Consuming Passions

"Marx talks of the commodity as 'congealed labor,' the frozen form of a past activity; to the consumer it is also congealed longing, the final form of an active wish. And the shape in which fulfillment is offered seems to become the shape of the wish itself. The need for change, the sense that there must be something else, something different from the way things are, becomes the need for a new purchase, a new hairstyle, a new coat of paint. Consuming products does give a thrill, a sense of both belonging and being different, charging normality with the excitement of the unusual...The power of the purchase -- taking home a new thing, the anticipation of unwrapping -- seems to drink up the desire for something new, the restlessness and unease that must be engendered in a society where so many have so little active power, other than to withdraw the labor which produces its prizes. These objects which become the aims of our passions are also shored up to protect us from them, the bricks of a dam held together by the very force it restrains. Passion is a longing that breaks beyond the present, a drive to the future, and yet it must be satisfied in the forms of the past.

For passion has no form of its own and yet, like the wind, is only revealed in forms; not a ready-made object, it is what breathes life into objects, transforming movement into shape. It is not found in things, but in ways of doing things; and the ways things are done are another kind of shape, less solid to touch than products, but equally forms in which passions are consumed. These forms, not merely of objects but of our activities, provide at once our passion's boundaries and their expression: they are a shared language, for the shapes of our consciousness run right through society, we inhabit the same spaces, use the same things, speak in the same words. The same structures are found at every 'level': the property laws that underpin bourgeois capital also govern personal relationships, marriage, sex parenthood; the deferred gratification of emotional investment mirrors the very forms and strategies of economic investment."

-- Judith Williamson, Consuming Passions. pp.12-13.