Expurgated Summary of
Gunther Anders' book
Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen

In the modern world, the individual only has choices because they are already made (p. 1). The "means" (technics) are not means: they are decisions already made concerning the life of each person, the proof being that there aren't any isolated means, but a system of objects in which each object is an element, a piece, which summons the ensemble (p. 2). "Mass culture" is a post-literary illiteracy, a tide of images that close the eyes of those who no longer have anything to say (p. 3). The image cannot explain the world, but can only bludgeon the spectator with scraps that hide the real logic (p. 4). Due to the fact that the production and sale of industrial objects must progress without cease, all critique is a sabotage of "progress" and labeled reactionary (p. 4). The assimilation of critique to simple reactionary quibbling was inaugurated by National Socialism (p. 5). Destiny was politics (according to Napoleon), then the economy (according to Marx), today it is technology (p. 7). Useless reflections on the object of philosophy today (pp 11-14). The bizarreness of surrealist objects facing each other is completed and surpassed by the bizarreness of a permanent face-to-face between man and computerized thinking (p. 16). The dehiscence between the relations of production and ideological representation (in Marx) is one among so many others: between action and representation, action and feeling, knowledge and consciousness, the body and technology: man appears as the crossroads of "delays" of one factor upon another, as the exact contrary of the "harmonious personality" of the 19th century (p. 17). The classical conception of human finitude (life limited by death) is a sycophantic abstraction faced with actual and real limitations (the insufficiency of the natural functions of the individual faced with a non-mastered socio-technical power). The necessity of "exaggerating" the current tendencies so as to figure out their future end-results, under pain of not recognizing the tendencies themselves (p. 20). In his timidity before objects, man venerates these objects as ontological authorities, as a socially superior class (p. 23). Modern man is ashamed to become (more or less aleatorily) what he is, instead of being teleologically produced like devices (p. 24). It is no longer Promethean pride, but Promethean shame (from making itself). The feeling of insufficiency derives from the market mode of appropriation, in which it does not respond to the manifestation of a faculty or a talent, but a lack piled up by a purchase. The show windows permanently illustrate all that escapes from the individual (p. 28). The modern individual is not shamed by his reification, but by the insufficiency of it (p. 29). The instrumental imperfection of the living appears as a lack of deceived consciousnesses (p. 30). The timidity of the consumer before the commodity becomes the timidity of the parents before their infant, around which the old people seek to substitute themselves with ersatz equipment, due to their own well-known insufficiency (p. 35). It is the technical and marketed device that becomes its own consumer (= subject of the demand to be equipped, fed, maintained, etc.) (p. 40). By submitting his body and mind to the exigencies of the modern system, the individual accomplishes the rites of initiation, which have not disappeared from society: the machines have simply replaced the old ones (p. 41). The modern individual is not afraid of being used (employed, exploited), but of not being used (p. 42). The modern version of immortality is existence in series, in which pseudo-individual beings uninterruptedly succeed one another: the commodity accedes to divinity before miserably mortal men (p. 51). Industry is Platonic, in the sense that the eido pre-exists its ephemeral, standardized realization (p. 52). By dying, man doesn't accede to the Olympia of calibrated products, but to the Hades of brutish, unworthy primary matter (p. 54). Through the image, man seeks to construct the negation of his finitude: the cinematic star enters eternity for having consented to become a pure image (p. 57). The star easily makes a commodity of publicity, because the donkey rubs shoulders with the ass: the immortals in the family (p. 57). When General MacArthur wanted to transform the Korean War into the Third World War, he was withdrawn from command, not due to disagreement with his intentions, but because he wanted to leave it to "strategic" computers (p. 60). Vexed, MacArthur resigned . . . and became CEO of an industrial group that specialized in office computers (p. 63). Contrary to morality, which believes that one is ashamed of mistakes that one has actually committed, deeds demonstrate that one is ashamed of what one has not done, of one's impotence, passivity, of what one submits to (p. 70). In a market world, not only is man a spectator of things, but he is one himself in the sense that he feels himself spied upon by things and their implicit demand for an adequation of men with them (pp. 81-82). Propaganda for mechanized (repetitive) work in neo-music (poor rhythms and syncopation set up as principles of "composition") (p. 84). Industrial work as the active construction of its own physical and mental passivity (p. 90). Humanity begins where the operational distinction between means and goals ends (p. 100). Mass consumption can only be accomplished in the isolation of each person: each consumer is an unpaid domestic worker who cooperates in the production of the mass man (p. 101). Historical impossibility of separating production and consumption:[1] the domestic worker (as transformer of his own nature into that of an alienated spectator) is not compensated, but he pays to accomplish this labor; he must