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Inequality and luxury

from Lars Syll

thThus luxury is being hollowed out. For in the middle of general fungibility, happiness clings without exception to what is not fungible. No exertion of humanity, no formal reasoning can alter the fact that the clothing which shimmers like a fairy-tale is worn by the one and only, not by twenty-thousand others. Under capitalism, the utopia of the qualitative — what by virtue of its difference and uniqueness does not enter into the ruling exchange relationship — flees into the fetish character. But this promise of happiness in luxury presupposes once more privilege, economic inequality, precisely a society based on fungibility. That is why the qualitative itself turns into a special case of quantification, the not-fungible into the fungible, luxury into comfort and in the end into senseless gadgets. In such a circle the principle of luxury goes to pieces even without the leveling tendency of mass society, over which the reactionaries sentimentally fuss and fume. The inner composition of luxury is not indifferent to what useless things, through their total embedding in the realm of usefulness, experience. Its remainders, even objects of the greatest quality, already look like junk.

T. W. Adorno

  1. July 4, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    What a wonderfully complex way to describe the role of junk. Many years ago my uncle said that the wonderfully luxury homes being built would one day be converted to rooming houses or apartments. I have often reflected on the many useless things we have and buy only to toss later on.

    • Robert Locke
      July 4, 2020 at 4:28 pm

      1899, Theory of the leasure class.

      • Craig
        July 4, 2020 at 6:37 pm

        Yes, conspicuous consumption is the polar opposite of the cardinal personal and systemic virtue of prudence.

  2. Ken Zimmerman
    July 25, 2020 at 4:30 pm

    But junk doesn’t create itself. Humans invented junk. And what’s the story of that invention? Sounds like several dissertation topics to me.

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