Monday, June 1, 2009

Tourism and the Capitalist Religion

I would like to situate capitalism as a theological regulatory apparatus that, through its very structuring of all relations, embodies a tendency to nullify the subject while simultaneously leading it to believe in its fulfillment through its own means (i.e., agency). In its spectacular global stage, capitalism frames “the world” within certain practical and representational parameters that prohibit its conception (and conceptual deployment) as anything other than complicit with the development of capitalism. Tourism—as a kind of bourgeois ritual, a vital aspect of lifestyle indoctrination that all post-grads are encouraged to perform— is a useful phenomenon in understanding the metabolism of “the world” that is strategic to the reproduction of life here, in the center.

“Capitalism is nothing but a gigantic apparatus for capturing pure means.” This statement by Giorgio Agamben reveals, once its terminology is defined, the crux of the question of agency in late capitalism and how agency is continually sanitized in the very instance that the subjective or liberatory gesture is made. First, the definition of apparatus:
All apparatuses of power are always double: they arise, on the one hand, from an individualizing subjective behavior and, on the other, from its capture in a separate sphere. There is often nothing reprehensible about the individual behavior in itself, and it can, indeed, express a liberatory intent; it is reprehensible only if the behavior—when it has not been constrained by circumstances or by force—lets itself be captured in the apparatus.
Agamben’s notion of the apparatus is a synthesis of the Foucauldian dispositif with (less explicitly) Situationist/Debordian theories of d├ętournement and its reenactment by capital. (For Agamben, the Situationists articulate capitalism’s theological kernel—itself a kind of universal apparatus—which is separation.) The dispositif is the positive historical instantiation of a set of strategies governing social relations and the economies of power contained therein. Capital, again, is the mammoth apparatus that has sheathed the world like duckweed across the pond’s surface; beneath its slimy opacity exist entire ecologies of apparatuses that (disjunctively and paradoxically) are continually functioning to reinscribe us within capital and transform whatever it can into capital. Apparatuses are, therefore, “heterogeneous set[s] that include virtually anything, linguistic and nonlinguistic, under the same heading.”

Capture: This is the transition undergone by objects (and activity) in the operation of sacrifice. When something is sacrificed it is rendered cursed by and removed from the profane world of human activity and enclosed within the inaccessible realm of the divine. Once given over to the sacred sphere the human hand can only contaminate the object, or make it profane. The religious apparatus functions to maintain the sacred, to maintain the separation between what is sacrificed and, in a sense, those who sacrifice it. Agency comes into play only insofar as it nullifies itself in authorizing the capture of what was once proper to it by an alien force (the religious). Ritual can be defined as the activity that completes and reenacts this alienation—thus the laboring and consumptive rituals of our stage of capitalism. The sacrificial ritual (generally and ahistorically) is the consumptive act par excellence; it is the total destruction of utility (for the human) in the object. Participation in ritual results in the paradoxical production of a subject at the moment at which it is nullified or desubjectivized by the prescriptive logic of the ritual. Agency—if it can exist—is realized in use, which is the direct, legitimate expression of the user in material form; sacrifice is the careful method of negating the possibility of use in the object.

In “Sacrifices” Bataille poetically articulates this paradox, which is at the core of late capitalist vertigo, which forces us to scramble for a concrete understanding of ourselves and our participation in capitalism. Patrick Swayze (as Bodhi) thematizes the interiority of “the tube” in Point Break as “The place where you lose yourself and find yourself.” This is the sacrificial operation endured under late capitalism, where the condition is, universally, self-sacrifice, or the division and capture of a portion of the individual and her experience.
In an ideally brilliant and empty infinity, chaos to the point of revealing the absence of chaos, the anxious loss of life opens, but life only loses itself—at the limit of the last breath—for this empty infinity. The me raises itself to the pure imperative, living-dying for an abyss without walls or floor…
The brilliance of consumption casts the human, now (self-)sacrificed, in an indeterminate zone, “living-dying.” Living-dying is the mode of being within the theological apparatus of capitalism. There is no end to the consumptive feast, for capitalism induces an extravagant celebration of itself on a daily basis. Obviously, work is no longer the sole celebratory act, for capitalism realizes its most intense phase as an apparatus governing/distributing the means by which one consumes, i.e., how one separates oneself from oneself. This is the schizophrenia of a perfected and generalized form of separation that, according to Agamben, was first instated by Christianity and secularized by capital in the form of alienation (alienated labor and alienated consumption). The etymology of the word oikonomia is bound up with maintaining the separateness of the divine through an earthly administration: Christ.

The Trinity signifies the portioning out of Providence by the Fathers of the Church in the 4th Century. Theology rooted itself in the oikos, God’s home, through the figure of Christ, the material and historical incarnation of the divine. Christ became the medium by which the theological translates the idea into material. He frames human history within an economy of redemption in the form action (politics, economics and institutions and general) but only insofar as activity separates itself from God’s ontological plane. Action is therefore reconciled with scripture and theological doctrine while, simultaneously, praxis ceases to be the foundation of being. Christ embodies this fracture, which capital adopts in the form of ideology. Ideology mediates activity, it assures historical persons that they will be redeemed for their actions, or even that they have already been! The eternal quality of ideology is found in the assurance it provides its subjects, which states, “there is no need for revising or intervening in the administration of reality, for YOU are already in the process of doing so.” However, as representation, ideology discloses the potential for human intervention in the administration of reality; like God, it is sovereign and autonomous. It is through the apparatus—ensuring the administration of the terrestrial, historical oikos—that ideology materializes.

Capitalism inherits the Church’s role of maintaining humanity’s respect for this division between material practice and the contemplative, ideational divine. Religion implicates its subjects in their own fragmentation, praxis—ritualistic scruple before the ideational. It is the expression of a deeply schizophrenic condition in which having is mistaken for being. In the consumer society praxis is valued relative only to the accumulation that follows from it; property thus becomes the illusion whereby consumers secure the unity of their being in a deontologized (and desubjectivized) social structure.

Tourism as praxis and industry is the sacrificial operation that the individual carries out upon his own body, which he forfeits to the apparatus: to transport him, feed him, provide him with a vista and a marketplace for purchasing. Souvenirs are emblematic of the deontologization of this consumer practice; tourism is a celebration of the pure mediation that stands in for the experience of the proper, of that which is immanent (and not alien). The globe will not undergo a cosmopolitical transformation so long as travel is the expression of a solipsistic desire to be thrown into the alien. In America, we tend to express this desire through varying degrees of hostility toward immigrants on the one hand and a ritual devotion to consuming museified world culture on the other. Resorts, cruises, the tour bus and adventure/ecotourism are outstanding expressions of how the tourism apparatus functions. It exhibits, through its exhibitionism, how humans desiringly sacrifice experience for total desubjectification. Tourism is the consumption of prefab experiences, events that unfold predictably, regardless of the participants. This is one legacy of colonial that continues to have a deep impact on the consumer societies.

Capital may geographically liberate its subjects, but only in order to capture this freedom in new forms of voluntary subordination.

Tourism supplies the traveler with a sacred image of the world. The figure of the traveler is defined by the mere accumulation of these images.

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