even pay for the loss of his liberty (p. 103). The Nazis' mass spectacles have become useless, no dispossession of man being as effective as that which simulates respect for individual liberty (p. 104). Installed among people, television destroys familial collectivity by de-realizing it: "when a phantom becomes real, reality becomes phantom-like" (p. 105). Television is precisely the opposite of a table, which unites people: it is the point of flight of all face-to-face community (p. 106). Today there is only geographical proximity; faced with mediatic[2] chatter, men once again become "infantile" in the initial sense: not knowing how to speak, which is not unessential, since "speech is the expression of man, but man is also the product of his speech" (p. 110). Through the media, events come to us, we don't go to them: the external world approaches us, duly remodeled, once we have burrowed down into the secret depths of our "home as castle" [chez soi]; due to this fact, we no longer take part in the world, we consume it, we consume the phantom and, not speaking to it, we become inept voyeurs (p. 111). The world only becomes important in its reproduced form, as socially valorized image; the difference between being and appearance, between reality and image, disappears; and reality must adapt to the image, must copy it (p. 111). "It is only when the door is closed behind us that the exterior becomes visible; it is only when we have become monads without windows that the universe reflects itself in us"; due to thinking that the world exists for us (= idealist position), we believe we no longer belong to it (p. 113). The old concept of experience (a voyage in the world) becomes null and void when we do not go [in] to the world, but an adulterated image of it comes to us: the only fashion that the instinctless animal had to become man (the one developed by the Bildungsroman) no longer exists (p. 114). What renders experimentation impossible is as much subjective velocity (simple social insertion) as the disappearance of what there is objectively to experiment with (p. 115). Abolition of distance in the imaginary familiarity with the fictional people of the spectacle; instauration of distance between spatially close neighborhoods and individuals (p. 117). In place of Plotinian or Goethean identification with the universe (Einfuehlung), illusory cronyism and familiarity (references to American advertising and journalistic language, "good old Cassiopeia"[3]) (p. 118). Socrates becomes "quite a guy"[4] and the reader of illustrated magazines judges universal history (p. 119). Past grandeur is lived like the picturesque provincialism of history: scorn of modernity for what surpasses it, that is to say, everything. The adequation of the commodity to the prefabricated lack makes the feeling for reality disappear, [and] comforts the image of reality as the simple objective existence of hallucination (p. 122). Familiarity is the denial of alienation, its false opposite, its show window (p. 124). Alienation opens the wound that familiarity closes: the feeling of the wound hides from us the dependency on drugs and the absorption of drugs makes us forget the existence of the wound (p. 126). Radio broadcasts in the morning are the profane ceremonies by which the modern slave begins the day that is not for him (p. 127). Is alienation in the metropolises still a process, or is it already an a prior condition? Cannot the mechanical abstractions of the psychologists find a subject for observation at their level? (p. 129). The rapid succession of disordered images expresses a maladroit attempt to escape from boredom, at the edge of "free time" (p. 137). The attempt to please all the sensory organs at the same time (reading and drinking while listening to the radio and getting a sun tan at the beach, for example) reinforces the autonomization of the sensory organs, which makes the subject (the Me) explode (p. 138). Habituated at work to the mechanical action of the body and mental functions, the salaried worker seeks distractions that prolong this condition and maintain his passivity (p. 139). In this context, the question of the meaning (of the signification) of activity can no longer be posed, [it] corresponds to nothing: the organs cling to each other [s'accrochent] in complete "liberty" at the first pretext; "to be occupied" must be understood in the way one speaks of a taxi or bathrooms that are "occupied": they are shut and inaccessible (p. 140). In the 19th century, the Gesamtkunstwerk[5] already aimed at positively realizing the horror of the void: nothing surprising in that political totalitarianism seized upon this totalitarian art, which only Nietzsche violently critiqued (p. 140). Standardization is a division: the individual must call himself the "divided" [dividu]; what one represents on television cannot be analyzed or understood with the help of the old concepts of aesthetic theory: the aesthetic quality is never in play, nor its reversal, which is the consciousness of the fictional; television exclusively produces what is no longer the real nor appearance, but an ambiguous confusion that scans [balaye] such distinctions (p. 143). Reality becomes a dream; dream a reality: the same mediatic appearance at the same time involves the real and the fictional; this appearance can no longer appear as specifically "aesthetic"; it becomes clandestine and permanent; the older American women knit pull-overs[6] for characters in serials and send gifts for fictional births (p. 145). These knitters are the Fates of modern irreality; people with illusions even in their affective lives are, in this way, even more annihilated than those who merely have illusory opinions (p. 146). Feeling becomes synonymous with stupidity, [in] which the spectator takes seriously what is not serious and, inversely, corresponds