Epicureanism and the poetics of consumption
Consumption, ‘to use up, to destroy’, is a dirty word. It conjures piles of rubbish; it suggests an extravagant attitude. We, each one of us hoping to be a unique, careful individual, can feel offended at being referred to as ‘the consumer’. Yet, ‘to consume’ is not only a human activity, it is one of the fundamental processes of nature, a natural aspect of the creative process. In this paper, I will emphasize connections between the creative research process, poetics and consumerism. I suggest that research can be envisioned as a cycle of consumption and renewal. Our tools in such a natural philosophy are the contemplation of natural events, and the insights that a poetic understanding of language can give us. To this end, I draw on the ancient Epicurean philosophy, as demonstrated in De rerum natura, written by the Roman poet, Lucretius, in the first century BCE. Lucretius gave a scientific explanation of the universe, in poetry, to demonstrate that natural laws can be derived by reason, contemplation and by the use of the senses. Further, Lucretius' use of language, as a creative medium, modelled the actions of the universe. This insight provides a link between poetry, science and research, one which is still relevant to twenty-first-century scientific research generally. In this paper, I will suggest that it is also specifically relevant to the design and practice of consumer research. For instance, both research and creativity are aspects of that urge to move beyond subjectivity, towards knowledge that is whole and shared. In Epicureanism, subjective engagement provides access to that which is universal. We can conceive of consumerism, and of consumer research, in the same terms, as a striving for completion, and as a poetic, natural and reciprocal act, involving the transformation of the consumer, and that which is consumed.