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'Liquid life' is the kind of life commonly lived in our contemporary, liquid-modern society. Liquid life canno

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Liquid Life
 0745635156, 9780745635156

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Liquid Life

Liquid Life Zygmunt Bauman


Copyright © Zygmunt Bauman 2005 The right of Zygmunt Bauman to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. First published in 2005 by Polity Press Polity Press 65 Bridge Street Cambridge CB2 1UR, UK Polity Press 350 Main Street Malden, MA 02148, USA All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. ISBN: 0 7456 3514 8 ISBN: 0 7456 3515 6 (pb) A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and has been applied for from the Library of Congress. Typeset in 11 on 13 pt Sabon by SNP Best-set Typesetter Ltd, Hong Kong Printed and bound in Great Britain by MPG Books Ltd, Bodmin, Cornwall For further information on Polity, visit our website:


Introduction: On Living in a Liquid Modern World 1 2 3 4

The Individual under Siege From Martyr to Hero, and from Hero to Celebrity Culture: Obstreperous and Unmanageable Seeking Shelter in Pandora’s Box, or Fear, Security and the City 5 Consumers in Liquid Modern Society Consuming life Consuming body Consuming childhood

1 15 39 52 68 80 82 89 102

6 Learning to Walk on Quicksand 7 Thinking in Dark Times (Arendt and Adorno Revisited)

116 129

Notes Index

154 161

Introduction: On Living in a Liquid Modern World

In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed. Ralph Waldo Emerson, On Prudence

‘Liquid life’ and ‘liquid modernity’ are intimately connected. ‘Liquid life’ is a kind of life that tends to be lived in a liquid modern society. ‘Liquid modern’ is a society in which the conditions under which its members act change faster than it takes the ways of acting to consolidate into habits and routines. Liquidity of life and that of society feed and reinvigorate each other. Liquid life, just like liquid modern society, cannot keep its shape or stay on course for long. In a liquid modern society, individual achievements cannot be solidified into lasting possessions because, in no time, assets turn into liabilities and abilities into disabilities. Conditions of action and strategies designed to respond to them age quickly and become obsolete before the actors have a chance to learn them properly. Learning from experience in order to rely on strategies and tactical moves deployed successfully in the past is for that reason ill advised: past tests cannot take account of the rapid and mostly unpredicted (perhaps unpredictable) changes in circumstances. Extrapolating from past events to predict future trends becomes ever more risky and all too often misleading. Trustworthy calculations are increasingly difficult to make, while foolproof prognoses are all but unimaginable: most if not all variables in the



equations are unknown, whereas no estimates of their future trends can be treated as fully and truly reliable. In short: liquid life is a precarious life, lived under conditions of constant uncertainty. The most acute and stubborn worries that haunt such a life are the fears of being caught napping, of failing to catch up with fast-moving events, of being left behind, of overlooking ‘use by’ dates, of being saddled with possessions that are no longer desirable, of missing the moment that calls for a change of tack before crossing the point of no return. Liquid life is a succession of new beginnings – yet precisely for that reason it is the swift and painless endings, without which new beginnings would be unthinkable, that tend to be its most challenging moments and most upsetting headaches. Among the arts of liquid modern living and the skills needed to practise them, getting rid of things takes precedence over their acquisition. As the Observer cartoonist Andy Riley puts it, the annoyance is ‘reading articles about the wonders of downshifting when you haven’t even managed to upshift yet’.1 One needs to hurry with the ‘upshifting’ if one wants to taste the delights of ‘downshifting’. Getting the site ready for ‘downshifting’ bestows meaning on the ‘upshifting’ bit, and becomes its main purpose; it is by the relief brought by a smooth and painless ‘downshifting’ that the quality of ‘upshifting’ will be ultimately judged . . . The briefing which the practitioners of liquid modern life need most (and are most often offered by the expert counsellors in the life arts) is not how to start or open, but how to finish or close. Another Observer columnist, with a tongue only halfway to his cheek, lists the updated rules for ‘achieving closure’ of partnerships (the episodes no doubt more difficult to ‘close’ than any other – yet the ones where the partners all too often wish and fight to close them, and so where there is unsurprisingly a particularly keen demand for expert help). The list starts from ‘Remember bad stuff. Forget the good’ and ends with ‘Meet someone new’, passing midway the command ‘Delete all electronic correspondence’. Throughout, the emphasis falls on forgetting, deleting, dropping and replacing. Perhaps the description of liquid modern life as a series of new beginnings is an inadvertent accessory to a conspiracy of sorts; by replicating a commonly shared illusion it helps to hide its most closely guarded (since shameful, if only residually so) secret.



Perhaps a more adequate way to narrate that life is to tell the story of successive endings. And perhaps the glory of the successfully lived liquid life would be better conveyed by the inconspicuousness of the graves that mark its progress than by the ostentation of gravestones that commemorate the contents of the tombs. In a liquid modern society, the waste-disposal industry takes over the commanding positions in liquid life’s economy. The survival of that society and the well-being of its members hang on the swiftness with which products are consigned to waste and the speed and efficiency of waste removal. In that society nothing may claim exemption from the universal rule of disposability, and nothing may be allowed to outstay its welcome. The steadfastness, stickiness, viscosity of things inanimate and animate alike are the most sinister and terminal of dangers, sources of the most frightening of fears and the targets of the most violent of assaults. Life in a liquid modern society cannot stand still. It must modernize (read: go on stripping itself daily of attributes that are past their sell-by dates and go on dismantling/shedding the identities currently assembled/put on) – or perish. Nudged from behind by the horror of expiry, life in a liquid modern society no longer needs to be pulled forward by imagined wonders at the far end of modernizing labours. The need here is to run with all one’s strength just to stay in the same place and away from the rubbish bin where the hindmost are doomed to land. ‘Creative destruction’ is the fashion in which liquid life proceeds, but what that term glosses over and passes by in silence is that what this creation destroys are other forms of life and so obliquely the humans who practise them. Life in the liquid modern society is a sinister version of the musical chairs game, played for real. The true stake in the race is (temporary) rescue from being excluded into the ranks of the destroyed and avoiding being consigned to waste. And with the competition turning global, the running must now be done round a global track. The greatest chances of winning belong to the people who circulate close to the top of the global power pyramid, to whom space matters little and distance is not a bother; people at home in many places but in no one place in particular. They are as light, sprightly and volatile as the increasingly global and extraterritorial trade and finances that assisted at their birth and sustain their nomadic



existence. As Jacques Attali described them, ‘they do not own factories, lands, nor occupy administrative positions. Their wealth comes from a portable asset: their knowledge of the laws of the labyrinth.’ They ‘love to create, play and be on the move’. They live in a society ‘of volatile values, carefree about the future, egoistic and hedonistic’. They ‘take novelty as good tidings, precariousness as value, instability as imperative, hybridity as richness’.2 In varying degrees, they all master and practise the art of ‘liquid life’: acceptance of disorientation, immunity to vertigo and adaptation to a state of dizziness, tolerance for an absence of itinerary and direction, and for an indefinite duration of travel. They try hard, though with mixed success, to follow the pattern set by Bill Gates, that paragon of business success, whom Richard Sennett described as marked by ‘his willingness to destroy what he has made’ and his ‘tolerance for fragmentation’, as ‘someone who has the confidence to dwell in disorder, someone who flourishes in the midst of dislocation’ and someone positioning himself ‘in a network of possibilities’, rather than ‘paralysing’ himself in ‘one particular job’.3 Their ideal horizon is likely to be Eutropia, one of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities whose inhabitants, the day they ‘feel the grip of weariness and no one can any longer bear his job, his relatives, his house and his life’, ‘move to the next city’ where ‘each will take a new job, a different wife, will see another landscape on opening the window, and will spend his time with different pastimes, friends, gossip.’4 Looseness of attachment and revocability of engagement are the precepts guiding everything in which they engage and to which they are attached. Presumably addressing such people, the anonymous columnist of the Observer who hides under the penname of the Barefoot Doctor counselled his readers to do everything they do ‘with grace’. Taking a hint from Lao-tzu, the oriental prophet of detachment and tranquillity, he described the life stance most likely to achieve that effect: Flowing like water . . . you swiftly move along, never fighting the current, stopping long enough to become stagnant or clinging to the riverbank or rocks – the possessions, situations or people that pass through your life – not even trying to hold on to your opinions or world view, but simply sticking lightly yet intelligently to whatever presents itself as you pass by and then graciously letting it go without grasping . . .5



Faced with such players, the rest of the participants of the game – and particularly the involuntary ones among them, those who don’t ‘love’ or cannot afford ‘to be on the move’ – stand little chance. Joining in the game is not a realistic choice for them – but neither have they the choice of not trying. Flitting between flowers in search of the most fragrant is not their option; they are stuck to places where flowers, fragrant or not, are rare – and so can only watch haplessly as the few that there are fade or rot. The suggestion to ‘stick lightly to whatever presents itself’ and ‘graciously let it go’ would sound at best like a cruel joke in their ears, but mostly like a heartless sneer. Nevertheless, ‘stick lightly’ they must, as ‘possessions, situations and people’ will keep slipping away and vanishing at a breathtaking speed whatever they do; whether they try to slow them down or not is neither here nor there. ‘Let them go’ they must (though, unlike Bill Gates, with hardly any pleasure), but whether they do it graciously or with a lot of wailing and teethgnashing is beside the point. They might be forgiven for suspecting some connection between that comely lightness and grace paraded by those who glide by and their own unchosen ugly torpidity and impotence to move. Their indolence is, indeed, unchosen. Lightness and grace come together with freedom – freedom to move, freedom to choose, freedom to stop being what one already is and freedom to become what one is not yet. Those on the receiving side of the new planetary mobility don’t have such freedom. They can count neither on the forbearance of those from whom they would rather keep their distance, nor on the tolerance of those to whom they would wish to be closer. For them, there are neither unguarded exits nor hospitably open entry gates. They belong: those to whom or with whom they belong view their belonging as their non-negotiable and incontrovertible duty (even if disguised as their inalienable right) – whereas those whom they would wish to join see their belonging rather as their similarly non-negotiable, irreversible and unredeemable fate. The first wouldn’t let them go, whereas the second wouldn’t let them in. Between the start and the (unlikely ever to happen) arrival is a desert, a void, a wilderness, a yawning abyss into which only a few would muster the courage to leap of their own free will, unpushed. Centripetal and centrifugal, gravitational and repelling



forces combine to keep the restless in place and stop the discontented short of restlessness. Those hot-headed or desperate enough to try to defy the odds stacked against them risk the lot of outlaws and outcasts, and pay for their audacity in the hard currency of bodily misery and psychical trauma – a price which only a few would choose to pay of their own free will, unforced. Andrzej Szahaj, a most perceptive analyst of the highly uneven odds in contemporary identity games, goes as far as to suggest that the decision to leave the community of belonging is in quite numerous cases downright unimaginable; he goes on to remind his incredulous Western readers that in the remote past of Europe, for instance in ancient Greece, exile from the polis of belonging was viewed as the ultimate, indeed capital, punishment.6 At least the ancients were cool-headed and preferred straight talk. But the millions of sans papiers, stateless, refugees, exiles, asylum or bread-and-water seekers of our times, two millennia later, would have little difficulty in recognizing themselves in that talk. At both extremes of the hierarchy (and in the main body of the pyramid locked between them in a double-bind) people are haunted by the problem of identity. At the top, the problem is to choose the best pattern from the many currently on offer, to assemble the separately sold parts of the kit, and to fasten them together neither too lightly (lest the unsightly, outdated and aged bits that are meant to be hidden underneath show through at the seams) nor too tightly (lest the patchwork resists being dismantled at short notice when the time for dismantling comes – as it surely will). At the bottom, the problem is to cling fast to the sole identity available and to hold its bits and parts together while fighting back the erosive forces and disruptive pressures, repairing the constantly crumbling walls and digging the trenches deeper. For all the others suspended between the extremes, the problem is a mixture of the two. Taking a hint from Joseph Brodsky’s profile of materially affluent yet spiritually impoverished and famished contemporaries, tired like the residents of Calvino’s Eutropia of everything they have enjoyed thus far (like yoga, Buddhism, Zen, contemplation, Mao) and so beginning to dig (with the help of state-of-the-art technology, of course) into the mysteries of Sufism, kabbala or Sunnism



to beef up their flagging desire to desire, Andrzej Stasiuk, one of the most perceptive archivists of contemporary cultures and their discontents, develops a typology of the ‘spiritual lumpenproletariat’ and suggests that its ranks swell fast and that its torments trickle profusely down from the top, saturating ever thicker layers of the social pyramid.7 Those affected by the ‘spiritual lumpenproletarian’ virus live in the present and by the present. They live to survive (as long as possible) and to get satisfaction (as much of it as possible). Since the world is not their home ground and not their property (having relieved themselves of the burdens of heritage, they feel free but somehow disinherited – robbed of something, betrayed by someone), they see nothing wrong in exploiting it at will; exploitation feels like nothing more odious than stealing back the stolen. Flattened into a perpetual present and filled to the brim with survival-and-gratification concerns (it is gratification to survive, the purpose of survival being more gratification), the world inhabited by ‘spiritual lumpenproletarians’ leaves no room for worries about anything other than what can be, at least in principle, consumed and relished on the spot, here and now. Eternity is the obvious outcast. Not infinity, though; as long as it lasts, the present may be stretched beyond any limit and accommodate as much as once was hoped to be experienced only in the fullness of time (in Stasiuk’s words, ‘it is highly probable that the quantity of digital, celluloid and analogue beings met in the course of a bodily life comes close to the volume which eternal life and resurrection of the flesh could offer’). Thanks to the hoped-for infinity of mundane experiences yet to come, eternity may not be missed; its loss may not even be noticed. Speed, not duration, matters. With the right speed, one can consume the whole of eternity inside the continuous present of earthly life. Or this at least is what the ‘spiritual lumpenproletarians’ try, and hope, to achieve. The trick is to compress eternity so that it may fit, whole, into the timespan of individual life. The quandary of a mortal life in an immortal universe has been finally resolved: one can now stop worrying about things eternal and lose nothing of eternity’s wonders – indeed one can exhaust whatever eternity could possibly offer, all in the timespan of one mortal life. One cannot perhaps take the time-lid off mortal life; but one can (or at least try to) remove all limits from the volume of



satisfactions to be experienced before reaching that other, irremovable limit. In a bygone world in which time moved much slower and resisted acceleration, people tried to bridge the agonizing gap between the poverty of a short and mortal life and the infinite wealth of the eternal universe by hopes of reincarnation or resurrection. In our world that knows or admits of no limits to acceleration, such hopes may well be discarded. If only one moves quickly enough and does not stop to look back and count the gains and losses, one can go on squeezing into the timespan of mortal life ever more lives; perhaps as many as eternity could supply. What else, if not to act on that belief, are the unstoppable, compulsive and obsessive reconditioning, refurbishment, recycling, overhaul and reconstitution of identity for? ‘Identity’, after all, is (just as the reincarnation and resurrection of olden times used to be) about the possibility of ‘being born again’ – of stopping being what one is and turning into someone one is not yet. The good news is that this replacement of worries about eternity with an identity-recycling bustle comes complete with patented and ready-to-use DIY tools that promise to make the job fast and effective while needing no special skills and calling for little if any difficult and awkward labour. Self-sacrifice and selfimmolation, unbearably long and unrelenting self-drilling and selftaming, waiting for gratification that feels interminable and practising virtues that seem to exceed endurance – all those exorbitant costs of past therapies – are no longer required. New and improved diets, fitness gadgets, changes of wallpaper, parquets put where carpets used to lie (or vice versa), replacements of a mini with an SUV (or the other way round), a T-shirt with a blouse and monochromatic with richly colour-saturated sofa covers or dresses, sizes of breasts moved up or down, sneakers changed, brands of booze and daily routines adapted to the latest fashion and a strikingly novel vocabulary adopted in which to couch public confessions of intimate soul-stirrings . . . these will do nicely. And, as a last resort, on the vexingly far horizon loom the wonders of gene overhaul. Whatever happens, there is no need to despair. If all those magic wands prove not to be enough or, despite all their user-friendliness, are found too cumbersome or too slow, there are drugs promising an instant, even if brief, visit



to eternity (hopefully with other drugs guaranteeing a return ticket). Liquid life is consuming life. It casts the world and all its animate and inanimate fragments as objects of consumption: that is, objects that lose their usefulness (and so their lustre, attraction, seductive power and worth) in the course of being used. It shapes the judging and evaluating of all the animate and inanimate fragments of the world after the pattern of objects of consumption. Objects of consumption have a limited expectation of useful life and once the limit has been passed they are unfit for consumption; since ‘being good for consumption’ is the sole feature that defines their function, they are then unfit altogether – useless. Once unfit, they ought to be removed from the site of consuming life (consigned to biodegradation, incinerated, transferred into the care of waste-disposal companies) to clear it for other, still unused objects of consumption. To save yourself from the embarrassment of lagging behind, of being stuck with something no one else would be seen with, of being caught napping, of missing the train of progress instead of riding it, you must remember that it is in the nature of things to call for vigilance, not loyalty. In the liquid modern world, loyalty is a cause of shame, not pride. Link to your internet provider first thing in the morning, and you will be reminded of that sober truth by the main item on the list of daily news: ‘Ashamed of your Mobile? Is your phone so old that you’re embarrassed to answer it? Upgrade to one you can be proud of.’ The flipside of the commandment ‘to upgrade’ to a state-of-consumer-correctness mobile is, of course, the prohibition any longer to be seen holding the one to which you upgraded last time. Waste is the staple and arguably the most profuse product of the liquid modern society of consumers; among consumer society’s industries waste production is the most massive and the most immune to crisis. That makes waste disposal one of the two major challenges liquid life has to confront and tackle. The other major challenge is the threat of being consigned to waste. In a world filled with consumers and the objects of their consumption, life is hovering uneasily between the joys of consumption and the horrors of the rubbish heap. Life may be at all times a livingtowards-death, but in a liquid modern society living-towards-the-



refuse dump may be a more immediate and more energy-andlabour-consuming prospect and concern of the living. For the denizen of the liquid modern society, every supper – unlike that referred to by Hamlet in his reply to the King’s inquiry about Polonius’s whereabouts – is an occasion ‘where he eats’ and ‘where he is eaten’.8 No longer is there a disjunction between the two acts. ‘And’ has replaced the ‘either–or’. In the society of consumers, no one can escape being an object of consumption – and not just consumption by maggots, and not only at the far end of consuming life. Hamlet in liquid modern times would probably modify Shakespeare’s Hamlet’s rule, denying the maggots’ privileged role in the consumption of the consumers. He would perhaps start, like the original Hamlet, stating that ‘we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves . . .’ – but then conclude: ‘to fat other creatures’. ‘Consumers’ and ‘objects of consumption’ are the conceptual poles of a continuum along which all members of the society of consumers are plotted and along which they move, to and fro, daily. Some may be cast most of the time particularly near to the commodities’ pole – but no consumer can be fully and truly insured against falling into its close, too close for comfort, proximity. Only as commodities, only if they are able to demonstrate their own use-value, can consumers gain access to consuming life. In liquid life, the distinction between consumers and objects of consumption is all too often momentary and ephemeral, and always conditional. We may say that role reversal is the rule here, though even that statement distorts the realities of liquid life, in which the two roles intertwine, blend and merge. It is not clear which of the two factors (attractions of the ‘consumer’ pole, or the repulsion of the ‘waste’ pole) is the more powerful moving force of liquid life. No doubt both factors cooperate in shaping the daily logic and – bit by bit, episode by episode – the itinerary of that life. Fear adds strength to desire. However attentively it focuses on its immediate objects, desire cannot help but remain aware – consciously, half-consciously or subconsciously – of that other awesome stake hanging on its vigour, determination and resourcefulness. However intensely concentrated on the object of desire, the eye of the consumer cannot but glance sideways at the commodity value of the desiring subject. Liquid life means constant self-scrutiny, self-critique and



self-censure. Liquid life feeds on the self’s dissatisfaction with itself. Critique is self-referential and inward directed; and so is the reform which such self-critique demands and prompts. It is in the name of such inward-looking and inward-targeted reform that the outside world is preyed upon, ransacked and ravaged. Liquid life endows the outside world, indeed everything in the world that is not a part of the self, with a primarily instrumental value; deprived of or denied a value of its own, that world derives all its value from its service to the cause of self-reform, and by their contribution to that self-reform the world and each of its elements are judged. Parts of the world unfit to serve or no longer able to serve are either left outside the realm of relevance and unattended, or actively discarded and swept away. Such parts are but the waste from self-reforming zeal, the rubbish tip being their natural destination. In terms of liquid life’s reasoning their preservation would be irrational; their right to be preserved for their own sake cannot be easily argued, let alone proved, by liquid life’s logic. It is for that reason that the advent of liquid modern society spelled the demise of utopias centred on society and more generally of the idea of the ‘good society’. If liquid life prompts an interest in societal reform at all, the postulated reform is aimed mostly at pushing society further towards the surrender, one by one, of all its pretences to a value of its own except that of a police force guarding the security of self-reforming selves, and towards the acceptance and entrenchment of the principle of compensation (a political version of a ‘money back guarantee’) in case the policing fails or is found inadequate. Even the new environmental concerns owe their popularity to the perception of a link between the predatory misuse of the planetary commons and threats to the smooth flow of the self-centred pursuits of liquid life. The trend is self-sustained and self-invigorating. The focusing on self-reform self-perpetuates; so does the lack of interest in, and the inattention to, the aspects of common life that resist a complete and immediate translation into the current targets of selfreform. Inattention to the conditions of life in common precludes the possibility of renegotiating the setting that makes individual life liquid. The success of the pursuit of happiness – the ostensible purpose and paramount motive of individual life – continues to be defied by the very fashion of pursuing it (the only fashion



in which it can be pursued in the liquid modern setting). The resulting unhappiness adds reason and vigour to a self-centred life politics; its ultimate effect is the perpetuation of life’s liquidity. Liquid modern society and liquid life are locked in a veritable perpetuum mobile. Once set in motion, a perpetuum mobile will not stop rotating on its own. The prospects of the perpetual motion arresting, already dim by the nature of the contraption, are made still dimmer by the amazing ability of this particular version of the self-propelling mechanism to absorb and assimilate the tensions and frictions it generates – and to harness them to its service. Indeed, by capitalizing on the demand for relief or cure which the tensions incite, it manages to deploy them as high-grade fuel that keeps its engines going. A habitual answer given to a wrong kind of behaviour, to conduct unsuitable for an accepted purpose or leading to undesirable outcomes, is education or re-education: instilling in the learners new kinds of motives, developing different propensities and training them in deploying new skills. The thrust of education in such cases is to challenge the impact of daily experience, to fight back and in the end defy the pressures arising from the social setting in which the learners operate. But will the education and the educators fit the bill? Will they themselves be able to resist the pressure? Will they manage to avoid being enlisted in the service of the self-same pressures they are meant to defy? This question has been asked since ancient times, repeatedly answered in the negative by the realities of social life, yet resurrected with undiminished force following every successive calamity. The hopes of using education as a jack potent enough to unsettle and ultimately to dislodge the pressures of ‘social facts’ seem to be as immortal as they are vulnerable . . . At any rate, the hope is alive and well. Henry A. Giroux dedicated many years of assiduous study to the chances of ‘critical pedagogy’ in a society reconciled to the overwhelming powers of the market. In a recent conclusion, drawn in cooperation with Susan Searls Giroux, he restates the centuries-old hope: In opposition to the commodification, privatization, and commercialization of everything educational, educators need to define



higher education as a resource vital to the democratic and civic life of the nation. The challenge is thus for academics, cultural workers, students, and labour organizers to join together and oppose the transformation of higher education into a commercial sphere . . .9

In 1989, Richard Rorty spelled out, as desirable and fulfillable aims for the educators, the tasks of ‘stirring the kids up’ and instilling ‘doubts in the students about the students’ own self-images, about the society in which they belong’.10 Obviously, not all the people employed in the educator’s role are likely to take up the challenge and adopt these aims as their own; the offices and the corridors of academia are filled with two kinds of people – some of them ‘busy conforming to well-understood criteria for making contributions to knowledge’, and the others trying ‘to expand their own moral imagination’ and read books ‘in order to enlarge their sense of what is possible and important – either for themselves as individuals or for their society’. Rorty’s appeal is addressed to the second kind of people, as only in that category are his hopes vested. And he knows well against what overwhelming odds the teacher likely to respond to the clarion call will need to battle. ‘We cannot tell boards of trustees, government commissions, and the like, that our function is to stir things up, to make our society feel guilty, to keep it off balance’, or indeed (as he suggests elsewhere) that higher education ‘is also not a matter of inculcating or educing truth. It is, instead, a matter of inciting doubt and stimulating imagination, thereby challenging the prevailing consensus.’11 There is a tension between public rhetoric and the sense of intellectual mission – and that tension ‘leaves the academy in general, and the humanistic intellectuals in particular, vulnerable to heresy hunters’. Given that the opposite messages of the promoters of conformity are powerfully backed by the ruling doxa and the daily evidence of commonsensical experience, it also, we may add, makes the ‘humanistic intellectuals’ sitting targets for the advocates of the end of history, rational choice, ‘there is no alternative’ life policies and other formulae attempting to grasp and convey the current and postulated impetus of an apparently invincible societal dynamic. It invites charges of unrealism, utopianism, wishful thinking, daydreaming – and, adding insult to injury in an odious reversal of ethical truth, of irresponsibility.



Adverse odds may be overwhelming, and yet a democratic (or, as Cornelius Castoriadis would say, an autonomous) society knows of no substitute for education and self-education as a means to influence the turn of events that can be squared with its own nature, while that nature cannot be preserved for long without ‘critical pedagogy’ – education sharpening its critical edge, ‘making society feel guilty’ and ‘stirring things up’ through stirring human consciences. The fates of freedom, of democracy that makes it possible while being made possible by it, and of education that breeds dissatisfaction with the level of both freedom and democracy achieved thus far, are inextricably connected and not to be detached from one another. One may view that intimate connection as another specimen of a vicious circle – but it is within that circle that human hopes and the chances of humanity are inscribed, and can be nowhere else. This book is a collection of insights into various aspects of liquid life – life lived in a liquid modern society. The collection does not pretend to be complete. It is hoped however that each of the analysed aspects will offer a window into our presently shared condition as well as on the threats and chances which this condition entails for the prospects of making the human world somewhat more hospitable to humanity.

1 The Individual under Siege

Brian, the eponymous hero of the Monty Python film, furious at having been proclaimed Messiah and being followed wherever he went by a horde of worshippers, tried hard, but in vain, to convince his pursuers to stop behaving like a flock of sheep and to disperse. ‘You are all individuals!’ he shouted. ‘We are all individuals!’ duly responded, in unison, the chorus of devotees. Only a small lonely voice objected: ‘I am not . . .’ Brian tried another argument. ‘You have to be different!’ he cried. ‘Yes, we are all different!’ the chorus rapturously agreed. Again, just one voice objected: ‘I am not . . .’ Hearing that, the crowd looked around angrily, eager to lynch the dissenter if only he could be found in the mass of lookalikes. It is all here in that little satirical gem – the whole infuriating paradox, or aporia rather, of individuality. Ask whoever you wish what it means to be an individual, and the answer – whether it comes from a philosopher or from a person who has never cared nor even heard what philosophers do for their living – will be pretty similar: to be individual means to be unlike anyone else. On occasion, a distant echo of God’s self-introduction to Moses might reverberate in the answer: to be an individual means ‘I am who I am’. Which means: a unique being, a one and only creature made (or, like God, self-made) in this peculiar way; so thoroughly unique that my uniqueness cannot be described using words that may have more than one referent.


The Individual under Siege

The snag is, though, that it is the self-same ‘others’ from whom one cannot help differing who nudge, and press, and force one to differ. It is that company called ‘society’ of which you are but one of many members, those many people around, familiar and unfamiliar to you, who expect you and everybody else you know or know of to supply clinching proof of being an ‘individual’, of having been made or self-made to be ‘unlike the others’. Where obedience to that obligation to dissent and to differ is concerned, no one can dare to dissent and differ. In a society of individuals everyone must be individual; in this respect, at least, members of such a society are anything but individual, different or unique. They are, on the contrary, strikingly like each other in that they must follow the same life strategy and use shared – commonly recognizable and legible – tokens to convince others that they are doing so. In the question of individuality, there is no individual choice. No dilemma ‘to be or not to be’ here. Paradoxically, ‘individuality’ is a matter of ‘crowd spirit’ and a demand enforced by a crowd. To be an individual means to be like everyone else in the crowd – indeed identical with everyone else. Under such circumstances, when individuality is a ‘universal must’ and everybody’s predicament, the sole act that would make you different and so genuinely individual would be to try – bafflingly, stupefyingly – not to be an individual. If you can manage such a feat, that is; and if you can resign yourself to facing its (utterly unpleasant) consequences . . . A mind-boggling quandary indeed if ever there was one! No wonder the awesome need for individuality keeps us busy through the day and awake at night . . . The quandary is not just mindboggling: not only a logical contradiction, not the sole property and private worry of philosophers who are known for always being up in arms against all sorts of absurdities and incompatibilities with which the less philosophically disposed creatures among us manage to live in peace, hardly ever noticing their presence and unworried when we do. The quandary under discussion is a thoroughly practical task, whose fulfilment fills our life, so to speak, from cradle to grave. In a society of individuals – our ‘individualized society’ – we are all required, and indeed we truly crave and try hard, to be individuals. Since to be an individual is commonly translated as ‘to be unlike others’ and since it is ‘I’, my self, who is called and expected to

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stand out and apart, the task appears to be intrinsically selfreferential. We seem to have little choice but to look for a hint as to how to wander deeper and deeper into the ‘inside’ of ourselves, apparently the most private and sheltered niche in an otherwise bazaar-like, crowded and noisy world of experience. I look for the ‘real me’ which I suppose to be hidden somewhere in the obscurity of my pristine self, unaffected (unpolluted, unstifled, undeformed) by outside pressures. I unpack the ideal of ‘individuality’ as authenticity, as ‘being true to myself’, being the ‘real me’. I attempt to perform a sort of Husserl-style, but home-made and mostly half-baked ‘phenomenological insight’ into my true and unadulterated, genuinely ‘transcendental’ ‘subjectivity’ – through the harrowing effort of ‘phenomenological reduction’, that is by ‘bracketing away’, suspending, excising and eliminating every ‘alien’ bit admitted to be imported from the outside. And so we listen especially attentively to the inner stirrings of our emotions and sentiments; this seems to be a sensible way to proceed, since feelings, unlike the detached, impartial and universally shared or at least ‘shareable’ reason, are mine and only mine, not ‘impersonal’. Because they cannot be communicated in an ‘objective’ language (not completely anyway, not to ours and the listeners’ full satisfaction) and cannot be completely, without residue, shared with others, they seem to be the natural habitat of everything truly private and individual. Inherently subjective, feelings are the very epitome of ‘uniqueness’. Diligently we prick our ears to the voices from ‘inside’, and yet hardly ever are we really, fully and beyond reasonable doubt satisfied that the voices have not been misheard and that we’ve heard enough of them to make up our minds and pronounce a verdict. Obviously, we need someone to help us make sense of what we hear, if only to reassure us that our conjectures hold water. Where there’s a will there’s a way; and where there’s a demand, supply is not slow to follow. In our society of individuals desperately seeking their individuality there is no shortage of certified and/or self-proclaimed helpers who (at the right price, of course) will be all too willing to guide us into the dark dungeons of our souls where our authentic selves are supposed to stay imprisoned and from where they are struggling to escape into the light. When we find such helpers and call (and pay) for their services, our troubles do not end, however; if anything, they seem to grow


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bigger and more worrisome. As Charles Guignon recently summed up the joys and sorrows of the guided tours of self-discovery, Programs that are designed to help people get in touch with their true selves, supposedly motivated by emancipatory ideals, often have the effect of pressuring people into thinking in ways that confirm the ideology of the founders of the program. As a result, many of those who start out thinking their lives are empty or directionless end up either lost in the mindset of a particular program or feeling they are ‘never good enough’ no matter what they do.1

More often than not, the voyage of self-discovery peters out in a global fair in which recipes for individuality are peddled wholesale – ‘you will never find a better one’ – and where all the selfassembly kits exhibited in the showcases are factory-made, mass-produced to the latest fashionable design. It transpires then, infuriatingly, that the least common – truly individual – features of your self can only have their value recognized after they have been converted into the currency that is currently most common and so most widely used. In a nutshell, as an act of personal emancipation and selfassertion individuality seems to be burdened with an inborn aporia: an insoluble contradiction. It needs society as simultaneously its cradle and its destination. Anyone who seeks their own individuality while forgetting, dismissing or playing down that sober/sombre truth is in for a lot of frustration. Individuality is a task set for its members by the society of individuals – set as an individual task, to be individually performed, by individuals using their individual resources. Yet such a task is self-contradictory and self-defeating: indeed, impossible to fulfil. Together with the challenge of individuality, however, the society of individuals supplies its members with the means to live with that impossibility – or, in other words, to overlook the essential and incurable unfulfillability of the task even as the tally of failed attempts to fulfil it continuously grows and becomes ever more dense. The term ‘individual’ appeared in the awareness of (Western) society in the seventeenth century, at the threshold of the modern era. It stood for a task – though the name given to that task at birth would not suggest that outright: derived from Latin, it

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implied first and foremost (like the ‘a-tom’, from the Greek) the attribute of indivisibility. It referred solely to the rather trivial fact that if you go on dividing the entirety of the human population into ever smaller constitutive parts, you won’t be able to go further than to a single human person: a single human is the smallest unit to which the quality of ‘humanity’ can still be ascribed, just as the atom of oxygen is the smallest unit to which the qualities of that chemical element can be ascribed. By itself, the name did not stipulate the uniqueness of its bearer (atoms of the same element are, after all, indistinguishable from each other). The feature of ‘uniqueness’, of ‘being different from others’ (Paul Ricoeur’s l’ipséité) while remaining recognizably the same over time (Ricoeur’s la mêmeté), must have been added to the semantic field of the term as an afterthought – by way of interpretation and reflection on the contexts in which its social uses were set and stayed enclosed. Such additions came later, but once they did arrive they quickly took over and colonized the whole of the term’s semantic space, marginalizing if not completely banishing its older residents. When the word ‘individual’ is heard today, ‘indivisibility’ seldom, if ever, comes to mind; on the contrary, the ‘individual’ (just like the atom of physical chemistry) refers to a complex, heterogeneous structure with elements eminently separable and held together in a precarious and rather frail unity by a combination of gravitation and repulsion, of centripetal and centrifugal forces – in a dynamic, shifting and perpetually vulnerable balance. The emphasis falls most heavily on the self-containment of that complex aggregate – and on the task of mitigating the recurrent clashes between heteronomous elements and bringing some harmony into their bewildering variety. It also falls on the necessity to accomplish that task inside that aggregate with the tools internally available. ‘Individuality’ stands today, first and foremost, for the person’s autonomy, which in turn is perceived as simultaneously the person’s right and duty. Before it means anything else, the statement ‘I am an individual’ means that I am the one responsible for my merits and my failings, and that it is my task to cultivate the first and to repent and repair the second. As a task, individuality is an end product of societal transformation disguised as a personal discovery. At the early stage of that transformation the young Karl Marx noted in his high-school


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composition that with the setting of the universal sun, moths seek the light of a domestic lamp. Indeed, the allure of domestic lamps rose as the world outside darkened. The rise of individuality signalled a progressive weakening – falling apart or tearing apart – of the dense web of social bonds that tightly wrapped the totality of life’s activities. It signalled that the community was losing the power of – and/or interest in – normatively regulating the lives of its members. More precisely, it signalled that being no longer an sich (in Hegel’s terms) or zuhanden (as Heidegger would have put it), the community had lost its past ability to do the job of such regulation routinely, matter-of-factly and without selfconsciousness, and having lost this capacity it brought the issue of shaping and coordinating human actions out into the open as a problem, casting it as an issue to ponder and worry about and as an object of choice, decision and purposeful effort. Fewer and fewer patterns of daily routines remained uncontested and so selfevident; the world of daily life was losing its self-evidence and the ‘transparency’ it had enjoyed in the past when life itineraries were free of crossroads and uncluttered by hurdles to be avoided, negotiated or forced out of the way. Raftsmen floating tree trunks down the river follow the current; they need no compass – unlike sailors in an open sea who cannot do without one. Raftsmen let themselves be carried along the course of the river, helping the drift from time to time by paddling or punting the raft away from rocks and rapids and clear of sandbanks and stony shores. Sailors, however, would be lost were they to entrust their trajectory to capricious winds and shifting currents. They cannot but take charge of the boat’s movements; they need to decide where to go and so require a compass to tell them when and which way to turn to get there. The idea of the self-constructed ‘individual’ stood for such a need once modern sailors took over from the premodern raftsmen. With community in retreat and its immunity system, intended to avert its contamination by problems, turning into a problem in its own right, one could no longer remain deaf and blind to the choice of direction and to the need to stay on track. The ‘way things are’ became ‘the way things are to be made’. Society (that ‘imagined community’ which replaced the community hidden from view in its own dazzling light, or a social setting that did not need and

