Augustine’s Secret

James K. A. Smith on marketing, desire, and the erotic:

“In a culture whose civic religion prizes consumption as the height of human flourishing, marketing taps into our erotic religious nature and seeks to shape us in such a way that this passion and desire is directed to strange gods, alternative worship, and another kingdom.  And it does so by triggering and tapping into our erotic core — the heart.  Thus in marketing one finds the promise of a kind of transcendence that is linked to a certain bastardization of the erotic.  Certain modes of advertising appeal more directly to eros, to sexual desire and romantic love, and then in a  move of substitution, channel our desire into a product — or at least associate the product with that desire and promise a kind of fulfillment ….

… I think we should first recognize and admit that the marketing industry — which promises an erotically charged transcendence through media that connects to our heart and imagination — is operating with a better, more creational, more incarnational, more holistic anthropology than much of the (evangelical) church.  In other words, I think we must admit that the marketing industry is able to capture, form, and direct our desires precisely because it has rightly discerned that we are embodied, desiring creatures whose being-in-the-world is governed by the imagination.  Marketers have figured out the way to our heart because they ‘get it’:  they rightly understand that, at root, we are erotic creatures — creatures who are oriented primarily by love and passion and desire.  In sum, I think Victoria is in on Augustine’s secret.”    (Desiring the Kingdom, 76)

The Victoria in question is, of course, the purveyor of a certain line of woman’s attire.  Augustine’s secret, as Smith puts it, is the recognition that human beings are embodied, desiring animals before they are thinking, rational beings.  We aim at life with our heart, not with our mind — the heart here standing for all the emotional, affective, visceral and bodily dimensions of the human person.