The cat, the mouse, culture and the economy - Anselm Jappe

Essay on the relation between culture and the economy in contemporary capitalism, examining the role played by generalized commodification in the advancing infantilization of the population, the spread of narcissism and the decline of art, which has become a "subspecies of design and advertising".

Submitted by Alias Recluse on June 4, 2011

The Cat, the Mouse, Culture and the Economy – Anselm Jappe

One of Grimm’s Fairy Tales is called “The Cat and the Mouse in Partnership”. A cat convinces a mouse that she wants to be her friend, and they live together and in anticipation of the oncoming winter they buy a pot of fat and hide it in a church. On the pretext of attending one baptism after another the cat goes again and again to the church and eats all the fat a little at a time, and after each occasion amuses herself by responding to the mouse’s questions with ambiguous answers. When they finally go together to the church to eat the pot of fat, the mouse discovers the trick, and the cat simply eats the mouse. The last sentence of the fable proclaims the moral: “Verily, that is the way of the world”.

I would venture to say that the relation between culture and the economy is very much the same as that between the cat and the mouse in the fable, and all that remains is to guess which one plays the role of the mouse and which plays the role of the cat. Especially today, during the era of fully developed, globalized and neoliberal capitalism. The topics presented for discussion at this “forum on public art” deal, among other things, with the question of who should finance cultural institutions and what expectations, and what kind of public, should be satisfied by the museum, also touch upon a more general problem: what is the place of culture in contemporary capitalist society? In order to answer this question I will approach the topic utilizing a broad-based focus.

Besides production—material and immaterial—with which all of society must satisfy the physical and vital needs of its members, it also creates a series of symbolic constructs. Society uses these to elaborate a representation of itself and of the world in which it inserts or proposes, or imposes, identities and behaviors on its members. In addressing this issue I do not use the Marxist term “superstructure”, as opposed to an alleged “economic base”, because the production of meaning can—depending on the society in question—play a role that is just as if not more important than the satisfaction of basic needs. Religion and mythology, as well as everyday “customs and habits”—above all those relating to the family and reproduction—and even what has since the Renaissance been called “art” figures in the category of the symbolic. For many reasons, these symbolic codes were not separate domains in ancient societies; one need only consider the highly religious character of almost all ancient art. But most significantly, there was no distinction between the economic sphere and the symbolic and cultural sphere. An object could simultaneously satisfy a basic need and possess an aesthetic aspect. Historically, it was industrial capitalist modernity which separated “labor” from the other activities, and which conferred upon labor and its products the name of “economy”, the sovereign center of social life. Furthermore, the cultural and aesthetic dimension, which in preindustrial societies was inherent in all domains of life, was concentrated in a separate sphere in capitalist modernity. This latter sphere was in appearance independent of the constructs of the economic sphere, and within it a real critique could flourish, one that was otherwise repressed or eliminated, a critique of social life and its growing subjection to the increasingly inhuman demands of economic competition. Culture therefore paid for its freedom by its marginalization, by its reduction to a “game” which, because it did not directly participate in the cycle of labor and capital accumulation, always remained in a subordinate position with respect to the economic sphere and those who ran it. But not even this “autonomy of art”, which attained its apogee in the 19th century, was capable of resisting the dynamic of capitalism, devoted as the latter is to absorbing everything and leaving nothing outside its logic of valorization. First, the works of autonomous art—paintings, for example—entered the market, and became commodities. Later, the actual production of “cultural goods” was commodified, emphasizing from the beginning only the profit and not the intrinsic artistic quality. This is the stage of the “culture industry”, first described by Theodore Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse and Günther Anders in the early 1940s. Soon thereafter, a kind of perverse reintegration of culture into life took place, but only in the ornamental sense of commodity production, that is, in the form of design, advertising, fashion, etc. The almost total disappearance of public cultural institutions finally eliminated the remnants of the artist’s independence from money; at last, artists are rarely anything but the new court jesters and minstrels, who must scramble for the crumbs thrown to them by their new patrons, who now go by the name of sponsors.