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would not have survived the use of imagination in the service of self-scrutiny) represented the new (no choice) necessity as a human (hard-won) right. Unlike ‘community’ (a totality given that name retrospectively at the very time when a new setting, given the name of ‘society’, struggled to fill the normative gap left by its retreat), the new (‘societal’, not ‘communal’) normative powers confined themselves by and large to the ordering of such social space as could be embraced solely with the help of the imagination. It left out of its concerns the realm of interpersonal relations, the microspace of proximity and the face-to-face. Inside that microspace the tools usable and effective in personal interaction could now be freely deployed in the activity of ‘socializing’ – that is in day-to-day human interactions, in setting and revoking commitments between people and in tying or untying human bonds, as well as in choosing a strategy to be deployed in the performance of all those tasks. In this realm of the face-to-face, individuality is asserted and daily renegotiated in the continuous activity of interaction. To be an ‘individual’ is to accept an inalienable responsibility for the course and consequences of interaction. Such a responsibility cannot be seriously contemplated unless the actors are presumed to have the right to choose freely the way in which they proceed. ‘Free choice’ may be a fiction (as sociologists have argued indefatigably since sociology’s inception), but the presumption of the right to choose freely transforms that fiction into the reality of the Lebenswelt – into a Durkheimian ‘social fact’, ‘real’ in the sense of overwhelming pressure equipped with irresistible sanctions, a pressure not to be wished away or argued away, let alone effectively resisted or ignored with impunity. However free or unfree the individual choice may be, the precept of choosing freely and of defining all actions as outcomes of free choice are most certainly not matters of individual choice. In the society of individuals, we all and each one of us are individuals – de jure. That is, individuals by law: written law, but also its unwritten variety, no less powerful for being unwritten – by the diffuse yet continuous, overpowering and irresistible pressure of ‘social fact’. Although the right and the duty of free choice are tacit or/and acknowledged premises of individuality, they do not suffice to assure that the right of free choice can be used, and that therefore the practice of individuality will match the pattern that the duty


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of free choice requires. Many men and women most of the time, and many others on a few or quite numerous occasions, find the practising of free choice beyond their reach. Jeremy Seabrook vividly describes the plight of the global poor so often evicted from their land these days and forced to seek survival in the fast swelling slums of the nearest megalopolis: ‘Global poverty is in flight; not because it is chased away by wealth, but because it has been evicted from an exhausted, transformed hinterland.’ The earth they farmed, addicted to fertiliser and pesticide, no longer yields a surplus to sell in the market. Water is contaminated, irrigation channels are silted up, well water polluted and undrinkable . . . Land was taken by government for a coastal resort, a golf course, or under pressure of structural adjustment plans to export more agricultural products . . . There had been no repairs to school buildings. The health centre had closed. Forests, where people had always gathered fuel, fruit and bamboo for house repairs, had become forbidden zones, guarded by men in the livery of some private semi-military company.2

The heroes of Seabrook’s story are exiled to the far end of the scale along which the places of all humans in our progressively individualized society are plotted. They are the ‘global underclass’ who ‘have taken their bundles to the unwelcoming cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America’ and so, fortunately for our consciences, stay at a psychologically safe distance from our minds preoccupied as they are with the asylum seekers smuggled by night to our shores, and from our television cameras focused on the gallant policemen rounding up the ‘illegals’ and sans papiers and transporting them to the nearest refugee camps. They are the dregs, the waste and the rejects of the global free trade and economic progress that on one (our) end of the spectrum sediments the joys of unheard-of affluence, while dumping unspeakable poverty and humiliation at its other end, and sprinkling fears and gruesome premonitions over all its length. Were those people asked to report the progress of their ‘individualization’ or ponder it as their task, they would probably take the request for an indecent and cruel joke. Were they to try to comprehend what the bizarre term ‘individuality’ stands for, they would hardly be able to attach it to any-

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thing other in their life experience than the agony of loneliness, abandonment, homelessness, the hostility of neighbours, the disappearance of friends one could trust and on whose help one could count, and banishment from places where other humans are allowed to walk, admiring and enjoying them at will. It is true that for most of us such people could be apparitions from outer space for all we know. Their lot is not a prospect round the corner, not on the path of our own life itineraries. This does not mean, however, that the plight of the outcasts has nothing to do with the condition of those lucky ones who have managed to avoid their fate. We may think of the ‘global underclass’ as dregs falling out of a solution saturated with soluble substances of which they are but solid condensations. That solution is the ‘individualized society’ to which we all belong; the soluble substances in question are the obstacles piled along the way from individuality de jure to individuality de facto; and the catalyst prompting the sedimentation is the precept of individualization, addressed to us all and binding us all. Each member of the individualized society encounters some obstacles on his or her way to individuality de facto. Individuality de facto is not easy to achieve and still more difficult to preserve; among the rapid succession of commonly used tokens of identity and the endemic instability of their recommended choices, the pursuit of individuality means a lifelong struggle. We are all now the Alices whom Lewis Carroll warned that ‘now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’ The pursuit of elusive individuality leaves little time for anything else. New tokens of distinction on offer promise to take you to your goal and to convince everyone who meets you in the street or visits your home that you have indeed reached it – but they also instantaneously invalidate the tokens that promised to do the same for you a month or a day ago. In the chase for individuality there is no moment of respite. Dilemmas and quandaries which societies design for their members usually come complete with societally endorsed and recommended strategies and tools for their resolution. Consumerism is such a ‘how to’ response to the challenges posited by the society of individuals. The logic of consumerism is geared to


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the needs of men and women struggling to construct, preserve and refresh their individuality, and in particular to cope with the above mentioned aporia of individuality. It might have been easy (though not at all comfortable, let alone safe) to manifest one’s uniqueness in a society of stiff patterns and monotonous routines, but it can’t be easy in a society which obliges all and each of its members to be unique; in a curious reversal of pragmatic rules, it is the following of the generally obeyed norm that is now expected to result in meeting the demands of individuality. Conformity, once accused of stifling human individuality, is proclaimed to be the individual’s best friend; in fact, the sole friend that can be relied upon. The workings of the consumer market defy logic, but the logic they defy is not the logic of the already inherently aporetic struggle for individuality. A commercial like ‘Be yourself – choose Pepsi’ echoes that aporia with a frankness which most prospective consumers of the product would welcome and for which they would be grateful. The struggle for uniqueness has now become the main engine of mass production and mass consumption. But to enlist the yearning for uniqueness in the service of a mass consumer market (and vice versa), a consumer economy must also be an economy of fast-ageing objects, almost instant obsolescence and the rapid rotation of goods, and so also of excess and waste. Uniqueness is now marked and measured by the difference between ‘up to date’ and ‘out of date’, or rather between today’s commodities and those of yesterday that are still ‘up to date’ and thus on shop shelves. Success and failure in the chase for uniqueness depends on the speed of the runners, their adroitness in promptly getting rid of things that have been relegated from premiership league – although the designers of new and improved consumer products are all too willing to promise a second chance to the hapless competitors who have been eliminated in the previous race. In some typical advice to all those many who more than anything else desire to stay an inch or two in front of the rest, a fashion columnist in the Observer briefs the players in the premier league that ‘if you haven’t quite got round to splashing out’ on your Marni rug, your sofa from Capellini, your Ralph Lauren wallpaper or your John Rocha wine goblets – ‘do not despair!’ Clements Ribeiro, the London-based fashion duo, have created ‘a collection for your home’ that includes among other things a rug for £199, a ‘wavy topped wooden screen’ for £499, and an ‘exceedingly cool

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chair’ for £949.3 Clearly not an offer aimed at those short of cash and credit cards. Good news for people with ample bank credit, bad news for all the rest: those rest hover dangerously close to being downgraded to the leftover category of ‘flawed consumers’ and swallowed into the black hole of the ‘underclass’. The ferries from the shore of the ‘individual de jure’ to the shore of the ‘individual de facto’ charge high prices for tickets, and even more money is needed to pay to rent a place to camp on the other shore. When it is serviced by the consumer markets, the marathon of the pursuit of individuality draws its urgency and impetus from the terror of being caught up, absorbed and devoured by the crowd of runners breathing heavily behind one’s back. But in order to join the race and to stay in it, you first need to purchase the ‘special marathon shoes’ which – surprise, surprise – all the rest of the runners wear or deem it their duty to obtain. Being an individual in the society of individuals costs money – a lot of money; the individualization race has restricted access and polarizes those with the credentials to enter. As in the successive instalments of the Big Brother show, the ranks of the eliminated tend to swell with each run. No wonder individualization has its discontents and its discontented. Alongside the production line of happy consumers, there is another, less keenly advertised but no less efficient production line of those disqualified from, simultaneously, the consumer feast and the individualization race. Each individual society (a word of warning: on a fast globalizing planet the notion of an ‘individual society’ needs to be used with a rather lavish sprinkle of salt), even the most affluent society, is affected. Richard Rorty, musing on the recent transformation of American society, suggests that the ‘embourgeoisement of the proletariat’ has been succeeded there by the ‘proletarianization of the bourgeoisie’, as the income of a growing number of middleclass families permits ‘only a humiliating, hand-to-mouth existence’, and one haunted in addition ‘by fears of wage rollbacks and downsizing, and the disastrous consequences of even a brief illness’.4 But the polarization induced by the forceful privatization and individualization of life pursuits also has planetary dimensions. The chances of crossing the gap between individuality de jure and de facto are sharply uneven around the planet. Since the governments of the affluent West spend 350 billion dollars a year


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to subsidize its farming, Europe’s cows are better off than half of the world’s population. London occupies 1,500 square kilometres of land, but, as the International Institute for Environment and Development calculates, it must use a territory roughly equal to the totality of British usable land in order to supply what its inhabitants consume and to dispose of the waste they produce.5 An average urban dweller in North America uses for his or her sustenance 4.7 hectares of land, while an average city resident in India must do with just 0.4 hectares. The better the quality of life, the larger the ‘ecological footprint’ a city leaves on the planet we share. London needs a territory 120 times bigger than its own, while Vancouver for instance, ranked top for quality of life, would not manage without a Lebensraum 180 times bigger than itself. Polarization has gone much too far by now for it still to be feasible to raise the planetary population’s quality of life to that of the most privileged countries of the West. As John Reader points out, ‘if everyone on Earth lived as comfortably as the average citizen of North America we would need not just one, but three planets to provide for them all.’6 Finding two more planets in addition to the one we have is not quite on the cards – and neither is, for that reason, the prospect of levelling up the chances of the planet’s residents in the framework of individualized society. This being the case, individuality remains and is likely to remain for quite a while a privilege. A privilege inside each single, quasiautonomous society, where the game of self-assertion is played through the secession of the ‘emancipated’, fully-fledged consumers – striving to compose and recompose their unique individualities out of the ‘limited editions’ of the latest haute couture designs – from the faceless mass of those ‘stuck’ and ‘fixed’ in their no-choice, no-questions-asked, assigned or imposed but in any case ‘overdetermined’ identity. And a privilege on a planetary scale – on a planet divided between enclaves inside which networks serving easy-to-enter though brittle and superficial connections and instant disconnections on demand and at the push of a single key are fast replacing the dense webs of bonds that were woven out of ingrained and non-negotiable rights and duties, and the vast expanses of land where the advent of individuality portends the disappearance of customary security nets rather than freedom of movement and choice.

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The prospects of stretching the way of life enjoyed by the privileged enclaves far enough to embrace the whole of the planet are, for the reasons spelled out above, unrealistic. The consumerist form which the current ‘emancipation into individuality’ has assumed seems to be singularly resistant to stretching; one wonders to what extent the barring of individuality to many is the sine qua non of the individuality of some; whether individuality, in its present rendition, can be anything other than a privilege. One might therefore expect that for those many whose chances of jumping on the bandwagon of individualization are at best distant, and more likely non-existent, a tooth-and-nail resistance against ‘individuality’ and all that it stands for will not only seem to be a more reasonable option, but will indeed be a ‘natural’ outcome of their predicament. ‘Fundamentalism’, choosing to hold fast to inherited and/or ascribed identity, is a natural and legitimate offspring of planet-wide enforced individualization. In the words of William T. Cavanaugh, ‘the beliefs of the Jim Joneses and Osama bin Ladens of the world are a significant part of the problem of violence in the twenty-first century. At least equally significant is the evangelical zeal with which ‘free trade’, liberal democracy, and American hegemony are offered to – or forced upon – a hungry world.’7 Identity for identity’s sake is a bit dodgy . . . Or, at any rate, this is what Charles Clarke would probably say were he moved in the next cabinet reshuffle from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Identity. He said that much on education, meaning that (as Richard Ingram caustically observed) ‘the whole idea of schools and universities is to increase the economic growth rate and help us to compete with our European partners’, and so also (as we may add) to help the government to win the next election. Ancient history, music, philosophy and suchlike, claiming to enhance personal development rather than business and political advantage, will hardly add to the growth figures and indices of competitiveness. In this businesslike, matter-of-fact world, a world seeking after instant profit, crisis management and damage limitation, anything that cannot prove its instrumental proficiency is ‘a bit dodgy’. Teachers, academic or otherwise, would probably follow Richard Ingram in scoffing at and scorning Clarke’s prosaic and


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mean-spirited stance. Many teachers, perhaps most of them, would rather insist that it is precisely when it is ‘for its own sake’ that education is at its best and that any offer for it to be for something else is bound to debase it. And yet, likely as it is that teachers will share Ingram’s contempt for tool-like education, it is unlikely that they’ll be joined in that contempt by a majority of their students. For most of their students, education is first and foremost a gateway to jobs, and the wider the passage and the more glittering the prizes at the far end of the drudgery, the better. As Karl Marx would probably have opined, adapting his observation of a long time ago to the present era of ‘life politics’, they make their (as we make our) lives, and so also their (and our) shared history – but not under conditions of their (or for that matter our) choosing. And when it comes to the uses of education, it is those conditions that have the last word. The meaning of education is not the only case where the perceptions of the ‘teaching (more generally, the “knowledgeable”) classes’ and ‘the taught classes’ (intermittently called ‘the people’ or ‘the masses’) diverge. And no wonder, given the difference between the frames within which their respective lives are woven, as well as between the respective life experiences on which they reflect (if they do). Marx, a theory man, would have many occasions to complain about the incapacitating rift between theory and practice, and his self-appointed disciple Lenin, a man of practice, many opportunities to censure the ‘intelligentsia’ for their stultifying and shameful detachment from ‘the masses’. A conspicuous occasion for such complaint and censure would certainly be supplied by the discourse of identity and the realities of the identityrecognition wars. About identity, the knowledge classes, who nowadays also happen to form the articulated and self-reflexive core of the emerging global extraterritorial elite, tend to wax lyrical. Their members are busy composing, decomposing and recomposing their identities and cannot but be pleasantly impressed by the facility and relative cheapness with which the job is being done daily. Writers on culture tend to call such activity ‘hybridization’, and its practitioners ‘cultural hybrids’. Freed from their local ties and travelling easily through the networks of cyberconnections, the knowledge classes wonder why others don’t follow their example, and they grow indignant when

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they seem reluctant to do so. But all that puzzlement and indignation notwithstanding, perhaps the circumstance that ‘the others’ do not and cannot follow their example adds to the attractions of ‘hybridity’ and to the satisfaction and self-esteem of those who can and do embrace it? Ostensibly, hybridization is about mixing, but its latent and perhaps crucial function that makes it such a praiseworthy and coveted mode of being-in-the-world is separation. Hybridization cuts off the hybrid from all and any line of monozygotic parentage. No lineage can claim exclusive ownership rights over the product, no kinship group can exercise a pernickety and noxious control over the observance of standards, and no offspring has to feel obliged to swear loyalty to its hereditary lore. ‘Hybridization’ is a declaration of autonomy, nay independence, with the hope of following it with the sovereignty of practices. The fact that ‘the others’ are left behind, stuck in their monozygotic genotypes, adds conviction to the declaration and helps in pursuing the practices. The image of a ‘hybrid culture’ is an ideological gloss on achieved or claimed extraterritoriality. It is, essentially, about a hard-won and cherished freedom of trespass and free exit in a world criss-crossed by fences and sliced into territorially fixed sovereignties. Just as in the extraterritorial networks traversed and the ‘nowherevilles’ inhabited by the new global elite, ‘hybrid culture’ seeks its identity in not belonging: in the freedom to defy and neglect the borders that bind the movements and choices of lesser, inferior people – the ‘locals’. ‘Cultural hybrids’ want to feel everywhere chez soi – in order to be vaccinated against the vicious bacteria of domesticity. Devotees of the orthodox meaning of ‘identity’ would be baffled by such an idea. A heterogeneous – and ephemeral, volatile, incoherent, eminently mutable – identity? People brought up on the modern classics of identity like those by Sartre or Ricoeur would be bound to see that notion as a contradiction in terms. For Sartre, identity was a lifelong project; for Ricoeur, it was a combination of l’ipséité presuming coherence and consistency, and la mêmeté standing for continuity: precisely the two qualities that the ‘hybrid identity’ idea emphatically rejects. But then the orthodox meaning was cut to the measure of the nation-state and nation-building. And so was the self-definition of the ‘knowledge classes’ and the


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social role they then performed and/or claimed, but have all but abandoned now. To be sure, the idea of ‘identity’ was torn by an inner contradiction whenever it appeared: it suggested a kind of distinction which tended to be smothered in the course of its assertion – and it pointed towards a sameness that could be constructed solely through sharing differences . . . ‘Identity’ turns from a Heideggerian zuhanden into a vorhanden; it attracts attention (or, as Alfred Schütz would say, moves into the focus of a ‘topical relevance’) when either the individuality or the belonging is thrown into question. It therefore faces a dual choice: to serve the bid for individual emancipation, or equally, the bid for membership in a collectivity that overrides individual idiosyncrasy. The search for identity is always pulled in opposite directions; it is conducted under cross-fire and proceeds under the pressure of two mutually contravening forces. There is a double-bind in which every claimed and/or pursued identity (identity as a problem and as a task) is entangled, and it can only struggle unsuccessfully to emancipate itself from it. It navigates between the extremes of uncompromising individuality and total belonging; the first extreme is unattainable, while the second, like a black hole, will suck in and swallow up whatever floats near it. Whenever it is chosen as a destination, identity will inevitably prompt movements vacillating between the two directions. For that reason, ‘identity’ holds potentially deadly dangers for both individuality and collectivity, though both resort to it as a weapon of self-assertion. The road to identity is a running battle and an interminable struggle between the desire for freedom and the need for security, haunted by fear of loneliness and a dread of incapacitation. For that reason ‘identity wars’ are likely to remain inconclusive, and are in all probability unwinnable – the ‘identity cause’ will continue to be deployed as their instrument while being camouflaged as their objective. In the manoeuvres of the heterogeneous (global) learned elite, ‘hybridization’ is a substitute for the ancient strategies of ‘assimilation’ – adjusted to the changed circumstances of the liquid modern, post-hierarchy era. It comes in a package deal with ‘multiculturalism’ – a declaration of the equivalence of cultures and a postulate of their equality, just as the strategy of ‘assimilation’

The Individual under Siege


accompanied a vision of cultural evolution and a hierarchy of cultures. Liquid modernity is ‘liquid’ in as far as it is also posthierarchical. The genuine or postulated orders of superiority/inferiority, once presumed to have been structured in an unambiguous fashion by the unassailable logic of progress, are eroded and melted – while the new ones are too fluid and ephemeral to harden into a recognizable shape and to retain such a shape for a long enough time to be adopted as a safe reference frame for the composition of identity. As a result, ‘identity’ has become something that is mostly self-placed and self-ascribed, the outcome of efforts left to individuals to worry about: an outcome that is admittedly temporary with an undefined, yet probably short, life expectancy. As Dany-Robert Dufour recently suggested, all the ‘grand references’ of the past are still available for use nowadays, but none of them has enough authority above the others to impose itself on reference-seekers.8 Confused and lost among many competitive claims to authority, with no single voice sufficiently loud or audible for long enough to stand out from the cacophony and provide a leading motif, residents of a liquid modern world cannot find, however earnestly they try, a ‘credible collective enunciator’ (one that ‘sustains for us what we cannot sustain when we are left alone’ and ‘secures for us, faced with chaos, a certain permanence – of origins, purpose and order’9). They have to settle instead for notoriously unreliable substitutes. Tempting alternative offers of authority – notoriety instead of normative regulation, ephemeral celebrities and idols-for-the-day, and equally volatile talks-of-theday that are drawn out of darkness and silence by a searchlight or a microphone in the hand of a TV reporter, and that vanish from the limelight and headlines with lightning speed – serve as mobile signposts in a world devoid of permanent ones. In the last account, ‘hybridization’ stands for a movement aiming towards a perpetually ‘unfixed’, indeed ‘unfixable’, identity. At the unreachable, stubbornly receding horizon of the process looms an identity defined solely by its distinction from all the rest: from each and any of the identities named, known and recognized, and for that reason apparently fixed. On those ‘rest’ the identity of the ‘hybridizers’ stays nevertheless irredeemably dependent. It has no definite model of its own to follow and emulate. It is mainly a reprocessing and recycling plant – it lives on credit and feeds on the borrowed stuff. It can build/sustain its


The Individual under Siege

distinction solely by an unstopping and unstoppable effort to compensate for the limitations of one loan by bundling it with more loans. The absence of a preselected target can be compensated for only by an excess of cultural markers and a steady effort to hedge all bets and keep all options open. In as far as those perched at the supracultural heights of ‘hybridity’ cast the ‘cultures’ that define ‘other people’s’ life settings as staunch, obstinate and unassailable, as ‘fixing’ and ‘binding’ realities, as self-enclosed, self-sustained and selfpropagating totalities, ‘hybrid culture’ is both programmatically and in practice extracultural. As if in open defiance of Pierre Bourdieu’s thesis of social distinction resting its claims to superiority on the strictness of culturally circumscribed taste and choice, ‘hybrid culture’ is manifestly omnivorous – non-committal, unchoosy, unprejudiced, ready and eager to savour everything on offer and to ingest and digest food from all cuisines. Let me repeat: the image of ‘hybrid culture’ is an ideological gloss on achieved or claimed extraterritoriality. Exempted from the sovereignty of territorially circumscribed political units, just like the extraterritorial networks inhabited by the global elite, ‘hybrid culture’ seeks its identity in freedom from ascribed and inert identities, in a licence to defy and neglect the kinds of cultural markers, labels or stigmas that circumscribe and limit the movements and choices of the place-bound rest: the ‘locals’. By those who practise and enjoy it, the new ‘unfixedness’ of the self tends to be referred to by the name of ‘freedom’. One can argue, though, that having an unfixed identity that is eminently ‘until further notice’ is not a state of liberty but an obligatory and interminable conscription into a war of liberation that is never ultimately victorious: a day-in, day-out battle, with no respite allowed, to get rid of, to put paid to, to forget. Once ‘identity’ had stopped being a cumbersome (impossible to get rid of) yet comfortable (impossible to be taken away) legacy, and ceased to be an act of a once-and-for-all commitment to something expected and hoped to last from here to eternity, and once it had become instead the lifelong task of individuals orphaned by the loss of intractable legacies and bereaved of credible havens for trust – it must have turned, and did turn, into a forever inconclusive as well as infuriatingly ambivalent effort to wash one’s own hands of one’s

The Individual under Siege


past commitments and to escape the threat of becoming entangled in a commitment of which the others would gladly, and successfully, wash their hands. The freedom of identity-seekers is akin to that of a bicycle rider; the penalty for ceasing to pedal is a fall, and one has to go on pedalling just to retain the upright posture. The necessity for keeping on toiling is a plight without choice since the alternative is too awesome to contemplate. Drifting from one episode to another, living through each successive episode while oblivious to its consequences and even more ignorant of its destination, guided by the urge to efface past history rather than by the desire to draw the map of the future, the actor’s identity is forever stuck in its present, denied now its lasting significance as the foundation of the future. It struggles to embrace the things that ‘one cannot be, nor be seen, without’ today, while being fully aware that they are most likely to turn into things ‘one cannot be, nor be seen, with’ tomorrow. The past of each identity is strewn with rubbish tips on which have been dumped, daily, one by one, the indispensables of the day before yesterday which turned into yesterday’s awkward burdens. The sole ‘identity core’ which one can be sure will emerge from the continuous change not only unscathed but probably even reinforced is that of homo eligens – the ‘man choosing’ (though not the ‘man who has chosen’!): a permanently impermanent self, completely incomplete, definitely indefinite – and authentically inauthentic. Of liquid modern business enterprise Richard Sennett has written: ‘Perfectly viable businesses are gutted and abandoned, capable employees are set adrift rather than rewarded, simply because the organization must prove to the market that it is capable of change.’10 Replace ‘businesses’ with ‘identities’, ‘capable employees’ with ‘possessions and partners’, and ‘organization’ with ‘the self’ – and you’ll get a faithful description of the plight that defines homo eligens. Homo eligens and the commodity market coexist in perfect symbiosis: they would not live to see another day if they were not supported and nourished by each other’s company. The market would not survive if customers held on to things. For the sake of its own survival, it cannot stand clients who are committed and loyal, or who just hold to a consistent and cohesive trajectory that resists being distracted and bars sideward sallies; apart, that is, from those who are committed to shopping and loyal to the


The Individual under Siege

trajectories that lead through the shopping malls. The market would suffer a mortal blow if the status of individuals felt secure, their achievements and possessions safe, their projects finite, and the end of their uphill struggles feasible. The art of marketing is focused on the prevention of the closing of options and the fulfillment of desires. Contrary to appearances and official declarations, as well as to the common sense that is faithful to both, the emphasis here falls not on arousing new desires but on extinguishing the ‘old’ (read: those of a moment ago), in order to clear the site for new shopping escapades. The ideal horizon of marketing is the irrelevance of desires to the conduct of prospective shoppers. Desires, after all, need careful and often costly cultivation; when fully developed, they lose a large part or all of their initial flexibility and are only good for specific and usually quite narrowly circumscribed, unstretchable and untransferable uses. Momentary wishes and whims, on the other hand, require no protracted incubation and grooming and so can do without investment. Denizens of the liquid modern world need no further priming to obsessively explore the shops in the hope of finding ready-made, consumer friendly and publicly legible identity badges. They wander through the winding passages of the shopping malls prompted and guided by a semi-conscious hope of bumping into the very identity badge or token needed to bring their selves up to date, and by a gnawing apprehension that the moment when a badge of pride turns into a badge of shame might otherwise be overlooked. For their motivation never to dry up, it is enough if the managers of the shopping malls follow the principle discovered by Percival Bartlebooth, one of the heroes of George Perec’s monumental novel Life: A User’s Manual, and see to it that the last bit on offer does not fit the rest of the identity jigsaw puzzle – so the assembly has to be started over and over again from scratch and there can be no end to the new beginnings. Bartlebooth’s life ended unfinished, and so did Perec’s haunting story: Seated at his jigsaw puzzle, Bartlebooth has just died. On the tablecloth, somewhere in the crepuscular sky of the four hundred and thirty-ninth puzzle, the black hole of the sole piece not yet filled in has the almost perfect shape of an X. But the ironical thing, which

The Individual under Siege


could have been foreseen long ago, is that the piece the dead man holds between his fingers is shaped like a W.11

As long as identity jigsaw puzzles come solely in commodity form and can be found nowhere except in the shopping malls, the future of the market (as distinct from the marketed futures) is assured . . . Those among us who have been drilled to mix identity cocktails and trained to delight in tasting them, and are in addition able to secure all the currently recommended (read: fashionable) cocktail ingredients, feel at home in the society of consumers. It is, after all, consumers like them who make this society what it is: a society of consumers meant for and made for their consumption. This is not the case, however, for the rest of ‘we, the people’ – that remainder whom the restructured company under its new name of ‘we, the consumers’ and under its new management has cast aside as redundant and refused to accommodate. Barred access to the dainty, rare and costly extras needed to make the tasty cocktails currently in vogue, that rest (a very voluminous rest, as it happens) has little choice but to drink the identity concoctions as they come – raw, coarse and insipid. It would be both pointless and cruel to reproach ‘that rest’ for ingesting drinks viewed by seasoned cocktail connoisseurs and gourmets as inferior, crude and unworthy. No one asked them to choose and no choice was offered. If they tried nevertheless to declare and pursue their preferences, they would be promptly stopped, rounded up and returned ‘where they came from’: that is, to the fixed identity which will be imposed on them by others by force if they themselves don’t meekly and placidly accept it as their non-negotiable fate. In a nutshell, the pursuit of two values, freedom and security, both widely coveted since they are indispensable for a dignified and happy life, converge on the current identity discourse. The two lines of pursuit notoriously evade coordination, each tending to lead beyond the point at which the other pursuit risks being slowed down, arrested or even reversed. While no life of dignity or gratifying human life are conceivable without an admixture of both freedom and security, a fully satisfying balance between the two values is seldom achieved: if the innumerable and invariably failed attempts in the past are anything to go by, such a balance may well be unachievable. A deficit in security rebounds with the distressing


The Individual under Siege

uncertainty and agoraphobia that ‘too much freedom’ – bordering on a licence for ‘anything goes’ – will inevitably nurture. A deficit in freedom, on the other hand, is experienced as too much disabling security (code-named ‘dependency’ by sufferers). The problem, however, is that when security is missing, free agents are stripped of the confidence without which freedom can hardly be exercised. Without a second line of trenches, few people other than dare-devil adventurers can muster enough courage to face the risks of an unknown and unsecured future, and without a safety net most people will refuse to dance along the tightrope and will feel utterly unhappy if they are forced to do so against their will. When, on the other hand, it is freedom that is missing, security feels like slavery or prison. Worse still, when it is suffered for a long time with no respite and no experience of an alternative mode of being, even imprisonment may stifle the wish for freedom, together with the skill of practising it, and so turn into the sole habitat that feels natural and liveable – no longer being felt as oppressive. In Lion Feuchtwanger’s rendition of Odysseus’s adventure,12 sailors transformed into swine by Circe’s evil spell refused to resume human shape when given the chance: comfortably free of worries thanks to the food that was meagre but supplied regularly and with no conditions attached, and to the grubby and malodorous but rent-free shelter of the pigsty, they would not willingly try a more exciting but unsteady and risk-fraught alternative. This is an experience, let’s note, that is endlessly relived, with or without the interference of witches, whenever old routines are broken, however dull or oppressive they were (the most recent example has been supplied by the soldiers of the Iraqi army, summarily dismissed from the far from pleasant routine chores that came together with regular pay-checks and so immediately turning their guns against the liberators). Any increase in freedom may be read as a decrease of security, and vice versa. Both readings are justified, and which of them moves to the centre of public concern at any one time depends on other factors than the elegance of the arguments advanced to support the choice. The chances are, however, that support for change in the balance between freedom and security would be greater if the choice itself were an exercise in freedom; the opening up of prospects that an increase in freedom might bring in its wake

The Individual under Siege


would seldom, if ever, be seen as a fair deal if that increase resulted from unfreedom – was imposed or contrived with no consultation. Numerous research findings confirm the rule: when people resent changes in their life conditions or in the rules of the life game, they do this much less because of their dislike of the new realities resulting from the change than because of the manner in which they were brought about – that is, because they were brought about without asking their consent. Current discourse on identity steers precariously between all these contradictions, ambiguities and hidden traps. Virtually every proposition it begets is meat for some practitioners and addressees of that discourse and poison for some others; and it turns from meat to poison and back depending on their rapidly and unpredictably shifting situations. In the broadest of outlines, those hoping to obtain and retain security through exposing themselves to the risks and hazards of free choice tend to emphasize the merits of underdetermined and underdefined identity – unfixed, incomplete, open-ended and above all easy to discard or revise; while those at the receiving end of the identity wars and smarting under the burden of coercive stereotyping, cut off from desirable choices and too intimidated by their own insecurity to seriously contemplate a challenge to the rules of the game, opt for identity as a birthright, an indelible mark and inalienable possession. The fact that both sides of the dispute use the same verbal token to denote their sharply different cravings does not necessarily guarantee a meaningful dialogue. Though both sides speak of identity, they might as well talk past each other; and they often do. If the first means by ‘identity’ a passport to adventure, the second thinks of defence against adventurers. For the first, identity is a boat braving the waves, for the second, it is a breakwater defending the boats from the flood tides. In neither of the two cases is identity invoked for its own sake. And the purposes of invocation differ sharply. They are rooted firmly in human practices – in what humans try to defend themselves against and what they struggle to make their lot. As long as these practices differ, the semantic loads invested in concerns about identity will continue to be different. Reality, as Karl Marx insisted, needs to be seen as ‘human sensuous activity, practice’ – since ‘social life is essentially practical’.


The Individual under Siege

Surrender to the pressures of globalization tends these days to be claimed in the name of individual autonomy and freedom of selfassertion; but more freedom does not seem to the victims and collateral casualties of globalization to be a cure for their troubles – they would rather trace them back to the crumbling or the forceful dismantling of the life routines and networks of human bonds and mutual commitments that used to support them and make them feel secure. More and more, appeals for more freedom and the presentation of that freedom as a universal cure for all present and future ills, and demands to take apart and push out of the way any residual constraints that cramp the movements of those who expect to make good use of being on the move, look suspiciously like an ideology of the emergent global elite. They fall on deaf ears among a large part of the planet’s population and are fast turning into a major obstacle to a planetary polylogue. Oversimplifying a bit, but only a bit, we may say that whereas the beneficiaries of our dangerously unbalanced, top-heavy and inequitable globalization see in their unbridled freedom the best means to achieve their own security, it is in a horrid and lamentable insecurity that their targeted or collateral victims suspect the major obstacle lies to becoming free (and to making any use of freedom were it granted). To paraphrase Jean Anouilh, one could say that even if all men think that the cause of freedom is on their side, only the rich and the powerful know that it is. The two sides talk past each other. The meat turns into poison on the other side of the table (or of the battlefield, as may be the case and ever more often is).

2 From Martyr to Hero, and from Hero to Celebrity

Some detractors of the idea of a unified Europe jibe: ‘Who wants to die for Romano Prodi or Javier Solana?’ This is a good joke: indeed, we all laugh. It could also be a powerful argument against unification, indeed a clinching one, were there people to be found nowadays ready to give their lives for George Bush Senior or Junior, Jacques Chirac, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder, Silvio Berlusconi – or for that matter Umberto Bossi or the likes of JeanMarie Le Pen or Pia Kiersgaard. The point is, though, that such people are, to say the least, hard to find. As I hope will become clear later, their evident absence from our part of the world is precisely the reason why for the first time in the long history of Europe a ‘united Europe’ is no longer a pipe dream or a figment of the imagination . . . It is not only people who are pining to ‘die for’, or who are likely to agree to do so when nudged or begged, who are thin on the ground these days. In our part of the world (whatever we mean by that ‘our’) we now find it difficult, perhaps even impossible, to understand how people in other parts of the world can sacrifice their lives for a ‘cause’ – why they would choose to die so long as their sacrifice helps the ‘cause’ to survive and, hopefully, triumph (this being one of the reasons why we think of the parts of the world inhabited by such incomprehensible people as ‘other’). When hearing about ‘suicide bombers’, we try to hide our perplexity and uneasiness behind verdicts like ‘religious fanaticism’


Martyr to Hero, Hero to Celebrity

or ‘brainwashing’ – terms that signal our impotence to comprehend, rather than explaining the mystery. Or we put our uneasiness to rest (for a time at least) by ascribing motives to those on suicide missions that we find easier to understand: being naïve, they were duped by false promises, we say, but trusting such promises they did what they did for the sake of personal gain and happiness (in their case, the unending gourmet feasts and sexual delights waiting for the martyrs in heaven) – just like the motives we are trained, and eager and apt to follow in our daily pursuits here on earth. René Girard pointed out recently that the idea of martyrdom was only introduced by the Bible and was firmly entrenched in our cultural lore by the Gospels; all in all, martyrdom has been confined in human history to the post-Abrahamic religions.1 Martyrology replaced and gradually elbowed out the mythology of ‘original murder’ common in archaic religion. It also reversed the message that archaic mythology contained – by telling the story of the primal act of violence not from the point of view of the murderers, not in the way a ‘bunch of unrepentant killers’ would report their iniquitous action, but from the point of view of the victims. Instead of justifying and ennobling the violence committed against an infidel enemy (usually an evil-minded enemy and a bodily defective and foreign creature) as a sacrifice necessary to salvage the community from perdition, as the archaic myths did, the stories of martyrdom that were preserved in post-Abrahamic lore condemned the alleged sacrifice as an act of abominable atrocity. Both kinds of stories evoked a crowd committing, inciting or applauding the killing; but if the archaic myths condemned the victims and glorified the baying/lynching mob, the stories of martyrdom denounced and censured the evil intentions and blindness of the crowd while celebrating the righteousness and probity of the crowd’s victim – they blamed the mobs for prosecuting innocent victims. The God of post-Abrahamic religion would not recognize such killings as a manifestation of piety; through the lips of His prophet Hosea (Hosea 6: 6) He would announce: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’. In Girard’s words, the prophetic literature is a long march away from this violent social phenomenon that seems to have played an enormous role in human cultures before and even after the arrival of judicial systems

Martyr to Hero, Hero to Celebrity


. . . The prophetic literature of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels stand in absolute opposition to the mythical and sacrificial mentality of archaic religion . . . The truth of the sacrifice which is about to be revealed in the crucifixion will destroy once and for all, in the long run, the effectiveness of all sacrifices.

