VI. Spectacular Time
We have nothing that is ours except time, which even those without a roof can enjoy.
Baltasar Gracián, Oráculo manual y Arte de prudencia
THE TIME OF PRODUCTION, time-as-commodity, is an infinite accumulation of equivalent intervals. It is irreversible time made abstract: each segment must demonstrate by the clock its purely quantitative equality with all other segments. This time manifests nothing in its effective reality aside from its exchangeability. It is under the rule of time-as-commodity that "time is everything, man is nothing; he is at the most time's carcass" (The Poverty of Philosophy). This is time devalued the complete inversion of time as "the sphere of human development."
THE GENERAL TIME of human non-development also has a complementary aspect, that of a consumable time which, on the basis of a determinate form of production, presents itself in the everyday life of society as a pseudo-cyclical time.
PSEUDO-CYCLICAL TIME is in fact merely the consumable disguise of the time-as-commodity of the production system, and it exhibits the essential traits of that time: homogeneous and exchangeable units, and the suppression of any qualitative dimension. But as a by-product of time-as-commodity intended to promote and maintain the backwardness of everyday life it necessarily finds itself laden with false attributions of value, and it must manifest itself as a succession of artificially distinct moments.
PSEUDO-CYCLICAL TIME typifies the consumption of modern economic survival of that augmented survival in which daily lived experience embodies no free choices and is subject, no longer to the natural order, but to a pseudo-nature constructed by means of alienated labor. It is therefore quite "natural" that pseudo-cyclical time should echo the old cyclical rhythms that governed survival in pre-industrial societies. It builds, in fact, on the natural vestiges of cyclical time, while also using these as models on which to base new but homologous variants: day and night, weekly work and weekly rest, the cycle of vacations and so on.
PSEUDO-CYCLICAL TIME is a time transformed by industry. The time founded on commodity production is itself a consumable commodity, recombining everything which, during the period of the old unitary society's disintegration, had become distinct: private life, economic life, political life. The entirety of the consumable time of modern society ends up being treated as raw material for the production of a diversity of new products to be put on the market as socially controlled uses of time. "A product, though ready for immediate consumption, may nevertheless serve as raw material for a further product" (Capital).
IN ITS MOST ADVANCED sectors, a highly concentrated capitalism has begun selling "fully equipped" blocks of time, each of which is a complete commodity combining a variety of other commodities. This is the logic behind the appearance, within an expanding economy of "services" and leisure activities, of the "all-inclusive" purchase of spectacular forms of housing, of collective pseudo-travel, of participation in cultural consumption and even of sociability itself, in the form of "exciting conversations," "meetings with celebrities" and suchlike. Spectacular commodities of this type could obviously not exist were it not for the increasing impoverishment of the realities they parody. And, not surprisingly, they are also paradigmatic of modern sales techniques in that they may be bought on credit.
CONSUMABLE PSEUDO-CYCLICAL TIME is the time of the spectacle: in the narrow sense, as the time appropriate to the consumption of images, and, in the broadest sense, as the image of the consumption of time. The time appropriate to the consumption of images, the medium of all commodities, is at once the chosen field of operations of the mechanisms of the spectacle and the goal that these mechanisms hold up overall as the locus and central representation of every individual act of consumption; as we know, modern society's obsession with saving time, whether by means of faster transport or by means of powdered soup, has the positive result that the average American spends three to six hours daily watching television. The social image of the consumption of time is for its part exclusively dominated by leisure time and vacations moments portrayed, like all spectacular commodities, at a distance, and as desirable by definition. This particular commodity is explicitly presented as a moment of authentic life whose cyclical return we are supposed to look forward to. Yet even in such special moments, ostensibly moments of life, the only thing being generated, the only thing to be seen and reproduced, is the spectacle albeit at a higher-than-usual level of intensity. And what has been passed off as authentic life turns out to be merely a life more authentically spectacular.
OUR EPOCH, WHICH PRESENTS its time to itself as essentially made up of many frequently recurring festivities, is actually an epoch without festival. Those moments when, under the reign of cyclical time, the community would participate in a luxurious expenditure of life, are strictly unavailable to a society where neither community nor luxury exists. Mass pseudo-festivals, with their travesty of dialogue and their parody of the gift, may incite people to excessive spending, but they produce only a disillusion which is invariably in turn offset by further false promises. The self-approbation of the time of modern survival can only be reinforced, in the spectacle, by reduction in its use value. The reality of time has been replaced by its publicity.