This is the situation we face today. Many people experience a vague discomfort when confronted by this “commodification of culture”, and would prefer that the culture of “quality”—according to one’s tastes, perhaps avant-garde film, or a work of poetry or indigenous craftsmanship—would not be treated exactly like the production of shoes, video games or tourism, that is, according to the exclusive logic of investment and profit. They then evoke what is in France called “the cultural exception”: the merciless capitalist logic is accepted in all domains (all the more so if “we” gain from it) but it should politely leave culture outside the grip of its claws. In reality, this hope seems naïve to me, and does not make much sense. In fact, by accepting the basic logic of capitalist competition, one also accepts all its consequences. If it is right for a shoe or a vacation package to be valued exclusively on the basis of the quantity of money that it represents, it is somewhat illogical to expect that this same logic should not apply to cultural “products”. Here the same principle applies: we cannot, as so many people do, oppose the “liberal” “excesses” of commodification without discussing the basics, something which almost no one does. In any event, the hope is vain, because the global logic of the commodity does not refuse to tear the bodies of children to shreds, if it can make a small profit from landmines; surely it will not be afraid of the respectful protests of French filmmakers or museum directors tired of having to bow and scrape before the directives of Coca-Cola or the petrochemical industry in order to finance a showing or an exhibit. The unconditional capitalization of art by economic imperatives forms only one part of the tendency towards the total commodification of all aspects of life, and cannot be discussed solely with regard to art without opposing the dictatorship of the economy on all levels. There is no good reason why art should be able to preserve its autonomy from the logic of profit, if no other sphere can manage to do so.

Capital’s need to constantly seek out new areas for valorization therefore does not exempt culture, and it is obvious that within capitalism the “entertainment industry” constitutes its primary investment in this regard. Already in the 1970s the Swedish pop group “Abba” was Sweden’s leading exporter, ahead of Saab, an automobile manufacturer; the Beatles were awarded the MBE (Members of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1965 due to their enormous contribution to the British economy. Furthermore, the entertainment industry, from television to rock music, from tourism to the tabloids, plays an important role in social pacification and consensus creation, reaching its pinnacle in the concept of “tittytainment”. The “State of the World Forum”, held in San Francisco in 1995, attended by more than 500 of the most powerful people on earth (among others, Gorbachev, Bush, Thatcher, Bill Gates. . .), was convened in order to discuss the question of what to do with the 80% of the world’s population that is no longer necessary for production. “Tittytainment” was proposed as a solution: the superfluous and potentially dangerous population would be subjected to a combination of basic nutrition and entertainment, brutalizing entertainment, in order to obtain a state of lethargic contentment similar to that of a baby that has had its fill of mother’s milk. In other words, the central role that traditionally devolved upon repression to prevent social uprisings is now accompanied by infantilization.

The relation between the economy and culture is therefore not limited to the instrumentalization of culture, which has gone so far as to display over every artwork the logo of the sponsor who, by the way, has financed culture for the last forty years through the taxes he paid, without getting any credit for it, and above all without being able to influence artistic choices. Certainly the relation between the current phase of capitalism and the current phase of “cultural production” goes much further. There is a profound idiosyncrasy that connects the entertainment industry with capitalism’s drive towards infantilization and narcissism. The material economy is extensively linked to the new forms of the “psychological and libidinous economy”. In order to make this clear, I must once again attempt to briefly explain the basics.

The contemporary world is characterized by the total dominance of the phenomenon that Karl Marx called commodity fetishism. This term, which is often misunderstood, indicates much more than an exaggerated adoration of commodities, and does not merely refer to simple mystification. It refers to the fact that in modern capitalist society most social activities assume a commodity form, regardless of whether they also assume material forms or not. The value of a commodity is determined by the necessary labor expended upon its production. It is the quantity of labor incorporated in these objects, rather than their concrete qualities, which defines their fate, and this quantity is always reflected in a sum of money. The products created by man thus take on a life of their own, ruled by the laws of money and its accumulation in capital. It is necessary to take the term “commodity fetishism” literally: modern men behave like so-called “savages”: they worship the fetishes that they have themselves produced, attributing to them an independent life and the power to rule over men. This commodity fetishism is not an illusion or a trick, it is the real way that commodity society functions. It therefore dominates all sectors of life, beyond the economy. This materialized religion implies, among other things, that all objects and all acts, as commodities, are equal. They are nothing but greater or lesser quantities of accumulated labor and thus of money. The market brings this homogenization about, independently of the subjective intentions of the agents involved. The reign of the commodity is therefore terribly monotonous, and possesses absolutely no content of its own. An empty and abstract form, always the same, a pure quantity without quality—money—is gradually imposed upon the infinite concrete multiplicity of the world. The commodity and money are indifferent towards the world, which to them is nothing but a material to use. The very existence of a concrete world, with its own laws and its own resistances, is ultimately an obstacle standing in the way of capital accumulation, which acknowledges no other goal than itself. In order to transform every sum of money into a larger sum, capitalism consumes the entire world, on the social, ecological, aesthetic, ethical, etc., planes. Concealed behind the commodity and its fetishism lies a veritable “death wish”, a tendency, unconscious but powerful, towards the destruction of the world.

