Shakar’s other, related crucial idea is that of the paradessence (short for “paradoxical essence”). “Every product has this paradoxical essence. Two opposing desires that it can promise to satisfy simultaneously.” The paradessence is the “schismatic core” or “broken soul” of every consumer product. Thus coffee promises both “stimulation and relaxation”; ice cream connotes both “eroticism and innocence,” or (more psychoanalytically) both “semen and mother’s milk” (60-61). The paradessence is not a dialectical contradiction; its opposing terms do not interact, conflict, or produce some higher synthesis. Nothing changes or evolves. Rather, the paradessence is a matter of “having everything both ways and every way and getting everything [one] wants” (179). This is a promise that only the commodity can make; it’s a way of being that cannot be sustained in natural, ‘unalienated’ life, but only through the artificial paradise of consumerism. I don’t know how familiar Shakar is with Deleuze and Guattari; but his analysis runs parallel to theirs, when he has his marketing-guru character declare that the pure form of postirony and paradessence is literally schizophrenia (141).
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
He tells of one night when his niece slept over at his house and set out a little photo of her dog, Pepper. Why, he asks, when your phone has dozens of such pictures? The point of the phone, she says, isn’t to be a picture of Pepper, “while the point of the picture of Pepper is to be a picture of Pepper.” Physical objects possess richly specific, intrinsic characters, and can be repositories of meaning in ways that a powerful portal to the entire world cannot manage.