We may say that the truth of the sacrifice revealed in the crucifixion is that ‘might is not right’, or that might would not guarantee being in the right. Resisting the advice of the old English proverb, martyrs run with the hare, but stoutly refuse to hunt with the hounds. Hounds, as we know, hunt in packs; that circumstance gives the hare little chance, but does not add wisdom or virtue to the hounds’ murderous act, because there is no wisdom, let alone virtue, in numbers. Charges heaped upon the victim do not gain in truth by being yelled in chorus. Truth was and remains on the side of victim. Martyrs are the victims who knew that – and preferred dying to lying, thereby giving their death the significance of a testimony that there are truths that cannot be shouted down by however many coarse throats. Mattathias, the patriarch of the Maccabees, refused even to pretend to obey the command of Antiochus Epiphanes’ soldiers to make himself ‘abominable, unclean and profane’ by eating pork, though he entertained no doubt that death was to be the penalty for his disobedience.2 Knowing that the ‘crowd armed with swords and cudgels’ would soon climb the Mount of Olives to take him to his death, while his disciples ‘will all fall from their faith’, abandon him and run away, Jesus decided: ‘Let the scriptures be fulfilled.’3 Martyrs are people who act against overwhelming odds. Not just in the sense that their death is all but certain, but also in the sense that their ultimate sacrifice is unlikely to be appreciated, let alone given the respect it deserves, by onlookers: perhaps it will have to wait quite a long time even to be recognized as a sacrifice to a good cause. Girard coined the term ‘mimetic contagion’ to denote the probable behaviour of bystanders and willing or reluctant participants in the event. ‘The Gospels’, he says, ‘make it obvious that all witnesses of the crucifixion behave mimetically’: a mob’s fury is contagious, few people are immune, in that hue and cry everyone joins the hounds; at best some, like Pilate or Peter, will wash their hands of the mob’s fury – but they will do nothing to mitigate, let alone resist it.


Martyr to Hero, Hero to Celebrity

Martyrdom means solidarity with a smaller and weaker group, a group discriminated against, humiliated, ridiculed, hated and persecuted by the majority – but it is essentially a solitary sacrifice, even if it is prompted by loyalty to the cause and to the group which stands for that cause. Accepting martyrdom, the prospective victims cannot be sure that their death will indeed promote that cause and help to make its ultimate triumph certain. In the down-to-earth, pragmatic terms favoured by our own modern variety of rationality, their death is all but useless – perhaps even counterproductive, since the more of the faithful who die the martyr’s way, the fewer will remain to fight for the cause. Agreeing to martyrdom, the prospective victims of the mob’s fury put loyalty to the truth above all genuine or putative, individual or collective, earthly (material, tangible, rational and pragmatic) calculations of benefits or gains. This is what sets the martyr apart from the modern hero. The best martyrs could hope for in the way of gain was the ultimate proof of their own moral probity, repentance of sins, redemption of the soul; heroes, on the other hand, are modern – they calculate gains and losses, they want their sacrifice to be repaid. There is no such thing and there can’t be any such thing as ‘useless martyrdom’. But we frown upon, deprecate, laugh off cases of ‘useless heroism’, sacrifices that bring no profit . . . When I say ‘profit’, I don’t mean monetary gain; just like the martyrs, heroes can’t be accused of greed or any other selfish, mundane motives. Most of them do not do what they do because they expect repayment for their services or compensation for their troubles. They don’t care about their own comforts and deserts; they are ready for the ultimate sacrifice – but a sacrifice that brings an effect which otherwise would not be achieved, a sacrifice with a purpose that otherwise would be harder to come by. Bringing such a purpose closer makes their death worthwhile. To validate the loss of life, the purpose of death must offer the hero greater value than all the joys of continuing life on earth might bring. That value must survive the hero’s individual life, admittedly short and bound to end at the moment of death – and the hero’s death must contribute to that survival. While the sense of martyrdom does not depend on what happens in the world thereafter, the sense of heroism does. Resigning one’s life to no

Martyr to Hero, Hero to Celebrity


palpable effect, and so wasting the chance of investing gravity into one’s death, would not be an act of heroism but a testimony of miscalculation or an act of folly – even proof of a condemnable negligence of duty. In his modern incarnation, the ‘hero’ was born (or should we say reborn, mindful of the invocation/resurrection by the French Republic of the ancient Roman formula pro patria after centuries when the Christian notion of the ‘martyr’ ruled over the death of the Crusaders and other ‘holy war’ warriors?) at the threshold of the nation-building era. The modern reincarnation of the ‘hero’ – a person who dies to assure the survival of the nation – was a sideeffect of what George L. Mosse called the ‘nationalization of death’.4 At the threshold of the modern era Europe, divided into dynastic realms, was a mosaic of ethnic groups and languages, each one aiming to rise to the status of a nation-state (that is, a nation exercising complete and unshared state sovereignty over the territory it claimed, and a state pointing to the unity of nation’s interests as the justification of its demands for discipline) – but only few of them were numerous and resourceful enough to entertain a realistic chance of succeeding. Success was anything but a foregone conclusion, since there were too many competitors pursuing a similar purpose and so standing in the way of a claim to dominance, too many ‘minorities’ reluctant or not eager enough to abandon their own traditional ways and dissolve in the triumphant culture, too many ‘aliens’ unwilling or unable – or who would not be welcome – to assimilate. Building and fortifying a nation-state required an expunging of local or ethnic-bound customs, dialects and calendars, and their replacement with uniform patterns under the supervision of state ministries of internal affairs, education or culture. It required constant vigilance towards the neighbours over the state’s borders, even towards ostensibly friendly, peace-loving and innocuous neighbours, lest they grew impudent and started entertaining unsavoury ambitions when they said that one’s muscles were not flexed for long and the power of those muscles was not convincingly demonstrated (si vis pacem, para bellum was the favourite maxim of modern statesmen). And it required the silencing, isolating and incapacitating of the infidel, of the disloyal, the suspected turncoats and those who were merely lukewarm or not sufficiently convinced and


Martyr to Hero, Hero to Celebrity

enthusiastic among the people earmarked as the future nationalscitizens of the nation-state. The budding nations needed state power to feel secure, and the emergent state needed national patriotism to feel powerful. Each needed the other to survive, and both needed subjects/members ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of that survival. The era of nation-state building had to be a time of heroism – of heroic patriotism, to be precise. In most of its descriptions, modernity is presented as a time of secularization (‘everything sacred was profaned’, as young Marx and Engels memorably put it) and disenchantment. What is less often mentioned, however, though it should be, is that modernity also deified and enchanted the ‘nation’, the new authority – and so by proxy the man-made institutions that claimed to speak and act in its name. ‘The sacred’ was not so much disavowed as made the target of an ‘unfriendly takeover’: moved under different management and put in the service of the emergent nation-state. The same happened to the martyr: he was enlisted by the nation-state under a new name of the hero. As Mosse points out, ‘the death in war of a brother, husband or friend’ was seen – just as the death of a martyr was in the past – as a sacrifice; but ‘now, at least in public, the gain was said to outweigh the personal loss.’ The hero’s death was transcended, just as the death of the martyr had been – this time, not by the salvation of the immortal soul of the dying, but by the material immortality of the nation. Heldenhaine, jardins funèbres, Parchi della Rimembranza scattered all over Europe reminded visitors that a grateful nation was repaying the sacrifice of its sons with a never fading memory of their service. So too did the memorials erected in the capitals of Europe to celebrate the sacrifice of Unknown Soldiers and to hammer home the idea that neither military rank nor even the whole life lived up to the moment of ultimate sacrifice mattered for the heroic act to be appreciated: to let the living know that only the moment of death on the battlefield counted and retrospectively defined the meaning of life. Much water has flown under European bridges since the Sturm und Drang Periode of modern nation-state building. What was meticulously assembled then is now falling, or is taken, apart. Once indivisible, the sovereignty of the state is now cut in ever

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thinner slices and scattered all over continental, or indeed planetary, space. No state dares or wishes to claim undivided authority over its defensive capacity and legal order, or over the economic and cultural life of the population inhabiting its territory. The once complete and integral sovereignty of the state-nation evaporates upwards into the anonymous realm of global forces evading territorial allegiance and commitment, flows sideways into the increasingly deregulated and unmanageable hunting grounds of the finance and commodity markets, and trickles downwards into the privately owned workshops of life politics which are taking over (or are being burdened with) the tasks and worries whose management was once claimed by the state, which promised, and tried, to take care of them. No longer in full charge of the economy, security, or culture, the state cannot promise its subjects the whole-life protection from the cradle to the grave which it not so long ago strove to provide. Fewer promises mean, however, less need for the patriotic dedication and spiritual mobilization of its subjects. On the soil of impoverished expectations, no longer fertilized by promises and hopes, heroic patriotism is unlikely to grow; as it happens though, in the age of small professional armies the state no longer needs heroes. Satisfied consumers, busy running after their own affairs, are doing splendidly, thank you . . . In times of small professional armies, prime ministers don’t need citizens ready to die for them, but unlike the prime ministers of the era of universal military service and conscript armies they can go to war without asking citizens for consent, or even in spite of citizens’ protests (as long, that is, as the consumers in the citizens stay happy). The patriotic instincts and impulses for which the governments of our time have ever less use can now share the fate of the rest of the governmental properties of the past and be sold off to the highest private (not necessarily local) bidder: owners of restaurant chains, organizers of sports matches, managers of tourist agencies and, of course, the executives of marketing companies who would gladly sell their services to all of them and to whoever else was willing to buy. The liquid modern, consumer society settled in the affluent part of the globe has no room for either martyrs or heroes – since it undermines, derogates from and militates against the two values that prompted their demand and supply. First, it militates against


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the sacrifice of present satisfactions for the sake of distant goals; and so against the acceptance of protracted suffering for the sake of salvation in life after death – or, in the secular version of the same, delaying gratification now in the name of greater gains in future. Second, it questions the value of sacrificing individual satisfactions in the name of the well-being of a group or a ‘cause’ (indeed, it denies the existence of groups ‘greater than the sums of their parts’ and of causes more important than individual satisfaction). In short, the liquid modern consumer society degrades the ideals of the ‘long term’ and of ‘totality’. In a liquid modern setting that promotes and is sustained by consumer interests, neither of those ideals retains its past attraction, finds support in daily experience, is in tune with trained responses or chimes with acquired commonsense intuitions. Those ideals tend to be, accordingly, replaced with the values of instantaneous gratification and individual happiness. As liquid modern society advances, with its endemic consumerism, martyrs and heroes are in retreat. These days they find their last shelter among the peoples who still fight what for many (perhaps most) residents of the planet seems to be a war waged against the overwhelming odds and already lost; a war against the awesome global financial and military powers that besiege the few remaining virgin territories in order to implant their kind of ‘new life’ wherever they go – the kind of life that spells for those receiving it the end of life as they know it, and perhaps even the end of life as such. The most despairing and desperate among the besieged have few options left except to resort to the ultimate argument: the willing sacrifice of their own life – in the hope of giving testimony (however tragically contorted) to the value of the way of life that has been made all but impossible and is about to be denied to them forever. A dignified death appears to them to be the last chance of a dignity which has already been denied to them in life. Such people are pliable stuff in the hands of wily and crafty, ruthless and heartless manipulators. It is from their ranks that presentday terrorists are recruited. They are execrably distorted mutants of the old-style martyrs on whom equally deformed simulacra of old-style heroes have been grafted. Old-time martyrs were ready to suffer but not to make others suffer, since the effectiveness of willing martyrdom lay in the proof

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it was intended to offer of the immortal worthiness of the belief in whose defence the martyrs died; ‘heroism’, on the other hand, used to be measured by the number of enemies which the hero’s suicide destroyed. Martyrs of faith were not heroes, while the heroes of national wars would have shunned the label of martyrs because of what they and their eulogists alike condemned as the lamentable ineffectiveness of a martyr’s death. However virtuous martyrs and heroes could claim to be and could be claimed to be in their respective, different terms, once their qualities are mixed together they produce an incongruous and truly satanic combination . . . The liquid modern society of consumers renders the deeds of martyrs, heroes and all their hybrid versions all but incomprehensible and irrational, and so outrageous and repellent. That society promises easy happiness that can be attained through quite unheroic means and so ought to be, temptingly and gratifyingly, within reach of everybody (that is, every consumer). As to the martyrdom, and more generally any kind of suffering ‘for the sake of’, it re-presents it as the result of someone else’s misdeed or a case of the actor’s own misdemeanour that can only be explained by malice aforethought (in which case the culprits ought to be found and punished) or a psychological malfunction (in which case they should be subjected to therapy in the hope of cure). Unlike other past and present types of society, the society in question can be adequately described without resorting to the categories of ‘martyrdom’ and ‘heroism’. Instead, such a description would require two relatively new categories which this society has moved into the focus of public awareness: the category of victim and that of celebrity. In present-day society no one is expected to suffer pain unless pain has been administered by the proper authorities as a deserved punishment for misbehaviour. The question of the extent to which the pain administered matches the extent and the seriousness of the misbehaviour, and can therefore be viewed as fully and truly deserved, if often a hotly contested issue; the right to decide on that issue is one of the prime stakes in the struggle for power, and decisions reflecting the current hierarchy of forces remain binding (though not necessarily unquestioned) as long as that hierarchy persists. Suffering anything other than a well-tempered penalty for


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a crime or misdemeanour is perceived as avoidable and unjustified; if it does occur, someone has to be guilty of causing it, and there must be a culprit attached to the guilt. Each case of suffering is thus potentially, until proved otherwise, a case of victimization – and anyone in pain is (at least potentially) a victim. The naturalness with which suffering is explained away by the presumption of victimization might have a therapeutic effect on the sufferer by making the pain psychologically somewhat easier to endure. But it might also turn the attention of sufferers away from the genuine cause of their suffering – so prolonging rather than shortening, intensifying rather than alleviating the pain (most notably by explaining a personal defeat by a haphazard instance of some other person’s ill intentions, rather than by a social arrangement which systematically allows blows to be delivered at random and makes the delivering of blows ubiquitous, routine and inevitable – and thus keeping that arrangement safe from criticism). That ‘naturalness’ also makes it tempting to include any discomfort or any frustrated ambition in the range of conditions that are cast under the rubric of (unjustified) suffering. Pinpointing and pointing out a deemed culprit for suffering has another advantage: it may be followed by a search for compensation. A person or a legal subject may be sued, and there is no shortage of legal experts eager to take up the case on the sufferer’s behalf; apart from the material benefits which the sufferers and their solicitors may derive from a positive verdict of the court, the supposition of victimhood will then be authoritatively confirmed and so the therapeutic impact of the explanation-of-pain-byvictimization will be strengthened, even if the causes of pain emerge from the procedure intact. The culture of victimhood-and-compensation harks back to the ancient tradition of vendetta which modernity tried hard to outlaw and bury, but which in liquid modern times seems to be emerging from its shallow grave reincarnated. That tradition was already brought into focus and became a matter of public concern at the very beginning of Europe’s long, convoluted and turbulent history – as documented in the ‘Oresteian trilogy’ of Aeschylus’ dramas. In one play, encouraged by the chorus (‘to shed blood for blood shed . . . evil for evil . . . is no impiety!’), Electra – orphaned by her father murdered by her mother’s lover – seeks vengeance and calls her brother Orestes to

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kill the killers: ‘let those who killed taste death for death . . . My curse to match their curse, wickedness for wickedness.’ The chorus is delighted: ‘let hatred get hatred in turn, let murderous blow meet blow that murdered’; ‘the gods ordain that blood by murder shed cries from the ground for blood to flow again.’ Another massacre duly follows, closing one account of wrongs not repaid only to open another. At the end of the play, the confused and brokenhearted chorus cries: ‘When shall the ancestral curse relent, and sink to rest, its fury spent?’ There is no one left to answer . . . It is only in the next part of the trilogy that the answer is forthcoming, from Athena, the goddess of wisdom: ‘Fair trial, fair judgment, ended in an even vote, which brings to you neither dishonour nor defeat.’ ‘Then quench your anger: let no indignation rain pestilence on our soil, corroding every seed till the whole land is sterile desert.’5 As it happens, our market-centred society has come across another solution which Athena, all her unquestionable wisdom notwithstanding, failed to anticipate. The monetary compensation sought by the victims of the liquid modern era for the wrongs they have suffered (victimization, like everything else in such a society, can have and should have a price tag attached) seems to collate the attractions of both worlds. It gives vent to the ancient lust for vengeance, while stopping the vendetta short of the bloodshed that would call for more blood to be spilt. Most importantly, though, it takes the vengeance out of the avenger’s hands. ‘Celebrities’ are similarly prominent among the cast of liquid modern characters. In Daniel J. Boorstin’s witty definition composed as long ago as 1961, ‘the celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knownness’ (twenty years later Boorstin would surely add ‘her’ to ‘his’). By contrast with the case of martyrs or heroes, whose fame was derived from their deeds and whose flame was kept alive in order to commemorate those deeds and so to restate and reaffirm their lasting importance, the reasons which brought celebrities into the limelight are the least important causes of their ‘knownness’. The decisive factor here is notoriety, the abundance of their images and the frequency with which their names are mentioned in public broadcasts and the private conversations that follow them. Celebrities are on everybody’s tongue; they are every household’s


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household names. Like martyrs and heroes, they provide a sort of glue that brings and holds together otherwise diffuse and scattered aggregates of people; one would be tempted to say that nowadays they are the principal factors generating communities were not the communities in question not only imagined, as in the society of the solid modern era, but also imaginary, apparition-like; and above all loosely knit, frail, volatile, and recognized as ephemeral. It is mostly for that reason that celebrities are so comfortably at home in the liquid modern setting: liquid modernity is their natural ecological niche. Unlike fame, notoriety is as episodic as life itself in a liquid modern setting; the cavalcade of celebrities, each one leaping out of nowhere only to sink shortly into oblivion, is eminently suited to marking the succession of episodes into which lifetimes are sliced. And unlike the ‘imagined’ communities of the solid modern era which, once imagined, tended to congeal into tough realities and for that reason needed the eternal memory of their martyrs and heroes to cement them, the imaginary communities wrapped around eminently restless celebrities who hardly ever outstay their public welcome call for no commitment; still less for a lasting, let alone ‘permanent’ commitment. However massive the worship, strident the enthusiasm and sincere the fans’ adoration of a celebrity might be, the worshippers’ future is not mortgaged: everybody’s options are kept open and the congregation of worshippers can be dissolved and disperse at any moment, allowing each celebrant to join another celebrity cult of his or her choice. Furthermore, the cult round a celebrity (unlike the adoration of martyrs or heroes that limits worshippers’ freedom of choice) has no monopolistic aspirations. However competitive the celebrities may be, they are not really in competition. The cult of one celebrity does not exclude, let alone prohibit, joining the retinue of another. All combinations are allowed and indeed welcomed, because each one of them, and particularly their profusion, enhances the allure of celebrity worship as such. The supply of celebrities is virtually infinite, and so is the number of their possible combinations. As a result, however numerous the band of followers may be, each of its members can retain a gratifying sense of the individuality, even uniqueness, of her or his choice. Again, they have the cake despite having eaten it: the kind of reassurance which only a mass cult can offer comes in a package deal with the

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satisfaction of matching up to the standards set for its individual members by the society of individuals. So here we are now. How long we will stay here? I suppose that the denizens of the world that genuflected before martyrs and was in awe of their self-immolation could hardly imagine a world that would venerate a brave new era of modern heroes – just as that world which they could not imagine would find it hard to adumbrate the coming era of victims and celebrities. Prudence advises therefore against the temptation to make facile extrapolations and give hurried answers to the question above. One thing we can be sure of, however, is that the story of the long march from martyrs to celebrities should not be viewed as a statement of history’s intractable laws and irreversible tendency, let alone as another declaration of the ‘end of history’ – but as a career report of a process that is far from finished and very much in statu nascendi.

3 Culture: Obstreperous and Unmanageable

The idea of ‘culture’ was coined and named, in the third quarter of the eighteenth century, as a shorthand term for the management of human thought and behaviour. ‘Culture’ was not born as a descriptive term, a summary name for the already achieved, observed and recorded regularities of population-wide conduct; it was only about a century later, when culture-managers looked back on what they had already come to view as their creation, and, following God’s example in creating the world, declared to be good, that ‘culture’ came to mean the way one type of ‘normatively regulated’, regular human conduct differed from another type, under different management. The idea of ‘culture’ was born as a declaration of intent. The term ‘culture’ entered the vocabulary as a name for a purposeful activity. At the threshold of the modern era men and women, no longer accepted as ‘unproblematically given’, as preordained links in the chain of divine creation (‘divine’ meaning non-negotiable and not to be meddled with), indispensable even if mean, paltry and leaving much to be desired, came to be seen as both pliable and in dire need of repair and/or improvement. The term ‘culture’ was conceived inside the family of concepts that included terms like ‘cultivation’, ‘husbandry’, ‘breeding’ – all meaning improvement, either in the prevention of impairment or in the arresting and reversing of deterioration. What the farmer did to the seed through attentive care all the way from seedling to

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crop could and ought to be done to incipient human beings by education and training. Humans were not born, but made. They still needed to become human – and in the course of becoming human (a trajectory full of hurdles and traps which they would not be able to avoid or negotiate if they were left to themselves) they had to be guided by other humans, educated and trained in the art of educating and training humans. ‘Culture’ appeared in the vocabulary less than a hundred years after another crucial modern concept, that of ‘managing’, meaning according to the Oxford English Dictionary ‘to cause (persons, animals, etc.) to submit to one’s control’, ‘to operate upon’, ‘to succeed in accomplishing’; and more than a hundred years before another, synthesizing sense of ‘management’, ‘to contrive to get along or pull through’. To manage, in a nutshell, meant to get things done in a way people would not follow on their own and unattended. It meant to redirect events according to one’s own design and will. In other words, ‘to manage’ (to control the flow of events) came to mean the manipulation of probabilities: making certain conduct (openings or responses) of ‘persons, animals, etc.’ more likely to take place than it would otherwise be, while making some other moves less likely or preferably utterly unlikely to happen. In the last account, ‘to manage’ means to limit the freedom of the managed. If ‘agriculture’ is the vision of the cornfield as seen from the perspective of the farmer, the idea of ‘culture’ metaphorically applied to humans was the vision of the social world as viewed through the eyes of the ‘farmers of humans’: the managers. The postulate or presumption of management was not a later addition and not an external intrusion: from the beginning and throughout its history it has been integral to the concept of human culture. Deep in the heart of the ‘culture’ concept lies a premonition or tacit acceptance of an unequal, asymmetrical social relation – the split between the actors and the recipients or sufferers of action, between the acting and bearing the impact of acting; between the managers and the managed, the knowing and the ignorant, the refined and the crude. Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno pointed out that the ‘inclusion of the objective spirit of an age in the single word “culture” betrays from the onset the administrative view, the task of which, looking down from on high, is to assemble, distribute, evaluate and organize’.1 And he unpacks the defining traits


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of that spirit: ‘The demand made by administration upon culture is essentially heteronomous: culture – no matter what form it takes – is to be measured by norms not inherent to it and which have nothing to do with the quality of the object, but rather with some type of abstract standards imposed from without . . .’2 As is only to be expected in the case of an asymmetrical social relationship, quite a different sight tends to open up before the eyes that scan that relationship from the opposite, receiving end of administrative action (that is, before the eyes of the ‘managed’): it is the sight of an unwarranted and uncalled-for repression, and brings a verdict of illegitimacy and injustice. In that other version of the story of the relationship, culture appears to be ‘opposed to administration’, since, as Oscar Wilde put it (provocatively, in Adorno’s opinion), culture is useless (or so, at least, we are told is the case so long as the managers have a monopoly on the drawing of the line separating use from waste). It represents the claims of the particular against the homogenizing pressure of the general, and it ‘involves an irrevocably critical impulse towards the status quo and all institutions thereof’.3 The clash between the two narratives is inescapable. It can be neither prevented nor pacified once it comes out into the open. The managers–managed relationship is intrinsically agonistic; the two sides pursue opposite purposes and are able to cohabit solely in a conflict-ridden, militant and always battle-ready mode. Adorno recognizes the inevitability of such a conflict. But he also points out that the antagonists need each other; however inconvenient and unpleasant the state of overt, rumbling or clandestine enmity may be, the greatest misfortune that could befall culture is a complete and finite victory over its antagonist: ‘culture suffers damage when it is planned and administrated; if it is left to itself, however, everything cultural threatens not only to lose possibility of effect, but its very existence as well.’4 In these words, he restates the sad conclusion at which he arrived when he was working (with Max Horkheimer) on the Dialectic of Enlightenment: that ‘the history of the old religions and schools like that of the modern parties and revolutions’ teaches that the price of survival is ‘the transformation of ideas into domination’.5 This lesson of history ought to be particularly diligently studied, absorbed and put into practice by professional ‘culture creators’ who carry the main burden of the transgressive proclivity of

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culture and make it their consciously embraced vocation, practising critique and transgression as their own mode of being: The appeal to the creators of culture to withdraw from the process of administration and keep distant from it has a hollow ring. Not only would this deprive them of the possibility of earning a living, but also of every effect, every contact between work of art and society, something which the work of greatest integrity cannot do without, if it is not to perish.6

A paradox, indeed. Or a vicious circle . . . Culture cannot live in peace with management, particularly with an obtrusive and insidious management, and most particularly with a management aimed at twisting culture’s exploring/experimenting urge so that it fits into the frame of rationality the managers have drawn. Management’s plot against the endemic freedom of culture is a perpetual casus belli. On the other hand, culture creators need managers if they wish (as most of them, bent on ‘improving the world’, do) to be seen, heard and listened to, and to stand a chance of seeing their task/project through to completion. Otherwise they risk marginality, impotence and oblivion. Culture creators have no choice but to live with that paradox. However loudly they protest at the pretensions and interference of managers, they have to seek a modus co-vivendi with administration or sink into irrelevance. They may choose between managements pursuing different purposes and trimming the liberty of cultural creation according to different designs – but certainly not between acceptance and rejection of administration as such. Not realistically, at any rate. This is so because the paradox in question stems from the fact that, all the mutual mud-slinging notwithstanding, culture creators and managers are bound to share the same household and partake of the same endeavour. Theirs is a sibling rivalry. They are both after the same target, sharing the same goal: to prod humans into behaving differently, and so to make the world different from what it is at the moment and/or from what it would be likely to turn into if it were left alone. Both of them derive their raison d’être from a critique of the status quo (even if their declared purposes are to conserve it or to restore it to the status quo ante). If they quarrel, it is not about whether the world should


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be an object of constant intervention or left to its own inner tendencies, but about the direction the intervention should take. More often than not they wrangle solely about who is to be in charge; who owns, or ought to be given, the right to decide on the direction, and who has the prerogative of handling the tools for monitoring its pursuit, as well as of selecting the measures by which its progress will be assessed. Hannah Arendt flawlessly spelled out the gist of the conflict: An object is cultural depending on the duration of its permanence: its durable character is opposed to its functional aspect, that aspect which would make it disappear from the phenomenal world through use and wear and tear. . . . Culture finds itself under threat when all the objects of the world produced currently or in the past are treated solely as functions of the vital social processes – as if they had no other reason but the satisfaction of some need – and it does not matter whether the needs in question are elevated or base.7

Culture aims, so to speak, ‘above the head’ of whatever currently passes for ‘reality’. It is not concerned with what happens to have been put on the agenda of the day and defined as the imperative of the moment; at least it strives to transcend the limiting impact of ‘topicality’ so defined, and struggles to free itself of its demands. Being used/consumed on the spot and dissolving in the process of instantaneous consumption are neither the destination of cultural products nor the criterion of their value. Arendt would say that culture is after beauty – and I suggest that she chose that name for culture’s concerns because the idea of ‘beauty’ is the very epitome of an elusive target that defies rational/causal explanation, that has no purpose or visible use, that serves nothing and cannot legitimate itself by reference to any need previously felt, defined and lined up for gratification. An object is cultural in as far as it outlives any use that might have attended its creation. Such an image of culture differs sharply from common opinion, also prevalent until recently in academic literature – an opinion which casts culture among the homeostatic appliances that preserve the monotonous reproduction of social reality, its mêmeté, appliances aimed at the protection and continuation of its sameness over time. The notion of culture common to writings

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classified under the rubric of social science has been one of a stabilizing mechanism begetting routine and repetition, an instrument of inertia – not at all a ferment that prevents social reality from standing still and forces it into perpetual self-transcendence, as Adorno and Arendt would insist that it has to be. In orthodox anthropological descriptions (one society = one culture), ‘culture’ appears as ‘a handmaiden’ of ‘social structure’, an efficient tool of ‘tension management’ and ‘pattern maintenance’; it preserves intact the given distribution of behavioural probabilities needed to keep the shape ‘of the system’ unchanged, and fights back any occasional breaches of the norm, disruptions and deviations threatening to throw the ‘system’ out of its ‘equilibrium’. Such an ‘eternal return’ to sameness was the utopian horizon of a properly managed (or, to recall Talcott Parsons’s once ubiquitous phrase, ‘principally coordinated’) social totality, and the stability of the distribution of probabilities – tightly controlled by a set of homeostatic contraptions among which ‘culture’ was assigned pride of place – was widely presumed to be a necessary condition of all efforts to proceed towards that horizon. A ‘properly managed’ social system was seen as a kind of totality inside which any deviant behaviour of human units will be promptly spotted, isolated before irreparable harm can be done and swiftly defused or eliminated. Inside that vision of a society as a self-equilibrating system (that is, remaining obstinately the same despite the pressures of counter vailing forces), ‘culture’ stands for the managers’ dream come true: for an effective resistance to change. And this is how the role of culture used to be most commonly perceived a mere two or three decades ago. Much has happened, though, in those two or three decades. To start with, the ‘managerial revolution mark two’ took place, conducted surreptitiously under the banner of ‘neoliberalism’: managers switching from ‘normative regulation’ to ‘seduction’, from day-to-day policing to PR, and from the stolid, overregulated, routine-based panoptical model of power to domination through diffuse, unfocused uncertainty, précarité and a ceaseless, haphazard disruption of routines. And then came a gradual dismantling of the state-serviced framework in which the paramount parts of life politics used to be conducted, and a shifting/drifting of life politics on to the domain presided over by a consumer


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market thriving on an incurable frailty of routines and their rapid supersession: rapid enough to prevent any hardening into habits or norms. In this new setting, there is little demand for the bridling, defusing or taming of the noxious transgressive urge and that compulsive experimentation dubbed ‘culture’ with a view to the harnessing of both to the vehicles of self-equilibration and continuity. Or at least the orthodox carriers of that demand – the managers of nation-building states – have lost their interest in harnessing them, and the new scriptwriters and directors of the cultural drama wish for everything except for the conduct of human beings to be tamed, regular, routine-bound, monotonous and inflexible now that those humans have been recycled into consumers first and last. With the principal characters of the drama of ‘solid modernity’ leaving the stage in droves or reduced to the half-mute role of supernumeraries, and with their replacements reluctant to emerge from the wings, our contemporaries find themselves acting in what can be properly called, following Hannah Arendt and through her Bertold Brecht, ‘dark times’8. Withdrawal from politics and the public realm will turn, Hannah Arendt wrote prophetically, into the ‘basic attitude of the modern individual, who in his alienation from the world can truly reveal himself only in privacy and in the intimacy of face-to face encounters’.9 It is that newly gained, enforced privacy and the ‘intimacy of face-to-face encounters’, the inseparable companions of ‘dark times’, that are serviced by the consumer market, promoting the universal contingency of the consumer life on which it thrives – capitalizing on the fluidity of social placements and the frailty of human bonds, on the contentious and so unstable and unpredictable status of individual rights, obligations and commitments, on a present that lies beyond the grasp of its denizens and on a future stubbornly and incurably opaque and obscure. Under pressure and because of impotence, yet with little resistance, state governments and their managers abandon the ambitions of normative regulation of which they once stood accused by Adorno and other critics of the emergent ‘fully administered mass society’ – putting themselves instead in the ‘agentic state’ and assuming the role of ‘honest brokers’ of the market’s needs (read: irresistible pressures). Culture creators may still resent, as they do, the obtrusive intervention of the managers, who insist – true to the habit of

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managers – on measuring cultural performance by extrinsic criteria, alien to the irrational flow of cultural creativity, and on using their power and the resources they command to secure obedience to the rules they set. This principal objection to interference is not however, as has been argued before, a novel departure, but just another chapter in a long story of ‘sibling rivalry’ with no end in sight. For better or worse, for better and worse, cultural creations need managers – lest they should die in the same ivory tower where they were conceived . . . What are truly novel on the other hand are the criteria which present-day managers, in their new role as agents of market forces rather than of the powers of the nation-building state, deploy to assess, ‘audit’, ‘monitor’, judge, censure, reward and punish their wards. Naturally, they are consumer-market criteria, the sort that set a preference for instant consumption, instant gratification and instant profit. A consumer market catering for long-term needs, not to mention eternity, would be a contradiction in terms. A consumer market propagates rapid circulation, a shorter distance from use to waste and waste disposal, and the immediate replacement of goods that are no longer profitable. All that stands in jarring opposition to the nature of cultural creation. And so the novelty is a parting of the ways of the siblings still engaged in rivalry. The stake of the chapter currently being written of the age-long tug of war is not only the answer to the question of ‘who is in charge’, but the sheer substance of ‘being in charge’ – its purpose and its consequences. We may go a step (a small step, as it were) further and say that the stake is the survival of culture as we have come to know it since the days when the walls of the Altamira caves were painted. Can culture survive the demise of durability, perpetuity, infinity, those first ‘collateral casualties’ of the triumph of the consumer market? The answer to that question is that we don’t truly know – though we may have valid reasons to suspect a ‘no’, and then, following Hans Jonas’s advice to the denizens of the ‘era of uncertainty’, to put more trust in the oracles of the ‘prophets of doom’ . . . To subordinate cultural creativity to the criteria of the consumer market means to demand of cultural creations that they accept the prerequisite of all erstwhile bona fide consumer products: that they legitimize themselves in terms of market value (and their current market value, to be sure) or perish.