IN ANCIENT SOCIETIES the consumption of cyclical time was consistent with the actual labor of those societies. By contrast, the consumption of pseudo-cyclical time in developed economies is at odds with the abstract irreversible time implicit in their system of production. Cyclical time was the time of a motionless illusion authentically experienced; spectacular time is the time of a real transformation experienced as illusion.
INNOVATION IS EVER PRESENT in the process of the production of things. This is not true of consumption, which is never anything but more of the same. Because dead labor continues to dominate living labor, in spectacular time the past continues to dominate the present.
ANOTHER ASPECT OF the lack of historical life in general is that the individual life is still not historical. The pseudo-events that vie for attention in the spectacle's dramatizations have not been lived by those who are thus informed about them. In any case they are quickly forgotten, thanks to the precipitation with which the spectacle's pulsing machinery replaces one by the next. At the same time, everything really lived has no relation to society's official version of irreversible time, and is directly opposed to the pseudo-cyclical rhythm of that time's consumable by-products. Such individual lived experience of a cut-off everyday life remains bereft of language or concept, and it lacks any critical access to its own antecedents, which are nowhere recorded. It cannot be communicated. And it is misunderstood and forgotten to the benefit of the spectacle's false memory of the unmemorable.
THE SPECTACLE, BEING the reigning social organization of a paralyzed history, of a paralyzed memory, of an abandonment of any history founded in historical time, is in effect a false consciousness of time.
A PREREQUISITE TO the enrollment of the workers as "free" producers and consumers of time-as-commodity was the violent expropriation of their time. The spectacular restoration of time was only possible on the basis of this initial dispossession of the producers.
THE IRREDUCIBLY BIOLOGICAL element that labor retains evident as much in our dependence on the natural cycle of sleeping and waking as in the marks of a lifetime's wear and tear, which attest to the irreversible time of the individual is treated by the modern production system as a strictly secondary consideration. Such factors are consequently ignored in the official discourse of this system as it advances, and as it generates the consumable trophies that translate its triumphant forward march into accessible terms. Immobilized at the distorted center of the movement of its world, the consciousness of the spectator can have no sense of an individual life moving toward self-realization, or toward death. Someone who has given up the idea of living life will surely never be able to embrace death. Promoters of life insurance merely intimate that it is reprehensible to die without first arranging for the system's adjustment to the economic loss one's death will incur; and the promoters of the "American way of death" dwell solely on how much of the appearance of life can be maintained in the individual's encounter with death. Elsewhere under advertising's bombardments it is simply forbidden to get old. Anybody and everybody is urged to economize on an alleged "capital of youth" which, though it is unlikely to have suffered much in the way of dilapidation, has scant prospect of ever attaining the durable and cumulative properties of capital tout court. This social absence of death is one with the social absence of life.
AS HEGEL SHOWED, time is a necessary alienation, being the medium in which the subject realizes himself while losing himself, becomes other in order to become truly himself. The opposite obtains in the case of the alienation that now holds sway the alienation suffered by the producers of an estranged present. This is a spatial alienation, whereby a society which radically severs the subject from the activity that it steals from him separates him in the first place from his own time. Social alienation, though in principle surmountable, is nevertheless the alienation that has forbidden and petrified the possibilities and risks of a living alienation within time.
IN CONTRAST TO the passing fashions that clash and fuse on the frivolous surface of a contemplated pseudo-cyclical time, the grand style of our era can ever be recognized in whatever is governed by the obvious yet carefully concealed necessity for revolution.
TIME'S NATURAL BASIS, the sensory data of its passage, becomes human and social inasmuch as it exists for human beings. The limitations of human practice, and the various stages of labor these are what until now have humanized (and also dehumanized) time, both cyclical time and the separated irreversible time of the economic system of production. The revolutionary project of a classless society, of a generalized historical life, is also the project of a withering away of the social measurement of time in favor of an individual and collective irreversible time which is playful in character and which encompasses, simultaneously present within it, a variety of autonomous yet effectively federated times the complete realization, in short, within the medium of time, of that communism which "abolishes everything that exists independently of individuals."
THE WORLD ALREADY has the dream of a such a time; it has yet to come into possession of the consciousness that will allow it to experience its reality.