‘A timely and important polemic that demonstrates how capitalism makes us willing connivers in our own sleeplessness’ - the Guardian review 24/7

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The Guardian's Nicholas Lezard considers Jonathan Crary's 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, which is now out in paperback, a timely and important polemic that demonstrates how capitalism makes us willing connivers in our own sleeplessness. Lezard reflects on the erosion of all distinction between day and night initiated by modern industrialisation which, as Crary points out, is documented in the above painting, Artkwright's Cotton Mills by Night. Crary's critical investigation of technology, Lezard observes, cuts through a lot of the starry-eyed nonsense people talk about the empowering nature of new technologies and keeps in mind the whole time that, as far as late capitalism is concerned, we are nothing more than ultimately disposable units for keeping economies running.

Lezard desscribes Crary's bracing polemic as

...timely and important, leading one to marvel anew at the ways in which neoliberalism manages to be an affront to everything that is decent in humanity. Not enough attention is paid to something that occupies a third of our lives – or, nowadays, more like a quarter (long ago, we used to get 10 hours of sleep a night; in modern America, the average is approaching six). You may recall the fuss made when spikes were erected in a building's exterior alcove to prevent homeless people from sleeping there; but designs of benches specifically intended to prevent anyone lying on them have been around for some time now (since, coincidentally or not, the rise of neoliberalism).

Lezard also cites Crary's descriptions of the affective addictiveness of televion as masterly. Below is an extract from the aforementioned section in 24/7:

Television, as Raymond Williams and others showed, never simply involved choosing to watch discrete programs, but was a more promiscuous interface with a stream of luminous stimulation, albeit with diverse kinds of narrative content. The precise nature of the physiological attraction of television has yet to be specified, and may never be, but a huge amount of statistical and anecdotal evidence obviously has confirmed the truism that it has potent addictive properties. However, television posed the unusual phenomenon of an addictiveness to something that failed to deliver the most basic reward of a habit-forming substance: that is, it provides not even a temporary heightened sense of well-being or pleasure, or a gratifying if brief fall into insensate numbness. Moments after turning on a television, there is no detectable rush or charge of sensation of any kind. Rather, there is a slow shift into a vacancy from which one finds it difficult to disengage. This is a decisive trait of the era of technological addictiveness: that one can return again and again to a neutral void that has little affective intensity of any kind. In the widely noted study by Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, the majority of their subjects reported that extended TV viewing made them feel worse than when they did not watch, yet they felt compelled to continue their behavior. The longer they watched, the worse they felt. The hundreds of studies on depression and internet use show similar kinds of results. Even the quasi-addictiveness associated with internet pornography and violent computer games seems to lead quickly to a flattening of response and the replacement of pleasure with the need for repetition.

To read the Guardian article in full click here

For more information about 24/7 click here.

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