Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Affective Collective: Consumerism and the Body in Alexandra Kleeman’s ‘You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine’

Picture1

When reading You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, there are very few moments when you feel wholly comfortable, or indeed at ease with the characters and their situations.  Kleeman gives us only a series of letters, keeping the main characters’ names a mystery – the anonymity standing as a testimony to commonality within a modern society so obsessed with the cult of consumption.  Alexandra Kleeman’s debut novel is reminiscent of the uncanny, as we are placed inside a world familiar to us, and yet completely out of sync with what we know.  Dads are disappearing, advertising is becoming increasingly violent, and strange cults are urging people to eat ‘brighter.’  The novel is an indictment of consumerism and consumption, and places the features of our perceived ‘normality’ under a very critical microscope.  The discourses that are present in the novel are increasingly relevant in our contemporary sphere, especially concerning consumerism, the body and, in turn, affect.

“At a routine everyday level, people simply do not feel the need to question the validity of consumerism as a way of life.  The dreams that people engender in consumerism give meaning to people’s lives.” (Miles, 156)

There is a distinct focus throughout the novel on food, consuming, and its affecting qualities on the human body.  The narrator, ‘A’, seems to constantly struggle with food, living mostly on a diet of popsicles and oranges.  Her diet in itself is interesting, as it alludes to the artificial and the natural being brought together inside her increasingly frail body.  The function of the body is thrown into question by Kleeman; there are evident struggles between the inner and the outer, the self and the other.  Nowhere is this more potent than when A is inducted into the Church of the Conjoined Eaters, as they urge her to dispel all ‘dark’ chemicals, memories, and thoughts from her body, “Inside a body there is no Light, so the Eaters teach you that you must shine through Righteous Eating.” (Kleeman, 217)  The body and mind become interconnected, as the memories of ‘A”s previous life must begin to be ‘unremembered’ through the control of her diet.  Food and thought become inextricably linked within the Church of the Conjoined Eaters. There is an element of Cartesian dualism throughout the novel, forcing us to recognise that, although the body and mind are inherently separate entities, they continuously interact with one other.  ‘A’’s behaviour and habits are influenced and controlled by those around her, and so external affect is also critical to our understanding of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine.  Lisa Blackman in Immaterial Bodies explains that, “Affect refers to those registers of experience which cannot be easily seen and which might variously be described as non-cognitive, trans-subjective, non-conscious, non-representational, incorporeal and immaterial.” (Blackman, 2)  The Conjoined Eaters are therefore bound to one another, and although they are ultimately attempting to be free of their bodies by ‘ghosting’ themselves, it is their bodies which essentially form the affective collective.

Picture2

Another interesting aspect of the novel is its focus on the Kandy Kakes product; how it is advertised, desired and eventually consumed.  The product, despite its severe lack of nutritional value, is fetishised by ‘A’, and she becomes consumed with finding her Kakes and eating them.  The product is advertised repeatedly throughout, and ‘A’ watches as Kandy Kat spends his life chasing these Kandy Kakes, only to be bitterly disappointed each time he fails to obtain them.  As the novel progresses, we see ‘A’ essentially transforming into this animated character in her desperate search for the highly desired snack, “I saw my bony arms sticking out in front of me as I manoeuvred them over to the shelf and picked up the nearest box, which was suspiciously light, because it was empty.  I picked up the next box and tilted it right to left, listening for the Kakes sliding back and forth within.  All the other boxes were empty too.” (Kleeman, 124)  ‘A’ seems to embody the idea that a person’s relationship to production is the fundamental determinant of their life experience; in essence, consumerism is a way of life.  Lauren Berlant’s theory of “cruel optimism,” is crucial when considering ‘A’’s desire throughout the novel.  “Cruel optimism”, as Berlant defines it, is “the condition of maintaining an attachment to a problematic object in advance of its loss.” (Berlant, 94) ‘A’ certainly creates a psychological attachment to the Kakes, which only enhances the disappointment when she cannot have them.  Eventually, when she is able to overindulge in these Kandy Kakes, she is repulsed by the taste of them.  It is cruel optimism indeed, as the product she so badly craved has fallen far below her initial fantasies and high expectations.

