Capitalism and Desire
The Psychic Cost of Free Markets
Columbia University Press 2016
Todd McGowan‘s Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets (Columbia University Press, 2016) elegantly employs psychoanalytic thinking to unpack the lure of capitalism. He argues that we are drawn to capitalism because, under an overt promise to bring us what we want, it gives us what we need: lack.
Every commodity disappoints. And that’s the point.
Satisfaction, that moment when all is well and good, flutters rapidly, blessedly away. What is so great, so crucial, about lack? Though we pine for relief, nothing kills desire like abundance. (Spoiler alert: should there be an equitable redistribution of wealth, we would still suffer a hunger for the lost object which, according to McGowan, not employing Kleinian thinking, was never attainable in the first place.) If we did not experience ourselves as missing something we might never get out of bed–and, as clinicians know, why it can be purely ruinous to gratify a depressive patient.
You buy those boots, the ones you had to have, and within moments of wearing them, your heart sinks. That car you finally got your hands on? Driving it out of the lot you wonder, “should I have just leased it?” Desire is an engine best run on less than half a tank.
The paradox of capitalism, the way it lets us down, gets a full treatment here. Capitalism reclines on McGowan’s couch and he offers it a few interpretations that shake loose its obsessional and hysterical tendencies. He works with capitalism effectively, not arousing its defenses, because he understands it as caught in a trap of its own making. Embracing Beyond The Pleasure Principle and Lacanian thinking, he asks capitalism how come the ends are more important than the means, and doesn’t it miss the sublime? He also treats the reader, reminding us that we need to not have what we want in order to get what we need.
The interview sails along, if I say so myself, and, given the political surround, offers a good conversation to get into. The author would love to hear from us and has asked that I post his email right here, [email protected].