

Men, women, children, teenagers, young people are increasingly incommunicable, as in the Argentine film Medians (Gustavo Taretto, 2011), which portrays relationships in general, and especially love ones, in the city of Buenos Aires. People live in compact apartments, with only one window or without one. Despite having various electronic communication devices, they are unable to communicate. When this happens easily, the conversation becomes “deaf-mute” or the “dialogues” become surreal. Relationships are so absurd that even animals commit suicide.

Amidst the profusion of images and means of communication, people have become “incapable” of real direct contact. Here we live in a time of mass loneliness. Inertia unites human beings, but through automatic movements. Literally read their cell phones, crammed into subways. Dialogue, reflection and collective creation almost disappear. “The more man contemplates, the more he accepts recognizing himself in the dominant images of need and the less he understands his own existence and his own desire” (Aguiar, 2011, p. 356). This is precisely the case of Alice, who lives the illusion of living in a wonderland, in a fairy tale.


The spectacle of the last capital

The magic it also brings another reflection on capitalist society: the advancement of technical means and capital over culture. Tatischeff is practically pursued by a rock band, The Britons, a direct reference to the Beatles, however, much more affected, scandalous and with less musical talent. Like Tatischeff, this band performs on the same m from Paris. With their crazy songs and a choreography that includes dragging themselves on the floor, the band leaves the fans – young women – practically crazy, capable of pulling their own hair, or that of others, in the dispute for a poster of their idols.

At the inn in the Scottish countryside, where people are still dazzled by the electric light and where Tatischeff met Alice, this hallucinatory rhythm also arrives, enchanting the public, not directly at concerts, but through the sound of music machines. It's the machines replacing people and brutalizing their sensibilities, even in moments of leisure and relaxation.

As Aguiar (2011, p. 354) said, inspired by Guy Debord: “In this new figure of capital, the reification of men and the fetishization of merchandise will be expanded and unified through technological modernization, media dominance and the assimilation of masses to the world of consumption. The spectacle is the economy expanding and invading non-economic sectors of life, such as the spiritual, cultural and free time, which were previously disconnected from the logic of work”.

Under the aegis of capital, leisure was transformed into yet another territory of exploration, domination and reproduction of capital. Not that this time has not already been claimed by workers since the XNUMXth century. But now it is a question of an additional penetration of capital into the wage earner's time, outside the workplace. Mass sport, including football, is one of the best examples. Due to the number of people it mobilizes and captures, mass sport assumes an important specificity as an element of the “society of the spectacle”, at the time of the domination of fictitious capital. Clubs and players are the subject of exorbitant speculation. The fortunes they make circulate are absurdly superior to those moved by most of the large capitalist companies.

Invading people's free time, it even affects those who are indifferent or even hate football. Vassort (2012a, p. 34-5) considers it a privileged place of accumulation, especially during the generalized crisis of capitalism: “Undoubtedly, it is because there is a crisis that the institution of sport develops; being, in fact, a place of mass regrouping and, therefore, participates in the illusory forms of reintegration of these masses in a phantasmatic collectivity, but it also deceives about the economic efficiency of a country, about its national extension, about its political autonomy, while the transnational and supranational capitalist world explodes all forms of autonomy and otherness, to impose what has become necessary for the development of capital and which has become the central category of capitalism, namely, the superfluity of man in his global environment”.

“(…) In other words, time disappears, it is superfluous in the development of the absolute capitalist experience. This fantasy, one of those developed by all capitalist production, therefore affects all sectors of this production: industry, culture and “arts”, leisure and public services”.

To break with the logic of the fetish and capitalist reification, Guy Debord ([1967]1997) proposes the recovery of the ludic aspect of life. In his thinking, the ludic is related to ethics and the question of the meaning of life. It emerges as pleasure and communication between people, questioning and challenging the society of the spectacle. In the world of goods, the ludic aspect is not the time for leisure, as this is also a time for consumption. Leisure becomes a place of repetition, normalization and death of the spontaneous creativity of human actions. The ludic, contrary to the consumerist model of time through commercial leisure, eliminates all contemplation and separation. For Debord ([1967]1997, § 200), “the ludic time is the time for the reappropriation of conviviality, dialogue, conversation and thought, which the 'serious time' of capitalist production wants to prohibit. It is the time of events and not of representations”.