After having read You Too Can Have a Body Like Me, I found it quite difficult to imagine myself ever eating an orange again.  It is interesting to experience affect itself, in the aftermath of Kleeman’s wonderfully strange existentialist tale.  While ‘A’ never reaches the ‘good life’ that consumerism seems to promise us, we are able to learn some valuable lessons from her albeit bizarre experiences.  Desiring, purchasing, consuming and eating is something that we do each day, almost without thinking about it.  Kleeman forces us to take a step back and realise how disordered and chaotic these simple tasks can be.  Daily existence is thrown into disarray, and unfortunately for our protagonist, the body becomes a vehicle for personal destruction.

 

Bibliography

Blackman, Lisa. Immaterial Bodies :Affect, Embodiment, Mediation. Thousand Oaks, Calif.; 4: Sage, 2012. Theory, Culture & Society. Print.

Gregg, Melissa, and Gregory J. Seigworth. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham; 4: Duke University Press, 2010. Print.

Kleeman, A. You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine. London: 4th Estate, 2017. Print.

Miles, Steven. Consumerism :As a Way of Life. London; Thousand Oaks, Cal: Sage, 1998. Print.

Petersen, Alan R. The Body in Question :A Socio-Cultural Approach. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Images

Image 1.  I Shop Therefore I am.  Found on: https://www.tes.com/lessons/rcPL-tTttk_AIA/consumerism

Image 2.  Kandy Kakes.  Found on: http://intl.target.com/p/tastykake-peanut-butter-kandy-kakes-12-ct/-/A-14986850

Detective Fiction and the Corporate Stage: The Investigation of False Bodies in Dominique Manotti’s ‘Lorraine Connection’.

Dominique Manotti’s Lorraine Connection is a duplicitous creation and, like its tale of corporate espionage, murder and intrigue, defies readers and characters alike a central grounding on which to stabilise themselves. This piece would encourage readers to question the notion of what I call ‘false bodies’ – the repeated scapegoating of characters at the expense of the larger, untouched and anomalous, corporate deity that emerges from the novel largely unscathed, despite being the root cause of all the crimes. In its depiction of the nefarious exploits and exploitations of the Daewoo group and its employees, Manotti’s novel raises questions on the notions of labour and the capitalist machine, specifically within the genre of detective fiction.

“It’s as though the whole factory was a stage set, and we were acting in a play without understanding what it was all about…”

(Manotti, 134)

Throughout Lorraine Connection readers are encouraged to examine the dichotomy between the narratives of the poor, downtrodden workers at the Daewoo factory, the various discordant and self-interested nodes of the Matra-Daewoo alliance, and the forces of the opposing Alcatel conglomerate, one of whom is hardboiled private detective Charles Montoya. As a piece of genre fiction, readers come to the novel with preconceived notions on the detective novel, and on the very apparatus of the private eye. However, Manotti’s novel complicates Montoya’s investigation, by the proffering of sacrificial false bodies for him to chase, mainly that of Maurice Quignard. The villainy of the novel is that, “the lives of the working class count for nothing. We can be raped, crushed or hanged, and nobody gives a shit. (Manotti, 173), and the denouement of the novel means that the majority of the wealthy backers behind the corporate crimes get off scot free.

Workers were exploited by the Daewoo corporation | © Yann Duarte/ Flickr
Workers were exploited by the Daewoo corporation | © Yann Duarte/ Flickr

 

We might question whether Montoya himself acts as a dog of Alcatel interests, and not a shining paragon of the public but a dark spectre of the private. Manotti’s novel makes its P.I., usually a figure of (this essay would posit) ‘the people’, into a tool to be moved around by another capitalist entity for its own ends. Montoya himself has little agency, answering to his superiors at Alcatel, and his investigations gain little solace for the labouring workers who have suffered as pawns for their employers. The true antagonists of the novel are almost entirely divorced from the proceedings, “The fat cop was right: weapons, strategy, industrial restructuring, all a stage set. This is where the decisions were made, in the bogus accounts of a second-rate business.” (Manotti, 168), and are again false bodies to be chased but ultimately unable to be apprehended by Montoya.

“The detective’s truth generating capacity, more often characterized as a process of discovery rather than creation, demands scrutiny given the intuitional and class biases he or she is often called upon to serve.”