The equivalent of commodity fetishism on the scale of the individual psyche is narcissism. Here this term is not used to indicate, as in everyday speech, the worship of one’s own body, or of one’s own person. It is more or less a question of a serious pathology, well known in psychoanalysis: it means that an adult person preserves the psychic structure of the first moments of infancy, when the distinction between the ego and the surrounding world did not yet exist. The narcissist sees every external object as a projection of his own ego. But in reality this ego remains terribly impoverished due to its inability to enrich itself with real objective relations with external objects; in order to do so, the subject must first recognize the existence of the external world and his own dependence upon it, as well as his own limitations. The narcissist can appear to be a “normal” person; nevertheless he has never really emerged from the original unity with the surrounding world and does everything possible to preserve the illusion of omnipotence that derives from that condition. This form of psychosis, a rarity during the era of Sigmund Freud, who described it for the first time, has now become one of the leading psychological disorders; its traces are everywhere. Nor is this purely coincidental: one finds the same loss of reality, the same absence of the world—a world recognized for its fundamental autonomy—in commodity fetishism. From another point of view, this drastic denial of the existence of a world independent of our actions and our desires has characterized the heart of modernity from its beginnings: it is the program enunciated by Descartes when he described the existence of the individual to be the only possible certainty.

In a society based on commodity production it was inevitable, after many detours, that narcissism would become the prevailing psychological form. It is thus obvious that the enormous growth of the entertainment industry is simultaneously the cause and the consequence of this flourishing of narcissism. This industry therefore participates in a veritable “anthropological regression”, to which capitalism is currently leading us: a gradual rollback of the stages of humanization that characterized the essence of previous history. This topic could be the subject of extended discussion. I will limit myself to reminding you of the stages through which every human being, according to the conclusions of psychoanalysis, must pass in his first steps of psychological development. He must overcome the sensation of protective unity with his mother, which is characteristic of the first year of life (this is what Freud called “primary narcissism”, a necessary stage) and then pass through the pains of oedipal conflict in order to arrive at a realistic evaluation of his own abilities and his own limitations, finally renouncing infantile dreams of omnipotence. Only in this way can a psychologically balanced person be created. Traditional education aimed more or less accurately to accomplish the following: to replace the pleasure principle with the reality principle, but without utterly annihilating the pleasure principle. Stages that are not concretely resolved in psychological development give way to neurosis and even psychosis. The child is not born perfected, nor does he spontaneously abandon his initial narcissism. He needs guidance in order to accede to the full development of his humanity. The symbolic constructs characteristic of every culture obviously play an essential role in this process and thus constitute a precious legacy of humanity (even if not all traditional symbolic constructs seem equally suitable for promoting a full human life, but this is another question). Capitalism in its most recent phase, on the other hand—we are speaking of the period starting in the 1970s—in which consumption and seduction seem to have replaced production and repression as motor forces and modalities of development, represents historically the only society that promotes a massive infantilization of its subjects, linked to a desymbolization. With regard to this issue, everything conspires to maintain the human being in an infantile condition. All domains of culture, from caricature to television, from art restoration to advertising, from video games to educational curricula, from professional sports to psychopharmaceuticals, from Second Life to museum expositions contribute to the creation of a docile and narcissistic consumer who sees the entire world as an extension of himself, controllable with a mouseclick.

There can therefore be no excuse or justification for the entertainment industry or for the adaptation of culture to the demands of the market that have thereby been such powerful contributors to these regressive tendencies. We may therefore ask why degradation on such a scale has triggered so little opposition. Everyone has contributed to this situation: the right because of its constant unwavering faith in the market, at least since it has been transformed domestically into liberalism; the left, because of its belief in civil equality. What is most curious is the role played by the left in this adjustment of culture to the demands of neocapitalism. The left has always constituted the vanguard of and the main force behind the transformation of culture into a commodity. Everything has unfolded under the rubric of the magic words “democratization” and “equality”. Culture must be at the disposal of all. Who can deny that this is a noble aspiration? Much more rapidly than the right, the left—however “moderate” or “radical”—has abandoned—especially since 1968—any idea that there could be a qualitative difference between cultural expressions. Try to explain to any representative of the cultural left that Beethoven is worth more than a rap single or that it would be better if children memorized poetry instead of playing video games, and he will automatically call you “reactionary” and “elitist”. The left has been reconciled everywhere with hierarchies of wealth and power, discovering that they are inevitable or even pleasant, despite the obvious harm done before the eyes of the whole world. It has instead sought to abolish hierarchies where they in fact make some sense, providing that they are not permanent but are subject to change: those of intelligence, of taste, of sensibility, of talent. It is also worth noting, however, that there are people who admit that the general culture is in decline, but who immediately add as if by reflex, that perhaps culture used to be at a higher level, but it was then a prerogative of a tiny minority, while the vast majority was mired in illiteracy. Today, on the other hand, everyone has access to knowledge. It seems to me, however, that the children who grow up with Homer and Shakespeare or Cervantes today constitute an even smaller minority than they did in the remote past. The entertainment industry has merely substituted one form of ignorance for another, just as the increase in the number of persons with college degrees does not seem to have led to a corresponding increase in the number of people who really know anything. In France, for example, one can be awarded a master’s degree on the basis of having completed course requirements that thirty years ago would not have sufficed to allow one to graduate from a two-year technical school. In France it is therefore a simple matter for 50% of high school students to successfully obtain a college degree—a great victory for democratization.

