Late Capitalism and the Sleeper

Sunday, January 26th, 2014 by brandontruett

Having read a couple posts that lament the lack of solutions offered in Jonathan Crary’s 24/7, I want to focus on the solution as demonstrated by Crary’s ambitious attempt to identify an opposing temporality in the form of the “sleeper.” He makes a strong claim that techno-conglomerates have interpellated us to exist as compliant subjects in a world of unfettered late capitalism. Crary elucidates a social reality that is surveyed biopolitically, which is to say, we have been conditioned to self-administer our own compliance. While 24/7 certainly contains much that should be unpacked, I am specifically interested in how the argument pertains to social relations, how we interact with one another through various technologies that seemingly offer connection. Having established the pernicious nature of 24/7 temporalities, Crary claims that “[w]ithin 24/7 capitalism, a sociality outside of individual self-interest becomes inexorably depleted, and the interhuman basis of public space is made irrelevant to one’s fantasmatic digital insularity” (89).  Crary critiques the marketed ideology that champions the newest technology, which connects one to his or her loved ones, ensuring more frequent communication. Crary also points out that neoliberalism successfully demonized the dreams of communality that existed in the 1960s. As late capitalism ensures the marketability of every part of the day, eventually even sleep, we move further away from a healthy sociality outside of shallow digital communication.

As a solution, Crary champions a type of temporality that allows for “waiting” in order to have “time-in-common” (127). I’ll admit the irony of myself blogging about Crary who points to blogging as the end of politics due to the fact that bloggers do not wait to hear one another; they endlessly chatter into the ether. I agree with Crary’s solution for what might ameliorate or mitigate our entrenchment in capitalism. The solution, as he states, takes the form of “the sleeper [who] inhabits a world in common, a shared enactment of withdrawal from the calamitous nullity and waste of 24/7 praxis” (126). I wonder how we can tap into this “sleeper” ontology in order to shore up the encroachment of global capitalism. Does he mean that we should disconnect from our technologies more often, attempting to opt-out for short periods in which we might dream or imagine other ways of being-in-the-world?


2 comments on “Late Capitalism and the Sleeper

  1. This makes me envision just about any bus stop or any other waiting place today – and how everyone, myself included, is usually looking at phone screens, iPad screens, computer screens- in “conversation” with (Crary would put scare quotes, though I’m not sure I would) everything but the other people around them – something we do not need the technology we bought to do. (Free conversation?) I guess I see the act of “unplugging” as waking up, though, as opposed to sleeping or dreaming…if we’re talking symbolically, which makes it hard for me to wrap my head around Crary’s multiple meanings of sleep-as-resistance. But these “TV turn-off week” notions seem to stray into the romantic more than the pragmatic. I would like to think as time goes on we begin to realize/discuss when and when not to use these technologies, rather than to continue being dazzled by mindless consumption and assert their absolute necessity in every part of our everyday life. But to demonize digital communication as something (pretty much wholly) negative …shallow, lacking something genuine or even human… It just seems more complicated than that. And because it’s going to be very difficult to incite full-scale rebellion (and I think unnecessary or perhaps even counter-productive), it seems we might have to work out all the particulars. Maybe Crary isn’t looking to go back in time (pre-Internet), but when he claims the impossibility to re-evaluate or scale down–because capitalism cannot be scaled down–I’m not sure what to think or what he envisions as an end-goal, however tentative.

  2. Lori Emerson says:

    Brandon, I really appreciated your post and the way it contributed to the class discussion in Tuesday’s class – I can’t help but to get excited at the thought that resistance to late capitalism, to our devices, to surveillance, really could be as simple, straightforward, and as low-tech as unmediated waiting, sitting, experiencing unstructured time, profound unproductivity. The problem, though, is that I think we’ve wrapped up morality in productivity so that waiting, sitting, not-doing is implicitly seen as lazy, wasteful, “sleep when you’re dead” etc.

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