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The first question addressed to cultural offers that claim validity and bid for recognition is about sufficient demand, supported by an adequate capacity to pay. But let us note that due to the notoriously capricious, freak and volatile nature of consumer demand, the records of the consumer market’s rule over culture are full of mistaken prognoses, evaluations that were wide of the mark and grossly incorrect decisions. In practice, that strategy and the practice of that rule boil down to compensating for the absence of quality analysis with an overshooting of potential targets and a hedging of bets; in other words, with wasteful excess and excessive waste (G. B. Shaw, a dedicated amateur photographer in addition to his playwriting, advised photographers to follow the example of the cod where each fish must spawn a thousand eggs so that one mature cod can be produced; it seems that the whole of the consumer industry, and the marketing managers who keep it alive, follow Shaw’s advice). Such a strategy may sometimes insure against the exorbitant losses caused by errors in the analysis of cost and benefit; it will do little or nothing, however, to assure that cultural products stand a chance of revealing their true quality when no market demand for them is in sight (an eminently short sight, given the endemic ‘short-termist’ nature of the calculations). It is now the prospective clients, their numbers and the volume of cash at their disposal that decide (though often by default rather than design) the fate of cultural creations. The line dividing ‘successful’ cultural products (therefore those commanding public attention) from failed cultural products (that is, those unable to break through into notoriety) is drawn by sales, ratings and boxoffice returns (according to Daniel J. Boorstin’s witty definitions, ‘a bestseller’ is a book which somehow sold well ‘simply because it was selling well’). But the theorists and critics of contemporary art have not managed to establish a correlation between the virtues of a cultural creation and its celebrity status. If a correlation can be found, it will be found between celebrity status and the power of the brand, the logo that lifts the incipient objet d’art from obscurity into the limelight. The contemporary equivalent of good fortune or a stroke of luck is Charles Saatchi stopping his car in front of an obscure sidestreet shop selling some bric-à-brac which the obscure side-street persons who made them dreamed of being and craved to be pro-

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claimed works of art. Objects will turn into works of art, and overnight, once they are put on display in a gallery whose entry gates separate good art (that is, the art to be admired, bought and boasted about) from bad art (that is, the art not to have any truck with and to be ashamed of buying), and art from non-art. The name of the gallery rubs its glory on to the names of the artists being exhibited. In the vexingly confusing world of flexible norms and floating values, this is – not unexpectedly – a universal trend. As Naomi Klein succinctly put it, ‘many of today’s best-known manufacturers no longer produce products and advertise them, but rather buy products and “brand” them.’10 The brand and the logo attached (it is the shopping bag with the name of the gallery that gives meaning to the purchases inside) do not add value, they are value, the market value, and thus the sole value that counts, the value as such. It is not just big companies that invest value into products through branding, or devalue products by withdrawing their logo. Perhaps the most potent brands are properly advertised and hyped events: celebrity events, massively attended according to Boorstin’s criteria thanks to being known for their well-knownness and selling masses of tickets because the tickets are selling well. ‘Events’ have an advantage over company-fixed brands which have to count on the lasting loyalty of faithful clients. Events are better attuned to the notoriously short span of public memory and the cut-throat competition between enticements vying for consumers’ attention. Events, like all bona fide consumer products, bear a ‘use-by’ date; their designers and supervisors may leave long-term concerns out of their calculations (with the double benefit of huge savings and a confidence-inspiring resonance with the spirit of the age), planning and catering for (to recall George Steiner’s apt phrase) ‘maximal impact and instant obsolescence’. The spectacular (literally and metaphorically) career of the fixed-time event as the most effective and ever more widely employed form of branding chimes well with the universal tendency of the liquid modern setting. In that setting, all cultural products – inanimate objects as much as educated humans – tend to be enlisted in the service of ‘projects’, recognized as one-off and short-lived undertakings. And, as a research team quoted by Naomi Klein found out, ‘you can indeed brand not only sand, but also wheat, beef, brick, metals, concrete, chemicals, corn grits and


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an endless variety of commodities, traditionally considered immune to the process’11 and believed up to now (wrongly, as it has transpired) to be able to rely on their intrinsic merits and prove their worthiness just by unfolding and demonstrating their own excellence. The ‘consumerist syndrome’ to which contemporary culture is increasingly surrendered centres on an emphatic denial of the virtue of procrastination, of the ‘delay of satisfaction’ precept – those foundational principles of the ‘society of producers’ or ‘productivist society’. In the inherited hierarchy of recognized values, the ‘consumerist syndrome’ has dethroned duration and elevated transience. It has put the value of novelty above that of lasting. It would be of course as unjust as it is unwise to lay the blame for the plight in which cultural creation finds itself today on consumer industry and consumer industry alone. That industry is well geared to the form of life which I call ‘liquid modernity’. That industry and that form of life are attuned to each other and reinforce each other’s grip on the choices the men and women of our times may realistically make. Liquid modern culture no longer feels itself to be a culture of learning and accumulating like those cultures recorded in historians’ and ethnographers’ reports. It seems instead a culture of disengagement, discontinuity and forgetting. That last phrase – is it not a contradiction in terms? This is the big question, perhaps the life-and-death question as far as culture is concerned. For centuries culture lived in an uneasy symbiosis with management, tussling uncomfortably, sometimes suffocating, in the managers’ embrace – but also running to managers for shelter and emerging reinvigorated and strengthened from the encounter. Will culture survive the change of management? Will it be allowed anything but a butterfly-like, ephemeral existence? Will the new management, true to the new management style, limit its wardenship to asset-stripping? Will the cemetery of deceased or aborted ‘cultural events’ replace the rising slope as a suitable metaphor for culture? Willem de Kooning has suggested that in this world of ours ‘content is a glimpse’, a fugitive vision, a look in passing.12 While a most incisive analyst of the twists and turns of postmodern and post-postmodern culture, Yves Michaud, suggests that aesthetics,

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culture’s forever elusive and stubbornly pursued target, is these days consumed and celebrated in a world emptied, and void, of works of art13 – assumed to be lasting additions to the world . . . Reflecting on the state and prospects of contemporary art, Tom Wolfe mused that we’ve got rid of representational objects, the third dimension, dye stuff, technique, frame and canvas . . . but what about the wall itself? The image of the work of art as a thing on the wall – is it not premodern?14 Jacques Villeglé, a practising artist, keen photographer and painter of huge canvases hanging on the walls of all the most prestigious Parisian salons of art, thinks of a different kind of wall: a thoroughly postmodern contraption, a wall facing the street where the action unfolds, a window rather than a part of the cage/shelter that under the modernist rule used to define the difference between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ of arts. The walls that gape from Villeglé’s canvases pasted over the gallery walls are walls in the city, those living, constantly unfinished and constantly updated records of the eminently modern art – the art of modern living. These walls are the very places where the blatant or surreptitious but always inexorable labour of living can be found, revealed and recorded in order to be transferred later inside the museum’s walls to be reincarnated as objets d’art. Villeglé’s objects are the boards customized to carry public notices and announcements, posters and advertisements; or just the stretches of walls that separate and hide private residences and rows of commercial buildings – those plots of brickwork whose pristine blandness were a challenge and a temptation for the printers, distributors and pasters of bills, a temptation impossible to resist in a postmodern city filled to the brim with sights and sounds vying for attention. (Are not posters the weeds of the information society that invade each and any root-free scrap of soil? Are they not the weeds in the gardens of communication? Are not the blank walls, and all flat surfaces carrying no messages, the updated, liquid modern version of that ‘void’ which all nature, in this case the nature of information society, abhors?) Purpose-made billboards or walls invaded, annexed and absorbed by the advancing troops of the empire of information: this does not truly matter. Once fixed on Villeglé’s canvases, they hardly betray their different pasts. They all look shockingly alike, whether they have been pasted and pasted over on Boulevard de


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la Chapelle, or on Haussmann, Malesherbes or rue Littré; or on Boulevard Marne or rue des Écoles; or on Saint Lazare, on Faubourg St-Martin or at the crossing of Sèvres and Montparnasse. Each one of them is an uncanny medley of graveyards and building sites; a meeting point for things about to die and things about to be born in order to die a bit later. The fragrance of fresh glue fights here with the odour of putrefying corpses. Affiches lacérées . . . scraps of torn paper fly over would-be scraps yet to be torn. Half-smiles on salvaged halves of faces; single eyes or solitary ears with no twins; knees and elbows with nothing to connect and hold them together. Cries that fall silent before reaching comprehension, messages that dissolve and vanish in a fraction of a sentence, arrested and garrotted well short of the birthplace of meaning; unfinished calls or sentences with nowhere to start. These scrapheaps are full of life, though. Nothing stays still here; everything there is is on temporary leave from elsewhere or on a trip to somewhere else. All homes are only halfway inns. Those boards and walls, overcrowded with layer on layer of meanings that were once, would have been or might still be, are snapshots of history in the making, history that proceeds by shredding its traces: history as a factory of rejects, of waste. Neither creation nor destruction, neither learning nor genuine forgetting: just livid evidence of the futility, nay utter silliness, of such distinctions. Nothing is born here to live long and nothing definitely dies. Manolo Valdes’s canvases are also huge, and also remarkably like each other. Whatever message they convey, they repeat, with unctuous yet passionate persistence, over and over again, canvas by canvas. Valdes paints/collates/composes/sticks together faces. Or, rather, a single face – a single woman’s face. Each canvas is material evidence of another beginning, another go, another attempt to finish the portrait. Or is it rather a testimony to a job completed a while ago but soon after decried as obsolete and condemned? The canvas was frozen, for sure, the moment it was pinned to the gallery wall – but on the way up or down? Aller or retour? You tell me . . . For your or my money, you won’t be able to tell the ‘forward’ from the ‘backward’. Just as in the opposition between creation and destruction, this distinction has lost its sense – or perhaps it never had one. That void now laid bare where meaning was assumed to reside used to be a secret that was closely guarded by all those who insisted that ‘forward’ was the right

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name for where they, the forward-looking people, were looking; it was they who averred that ‘creation’ was the proper name for the destruction they, the creative people, accomplished. At least this is the message which Valdes’s canvases, in unison, intone; perhaps their only message. Valdes’s collages have been laboriously patched together, layer by layer, from bits and pieces of hessian, some dyed, some unashamed of the erstwhile blandness of jute or hemp, some primed to be painted over, some already shedding crumbs of the dried-up paint with which they were overlaid before. Or have they rather been torn apart from a canvas already complete, seamless, whole and wholesome? Patches are poorly glued – loose ends hang in the air – but again it is anything but clear whether they are about to be pressed on to the other cuttings beneath, or are in the course of coming unstuck and falling off. Are these collages caught in the process of creation, or are they rather in a state of advanced decomposition? Are these bits and pieces of hessian still-not-fixed, or already-unfixed? Are they fresh and immature, or used up and putrescent? The message is: it does not matter, and you would not know what was what even if it did. Braun-Vega, exhibiting at the fifth Art-Paris Salon inside the Louvre Carousel, paints, one would say, impossible encounters: a nude by Velázquez in the company of Picasso’s bathers of Avignon, watched by a Paris policeman in full twenty-first century gear; Pope Pius IX reading a newspaper with a recent pronouncement by John Paul II; Bruegel’s jolly peasants cavorting in a state-ofthe-art nouvelle cuisine restaurant. Impossible encounters? In a world of moribund life and undead dead the improbable has turned inevitable, the extraordinary is routine. Everything is possible, indeed unavoidable, once life and death have lost the distinction that bestows on them their meaning, having both become similarly revocable and until-further-notice. It was after all that very distinction which endowed time with linearity, which set apart transience from duration and injected sense into the idea of progress, degeneration and points of no return. With that distinction gone, none of these oppositions constitutive of the modern order retain any substance. Villeglé, Valdes and Braun-Vega are representative artists of the liquid modern era. Of an era that has lost self-confidence, and with it the courage of imagining and sketching (let alone pursuing)


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models of perfection, the condition that neither calls nor allows for further improvement and in which all further change may only be a change for the worse. Unlike the preceding era of ‘solid’ modernity that lived towards ‘eternity’ (shorthand for a state of perpetual, monotonous and irrevocable sameness) – liquid modernity sets itself no objective and draws no finishing line; more precisely, it assigns the quality of permanence solely to the state of transience. Time flows – it no longer ‘marches on’. There is change, always change, ever new change, but no destination, no finishing point, and no anticipation of a mission accomplished. Each lived-through moment is pregnant with a new beginning and the end: once sworn antagonists, now Siamese twins. The artists discussed here replicate in their works the defining features of the liquid modern experience. Cancellation of the oppositions between creative and destructive acts, learning and forgetting, forward and backward steps, as well as cutting the pointer off the arrow of time: these are the marks of lived reality which Villeglé, Valdes and Braun-Vega recycle into canvases fit to be hung on gallery walls. They are not the only ones: digesting those novel qualities of the Lebenswelt and articulating their experience are perhaps the major preoccupation of the arts now that they have been cast into a world without ‘sitters’ – a world no longer trusted to sit still for the length of time it would take for the artist to complete its pictorial representation. It is expressed over and over again – in the tendency to reduce the lifespan of products of the arts to a performance, a happening, at the most to the duration of a ‘from–to’ exhibition; in the preference for frail and friable, eminently degradable and perishable materials among the stuffs of which art objects are made; in the earth works unlikely to be visited by many or to survive for long given the caprices of the inclement climate; all in all – in incorporating the imminence of decay and disappearance into the material presence of artistic creation. As de Kooning postulated: ‘content is a glimpse.’ And as Yves Michaud summed it all up, the space in which the aesthetic celebrates its ultimate triumph is emptied of ‘works of art’ – at least works of art ‘as we knew them’, that is as precious and rare, ‘auratic’ objects, triggering unique, sublime and refined experience on unique occasions and in unique places, and doing it all over long, perhaps infinite stretches of time.15

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Into the slope of a hill overlooking the approach to Saltdal, a little town in Nørland, the northernmost province of Norway, the artist Gediminas Urbonas has inserted four containers, each with a work of art inside. This is an unusual sight in the otherwise drearily monotonous landscape close to the permafrost of the Arctic Circle, and so almost all passing drivers stop their cars and climb up the slope to admire whatever might have been put inside the containers. In three containers, they will find a regular objet d’art alongside a ready-made and a bizarre found object. They will also discover that the fourth container is empty; or more to the point, that it contains no material object, though despite (or because of) that it is filled up with meaning. Invariably, each casual visitor spends most of her or his time on the slope contemplating the empty hole . . . Rauschenberg once erased a few of the drawings of his friend de Kooning and put them, the blank though stained sheets, on display alongside other, unerased sketches . . . It is representative art we have discussed here, and Villeglé, Valdes, Braun-Vega, Urbonas and Rauschenberg are representative artists, conceivably the most representative artists of the world they represent: the liquid modern world.

4 Seeking Shelter in Pandora’s Box, or Fear, Security and the City

‘In the absence of existential comfort, we have now come to settle for safety, or the pretence of safety,’ write the editors of the Hedgehog Review in their introduction to a special issue dedicated to fear.1 The ground on which our life prospects are presumed to rest is admittedly shaky – as are our jobs and the companies that offer them, our partners and networks of friends, the standing we enjoy in wider society and the self-esteem and self-confidence that come with it. ‘Progress’, once the most extreme manifestation of radical optimism and a promise of universally shared and lasting happiness, has moved all the way to the opposite, dystopian and fatalistic pole of anticipation. It now stands for the threat of relentless and inescapable change that augurs not peace and respite but continuous crisis and strain, forbidding any moment of rest; a sort of game of musical chairs in which a second’s inattention results in irreversible defeat and exclusion with no appeal allowed. Instead of great expectations and sweet dreams, ‘progress’ evokes an insomnia full of nightmares of ‘being left behind’, of missing the train or falling out of the window of a fast accelerating vehicle. Unable to slow down the mind-boggling pace of change, let alone to predict and control its direction, we focus on things we can, or believe we can, or are assured that we can, influence: we try to calculate and minimize the risk that we personally, or those currently nearest and dearest to us, may fall victim to the

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uncountable and indefinable dangers which the opaque world and its uncertain future hold in store. We are engrossed in spying out ‘the seven signs of cancer’ or ‘the five symptoms of depression’, or in exorcising the spectre of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, stress or obesity. In other words, we seek substitute targets on which to unload the surplus fear that has been barred from its natural outlets, and find such makeshifts in taking elaborate precautions against cigarette smoke, obesity, fast food, unprotected sex or exposure to the sun. Those of us who can afford it fortify ourselves against all visible and invisible, present or anticipated, known or still unfamiliar, diffuse but ubiquitous dangers through locking ourselves in behind walls, stuffing the approaches to our living quarters with TV cameras, hiring armed guards, driving armoured vehicles (such as the notorious SUVs), wearing armoured clothing (like ‘big-soled shoes’) or taking martial arts classes. ‘The problem’, as David L. Altheide suggests, ‘is that these activities reaffirm and help produce a sense of disorder that our actions precipitate.’2 Each extra lock on the entry door in response to successive rumours of foreign-looking criminals on the rampage, each revision of the diet in response to the next ‘food panic’ makes the world look more treacherous and fearsome and prompts more defensive actions – that will, alas, surely do the same. Our fears have become self-perpetuating and selfreinforcing. They’ve also acquired a momentum of their own. A lot of commercial capital can be garnered from insecurity and fear – and it is. ‘Advertisers’, comments Stephen Graham, ‘have been deliberately exploiting widespread fears of catastrophic terrorism to further increase sales of highly profitable SUVs.’3 These gas-guzzling monsters, grossly misnamed ‘sport utility vehicles’, have already reached 45 per cent of all car sales in the US and are being enrolled into urban daily life as ‘defensive capsules’. The SUV is a signifier of safety that, like the gated communities into which they so often drive, is portrayed in advertisements as being immune to the risky and unpredictable urban life outside . . . Such vehicles seem to assuage the fear that the urban middle classes feel when moving – or queuing in traffic – in their ‘homeland’ city.

Like the liquid cash ready for any kind of investment, the capital of fear can be turned to any kind of profit, commercial or


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political. And it is. Personal safety has become a major, perhaps even the major selling point in all sorts of marketing strategies. ‘Law and order’, increasingly reduced to the promise of personal safety, has become a major, perhaps the major selling point in political manifestos and electoral campaigns. The display of threats to personal safety has become a major, perhaps the major asset in mass media ratings wars (adding yet more to the successes of both the marketing and the political uses of fear capital). As Ray Surette puts it, the world as seen on TV resembles ‘citizenssheep’ being protected from ‘wolves-criminals’ by ‘sheep dogspolice’.4 All that cannot but affect, indeed revolutionize the conditions of urban living, our perception of city life and the hopes and apprehensions we tend to associate with the urban environment. And when we speak of the conditions of urban life, we speak in fact of the conditions of humanity. According to current projections, in two decades or so two out of every three human beings will live in cities, and such rarely heard names as Chongking, Shenyan, Pune, Ahmadabad, Surat or Yangon will each stand for more than 5 million people congested into a conurbation – just like other names, such as Kinshasa, Abidjan or Belo Horizonte, now associated more with exotic holidays than with the front line of contemporary modernization battles. The newcomers to the premier league of urban agglomerations, nearly all of them already bankrupt or almost bankrupt, will have to at least try ‘to cope in twenty years with the kind of problems London or New York only managed to address with difficulty in 150 years’.5 What we know now of the notorious worries and fears that plague the older big cities may well be dwarfed by the adversities which the new giants will need to confront. Our planet has a long way to go to become Marshall McLuhan’s ‘global village’, but the villages around the planet are fast becoming globalized. Many years ago Robert Redfield, having explored what remained of the premodern rural world, concluded that ‘peasant culture’, being incomplete and not self-sufficient, cannot be properly described, not to mention understood, except in the framework of its neighbourhood, including a township with which the villagers are locked in mutual service and dependence. A hundred years later we may say that the sole frame in which all things rural need to be viewed in order to be adequately described

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and explained is that of the planet. Including in the picture a nearby city, however big, won’t do. Both the village and the city are playgrounds of forces far beyond their reach, and of the processes which those forces set in motion and which no one – not only the villagers and townspeople affected, but even the initiators themselves – can comprehend, let alone control. The old proverb, that men shoot but God carries the bullets, needs to be restated: villagers and city people may be launching the missiles but it is the global markets that carry them. In its regular column ‘Countryside commentary’ the Corner Post of 24 May 2002 published an article by Elbert van Donkersgoed (strategic policy adviser to the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, Canada) under the telling title ‘The collateral damage from globalization’.6 ‘Each year we produce more food with fewer people and a more prudent use of resources,’ van Donkersgoed observes. ‘Farmers have been working smarter, investing in labour saving technology and fine-tuning management for quality production.’ Fewer and fewer people are needed to do the job. In the four years to February 2002, 35,000 of them disappeared from Ontario’s statistics, made redundant by ‘technological progress’ and replaced by new and improved (that is, more labour-saving) technology. The point is, though, that according to the standard economic textbooks, and indeed mundane logic, such a spectacular advance in productivity should have made rural Ontario richer and the Ontario farmers’ profits soar – but there was no sign of rising opulence. Van Donkersgoed spells out the only conclusion that comes to mind: ‘The benefits of countryside productivity gains are accumulating elsewhere in the economy. Why? Globalization.’ Globalization, he observes, has spawned ‘a merger and buyout pattern by the firms that supply farm inputs . . . The rationale “this is necessary to be internationally competitive” may be true, but these mergers have also created monopolistic clout’ that ‘capture the benefits of farm productivity gains’. ‘Large corporations’, it follows, ‘become predatory giants and then capture markets. They can – and do – use economic power to get what they want from the countryside. Voluntary exchanges, trading goods between equals, are giving way to a command-and-control countryside economy.’ Let us move now a few thousand miles to the east and the south of Ontario, to Namibia, statistically one of the more prosperous


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countries of Africa. As Keen Shore reports, in the last decade the rural population in Namibia, up to now mainly a peasant country, has fallen sharply as a proportion of the whole, while the population of Windhoek, the capital, doubled.7 The surplus and redundant population of the rural areas has moved to the shantytowns that have sprouted around the relatively well-off city, attracted by ‘hope, not reality’, since ‘jobs are now scarcer than applicants’. ‘The sheer number of people coming in, compared to the expansion of the urban economy in Windhoek, would suggest that there must be an awful lot of people who are not actually earning an income,’ as Bruce Frayne, an urban regional planner in Namibia and prize-winning researcher from the Queens University of Canada, found. Rural Namibia goes on shedding excessive labour, while capital growth in urban Namibia is too small to accommodate the redundant. Somehow, the extra profits promised by the rise of agricultural productivity have neither stayed in the countryside nor reached the towns. We could, following van Donkersgoed, ask why. And, like him, answer: globalization. In the parts of the planet on the receiving side of globalizing pressures, Jeremy Seabrook observes, ‘cities have become refugee camps for the evictees of rural life.’ He then goes on to describe the urban life the evictees from rural life are likely to find: No one gives work. People turn themselves into rickshaw drivers or domestic servants: buy a handful of bananas and spread them for sale on the pavement; offer themselves as porters or labourers. This is the informal sector. In India, less than 10 per cent of people are employed in the formal economy, and this is being reduced by privatization of state enterprises.8

Nan Ellin, one of the most acute researchers and most insightful analysts of contemporary urban trends, points out that protection from danger was ‘a principal incentive for building cities, whose borders were often defined by vast walls or fences, from the ancient villages of Mesopotamia to medieval cities to Native American settlements’.9 The walls, moats or stockades marked the boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’, order and wilderness, peace and warfare: enemies were those left on the other side of the fence and not allowed to cross it. ‘From being a relatively safe place’, however, the city has become associated, mostly in the last

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hundred years or so, ‘more with danger than with safety’. Today, in a curious reversal of their historical role and in defiance of the original intentions and expectations, our cities are swiftly turning from a shelter against dangers into the principal source of dangers. Diken and Laustsen go as far as to suggest that the millennia-old ‘link between civilization and barbarism is reversed. City life turns into a state of nature characterised by the rule of terror, accompanied by omnipresent fear.’10 We may say that the sources of danger have moved into the heart of the city. Friends, enemies, and above all the elusive and mysterious strangers veering threateningly between the two extremes, now mix and rub shoulders on the city streets. The war against insecurity, dangers and risks is now waged inside the city, and inside the city battlefields are marked out and front lines are drawn. Heavily armoured trenches and bunkers intended to separate out strangers, keep them away and bar their entry are fast becoming one of the most visible aspects of contemporary cities – though they take many forms and though their designers try hard to blend their creations into the cityscape, thereby ‘normalizing’ the state of emergency in which the safety-addicted urban residents dwell. The most common forms of defensive ramparts are the ever more popular ‘gated communities’ (with the emphasis, in estate agents’ handouts and residents’ practices, on the ‘gate’ not the ‘community’ bit), with obligatory guards and video monitors at the entrance. The number of ‘gated communities’ in the US has already passed 20,000, while their population has risen above 8 million. The meaning of a ‘gate’ grows more elaborate by the year; a Californian condominium called ‘Desert Island’, for instance, is encircled by a 25-acre moat. Brian Murphy built a house for Dennis Hopper in Venice, California with a bunker-like, windowless, corrugated metal façade. The same architect built another luxury house in Venice inside the walls of an old dilapidated structure, covering it first with graffiti to submerge it in the uniformly vandalized neighbourhood. Designed and contrived inconspicuousness is one trend spreading in fear-guided urban architecture; another is intimidation, either by a forbidding exterior whose fortress-like appearance is made even more off-putting and mortifying by a profusion of highly visible check points and uniformed guards, or by an


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insolent and overbearing display of provocatively rich, garish and garnished finery. The architecture of fear and intimidation spills over urban public spaces, transforming them tirelessly though surreptitiously into closely guarded areas controlled round the clock. Inventiveness in this field knows no bounds. Nan Ellin names a few devices, mostly American in origin, but widely emulated – like ‘bumproof’, barrel-shaped benches combined with sprinkler systems in Los Angeles city parks (Copenhagen went one step further, removing all public benches from the Central Station and fining the passengers waiting for connections for resting on the floor), or sprinkler systems combined with an ear-splitting racket of mechanical music to chase loafers and loiterers away from the surroundings of convenience stores. As to corporate headquarters and department stores, which not so long ago were major providers of urban public spaces, and focuses and magnets within them, they are now keen to opt out of city centres and go into artificial environments designed from scratch, with some mock-urban paraphernalia like shops, restaurants and a few living places thrown in to disguise the thoroughness with which the main attractions of the city – its spontaneity, flexibility, ability to surprise and offers of adventure (all those reasons for which the Stadtluft was deemed to frei machen) – have been excised and exorcised. As an example of such a symbol-loaded trend, see the row of corporation offices on the Copenhagen seafront, imposing yet decidedly unwelcoming, heavily fortified and scrupulously fenced off, meant to be admired from a distance like the blind walls of La Defense in Paris – admired but not visited. Their message is clear and unmissable: those in the service of the corporations inside the buildings inhabit global cyberspace, their physical link to the city space being perfunctory, contingent and frail – and the lofty, conceited grandiosity of the monolithic façade with but a few carefully camouflaged entry points announces just that. The insiders are in but not of the place where their offices have been erected. Their interests are no longer vested in the city in which they happen to have pitched their tents for a time; the sole service they demand from the city elders is to leave them alone. Asking for little, they don’t feel obliged to give much in exchange. Richard Rogers, one of the most merited and acclaimed British architects, warned the participants of an urban planning symposium held in Berlin in 1990,

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If we suggest a project to an investor he immediately asks: ‘why do you need trees, why arcades?’ Developers are only interested in office space. If you cannot guarantee that the building will amortise within ten years at the outside then there is no point in approaching them at all.11

Rogers describes London, where he has learned that bitter lesson, as a ‘politically paralysed city which appears to be almost completely in the hands of the developers’. When it comes to the truly seminal refurbishments of the city space, like the redevelopment of London’s Dockyards, the largest in Europe, plans were approved with less scrutiny than might be given to ‘a planning application for an illuminated sign on a fish and chip shop in the East India Dock Road’. Public space was the first collateral casualty of a city losing its uphill struggle to stem or at least to slow down the unyielding advance of the global juggernaut. And so, Rogers concludes, ‘what you basically need is an institution which will protect public space.’ Well, easier said than done . . . Where is such an institution to be sought? And if it is found, how can it be made capable of rising to the task? The record of city planning so far, now as in the past, is not on the whole encouraging. Of the fate of London’s city planning, for instance, its incisive storyteller John Reader has the following to say: The social order and distribution of London’s population was changing – but in a way that was not in any way related to what the planners might have envisaged, or thought to be ideal. This was a classic example of how the flow of economy, society and culture can contradict – even invalidate – the ideas and theories that planners have advocated.12

In the first three postwar decades, Stockholm – a city that accepted and whole-heartedly adopted the belief of the great modern and modernist-minded visionaries that by reshaping the space which people occupied one could improve the form and the nature of their society – came perhaps closer than any other large city to the implementation of a ‘social democratic utopia’. Stockholm’s municipal authorities provided all and every one of its inhabitants not just with adequate accommodation, but with the


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full inventory of life-enhancing amenities and a fully protected existence. But in a matter of just three decades the public mood, unexpectedly for the planners, started to change. The blessings of the planned order were cast in doubt, ironically by precisely those (young) people who were born in the space that had been reshaped with a happier life for its residents in mind. The citizens, and particularly the younger citizens of Stockholm, opted out of the all-predicted, all-taken-into-account, all-provided-for communal accommodation, and jumped headlong into the turbulent waters of the private housing market. The result of their massive escape, as Peter Hall found, was on the whole unattractive, ‘with closely packed houses in unimaginative uniform rows, reminiscent of the worst kind of American suburbia’ – ‘but the demand was huge and they sold easily’.13 Insecurity breeds fear, and it is no wonder that the war against insecurity looms high on the urban planner’s list of priorities; or at least planners believe, and if asked insist, that it should. The trouble is, though, that when insecurity goes, spontaneity, flexibility, the ability to surprise and the offer of adventure, all the main attractions of urban life, are also bound to vanish from the city’s streets. The alternative to insecurity is not the bliss of tranquillity but the curse of boredom. Is it possible to vanquish fear while escaping tedium? One can suspect that this puzzle is the main quandary confronting urban planners and architects; a quandary to which no convincing, satisfying and uncontested solution has yet been found, a question to which a fully satisfactory answer perhaps cannot be found, but a question which (perhaps for the same reason) will go on spurring architects and planners to ever more rabid experimentation and ever more daring inventions. From the beginning, cities have been places where strangers live together in close proximity to each other while remaining strangers. The company of strangers is always frightening (though not always feared) since it is part of the nature of strangers, as distinct from the nature of both friends and enemies, that their intentions, ways of thinking and responses to shared situations are unknown or not well enough known to calculate the probabilities of their conduct. A gathering of strangers is a site of endemic and incurable unpredictability. You could put it another way: strangers

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embody risk. There is no risk without at least a residual fear of harm or defeat, but without risk there is no chance of gain or triumph either; for that reason, risk-fraught settings cannot but be perceived as sites of intrinsic ambiguity, which in turn cannot but evoke ambivalent attitudes and responses. Risk-fraught settings tend simultaneously to attract and repel, and the point at which one response turns into its opposite is eminently variable and shifting, virtually impossible to pinpoint, let alone fix. Space is ‘public’ in as far as the men and women allowed entry and likely to enter are not preselected. No passes are required and there is no registration of comers and leavers. Presence in the public space is therefore anonymous, and so, inevitably, those present in the public space tend to be strangers to each other as well as to the people in charge of the space. Public spaces are sites where strangers meet, and so they are condensations and encapsulations of urban life’s defining features. It is in public places that urban life with all that sets it apart from other forms of human togetherness reaches its fullest expression, complete with its most characteristic joys and sorrows, premonitions and hopes. Public spaces are for those reasons the sites where attraction and repulsion vie with each other in continuously and rapidly changing proportions. They are therefore vulnerable places, exposed to manic-depressive or schizophrenic fits, but also the only places where the attraction stands a chance of out-weighing or neutralizing the repulsion. They are, in other words, the places where the ways and means of satisfactory urban living are discovered, learned and first practised. Public places are the very spots where the future of urban life (and given that the growing majority of the planetary population is made up of urban dwellers, also the future of planetary cohabitation) is being at this very moment decided. Let’s be precise: this applies not just to any public spaces, but only to those among them that surrender both the modernist ambition to annihilate and level up differences, and the postmodern drift towards the ossification of differences through mutual separation and estrangement. This applies to public places that recognize the creative and life-enhancing value of diversity, while encouraging the differences to engage in a meaningful dialogue. To quote Nan Ellin again, ‘by allowing for diversity (of people, activities, beliefs, etc.) to thrive’ public space makes it possible to


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integrate (or reintegrate) ‘without obliterating differences; in fact, it celebrates them. Fear and insecurity are alleviated by the preservation of difference along with the ability to move freely through the city.’ It is the tendency to withdraw from public spaces and to retreat into islands of sameness that turns in time into the major obstacle to living with difference – by causing the skills of dialogue and negotiation to wilt and fade. It is the exposure to difference that in time becomes the major factor in happy cohabitation by causing the urban roots of fear to wilt and fade. As things go on now by their own momentum, we can sense the growing danger that the public realm will be reduced, as Jonathan Manning of the South African Ikemeleng Architects graphically put it, to ‘the unusable space left over between pockets of private space’. Human interaction in this sterile left-over space is limited to conflict between motorists and pedestrians, haves and have-nots, whether this be begging and the selling of goods at traffic lights, collisions between vehicles and jaywalkers, or smash and grab thefts and vehicle highjackings. Interfaces between the public realm and private spaces . . . are either shop fronts for the selling of goods or elaborate defensive mechanisms to keep people out – gatehouses, walls, razor wire, electric fences.14

Manning concludes his analysis by appealing for ‘a shift in focus to occur from designing private spaces to the design of a broader public realm that is both usable and stimulating . . . It needs to cater for a variety of alternative uses and to act as a catalyst rather than a hurdle to human interaction.’ As to Nan Ellin, she sums up her study by arguing for the need for ‘Integral Urbanism’, an approach that emphasizes ‘connection, communication, and celebration’. And she adds: ‘We now face the task of city-building in a way that nurtures the communities and the environment that ultimately sustains us. It is not an easy task. But it is an essential one.’ There can’t be any doubt as to the wisdom and urgency of such appeals. What remains is to face up to that admittedly ‘not an easy’, yet essential task. It is one of the least easy tasks confronting the fast globalizing planet, but one that needs to be faced pointblank and confronted most urgently. And not only for the sake of

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the comforts of urban dwellers. As Lewis H. Morgan found a long time ago, architecture ‘affords a complete illustration of progress from savagery to civilization’.15 A ‘progress to civilization’, let me add, which we now come to understand not as a one-off achievement, but as a daily continuing struggle; a struggle never fully victorious and unlikely ever to reach its finishing line, but one always emboldened by the hope of victory.

5 Consumers in Liquid Modern Society

Consumer society rests its case on the promise to satisfy human desires in a way no other society in the past could do or dream of doing. The promise of satisfaction remains seductive, however, only so long as the desire stays ungratified; more importantly, so long as there is a suspicion that the desire has not been truly and fully gratified. Setting the targets low, assuring easy access to goods that meet the targets, as well as a belief in objective limits to ‘genuine’ and ‘realistic’ desires – these would sound the deathknell of consumer society, consumer industry and consumer markets. It is the non-satisfaction of desires, and a firm and perpetual belief that each act to satisfy them leaves much to be desired and can be bettered, that are the fly-wheels of the consumertargeted economy. Consumer society manages to render non-satisfaction permanent. One way of achieving such an effect is to denigrate and devalue consumer products shortly after they have been hyped into the universe of the consumer’s desires. But another way, yet more effective, hides from the limelight: the method of satisfying every need/desire/want in such a fashion that it cannot but give birth to new needs/desires/wants. What starts as a need must end up as a compulsion or an addiction. And it does, as the urge to seek in shops, and only in shops, solutions to problems and relief from pain and anxiety is one aspect of behaviour that is not just allowed to condense into a habit, but eagerly encouraged to do

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so. But it also does for another reason. As the late Ivan Illich showed, most of the ailments that call for medical treatment today are ‘iatrogenic’ diseases – that is, pathological conditions caused by past therapies – the ‘waste’, so to speak, of the medical industry. But the same trend can be easily spotted in the consumer industry as a whole. Hazel Curry recently offered an excellent example of a universal trend: the medical profession has noted epidemics of ‘irritable skin’ that have spread with lightning speed and have affected 53 per cent of Westerners so far. Only some of the cases can be accounted for by the genetically determined phenomenon of ‘sensitive skin’. Most are cases of sensitized skin, a skin that has become sensitive ‘under the influence of a harsh skincare regime’. In a society of consumers, the expansion of acne among the adult population can only mean an expansion of consumer demand and a market for consumer products. ‘Brands aiming to calm skin, such as Chantecaille, Liz Earle and Dr Hauschka, have enjoyed massive success in recent years. As a result bigger, established brands including Dermalogica, Jurlique, and most recently Carita, have launched similar ranges.’1 Susan Harmsforth, one of the foremost experts in the field and herself the founder of one of the brands, now advises the victims of these epidemics ‘to use one or two products from a mild line for one month’ and then ‘introduce one product or treatment a month under guidance of a therapist’. One can only expect that new ranges will be offered, together with new, though similar, counsels, in a few years’ time when the effects of present therapies for the leftovers of past therapies become visible and the medical profession declares the arrival of a new epidemic. If the search for fulfilment is to continue and if new promises are to be alluring and catching, the promises already made must be broken and those hopes of fulfilment frustrated. A realm of hypocrisy stretching between popular beliefs and the realities of consumers’ lives is a conditio sine qua non of a properly functioning society of consumers. Each single promise must be deceitful, or at least exaggerated, if the search is to go on. Without the repeated frustration of desires, consumer demand might quickly dry out and the consumer-targeted economy would run out of steam. It is the excess of the sum total of promises that neutralizes the frustration caused by the excessiveness of each one of


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them, and stops an accumulation of frustrating experiences from sapping confidence in the ultimate effectiveness of the search. Consumerism is for this reason an economics of deception, excess and waste; deception, excess and waste do not signal its malfunctioning but are a warrant of its health and the sole regime under which a society of consumers may be assured of survival. A piling up of dashed expectations is paralleled by the rising mountains of discarded offers to consumers which were expected (promised) to satisfy their desires. The mortality rate of expectations is high, and in a properly functioning consumer society it must go on rising steadily. The life expectation of hopes is minuscule, and only an extravagantly high fertility rate may save them from thinning out and being extinguished. For the expectations to be kept alive and for new hopes to promptly fill the void left by hopes already discredited and discarded, the road from shop to garbage bin needs to be short and the passage swift.

Consuming life All human beings are and always were consumers, and the human concern with consumption is not news. It certainly precedes the advent of the ‘liquid’ variety of modernity. Its antecedents can easily be traced to times fairly distant from the birth of contemporary consumerism. It is therefore grossly insufficient and in the end misleading simply to look into the logic of consumption (always a thoroughly individual activity, solitary even when conducted in company) in order to comprehend the phenomenon of the present-day consumer. It is necessary to focus instead on one true novelty which is primarily of a social, and only secondarily of a psychological or behavioural, nature: on the individual consumption being conducted in the setting of a society of consumers. A ‘society of consumers’ is not just the sum total of consumers; it is a totality, as Émile Durkheim would say, ‘greater than the sum of its parts’. It is a society that (to deploy an old notion once made popular under Althusser’s influence) ‘interpellates’ its members primarily, or perhaps even exclusively, as consumers; and a society that judges and evaluates its members mostly by their consumption-related capacities and conduct.

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To say a ‘society of consumers’ is to say more, much more than merely to verbalize the trivial observation that having found consumption pleasing its members spend much of their time and effort trying to amplify its pleasures. It is to say in addition that the perception and treatment of virtually all the parts of the social setting and of the actions they evoke and frame tend to be guided by the ‘consumerist syndrome’ of cognitive and evaluating predispositions. ‘Life politics’, containing Politics with a capital ‘P’ as much as the nature of interpersonal relations, tends to be reshaped in the likeness of the means and objects of consumption and along the lines implied by the consumerist syndrome. Again, that syndrome implies more, much more than a fascination with the joys of ingesting and digesting, with pleasurable sensations and ‘having fun’ or a ‘good time’. It is truly a syndrome, a batch of variegated yet closely interconnected attitudes and strategies, cognitive dispositions, value judgements and prejudgements, explicit and tacit assumptions of the ways of the world and the ways of treading them, visions of happiness and the ways to pursue them, value preferences and (to recall Alfred Schütz’s term) ‘topical relevancies’. The seminal departure that sets the consumerist syndrome most sharply apart from its productivist predecessor – the one that holds together the assembly of the many different impulses, intuitions and proclivities it contains and lifts the whole aggregate to the status of a coherent life programme – seems to be the reversal of values attached respectively to duration and transience. The consumerist syndrome consists above all in an emphatic denial of the virtue of procrastination and of the propriety and desirability of the delay of satisfaction – those two axiological pillars of the society of producers ruled by the productivist syndrome. In the inherited hierarchy of recognized values, the consumerist syndrome has degraded duration and elevated transience. It has put the value of novelty above that of lastingness. It has sharply shortened the timespan separating not just the wanting from the getting (as many observers, inspired or misled by credit agencies, have suggested), but also the birth of the wanting from its demise, as well as narrowing the gap separating the usefulness and desirability of possessions from their uselessness and rejection. Among the objects of human desire, it has put appropriation, quickly


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followed by waste disposal, in the place of possessions and enjoyment that last. Among human preoccupations, the consumerist syndrome puts precautions against the chance of things (animate as much as inanimate) outstaying their welcome in place of the technique of holding them fast and of long-term (not to mention never to be terminated) attachment and commitment. The ‘consumerist syndrome’ is all about speed, excess and waste. Fully fledged consumers are not finicky about consigning things to waste; ils (et elles, bien sûr) ne regrettent rien – they accept the short lifespan of things and their preordained demise with equanimity; sometimes with only thinly disguised relish. The most capable and quick-witted adepts of the consumerist art know how to rejoice in the getting rid of things that have passed their use-by (read: enjoy-by) date. To the masters of the consumerist art, the value of each and every object lies equally in its virtues and in its limitations: shortcomings already known and those yet to be (inevitably) revealed promise imminent renewal and rejuvenation, new adventures, new sensations, new joys. In a society of consumers, perfection (if such a notion still holds any water) may be only the collective quality of mass, of a multitude of objects of desire; any lingering urge to perfection now calls less for improvement in things than for their profusion. And so, let me repeat, consumer society cannot but be a society of excess and profligacy – and so of redundancy and prodigal waste. The more fluid their life settings, the more actors need objects of potential consumption to hedge their bets and insure their actions against the mischiefs of fate (renamed in sociological parlance ‘unanticipated consequences’). Excess, though, adds further to the uncertainty of choices it was hoped it would abolish or at least mitigate or defuse – and so the excess is never excessive enough. The life of consumers is an infinite succession of trials and errors. Theirs is a life of continuous experimentation – but of no experimentum crucis that may usher them into a reliably mapped and signposted land of certainty. Hedge your bets; this is the golden rule of consumer rationality. In these life equations there are mostly variables and few if any constants, and the variables alter their values too often and too fast to keep track of their changes, let alone to guess their future twists and turns.

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The consuming life is a game of snakes and ladders; the roads from the bottom to the top, and even more the roads from the top to the bottom, are abominably short – the rises and falls are as swift as casting a die, and happen with little or no warning. Fame reaches its boiling point fast and immediately starts to evaporate; sharp-eyed scouts can spot a homeless beauty napping under any bridge and there is no telling how beautiful that beauty is until they say word; the ‘musts’ to wear or be seen wearing turn into ‘must nots’ faster than the time taken to overhaul the contents of a wardrobe, let alone to replace a carpet with parquet. In the pattern-setting lifestyle magazines the columns dedicated to ‘what is new’ or ‘what is in’ (what you must have, do, and be seen having and doing) appear next to the columns devoted to ‘what is out’ (what you must not have or do nor be seen having or doing). Information about the latest arrivals comes in a package deal with news of the latest additions to the rubbish bin: the second part of the package grows in size from one issue of the magazine to the next. As Andy Fisher pointed out recently, the logic of the coming ‘consumerist turn’ was flawlessly predicted by a retailing analyst, Victor Leblow, writing at the time of postwar reconstruction: ‘We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate.’2 A few off-the-cuff examples showing that logic in action now follow. Charlotte Abrahams, a Guardian columnist, advises her dedicated readers in a recently composed ‘space handbook’: ‘Is that a roll of spriggy wallpaper in your hand? Put it down now.’3 ‘Rosebuds and daisies’ are now passé, over and done with, ugly and repellent to look at: ‘the restless wheel of style’ has turned again. So, the reader would guess, it is high time to strip the old (last year’s, that is) paper off the wall. ‘The look to move on to’ is now something altogether different – ‘graphic floral’. The expert sums up: ‘Trust me, I’ve done it and it’s fabulous.’ What you put on your body is admittedly a more expedient and comfortable way of keeping up with the fast-running times than what you do to your body. Things you put on (and of course take off and throw away soon after) may indeed follow/displace/replace each other at a mind-boggling pace, with a speed and frequency unmatchable by, say, breast implants, liposuction, cosmetic surgery or even moving through the hair colour spectrum. To use their potential in full, a lot of constantly updated information and


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constantly switched on antennae are obviously needed on top of the bank account and credit cards. The volume of knowledge one requires just to stay in the ranks is mind-boggling: the vertiginous multitude of names, brands and logos one needs to memorize and be ready to forget as the new rows of idol-celebrities, guru design companies and fashion outlets leap in from nowhere, march by with a fanfare and vanish. ‘You may have noticed that at premieres and suchlike celebrities don’t do coats’, warns Jess Cartner-Morley.4 ‘This is not because there is a secret gulf stream microclimate around Leicester Square, but because coats just aren’t glam.’ Consoling advice on what to wear follows that warning: ‘Autumn/winter was all about deep blues and mustards (taking the palette of Marni). Now it’s taking the lead of Raf Simons and going all peach and mint.’ In a special New Year 2004 insert, Tamsin Blanchard, Dee O’Connell and Polly Vernon put their readers on guard: ‘Top hairdresser James Brown is hoping that 2004 will bring an end to the homogeneous ironed hairdos that he describes as “Pop Idol Hair” . . . But the style he and his celebrityfollowers will be endorsing heavily in 2004 is: “Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. I love the wildness.” Hail the return of the bunny-boiler barnet!’5 The other gender is not allowed to rest either. ‘Bid farewell to the Beckham quiff . . . Chop it off and opt for a sleek grade two, or let it all hang out, like the Darkness’s Justin Hawkins.’ ‘Watch out for a return to Fifties elegance with a modern twist – think Jude Law in The Talented Mr Ripley, spotless white trousers . . . Kiss goodbye to combats and 2003’s military scene. Embrace the kaftan, embroidered tunics, loose-fitting trousers and the odd Paisley pattern.’ And the parting shot: ‘Finally: ditch navy’ to ‘explore a broader palette’ instead. So you should know what is what and where you stand and what you must do once the time comes to stand somewhere else. That is knowledge you must refresh week in week out; otherwise, you and the others who look at you would no longer be able to decide ‘who you are’, and you yourself wouldn’t have an inkling of what ingredient to obtain to compose your outer image accordingly. The answer to the question of your identity is no longer a ‘Fiat (or Pirelli) engineer’, or a ‘civil servant’, or a ‘miner’, or a ‘Benetton shop manager’, but, as a recent commercial described the person who would wear the prestigious logo it advertised, one that ‘loves horror movies, drinks Tequila, owns a kilt, supports Dundee United, ’80s music, ’70s decor, addicted to The Simpsons, grows sunflowers, favourite colour is dark grey, talks to plants’. In the next issue of the magazine another person wearing the same logo is depicted: he ‘plays the bagpipes, owns a pet snake, loves Hitchcock films,

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owns fifteen pairs of jeans, still uses a typewriter, reads sci-fi’. Both ‘certificates of identity’ bear the same conclusion: ‘it’s all in the detail.’ It goes without saying that all the details named and anything else nameable are obtainable in the shops. The lands of identity-making and remaking are not the sole conquests of the consumer syndrome outside its high street and shopping mall kingdom. Gradually yet relentlessly, it takes hold of interhuman relationships and bonds. Why should partnerships be an exception to the rest of life’s rules? To work properly and to deliver the satisfaction promised and expected, partnerships need constant attention and dedicated service, and the longer they last the more difficult it is to keep the attention focused and muster the day-to-day service needed. Consumers used to consumer goods that age fast and are speedily replaced will find it cumbersome and time-wasting to bother, and if they decide to continue nevertheless, will lack the necessary skills and habits. Marriages, writes Phil Hogan, always had their bad patches and critical moments, small or big; the difference now ‘is how quickly we get bored with it. Gone is the seven-year itch of yesteryear. According to the latest findings, eighteen months to two years has become the optimum time to pull the matrimonial plug.’6 And he explains: ‘It’s hard to be too shocked at this news. Not only does it seem to sit quite comfortably with modern notions of commitment and forbearance (you can hardly expect a nation that has been encouraged to embrace the endless novelty of the flexible job market to spend too long working at a relationship) but it says something too about our idea of what being patient is.’ This radically cut-down patience span leads to seeking fast and radical terminations of offending relationships. But this may present problems of its own: for most of us, telling a partner to go away because he or she no longer delivers the goods or because the goods the partner delivers are no longer exciting might after all prove more harrowing than getting rid of an old-style car or an outdated computer. Most consumers properly primed in the art of trail-blazing through the whirlwind of colourful hairdos, tunics and trousers will welcome as sorely needed life-belts the current instructions which those who find the breaking of bonds tiresome and harrowing are likely to receive from counsellors. Relate, a relationship guidance charity, offers a one-day course that ‘addresses what went wrong with the relationship, and also how to avoid making the same mistakes . . . The emphasis is firmly on turning a negative experience into something that marks a positive new start.’ It is hardly astonishing either that one of the leading supermarket chains now offers its customers DIY ‘divorce kits’ at a discount price of £7.49 . . .


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The spreading of consumer patterns so wide as to embrace all life’s aspects and activities may be an inadvertent, unplanned side-effect of the ubiquitous and obtrusive ‘marketization’ of life processes. The market penetrates areas of life which had stayed outside the realm of monetary exchange until recently and had not been recorded in GNP statistics. Once it reaches heretofore virgin lands, it elbows out all other motives and criteria of choice that are ‘alien to the spirit of the commodity market’. As Naomi Klein put it, the market feeds its ‘insatiable greed for growth’ ‘by redefining as “products” entire sectors that were previously considered part of the “commons” and not for sale’.7 The market now mediates in the tiresome activities of tying up and tearing up interpersonal relations, of bringing people together and putting them apart, of connecting them and disconnecting them, of dating them and of deleting them from the texting directory. It colours interhuman relations at work and at home, in public as well as in the most intimate private domains. It rephrases and recasts the destinations and itineraries of life pursuits so that not one of them can bypass the shopping malls. It narrates the life process as a succession of principally ‘resolvable’ problems that however need to be and can be resolved only by such means as are not available anywhere other than on the shelves of shops. It offers shop-supplied technological shortcuts to the kinds of objectives once attainable mainly through using personal skills and personality, friendly cooperation and comradely negotiations. It supplies gadgets and services without which, in the absence of social skills, life-in-society, life-with-others, ‘relating to’ others and working out an enduring modus co-vivendi would be for a rising number of people daunting tasks beyond their ken, perhaps even off-limits. It casts the gigantic shadow of consumerism on the whole of the Lebenswelt. It relentlessly hammers home the message that everything is or could be a commodity, or if it is still short of becoming a commodity, that it should be handled like a commodity; it implies that things had better be ‘like commodities’ and ought to be viewed with suspicion, and better still rejected or avoided in the first place, if they refuse to fall in with the consumer-object pattern. Consumer goods vow today not to become intruders or a bore. They reassure us that they owe us everything while we owe them nothing. They promise to be ready for immediate use, offering

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instant satisfaction that does not require a lengthy training or the protracted saving of assets – they gratify without delay. They also cross their hearts to accept that their falling out of favour is inevitable and to leave quietly without reproof, acrimony or grudge once their time is over. It follows that another attribute of the ‘object of consumption’ must be a codicil to its birth certificate, ‘final destination: waste bin’, written in small yet clearly and reassuringly legible print. Waste is the end product of all consumer action. The perception of the order of things in present-day consumer society is a direct reversal of the perception characteristic of the now bygone society of producers. Then, it was the useful part, drawn from properly reprocessed raw material, that was meant to be solid and lasting, while it was the redundant leftovers and rejects that were destined for instant disposal and oblivion. Now, it is the turn of the useful part to be short-lived, volatile and ephemeral, to clear the stage for the next generation of useful products. Only the waste tends to be (alas) solid and durable. ‘Solidity’ is now a synonym of ‘waste’. The consumer market is the twenty-first century (admittedly mutant) version of King Midas’s dream come true. Whatever that market touches turns into a consumer commodity; including the things that try to escape its grip, and even the ways and means deployed in their escape attempts.

Consuming body In one of his famous broadcasts of a Letter from America, the late Alistair Cooke pointed out that though the bestseller lists in the US tend to change every week, two kinds of books invariably appear on every list: cookery books that offer recipes for ever more refined, delicious and seductive dishes, and dieting manuals promising ever more foolproof regimes certain to produce fat-free, slim and dainty bodies. The rest of this section is an extended commentary on the split personality so resoundingly evidenced by this combination of public demands at cross-purposes with each other.


Consumers in Liquid Modern Society

‘We can conceive of the body’, wrote Bryan Turner,8 developing the insight of Oliver Sachs,9 ‘as a potentiality which is elaborated by culture and developed in social relations.’ This is a statement of universal validity; it is meant to, and it does, apply to all cultures and all societies. In our liquid modern culture and liquid modern society the ‘elaboration’ and the ‘development’ of the ‘body as a potentiality’ has, however, taken a novel turn. In the words of Chris Shilling, it results from the convergence of two apparently contradictory tendencies: ‘We now have the means to exert an unprecedented degree of control over bodies, yet we are also living in an age which has thrown into radical doubt our knowledge of what bodies are and how we should control them.’10 This, in its turn, is a statement of an apparently obvious truth, self-evident and endowed with additional credibility through daily and ubiquitous and indeed obtrusive, even impudent reminders. The consensus or near-consensus on which public trust in the veracity of this statement rests should put us on our guard, arouse vigilance and prompt close examination. As a rule, beliefs can hardly ever enjoy an approval approximating to consensus unless that approval has been separated from the truth test and transferred to a discourse that renders it independent of the test’s results. So let’s ask: are we indeed able to control our bodies more thoroughly than ever before? Or is it just that once it has been impressed upon us as an obligatory, unshakeable and inalienable duty, such control over our bodies now occupies a place in our preoccupations that is larger than ever before and consumes more of our energy than it ever did? And is it indeed so that we are now more unsure about ‘what our bodies are’ and ‘how we should control them’ than in the past, just as we are uncertain about the criteria by which the condition of our bodies needs to be evaluated and about the steps that need to be taken in order to bring them closer to ‘what they should be’? To sharpen the issues a bit further: has the new situation really widened the scope of individual freedom, through opening up before ‘us’ and each one of ‘us’ a wider spectrum of choices and by weakening the web of bonds in which the body was entangled by social convention – or does it only seem to be the case, as old bonds are being replaced by brand new ones that are no less oppressive? Perhaps the impression of extended freedom is only a

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gloss over what is in fact an altered set of necessities? Is it not the case that perpetual, hardly ever definite and never irrevocable choices – as well as a constant revision and rejection of choices already made and a need to displace their effects by other choices – have become mandatory and unavoidable, and so may no longer be neglected, let alone refused? In short, how are freedom and constraint balanced in the right/duty of individual control over individual bodies? Almost everything that the society of producers considered a virtue in a producer’s body would be seen by the society of consumers as utterly counterproductive and thus deplorable in a consumer’s body, the consuming body. The second kind of body differs sharply from the first by being an end-value, or a destination-value, instead of carrying a merely instrumental significance. The consumer’s/consuming body is ‘autotelic’, its own purpose and a value in its own right; in the society of consumers, it also happens to be the ultimate value. Its well-being is the foremost objective of all and any life-pursuits, and the final test and criterion of utility, advisability and desirability for the remainder of the human world and any one of its elements. As the enhancement of bodily sensations – bodily bliss, pleasures and joys – moves into the focus of life politics as its ultimate purpose, the body is cast in a unique position not comparable with the role assigned to any other entity in the Lebenswelt. It combines facets that appear in each other’s company hardly anywhere else; in other cases they usually tend to stay separate and so rarely face the test of compatibility and the complex task of mutual reconciliation. The consumer’s body therefore tends to be a particularly prolific source of perpetual anxiety, exacerbated by the absence of established and reliable outlets to relieve it, let alone to defuse or disperse it. No wonder marketing experts find the anxiety surrounding the care of the body to be a potentially inexhaustible source of profits. The promise to reduce or eliminate that anxiety is the most seductive, widely sought after and gratefully embraced offer made by the consumer market – answering the most durable and reliable source of popular demand for consumer commodities. For the consumer society never to run short of consumers, however, that anxiety – in a jarring contravention of the market’s explicit and


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vociferous promises – needs to be constantly reinvigorated, regularly fanned and whipped up and otherwise stimulated. Consumer markets feed on the anxiety of prospective consumers which they themselves arouse and do their best to intensify. As has already been stated before, contrary to the declared (and widely believed) promise of the commercials, consumerism is not about the satisfaction of desires, but about arousing desire for ever more desires – and preferably the kinds of desires that cannot in principle be quenched. To the consumer, a satisfied desire should be just about as pleasurable and exciting as a faded flower or an empty plastic bottle; to the consumer market, a desire satisfied would also be a portent of imminent catastrophe. The kind of ‘ideal consumer’ the consumer market is after can best be seen as a factory working at full swing twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week to assure a never interrupted succession of short-lived, one-off and eminently disposable desires. A constantly growing volume of know-how offered by the market and of gadgets to put it into operation are designed to make the ‘cycle of desire’ rotate faster. As Chris St George, a highly respected fitness counsellor working for one of the best known London health-and-fitness establishments, replied to a man who complained that he liked good eating but found the urge incompatible with keeping his waistline within limits: come to gym more often to do more exercise and speed up your metabolism. It will help in thinking of a body-centred and body-fascinated consumer if you imagine yourself to be a musician playing an instrument for your own, private and unshared pleasure while being the sole listener of the sweet and soothing, or exciting and intoxicating sounds flowing from the instrument. To imagine it is easy, this being an experience commonly lived through or watched. The snag, though, is that the challenge faced by properly trained consumers does not stop here. The instruments which such customers are exhorted to play in order to conjure up the pleasing tunes which it is promised they will enjoy – are themselves. To express and consume the pleasurable sensations it is hoped their bodies will deliver, they are drilled to appear simultaneously in three different roles: of the player, the listener, and the instrument. They are prompted and expected to synchronize, merge and blend all three – but the objects of their efforts stubbornly refuse to be

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brought into, or kept for any length of time in, an all-round satisfying and friction-less balance with each other. Most perplexing and haunting of the many challenges is the farfrom-pleasurable regime to which your body, as the tool with which the pleasurable sensations are to be forged, needs to be subjected in order to make production continuous. You can only pray and hope that after a solid dose of that regime has been administered to the body in its capacity as a pleasure-producing tool, that body – this time in its capacity as a connoisseur of sensations – will be still ready to serve as a good-tempered, dexterous, efficient and grateful receptacle of the pleasures as they come. In common parlance, that capacity of the body to produce the pleasures that it might be able to enjoy is subsumed under the heading of ‘fitness’. The trouble is, though, that all too often bringing the body to a state of ‘fitness’ jars with the purpose that state was intended to serve . . . ‘Fitness’ is to a consumer in the society of consumers what ‘health’ was to the producer in the society of producers. It is a certificate of ‘being in’, of belonging, of inclusion, of the right of residence. ‘Fitness’, like ‘health’, refers to the condition of the body, but the two concepts invoke widely different aspects of that condition. The ideal of ‘fitness’ tries to capture the functions of the body as, first and foremost, a receiver/transmitter of sensations. It refers to its absorptive capacity; to how far it is tuned to the delights which are or might soon be on offer – to pleasures known, unknown, not yet invented, not even imagined and as yet unimaginable, but bound to be contrived sooner or later. As such, ‘fitness’ knows no upper limit; it is, in fact, defined by the absence of limit; more to the point, by its inadmissibility. However fit your body is – you could make it fitter. However fit it may be at the moment, there is always a vexing helping of ‘unfitness’ mixed in, coming to light or guessed at whenever you compare what you have experienced with the pleasures suggested by the rumours and sights of other people’s joys which you have failed to experience thus far and can only imagine and dream of living through yourself. In the search for fitness, unlike in the case of health, there is no point at which you can say: now that I’ve reached it I may as well stop and hold on to and enjoy what I have. There is no ‘norm’ of fitness you can aim at and eventually attain. The struggle for fitness is a


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compulsion that soon turns into an addiction. As such, it never ends. Each dose is to be followed by a larger dose. Each target is but a successive step, one in a long string of steps already taken and yet to be taken. To make the predicament still more awesome: this is not just a problem of excessive appetite for fitness and/or of ignorance as to what the ‘proper level of fitness’ should be. If that was the case, any appetite could be, with due effort, tamed and trimmed, any bit of missing knowledge could be gained. If, however, the idea of ‘fitness’ refers to sensations (Erlebnisse, not Erfahrungen!) of the body, to subjectively experienced and lived-through accomplishments, then there is no telling whether the achieved degree of the body’s fitness has been truly satisfactory, since there is no ‘objective’, externally assessed and interpersonally communicable standard by which such a degree could be measured (nor can there be). To struggle for fitness means going into a war with no final battle in sight and no prospect of ultimate victory followed by an armistice, demobilization and ‘peace dividends’. When the target is not fixed, there is obviously no way of knowing how far you are from the target and how much longer you will need to fight to reach it. That uncertainty is irremovable. It won’t go away, unless you throw in the towel, abandon all hope of victory and stop trying. Perhaps joining Fitness Addicts Anonymous is the only escape . . . Since the ideal of fitness offers only vague and uncertain ruleof-thumb instructions as to what is to be done and what is to be avoided, and since one can never be sure that the instructions won’t change or even be revoked before you’ve managed to implement them in full, to struggle for fitness means never to rest; at any rate, never to feel you can rest with a clear conscience and without apprehension. The person dedicated to the cause of bodily fitness is constantly on the move. She or he must always be changing and always be ready for further change. The catchword of our times is ‘flexibility’: all forms should be pliable, all conditions temporary, all shapes amenable to reshaping. Obsessive and addictive re-formation is both a duty and a necessity. For the society of consumers – and for the consumer market, its foundation and fly-wheel – this is a fortunate circumstance; indeed, the warrant of their survival. The lifelong, unwinnable jihad for bodily fitness recasts the world outside the body as a site of awesome and terrifying, unspeakable

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and essentially unknowable dangers. Even if no direct damage has been done, anything you ingest or inhale, everything that seeps uninvited through your skin or otherwise manages to penetrate the interior of your fleshy-bony self, might interfere with the regime which you’ve designed for your body for the sake of its continuing fitness; it might set you back many weeks, months or years of dedicated self-drilling and self-immolating labour. If it were not for the fact that it serves as an indispensable grazing ground for the sensation-seeker which its body is doomed to roam and explore since there is no other to replace it, the world out there would be hostile territory pure and simple. The apertures punctuating the interface between the body and the rest of the world can perhaps be closely watched, fortified and protected – but they can’t be locked, let alone hermetically sealed. It is not only that the cross-border traffic cannot be avoided – it needs to be actively boosted; for it to run out of steam and fade, not to mention grind to a halt, presents no less a danger than for it to grow excessively and run out of control. Whichever option is given preference, the risks are equally huge – and yet the consumer/consuming body cannot but follow Chris St George’s precept and engage in an intense metabolic interaction with the world on the other side of the border – an endeavour fraught as much with horrifying risks as with sweet hopes. The surface and the apertures of the body, all the vulnerable points in the boundary/interface that separates/links the body from/to the outside world, are therefore bound to become sites of acute and ineradicable ambivalence. Immune to all therapy, this ambivalence remains a prolific source of the most galling and harrowing varieties of the psychological trauma that haunts the denizens of consumer society, as well as of the notorious paranoiac and schizophrenic proclivities of the latter. Think, for instance, of anorexia and bulimia, the twin eating disorders that are a trademark of the society of consumers. Think of tabagisme, exposure to the fumes of burning tobacco, which the French have named as one of the three sinister crimes (alongside speeding on the road and sexual offences) that frighten them most. Think of the loving caresses that tend to be increasingly seen as hovering uneasily on the brink of the most heinous crime against personal integrity and tend to poison erotic relations with the suspicion of sexual assault.


Consumers in Liquid Modern Society

I wondered whether Alistair Cooke’s observation about the bestseller lists a few years ago still held true; I’ve found that, if anything, it grows truer by the year. On 20 July 2004 a Google search of the internet returned 109,000 websites containing the information about cookery books and offering to sell them; there were 308,000 websites doing the same for dieting books, 719,000 websites dedicated to the art of slimming. And 32 million websites discussing the issue of fat (as well as 3,690,000 websites dedicated to obesity). . . . On one of the 1,830,000 websites discussing overweight, I found the following American statistics: Percent of adults age 20 years and over who are overweight or obese: 64 Percent of adults age 20 years and over who are obese: 30 Percent of adolescents age 12–19 years who are overweight: 15 Percent of children age 6–11 years who are overweight: 15

More than almost any other phenomenon, fat encapsulates, condenses and blends the fears emanating from the poorly mapped ‘frontier-land’ stretching between the body of the consumer and the outside world, crowded with incapacitating dangers while simultaneously filled to the brim with irresistible temptations. Because of its unique status, even a brief and perfunctory phenomenological scrutiny of the ‘fat phenomenon’ may offer a useful insight into the ambivalence intrinsic to the consumer’s condition. Indeed, body fat stands for the nightmare come true. Your weight gaining in ounces and your waistline in inches alert you to the gruesome fact that all the laborious fortification of the boundary/interface between the world and your body has been to no avail – that enemy forces have pierced through the defensive lines and invaded the defended territory. Worse still, the invading forces have settled inside the conquered territory, built its garrisons inside the body and taken over the administration of the conquered lands. ‘Bodily fat’ stands for foreign occupation or the ‘fifth column’ – or rather terrorist cells, the fifth column’s most recent reincarnation. Bodily fat stands for the enemy agents who have penetrated the home territory and are ready to launch an assault from the inside, when and where danger is least expected; for the ‘sleepers’ who, disguised as innocuous, jovial, friendly next-door neighbours, are

Consumers in Liquid Modern Society


only biding their time, concocting ‘dirty bombs’ from the waste of your feasts and waiting for a convenient moment to throw off their disguise, pull the bombs from their cellars and attics, and strike. You know they will strike and hurt you, but you don’t know when and where, and the wisest authorities are not going to tell you either: they know nothing for sure, and whatever any one of them knows is different from what the other authorities say they know . . . The parallel between fat and terrorists or undercover agents who are all the more treacherous for being indistinguishable from decent ordinary folks is yet more striking because of the eminently confusing and often contradictory signals about the ‘benevolent’ and ‘harmful’ impact of the various foods on offer. How is one to tell ‘saturated’ from ‘unsaturated’, ‘natural’ from ‘hydrogenated’, the fats the body needs to function normally from those which bar it from normal functioning? Everything about fat, all and any fat – the fat still outside the body, in the food displayed on supermarket shelves and served in bars and restaurants, and the fat already inside the body tissue – is ambivalent and off-putting. The experts warn about the dangers of over-eating and the threat of excessive dieting, but where is the line to be drawn between norm and excess, and who is to be trusted to draw it properly? At the height of the terrorist alert in the US the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, told a Senate committee that ‘obesity is a critical public health problem in our country that causes millions of Americans to suffer unnecessary health problems and to die prematurely.’ Even the wording of the statement followed the pattern common to Thompson’s colleagues from other government offices busy at the front line of the anti-terrorist war. Fat is at the centre of the uncertainty haunting most Americans (the New York Times called the obesity battle ‘a culture war for the new century’); and there is no shortage of forces eager to capitalize on the desire of Americans to mitigate the fears emanating from the feelings of insecurity that such uncertainty causes. On one side stand conspiracy-sniffing lawyers fresh from battles victoriously waged against tobacco giants and eager for another fray. On the other stand the big producers of ready-to-eat food and the owners of fast food chains, hiding, as the tobacco companies tried to before, behind the sacrosanct constitutional rights of the citizen and consumer freedom of choice.


Consumers in Liquid Modern Society

Trial lawyers have already filed lawsuits against McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King and other fast food chains. They represent ‘victims’ like one Gregory Rhymes, a fifteen-year-old boy five feet six inches tall weighing more than 400 pounds. Rhymes said he ate at McDonald’s several times a day, mostly ‘supersized’ Big Macs, fries and chocolate shakes. His lawyer, Samuel Hirsch, said that Rhymes and other clients were intentionally misled by the food companies, who cleverly exploited their ignorance about ‘what’s good for them’. To which the food companies, through the lips and pens of similarly redoubtable and influential public personae, responded by making the ‘freedom to eat’ a test case for individual freedom as such. As Thomas J. DiLorenzo argued in his bestselling How Capitalism Saved America (quoting Ludwig von Mises’s libertarian classic, Human Action): once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments. A good case could be made out in favour of prohibition of alcohol and nicotine. And why limit the government’s benevolent providence to the protection of the individual’s body only? Is not the harm a man may inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious, both for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic drugs.11

Fat has become a major war-cry and the casus belli in the ‘culture war for the new century’ – the war that is simply another updated version and a replay of the perpetual strife between freedom and security, the two equally indispensable and coveted qualities, notoriously difficult to reconcile, of any bearable or desirable human life. The elevation of the ‘fat issue’ follows closely, and predictably, on the promotion of the consumer’s body to the central target of marketing, and of the care of the body to the main selling point of consumer commodities. The ‘culture war for the new century’ draws its animus and momentum from the paramount ambivalence defining the human condition in the emergent society of consumers.

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A resolution of that ambivalence is nowhere in sight. The most sober and seasoned of counsellors advise the seekers after guidance to accommodate themselves to the inevitable: ambivalence is here to stay, they say; the joys and horrors of ingesting what the world peddles to us and seduces us into digesting are inseparable. The joys and horrors arrive together, in a tightly tied package deal, and pure joy with no admixture of horror increasingly turns into a pipe dream. The guidance-seekers are left with only one way, not so much out of as around the trouble: a quicker pace for the metabolism that will, it is hoped, permit the circle to be squared, allowing in one go the cake to be eaten still to be kept. As guidance-seekers can learn from, for instance, the www. fatlosstips. com/website: To lose fat you have to eat! DO NOT starve yourself. Your body is designed for survival, and part of its survival mechanism involves storing and holding onto body fat to be used in times of food shortages. If you make a habit of not eating, or eating only a small amount of calories each day, eventually your body will think that you are in a time of famine and begin to slow your metabolism. Your body is just trying to conserve energy (calories) because it is getting so little nourishment. Your metabolism determines the rate at which your body burns calories, so if you have a fast metabolism, you will burn a lot of calories without much effort. If you have a slow metabolism, it will be very difficult to burn calories – especially fat calories. Your body will always slow your metabolism in response to low calorie dieting. To avoid this, you simply must eat. Unfortunately, eating three meals per day will not cut it! It does not provide your body with the constant flow of nutrients and energy it needs to increase your metabolism and burn fat. Ideally, you should strive to eat 5–6 meals evenly spaced throughout the day.

In a nutshell, to chase away the spectre of side-effects from eating and its other unprepossessing and unanticipated consequences, you have to eat more. As the English proverb says, if you can’t beat them, join them. If you can’t beat off that nasty ambivalence, embrace it, recasting your fate into your life strategy. If it were universally accepted, such advice would make the wheels of commodity production, replacement and disposal turn faster to


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the rapture of the suppliers of consumables and their sworn legal adversaries alike. Where does all that leave the body? The body is now as ‘socially regulated’ as before, only the agencies presiding over regulation have changed, with far-reaching consequences for the plight of the embodied individuals charged with the management of the bodies they have and the bodies they are. The old prerogative to exempt and exclude, exercised by sovereign nation-states throughout the ‘solid’ state of modernity, is not gone entirely. But now it tends to be deployed mostly to keep at a safe distance and away from mischief those marginal categories who cannot be reached, or who are not desired to be reached by the ‘market forces’ which have booked them once and for all on the debit side of the account as cases of hopeless insolvency. Most importantly, however, the picking out, setting apart and eviction of the homo sacer (a person excepted from human as well as divine law) is no longer a monopoly of the state authority. More often than not, the state’s role is limited today to the authoritative endorsement of relegation that has already become a ‘fact of life’ as a result of other than political processes, and to making the exemption effective and durable. Instead of flexing its muscle in an effort to keep the inmates in, the post-panoptical power of the state develops its skills in keeping out undesirables – outsiders or inmates made outsiders. There is a lot of political capital ready to be creamed off the war against ‘aliens’ or the ‘alienated’. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister, recently shot to the top of politicians’ popularity ratings through following the example of the highly popular ‘weightwatchers’ clubs that set weekly ‘slimming targets’ for their members: he set ‘expulsion targets’ for each municipality and sent ‘expulsion manuals’ to the local prefects.12 Voters, Sarkozy said, must ‘be able to see and measure’ the fact that the government is tough in executing the promised policy; a policy which, we may comment, amounts to a burning of the haunting spectre of exemption in effigy, a spectacle aimed at squeezing the capital of political support out of the anxiety oozing from every corner of the liquid modern setting. The new and fast growing category of homini sacri specific to the liquid modern society of consumers is composed, as might be

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expected, of ‘flawed’ or failed consumers. Unlike indolent people in the society of producers, humans failed by the current standards of bios (life that is other than zoe, or purely animal) are not ‘medical cases’, candidates for treatment and rehabilitation, temporarily unfortunate but bound to be reassimilated sooner or later and readmitted to the community. They are truly and fully useless – redundant, supernumerary leftovers of a society reconstituting itself as a society of consumers; they have nothing to offer, either now or in the foreseeable future, to the consumer-oriented economy; they won’t add to the pool of consumer wonders, they won’t ‘lead the country out of depression’, reaching for credit cards they don’t have and emptying saving accounts they don’t possess – and so the ‘community’ would be so much better off were they to disappear . . . Those whom Sarkozy sentenced to deportation are exempted from society by decree – though even in their case the preselection was accomplished by non-political forces uncontrolled by the state (the granting of residence permits and the sentencing to deportation are highly selective; those among the ‘aliens’ likely to lubricate the wheels of the consumer economy are as a rule exempted from exemption). The excluded of the new liquid modern variety have had no charge against them brought to the court, no sentence recorded and no verdict pronounced. They have not been exactly thrown overboard; they have fallen out of the vessel, or failed to catch up with its pace. They form the ‘underclass’ of a society that prides itself on cancelling class divisions and preserves the memory of classes solely in the separation of those who have lost in the consumer game and have left, or have been bounced out of, the casino, from the winners and dedicated gamblers with a respectable supply of cash that makes them creditworthy. Since governments of the day no longer draw blueprints of the perfect social order, they have also lost interest, and any reason, to decide who is to be saved and who damned and to compose rosters of the excluded. But they are left with the task of disposing of those many who have already been otherwise excluded by other means, by default rather than design, from participating in the consumer game. They face the awesome challenge of ‘human waste disposal’ on a full planet where overseas outlets for


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dumping waste are no longer available. In the society of consumers the ‘waste-disposal industry’ for rejected human beings is one of the few branches of production immune to the turning of the economic cycle. What unites those falling out of the liquid modern era with the homini sacri of yore is the ‘social nakedness’ of their bodies, the indelible stigma of their exclusion from the normatively regulated part of humanity and the right to bios. But the ways they have fallen into such a plight differ, as do the reasons why the fate they suffer appears to be inexorable and beyond repair. If the orthodox homini sacri were (and continue to be) ‘collateral casualties’ of the ‘order building’ zeal of the states, what the new ‘human rejects’ are eliminated from is the consumer game, being denied the possibility of living according to its rules. The first were forcibly stripped of their ‘social clothing’ and compelled to stay naked by the withdrawal of the Law. The second stay ‘socially naked’ because they have been stripped, by the withdrawal of the Norm, of the opportunity to weave their ‘social clothing’ in what is now presumed to be an individual task – having first been denied access to the yarn from which socially approved garbs are expected to be woven in the society of consumers.

Consuming childhood ‘Children are great,’ admits Barbara Ellen, though she hurries to add: ‘but there are times when looking after them is incredibly dull and it’s ridiculous to pretend it isn’t, even dangerous.’13 Ellen has felt this to be the case with her for a long time now, and was greatly relieved to find out that feeling that way was not her personal fault and guilt – other people had tried to keep such feelings secret because they feared that expressing them would clash with the prevalent mood of the time (at least its official and socially obligatory, ‘politically correct’ version). I’m tickled by this new craze for highlighting the ‘burden’ of motherhood. A new book, The Mommy Myth, is causing a stir in the States, and everywhere you look women are moaning about how

Consumers in Liquid Modern Society


motherhood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and (whisper it) sometimes they wonder why they bothered.

Following the common habit of demanding that a villain is found on each and every occasion, along with a culprit for every discomfort of life, Ellen muses: ‘You can’t help wondering who is behind this new global outburst of Mommy Myth sulking.’ She opts for an easy answer, laying responsibility at the door of the ‘career women’ who delay motherhood long enough to develop a liking for the ‘rose-tinted water cooler broodiness’ of the office away from home; they would be forced to exchange it for ‘grubby duvet-yanking arguments’ in the event they decided to become mothers after all. Children as against career; home confinement as against the world of continuous adventure; the tedium of children as against the wide, never fully explored and so forever alluring spaces ‘out there’. This sounds true, the choice is indeed stark and unprepossessing; for many women the prospect of such a trade-off may be a good reason to sulk and moan. Is this the whole truth, however? Amelia Hill, Ellen’s editorial colleague, in an article with the tellit-all heading of ‘You thought children would make you happy? Not really – just poorer’, quotes Emma Flack, a thirty-one-year-old company executive in the City of London: ‘I never dreamt one child could be such an enormous financial drain.’14 Emma and her husband face an awesome and unfamiliar task: how to ‘sustain this new lifestyle where we have to count every penny’. This sudden must of penny-pinching and the need to think twice when one wants to indulge one’s wishes was to Emma and her partner a totally unfamiliar experience. They admit to ‘a feeling of resentment for the lifestyle and material affluence of friends who, without children, had time and money to socialize and travel’. Rational beings and keen observers as they are, friends take such resentment as a warning: no wonder that Caroline Harding, a thirty-four-year-old director at a City firm, declares that she is ‘very determined about the things I want to do before I have children because once you have kids, that’s it as far as independent living goes’. No wonder either that the latest World Values Survey found that an increasing number of people are looking past children for their fulfilment. In Britain, to the question ‘Do you think that a woman has to have children in order to be fulfilled?’, fewer than 12 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men answered ‘yes’.


Consumers in Liquid Modern Society

Having children costs money – a lot of money. Having a child portends (for the mother at least) a considerable loss of income and simultaneously a considerable growth of family expenditure (unlike in times past, a child is a consumer pure and simple – it won’t contribute to the family income). The charity Daycare Trust calculates that the average price of a nursery place for a child under two grew to £134 a week by the end of 2002, as against the average family income, which reached £562 a week.15 The average earnings of a daytime nanny would have set a family budget back by £18,546 a year in the countryside, rising to £27,320 in London. As Brendan Bernard, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, concluded, ‘being unable to work because costly childcare remains way beyond the family budget is condemning hundreds of thousands of larger families to a life of poverty.’ Hundreds of thousands of families are already condemned to a life of poverty. Other hundreds of thousands watch their plight and take note. In our market-ruled society every need, desire or want has a price tag attached. Things are not to be had unless they are purchased, and purchasing them means that other needs and desires must wait. Children are not – why should they be, you might ask? – an exception. On the contrary, they would leave more needs and desires in waiting than almost any other purchase – and no one can tell how many and for how long. Having a child is like jumping headlong into a gambling den, giving hostages to fate or mortgaging your future with no inkling of how large the repayments on your mortgage loan will be and how long it will take to pay it off. One signs a blank cheque and takes responsibility for tasks one doesn’t know and cannot anticipate. The total price is not fixed, the obligations are not explained, and there is no ‘money-back guarantee’ in case one is not fully satisfied with the product. In our society of buyers and sellers such reasoning also sounds like a credible explanation of cold feet. But again, if this is the truth, is it the whole truth? And again – it does not seem to be. The wider the picture we scan, the more reasons we have to suspect that it isn’t. Dr John Marsden, an expert in addictive behaviour, comments on the latest medical discovery that what we, the lay people ignorant

Consumers in Liquid Modern Society


of science, call ‘falling in love’ or ‘being in love’ boils down to the excretion of oxytocin, a chemical that ‘makes us enjoy sex’.16 ‘The brain’, he explains, ‘has internal drug factories. Physical attraction causes chemical cocktails to be released that activate dopamine, which makes us ecstatically happy’ when we are with the person we love. The snag is, though, that the drug in question is produced only for a limited time – as if it had been designed by nature ‘to keep people together for as long as it takes to have loads of sex, a baby, and to raise it to safe levels’. For how long is it supplied then? For ‘about two years’ . . . This, comments the columnist who reports the newest scientific findings and the learned opinion of the day, ‘is about how long all of my serious relationships have lasted’. The reader may note and be glad: no need to worry, that inability to hold on to my partner and keep our relationship from falling apart was not, as I naïvely or foolishly assumed, caused by a flaw in my character. I can, at long last, stop feeling guilty and blaming myself. This is all chemistry, stupid. Love is a drug. Hopefully, another drug will be soon available in pharmacies (and after a while surely on NHS prescription) to compensate for the brain’s factory failures and make good the shortage in the drug’s supply, or on the contrary to neutralize it when I am fed up with my partner and so make the end of the affair painless, instant and non-traumatic . . . You can hardly browse the pages of a glossy magazine these days without coming across an enthusiastic reference to the bestseller Lust: The Seven Deadly Sins by Simon Blackburn, introduced as a rule as a ‘Cambridge philosopher’. ‘More and more of us’, observes Mark Honigsbaum, for instance, ‘are openly embracing’ what on the high authority of Cambridge philosophy has been defined as ‘the desire that enthuses the body for sexual activity and its pleasures for their own sake’.17 That is it: ‘for their own sake’. Don’t bother with other things when you feel like having a go. Sex with no love, no commitment, no strings attached, no thought of its consequences (such as, for instance, adding another brand-new human being to the world) should not be seen as a sin or even something one should feel uneasy about. Unlike the other allegedly deadly sins, sexual lust is not that bad for you nor shameful and condemnable after all – it should be viewed as no sin at all.


Consumers in Liquid Modern Society

It is difficult, nay impossible, to say whether the Cambridge philosopher is right or wrong. This is after all a matter of evaluation and of your value preferences, and no argument, however refined and elegant, can prove or refute the ‘truth’ of a value; values are neither true nor false – only embraced or rejected. That you fall in love when oxytocin flows freely and you fall out of love when its supply runs dry is another matter: its truth may be proved, or at least stay credible until proved otherwise. There is no room for doubt here: when it comes to truth, science has the last word. And so there is no point in objecting to its pronouncements. Of Simon Blackburn one may say that he is just following the mood of the time and stamping the approval of high learning on currently common wants; of John Marsden one can’t say the same, and even if one did, that would not make Marsden’s judgement any less true than it is. This said, there is however one feature that unites the two statements despite the difference in their grounds: namely the keen interest paid to both by the reading public and the avid, enthusiastic zeal with which they have been embraced and adopted (not a common lot for scientific discoveries and scholarly opinions). For a sociologist, such an unusually warm and widespread public response is perhaps the most intriguing phenomenon of the whole story; a puzzle that needs to be reflected upon and explained. And there is only one explanation: since as a rule people tend to listen the most eagerly to the messages they most crave to hear, the attentive response which statements like those of Blackburn or Marsden tend to receive these days can make sense only if those statements fit closely with certain explicit or half-conscious wishes among the people hearing them. We can try to consider what sorts of wishes might be held in common and so deeply felt that it would make that selective, targeted ‘opening up’ of people’s minds comprehensible. I suggest that the messages discussed above and the plentiful messages of a similar sort tend to be gratefully received and given unqualified credit because of their promise to mitigate and placate the spiritual torments that many people go through nowadays and try to shake off or stifle in vain. In vain, since the distress is genuine and won’t go away without an effort which most people feel too inept or reluctant to undertake.

Consumers in Liquid Modern Society


One kind of distress is a side-effect of living in a consumer society. In such a society, the roads are many and scattered, but they all lead through shops. Any life pursuit, and most significantly the pursuit of dignity, self-esteem and happiness, requires the mediation of the market; and the world in which such pursuits are inscribed is made up of commodities – objects judged, appreciated or rejected according to the satisfaction they bring to the world’s customers. They are also expected to be easy to use and bring satisfaction immediately and in a user-friendly manner, calling for little or no effort and certainly no sacrifice on the user’s side. If they fail to deliver on their promise, if satisfaction is not complete or not as great as expected, customers will return to the shop and expect to get their money back; if this is not feasible, they’ll browse the overflowing shelves for a suitable replacement. One way or another, the offending object (not up to its promise, too awkward for trouble-free use, or squeezed dry of the pleasures it was capable of giving) is disposed of. One does not swear oaths of loyalty to things whose sole purpose is to satisfy a need, a desire or a want. Risks cannot be avoided, but the dangers seem less threatening once commitment is denied. This is a comforting thought – but also pregnant with distress if the ‘things’ for consumer’s consumption are other humans. When it comes to human beings, commitment is difficult to avoid, even when it is unwritten and not formally endorsed. Acts of consumption have clear ends, lasting only as long as that and not a moment longer, but the same cannot be said about human interactions, since every encounter leaves behind a sediment of a human bond, and that sediment thickens in time as it becomes enriched by memories of togetherness. Every encounter is both a winding-up moment and a new beginning – interaction has no ‘natural end’. The end can be only artificially contrived, and it is far from obvious who is to decide when that end has arrived, since (to apply consumerist concepts) in human interaction both sides are, simultaneously, consumers and the objects of consumption and the ‘sovereignty of the consumer’ can be claimed by both. The established bond may be broken, further interaction refused – but not without a bitter aftertaste and a feeling of guilt. It is difficult to double-cross moral conscience. Lawrence Grossberg explains the recent ‘rejection of childhood’ (the presentation of childhood in public discourse as a ‘problem’,


Consumers in Liquid Modern Society

and youth as dangerous, mindless, socially irresponsible and crassly immature) by adults’ needs to discount their own responsibilities.18 As Henry A. Giroux comments, the soi-disant disenchantment of childhood can be traced back to ‘adults labouring under the logic of an allegedly pure market system that, in reality, only pays lip service to individual freedom while undermining the bonds of social life and social obligations’.19 Moral pains would not arise that often perhaps, and so the deception would not need to be resorted to very often in a world less ‘liquid’ than ours – a world changing less rapidly, a world in which objects of desire didn’t age so quickly and didn’t lose their allure with such mind-boggling speed; a world in which human life, lasting longer than the life of virtually any other object, would not need to be split up into a series of self-contained episodes and new beginnings. There is no such world available, though – and the odds are overwhelming against the exemption of interhuman bonds from the rule of consumerist patterns, which are cognitive as well as behavioural. As a result, relationships are fast turning into the major and an apparently inexhaustible source of ambivalence and anxiety. In a liquid, fast-flowing and unpredictable setting we need firm and reliable ties of friendship and mutual trust more than ever before. Friends, after all, are people we can count on for understanding and a helping hand in case we stumble and fall, and in the world we inhabit even the fastest surfers and the most sprightly skaters are not insured against that eventuality. On the other hand, though, those self-same liquid and fast-flowing settings privilege those who can travel light; if changed circumstances require a fast move and starting anew from scratch, long-term commitments and any ties difficult to untie may prove to be a cumbersome burden – ballast that needs to be thrown overboard. There is no good choice, then. You cannot have your cake and eat it – but this is precisely what you are pressed to do by the setting in which you try to compose your life. Whatever choice you make, you are storing up trouble. This is perhaps why so many people listen so attentively to Blackburn’s and Marsden’s messages, as well as to similar messages hammered home from all sides, notably by the intensely popular shows of so-called ‘reality TV’ – and why they like what they hear. Some messages offer absolution from guilt: it is not your

Consumers in Liquid Modern Society


fault, not your wrongdoing, since everyone shares that lot, everyone faces the same choices and everyone does the same. Some other messages offer a licence to plug your ears against the voice of conscience: if you don’t manage to vote the ‘weakest link’ out of the game, it is you who will be voted out. It is the hopeless and hapless romantics who are most likely to become the ‘weakest links’ in the games of other, more sober people. Life is a zero-sum game, and God helps him who helps himself. It is into such a world that children are born, in such a world they grow, and into such a world they are expected to seek admission once they grow up. Children watch. And learn. As Charles Schwarzbeck has summed it up, ‘Our children profoundly take to heart what they see and hear within their relationship with us. They do not, as we might assume, switch in and out of being with us. They are always with us, interacting or witnessing how we run our personal lives.’20 Children take to heart what we, the adults, do. After all, we are the authority. We represent the world. Jean-François Lyotard, the acknowledged spiritual father of the postmodern turn in our perception of the human world, insisted however that it is the lot (the privilege?) of the child to most fully represent humanity: shorn of speech, incapable of standing upright, hesitating over the objects of its interest, not able to calculate its advantages, not sensitive to common reason, the child is eminently the human because its distress heralds and promises the things possible.21

When first stated, this was not Lyotard’s discovery. He merely restated an opinion that since the beginning of modern times has enjoyed wide currency among thinkers and writers concerned with the yawning gap between the imagination and innocence of children and the unsentimental routine and the corruption of most adult life, as well as with the careless way in which the spiritual powers and creative potential of children were thoughtlessly squandered in the course of their ‘maturation’. As Kiku Adatto observed, those thinkers found it intriguing that the most helpless and dependent period of life – childhood – is associated with the most robust state of the soul, the purest state of moral consciousness, the most natural and creative


Consumers in Liquid Modern Society

stage of human life. Dostoievsky declared ‘the soul is healed by being with children’. In Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, and other novels of Dickens, the child stands as an emblem of goodness and virtue against society’s corruption, injustices, and vanities.22

Lyotard went on to comment sadly that all the efforts of ‘society’, all the socializing pressures, bodily and mental, whether shaped by design or by default, are aimed at directing the process of ‘maturation’, away from the human, all-too-human qualities of childhood. As if it was the logic of human society to run away from its members’ humanity . . . Definitely, society is not hospitable and not friendly to those ‘insensitive to common reason’, and it is downright hostile to those ‘not able to calculate their own advantages’. Society doesn’t take lightly to the infinity of possibilities; what else is any social order about if not about cutting down on the number of possibilities permitted, and about stifling all the rest? The essence of all socialization is in lessons in ‘realism’: to its newcomers, the newborn, society offers admission on condition that they accept the right of reality to draw the line separating selected possibilities, now regularized as power-assisted probabilities, from all the others, now authoritatively decried to be misbegotten, vain, shameful or sinful, and downright ‘anti-social’; not just a waste of time but also inviting trouble. Since the early modern discovery of ‘childhood’ as a separate and in many ways unique stage in human life society has eulogized children for their ‘spirit of amity’ and ‘free play’, sorely missed by the adult members of society even while they were simultaneously viewing them, for much the same reason, with deep suspicion. After all, the life of adults required that free play was either shunned altogether or relegated to ‘leisure time’, being replaced by discipline and routine at all other times, while the impulse of amity was securely contained in the straightjacket of contractual rights and duties. Children could not be trusted and left without vigilant supervision; ‘raw childhood’ needed to be reprocessed and so ‘detoxified’ – purified of its natural ingredients because society would not wish to ingest them and would not be able to digest them if it did. In practice if not in theory, childhood was not treated as a haven or shelter, but as a simulacrum of adult life. The kind of end product which the reprocessing of children

Consumers in Liquid Modern Society


is intended to achieve depends on the role in which members of society are called into active service. For a better part of modern history (the part marked by massive industrial plants and massive conscript armies) society shaped and groomed its members for industrial work and armed service. Obedience and conformity, endurance in the face of drudgery and monotonous routine were accordingly the virtues to be planted and cultivated – while fantasy, passion, a spirit of rebellion and a reluctance to fall in line were the vices to be exterminated. It was the body of the would-be worker or soldier that counted; it was the spirit that had to be silenced, and once silenced could be left out of account as of no consequence. The society of producers and soldiers focused its ‘reprocessing of childhood’ on the management of bodies to make them fit to inhabit their future natural habitat: the factory floor and the battlefield. The era of the producers’ society, in our part of the world at least, is for all practical intents and purposes over, even if its memory lingers in the prejudices held by many in sharp contrast to their practices (as Priscilla Anderson concludes from her comprehensive study of current ‘child-rearing’ literature, ‘older beliefs about young children’s ignorance, inexperience, unawareness, unrealistic and self-centred thinking continue to dominate professional and public beliefs about childhood’).23 We live now in a society of consumers. The natural habitat of consumers is the market, the site of selling and buying. In the case of the consumers-to-be, a prompt and whole-hearted response to the allure of commodities and a compulsive, addictive urge to buy are the main virtues to be planted and cultivated; indifference to market-managed seduction or a lack of the resources that a proper response to seduction requires are the mortal sins that need to be uprooted or punished by banishment. Accordingly, to make its members fit to inhabit their natural habitat (shopping malls this time, and the street where the branded commodities obtained in the shops are put on public display to endow their bearers with commodity value), the society of consumers focuses its ‘reprocessing of childhood’ on the management of spirits. Never mind the bodies – drilling them is old hat; the ‘great novelty’, as Dany-Robert Dufour put it, is the conquest and


Consumers in Liquid Modern Society

redeployment of the soul.24 Or, to quote Daniel Thomas Cook of the University of Illinois: The battles waged over and around children’s consumer culture are no less than battles over the nature of the person and the scope of personhood in the context of the ever-expanding reach of commerce. Children’s involvement with the materials, media, images and meanings that arise from, refer to and are entangled with the world of commerce figures centrally in the making of persons and of moral positions in contemporary life.25

It does ‘figure centrally’ – and starting from a rather tender age. As soon as they learn to read, or perhaps well before that, children’s ‘shop dependence’ sets in. Bombarded from all sides by suggestions that they need this or that shop-supplied product to be the right kind of person, and one that is able to perform its social duty and be seen as doing just that, they feel inadequate, deficient and substandard unless they promptly answer the call. Felt to be the most imperative and urgent is the need to repair or hide genuine or putative bodily and facial defects in order to raise one’s selling assets. Owen Bowcott lists the high circulation glossy magazines aimed at the teenage market that attach to successive issues, week in week out, ‘free gifts’ or ‘exclusive offers’ of ‘lush mascara’, ‘gorgeous lip gloss’, or wondrous spray tan.26 The latest British survey has shown that 90 per cent of fourteen-yearold girls use make-up regularly, while 63.5 per cent of girls aged seven to ten wear lipstick and 44.5 per cent wear eye shadow or eyeliner. And yet, Bowcott notes, the company which conducted the survey, Mintel (‘one of the UK’s leading consumer research organizations’) insists that ‘cosmetics companies could go much further in their drive to entice young girls to purchase their products’. What is suggested among other measures is the installation of cosmetics vending machines in schools and cinemas. Children were always seen as the ‘nation’s future’, and it was a matter of the fashion in which the nation’s well-being was seen that decided how they should be prepared for their and the nation’s future. Were Daniel Thomas Cook writing the extract above a hundred, perhaps even a mere fifty years ago, he would probably have put ‘work ethic’ in place of ‘consumer culture’, and ‘industry’ in place of ‘commerce’. As things stand now, today’s

Consumers in Liquid Modern Society


children are first and foremost tomorrow’s consumers: and no wonder, since the nation’s strength is measured by GNP, which in turn is measured by the amount of money changing hands. Children had better start bracing themselves early for the role of eager and knowledgeable shoppers/consumers – preferably from birth. No money spent on their training will be money wasted. In a book under the tell-all title of What Kids Buy and Why: The Psychology of Marketing to the Kids, Dan Acuff presented a comprehensive strategy for invading and conquering, and then managing, the ‘Kid market’, land previously fallow or barely and perfunctorily cultivated in spite of its virtually infinite profitmaking potential. He explained to future conquerors how to successfully create, develop and market products and programmes ‘targeted to today’s youth aged from birth through the teen years’.27 He adds: those ‘products’ (‘virtually anything targeted for sale to kids’) and ‘programmes’ (like ‘feature films, TV animation and electronic games’) are by their nature dedicated to ‘the preciousness and sacredness of the hearts and minds of children everywhere’. Acuff and probably most of his addressees believe that by converting children to the spirit and practice of consumerism they perform a moral task, just as the pioneers of the capitalist industry two centuries ago believed themselves to be moral missionaries when they filled their mines and factories with child labourers. Those pioneers kept children’s wages low so that their hours at work would be longer and selling labour would become a necessity to be obeyed as long as they lived. Their descendants, the marketing practitioners, try instead (as Beryl Langer points out) to generate in children ‘a state of perpetual dissatisfaction by stimulating desire for the new and redefining what preceded it as useless junk’,28 the ultimate purpose being to ‘reproduce the cycle of perpetual desire in which consumer capitalist childhood is embedded’; though following the recommended road to that purpose is more often than not presented as a deeply moral and enabling act of (as Daniel Thomas Cook reports) refounding the child’s sacredness not on the (romantic) notion of innocence but on ‘another kind of sanctity’ – that of ‘a knowing, choosing self’. All the same, by Cook’s own admission, ‘the world of peer evaluations of children based on goods, media characters and product knowledge . . . is increasingly coming to stand for the norm to which children and parents must conform if they are to have a “healthy” social


Consumers in Liquid Modern Society

life’.29 So much for the ‘knowledge’ and ‘choice’ of and by the self, and for the enabling impact of kids-targeted marketing. There is little doubt, though, as Juliet B. Schor suggests, that in the last two decades . . . ‘the children’s market has expanded dramatically, in terms of both direct expenditures and their influence on parental purchases.’30 Schor notes the phenomenon of the ‘commodification of childhood’ (the commanding role of commodity markets in raising, educating and shaping of children) and the targeting of marketing activity on children themselves. The two developments reinforce each other. Children are viewed by their parents as indeed ‘knowledgeable choosers’, possessing knowledge that their parents sorely lack, namely the knowledge of what is currently binding and what is ‘passé’ in fashion. Children are for that reason increasingly often consulted whenever a purchasing decision is made by the parents, who no longer trust their own judgement of ‘what is good for the child’, and so their own shopping choices. Research commissioned by the highly successful Nickelodeon marketing company showed that 89 per cent of parents of children aged eight to fourteen report that they ask their children’s opinion about products before they buy them. According to James U. McNeal, children aged four to twelve directly influenced about 300 billion dollars worth of adult purchases in 2002, and that ‘children influenced’ market grows annually by about 20 per cent, while 30 billion dollars worth of commodities were bought in 2002 by children themselves using their own money (such purchases were estimated as reaching but 6.1 billion a mere thirteen years earlier).31

Again according to McNeal, one in four kids visits shops on their own before primary school age, while the median age for starting to make independent shopping trips is eight. ‘The soul of the child is under siege,’ suggests Kiku Adatto. The financial pressures of an expansive and invasive consumer market have made one salary insufficient to support a family with children; 67 per cent of American children are brought up in dual-income families and turn into ‘latchkey kids’ who spend most of their school-free time alone or in the company of their peers. Family bonds loosen on a ‘normal working day’. They are further undercut and emaciated by the reversal of the authority and command

Consumers in Liquid Modern Society


structure that results from children taking over the mantle of shopping expertise and the right to make shopping decisions (and shopping, let’s remember, is an activity that mediates in virtually every aspect of the family and the life of its individual members). As Joseph E. Davis suggests, consumerism and commodification processes have destabilized ‘the older institutions of identity formation (family, school, church, and so on)’ and so created a vacuum which they have then hurried to fill.32 Davis quotes the ‘branding expert’ Scott Bedbury, who assigns to the ‘great brands’ the role of ‘emotional connection points’, allowing their wearers to ‘locate themselves in a larger experience’. Never mind the boardroom lingo – what the expert implies here becomes fairly clear once you pierce through the thick verbal disguise: what is meant is the harnessing of homeless and free-floating needs to the ‘great brands’, and the substitution of brand loyalty for human bonds in shaping the life expectations and life skills of the consumers of the future. According to Tori de Angelis, there is ample research evidence showing that ‘insecurity – both financial and emotional – lies at the heart of consumerist cravings’.33 To understand the ‘making of a consumer’, ‘psychology needs to stretch from its focus on the individual’ to embrace the social setting in which the shaping of a child into a compulsive and addictive shopper/consumer is performed. De Angelis quotes Allen Kanner, a psychotherapist from Berkeley: Corporate-driven consumerism is having massive psychological effects, not just on people, but on our planet as well . . . Too often, psychology overindividualizes social problems. In so doing, we end up blaming the victim, in this instance by locating materialism primarily in the person while ignoring the huge corporate culture that’s invading so much of our lives.

Spirituality may be a child’s birth gift, but it has been confiscated by the consumer markets and then redeployed to lubricate the wheels of the consumer economy. Childhood, as Kiku Adatto suggests, turns into ‘a preparation for the selling of the self’ as children are trained ‘to see all relationships in market terms’ and to view other human beings, including friends and family members, through the prism of market-generated perceptions and evaluations.

6 Learning to Walk on Quicksand

It took more than two millennia from the time the ancient Greek sages invented the notion of paidea for the idea of ‘lifelong education’ to turn from an oxymoron (a contradiction in terms) into a pleonasm (akin to a ‘buttery butter’ or ‘metallic iron’ . . .). That remarkable transformation occurred quite recently, in the last few decades, under the impact of the radically accelerated pace of change in the social setting in which both the principal actors of education – the teachers and the learners alike – had to act. The moment a bullet is fired from a ballistic weapon, its direction and the distance it will travel have already been decided by the shape and position of the gun and the amount of gunpowder in the shell; one can calculate with little or no error the spot where the missile will land, and one can choose that spot by shifting the barrel of the gun or changing the amount of gunpowder. These qualities of ballistic missiles made them ideal weapons for use in positional warfare – when the targets stayed dug into their trenches or bunkers and the missiles were the sole bodies on the move. The same qualities make them useless, however, once targets that are invisible to the gunner start to move – particularly if they move faster than the missiles can fly, and even more so if they move erratically, in an unpredictable fashion that plays havoc with the preliminary calculation of the required trajectory. A smart, intelligent missile is needed then, a missile that can change its

Learning to Walk on Quicksand


direction in mid-flight depending on changes in circumstances, that can immediately spot movements of the target, learn from them whatever can be and needs to be learnt about the target’s latest direction and speed – and extrapolate from the information gathered the exact spot where their trajectories will cross. Such smart missiles cannot suspend the gathering and processing of information as it travels, let alone finish them – its target never stops moving and changing direction and speed, so that plotting the place of encounter needs to be constantly updated and corrected. We may say that smart missiles will follow a strategy of ‘instrumental rationality’, though in its liquidized, fluid version, so to speak; that is, dropping the assumption that the end will be given, steady and immovable for the duration and so only the means will need to be calculated and manipulated. Missiles that are even smarter won’t be confined to a preselected target at all but will choose targets as they go. What will guide them is rather the consideration of what the most is that they can achieve given their technical capacities, and which of the potential targets around are the ones they are best equipped to hit. This would be, we may say, a case of ‘instrumental rationality’ in reverse: targets are selected while the missile travels, and it is the available means that decide which ‘end’ will eventually be selected. In this case the ‘smartness’ of the flying missile and its effectiveness would benefit if its equipment was of a rather ‘generalist’ or ‘uncommitted’ nature, unfocused on any specific category of ends, not overly adjusted to the hitting of any particular kind of target. Smart missiles, unlike their ballistic elder cousins, learn as they go. So what they need to be supplied with at the outset is the ability to learn, and learn fast. This is obvious. What is less visible, however, though no less crucial than the skill of learning quickly, is the ability to instantly forget what was learned before. Smart missiles wouldn’t be smart if they were not able to ‘change their mind’ or revoke their previous ‘decisions’ without a second thought and without regret . . . They must not overly cherish the information they acquire and on no account should they develop a habit of behaving in the way the information suggested. All the information they acquire ages rapidly and if it is not promptly dismissed it may be misleading instead of providing reliable guidance. What the ‘brains’ of smart missiles must never forget is that


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the knowledge they acquire is eminently disposable, good only until further notice and only temporarily useful, and that the warrant of success is not to overlook the moment when acquired knowledge is of no more use and needs to be thrown away, forgotten and replaced. Philosophers of education of the solid modern era saw teachers as launchers of ballistic missiles and instructed them how to ensure that their products would stay strictly on the predesigned course determined by the original momentum. And no wonder; at the early stages of the modern era ballistic missiles were the highest achievement of human technical invention. They gave flawless service to anyone wishing to conquer and master the world as it then was; as Hilaire Belloc confidently declared, referring to the African natives, ‘Whatever happens, we have got / The Maxim Gun, and they have not’ (the Maxim gun, let’s recall, was a machine to launch great numbers of bullets in a short time, and was effective only if there were very many such bullets to hand). As a matter of fact, though, that vision of the teacher’s task and the pupil’s destiny was much older than the idea of the ‘ballistic missile’ and the modern era that invented it – there is an ancient Chinese proverb that precedes the advent of modernity by two millennia but is still quoted by the Commission of the European Communities in support of its programme for ‘Lifelong Learning’ at the threshold of the twenty-first century: ‘When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people.’ It is only with the entry into liquid modern times that the ancient wisdom lost its pragmatic value and people concerned with learning and the promotion of learning known by the name of ‘education’ had to shift their attention from ballistic to smart missiles. More to the point, in the liquid modern setting education and learning, to be of any use, must be continuous and indeed lifelong. No other kind of education and/or learning is conceivable; the ‘formation’ of selves or personalities is unthinkable in any fashion other than that of an ongoing and perpetually unfinished re-formation. In a crisp and pithy rendition by Leszek Kol akowski, the freedom that transforms every step into a (potentially fateful) choice ‘is given to us along with our humanity, and is the foun-


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dation of that humanity; it gives uniqueness to our very existence’.1 But it can be said that at no other time has the necessity to make choices been so deeply felt. At no other time have the acts of choosing been so poignantly self-conscious as they are now, conducted as they are under conditions of painful yet incurable uncertainty, under the constant threat of ‘being left behind’ and of being excluded from the game with any return barred because of a failure to rise to the new demands. What separates the present-day agony of choice from the discomforts which have always tormented homo eligens, the ‘man choosing’, is the discovery or suspicion that there are no preordained rules or universally approved objectives that can be steadfastly followed whatever happens, thereby relieving the choosers from responsibility for any adverse consequences of their choices. Nothing prevents those reference points and guidelines that seem trustworthy today from being debunked and condemned tomorrow (and retrospectively!) as misleading or corrupt. Allegedly rock-solid companies are unmasked as figments of the accountants’ imagination. Whatever is ‘good for you’ today may be reclassified as your poison tomorrow. Apparently firm commitments and solemnly signed agreements may be overturned overnight. And promises, or most of them, seem to be made solely to be broken or denied, counting on the short span of public memory. There seems to be no stable, secure island among the tides. So where does this leave the prospects and the tasks of education? Jacek Wojciechowski, the editor of a Polish periodical dedicated to the academic profession, observes that ‘once upon a time a university degree offered a safe conduct for practising the profession until retirement – but this is now history. Nowadays, knowledge needs to be constantly refreshed, even the professions need to be changed, otherwise all effort to earn a living will come to nothing.’2 In other words, the impetuous growth of new knowledge and no less rapid ageing of the old combine to produce human ignorance on a massive scale, and continuously replenish, perhaps even beef up, its supplies. Wojciechowski warns: where there is a problem that people struggle to resolve, the market will promptly come to their rescue. At a price, of course. In this case, the problem is people’s ignor-


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ance – a stroke of good fortune for the sellers, bad luck for the buyers. For skilful school managers, this offers a not-to-be-missed opportunity to garner extra funds by patching together courses in the skills currently sought after, even if teachers with the skills needed to impart them are conspicuous mostly by their absence. This is a supplier’s market, prospective clients being by definition in no position to judge the quality of the commodities on offer or to be choosy if they risk making a judgement. Knowledge that is inferior or useless, sometimes outdated or even downright misleading, is easily sold, and the more of it is bought, the less likely are the cheated to call the suppliers’ bluff. Wojciechowski suggests that the only ‘continuous education’ courses that should be, experimentally, allowed to be offered by an institution with no proper credentials are courses in dentistry – on condition that the teachers register as patients in their graduates’ surgeries. Preying on human ignorance and gullibility promises swift and secure returns, and there will always be some fortune-seekers around who are unable to resist such a promise. But even leaving aside the genuine, widespread and growing danger of dishonest trade, the speed with which the acquired skills are devalued and the demands of labour markets drift allows even impeccably honest dealers to contribute (even if this time by default rather than design) to the unsavoury social repercussions of the new and massive knowledge-dependence. As Lisa Thomas found recently, the commercialization of the mid-career education that has become indispensable is everywhere deepening the economic and social divisions between a highly educated and skilled labour elite and the rest of the labour force, as well as between skilled and unskilled labour, erecting new barriers to social mobility that are difficult to negotiate, and adding to the volume of unemployment and poverty. Once established, the divisions tend in addition to be self-perpetuating and self-enhancing.3 In the US, for instance, only 19 per cent of people on low incomes who need professional training are likely to complete the course, while 76 per cent in higher income groups probably will. In a relatively small country like Finland, it has recently been discovered that about half a million adults in employment need education but cannot afford it. It is becoming increasingly clear that, left to its own logic, the ‘teaching market’ will magnify rather than mitigate inequity and multiply its potentially catastrophic social consequences and side-

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effects. A political intervention is unavoidable if the bane is to be avoided. This much has been assumed by the Commission of European Communities and confirmed in the communication already mentioned, ‘Making a European area of lifelong learning a reality’, issued on 21 November 2001 – though it is by no means certain that the social consequences of the ongoing commercialization of further education were the main worry prompting the initiative; the dominant motif re-emerging throughout the document is the suspicion that market-administered continuous education will not supply what the ‘economy’ truly needs and may therefore adversely affect the efficiency and competitiveness of the European Union and its member states. The authors of the document are worried that the advent of the ‘knowledge society’ portends enormous risks alongside its potential benefits; it ‘threatens to bring about greater inequalities and social exclusion’, because only 60.3 per cent of people between 25 and 64 in the EU have attained at least upper secondary level education, while almost 150 million people in the EU are without such a basic level of education and ‘face a higher risk of marginalization’. But the need to expand lifelong education/learning is argued, from the start of the document, in terms of the ‘competitive advantage’ that is ‘increasingly dependent on investment in human capital’, and on knowledge and competences becoming ‘a powerful engine for economic growth’. According to the Commission, the importance of and the need for lifelong learning consist in its role in ‘promoting a skilled, trained and adaptable workforce’. The task of achieving a ‘more inclusive, tolerant and democratic’ society marked by ‘greater civic participation, higher reported well-being and lower criminality’ enters the reasoning mostly as an afterthought and is represented as a side-effect: it is hoped it will be fulfilled as a natural consequence when more of the people who were inadequately trained thus far ‘enter the labour market’ thanks to improved training. The document bears all the marks of a ‘committee product’, collating concerns whose heterogeneous origins and potentially conflict-prone relations can only be concealed by painstaking editorial work. But time and again the main concern and argumentum crucis around which the rest of the text is wrapped shows through clearly. Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for


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Education and Culture, states in her preface to the ‘Communication’ that its purpose is to ‘adjust our educational systems to the requirements of the economy and the knowledge society’, while in the Cedefor/Euridice commentary, published a year later, one can read that the ‘identification of skills needed by the labour market’ needs to become a ‘highly significant aspect of curriculum provision’. As Kenneth Wain observes in a paper prepared for the National Consultation Conference on Lifelong Learning held in Malta in 2001, the document may suggest ‘that what is valued is only this kind of learning, vocational learning for the purposes of the economy and the job market’. Similarly, Carmel Borg and Peter Mayo conclude their thorough analysis of the document’s message by pointing out that ‘the memorandum’s messages ought to be read against an economic backdrop characterised by a market-oriented definition of social viability. An educational change is becoming increasingly linked to the discourse of efficiency, competitiveness, cost effectiveness and accountability’ and its declared aim is to impart to the ‘labour force’ the virtues of flexibility, mobility and ‘basic, employment-related skills’.4 The apprehensions are well founded. It is easy to trace a remarkable affinity between the approach taken by the European Commission and the overtly stated intentions and demands made by authors writing explicitly in the name of and for the benefit of business managers. The latter follow, with little variation, the pattern of reasoning exemplified by a highly popular and influential compendium of corporation thinking, according to which the purpose of education is ‘developing employees to enhance their current performance at work as well as to prepare them to perform in positions they may hold in the future’, while the aims of such development need to be at all times determined by ‘identification of needed skills and active management of employee learning for the long-range future in relation to explicit corporate and business strategies’.5 Raili Moilanen, having analysed the contents of those papers submitted to the 3rd International Conference of Researching Work and Learning that represented the employers’ point of view, found out that ‘learning and development seem to be important for organizations mostly for the reasons of effectiveness and competitiveness’ while ‘the viewpoint of human being as such does not seem to be important’.6 One could hardly expect different findings . . .

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Let me add that however doubtful the approach of the authors of the ‘Communication’ may appear to people concerned with the ethical and social consequences of the unquestioned priority accorded to economic (in the last account, profit-making) considerations (as Borg and Mayo point out, while the profit-making capacity of companies improves, ‘socio-economic inequalities and corresponding asymmetrical relations of power continue to intensify’), it also seems unsound in purely pragmatic terms. Appeals to the guiding role of ‘Human Resources Development’ based on the ‘identification of skills needed by the labour market’ have been made with exemplary consistency innumerable times in the past, and with a similarly monotonous regularity the managers of ‘human resources’ have failed to anticipate what the ‘labour market’ would ‘need’ when the currently trained ‘labour force’ completed their instruction and were presumably ready for employment. Future twists of market demand are not easily predictable, however artful the forecasters and methodologically refined their prognoses. Errors are, to be sure, a notorious and probably incurable ailment of all ‘scientific predictions’ of social trends, but in this case, when people’s life prospects are at stake, mistaken judgements are exceptionally damaging. Surrendering human efforts of self-assertion and self-improvement to essentially unpredictable and so known to be unreliable visions of the future needs of volatile and chaotic markets portends a lot of human suffering – of frustration, dashed hopes and wasted lives. Calculations of ‘human power’ claim an authority they do not possess, make promises that cannot hold up and as a result assume responsibilities they are unable to bear. This is probably why programmes of ‘lifelong education’ tend to be recast, imperceptibly and with no explicit explanation, into exhortations to ‘lifelong learning’ – ‘subsidiarizing’ thereby the responsibility for skills selection and their acquisition, and for the consequences of wrong choices, to those on the receiving end of the notoriously fluid and fickle ‘labour markets’. Borg and Mayo are precisely on target when they conclude that ‘in these stringent neo-liberal times, the notion of self-directive learning lends itself to a discourse that allows the State to abdicate its responsibilities in providing the quality education to which every citizen is entitled in a democratic society.’ Let me point out that this is not the first nor the last function which the state would gladly remove


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from the realm of politics, and thereby from its responsibilities. Let me add as well that the shifting emphasis from ‘education’ to ‘learning’ chimes well with another tendency, common among contemporary managers: the inclination to ‘subsidiarize’ from their own on to their employees’ shoulders responsibility for all effects, but above all the negative ones, and more generally responsibility for ‘failing to rise to the challenge’. Given the continuing convergence of two overwhelming trends that shape power relations and the strategy of domination in liquid modern times, the prospects for the twisted and erratic itinerary of market developments to be straightened up, and so for ‘Human Resources’ calculations to be made more realistic, are poor at best, and most probably nil. In a liquid modern setting ‘manufactured uncertainty’ is the paramount instrument of domination, while the policy of précarisation, to use Pierre Bourdieu’s term (a concept referring to the ploys that result in the situation of the subjects becoming more insecure and vulnerable and therefore even less predictable and controllable), is fast becoming the hard core of the domination strategy. ‘Planning for life’ and the market are at loggerheads, and once state politics surrenders to the guidance of the ‘economy’ understood as the free play of market forces, the balance of power between the two switches decisively to the advantage of the second. This does not augur well for the ‘empowering of citizens’, named by the European Commission as the primary objective of lifelong learning. By widespread consent, ‘empowerment’ (a term used in the current debates interchangeably with that of ‘enablement’) is achieved when people acquire the ability to control, or at least significantly influence the personal, political, economic and social forces by which their life trajectory would otherwise be buffeted; in other words, to be ‘empowered’ means to be able to make choices and act effectively on the choices made, and that in turn signifies the capacity to influence the range of available choices and the social settings in which choices are made and pursued. To put it bluntly, genuine ‘empowerment’ requires the acquisition not only of the skills needed to successfully play a game designed by others, but also of the powers to influence the game’s objectives, stakes and rules; not only the personal skills, but also the social powers.

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‘Empowerment’ requires the building and rebuilding of interhuman bonds, the will and the ability to engage with others in a continuous effort to make human cohabitation into a hospitable and friendly setting for the mutually enriching cooperation of men and women struggling for self-esteem, for the development of their potential and for the proper use of their abilities. In short, one of the decisive stakes of lifelong education aimed at ‘empowerment’ is the rebuilding of the now increasingly deserted public space where men and women may engage in a continuous translation between the individual and the common, the private and the communal interests, rights and duties. ‘In light of fragmentation and segmentation processes and increasing individual and social diversity,’ writes Dominique Simone Rychen, ‘strengthening social cohesion and developing a sense of social awareness and responsibility have become important societal and political goals.’7 In the workplace, in the immediate neighbourhood and in the street we mix daily with others who, as Rychen points out, ‘do not necessarily speak the same language (literally or metaphorically) or share the same memory or history’. Under such circumstances, the skills we need more than any others in order to offer the public sphere a reasonable chance of resuscitation are the skills of interaction with others – of conducting a dialogue, of negotiation, of gaining mutual understanding and of managing or resolving conflicts inevitable in every instance of shared life. Let me restate what was stated at the beginning: in the liquid modern setting, education and learning, to be of any use, must be continuous and indeed lifelong. I hope we can see now that one, though perhaps the decisive, reason why it must be continuous and lifelong is the nature of the task we confront on the shared road to ‘empowerment’ – a task which is exactly as education should be: continuous, never ending, lifelong. This is indeed how education should be so that the men and women of the liquid modern world can pursue their life goals with at least a modicum of resourcefulness and self-confidence, and hope to succeed. But there is another reason, less often discussed, though more powerful than the one argued thus far: this is not to do with adapting human skills to the fast pace of the world’s change, but with making the fast changing world more hospitable


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to humanity. That task also calls for continuous, lifelong education. As Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux have recently reminded us, democracy is imperiled as individuals are unable to translate their privately suffered misery into broadly shared public concerns and collective action. As multinational corporations increasingly shape the content of most mainstream media, privatizing public space, civic engagement appears more and more impotent and public values are rendered invisible. For many people today, citizenship has become reduced to the act of buying and selling commodities (including candidates) rather than increasing the scope of their freedoms and rights in order to expand the operations of a substantive democracy.8

The consumer is an enemy of the citizen . . . All over the ‘developed’ and affluent part of the planet signs abound of people turning their backs on politics, of growing political apathy and loss of interest in the running of the political process. But democratic politics cannot survive for long in the face of citizens’ passivity arising from political ignorance and indifference. Citizens’ freedoms are not properties acquired once and for all; such properties are not secure once they are locked in private safes. They are planted and rooted in the sociopolitical soil and it needs to be fertilized daily and will dry out and crumble if it is not attended to day in day out by the informed actions of a knowledgeable and committed public. It is not only the technical skills that need to be continually refreshed, not only the job-focused education that needs to be lifelong. The same is required, and with still greater urgency, by education in citizenship. Most people would agree today without much prompting that they need to refresh their professional knowledge and digest new technical information if they wish to avoid ‘being left behind’ and don’t wish to be thrown over board from the fast accelerating ‘technological progress’. And yet a similar feeling of urgency is conspicuously missing when it comes to catching up with the impetuous stream of political developments and the fast changing rules of the political game. The authors quoted above have collated some survey results testifying to the rapid widening of the gap that separates public opinion from the central facts of political life:

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Soon after the invasion of Iraq, The New York Times released a survey indicating that 42 percent of the American public believed that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. CBS also released a news poll indicating that 55 percent of the public believed that Saddam Hussein directly supported the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. A Knight Ridder/Princeton Research poll found that ‘44 percent of respondents said they thought “most” or “some” of the September 11, 2001 hijackers were Iraqi citizens.’ A majority of Americans also believed already that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, that such weapons had been found, that he was about to build a nuclear bomb, and that he would unleash it eventually on an unsuspecting American public. None of these claims had any basis in fact, as no evidence existed to even remotely confirm these assertions. A poll conducted by The Washington Post near the second anniversary of the September 11 tragedy indicated that 70 percent of Americans continued to believe that Iraq played a direct role in the planning of the attacks.

In such a landscape of ignorance, it is easy to feel lost and hapless – and easier still to be lost and hapless without feeling it. As Pierre Bourdieu memorably remarked, the person who has no grip on the present wouldn’t dream of controlling the future – and most Americans must have only a misty view of what the present holds. This suspicion is amply confirmed by some incisive and insightful observers. ‘Many Americans’, Brian Knowlton of the International Herald Tribune notes, ‘said the hot-cold-hot nature of recent alerts had left them unsure just how urgently, and fearfully, they should react’.9 Ignorance leads to paralysis of the will. One does not know what is in store and has no way to count the risks. For authorities impatient with constraints imposed on power-holders by a buoyant and resilient democracy, this kind of impotence of the electorate produced by ignorance, and the widespread disbelief in the efficacy of dissent and an unwillingness to get politically involved are much needed and welcome sources of political capital: domination through deliberately cultivated ignorance and uncertainty is more reliable and comes cheaper than rule grounded in a thorough debate of the facts and a protracted effort to agree on the truth of the matter and on the least risky ways to proceed.


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Political ignorance is self-perpetuating, and a rope that is plaited of ignorance and inaction comes in handy whenever the voice of democracy is to be stifled or its hands tied. We need lifelong education to give us choice. But we need it even more to salvage the conditions that make choice available and within our power.

7 Thinking in Dark Times (Arendt and Adorno Revisited)

We live in what – following Hannah Arendt and through her Bertold Brecht – can properly be called ‘dark times’. This is how Arendt unpacks the nature and the origins of their darkness: If it is the function of the public realm to throw light on the affairs of men by providing a space of appearances in which they can show in deed and word, for better and worse, who they are and what they can do, then darkness has come when this light is extinguished by a ‘credibility gap’ and ‘invisible government’, by speech that does not disclose what is but sweeps it under the carpet, by exhortations, moral or otherwise, that, under the pretext of upholding old truths, degrade all truth to meaningless triviality.1

And this is how she described its consequences: (T)he public realm has lost the power of illumination which was originally part of its nature. More and more people in the countries of the Western world, which since the decline of the ancient world has regarded freedom from politics as one of the basic freedoms, make use of this freedom and have retreated from the world and their obligations within it . . . But with each such retreat an almost demonstrable loss to the world takes place: what is lost is the specific and usually irreplaceable in-between which should have formed between the individual and his fellow men.2


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Withdrawal from politics and the public realm turns therefore, says Hannah Arendt, into the ‘basic attitude of the modern individual, who in his alienation from the world can truly reveal himself only in privacy and in the intimacy of face-to-face encounters’.3 ‘In the century of the Enlightenment’, writes Peter Gay in his comprehensive compendium of the ideas that assisted at the birth of our bizarre way of life known under the name of ‘modernity’, ‘fear of change, up to that time nearly universal, was giving way to fear of stagnation; the word innovation, traditionally an effective term of abuse, became a word of praise.’4 There was no reason now to be afraid of change, since it was also felt, at least in the Parisian salons and London coffee houses where the members of the Republic of Letters met, that ‘in the struggle of man against nature the balance of power was shifting in favour of man’. Rather than portending a new blow of unpredictable fate, the ‘new’ augured another step on the road to human control over humanity’s destiny. The mood of the time was ‘not the boasting that conceals impotence’ but ‘a rational reliance on the efficacy of energetic action’. ‘Action’ was the name of the game – and where there was the will to act, the know-how and the tools would promptly follow. It was now felt (at least among the knowledgeable and the thoughtful) that with due effort the passage ‘from experience to programme’, as Gay puts it (or, in other words, from contemplation to action, from theory to practice, from better knowledge to a better world, from reading the designs of nature to designing a new and improved nature), could surely be shortened and quickened. The Enlightenment was the birthplace of what David Hume called the ‘moral sciences’ – sociology, psychology, political economy, modern education – all determined to serve the impending ‘age of administration’ in which the ‘reforming public officials’ were to ‘find themselves in conflict with established bodies and traditional practices’ and where ‘behind the troops of laissez faire marched the clerks of government regulation’. Medicine ‘was strategic to all true knowledge’ and set the pattern for the way to proceed whenever an action was undertaken and whatever its goal: first diagnose the ailment, then design the therapy course, apply it, and make the ill healthy again – or even healthier and

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more immune to disease than ever before. ‘Medicine’, says Peter Gay, ‘was philosophy at work; philosophy was medicine for the individual and the society.’5 A little more than two centuries later, in a time viewed by a large number of observers as ‘late modernity’, Daniel Galvin, described by Laura Barton as a ‘hair colour doyen’, informs us that ‘hair colour has become an essential part of a woman’s beauty routine, to the extent that hair without colour is like a face without make-up.’6 ‘We are caramel one season, mahogany the next, anxiously inspecting our roots to check whether our natural colour is creeping back, like mould,’ confirms Laura Barton, admitting that she herself has brown hair which she dyes brown: ‘It is, of course, my firm belief that I am dyeing it a superior shade of brown.’ And hair is just one of the visible parts of the body that need to chase after the standards of superiority as they sprint ahead. In the last ten years the number of nail salons in the US has more than tripled and the number of cosmetic surgical interventions has more than doubled, reaching 6.2 million procedures in 2002 alone. According to Apostolos Gaitanas, a London plastic surgeon, the number of cosmetic surgeries in Britain is growing by between 10 and 20 per cent every year. Don’t forget the skin, the nose, the waist, the breast . . . Of the current compulsive obsession with ‘re-engineering’, Richard Sennett writes: ‘Perfectly viable businesses are gutted or abandoned, capable employees are set adrift rather than rewarded, simply because the organization must prove to the market that it is capable of change.’7 Sennett quotes Michael Piore and Charles Sabel, writing of another current obsession, ‘flexible specialization’: ‘a strategy of permanent innovation: accommodation to ceaseless change, rather than an effort to control it’.8 And listen to our current and would-be ministers and their spokespeople. They sing in many voices, but there is a common motif in all the tunes: modernize, modernize, change or perish. Tertium non datur. There is a striking family resemblance between the main characters of these stories narrating two periods separated by more than two hundred years. The heroes of both stories are restless. They cannot stand still. They are not satisfied with what is, or not satisfied enough to take it as it stands and to allow it to stand like that for long. They wish it to be different; they would want it to


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be different even if it were more satisfactory than it is, since making things different, keeping them on the move, is the thing that truly counts: it is the change, and even more the confidence and resolve that things can be changed, that keep the hope of satisfaction alive. And they are doubly confident: first, they believe that things can be made different, and second – they are sure that they can make them different. That said, let us note some equally striking dissimilarities between the two sets of central characters: three differences in particular. To start with, the heroes of the first story were bent on running things. They aimed to administer, to rule, to manage. They were after more efficient ways of monitoring and supervising the world, and then using them to transport humans – all humans – to a condition of greater happiness. Happiness, they thought, would be a product of the world well managed – that is, of non-human nature kneaded by human efforts into a shape more amenable to human use and more conducive to human happiness, and of human nature cleansed of anything contrary or ill-fitting to the state of such happiness. The heroes of the second story, on the other hand, are not particularly concerned with the state of the world. They seem to follow the ancient precept: hic Rhodos, hic salta – assuming that Rhodos will not and cannot be replaced with some other place more hospitable to jumpers, and certainly not into a place where one does not need to jump to test one’s own credibility and worthiness. They view happiness as a condition which the state of the world cannot affect by making it either a foregone conclusion or an impossibility. The exit from a state of unhappiness can therefore only be through an operation committed by happiness-seekers on themselves, and each one on their own, not by the many seekers after happiness putting their heads together to design the shape of a better world and then joining ranks and working together to make it better. To cut a long story short: if the pursuit of happiness is to result in happy individuals, it needs to be a collective task for the heroes of the first story – but for the heroes of the second it is a private task through and through, to be individually undertaken and individually performed from beginning to end. There is another difference. For the main characters of the first story, repairing the extant world or building a new and improved one was a campaign with an end; the condition of the world as

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found needed to be transcended so that another world could be put in its place – and not just ‘another world’, but a world which would be unlike the one it replaced in making all further transcendence redundant and uncalled for. A perfect world, in other words; in a state of perfection, as Leon Battista Alberti put it, any change can be only for the worse. The operation which the heroes of the first story intended had a time limit; there would be no point in acceleration unless the purpose of the acceleration was to bring closer the time to slow down and come to a halt. The heroes of the second story, on the other hand, either resent the thought of ever stopping and then staying put, or give no thought to the finishing line at all – focusing their attention and effort on the nearest step and knowing all too well that they cannot know or even guess in advance the step they will have to or will want to take after that. For them, being on the move is not a temporary undertaking that will eventually fulfil its purpose and thereby cancel its own necessity. The sole purpose of being on the move is to remain on the move. If for the heroes of the first story change was a one-off operation, a means to an end, for the heroes of the second story change is an end in itself, expected to be chased in perpetuity. A third difference: the main characters of the first story were ready to prompt, prod or nag humans into change. Appalled by common human sloth and the dearth of imagination, they believed or suspected that a lot of pushing and pulling would be needed to force humans out of their stupor and into an acceptance of change – to prod them into joining in the effort of changing the world. For the heroes of the second story, on the other hand, such conditions as listlessness, inertia and ‘standing still’ are not seriously considered prospects. They need not be told, let alone forced, to change. They just would not know how to sit on their hands. Even the rejection of change requires them to act. They are on the move because move they must. They move because they cannot stop. Like bicycles, they keep upright only when spinning along. It is as if they were following Lewis Carroll’s precept: ‘here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.’ One further remark is in order. In each of the two stories, characters of a different type have been cast in the hero’s role. The heroes of the first story were the scriptwriters, directors, conductors, coaches, stage managers.


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(‘The new style of thought was in the main reserved to the wellborn, the articulate, and the lucky; the rural and the urban masses had little share in the new dispensation,’ explains Gay).9 In the second story, or in the story of human transcendence in the form in which it tends (and ought?) to be told nowadays, the heroes are the players themselves, all of them – those in the spotlight as well as those staying in the shadow, mute supernumeraries as well as those given lengthy lines. On the way from the first to the second story, the scriptwriters and directors all but vanished from sight, while the stage managers came to be more invisible than ever. Why did that happen? Why has room not been found for the heroes of the first story in the second? Have they worked themselves out of a job? Are we witnessing a case of mission accomplished, however unanticipated its results may have been? Or did the original heroes grow disenchanted, leave their missionary outposts and move to other, more promising pastimes? Or did they perhaps melt and dissolve into the crowd on the stage so that they can no longer be told apart from the rest of the cast, let alone put in the centre of the story? Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno’s life stretches between the two periods which the two stories, separated in time but reunited in his work, narrate. Adorno’s work does unite the two stories. Adorno’s case is that the second story, however different it may seem from the first, can be comprehended only if the first story is fully absorbed and digested. The world narrated in the second story can be understood only when seen as a sequel to the world described in the first. This does not imply, though, that the first story determines the imminence of the second. On its own, the first story does not permit the second story to be deduced; it could have different sequels. History did not have to take the turn it took and follow the itinerary it did. But once told, the world of the second story clamours for the first to be revisited and given another look. The second story renders a revision of the first plausible, but also imperative. The two stories make sense only in a dialogue. Adorno’s work is such a dialogue. Adorno’s work separates the two stories through the act of their unification: the world as described in the second story is a radical

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opposition, the negation of the world narrated in the first – but this radical opposition is cast as the end product of the first world’s self-destruction. The sharper it is, the clearer becomes the destructive (and indeed self-destructive) potential of the world it opposes. The task of that opposition, in Adorno’s own words, ‘is not the conservation of the past, but the redemption of the hopes of the past’ – hopes by now dismissed, forgotten and perhaps lost; and this is what all resistance would necessarily have to involve, since in the world portrayed by the second story ‘the past is preserved as the destruction of the past’.10 The past tends to be relentlessly, systematically destroyed, rendering the redemption of hopes all but impossible, once individuals ‘are reduced to a mere sequence of instantaneous experiences which leave no trace, or rather whose trace is hated as irrational, superfluous, and “overtaken” in the literal sense of the word’.11 When the individuals have been so reduced, they are unlikely to seek security in hope – that is, in a cause that has yet to be consolidated into reality. As Pierre Bourdieu was to point out a few decades later, people who do not have even a modicum of hold on their present (as they don’t, given the notorious volatility and shapelessness of experience sliced into short and fast replaced episodes) will not muster the courage required to get a hold on the future.12 They will hardly consider the impenetrable and notoriously whimsical future as a safety deposit box solid and durable enough to store and preserve their safe conduct passes. . . . The state of precariousness, as Bourdieu would say, ‘renders the whole future uncertain, and so forbids all rational anticipation – and in particular disallows that minimum of hope in the future which one needs to rebel.’ Running on through episodes that don’t seem to dovetail together into a meaningful, let alone predictable sequence, the individual will be inclined instead, as Adorno puts it, to ‘cede himself to the collective: as recompense for his jumping into the “melting pot” he is promised the grace of being chosen, of belonging. Weak and fearful people feel strong when they hold hands when running.’13 Snubbed and frustrated daily, the individual will find a shelter for personal narcissism in ‘collective narcissism’: a promise of security that can only be deceptive so far as the salvation of that badly wounded individuality goes – the hope of redemption is doomed


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to be frustrated, since the promise of a compensatory self-esteem ‘by proxy’ is proffered by the self-same collective that makes admission conditional on the suspension or surrender of individuality.14 And yet, given their individual powerlessness, individuals would still be ‘exposed to an unbearable degree of narcissistic injury if [they] did not seek a compensatory identification with the power and the glory of the collective’.15 A continuously rehearsed and reiterated surrender of individuality is indeed the (repetitive) act from which are built – and, rebuilt ever anew – the walls of the public hostels offering shelter to the homeless and vagrant individual narcissisms (for a night or two). It is only the huge volume of discarded individualities dumped at the entrance that makes the hostel walls look tried and tested as solid and secure enough to encourage checking in. Shelters are imagined – but imagination being a notoriously flighty and capricious faculty, the chances are meagre that any shelter will remain a popular and sought-after address for long. Imagined shelters are anything but ‘natural’ or ‘given’. Their life is little more than a succession of moments of resuscitation; a miracle of daily resurrection never certain to be continued. Just like those who seek security inside them, the shelters live from one episode to another. Their frailty, and so also their dubious status as warrants of security (security being a condition which can only be long term since it includes duration as its defining feature), are concealed only by the speed and expediency with which the crowds of seekers after and claimants of shelter run from one refuge to another, from one short-lived episode to the next: from becoming a member of the caramel-haired people to rushing to join the mahogany-haired ones, or from a night vigil against a paedophile released from jail ‘into the community’ to a demo against an asylum-seekers’ camp planned too close to home for comfort. Communis opinio feels like a godsend to individuals whose individually commanded and managed resources stop well short of the quantity needed to separate the truth from ‘mere opinion’ with any degree of confidence. It relieves the individuals from decisions they are anyway impotent to take, and so takes the insult out of the injury and keeps the salt away from the wound. ‘What is true and what is mere opinion’, says Adorno, is decided ‘by societal power, which denounces as mere caprice whatever does not agree with its own caprice. The border between healthy and

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pathogenic opinion is drawn in praxi by the prevailing authority, not by informed judgment.’16 A border at last! In its presence all fearful hesitations die down and may be cast aside; one knows now where the inside and the outside are and how to tell one from the other, one can try to stay inside and away from the border guards’ inquisition. Perhaps, just perhaps, staying inside will do for that craved-after yet vexingly evasive security (losers can’t be choosers), whereas for adventurous spirits the sight of a border will at long last offer something to transgress. Seekers after security and adventure addicts are served in equal measure by the authority’s drawing exercises. No wonder they find themselves joining forces in fortifying the border: here is one task they can agree on, and be ready to cooperate in fulfilling, notwithstanding their multiple antagonisms. And who would have noticed the border, not to mention genuflect to its serene and adamant steadfastness, if it were not for their mutually contradictory, but also mutually indispensable, complementary exertions? A few decades after Adorno sent his Minima Moralia to the publishers Czesl aw Mil osz, the great Polish poet, suggested that the intellectuals and artists who choose (or are forced to choose) exile – that great unknown beyond the border – gain an insight into the plight of contemporary men and women which they would hardly have achieved if they had stayed inside, even if they had shared in the lot of those whose lives they struggled to understand.17 Would Joyce have written Ulysses if he had stayed in Dublin all his life? Would Isaac Bashevis Singer have conjured up the world of the shtetl had not that world been cast beyond the hope of return? Rhetorical questions, to be sure; they wouldn’t. It takes time to understand that ‘exile does not mean just crossing borders; it grows and matures inside the exiled, transforms them and becomes their destiny.’ There is a blessing (or at least a chance of a blessing) in the dark, off-putting disguise of loneliness, abandonment and alienation. The self-same loss of comfortable, harmonious and unproblematic inclusion in the surrounding space and the impossibility of feeling at home in that space that is so close and yet so distant, so different from the memorized topography of the lands left behind which torment the exile or the refugee, allow them to penetrate deeper into the universal logic and meaning of life in a kind of world (we would say, our liquid




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modern world) in which everyone, though mostly unknowingly, shares in the condition of being an exile: ‘what has happened in everybody’s life is subjected to a continuous transformation in memory and more often than not gains the features of a lost paradise, ever more bizarre and ever more alien.’ Almost everything that one can say in trying to convey the exile’s amorphous and vaguely threatening condition can also be said of all other men and women exposed to the new liquid modern cityscape. Double loyalty, double jeopardy, doubled chance of selfcomprehension . . . ‘Exile is a test of freedom’, Mil osz concludes, ‘and that freedom frightens . . . Exile destroys – yet if you resist destruction the test will make you stronger.’


The prospects of human emancipation appear sharply distinct these days from those that seemed so evident to Marx, though the charges raised by Marx against a world unforgivably inimical to humanity have not lost any of their topicality and urgency, and the failure to find a competent jury with the power to pass a verdict and make it stick, to punish the culprits and compensate the victims, has not offered any clinching proof of the unreality of the original ambition of emancipation. No adequate reason has been supplied to take emancipation off the agenda (if anything, the contrary is the case: the noxious persistence of ills is one more reason to try harder). On this point, Adorno is adamant: ‘The undiminished presence of suffering, fear and menace necessitates that the thought that cannot be realized should not be discarded.’ Now as then, ‘philosophy must come to know, without any mitigation, why the world – which could be paradise here and now – can become hell itself tomorrow.’ The difference between ‘now’ and ‘then’ ought to be sought elsewhere. To Marx, the world seemed ready to turn into a paradise ‘there and then’. The world appeared to be prepared for an instantaneous U-turn, because ‘the possibility of changing the world “from top to bottom” was immediately present.’18 This is no longer the case, if it ever was (‘only stubbornness can still maintain the thesis as Marx formulated it’). The possibility of a shortcut to a world more fit for human habitation has been lost. One would rather say that between this world here and now and that other world that is hospitable to humanity and ‘user friendly’ there are no visible bridges left, whether genuine or putative. Neither are there

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crowds eager to stampede the whole length of the bridge if it was designed, nor vehicles able to take the willing to the other side and deliver them safely. No one can be sure how a usable bridge could be designed and where the bridgehead could be located along the shore to facilitate smooth and convenient traffic. Possibilities, one would conclude, are not immediately present. In Adorno’s words, ‘spirit’ and ‘concrete entity’ have parted ways and the spirit can cling to realities only at its own peril, and so ultimately at the peril of reality itself. ‘Only a thinking that has no mental sanctuary, no illusion of an inner realm, and that acknowledged its lack of function and power can perhaps catch a glimpse of an order of the possible and the nonexistent, where human beings and things would be in their rightful place.’19 ‘Philosophical thinking begins as soon as it ceases to content itself with cognitions that are predictable and from which nothing more emerges than what had been placed there beforehand.’20 ‘Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation. The utopian moment in thinking is stronger the less it . . . objectifies itself into a utopia and hence sabotages its realization. Open thinking points beyond itself.’21 Philosophy, Adorno insists, means the ‘determination to hang on to intellectual and real freedom’, and only on that condition may it, as it should, remain ‘immune to the suggestion of the status quo’.22 I do not know whether Adorno read Franz Rosenzweig, but a reader of both would be surely struck by the elective (though only elective) kinship between the conclusions of the two thinkers, showing clearly through the thicket of differences which divide them – differences in vocabulary, in inspirational sources, in the distribution of emphases and ‘topical relevancies’. For Rosenzweig, much as for Adorno, ‘to be misunderstood by common sense is the privilege, even the duty of philosophy’.23 The alternative can only be the ‘acute apoplexia philosophica’ that reigns supreme in academic offices – even though, or rather because, the ultimate vocation of philosophy is to uplift the human Lebenswelt to a level at which that misunderstanding will no longer be its fate.24 ‘Theory’, Adorno insists, ‘speaks for what is not narrowminded’25 – and common sense most certainly is, for all the


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reasons already listed and many others spelled out throughout Adorno’s prolific writings. Practice, and practicality in particular, is more often than not an excuse or a self-deception of ‘scoundrels’, like that ‘idiotic parliamentarian in Doré’s caricature’, who is proud of not looking beyond immediate tasks. Adorno denies practice the esteem that tends to be lavishly poured on it by the spokespeople for ‘positive’ science and those academic philosophy professionals (indeed, an overwhelming majority of them) who surrender to their terror. Practice is not a test of the truth, let alone its ultimate and clinching test; practice is an obstacle, or a causeway to truth. Practicality, the immediacy of an action’s effects, is not a legitimate measure of a theory’s carrying power nor a credible test of its quality. Practice lost such authority when it abandoned the unfulfilled hopes and promises of the past, leaving theory on its own on the battlefield on which the preservation and redemption of those hopes are fought for and might be eventually attained. I don’t think Adorno would expect much gain for the spirit from a dialogue with matter – and once thoroughly stripped of their subjectivity and crammed into a loose, straggling and creeping mass, human beings have been reduced to the state of matter. Adorno warned his older friend Walter Benjamin against what he called ‘Brechtian motifs’: the hope that the ‘actual workers’ would save art from the loss of its aura or be saved by the ‘immediacy of combined aesthetic effect’ of revolutionary art.26 The ‘actual workers’, he insists, ‘in fact enjoy no advantage over their bourgeois counterpart’ in this respect – they ‘bear all the marks of mutilation of the typical bourgeois character’. And then comes the parting shot: beware of ‘making our necessity’ (that is the necessity of the intellectuals who ‘need the proletarian for the revolution’) ‘into a virtue of the proletariat as we are constantly tempted to do’. ‘The world wants to be deceived’: Adorno’s blunt verdict sounds like a commentary on Feuchtwanger’s doleful story of Odysseus and the swine, or for that matter on Erich Fromm’s ‘escape from freedom’, or on the archetype of them all, Plato’s melancholy speculation on the tragic fate of philosophers trying to share with those in the cave the good tidings brought from the sunlit world. ‘People are not only, as the saying goes, falling for the swindle . . . they desire a deception’, ‘they sense that their lives

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would be completely intolerable as soon as they no longer clung to satisfactions which are none at all.’27 Adorno quotes with unreserved approval Sigmund Freud’s essay on group psychology: the group ‘wishes to be governed by unrestricted force: it has extreme passion for authority: in Le Bon’s phrase, it has a thirst for obedience. The primal father is the group ideal, which governs the ego in the place of the ego ideal.’28 And he ascribes the astounding success and unchallenged rule of mass culture ‘industry’ to its astuteness in pandering to that ideal: ‘This longing for “feeling on safe ground” – reflecting an infantile need for protection, rather than a desire for a thrill – is catered for. The element of excitement is preserved only with tongue in cheek . . . Everything somehow appears “predestined”.’29 If ‘emancipation’, the supreme objective of social critique, aims at ‘the development of autonomous, independent individuals who judge and decide consciously for themselves’,30 it is up against the awesome resistance of ‘culture industry’; but also against the pressure of that multitude whose cravings that industry promises to gratify – and deceitfully or not, does. So where does all that leave the intellectuals, the guardians of the unfulfilled hopes and promises of the past, the critics of a present that is guilty of forgetting them and abandoning them unfulfilled? By common opinion, inaugurated it seems by Jürgen Habermas and contested by only a few among Adorno scholars, and only relatively recently, Adorno’s answer to these and similar questions is best conveyed by the image of a ‘message in a bottle’. Whoever wrote the message and put it in, sealed the bottle and threw it into the sea had no idea when (if ever) the bottle would be spotted and which sailor (if any) would fish it out; and whether that sailor, once he had uncorked the bottle and pulled out the piece of paper, would be able and willing to read the text, understand the message, accept its content and put it to the kind of use the author intended. The entire equation consists of unknown variables, and there is no way for the author of the ‘message in a bottle’ to resolve it. At best, he could, repeat after Marx, Dixi et salvavi animam meam: the author has fulfilled his mission and done all in his power to save the message from extinction. The hopes and promises he knows, but most of his contemporaries have never learned or have preferred to forget, won’t pass a point of no return


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on their way to oblivion; they will be given at least the chance of another lease of life. They will not die together with the author – at least will not have to die, as they would have to have died if the thinker himself, instead of using a hermetically sealed bottle, had given himself up to the mercy of the waves. As Adorno warns, and repeatedly, ‘no thought is immune against communication, and to utter it in the wrong place and in wrong agreement is enough to undermine its truth.’31 And so, when it comes to communicating with the actors, with would-be actors, with abortive actors and those reluctant to join the action in their own time, ‘for the intellectual, inviolable isolation is now the only way of showing some measure of solidarity’ for those ‘down and out’. Such self-inflicted seclusion is not in Adorno’s view an act of treachery – it is neither a sign of withdrawal, nor a gesture of condescension (these being related: ‘condescension, and thinking oneself no better, are the same,’ Adorno himself points out). Keeping one’s distance, paradoxically, is an act of engagement – in the only form which may be taken by engagement on the side of unfulfilled or betrayed hopes: ‘The detached observer is as much entangled as the active participant; the only advantage of the former is insight into his entanglement, and the infinitesimal freedom that lies in knowledge as such.’32 The ‘message in a bottle’ allegory implies two presumptions: that there was a message fit to be written down and worthy of the trouble needed to set the bottle afloat; and that once it is found and read (at a time which cannot be defined in advance) the message will be still worthy of the finder’s effort to unpack it and study, absorb and adopt it. In some cases, such as Adorno’s, entrusting the message to an unknown reader in an undefined future may be preferred to consorting with contemporaries who are deemed unready or unwilling to listen, let alone to grasp and retain, what they hear. In such cases, sending the message into unmapped space and time rests on the hope that its potency will outlive its present-day neglect and survive the (transient) conditions that have caused the negligence. The ‘message in a bottle’ expedient makes sense if (and only if) the person who resorts to it trusts values to be eternal, believes truths to be universal, and suspects that the worries that currently trigger a search for truth and a rallying in defence of values will persist. The message in a bottle is a testimony to the transience of frustration and the dura-

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tion of hope, to the indestructibility of possibilities and the frailty of adversities that bar them from implementation. In Adorno’s rendition, critical theory is such a testimony – and this warrants the metaphor of a message in a bottle. Let us note on this occasion that the fact that it is such a testimony sets Adorno’s critique sharply apart from the ‘radical thought’ of the nihilist current in postmodern thought with which it tends all too often to be confused. I agree with Jean Baudrillard, the foremost spokesman for the latter, that such ‘radical thought’ is neither dialectic nor indeed a ‘critique’; and I would suggest that this is because it rejects both the assumptions to whose acceptance by Adorno his critical theory bears vivid testimony. In Baudrillard’s programmatic manifestos,33 ‘radical thought’ refuses to engage in the meaning negotiation which is the substance of critical theorizing; the prime stake of ‘radical thought’ is not a reinterpretation or explanation of events, but an act of defiance against their reality and the validity of thought aimed at its explication; the debunking and demotion of the latter is a mere replication in thought of the ‘symbolic destruction’ perpetuated by the ‘event’. ‘Radical thought’ is not born of philosophical doubt or of frustrated utopia. It moves all the way towards questioning the world, including its utopian critique and the philosophy arising out of the void separating the two. The practitioners of radical thought in Baudrillard’s rendition ‘dream of a world in which everybody laughs spontaneously when someone says “this is true”, “this is real” ’. In such a world, we may comment, time is suspended, and questions of durability and transience are meaningless, as is the gesture of consigning a bottle to the sea. Whether the ‘message in a bottle’ simile is a shorthand description of Adorno’s factual intentions and deeds rather than an attempt to grasp, with the help of a metaphor, the sense of the scattered programmatic reflections is a contentious matter. This is particularly so when it comes to an evaluation of the post-exile career of the Frankfurt Institute and its acknowledged spiritual leader, after their ‘homecoming’ from the obscure periphery of the American academic establishment to the brightly lit centre of German, and soon after the European, intellectual life; that is, during the only time of Adorno’s life when critical theorists were offered positions of power and the material resources that allowed


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them to put into practice what their theory recommended as its most desirable content. As Adorno and Horkheimer mused, in their American exile, ‘the history of the old religions and schools like that of the modern parties and revolutions teaches us that the price for survival is practical involvement, the transformation of ideas into domination.’ Horkheimer as Freiburg Rector and Adorno as the head of the resurrected Institute were given the chance of such a transformation. Some influential studies, confirming retrospectively the verdict passed by the rebellious students of 1968, aver that Adorno settled fairly comfortably in the new situation, concerned more with domination and its administrative instruments than with the recovery and preservation of the purity of ideas. He and Horkheimer, it has been suggested, melted more or less smoothly and with little if any compunction and few second thoughts into the ‘establishment’ (whatever that overused and misused name may refer to), thereby confirming, even if inadvertently, Adorno’s repeated warnings about the absorptive potency of administration, being able to reshape after its own image even the staunchest opposition to itself. Recently, however, quite a different version of Adorno/Horkheimer’s role in postwar Germany has been gaining influence among Adorno’s students: a story of the critical theorists’ version of the ‘long march through institutions’, of a resolute, methodical and consistent effort to deploy their newly acquired prestige and authority for the purpose of shaking the extant academic institutions and the intellectual milieu in general out of their conservative stupor and making them receptive to critical thought and hospitable to the long-term undertakings that critical theory implied. In the above dispute, clearly a topic for historians to tackle and resolve, I regrettably lack the competence needed to take sides. I will consider instead the contents of the ‘message in a bottle’: of the advice which can be posthumously reclaimed from Adorno’s writings by the intellectuals of our generation (that is, let me recall, a generation coterminous with the era described in the second of our two stories); and the relevance of that advice to the challenges and tasks with which this generation, and so its intellectuals, are confronted. Let me observe first that neither of the twin accusations raised by Karl Marx almost two centuries ago against capital – its waste-

