There is undoubtably a return to basics movement spreading through Cascadia. Where the consumer's crown jewel is no longer necessarily the flashiest or the fastest but rather the most natural:
pickling your own food, making your own clothes, curing your own meats, raising your own meat, growing vegetables, growing beards... etc.
Certainly one of the driving forces behind this movement is a positive environmental and social consciousness that is hard to object to. But, like with all widespread consumer trends, there is another secondary engine supplying power, one not so easily discernible from the surface: "the quest for authenticity".
This quest can be interpreted in a number of ways:
As a Benjamin-like return to the aura --- an essence of sorts living behind objects and experiences. This was no doubt a factor in what drove me and my girlfriend to Buenos Aires --- to chase a mythical literary idealization: the ghosts of Borges, Xul Solar, Victoria Ocampo, Bioy-Casares...
Or perhaps we look for some underlying moral substance in these activities? Read in this way, this moment takes on a ascetic/spiritual dimension, where each participant is engaging in a collective but individual quest for self-actualization --- a grand consummatory undertaking in its own right.
Although these interpretations may offer a superficial glimpse into the psychology of the participants of these consumer activities, they do little to explain how this movement is constantly fluctuating and transforming: developing new trends, offering new styles, new activities and new objects of meaning to be consumed. Movements like these do not retreat deeper into themselves and it is this lack of the contemplative element that shows them to be something other than ascetic in nature. It seems to me, like with all consumer trends, there is another pleasure (almost Baudrillardian) to be had apart from the individual's self fulfillment or realization, one that accounts for this constant and perpetual change: The Pleasure of the drift.
Umberto Eco describes hermetic drift as the ability to slip from meaning to meaning, all the while detecting an "occult parenthood between things." This is the 'perceiving a common thread', so that one object can always be connected with any other, no matter how disparate. It is possible that this pleasure to be had in the perpetual drift of commodity meanings derives from the feeling (or belief) that through this unraveling we are inching closer to some kernel of truth, to some primordial aesthetic experience.
But my feeling is that this is mostly unimportant --- the jouissance is in the drifting, the end itself is wholly unsatisfying... if it ever arrives. Modern consumerism is not just an alienating (ultimately apocalyptic) force that asserts itself upon us, as some members of that Marxist left assert even today. Besides being thrown into it, consumerism embodies more than this mere thrownness (to drift into Heidegger-speak).
It is also a game we CHOSE to play, because of the delights it offers us. The enjoyment to be had from the drift --- to join the community in this rapid dance from meaning to meaning, commodity to commodity --- is multidimensional and complex (in the Godelian sense that it can never be entirely and consistently described within a single system).
It is changed the moment we try to pin it down...
It is experienced on a first level through what our participation in this consumer culture signifies outwardly to the world. This is the pleasure of having your identity molded and shaped for you --- to be stylized and differentiated.
On a secondary level, we achieve exaltation through the desire for a truth behind our actions, towards an organizing centre meaning is being deferred, in the hope that our next acquisition --- our next experience --- will move us closer to this centre.
With each new encounter and consumption I find a dormant surface-substratum metaphor, that is, I feel I am uncovering some aura "hidden beneath" the surface. The pursuit of knowledge often is driven by something just so anti-intellectual --- the signed copy of Borges' Ficciones I gawked at in the bookstore. The aura is something that fuels us on in our pursuits --- ushers us forward --- but I have the suspicion that this desire lives on the surface of our conscious awareness, that maybe, on a more subterranean level we are participants in an game of insignificance --- floating downstream and simply seeing where the river takes us. This is insignificant not because it is futile. It is insignificant because it is trapped in an infinite recursively of sign to sign, meaning to meaning.
Clearly not enough has been said about the significance of such a perpetual digression of significance. I sometimes hallucinate in random moments of mundane life, and insignificance itself --- this vacuum of meaning --- conglomerates and emerges as the powerful existential force it is.
So I propose with Kundera, a festival of insignificance.
(It is a beautiful paradox to think and realize that meaning only emerges through underdetermination, through vagueness. For, as Peirce says, a sign is only a sign if it opens itself up to something new, and if it does not, we are left with a signal --- passing electrical current back and forth along a wire.)