The leading artists of The magic – and their coadjuvants, are immersed in ludic time, it is in it that they are interested and it is from it that, gradually, they see themselves expropriated. Not by chance, the lights at the end of the film go out very slowly: in houses, offices, shop windows. The last light to go out is the m where Tatischeff worked. Finally, we can see a point of light that disappears like a firefly, until it goes out forever. The performances of these artists ended. Now, the world will unfortunately only be illuminated by the false glow of commodities and the gigantism of capital.

The magic is, without a doubt, a critique of world capitalist society and the fetish of merchandise, money, profit with all its effects in the most different areas. The transformation of works of art into fluid “commodities” for rapid and massive consumption is one of them. It is also a great tribute to the true artist of a world, which the speed of the century and its automation made disappear. Of course, the film is also a very nostalgic and melancholy review, which sees no possibility of life emerging in the desert imposed by capital.


What end will the “other” illusionist have?

The more we get into contemporaneity, under the domain of fictitious capital, the stranger the relations between employees and their work become. This strangeness is even more visible when we look at the work of office workers or bankers: they produce absolutely nothing, no exchange value. The same is true, perhaps even more desperately, of workers in call centers. They all do not have the same “honor”, ​​nor the same participation status in the production of national wealth.

Throughout the history of the 2012th century, this phenomenon appeared and did not escape the attention of certain authors, in its importance and dimension. In Germany – which saw the proliferation of service and office sectors in a pioneering way, after the rationalization of the industrial sector – the phenomenon deserved reflections and original research by Kracauer (99, p. XNUMX), who rightly stated: “The mass of servants differs from the working-class proletariat in that it is spiritually homeless. At the moment, it cannot find its way to the comrades, and the house of bourgeois concepts and sentiments in which it used to reside is now a ruin, because economic development has undermined its foundations. It has no doctrine to fall back on, no goal to question. Therefore, they live in fear of resorting to anything and of taking the questioning to the last consequences”.

Kracauer also emphasizes the existential misery of employees, which makes this social sector more or less consciously seek, in entertainment, ways to escape their daily suffering. Thus, it developed in Germany, at the turn of the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century, at the same time, a “factory” and a buyer's market for entertainment products, as well as a public to consume its fantasies, its magic and illusions. Cinema was probably the most sought-after entertainment product.

By appropriating the free time of the social sector that most aspired to social ascension (the petty-bourgeois or what is now called the middle class), cinema, through its ability to shape the dominant ideology through moving images , shapes the thinking, the way of life, the tastes, the habits, the needs, the will of broad social strata beyond the middle class. Cinema will also be the best reader of the conscience and unconsciousness of a part of the population, which will be decisive for the rise of fascism. That's when entertainment, promoted by cinema as a mass product, becomes a very serious matter.

The deeper we dive into the 2011st century, the more we are subject to abstract labor, fictitious capital and abstract value. Social relationships are emptied of value-substance and humanity. They become more automatic, quantitative, superficial, superfluous and futile. Man becomes “without qualities” (Musil, 2012) or “obsolete” (Anders, XNUMX). Capital's race for labor productivity is a race to reduce average social time (increasingly reduced by abstract work) and, at the same time, against individual and social time.

Capital is obsessed with reducing the time required for the reproduction of labor power. Its ultimate objective is to dispense with living labor, eliminating it or reducing the socially necessary time for the reproduction of commodities and the particular commodity on which it mortally depends: labor. This compulsive obsession is an end in itself, as much as profit. It is a chemical dependency, socio-psychotic, focused on profit at any cost and projected into all expressions of life. In order for the development of the productive forces of directly productive labor to be "satisfied," it must be able to permanently reduce that part of the working day in which the direct producer works for himself, for his own reproduction, so that there is always an increase in the remainder of the working day, in which lies the source of profit. But the consequences are always deeper and more serious.

Vassort (2012a, p. 27) expresses himself in this way about the acceleration of time in our time: “Now, the growing share of work returned to capital by accelerating production and improving productivity guarantees even more the exploitation of men, a once consumption is assured and has become necessary. We are, therefore, in a dialectical relationship in which, under the pretext of well-being, the individual participates in his own domination, in a production process that demands the perpetual improvement of productivity”.

