Summary and Info
"Consuming Life" by Zygmunt Bauman is a masterful analysis of the commodification of the individual in "liquid modern" (postmodern) society. The powers of observation displayed by the octogenarian author are without peer; Mr. Bauman seems to effortlessly assess myriad facets of contemporary culture while drawing upon a deep theoretical and practical knowledge base of philosophy, economics, politics and sociology. Taken alongside Mr. Bauman's other works in the liquid modern series (including "Liquid Life", "Liquid Love" and "Liquid Fear"), this outstanding book will no doubt further cement the author's reputation as one of the most original, important and insightful thinkers of our time.
Mr. Bauman brilliantly compares and contrasts the "society of producers" of what he calls the "solid modern" era with the "society of consumers" of today. Mr. Bauman explains that the values of mass conformity, durability and permanence associated with 20th century Fordist production has been displaced by an individuated 21st century society that is characterized by a continuous search for instant gratification. The author posits that linear progress has given way to a "pointillist" conception of time where the promise of perpetual happiness requires a continuous process of self-reinvention, forgetting and waste disposal. As the marketer's creed of dissatisfaction conditions consumers to keep the treadmill of production in motion, the social skills required to maintain long-lasting interpersonal relationships decline. In fact, the author contends that Internet dating helps to satisfy the growing expectation that relationships can be consumed like packaged commodities and disposed of when desirability has waned.
Mr. Bauman finds that whereas sovereign power was once expressed as an obligation to dutifully serve the nation state it is now exemplified by the coercive seductions of the market. Neoliberal ideology encourages individuals to improve themselves for entry into the job market where their subsequent busyness and acquisitiveness provides a false sense of living full and satisfying lives. In this manner, Mr. Bauman explains that individuals are at once both commodities and the consumers of commodities. The illusion of freedom offered by the marketplace to choose from among the latest styles obscures the loss of working class political power. Indeed, the author shows how the state is no longer concerned with ensuring the welfare of all citizens and is instead preoccupied with law enforcement, and especially with the disposition of the criminally defective underclass who comprise the "collateral casualties" of consumer society.
Mr. Bauman goes on to explore these and related concepts with consummate skill and erudition throughout all 150 pages of this fascinating text. I highly recommend this noteworthy book to all readers who are interested in a thought-provoking and unique perspective on contemporary society.