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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

LIT UP: Conspicuous Consumption

Hey everyone!

So I've been prepping so many posts for this blog but I've been procrastinating as well as I finish up my summer course. Anyway, I'm just about ready to start getting to serious work on here and have decided to start us off with some literature. I initially started the Little Literature Love Series on my other blog, which only made it to one book, but I decided I wanted to do a break down with it. So I'll be featuring Lit Up on this blog while the other will have Light Lit, both being a part of the overall series. The difference will be that on here I plan to feature series works that carry the intent of bringing forth some sort of knowledge to light in order to try and change the direction of progress we are headed in such as satires and political/societal non-fiction works. Light Lit will be primarily focused on novels as well as magazine articles, which carry the intent of pleasure reading but will have its own dose of criticism undoubtedly. This won't be a set in stone thing, though, as I expect that there will be some novels or articles better suited for this series, and maybe even vice-versa!

Enough on that elaboration though! The first work I've decided to feature here is Thorstein Veblen's Conspicuous Consumption.

I came across this book through my "Aristotle" class during my Spring semester, when the professor made the connection between this term and an Aristotelian idea we were focusing on. I was intrigued by it and even decided to write my final paper in regards to Aristotle's views on wealth while making connections to Veblen's own ideas as well as some more contemporary ones (if you're curious, I got a B!). I didn't give the book a good read till after the paper though, and what a fantastic book it is! Here's the synopsis from my copy (published by Penguin Books as a part of their "Great Ideas" series):

With its wry portrayal of a shallow, materialistic 'leisure class' obsessed by clothes, cars, consumer goods and climbing the social ladder, this withering satire on modern capitalism is as pertinent today as when it was written over a century ago.

Also, on the cover beneath the title and author the following is written:

"Unproductive Consumption of Goods is Honourable."

My thoughts: The true work in which this was written was in Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class (which I hope to read and tell you all about it in due time) but here, the main points regarding the idea of conspicuous consumption that Veblen coined is put into focus. Conspicuous Consumption is the wasteful use of money and resources by people wishing to portray themselves as someone of a higher status a.k.a. "the leisure class." His approach is interesting, as he writes this from an anthropological perspective by comparing the leisure class of his day to the early barbaric tribes from the beginning of the world for humankind. He explains how the leisure class approaches their status maintenance in a variety of ways, primarily conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure, but also in the little work they do that is left to those of the lower class, their heavy involvement in warfare, their interaction with nature, and conspicuous uselessness of education. Does this sound familiar? Thus the reasoning the book's poignancy remains so today! Though not every point is something I'd agree upon, they are well-made as well as put forth in an entertaining manner. Due to the time difference, some of the word usage is different but not so much so that it will infringe on your understanding of what he's portraying. I find that it applies quite well in today's way of life and is easily something you can see today tenfold (as Veblen's time of capitalism has transformed into today's hyper-capitalism) through media, your interactions with people, and undoubtedly, when you are in the bouts of consumption. After reading this, you'll find yourself re-evaluating your acts of consumption and thinking about the effects our economic system has on us as a whole.

My Favorite Quotes:

"With the primitive barbarian, before the simple content of the notion has been obscured by its own ramifications and by a secondary growth of cognate ideas, 'honourable' seems to connote nothing else than assertion of superior force. 'Honourable' is 'formidable'; 'worthy' is 'prepotent.' A honorific act is in the last analysis little if anything else than a recognised successful act of aggression." (17)

"The utility of consumption as an evidence of wealth is to be classed as a derivative growth. It is an adaptation to a new end, by a selective process, of a distinction previously existing and well established in men's habits of thought." (43)

"This cultivation of aesthetic faculty requires time and application, and the demands made upon the gentleman in this direction therefore tend to change his life of leisure into a more or less arduous application to the business of learning how to live a life of ostensible leisure in a becoming way." (48)

"[A]s the latter-day outcome of this evolution of an archaic institution, the wife, who was at the outset the drudge and chattel of the man, both in fact and in theory - the producer of goods for him to consume - has become the ceremonial consumer of goods which he produces. But she still quite unmistakably remains his chattel in theory; for the habitual rendering of vicarious leisure and consumption is the abiding mark of the unfree servant." (57)

"Different individuals will, of course, achieve spiritual maturity and sobriety in this respect in different degrees; and those who fail of the average remain as an undissolved residue of crude humanity in the modern industrial community and as a foil for that selective process of adaptation which makes for a heightened industrial efficiency and the fulness of life of the collectivity." (84)

"Sportsmen - hunters and anglers - are more or less in the habit of assigning a love of nature, the need of recreation, and the like, as the incentives to their favourite pastime. These motives are no doubt frequently present and make up a part of the attractiveness of the sportsman's life; but these can not be the chief incentives. These ostensible needs could be more readily and fully satisfied without the accompaniment of a systematic effort to take the life of those creatures that make up an essential feature of that 'nature' that is beloved by the sportsman. It is, indeed, the most noticeable effect of the sportsman's activity to keep nature in a state of chronic desolation by killing off all living things whose destruction he can compass." ( 87)

"During the recent past some tangible changes have taken place in the scope of college and university teaching. These changes have in the main consisted in a partial displacement of the humanities - those branches of learning which are conceived to make for the traditional 'culture,' character, tastes and ideals - by those more matter-of-fact branches which make for civic and industrial efficiency. To put the same thing in other words, those branches of knowledge which make for efficiency (ultimately productive efficiency) have gradually been gaining ground against those branches which make for a heightened consumption or a lowered industrial efficiency and for a type of character suited to the régime of status." (93)

"For this purpose the use of such epithets as 'noble,' 'base,' 'higher,' 'lower,' etc., is significant only as showing the animus and the point of view of disputants; whether they contend for the worthiness of the new or of the old. All these epithets are honorific or humilific terms; that is to say, they are terms of invidious comparison, which in the last analysis fall under the category of the reputable or the disreputable;j that is, they belong within  the range of ideas that characterises the scheme of life of the régime of status; that is, they are in substance an expression of sportsmanship - of the predatory and animalistic habit of mind; that is, they indicate an archaic point of view and theory of life, which may fit the predatory stage of culture and of economic oragnisation from which they have sprung, but which are, from the point of view of economic efficiency in the broader sense, disserviceable anachronisms." (96)

Rating:  4.5/5

Feel free to leave a comment below regarding the book and/or any reactions to what you've read. Also, if you have any recommendations for either part of the series, email me all about it! I'd love to hear about what you guys are reading.

Also, I'll be doing a similar series regarding films, primarily documentaries, so keep on the look out for that!

Hope you enjoyed and Happy Reading!

Luna-tick Tock

EDIT: Silly me forgot to mention the basic aspect of mentioning the genre! Thank you Tattushenoi for your comment and having mentioned it. For this book, my search brings up "Societal Study" as the genre, which I find very apt. I would say to also take note that, as mentioned in the synopsis offered on the back of the book, this also falls under the genre of "Satire." I will make sure to mention the genre for future posts that are a part of the Little Literature Love Series. :)