“Something in all men profoundly rejoices at seeing a car burn”: Pure Expenditure against Production

This is the second of two blog posts by Frederick H. Pitts that reassess the importance and impact of Jean Baudrillard’s The Mirror of Production. Read the first post here. Where the first post dealt with Baudrillard’s criticism of the productivism of political economy and its Marxist critique, the second deals with the implications of Baudrillard’s critical analysis for any radical alternative to production.

In the first post, we explored Baudrillard’s critique of productivism. The attributing of some kind of essential humanity to labor is identified by Baudrillard as one of the most pernicious effects of the productivism in political economy, Marx included. Indeed, humanism itself can be seen as the “product” of political economy (Baudrillard, 22). Taking over the “phantasm” of “labor as the human essence” from political economy, Baudrillard suggests Marx projected this understanding upon the working class as “their central means of self-comprehension.” Rather than maintaining a narrow fixation on the condition of one’s exploitation as labor as the means by which this exploitation can be transcended, Baudrillard argues that workers must liberate themselves from the status of “labor-power,” and “think themselves under another sign than that of production” (Poster, 3).

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Neither Marx nor Smith: Baudrillard’s Critique of Productivism

It seems an apt time to reassess the importance and impact of Jean Baudrillard’s The Mirror of Production. Several reasons spring to mind. We are approaching, in 2013, the 40th anniversary of the original French publication. Since the publication of the translated version in 1975 by Telos Press, the themes presented in the book have gained increasing contemporary currency, not least in popular critiques of production such as Kathi Weeks’s recent The Problem With Work (2012) and the growing literature on Italian autonomist theory. Finally, the passing in October 2012 of Mark Poster, responsible for the book’s translation into English, invites us to consider his excellent introduction and condensation of Baudrillard’s complex and challenging argument. In two blog posts, appearing today and next week, I will discuss some of the central themes of The Mirror of Production and attempt to relate them to broader intellectual currents and issues. Today’s post deals with the critical analysis that Baudrillard offers of the perceived “productivism” of both political economy and its Marxist critique.

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Baudrillard’s Intellectual Legacy

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Itai Farhi looks at Anthony King’s “Baudrillard’s Nihilism and the End of Theory,” from Telos 112 (Summer 1998).

The discipline of critical theory, originating in the work of the Frankfurt School, attempts to move from pure description of society toward a critique of society with the goal of bringing about change. In recent years, this discipline has itself been criticized. One of the leaders of this anti-critical theory crusade was Jean Baudrillard, whose intellectual legacy in relation to the state of modern theory Anthony King evaluates in his article “Baudrillard’s Nihilism and the End of Theory.”

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