(Zi-Lang, 5)

The only true bodies of the novel are the workers in the Daewoo factory who, in their confrontations with the harsh violence of the calculating machinery of their employers, come to realise their all too corporeal reality. “Capitalist activity always induces destabilising scenes of productive destruction – of resources being made and unmade according to the dictates and whims of the market,” (Berlant, 192), and, like the assembly lines the men and women work on, they too become impersonal cogs in the corporate machine. However, I would posit that such corporeality is only physical, and is a surface-deep physicality – the workers’ bodies exist, true, but it is only when they strike that they begin to feel like agents divorced from the factory, “I felt as though I existed. I thought it was easy, and that I was changing my life” (Manotti, 107). However, this freedom is short-lived – undercut not only by the quashing of the strike but by the various murders that follow, murders that act as signifiers, painful reminders that the workers are still, and always will be, physical and breakable objects to be used at their corporation’s will.

The labyrinthine forces that the workers find themselves facing underline what I believe is the key focalisation of the novels events. Manotti skilfully creates a space for the performance and neutering of the detective genre. Montoya and the workers find no justice in their confrontation with the capitalist logos that seek to control and exploit them for, “transnational partnerships [like those between the various interlocking and interweaving corporate conglomerates] arise out of a web of public and private law” (Likosky, 12) and therein lies the problem. The obfuscation that corporate espionage and practices of blackmail and deceit inherently generate are unable to be fully penetrated or escaped by either the workforce or the detective. Manotti situates his novel within a defined genre then highlights the very inabilities of that genre and its heroes to fully triumph over the antagonists.

Workers on strike/ © Neil Moralee/ Flickr
Workers on strike | © Neil Moralee/ Flickr

 

In the end, we, as readers are confronted with a perfunctory and dissatisfying finale, that only serves to undercut any hopes of resolution for the workforce, “THOMSON BACK TO SQUARE ONE” (Manotti, 190). The disenfranchisement of the workers is never resolved – worse than that, the true killers of Étienne, Aisha and Rolande’s mother are never brought to justice and the Alcatel group stymie Matra-Daewoo’s hopes of winning the Thomson bid. In a genre that centres around the twin modes of investigation and discovery, the novel reveals that Manotti’s Montoya has, in fact, done his job too well and the private conspiracy he has discovered has proven far too large and powerful to combat. Worse still, combatting the power dynamic would bring ruination down upon everyone involved. In short, Manotti’s detective novel creates a dais for the tearing down of idealised notions of detection – the detectives never investigate for the right reasons, the people truly behind the wrongdoings are never caught, only the false bodies are ever blamed, and the revelations that are uncovered never bring anyone any solace.

 

Bibliography:

Berlant, Lauren. “Cruel Optimism.” Differences. A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. vol. 17. no. 5. Brown University Press, 2006.

Likosky, Micheal. “The Privatization of Violence.” Private Security, Public Order. The Outsourcing of Public Services and Its Limits. Ed. Chesterman, Simon and Angelina Fisher. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Manotti, Dominique. Lorraine Connection. Trans. Hopkinson, Amanda and Ros Schwartz. London: Arcadia Books, 2006.

Zi-Ling, Yan. Economic Investigations in Twentieth Century Detective Fiction. Expenditure, Labor, Value. Oxon: Routledge, 2016.

Global Capitalism and the Alienated Workforce: Natsuo Kirino’s Out

 Out UK Cover

Natsuo Kirino’s Out is a Japanese crime novel that eloquently projects the effects of global capitalism on the alienated workforce by looking at both the collective and the individual. As a result of this mundane daily routine and aimless lifestyle, the characters in the novel suffer in a constant state of anomie, which results in a plot that is fuelled by murder, monetary gain and gendered divisions. Furthermore, Kirino displays the effects of what happens as a result of neoliberalism’s commodification of the female body. Set in Industrial Tokyo, this novel aims to shock the reader whilst addressing a number of pertinent issues that exist within our world today.

Written in 1997, Out portrays Japan after the collapse of the economic bubble that existed between 1986 and 1991 whereby both the stock market and real estate prices were thoroughly inflated. Kirino explicitly addresses this matter through her characters, particularly Kuniko and Kazuo. This depressive state is portrayed through Kazuo, a young man who appears entirely dislocated within society due to his loneliness and lack of education. Kazuo arrives in Japan with high aspirations after hearing that it was “the most prosperous country in the world”, with a weekly salary that was “nearly as much as he made in a month at the print shop in Sao Paolo” (Kirino153). The haunting reality, however,  is that this is not Japan’s true state. Instead, like the other characters of this novel, he is trapped in a perpetual cycle of depression that runs from the economic base through to their own individual lives. “Precarity is therefore significantly more than economic: it is structural in many senses and permeates the affective environment too” (Berlant 192).