to a need of the system: the spectator must always be the man of incertitude, faced with which the media keep the initiative (p. 151). "The goal pursued by the furnishment of images is to mask reality with what one claims reality to be: to mask the world with its image and make it disappear" (p. 154). The dominant lie bears less upon the parts than upon the whole: the lie is the whole and the whole above all (p. 164). The mediatic image of the world is not constructed according to reality, but as an ensemble of prefabricated stimuli and "behavior patterns"[7]; the magic connection to the world is thus inverted: in magic, one works upon the simulacrum what one wants to happen in reality; in the spectacle,[8] one acts upon the real so as to relocate the image (the simulacrum) (p. 165). The more the medium gains in its pretension to objectivity (photography compared to painting), the more it becomes mendacious and can permit itself to be so (p. 166). Morals in the service of the commodity: "learn to covet what the market proposes" (p. 172). To not consume is an act of sabotage, a lack of civility; he who abstains and heckles the rights of the commodity is worse than the thief, who does not pay but covets, nevertheless (p. 172). The pedestrian as outlaw[9] (p. 173). Need no longer precedes consumption but now succeeds it: one buys "what comes out" and, once purchased, one considers it to be a need (p. 176). All commodities resemble the beverage Coca-Cola, which doesn't stop thirst, but reproduces it and reproduced it as thirst for Coca-Cola; once he has purchased a product, the consumer "appropriates" the needs of the product itself (need for complements, motor fuel, maintenance techniques, equipment for periodically recycling its "look"[10] etc); after being linked to the proliferating family of objects, no one reflects upon his or her needs any more: the objects express their needs and demand to be satisfied; we are now their imperfect servants, whom they ceaselessly summon to order (p. 177). The lie is no longer simple when it transforms the world to resemble a truth: the world evolves "in the image of its images" (p. 179). The current world is post-ideological, in the sense that it no longer needs an ideology added on to a reality that is itself an ideology materialized (p. 195). In all market imagery, approbation is integrated, like audience applause is added to some recordings or televisual broadcasts (p. 197). As in [Samuel] Beckett, tragedies now resemble farces (p. 217). Among the worn-out clowns, the action has become a variant of passivity: I rest, therefore I wait (Godot) (p. 218). It is the staging of beings reproducing religious attitudes without knowing what the object of the cult is: from "bad infinity" to bad eternity (p. 223). As nothing takes place, repetition is no longer perceived as such (Act II of Godot repeats Act I) (p. 223). Time is only a space in which amnesia deploys itself (p. 229). In our era, the goal of existence consists in producing means (p. 251). The goal assigned to a goal is to be a means for the means: from then on, one only authorizes a critique that attacks the operational adequation of the means, and in no case a critique that begins to reason in terms of goals (p. 252). The means justify the ends (p. 252). The parcelization of "competence" produces general incompetence with respect to the real totality, up to the summit of power (p. 270). Man no longer exists when his fragmentary roles are totally autonomized in the image of the good family man who is a guard at Auschwitz (p. 272). The belief in progress is a belief in the infinite character of the process, filled with optimism and ignorant of the existence of the negative (p. 278). The belief in progress renders useless imagining the future, which comes to be all alone: at the moment it is necessary to understand that nothing comes to be all alone, but that we make it (p. 282). In work conceived of as a moral value in itself, work justifies the product (the result) to the subject of which all interrogation becomes superfluous: the production of the worst is still production, thus sacrosanct (p. 289). As there exists no point of view that is exterior to work, there is no work in which one knows what one does and what happens (p. 293). The banal character of the war criminal is a thousand times worse than murderous passion, which knows what it does, whereas the former only expresses an unlimited impotence (p. 297). The musical art produces the identification of the auditor with what he hears and thus produces a feeling that is original each time, that doesn't exist independently of the morsel that creates it: each [piece of] music creates a new feeling sui generis; proof -- this time positive -- of the still-unconscious plasticity and historicity of affective life.

September 1988
[All page reference refer to first volume, published in 1956]

[1] which Marx began by referring to productive consumption, about which Anders says nothing.

[2] Translator's note: there is no English equivalent for the French word mediatique, which not only suggests the media, but the spectacular, as well.

[3] Translator's note: English in original.

[4] Translator's note: English in original.

[5] Translator's note: German for "total art work."

[6] Translator's note: English in original.

[7] Translator's note: English in original.

[8] A term that does not appear in Anders, but the need for which is constantly felt.

[9] Anders arrested while strolling by American cops, mistaken identity, impossibility of explaining the stroll [l'errance], thus falling into the legal category of vagrancy.

[10] Translator's note: English in original.

(Translated from the French by NOT BORED! November 2008. Footnotes by Jean-Pierre Baudet, except where noted.)

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