A corporate anthropologist has been assigned a big term paper so to speak; he has to write a Great Report, a vast ethnography of the world in the throes of the present and guess what, he’s overwhelmed. This is the plot of Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island (Knopf, 2015)—a protagonist named U.’s information gathering and meaning-making for a report that ultimately goes unfiled. According to Jeff Turrentine’s review in the Sunday New York Times Book Review (February 22), McCarthy has found a way in this dystopia “to make cultural theory funny, scary and suspenseful.” More from this review is our CommQuote for February.
“Of cultural critics past, McCarthy would seem to have more in common with Guy Debord, the 20th-century French theorist who coined the term “society of the spectacle” to denote what he saw as the commodification of authentic human experience as a function of late-stage capitalism. Many of the themes coursing through “Satin Island” — the mediation of our lived reality by corporate technocrats; the emergence of complex networks whose structures are unfathomable to us, even as we serve them and their hidden architects; the aesthetic and political triumph of the global monoculture (good call on that one, Monsieur Lévi-Strauss) — would doubtless get an affirming nod from Debord, who uncannily predicted the advent of our socially mediated universe of discourse when he noted, back in 1967, that “everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.”
One can’t help wondering what Debord, who died in 1994, would have made of the iWorld that we now inhabit, and that Tom McCarthy finds so darkly fascinating. It’s a world where throngs of people will happily wait in line for hours to buy the newest iteration of a small device that gives them all of their news, keeps tabs on their friends and loved ones via third-party service providers, and entertains them with songs and games and videos even as it records (and stores, forever) their correspondence, their purchases, their comings and goings.” –Jeff Turrentine
The book is not in many libraries just yet so I can’t link to Penn Libraries but look for it soon.