An Estranged Form of Consciousness: Alienation and Social Dissonance

“There is nothing, nothing in heaven, or in nature or in mind or anywhere else which does not equally contain both immediacy and mediation, so that these two determinations reveal themselves to be unseparated and inseparable and the opposition between them to be a nullity.”
G.W.F. Hegel, Science of Logic, Tr. A.V. Miller (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1969) §92, p.68

Marx in his analysis of the commodity form was certainly able to prove this. Increasingly a question emerges: to what extent are we ourselves embedded in this process of commodification? It is possible to link this question to a resurgence of interest in the concept of alienation. However the term is so complex and slippery that needs to be properly defined. In this presentation I would like to claim a Marxist understanding of alienation which can be useful to explore social dissonance: if cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable tension which results from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time, then social dissonance is the discrepancy and tension that exist between the narcissist individualism that capitalism promotes and our social capacity. In The German Ideology Marx claims that the development of division of labor is what produces alienation. Today we have a society in which the division of labor is rapidly expanding. On the other hand, working conditions are increasingly unstable and precarious making more people invest in their own education and their own development in different fields. Working conditions often require networking and sociability, making our consciousness more and more determined by technology. However through this technology our sociability can also expand. The question then is; what kind of sociability is this? If commodification entails the reification of self-consciousness, what would be required to achieve a form self-consciousness that is not commodified and reified by capitalist relations? Inevitably this would require abolishing the conditions that reproduce commodification. But before that we need to understand what these conditions are. Therefore I would like to explore how the concept of alienation can help us distinguish the different levels of mediation that we are evolved in. My proposal is that alienation can help us to concretely engage with capitalist abstractions by exposing the social dissonance that exist between the social idea and social pathology.

Mattin is an artist from Bilbao (currently living in Berlin) working mostly with noise and improvisation. His work seeks to address the social and economic structures of experimental sonic artistic production through live performance, recordings and writing. He is currently doing a PhD at the University of the Basque Country under the supervision of Ray Brassier and Josu Rekalde. He has edited with Anthony Iles the book Noise & Capitalism and in 2012 CAC Brétigny and Tuamaturgia published Uconsitituted Praxis, a book collecting Mattin ́s writing plus interviews and reviews from performances that he has been part of. Both books are available online. Mattin will be taking part in Documenta next year in Athens and Kassel.

December 2, 2016, 6 pm, T-Marbouta Library, Hamra Street