I get frustrated when people defend cultural criticism against charges of frivolity by saying stuff like “well, this type of language reinforces these concepts and has this material impact on the world”
not because it’s wrong — it’s absolutely true — but because it doesn’t go far enough. primarily, I think it’s still not actually material enough
it retains the idea that speech is relevant to the world of violence, poverty, matter only in how it is received — thus reinforcing the idea that its production is somehow devoid of contact with the material world, that it springs straight from your soul to that of others without any intercession
how is your speech transmitted? by print? who provides the paper, the ink, the presses? what trade networks are involved? how is it distributed? who sells it? who profits?
electronically? through which platform? your phone? email? a site on the world wide web? a different network like your Facebook app? how is this network powered? through coal? nuclear? hydro? who works for all of these connected corporations?
every piece of communication is reliant upon thousands and thousands of hours of human labour, either directly or crystallised into commodities, and all of these things are as material as they are cultural
even when you speak face to face with another your vocal chords and their ears are part of bodies that are fed and housed by vast trade networks, using languages that are fostered or suppressed by colonialism and imperialism and borders that are on some level manifested in steel and concrete and razor wire and guns. and even the assumption that the language you use when face-to-face with another will be vocal rather than signed or written or typed assumes a certain type of relationship to your body and brain, to the material parts of you, that is to say, to all of you. and you come face to face with them through feet, through roads, through wheels, through shoes, through labour, through matter
and while materialism is not necessarily Marxist, I’m obviously working in a specifically Marxist theoretical tradition when I say that all manufactured goods are crystallised hours of labour, hours that were most likely contributed by someone who had little choice in the matter, from whom they were essentially stolen. commodity fetishism and alienated labour are the marxist concepts I’ve probably gotten the most use out of and that’s one of the reasons I refused to write off marxism even when I was a stupid baby anarchist with minimal nuance who was just really pissed off by how shitty trotskyists were to me. so it’s frustrating to me that even specifically Marxist cultural critics have largely left this material analysis to annoying liberals who pontificate on how “being anti-capitalist while using things made under capitalism” is a contradiction in terms
anyway this is a thing that I’m writing at work, on pen and paper, looking up every so often to smile vacantly in case the Secret Shopper comes by and reports that I didn’t look approachable. I’ll be standing all day and my feet and the small of my back hurt already. where I’m working is at a stall promoting cheap mobile phone deals. some countries are a lot cheaper to call than others, mostly countries with a big manufacturing sector and hence a lot of the necessary infrastructure. I’m also texting and trying to sort out where I’m going on a date but I’m running out of charge so I’m afraid to call. later I’ll type it up on my computer which might crash when I write it because the battery’s fucked, so you might not ever see this. the mobile phone service provider has a lot of plans that cost thirty or forty or fifty dollars but then provide a lot of “free” calls. they’re not really free, of course: the cost is embedded in the plan, in your electricity bill, in however much you paid for your phone, etc. that’s kind of how I feel about language and communication: it’s never really free of these networks of trade, this enmeshment in matter, it couldn’t be, the idea doesn’t even make sense
and my feet still hurt and this is all 100% material, 100% cultural, in production and consumption both