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The Idea of Scarcity (fall back into light…)              




Fall back into light… away from the crowding-in of dark, light-denying shapes and demands, all with a claim on ones time, all crowding-in, crowding-out our better options, blocking out our light, bustling all around one, filling up the senses, denying clarity, blocking focus - offering choice; unfolding chaos. A forest of dim presences competing, calling, impinging on our space, using up our time. How to choose? How to orientate? A clearing, a place of shining light, a space to breathe, space to see, the space of presence, a glowing frame for the desired object, a space apart with a special time, uncluttered, clear, real, there. Just there. For the picking. That’s all we ask.


Guaranteed. And the guarantee lies in the sacrifice, in payment.


The idea of rarity or relative scarcity (from monopoly to the quantitative edge that yields qualitative exclusiveness) plays a constituting role in our identity. We are special, unique (whether we conceive of ourselves as individuals or –more honestly- as part of a community of identity) and we therefore demand ‘unique’ things, things that are marked, things that mark out, things that mark us out (or just things).  Reflectors of what we would be (would like to think of ourselves as… or believe we have somehow become…).


And just when (potentially at least) plenitude seems actually possible and the land of plenty appears finally to have made its millennial arrival (heralded by the choice of the world’s harvests in our supermarkets and the choice of a of world of information and entertainment on the Web): then we invent new forms of scarcity. New forms of discrimination. New ways of delineating a hierarchy of choice. New forms of marking out. New things, and things that are not even things (virtual or services) - just new.


New technology and new forms of exchange perpetuate old forms of hierarchical division; which in turn stimulate new gradients of differentiation, from the choice of fruit by shape and size and colour (ever finer distinctions) to the cultivation of rare fruit as the product of pruning, of cutting back technology (limited editions, designer labels), all provoking the development of new technology. New ways of re-conjuring the aura of the ‘special’, marker of quality, magic dispenser or immediate status.


The concept of ‘aura’ and its history is coeval with that which is rarefied, rare, and desired in part as a result of this very scarcity. ‘Aura’, as connoting a value in parallel with mere monetary value (but often strangely measured by it…) as well with the value accreting to sacred objects. A value supposedly evaporated by mass production. Yet as we view the world, it would appear that the sense of ‘aura’ has not been lost (as suspected by some, like Walter Benjamin, from whom we have borrowed the term) but rather become, discovered, recognised as a standard feature of valued objects (a form of presence) varying with time and situation, a product of a type of exchange. Therefore we can now address ourselves to the history of different kinds of aura – determined by the combination of scarcity with belief system or culture (the symbolic context of the demand for any given object, or its form, when pure need is not the issue – which it rarely is, the exception, for example, is the case of disasters).


So now the ‘aura’ is slave to the new flavours of monopoly and rarity, and the cultural identities (often defined against one-another, gender, generation, class) and of these as the guarantors of authenticity, of immediacy. Of presence, manufactured artificially, the jubilant sense of presence that results from getting it before the rest… from being distinguished from all the rest (whether as an individual or as the member of a –real or imaginary- group) …and paying for it…


Such as the transmission of sport and music events. Also news, now the medium, or better conduit, for the arrival of current affairs events. The event, access to the event, as defining feature of the media; the event - live/direct. The excitement of actuality/history as it is being made, as it happens… All else (is past) is available free (or soon will be) as recordings, images and symbols circulate at ever faster speeds. (And should the harvesting of their profitability slow them down, then the profitability of the bootleg – also driven by the same logic of impatience, of a demand for the quickest access the most cheaply -will oil the fluidity of their circulation).


Time is the key. And with time, presence, prow of existence. We believe it is actually happening, that it is live somewhere and that it comes into our presence as soon as humanly (technologically) possible. Or at least sooner than for others – sooner than for those who do not pay. A present to ourselves; the present, present.


One glimmer of further utility in all this: the sense of open-endedness that lends such a favour of excitement to live events, together with the accompanying sense of being aware of possible futures, as a result of being ‘up-to-date’ with events. Is there a sense of preparation and so - in other contexts – of survival in all this (perhaps the trace of an archaic function left in us - largely males? - from our hunter-gather period, like the competitiveness of sport and mock combat)?


There is also the sense of participation that accompanies any live event; a sharing, commonality, a communality, brought into birth by a rituality which trumps the purely individual pleasure, the individual form of putative elite status (I can watch this, possess this: others can not). Behind any ‘I’ is always a ‘We’; our implied community of recognition, the event-communion as residue of recognition, a desire that requires (positive) others, a ‘We’ (and with the ‘We’ there is always a ’Them’; the ‘other’ others, the negative others). There is marking-out and there is marking out.


But it is precisely when we cannot be sure of what happens, of what the outcome will be, that this positive facet of uncertainty may turn sour; for in this case, we can never be sure of the quality, of the value of what we watch. Value, that which comes with judgement, comes afterwards, as a result (at the very least) of reflection, of comparison. We may have wasted our time (the match was a bore, the performance uninspiring). Our sacrifice will have been in vain. We will have gambled… and lost.


So the sacrificial urn fills slowly up with ashes. But we do not witness its filling; we do not keep account, not on this level; the possession of scarcity is its own reward, the possession of the moment, self-possession. The waste we create, the shadow we cast, does not concern us, not until it impinges again upon our consciousness, clutters our existence, makes of choice an intolerable burden. (in the name of choice, we pass on choice itself: itself we pass on to others to make for us, for which service we pay…)


The vision of the garden of plenitude in this way becomes blurred, becomes confused with the waste accumulating on the city’s edge, the toxins in the blood, the ticks in the nervous system and the gentle, suffocating warming of the planet as it begins to depart from an ecological balance which bought us into being and upon which we all depend.


The lantern that is followed leads us over fields of invisible debris in quest of the glimmer of a new presence.



Somewhere in the forest a light is discerned.


A light left burning in the window, the weary traveller’s Grail of a safe haven…or the lure of the hunter. The light of the angler fish shinning in the depths of the ocean, a light leading directly into its waiting mouth. The black hole in the corner of our universe into which we throw our earnings, our time, ourselves.



Falling back into light…  present now, the Grail of our time; a cause for sacrifice.





                                                                                    Copyright 2005 Peter Nesteruk