“No living being can be happy, or even exist, unless his needs are adequately related to his means. In other words, if his needs require more than can be allocated to them, or even merely something of a different sort, they will be under continual friction and can only function painfully” (Emile Durkheim, as cited in Ollman 174)

The long-term effects of this depressive economic state are reflected in Kuniko, a character who is obsessed with fake designer clothes and imported cars. She is a social climber who struggles under a crippling amount of debt due to her over- dependence on temporary loans that contain heightening interest rates. “With decartelization, Japanese banks’ profits eroded and their lending grew reckless (Flath 8). As a result of Japan moving from being a national economy to a free market economy, “the resulting run-up in asset prices in 1988– 9 was followed by a crash in 1990– 1 that left the Japanese banks’ net worth in a precarious state” (Flath 8). Kirino depicts the individual’s failure to address the issue of the capitalist reality through Kuniko as she blindly continues to spend money that she doesn’t have on false designer goods. Furthermore, Kirino depicts this failure in addressing the precarious state at a larger, collective level, as in spite of this economic collapse, “bank loans remain the most important source of external funds to Japanese businesses” (Flath 8).

As a result of her lust for monetary gain, Kuniko becomes a slave to the capitalist state and the illusion of the free-market. We are told that “on her current salary at the factory, she could never hope to pay back the mountain of debt she’d run up; in fact, it was all she could do to manage the interest” (Kirino 22). Unable to acknowledge the extent of these debts, Kuniko “had no idea whether she was even paying off the principal anymore, no idea what the principle was” (Kirino 22). Almost every character in the novel struggles with personal finance, struggling to exist financially on a daily basis.

This humdrum daily routine of working at a conveyor belt “from midnight until five-thirty without a break” (Kirino 1), making boxed lunches and then returning home to dislocated families, leaves each of the women with a feeling of complete aimlessness. This sense of aimlessness persists throughout the entire novel, as Kirino maintains a tone that, although being rather lyrical throughout the text, does not allow the reader to enter into a false sense of optimism. This tone in itself reflects the nature of contemporary society whereby the masses are being oppressed, yet may not be conscious of it.

“There was no cure for the kind of depression that came from working in that factory” (Kirino 3).

It is evident throughout the novel that the female body is commodified as each individual woman does not possess control over her own body in the eyes of society. Instead, women are merely described as beautiful pets, with their social position being determined by their possession of youth and beauty. For example, Satake encourages Anna to “always stay this beautiful” as “he knew how short-lived beauty was and that when she got older, he would have to look for a new Anna” (Kirino 49). However, this is not the case for the male body as a man’s status is inherently dependent on his wealth.  Nevertheless, Kirino’s female characters do possess a crucial sense of agency. While the character of Anna uses her beauty and youth to make a living, she does this with complete moral awareness of her actions and the effects that she has on others.  Thus, Kirino depicts a world whereby women are not failing to rise against the oppression of Neoliberalism due to a lack of consciousness, but due to a failure to make a strong impact upon the the ideological and repressive social forces that constrain them within this precarious state.

Image result for natsuo kirino

Bibliography:

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Durham and London: Duke University Press. 2011.

Flath, David. Japanese Economy (2). Oxford, GB: OUP Oxford, 2005.

Kirino, Natsuo. Out. Vintage, trans. 2004: London, 1997.

Ollman, B.  Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in a Capitalist Society (Cambridge Studies in the History and Theory of Politics). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

 

Photo Credits:

Image 1 found on “Feministing Readz: Getting Inside patriarchy’s Head With Natsuo Kirino’s Out”. Feministing. 5 March, 2017.
http://feministing.com/2014/08/26/feministing-readz-getting-inside-patriarchys-head-with-natsuo-kirinos-out/

Image 2 found on “Natsuo Kirino: About the Author”. Penguin Random House. 5 March, 2017. http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/59249/natsuo-kirino