catacomber (catacomber) wrote,

Harvey part 2(Wednesday, Week 2)

In part II of Harvey's book, we see what has happened historically in the last two hundred years, particularly the last century, as described through an entirely different framework than in Part I. This section is primarily concerned with an economic description of modern life. To set the stage, he uses the industrial design of Henry Ford and the advent of mass production as one of the most significant changes in the western lifestyle. Although Ford was not the only person to implement the theories of conveyor based product assembly, he was notable for his efforts of constructing a market to support his products; he is credited for having pioneered the construction of social need.(125) For Harvey, this is a significant turning point. Product became the purpose and the content of life itself, particularly for the workers who found themselves under the wings of employment. His workforce was built to be able to buy. It doesn’t take long before technology based industries are growing at exponential rates, running on the steam of other technologies. After WWII, this process of technology based growth maintained a steady rise until the mid-sixties, wherein business in general underwent a major transformation. He postulates the need for capitalist growth as a force which will transform and even generate market spaces which are able to operate and survive on their own self-feeding functions, effectively dislocating not only an industry, but an entire class of people along with it. Through flexible accumulation, which is the ability of value as a commodity to be shifted around from account to account without ever actually representing a literal mass of dollars, the majors movers in the economy become the “paper entrepreneurs”.(163) The effect is that the “financial system has achieved a degree of autonomy from real production unprecedented in capitalism’s history”.(194)

Once all this is established it is impossible not to compare part II to part I. The dislocation, invisible spheres of heterogeneity, self-service, self-refection emulate each other. The economic structures emulate the structures of art. There is a direct interdependence, particularly of the latter on the former, but arguably vice verse. (I would definitely argue it.)

Although there are many parallels to be made once both parts of the book are viewed together, I would particularly like to focus on this more structural element of his setting up both “worlds” and then relying on the reader to glue them together in a sense. I suspect there may be a pedagogical reason behind not reading the third section of the book. Thurtle may be trying to introduce the idea of “montaging” the two parts together as an act of performative postmodernity. Imagining the two chapters together is a process we might call “intertextuality”, and it is markedly PoMo. I want to use this as a good starting point for illustrating what may prove to be some seriously contradictory themes in Harvey’s work.

Although he does not say so explicitly, Harvey can, by deconstruction, be categorized as not only a person with a Marxist monocle, but one with a considerable mistrust and probable disdain for the cause of capitalism. He does little, however, to contextualize his own role within the scheme of things. While, ironically, to do so would be total PoMo, the purpose of which is to self-monitor(some say ), it is also typical of academics who don’t want to have to play the games of the modern business world. (My dad, for example, who teaches in a private university, has said on many occasions, “I’m lucky to be here, because there is no place for me in the real world.”) I argue the act of performing critical theory is one definitively dependent on the condition of postmodernity. Critical theory anachronizes cultural phenomena for their subsequent exploitation. Cultural identities are the buildings blocks of the academic industrial machine. It is important to remember that Parts I and II of Harvey’s book are tight little encapsulations of a worldview. It is no small task to manufacture these little capsules, either. Reflect for a moment on the scope of his agenda: to recreate with sufficient suspension of disbelief the workings of the entire western world over the course of two centuries in the space of 120 pages per part of the book. What are the “real” commodities this venture is based in? Don’t these Foucauldian archeologizations insure that the academic is not extraneous to the capitalist growth machine (as so many wish and pray that they are), but an intrinsic and perhaps necessary part of it?
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