A recent, brief conversation with a friend may or may not have given me more insight into Boris Groys’ economy of suspicion.
In essence, she came back from Africa with an extra sensitivity to occult imagery and its relative pervasiveness in the American milieu. Having spent a much shorter amount of time in Africa myself, I could confirm that there is a higher folk sensitivity to all things spiritual, especially in the more remote regions of South Africa and other similar places on the continent. Pictures and words of devils and demons would have a noticeable effect on people. In America, and the west in general, the use of occult imagery is, exempting a few extreme wings of a few subcultures, totally steeped in irony. It’s a big joke, more of a mean-spirited nod to the weird kid in the 7th grade who carved pentagrams into everything rather than a component in some arcane ritual to summon evil spirits.
How this relates to Groys: the economy of suspicion becomes a bit more comprehensible when spread out over cultural boundaries. In the west, occult imagery and spirituality in general have no mana. We educated westerners do not by default perceive this imagery as sincere, as a brief glimpse into the truth of the world. We are suspicious. In Africa, it is the scientific rationalism of the West that carries no mana. They are suspicious. Spirituality and its accompanying iconography are experienced as sincere.
This is all very simplistic and reductionistic in regards to the complexity of Groys’ work, but the economy of suspicion finally seems useful in explaining cultural differences. The flows of mana and suspicion and sincerity are useful concepts to examine the way the power of symbols work on some fundamental level. There is no need for judgment at this level, that comes later.