To this end, capital invests in technology production sectors, which are goods specialized in reducing the socially average time of production of all goods. In this race towards an increasingly smaller “socially average time”, man submits himself to an even more abstract time, much more than in Marx's time. Man becomes an abstraction subsumed in abstract work. With the increase in productivity, with the incorporation of abstract, average and dead work, crystallized in productivist technologies, man in general, who was forged by the relations imposed by capital, becomes almost absolutely identical to other salaried workers.

In the movie Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927), we have an image of this situation, when the moment of the change of work shifts is shown. With this film shot, Lang gives us a good picture of what mass means. The homogenization of social time increases the productivity of work. The number of use-values ​​produced in the same working days over the centuries increases tenfold or a hundredfold. But the time required for the reproduction of the worker's labor power decreases towards zero. The directly productive worker – within existing social relations, loses value, more and more, since his value is given by this time of daily reproduction, considered necessary work. Consequently, there is an intrinsic tendency in the search for profit, to reduce it to a minimum or even to eliminate it, to extirpate the time that gives value to directly productive work. Industrial desertification gives a concrete image of this phenomenon, which is projected in the GDP of each country, as a phenomenon that started in the late 1970s.

Meanwhile, the owners of the means of production, speculation and wealth live believing that their desires are virtuous beings and not the result of a gear that started to work by itself, in which the fetish of profit makes them pulsate compulsively and obsessively. as if they were automatons, in the direction of profit and what they call progress. They firmly believe in their ideological representations. They have the illusion that wealth comes from their fantastic and miraculous ability to generate money, through money-capital, capital through capital, capital through money, and, in the end, money through money.

The quintessence-fetish of profit, however, is money itself and the illusory ability to produce more money, with the same amount as at the beginning of the reproduction cycles. Some capitalists, in their ideological conscience, however false it may be (due to the inversion it produces in the relationship between the causes and consequences of the production of wealth and profit under capitalism), manage, for a while, to extract from money, which is not capital, even more money. But that is as long as there is surplus value in circulation.

The volume of surplus value in circulation must one day end. If it is no longer produced in direct production, once the stock accumulated in the golden decades is exhausted, the open civil war that expresses itself, even mildly, in “civilized competition”, will give way to the generalized Great War, as the only way to destroy the overabundance of values ​​and starting from scratch all over again. The volume of surplus value in circulation must one day end. And behold, the specter of the Great War resurfaces in Europe with the suicidal and self-destructive procession of part of the ruling elites (Nóvoa, 2023).

Fictitious capital is therefore the ultimate capital. Capitalism finds in its genesis money, which becomes more money, and the exchange of already produced objects as use value. But the accumulation of money capital, the productivity of labor and the overproduction of goods have produced, over the centuries, a gigantic mass of capital, which can no longer find productive investments capable of increasing the profit of each industrial branch (except weapons, pharmaceuticals, microelectronics, drug trafficking, prostitution or what some call “clandestine capitalism” (Seufert et al., 2023) and the entire production system (Collin, 2009; Nóvoa, Balanco, 2013). For this reason, the dream of every capitalist is, due to the immanence of his essence as multifaceted capital (industrial, mercantile, monetary), to become a banker or a rentier, or simply a member of financial conglomerates and oligarchies. profit magic.

However, bankers do not, in fact, have the magical ability to produce more money. ad eternum. In fact, they never produced it. If they manage to profit, it is because of a pre-existing value that others lose. It is necessary that there is always surplus value in circulation in the market, so that it can suck it up. As this mass is finite, a certain production of surplus value must occur in the market so that the mortgage – and its value withdrawn from the market, becomes money, in order to actually have liquidity.

It is, therefore, an infernal vicious circle, with no solution in existing social relations and, therefore, highly destructive. There is the laboratory of the great crises to come. And it is in this laboratory, that the very search to end the socially necessary time and to make exist only a surplus time (which could liberate all the directly productive capital and allow it to become fictitious capital and money exchanged for interest) finds its limit. The capitalist, as well as the worker himself, suffers from the gears that they historically “built”, believing that they are part of the natural order of things.

