Disillusionment of Modern Hedonism

Essays on technology, psycho­analysis, philosophy, design, ideology & Slavoj Žižek


February 12, 2010

Disillusionment of Modern Hedonism

From Colin Campbell’s excellent Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism:

The consummation of desire is thus a necessarily disillusioning experience for the modern hedonist as it constitutes the ‘testing’ of his day-dream against reality, the resultant recognition that something is missing. The real experience in question may yield considerable pleasure, some of which may not have been anticipated, but despite this, much of the quality of the dream-pleasure is bound to be absent. In fact, the more skilled the individual is as a ‘dream-artist’, then the greater this element of disillusionment is likely to be. A certain dissatisfaction with reality is thus bound to mark the outlook of the dedicated hedonist, something which may, under appropriate circumstances, prompt a turning to fantasy. It is more likely, however, that the dream will be carried forward and attached to some new object of desire such that the illusory pleasures may, once more, be re-experienced. In this way, the modern hedonist is continually withdrawing from reality as fast as he encounters it, ever-casting day-dreams forward in time, attaching them to objects of desire, and then subsequently ‘unhooking’ from these objects as and when they are attained and experienced.

It can easily be appreciated how this alters the very nature of desiring from that which characterizes traditional hedonism. There it is usual to desire that which one knows, and has had experience of in the past, or alternatively, perhaps, to be curious (if apprehensive) about something new which one is introduced to in the present. But in modern hedonism the tendency to employ imagination to perfect pleasures and project these on to future experience means that one will probably desire that which one has had no experience of at all. This may, however, be more than a matter of casting an illusory spell over a real object and then identifying it with something in our dreams, as we may believe int he reality of our dreams before actually ‘discovering’ anything in reality which corresponds to them. To that extent, our behaviour may correspond to an imaginatively initiated, diffuse search for an ‘unknown’ object to desire. This characteristic feature of modern hedonism is best labelled ‘longing’, something which differs from desiring insofar as it occurs without the presence of any real object.

In other words, although one must always desire something, one can long for… one knows not what.