Hypermodern Times: Gilles Lipovetsky

Zygmunt Bauman in his sociological work Liquid Modernity would tell us that we are increasingly finding ourselves in a time of ‘interregnum’ – when the old ways of doing things no longer work, the old learned or inherited modes of life are no longer suitable for the current conditio humana, but when the new ways of tackling the challenges and new modes of life better suited to the new conditions have not as yet been invented, put in place and set in operation . . . We don’t yet know which of the extant forms and settings will need to be ‘liquidized’ and replaced, though none seems to be immune to criticism and all or almost all of them have at one time or another been earmarked for replacement.1

Gilles Lipovetsky on the other hand will assure us that the neoliberal project isn’t vanishing before our eyes, but is instead the latest incarnation of Enlightenment modernity. With the death of Utopianism comes the dark and bitter truth of technocapitalist globalism, a world where cultural tourism is the order of the day and nostalgia plays havoc with our local cities formulating distinct enclaves of memory and desire.

The deregulation in the economic sphere brought with it a deregulation of the base set of secular norms and functional scripts that had guided the Fordist era, and now in the neo-modern moment we see the deregulation of self and identity; or, what many term the fragilization of the earth. Yet, the three axiomatic elements that tie it all together remain: the market, technocratic efficiency, and the individual.2

Governments have become the fare of RealityTV, ineffectual and bankrupt, they perform their endless comedy routines of Left and Right as if these things still existed or even mattered. In our neo-capital nihilist consumerism politics has become a byword for “stupidity” rather than the voice of change. Politicians have become stand-up comics that no one is laughing with, but at. Truth to tell the grand meta-narratives have returned, but in the guise of Infotainment and Media Circuses while the poor and dispossessed wander in the no-man’s zones outside the simulated streams and games of a civilization that no longer cares or even notices them. Haunted by their own accelerated work schedules the poor live in between moments of waste and sleep: drowning in drugs, alcohol, or prison terms. While the nouveau rich of our era wander the globe seeking ever faster mobility and the luxury of cultural tourism.

Temptation and seduction rule our night lives: the mediatainment empires capture desire and mold it to the science fictional world of global cosmopolitanism. Consume now, travel, enjoy, renounce nothing: the politics of the radiant future of Italian Futurism has been replaced with the euphoric present of the consumer’s paradise. The combination of neoliberal globalism and the new Information and Communications technologies (ICTs) have in our era compressed time, where the financialization of capital moves at the speed of light while information works its wonders 24/7.

In a world where 3D Printers and DIY projects turn the private citizen into a Ulysses of the self-transcending, self-made inventive inventor of the possibilities of the impossible, who knows what shadows lurk in the barbarian minds of our posthuman engineers of technofuturism. But don’t be misled this is not some eternal present, life in a vacuum, but is rather a world where the ‘pure future’ exists: the mobile world of ultra change and movement. The future is no longer an ideological or political blank slate to write one’s outmoded utopian desires, it is rather the realm of science ficitional constructs that lure us into a technoscientific realm of exploded intelligence and smart cities.

Ours is the consumerist fantasia of transhumanist enhancement, a time of “consumerist fury” that expresses a rejection of time that has become worn-out and repetitive, a struggle against that ageing of feelings that ordinarily accompanies our days. The boredom of modernism has become the excess of hypermodernist diversion and distraction: the teleology of beauty. “While real relations of proximity are giving way to virtual exchanges, what is being established is a culture of hyperactive performance without concrete or sensory reality – one which gradually destroys the aims of the hedonistic lifestyle” (53).

While the disaffected, disposables live out their lives in the hinterlands of the hypermodern globe with no prospect of ever realizing such dreams, the elite find themselves in a realms where the “individual appears more and more opened up and mobile, fluid and socially independent. But this volatility signifies much more a destabilization of the self than a triumphant affirmation of a subject endowed with self-mastery” (55). Instead the global elite wander in worlds of psychosomantic symptoms and obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, anxiety and suicide, along with self-deprecation and the loss of memory and history.

Even the older liberal humanist framework of the secular Enlightenment has fallen to this accelerated future, a realm where the individual is thrown back on commodity nihilism and corporate performativity. Daily the individual slides into her performing masks that engender further illusions of success and self-transcendence in a void, all the while feeling the truth that behind the empty shell of the eyes she is slowly turning into a machine (droid) or doll (automaton).

1. Bauman, Zygmunt (2013-07-24). Liquid Modernity . Wiley. Kindle Edition.
2. Gilles Lipovetsky. Hypermodern Times. (Polity Press, 2005)

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