Capitalists think they are in control, but, in fact, they are subject to the same gears that gave rise to their conscience, lived by ideology, which, in turn, also originates in these same gears (Mészáros, 2002). Because of the salary payment at the end of the month, they believe that they are the main guarantors of life for families in the state-region called nation. They think they are producing life, but in fact they are feeding the vicious cycle of capital reproduction. The gears of social relations founded a metabolism that needs living blood, which only living work is capable of producing. Dead work (machines) can only add a pre-existing value to the action it makes possible driven by living work, including that existing in its mechanical corpus, as long as it can last, since machines also perish.

Entrepreneurs in this final phase of capital are trying to deceive themselves. They suffer like a drug addict and, like all chemical substance addicts, they repress and deny the source of their suffering (Nóvoa, 2020a). They are not fully aware of the psychotic circle they are trapped in (Fromm, [1955]1983). The continuous social process, which found its genesis in modern history, placed capital on the side of those who depend on living labor, for the metabolism between men and nature, mediated by abstract labor in capitalist conditions of production. Dead labor, crystallized in machines, commodities, government bonds, shares on the stock exchange, or insurance policies, etc., kills capital value because it also kills living labor.

Capital cannot break out of this vicious circle, because it is its own social and existential being. Salaried workers, in turn, also find themselves trapped in this vicious circle and in the fruit of their own work, which has become “dead work”. The number of unemployed is multiplying and the worker who is no longer “directly productive” has become the useless, obsolete, superfluous, “without quality” man. Considering the mass of employees in unproductive service sectors, as well as the mass of unemployed and jobless people (in which there is a part that has never found a regular occupation and another that has stopped looking because it no longer believes it is possible to find one), it is The thesis by Günther Anders (2012) on the destruction of life, starting with the third industrial revolution, is quite understandable.

Therefore, even in a period like the glorious 1930s, the world sees an extraordinary and real destruction of the productive forces in times of peace, a dominant phenomenon that deepens even more in the last neoliberal period. If the leitmotiv of capital is profit, a recurring question returns: how to obtain profit without living labor? As researchers and citizens, another question, also fundamental, seems inevitable to us: until when will the mass of the world-people remain trapped in this permanent and insoluble crisis, within the structure of capitalist modernity?

However, there is an even more unavoidable process: if there is no production of value without living labor, there is no way to produce more surplus value without nature continuing to offer natural goods free of charge to the owner of capital. Natural life (and living labor is a part of it) is being destroyed. The natural conditions that make it possible to extract goods from nature are running out in the various corners of the Planet. At the same time, the use of fossil energy, and the consequence it brought to global warming, shortened the time that could allow the reversal of this situation.

The volume of non-recyclable inorganic waste has turned the Earth into a dump, with rivers, oceans and cities destroyed. All this tends to affirm the destructive elements of life, to the detriment of those that preserve it. The last forecast of UN organizations realizes that, possibly, in five years the polar ice caps will no longer exist, and the warming, possibly, has already reached the maximum limit.

Em The magic, Tatischeff did not come to a good end. Just like Jacques Tati, who in real life contracted many debts, without, however, seeing the audience for his films increase (immediately and contemporaneously with his existence), Tatischeff also does not see how to continue being a magician and surrenders to the bitter reality . Thinking about the strength of history, Marx stated, in The German Ideology ([1845-46]2007), that history does nothing and has no finality or fatality. If there is no fatality or metaphysical teleology in history, this means that civilization finds itself immersed in a gigantic structural contradiction that gives rise to a bifurcation (as Wallerstein said) with two extreme possibilities: the destruction of life on the planet or its perpetuation under other social bases and not under the yoke of the “end of history”.

The existence of a tendency to decrease the rate and mass of profit in all branches as a globalized phenomenon, as well as the destruction of value through the tendency to extinguish living work, are manifestations of this structural impasse. The process that leads man to become an automaton has not yet materialized in an absolute way. The contradictions, in which history is immersed, found in the category of social conscience, the variable that can change its course in a positive way.

There are, however, “Promethean Sisyphus” who try to illuminate, with their sticks of light, the paths that men build with their consciences more or less false, more or less true. It is true that capital's single-minded production machine is constantly working in the negative direction of absolute domination. But, at the same time, it will not be an easy task to submit all contradictions to a control “favorable” to big capital.

