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Soul-ing Consumption (part II)
from the series: Pleasure in the Anthropocene
Aisthesis, as I talked about last week, is the Greek word for a transformative experience. Empty consumption lacks aisthesis.
Before I keep talking about consumption, though, I want to explain what consumption even is. Consuming means acquiring values and benefits whose origin and source lie outside one's ability to perform. Consumption is based on the seperation of creation and consumption as two distinct spheres. If someone improves their living situation and the actions to get there are no longer bound to their own physical performance, they lack any limiting regulations. They are "independent," and therefore, the standard of living can grow unhindered. Consumption and the generation of services are thus increasingly physically decoupled. In other words, consumption frees people from adapting material demands to the limitations of their own material capabilities. A consequence of these high-density lifestyles - apart from the social and ecological injustices - is the loss of self-efficacy. If everything is called up in a ready-made form, there is no room for unique designs. And there is also no room for aisthesis.
Aisthesis requires fully taking in what is being consumed, and this usually requires time, as Hartmut Rosa points out though: the world moves too fast for most of us to take time to be - in his words - in resonance.
We don't automatically experience aisthesis when we consume. The philosopher Corine Pelluchon, for example, analyses how nourishment from food does not equal mere nutrients but also includes an aesthetic experience. In her book "Nourishment," she talks about losing aisthesis in our eating habits.
"Why are lunch and dinner, with the exception of major occasions, going out to restaurants, or banquets at which we celebrate an event, so rarely anything other than taking in of foodstuffs, as if one needed an exceptional event in order for the meal to be a feast as if the meal should not be a feast in itself? Is not such mutilation of the act of eating, snacking in front of the television, or swallowing a sandwich at the office the symptom of an amputation of taste, reduced to its physiological dimension alone? Far from revealing the elemental essence of things, our sensations would themselves be turned from the register of enjoyment and reduced to the pure and simple satisfaction of a need that is experienced as an emptiness or as an absence to be filled."
What I find fascinating about nourishment is that as soon as we engage with nourishment, we enter the realm of ethics. Our manner of consuming and behaving in the world has consequences for others, necessitating consideration of all the entities that have shaped our present milieu and those with which we share our nourishment. Ethics intertwines with our relationship to nourishment.
The notion of nourishment also transcends the dichotomy between the natural and the cultural, the individual and the collective, and the personal and the social. It revives our understanding of inhabiting the Earth and restores aesthetics to the center of our ethics by bringing aisthesis back into our lives.
Our participation in the biosphere is rooted in nourishment, in our metabolism, which necessitates consuming other living beings - through eating - and assimilating elements from the atmosphere - through breathing - into ourselves. Nourishment makes it evident that we are not fundamentally separate from other living beings, as we rely on them for sustenance, resulting in the transformation of their bodies into our own.
As the philosopher and biologist Andreas Weber points out,
"… life is a phenomenon of absolute communality. Flourishing in a relationship of mutual benefit is as much a part of this as lustily consuming another in order to guarantee one's own flourishing."
Soul-ling Consumption is characterized by mutual transformation.
If we consume an object as an end in itself, if we de-objectify it, if we give it back its dignity, if we relate to the object as a worthwhile self that we become-with, consumption changes form.
We change form. We trans-form.
The question then is not whether we consume things or experiences but whether our consumption transforms us physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally.