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The relation of the individual and the collective to the Thing is the most fundamental and important, the most defining of the social relations. This thesis flows directly from the theory of historical materialism. If the significance of the human relation to the Thing has not been understood, or has been only partially understood as a relation to the means of production, this is because until now Marxists have known only the bourgeois world of things. This world is disorganized and divided into two sharply delimited domains, those of technical and everyday things. The latter fell completely outside of scientific consideration, as static and secondary forms. Thus the world of Things, as a world not only of material processes but of material forms as well, was not taken into account; nor, consequently, was the formal-everyday character of technology. In the minds of Marxists, then, the entire sphere of social consciousness and many aspects of social practice (e.g., social-organizational, artistic, and everyday practices) were cut off from the world of Things and suspended in midair. The connection of things to production was considered too distant and superstructural, while the actual unmediated relation between them that was embodied in material forms of productive consumption and pure consumption was disregarded or never noticed. The construction of proletarian culture, that is, of a culture consciously organized by the working class, requires the elimination of that rupture between Things and people that characterized bourgeois society. This construction presupposes, in addition, the establishment of a single methodological point of view that understands the entire world of things as the material form-creating basis of culture. Proletarian society will not know this dualism of things either in practice or in consciousness. To the contrary, this society will be ideologically imbued with the deepest sense of Things. However, insofar as these general theses remain silent as to their concrete realization, they must be critically compared with those forms of material culture already worked out by humanity. Knowing the types of existing relations between people and things, knowing the sociohistorical substratum of these relations, we will be able to foresee, even if only in their essentials, the developmental tendencies of proletarian material culture.
Translated by Christina Kiaer
Everyday Life and the Culture of the Thing*
(Toward the Formulation of the Question)
OCTOBER 81, Summer 1997, pp. 119-28. © 1997 October Magazine, Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Aindriú Macfehin is a PhD candidate at Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland