Alan Liu

in The Laws of Cool

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2004 | ISBN: 9780226486987
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226487007 | DOI:

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To understand the fate of alienation in the first half of the twentieth century, it is useful to review the “Estranged Labour” fragment of Karl Marx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, where he defined alienation. Drawing on a Romantic metaphysics of identity, Marx first characterized alienation as the estrangement of object from subject: “The object which labour produces—labour's product—confronts it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labour is labour which has been embodied in an object.” “Estranged Labour” is Marx's dramatization of fate as agon (man versus self) as well as antagonism (man versus man). To change the scene to twentieth-century automation, we need then only take all the drama out of alienation. When we contemplate the cultures of modern production and consumption in their convergence rather than fetishistic isolation, we witness the birth of twentieth-century cool proper. Subculture appropriated from the mainstream the paradox of hot versus cold.

Keywords: alienation; Karl Marx; identity; subject; object; automation; production; consumption; subculture; cool

Chapter.  10149 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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