Reading List

Should We All Log Off? Verso Student Reading on the Politics of Digital Culture


We all live online now. What does that mean for our understanding of politics? Does going online make us more likely to think of politics as “spreading awareness” or winning online debates as opposed to gaining actual power? Or is it all just a stew of pseudo-activity that makes us feel a false sense of agency? Is there anything to be gained, or are we just padding the pockets of tech CEOs and massive media conglomerates? Should we all just log off? 

The readings below help us understand how we should conceive the digital economy more broadly, both in terms of the power of private firms within the attention economy as well as what digital technology does to our minds and our capacities to work together in the real world. 

The following readings all approach the question of the politics of mass culture within capitalism, from Adorno’s critique of the culture industry to Debord’s society of the spectacle to Baudrillard’s theory of a world where the distinction between the real and the image has been totally blurred. What can we learn from these past critiques to make sense of the rise and political function of digital culture today? 

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No other country and no other period has produced a tradition of major aesthetic debate to compare with that which unfolded in German culture from the 1930s to the 1950s. In Aesthetics and Politics the key texts of the great Marxist controversies over literature and art during these years are assembled in a single volume. 

The three-volume text by Henri Lefebvre is perhaps the richest, most prescient work about modern capitalism to emerge from one of the twentieth century's greatest philosophers and is now available for the first time in one complete volume.

First published in 1967, Guy Debord’s stinging revolutionary critique ofcontemporary society, The Society of the Spectacle has since acquired a cult status. Credited by many as being the inspiration for the ideas generated by the events of May 1968 in France, Debord’s pitiless attack on commodity fetishism and its incrustation in the practices of everyday life continues to burn brightly in today's age of satellite televisionand the soundbite. In Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, published twenty years later, Debord returned to the themes of his previous analysis and demonstrated how they were all the more relevant in a period when the “integrated spectacle” was dominant. 

The System of Objects is a tour de force—a theoretical letter-in-a-bottle tossed into the ocean in 1968, which brilliantly communicates to us all the live ideas of the day—offering a cultural critique of the commodity in consumer society.

A material analysis of the sign which deepens Marx’s critique of political economy for spectacular times 

In this follow-up to the acclaimed The Future of the Image, Rancière takes a radically different approach to this attempted emancipation. First asking exactly what we mean by political art or the politics of art, he goes on to look at what the tradition of critical art, and the desire to insert art into life, has achieved. Has the militant critique of the consumption of images and commodities become, ironically, a sad affirmation of its omnipotence?

In The Future of the Image, Jacques Rancière develops a fascinating new concept of the image in contemporary art, showing how art and politics have always been intrinsically intertwined. He argues that there is a stark political choice in art: it can either reinforce a radical democracy or create a new reactionary mysticism. For Rancière there is never a pure art: the aesthetic revolution must always embrace egalitarian ideals. 

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep explores some of the ruinous consequences of the expanding non-stop processes of twenty-first-century capitalism. The marketplace now operates through every hour of the clock, pushing us into constant activity and eroding forms of community and political expression, damaging the fabric of everyday life.

How the Information Age has made the world more incomprehensible 

A brilliant probe into the political and psychological effects of our changing relationship with social media

A journey through the uncomputable remains of computer history 

Exploring how neoliberalism has discovered the productive force of the psyche

A wide-ranging exploration of the present, and the future, of the Unconscious 

A major intervention in media studies theorises the politics and aesthetics of internet video

A set of bold theoretical reflections on how the social photo has remade our world