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fulness and its moral iniquity – has lost any of its topicality. Only the scope of the waste and injustice has changed: both have by now acquired planetary dimensions. And so has that formidable task of emancipation whose urgency prompted the establishment of the Frankfurt Institute more than half a century ago and continued to guide its labours. In his recently published historical study of the ‘cultural turn’ in the concerns of American and British intellectuals, Michael Denning quotes Terry Eagleton to the effect that ‘if the 1930s left [meaning the left intellectuals] had undersold culture, the postmodern left overvalued it’ – only to object that it was not the reaction to ‘undervaluation’ that necessitated the original watershed of the ‘cultural turn’, nor the reaction to ‘overvaluation’ that prompted the current ‘post-cultural studies’ turn, but the fact that the ‘historical moment’ of the three-way split in the planet (a moment that made the ‘culture’ of ‘cultural studies’ plausible) has now passed.34 It is the world that has changed; the age of the first, second and third worlds has ended, clearing the site for ‘the moment of globalization’, and the refocusing of scholarly attention and the resulting theoretical shift merely followed. It is that new moment which in Denning’s view bears most of the responsibility for the current shift of interest from the question of ‘how peoples’ (nations, ethnicities, races, etc.) ‘are produced’; and for the drift away from the critique of ‘state ideological apparatuses’ and ‘culture industries’ to the recording of the ‘emergence of a global culture’, to ‘transnational cultural critique’, and to the new vocabulary of ‘hybridity’, ‘creole’ or ‘diaspora’. Let me note however that it is the increasingly ‘transnational’ knowledge elite, the ever more assertively and blatantly extraterritorial class of symbol-makers and symbol-manipulators, that stands at the forefront of ‘globalization’ – that shorthand for the genuine or putative, gradual yet relentless weakening of most distinctions that are territorially fixed and the replacement of territorially defined groups and associations with electronically mediated ‘networks’ negligent of physical space and cut loose from the hold of localities and locally circumscribed sovereignties. And let me note that it is the knowledge elite, first and foremost, that experiences its own condition as ‘transnational’, and that it is this kind of experience which it tends to reprocess into the idea of ‘global culture’, with ‘hybridization’ as its dominant trend: an


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image that the less mobile remainder of humanity may well find difficult to adopt as a fair representation of their own daily realities. This is no doubt a seminal watershed – though mostly in the social location, ambition and function of the knowledge elite. However much they have changed on the way from the ‘three worlds’ planet to the ‘moment of globalization’, the present realignment of culture study concerns is anything but sudden; it was prepared and gestated well before the advent of globalization was announced. Its roots can be spied in the 1960s New Left, when their concern was, to quote Denning’s felicitous phrase, ‘how to invent a Marxism without class’. Let me add: a Marxism without a historical agent; a Marxism without the most Marxist of Marxist beliefs – that each historical era breeds a carrier of its own revolutionary transformation. It was not just the proletariat that was written off as a lost cause and bidden farewell. Its departure left the intellectualist discourse in the sole company of whatever remained of the ‘general intellectuals’, once charged with the task of locating, enlightening and guiding the agents of historic change – the task which the ‘partial intellectuals’, invited by Michel Foucault and his numerous followers to replace them, were neither willing nor advised to undertake. The compact between ‘the intellectuals’ and the ‘people’ whom they once undertook to uplift and guide into history, has been broken – or rather revoked as unilaterally as it was announced at the threshold of the modern era. The descendants of the intellectuals of yore, the knowledge elite, having shared in the ‘secession of the contented’, now move in a world sharply different from, and certainly not overlapping with, the many and different worlds in which the lives and the prospects (or their absence) of the ‘people’ are ensconced and locked. And yet . . . Marx’s critique of the exorbitant human costs of capital set free from political and ethical constraints was launched at the threshold of the era of the building of the nation-state. Before that era, subordination of economic activity to a broad spectrum of human needs and commonly accepted standards of decency and fair play was exercised at the level of the local community and sustained by similarly local institutions such as municipalities, manors, parishes and craft guilds. By the end of the eighteenth century, all

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those elements of the regime soon to be dubbed ancien were subject to strains they were unprepared and unfit to endure. They were in a state of advanced putrefaction, no longer capable of effective control. Above the local level and its increasingly impotent institutions, a new ‘socially extraterritorial’ space emerged out of the bounds of local authorities – and there was as yet no other authority willing and able to take over supervision of the patterns of human relations and the fairness of human exchanges. The immediate outcome of such an emancipation of economic activity from any criterion except profitability and any purpose other than the multiplication of profit was an unprecedented upsurge in wealth production and accumulation, but also a sharp and violent polarization of living standards, a rapidly expanding mass of ‘wasted humans’ (redundant, superfluous and functionless, and therefore excluded from the company of bearers of human rights and denied human dignity), accelerated devaluation and the subsequent extinction of customary ways of gaining a living; all that topped up with a fast and relentless disintegration of the habitual safety nets woven of human bonds, obligations and commitments. The dismantling/incapacitating of the extant social mechanisms of normative regulation was welcomed by entrepreneurs as a triumph of freedom over economically senseless and so ‘retrograde’ restraints. By those at the receiving end of the ‘great transformation’ it was perceived as, first and foremost, a loss of security. What Marx (and not only Marx) took for a presage and augury of a post-capitalist order, an order that would render freedom a universal property instead of a privilege of the few, and for an incipient sign of an imminent rebellion of the exploited masses against the specifically capitalist form of unfreedom, may be seen with the benefit of hindsight as an earnest and desperate, yet inept and doomed attempt to ‘stem the tide’ and ‘stop the rot’; as diffuse, unfocused manifestations of resistance against the denial of customary security, against the new precariousness of social standing and prospects of survival, against enforced eviction from the network of human bonds that used to warrant a living seen as decent according to the accepted standards – in short, against the ‘double whammy’ of a threat to survival and a denial of dignity. Unrest was fuelled by the loss of security – it was not a frustrated leap to freedom.


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It was the missing and painfully missed security that inspired the invention and mushrooming of trade unions, friendly societies and consumer cooperatives: and it was the promise of restoring the lost security by other than traditional means that underlay the claim of the rising nation-state to legitimacy and obedience. The long and ultimately victorious advance of the modern nation-state was punctuated by factory bills setting limits to hitherto unfettered profit-making freedoms, culminating in the establishment of the ‘social state’, that is of collective insurance against individual or categorial misfortune. That chapter of modern history is finished, however – at least in the part of the planet where the projects of emancipation contained in Adorno’s legacy have been scripted and put in bottles. In this part of the world, the ‘nation-state’ method of settling the problems generated by the compulsive production of waste, inequality and indignity, that endemic tendency and the trademark of a capital-run market economy, has run its course. The capital and commodity markets have now moved into a new societally extraterritorial space, situated well above the realm of nationstates’ sovereignty and so beyond the reach of their supervising/balancing/mitigating capacity – with nation-states cast on the receiving end of that capital globalization process, into a position similar to that occupied by local authorities at the beginning of the building of the nation-state. It is now the turn of nation-states to stand accused of authoring ‘economically senseless’ and so retrograde constraints on economic activity, and being pressed or coerced into surrendering all rights and intentions of political interference in matters to do with the capital-and-commodity global flow. The social outcomes of that second emancipation – this time at the emergent planet-wide level – are also strikingly similar to those recorded at the level of the emergent nation-states two centuries ago, during the interim period that separated the liberation of business from local/communal constraints from its enclosure in the frame of new regulations, administered and policed by the political institutions of the nation-state. For a large majority of the planet’s residents, the sum total of the current transformations (code-named ‘globalization’) amount to a sharp deterioration in their life conditions – but above all to the advent of an unfamiliar insecurity of existence, or insecurity in a new and unfamiliar

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form stripped of earlier and routine defences and remedies. To redeploy Pierre Bourdieu’s apt expression: at its receiving end, the one-sided globalization limited to business enterprise is perceived first and foremost as a loss of a grip on the present and an incapacity to foresee what the future may bring, and so also an inability to devise the means of bringing the future under control. More and more, the appeals to more freedom, the presentation of more freedom as a universal cure for all present and future ills, and the demands to dismantle and push out of the way the residual constraints that cramp the movements of those who expect to make good use of being on the move look suspiciously like an ideology of the emergent global elite. They fall on deaf ears as far as the rest of the planet’s population is concerned, and are fast turning into a major obstacle to a planetary polylogue. One may wonder what its readers would make of Adorno’s message were the bottle to find its way to the South Seas, to the coasts of sub-Saharan Africa or the shores of Asia . . . Would they understand it? And if they did, would they not take it for another insult, or perhaps for a hint that another enemy assault was being plotted? Would they be able, and would they have the time and patience, to set it apart from the messages pumped daily through media satellites up there – the messages referred to by Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American news, when he wrote in October 2001 that ‘the United States [read: the affluent minority of the planet] lost the public relations war in the Muslim world [read: the downtrodden majority of the planet] a long time ago . . . They could have the prophet Mohammed doing public relations and it wouldn’t help.’35 The spokespeople for the affluent world complain untiringly that they cannot ‘get their message through’. They will hardly be able to, given that the mass privatization and deregulation they have promoted under the umbrella of that message ‘have bred’, to quote a pithy summary of Naomi Klein, ‘armies of locked-out people, whose services are no longer needed, whose lifestyles are written off as “backward”, whose basic needs are unmet’.36 All these departures not only raise the question of ethical responsibility for the less fortunate majority of the human species; they force on to the ‘emancipation agenda’ a new and unprecedented convergence of ethical precepts and interests in survival – the joint,


Thinking in Dark Times

shared survival of (as Kant would have put it) allgemeine Vereinigung der Menschheit, the universal unification of mankind. The conditions required to assure human survival (or at least to increase its likelihood) are no longer divisible and ‘localizable’. Our present-day misery and present-day problems in all their many forms and flavours have planetary roots and call for planetary (if any) solutions. As no island, even one so big as to claim the status of a continent, can bid for genuine autonomy on a full planet, the messages of emancipation need to be legible to sailors sailing all of the planet’s oceans and seas, to stand a chance of having a radical effect. Just as the cause of human emancipation cannot be effectively pursued and defended in one country, or a group of countries, oblivious and indifferent to what occurs outside their closely (yet ineffectively) watched borders, it won’t do to address the message to a selective and similarly confined audience. And yet it seems to be so addressed; not because it is kept secret from the other potential readers (no message can remain secret for long on a planet criss-crossed by information highways), but because it tends to ignore that even though the worldwide triumph of the ‘modern way of life’ means that the urge to set an agenda may by now be a universal, planetary phenomenon, the issues that clamour for a high place on such an agenda remain as territorially differentiated as before (or perhaps even more so) – just as the consequences of globalization are. Although all residents of the planet are, so to speak, in the same boat from the point of view of their survival prospects (their only choice being between navigating together or sinking together), their immediate tasks and so their preferred destinations differ sharply, making the actions and purposes which inform them jarringly out of joint – breeding antagonisms where solidarity is the imperative of the day. Adorno’s precept – that the task of critical thought ‘is not the conservation of the past, but the redemption of the hopes of the past’ – has lost nothing of its topicality; but it is precisely because of that precept’s continuing topicality that critical thought needs continuous rethinking in order to remain equal to its task. As before, the hope of striking an acceptable balance between freedom and security, the two not immediately compatible yet equally crucial, sine qua non conditions of humane society, needs

Thinking in Dark Times


to be placed at the centre of the effort of rethinking. Among the hopes of the past that need to be most urgently redeemed, those preserved in Kant’s Ideen zur eine allgemeine Geschichte in weltbürgerliche Absicht can rightly claim the status of a meta-hope: a hope that makes all hoping possible. It is enough to look around the planet to realize what a tall order this is, and how high the hill is that will need to be climbed in the struggles ahead. But armed – blessed or cursed – with language, with that curious particle ‘no’, that declaration of denial, rejection and refusal which lifts us, human beings, above the evidence of our senses and sets appearances apart from the truth, and that similarly bizarre (to think of it) future tense that drives us beyond the immediate and the given, we, human beings, can’t stop imagining how things can be different from what they are now. We just can’t settle for ‘what is’ because we cannot grasp what it ‘is’ without reaching beyond it. We ask the ‘is’ awkward questions that demand explanation and apology. We expect things to change – and we resolve to change them. Small things and big things alike. Armed – blessed and cursed – with the knowledge of good and evil, we, human beings, are judged and sit in judgement – as to what has happened and as to what have we done or desisted from doing. We place the ‘should’ on the jury benches and put the ‘is’ into the defendants’ dock. We carry the presiding judge (commonly called ‘conscience’) with us (inside us) wherever we go and whatever we do. And we believe that coming to a judgement makes sense: it has the power to change us and the world around us – for the better, or at least less evil. As inevitably as the meeting of oxygen and hydrogen results in water, hope is conceived whenever the imagination and moral sense meet. As Ernest Bloch memorably put it, before being homo sapiens, a thinking creature, man is a hoping creature. It wouldn’t be too difficult to show that Emmanuel Levinas meant much the same when he insisted that ethics came before ontology. Just as the world out there must prove its innocence in the court of ethics and not the other way round, hope does not and need not recognize the jurisdiction of ‘what merely is’. It is the reality that must explain why it failed to rise to the standard of decency set by hope. Drawing the maps of utopia that accompanied the birth of the modern era came easily to those who drafted them: they were just


Thinking in Dark Times

filling in the blank spots or repainting the ugly parts in the grid of public space whose presence was, and with good reason, taken for granted and seen as unproblematic. Utopias, images of the good life, were matter-of-factly social since the meaning of the ‘social’ was never in doubt – it was not yet the ‘essentially contested issue’ it was to become in our day, in the aftermath of the neoliberal coup d’état. Who it was who would implement the blueprint and preside over the transformation was not a problem: despot or republic, king or people. One or the other was firmly in place, apparently only waiting for enlightenment and the signal to act. No wonder that it was the public or social utopia that fell as the first casualty of the dramatic change undergone by the public sphere these days. Like everything else that was once securely located in that sphere, utopia has become the game and prey for lone rangers, hunters and trappers; one of the many spoils of the conquest and annexation of the public by the private. The grand social vision has been split into a multitude of private, strikingly similar but decidedly not complementary portmanteaus. Each one is made to the measure of the consumer’s bliss – intended, like all consumer joys, for utterly individual, lonely enjoyment even when it is relished in company. Can public space be made once more a place of lasting engagement rather than of casual and fleeting encounters? A space of dialogue, discussion, confrontation and agreement? Yes and no. If what is meant by ‘public space’ is the public sphere wrapped around and serviced by the representative institutions of the nation-state (as it was through most of modern history), the answer is probably no. That particular variety of public stage has been stripped of most of the implements and assets that enabled it to sustain the dramas staged in the past – and even if the old paraphernalia had stayed intact, they would hardly suffice to service the new, increasingly massive and complex productions with millions of characters and billions of supernumeraries and onlookers. Those public stages, originally constructed for the political purposes of nation and state, remain stubbornly local – while contemporary drama is humanity-wide, and so obstreperously and emphatically global. The answer ‘yes’, to be credible, requires a new and global public space: a politics that is genuinely planetary (as distinct from ‘international’) and a suitable plane-

Thinking in Dark Times


tary stage. And a truly planetary responsibility: an acknowledgement of the fact that all of us who share the planet depend on each other for our present and our future, that nothing we do or fail to do can be indifferent to the fate of anybody else, and that none of us can any longer seek and find a private shelter from storms that may originate in any part of the globe. The logic of planetary responsibility is aimed, at least in principle, at confronting the globally generated problems point-blank – at their own level. It stems from the assumption that lasting and truly effective solutions to planet-wide problems can only be found and only work through the renegotiation and reform of the web of global interdependencies and interactions. Instead of aiming at local damage limitation and local benefits derived from the capricious and haphazard drifts of global economic forces, a new kind of global setting needs to be pursued, in which the itineraries of economic initiatives anywhere on the planet will no longer be whimsical and guided by momentary gains alone, with no attention paid to side-effects and ‘collateral casualties’ and no importance attached to the social dimensions of balances of cost and effect. In short, that logic is aimed, to quote Habermas, at the development of a ‘politics that can catch up with global markets’.37 We feel, guess, suspect what needs to be done. But we cannot know the shape and form it will eventually take. We can be pretty sure, though, that the shape will not be familiar. It will be different from everything we’ve got used to.


Introduction 1 See Observer Magazine, 3 Oct. 2004. 2 Jacques Attali, Chemins de sagesse. Traité du labyrinthe (Fayard, 1996), pp. 79–80, 109. 3 See Richard Sennett, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism (W. W. Norton, 1998), p. 62. 4 Italo Calvino, Le città invisibili, quoted here after the translation by William Weaver, Invisible Cities (Vintage, 1997), p. 64. 5 See ‘Grace under pressure’, Observer Magazine, 30 Nov. 2003, p. 95. 6 Andrzej Szahaj, E pluribus unum, (Universitas, 2004), p. 81. 7 See Andrzej Stasiuk, ‘Duchowy lumpenproletariat’ (‘Spiritual lumpenproletariat’) and ‘Rewolucja czyli zagl´ada’ (‘Revolution, or extermination’), in Tekturowy Samolot (Wydawnictwo Czarne, 2002). 8 See Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, scene iii. 9 See Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux, Take Back Higher Education (Palgrave, 2004), pp. 119–20. 10 See Richard Rorty, ‘The humanistic intellectual: eleven theses’, in Philosophy and Social Hope (Penguin, 1999), pp. 127–8. 11 In ‘Education as socialization and as individualization’, in Philosophy and Social Hope, p. 118.

Notes to pp. 18–49 Chapter 1


The Individual under Siege

1 See Charles Guignon, On Being Authentic (Routledge, 2004), p. 9. 2 See Jeremy Seabrook, ‘Powder keg in the slums’, Guardian, 1 Sept. 2004, p. 10, from his book Consuming Cultures: Globalization and Local Lives (New Internationalist, 2004). 3 See Observer Magazine, 29 Aug. 2004, p. 35. 4 Richard Rorty, Achieving our Country (Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 83ff. 5 See N. Chambers, C. Simmons and M. Wackernagel, Sharing Nature’s Interest: Ecological Footprint as an Indicator of Sustainability (Earthscan, 2000), p. 134. 6 John Reader, Cities (Heinemann, 2004), p. 303, quoting M. Wackernagel and William E. Reeves, Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on Earth (New Society Publishers, 1996), pp. 13–14. 7 William T. Cavanaugh, ‘Sins of omission: what “religion and violence” arguments ignore’, Hedgehog Review (spring 2004), p. 50. 8 Dany-Robert Dufour, L’Art de réduire les têtes. Sur la nouvelle servitude de l’homme libéré à l’ère du capitalisme total (Denoël, 2003), p. 69. 9 Ibid., p. 44. 10 Richard Sennett, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism (W. W. Norton, 1998), p. 51. 11 Georges Perec, La Vie mode d’emploi, here quoted in David Bellos’s translation, Life: A User’s Manual (Collins Harvill, 1988), p. 497. 12 L. Feuchtwanger, Odysseus and the Swine, and other Stories, trans. Barrows Mussey (Hutchinson, 1949).

Chapter 2

Martyr to Hero, Hero to Celebrity

1 See René Girard, ‘Violence and religion: cause or effect?’, Hedgehog Review (spring 2004), pp. 8–20. 2 I Maccabees, 2. 3 Mark 14. 4 See George L. Mosse, Fallen Soldiers (Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 34ff. 5 Quoted after Philip Vellacott’s English translation of Aeschylus’ tragedies ‘The Choephori’ and ‘The Eumenides’; see Aeschylus, The Oresteian Trilogy (Penguin, 1959), pp. 108, 118, 143, 174.


Notes to pp. 53–72 Chapter 3

Culture: Obstreperous and Unmanageable

1 Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Culture and administration’, trans. Wes Blomster, in The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture by Theodor W. Adorno, ed. J. M. Bernstein (Routledge, 1991), p. 93. Let me point out that the word ‘management’ conveys better than ‘administration’ the gist of the German term Verwaltung used in the original. 2 Ibid., p. 98. 3 Ibid., pp. 93, 98, 100. 4 Ibid., p. 94. 5 Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (Verso, 1979), pp. 216–17. 6 Adorno, ‘Culture and administration’, p. 103. 7 Hannah Arendt, La Crise de la culture (Gallimard, 1968), pp. 266–7. 8 Hannah Arendt, Man in Dark Times (Harcourt Brace, 1983), p. viii. 9 Ibid., p. 24. 10 Naomi Klein, No Logo (Flamingo, 2001), p. 5. 11 Ibid., p. 25. 12 W. de Kooning, Écrits et propos (Éditions de l’Ensb-a, 1992), pp. 90ff. 13 Yves Michaud, L’Art à l’état gazeux (Stock, 2003), p. 9. 14 Quoted from Patrick Barrer, (Tout) l’art contemporain est-il mal? (Fauvre, 2000), p. 67. 15 Michaud, L’Art à l’état gazeux.

Chapter 4

Seeking Shelter in Pandora’s Box

1 Hedgehog Review, 5:3 (fall 2003), pp. 5–7. 2 David L. Altheide, ‘Mass media, crime, and the discourse of fear’, Hedgehog Review, 5:3 (fall 2003), pp. 9–25. 3 Stephen Graham, ‘Postmortem city: towards an urban geopolitics’, City, 2 (2004), pp. 165–96. 4 Ray Surette, Media, Crime and Criminal Justice (Brooks/Cole, 1992), p. 43. 5 See John Vidal’s report ‘Beyond the city limits’ in the Online supplement of the Guardian, 9 Sept. 2004, pp. 4–6. 6 Archived on 7 See 8 Seabrook, ‘Powder keg in the slums’. 9 Nan Ellin, ‘Fear and city building’, Hedgehog Review, 5:3 (fall 2003), pp. 43–61.

Notes to pp. 73–105 10 11 12 13 14



B. Diken and C. Laustsen, ‘Security, terror and bare life’, Space and Culture, 2 (2002), pp. 290–307. Quoted by John Reader, Cities (Heinemann, 2004), p. 282. Ibid., p. 267. Peter Hall, Cities in Civilization: Culture, Innovation and Urban Order (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1998), pp. 875–6. Jonathan Manning, ‘Racism in three dimensions: South African architecture and the ideology of white superiority’, Social Identities, 4 (2004), pp. 527–36. Lewis H. Morgan, Ancient Society (H. Holt, 1878), p. 1.

Chapter 5

Consumers in Liquid Modern Society

1 See ‘Irritable skin syndrome’, Guardian Weekend, 9 Oct. 2004, p. 57. 2 Andy Fisher, Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life (SUNY Press, 2003), p. 167. 3 ‘Sunflower sermon: how to do florals’, Guardian Weekend, 25 Oct. 2003, p. 60. 4 Jess Cartner-Morley, ‘How to wear clothes’, Guardian Weekend, 17 Jan. 2004, p. 47. 5 See ‘21 ways to be better in 2004’, Observer Magazine, 4 Jan. 2004, pp. 22ff. 6 See Observer Magazine, 4 July 2004, p. 59. 7 Naomi Klein, Fences and Windows (Flamingo, 2002), p. xx. 8 Bryan S. Turner, Regulating Bodies: Essays in Medical Sociology (Routledge, 1992), p. 16. 9 Oliver Sachs, Migraine, Evolution of a Common Disorder (Pan Books, 1981). 10 Chris Shilling, The Body and Social Theory (Sage, 1993), p. 3. 11 Thomas J. DiLorenzo, How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of our Country, from the Pilgrims to the Present (Crown Forum, 2004); Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, Scholar’s Edition, pp. 728–9. 12 See John Henley, ‘France sets targets for expelling migrants’, Guardian, 28 Oct. 2003. 13 Barbara Ellen, ‘Bored, dirty, exhausted: who ever said there was anything yummy about being Mummy?’, Observer Magazine, 7 Mar. 2004, p. 7. 14 See Observer, 16 Nov. 2003, p. 19. 15 See ‘Childcare rises to 25 per cent of income’, Guardian, 26 Jan. 2004. 16 See Kate Spicer, ‘Love is the drug’, Observer Magazine, 9 May 2004.

158 17 18

19 20 21

22 23 24 25 26 27 28

29 30 31 32 33

Notes to pp. 105–122 See ‘Don’t you want me baby?’, Observer Magazine, 8 Feb. 2004. See Lawrence Grossberg, ‘Why does neo-liberalism hate kids?’, Review of Education/Pedagogy/Cultural Studies 2 (2001), p. 133. Henry A. Giroux, The Abandoned Generation (Palgrave, 2003), p. xv. display.cfm?articleID=991215Schildsmoral.cfm. See Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Polity, 1991), pp. 2–7. Kiku Adatto, ‘Selling out childhood’, Hedgehog Review (summer 2003), p. 36. Priscilla Anderson, Young Children’s Rights (Jessica Kingsley, 2000), p. 57. Dufour, L’Art de réduire les têtes, p. 10. Daniel Thomas Cook, ‘Beyond either/or’, Journal of Consumer Culture 2 (2004), p. 149. Owen Bowcott, ‘Makeup and marketing: welcome to the world of ten-year-old girls’, Guardian 8 Sept. 2004, p. 3. Dan Acuff, What Kids Buy and Why (Free Press, 1997). See Beryl Langer, ‘The business of branded enchantment’, Journal of Consumer Culture 2 (2004), p. 255. See also my Wasted Lives (Polity, 2004), ch. 4: ‘Culture of waste’. Cook, ‘Beyond either/or’, p. 150. Juliet B. Schor, ‘The commodification of childhood: tales from the advertising front lines’, Hedgehog Review (summer 2003), pp. 7ff. James U. McNeal, The Kid’s Market: Myths and Realities (Paramount Market, 1999). Joseph E. Davis, ‘The commodification of self’, Hedgehog Review (summer 2003), pp. 44ff. Tori de Angelis, ‘Consumerism and its discontents’,

Chapter 6

Learning to Walk on Quicksand

1 Leszek Kol akowski, Freedom, Fame, Lying and Betrayal: Essays in Everyday Life (Penguin, 1999), p. 98. 2 Jacek Wojciechowski, ‘Studia podyplomowe’, Forum Akademickie, 5 (2004). 3 See 4 Carmel Borg and Peter Mayo, ‘Diluted wine in new bottles: the key messages of the Memorandum’, LLinE: Lifelong Learning in Europe, 1 (2004), pp. 15–23.


Notes to pp. 122–137


5 See C. J. Fombrun, N. M. Tichy and M. A. Devanna, Strategic Human Resources Management (John Wiley, 1984), pp. 41, 159. 6 Raili Moilanen, ‘HRD and learning – for whose well-being?’, LLinE, 1 (2004), pp. 34–9. 7 Dominique Simone Rychen, ‘Lifelong learning – but learning for what?’, in LLinE, 1 (2004), pp. 26–33. 8 Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux, ‘Take back higher education: toward a democratic commons’, Tikkun (Nov.–Dec. 2003). 9 See ‘Hot-cold-hot: terror alert left America uncertain’, International Herald Tribune, 5 Aug. 2004.

Chapter 7

Thinking in Dark Times

A version of the chapter has been published in Moshe Zuckerman (ed.), Theodor W. Adorno, Philosoph des beschädigten Lebens (Göttlingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2004). 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

14 15 16

Arendt, Man in Dark Times, p. viii. Ibid., pp. 4–5. Ibid., p. 24. Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, vol. 2: Science of Freedom (Wildwood House, 1973), pp. 3ff. Ibid., pp. 56, 8, 15–17. See Laura Barton, ‘Flight from reality’, Guardian Weekend, 16 Aug. 2003, pp. 14–19. Richard Sennett, The Corrosion of Character p. 51. Michael J. Piore and Charles F. Sabel, The Second Industrial Divide (Basic Books, 1974), p. 17. Gay, The Enlightenment, p. 4. Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (Verso, 1979), p. xv. Ibid., p. 216. Pierre Bourdieu, ‘La précarité est aujourd’hui partout’ in his Contrefeux (Raison d’Agir, 1998), pp. 96–7. Theodor W. Adorno, Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords, trans. Henry W. Pickford (Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 276. Adorno here uses the term ‘melting pot’ in a different meaning from popular use. He implies rather the original meaning of a container in which all the ingredients dissolve, mix and blend, losing their individuality and becoming indistinguishable. See ibid., p. 118. Ibid., p. 111. Ibid., p. 109.

160 17 18 19 20 21 22 23


25 26

27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37

Notes to pp. 137–153 Czesl aw Mil osz, Szukanie ojczyzny (Znak, 1992), pp. 180ff. Adorno, Critical Models, p. 14. Ibid., p. 15. Ibid., p. 128. Ibid., pp. 292–3. Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, p. 243. See Franz Rosenzweig, Understanding the Sick and the Healthy: A View of World, Man and God, trans. Nahum Glatzer (Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 39, 59. Beyond that point of agreement, though, the roads of Rosenzweig and Adorno diverge. If for Adorno a self-conscious philosophical arrogance (cutting itself free, indeed breaking communication with a common sense frozen in its circumstantial cage) is the condition sine qua non of philosophical service to human emancipation, for Rosenzweig the road to much the same destination leads through philosophical humility: through choosing and practising speech, dialogue (with common sense – what else?), rather than ‘abstract thought’ as the principal strategy to proceed: ‘The “speaking thinker” cannot anticipate anything: he must be able to wait because he depends on the word of the other: he requires time . . . The “speaking thinker” speaks to someone and thinks for someone; a someone who has not only ears but also a mouth.’ Adorno, Critical Models, p. 263. See Adorno’s letter to Benjamin of 18 March 1936, in Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin Correspondence 1928–1940 (Harvard University Press, 1999), pp. 127–33. Adorno, The Culture Industry, p. 89. Ibid., p. 119. Ibid., p. 138. Ibid., p. 92. Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott (Verso, 1974), p. 25. Ibid., p. 26. See Jean Baudrillard, Power Inferno (Galilée, 2002), pp. 24–5, and La Pensée radicale (Sens & Tonka, 2001), pp. 8–9. See Michael Denning, Culture in the Age of Three Worlds (Verso, 2004). Quoted by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, ‘Trading on fear’, Guardian Weekend, 12 July 2003. Klein, Fences and Windows, p. xxi. Jürgen Habermas, The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays, trans. Max Pensky (Polity, 2001), p. 109.




Abrahams, Charlotte 85 Acuff, Dan 113 Adatto, Kiku 109, 114–15 Adorno, Theodor Wiesengrund 53–8, 134–9, 142, 144, 150 Aeschylus 48 Alberti, Leon Battista 133 Altheide, David L. 69 Anderson, Priscilla 111 Angelis, Tori de 115 Anouilh, Jean 38 Arendt, Hannah 56–8, 129–30 Attali, Jacques 4 authenticity 17 autonomous society 14 autonomy 25, 38 Barton, Laura 131 Baudrillard, Jean 143 Bedbury, Scott 115 Belloc, Hilaire 118 belonging 5–6, 29 Benjamin, Walter 140 Bernard, Brennan 164 Blackburn, Simon 105–6, 108 Bloch, Ernest 151

bonds, human 87, 108, 114–15 Boorstin, Daniel J. 49, 60–1 Borg, Karmel 122–3 Bourdieu, Pierre 32, 124, 135, 149 Bowcott, Owen 112 Braun-Vega 65–7 Brecht, Bertold 58, 129, 140 Brodsky, Joseph 6 Calvino, Italo 4, 6 Carroll, Lewis 26, 133 Cartner-Morley, Jess 86 Castoriadis, Cornelius 14 celebrities 50–1 childhood 110–4 Clarke, Charles 27 consumer markets 24, 34, 57–9, 91–4, 107, 111 consumerist syndrome 23, 27, 62, 83–4, 87, 92, 107–8, 115, 152 consumer’s body 90–1, 95–6, 131 Cook, Daniel Thomas 112–13 Cooke, Alistair 89, 96

162 culture 52–6 Curry, Hazel 81 Davis, Joseph E. 115 delay of gratification 83 Denning, Michael 145 Diken, Bulent 73 DiLorenzo, Thomas J. 98 Donkersgoed, Elbert Van 71 Dufour, Dany-Robert 31, 111 duration vs transience 83 Durkheim, Émile 21, 82 Eagleton, Terry 145 Ellen, Barbara 102 Ellin, Nan 72, 74, 77 emancipation 138, 141, 148 empowerment 123–5 Enlightenment 130 eternity 7, 9, 66 excess 84 exclusion 101 exile 137–8 fat 97–9 Feuchtwanger, Lion 36, 140 Fisher, Andy 85 fitness 93–5 forgetting 2, 32, 62, 66 Foucault, Michel 146 Frayne, Bruce 72 freedom vs security 5, 38, 147 Freud, Sigmund 141 friendship 108–10 Fromm, Erich 140 fundamentalism 27 Gaitanas, Apostolos 131 Galvin, Daniel 131 gated communities 73 Gates, Bill 4–5 Gay, Peter 130, 134 Girard, René 40–1

Index Giroux, Henry A. 12, 108, 126 Giroux, Susan Searls 12, 126 good life 11 Graham, Stephen 69 Grossberg, Lawrence 107 Guignon, Charles 18 Habermas, Jürgen 141 Hall, Peter 76 happiness 11, 132 Harmsforth, Susan 81 Hegel, Friedrich 20 Heidegger, Martin 20, 30 heroes 45–7, 50–1 Hill, Amela 103 Hirsch, Samuel 98 historical agent 146 Hogan, Phil 87 homo eligens 33 homo sacer 100–2 Honigsbaum, Mark 105 Horkheimer, Max 54, 144 Hume, David 130 hybridity 28–32 identity 6–8, 26–35, 86–7 Illich, Ivan 81 imaginary community 50 inconspicuousness 73 individuality 15–27, 136 individualization 22–3, 27 individualized society 23 Ingram, Richard 27 insecurity 77–8 intellectuals 13, 139–44 intimidation 73 Jonas, Hans 59 Joyce, James 134 Kanner, Allen 115 Kant, Immanuel 150–1

Index Klein, Naomi 61, 88, 149 knowledge elite 145–6 Knowlton, Brian 127 Kol´akowski, Leszek 118 Kooning, Willem de 62, 66 Langer, Beryl 113 Leblov, Victor 85 Levinas, Emmanuel 151 learning 1, 2, 62, 66, 123–4, 137–8 lifelong education 116–18, 122–3, 136–8 liquid modernity 1, 3, 9, 12–13, 45–7, 62, 66–7, 82, 101, 108, 137–8 Lyotard, Jean-François 109– 10 McLuhan, Marshall 70 McNeal, James U. 114 managerialism 57, 132, 134 Manning, Jonathan 78 marketization 88 Marsden, John 104, 106, 108 martyrs 40–50 Marx, Karl 19, 28, 37, 138, 141, 144–6 Mayo, Peter 122–3 Michaud, Yves 62, 66 Mil´osz, Czesl´aw 137 Mises, Ludwig von 98 Moilainen, Raili 122 Morgan, Louis H. 79 Mosse, George 43–4 motherhood 102–4 Murphy, Brian 73 multiculturalism 30 narcissism, personal vs collective 135 new beginnings 2, 66 notoriety 49


Parsons, Talcott 57 patriotism 44–5 Perec, George 34 Piore, Michael 131 Plato 140 practice vs theory 140–2 progress 68 public space 77–8, 129–30, 152 Reader, John 26, 75 Redfield, Robert 70 Reding, Viviane 121 Ricoeur, Paul 19, 29 Riley, Andy 2 Rogers, Richard 74–5 Rorty, Richard 13, 25 Rosenzweig, Franz 139 Rychen, Dominique Simone 125 Saatchi, Charles 60 Sabel, Charles 131 safety 68–70, 73, 135–7 Sarkozy, Nicolas 100–1 Sartre, Jean-Paul 29 Schor, Juliet B. 114 Schütz, Alfred 30, 83 Schwarzbeck, Charles 109 Seabrook, Jeremy 22, 72 security 36–8 Sennett. Richard 4, 33, 131 Shaw, George Bernard 60 Shilling, Chris 90 Shore, Keen 72 Siblani, Osama 149 Singer, Israel Bashevis 137 society of consumers 80–4, 91–4, 107, 111 society of producers 111 speed 7–8 St George, Chris 92, 95 Stasiuk, Andrzej 7 Steiner, George 61

164 Surette, Ray 70 Szahaj, Andrzej 6 terrorism 46, 96–7 Thomas, Lisa 120 Thompson, Tommy 97 Turner, Bryan 90 uncertainty 2, 36, 57 underclass 23–5 Urbonas, Gediminas 67 utopia 11, 151–2

Index Valdes, Manolo 64–7 vendetta 48 victims 47–8, 51 Villeglé, Jacques 65–7 Wain, Kenneth 122 waste 3, 9, 11, 22–4, 81, 89 wasted humans 147 Wilde, Oscar 54 Wojciechowski, Jacek 119–20 Wolfe, Tom 63