Capitalism is irrationality organized as pseudo-rationality. In it, the planning was never real and today it has become completely fictitious. History – apparently under control, is, in fact, a gigantic pressure cooker, ready to explode in many directions, from the most optimistic to the most pessimistic. It is unlikely that it will be possible to erase from social consciences (however small the human contingents holding real knowledge) the contradictions in which humanity is immersed.

Even in the face of this reality, in 2010, in Spain, a beautiful animation was released, Chico and Rita. It is a beautiful plot about the dramatic fate of two great Cuban mambo and jazz artists (before and after the Revolution), who loved each other, loved music and did not adapt to the changes and corruption introduced by the capital they exploited. (and still explores) this sector in the USA. In the end, after much suffering and separation, Chico and Rita are reunited and saved, thanks to the love that unites them. This is a necessary or at least possible ending.

One day, at an exhibition – followed by a discussion about this film – some leftist intellectuals asked the director (Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba): “Isn’t this an embellished, romantic and improbable ending for this film and for reality itself? ?” Trueba kindly replied, “But why? Don't you think Chico and Rita deserved a good ending? Didn't they deserve to be happy? They are such good and fantastic people that I couldn't see them crushed at the end of the narrative. I spent 20 years working with Chico and Rita and I got so close to them that I saw their will to live and overcome the adversities imposed by the world of merchandise. They became independent of my worldview and managed to impose their wishes on life.”

The words were not exactly those, but the important thing is the meaning Trueba gave to his own aesthetics, in favor of a progressive ethics. In the end, Tatischeff also triumphed over the hardships of life under capitalism. He managed to give Alice the opportunity to find her love and escape, albeit temporarily, from the slavery of her maid job.

Sensitive poetic reason is not rationalist. Behold, the work of art can often see further than science. This is why films are excellent interlocutors in the reading of ongoing social processes.

*Soleni Biscouto Fressato is a doctor in sociology from the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). Author, among other books, of Hillbilly yes, muggle no. Representations of country folk culture in Mazzaropi's cinema (EDUFBA).

*Jorge Nova He is a professor at UFBA. Author and organizer, among other books, of Cinematographer: a look at history(EDUFBA \ Unesp), with Soleni Biscouto Fressato and Kristian Feigelson.

Originally published, in a shortened version, in the CERU notebooks, No. 22(2).


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[I] Vaudeville is a genre of popular entertainment, very common between the 1890s and 1930s, both in the United States and in Europe. It was characterized by a wide variety of paintings, from singers, musicians and dancers, to horror circuses and burlesque literature, passing by comedians and trained animals. On stage, a variable number was mixed, without necessarily being related to each other. M is a type of British theater, popular in the first half of the XNUMXth century, similar to vaudeville, involving presentations by musicians, singers and dancers, in a comic performance.

[ii] In this regard, it is urgently necessary to resume, update and deepen the research carried out by authors such as Sándor Ferenczi, Otto Rank, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Georges Groddeck, Wilhelm Reich and Siegfried Kracauer. Of course, there are others, perhaps even lesser known, like Michael Schneider, who wrote Neurosis and social classes (Zahar, 1977) (Fressato, Nóvoa, 2018).

[iii] Throughout the text, when we use the name Tatischeff we are referring to the protagonist of the film. And when we use Tati, to the filmmaker Jacques Tati.

[iv] The five feature films are: carousel of hope (Celebration day, 1947), The vacation of Mr. Hulot (Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot, 1953), My uncle (Mon oncle, 1958) fun time (Playtime, 1967) e The Adventures of Mr. Hulot in very crazy traffic (Trafic, 1971). Only in the first one did Tati not represent her famous character Hulot.

[v] Totalitarian is the title of number 20, published in 2023, of the Revista Illusio of the University of Caen, France. The entire volume is dedicated to analyzing the progression of the phenomenon of authoritarianism and fascism, in its most varied aspects, placing on the agenda the question of the validity of totalitarianism and the self-destruction of the world-system of capital. This problem posed by Chomet has appeared many times in world cinema, but it never hurts to remember Clockwork Orange (A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick, 1971) and I am Carl (Christian Schwochow, 2021). Meanwhile, the Argentine series your kingdom (El reino, Marcelo Pineyro, Claudia Piñeiro, 2021) is essential to think about the phenomenon associated with Pentecostal Churches.

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