I drink a lot of coffee

Specters of Espresso: Seeking Derrida’s ghost(s) in a bag of fair trade coffee by Jesse Oak Taylor-Ide. A consumer-centric reading of Cafe Fair‘s coffee bags:

With [the image of two hands, one brown, one white, grasped in solidarity], the bag attempts to define itself against the exploitive history of imperialism. In an Althusserian sense, it interpolates me as an inheritor of imperialism, utilizing my knowledge of that inheritance (and my discomfort with it) specifically so that I will be attracted to it as a means of appeasing my troubled conscience through replacing exploitation with solidarity. And yet in deploying this image the bag situates itself directly within the imperial (plus or minus “post”) narrative. I, the coffee-drinking white man, have a choice. My coffee-dependency can be filled elsewhere. The bag tells me that the farmers, songbirds, and general ecosystem in Latin American and the Caribbean, however, are dependent on my decision to buy this coffee. The power to “make a difference” is in my hands, rather than the assemblages of colored dots on the bag.

Taylor-Ide’s piece is consumed by the mystified thingyness of the commodity. This is clear in the footnote 12 where he argues the difference between “fair trade” and “free trade” is “in terms of essence rather than degree.” There is another way to experience the coffee bag, one which does not demand that the bag be ‘read’ as if the consumer was an associate professor. The bag’s chief task is to modulate the affective terrain that bestows the ‘coffee’ assemblage with a consistency:

  1. One axis is coffee drinker/coffee maker/coffee importer/coffee grower. This is a limited continuum involving technologies of circulation and distribution. Everything is targeted. The right growers in the right agri-political climate. The right importer giving the right price for the right coffee. The right maker using the right coffee beans to make the right coffee in the right way. Lastly, the right coffee drinker who exists in the right market and frequents the right coffee shop.
  2. Another axis involves the signs and discursive regimes which circulate around coffee. Any coffee, not free/fair/fucked trade coffee. Discourse of the morning coffee/caffeinated buzz. Discourse of the ‘time out’ coffee break. Discourse of the ‘sleepless night’ irresponsible coffee drinking. So on and so forth.
  3. The affective complex that ties all this together is pervasive. It is partly physiological — the coffee dependency — an of-the-body-ness that gives the temporality of coffee consumption (like any addiction) an embodied aspect: cravings/relief/caffeination. 

However, drinking coffee exists within a  number of cultural narratives that have affective and cultural dimensions to their scripts:

  • The ‘coffee break’ literally breaks up the rhythm of the day. It is a deployment of a contemporary ritual that buys some time back from the wage labour contract. It is something to do, rather than something that needs to be done.
  • ‘Doing coffee’ is a leisure-time activity where (the friendly) atmosphere (of the favourite cafe) mediates relatively intimate (trans-table) discussion.
  • ‘Have a coffee, sometime’ is to open the future to the excitement of romantic possibilities.
  • ‘Get a coffee’ the coffee assemblage is so pervasive that like the warm glow of the fast food signage it reassures us of the familiar on level from which perception is formed.

The coffee bag has sign of solidarity, signs of anti-corporation, signs of ‘organic’. The body feels these signs before it reads them. It is an ideological interpellation only after the affective induction. The bag is an inducer that modulates the affective terrain of the coffee assemblage.

One paradox of drinking coffee is the feeling that you are moving faster, the world is moving faster, etc This is normally what is refered to the caffeination ‘buzz’. The general idea is that coffee speeds you up. The only problem with this is a logical inconsistency, because if coffee actually sped you up, then it would actually slow the world down, not make it feel faster!!

3 replies on “I drink a lot of coffee”

  1. Hi Event Mechanics!
    This piece is amazing, probably one of the most clear-headed “assemblage-writings” on consumption, culture, and affect that I have stumbled across searching for inspiration on my project on the concept of Fairtrade City. I myself have tried to come up on something along the road you have chosen (not there yet though), to tie together Deleuze, assemblages, and someting of the like of what you call cultural narratives. Are there more of these readings in your PhD thesis? I would love to read more. Meanwhile I will return to try to come up with something on the use of special fairtrade-events such as “fairtrade fashion markets” and “fairtrade promo-weeks”. Maybe these examples also could be analyzed along with concepts such as affective terrains. I like what you do with the affective register: “to do”, “excite”, “reassure us”. Keep it up!

  2. hi hansson,

    My PhD is very different! I don’t really use the term assemblage, but for a Deleuzian they will see that is all I talk about. The way I use the term ‘scene’ in my PhD is heavily influenced by the concept of assemblage. I argue it has both a material infrastructural dimension (machinic assemblage) and a discursive infrastructural dimension (collective assemblage of enunciation). I use the concept of the ‘scene’ to talk about the event-based, structural dimension of enthusiasm, which is pulled apart in terms of its active and passive affections. For an ultra condensed version of this argument see my art exhibition essay ‘Road Tests’: http://eventmechanics.net.au/?page_id=622

    I currently have other articles off with journals now. There are many little posts similar to the above scattered throughout my blog.

    Jennifer Slack’s work may be useful if you are interested in affective terrains and assemblages. Specifically her essay on the Matrix and pedagogy, and the book she co-authored with Greg Wise, Culture + Technology: A Primer. Actually for something similar to the above see my review of Culture + Technology: A Primer http://rccs.usfca.edu/bookinfo.asp?ReviewID=432&BookID=343

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