Capitalism and Desire
75 Broad Street
New York, NY 10004
Why do we want what we want? The critique of capitalism is very often associated – by both proponents and antagonists – with a critique of consumerism which, in turn, is treated as a pathology of individual desire. People should stop shopping; people should eschew goods; people should want less; people should police their own desires (or, if they fail, have them policed by others.) The problem, in a word, is desire. But there is a long tradition stretching back to the radical enlightenment philosophies of Spinoza and, indeed, Marx’s critique of political economy, that suggest something quite different: it is how desires are fulfilled, produced, managed, and thwarted that is the issue, not desires themselves. What is the relationship between capitalism and desire?
In this class, students will explore these questions by reading selections from a number of seminal thinkers alongside contemporary studies taken from fields including economics, mental health, and ecology. Alongside Spinoza and Marx, we will consider Adorno and Horkheimer’s famous argument that capitalism does not give us a drip feed of endless pleasures, but rather endlessly defers them—promising us fulfillment that is always just round the corner, or in contemporary terms, one click away. We will examine the work of Deleuze and Guattari in which they—drawing on both Spinoza and Marx—argued that capitalism produces desires it is unable to fulfill, desires that might themselves have radical potential. Stretching into the present moment, we will examine thinkers such as Wendy Brown, Mark Fisher, and Lauren Berlant, all of whom trace how this peculiarly systemic capitalist pathology is shifted back to individuals at ever increasing pressures with ever more catastrophic costs. How can we understand this entwinement of production, consumption, and desire? What does it mean to push past the question so often put in such good Protestant terms of separating “need” from “desire,” instead into asking how, if, and why some desires are fulfilled and others are not? Who’s desires matter and who’s are relegated immaterial?