Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Self-help without the self

Nick Paumgarten’s fascinating article on Robert Greene (“Fresh Prince” Nov. 11, 2006) seems to forward an implicit critique of the self-help craze. What one gains in power, money, success, and fame is often at the expense of one’s actual ‘self’. Thus Greene’s persona slips in and out of focus throughout the article, never fully materializing as a human being to whom readers might in fact relate. Who is Robert Greene? For some, he is a mystic scribe; for others, a savvy business consultant; for others still, he is nothing less than a god. This brings to mind Marx’s observation in Capital: “A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties” (Capital, Vol. One, Sect. 4). Robert Greene is first and foremost a commodity: he is consumed in an already intact web of social relations and abstracted value. There are no ‘selves’ to help here; the consistent face of capital does not require personality.