Opulence

Hari Kunzru is the author of The Impressionist, Transmission, and the short-story collection Noise. His latest novel My Revolutions is published by Hamish Hamilton.

www.harikunzru.com

The logic of a third new chronometer

Heaven has a new address, and apparently it's in the Century City district of LA. Buy a $10 million condo and those precious views of downtown and the ocean will be yours. So you move in, look at the view, charter a yacht, put on some purple shoes and move straight back out to a place called the New Curve of Paradise, which is a) in Panama, b) designed by Donald Trump and c) looks like a penal colony. In Paradise you run around with six buddies in identical white suits, pimp your ride, buy a helicopter, check the time on a chronometer which you think of as a racing machine on your wrist, stare at a movie actor in a hotel lobby, embrace the allure of true perfection, manage your wealth, protect it, grow it, pass it on, initiate yourself into the culture of time, put on the finest garment for men in the world (which appears to be a shiny blouson jacket), swap your chronometer for another chronometer, take sanctuary in the sublime, have the best of both worlds, arrive, stay different, live more, seek more, expect more, drive more...

Luxury is an exhausting pursuit. It's also fraught with anxiety. According to its crocodile-skin logic, my individuality is under threat. My very selfhood could be snatched away without warning. Perhaps I once naïvely imagined I could trip through the cornfields of life without paying much heed to my new watch. Turns out it's not so simple. Now I've been inducted into luxury, I discover I'm going to have to spend an unbelievable amount of money on timepieces just to stand a chance of carrying on being a person. What may have once appeared to me as a pleasurably frivolous purchase (luxury is by definition without use-value) is actually a last-ditch attempt to save my soul. It's not just the risk of tumbling down into the purgatory of mass consumption, the fear that I might wake up to find myself eating a kebab on a night bus, wearing a Swatch. It's more the creeping suspicion that everyone else on that night bus would be just the same as me. Not just dressed the same; listening to the same music; even physically looking or speaking the same, but actually identical in every respect: repetitions, clones with no original.

The terror that underlies luxury – that unless I buy a Tag I will forfeit my humanity – is merely a highly-strung version of the suggestion made by all consumerism, that the main project of life, its highest end and noblest goal, is individuation. Hostility to the mass is engrained in the post-Enlightenment liberalism that dominates Western political culture, and has only been exacerbated by a century of vicious totalitarianism. The modern cult of luxury is the bastard child of that bleak history. It's fundamentally misanthropic, profoundly scared, snarling at the dollar-a-day world from behind a Fendi fence.

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