One cannot call the products of the entertainment industry “mass culture” or “popular culture”, as is implied for example by the term “pop music”, and as is asserted by those who charge any critique of what in reality is nothing more than the “formatting” of the masses, to use a very eloquent contemporary term, with “elitism”. Generalized relativism and the rejection of all cultural hierarchy has often passed, above all in the “postmodern” era, for forms of emancipation and social critique, in the name of “subaltern” cultures, for example. It seems obvious to me that they are a cultural reflection of the rule of the commodity. As we have seen, the commodity is a pure quantity of labor and therefore of money, always equal, incapable of making qualitative distinctions. To the commodity, everything is equal. Everything is simply material for the always-equal process of the valorization of value. This indifference of the commodity towards all content is manifested in a cultural production that rejects any qualitative judgment and for which everything is equal to everything else. “The cultural industry makes everything equal”, as Adorno said in 1944.

Perhaps someone will accuse an argument like mine of “authoritarianism” and claim that it is “the people” themselves who spontaneously want, request, and desire the products of the cultural industry, even in the presence of other cultural expressions, just as millions of people have no qualms about eating fast food, even though they could, for the same price, eat in a traditional restaurant. It is a simple matter to refute this by recalling that in the presence of a massive and continuous media bombardment in favor of certain lifestyles “free choice” is somewhat circumscribed. But that is not all. As we have seen, access to the fullness of human existence requires assistance from those who already, at least partially, possess this fullness. To allow everything to run its “spontaneous” course of development is not in fact the same thing as creating the conditions for freedom. The “invisible hand” of the market ends in absolute monopoly or the war of all against all, not in harmony. In the same way, to not help someone to develop his capacity for differentiation means to condemn him to an eternal infantilism. I will provide you with an example that is not from psychoanalysis and for which I have a special affection. There are four basic flavors in the sense of taste: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. The human palate is capable of perceiving a one-ten thousandth part of a drop of a bitter substance in a glass of water, while for the other flavors an entire drop is required. As a result, no other flavor is so variable or characterized by an almost infinite multiplicity of taste-related sensations as bitterness. The cultivation of wine, tea and cheese, those great sources of pleasure for human existence, are based on these infinite types and gradations of bitterness. But young children spontaneously reject bitter flavors and only accept sweet ones, and later salty ones. They must be educated to appreciate bitterness, overcoming their initial resistance. In this manner they will develop a capacity for enjoyment which otherwise would have remained forever inaccessible to them. In any event, if nobody imposes this upon them, they will never ask for anything besides sweet and salty, of which there are few nuances, only a degree of more or less. Thus is born the consumer of fast food—which is based solely upon sweetness and saltiness—who is incapable of appreciating different flavors. And everything which is not learned while young will not be learned when older: if the child who has grown up with hamburgers and Coca-Cola becomes a nouveau riche and wants to show off culture and refinement, consuming Italian wines and French cheeses, he will not really be able to appreciate them.

I hold that one can apply this reasoning concerning gastronomic “taste”, without too many alterations, to aesthetic taste as well. An education is required to appreciate the music of Bach or traditional Arab music, while the simple possession of a body is enough to “appreciate” the somatic stimuli of rock music. It is true that at this time the majority of the population “spontaneously” demands Coca-Cola and rock music, caricatures and internet pornography: but this does not prove that capitalism, which offers all these marvels in abundance, is in harmony with “human nature”, although it has succeeded in preserving this nature in its initial state. Not even the practice of eating with a knife and a fork makes a spontaneous appearance in the development of the individual.

Therefore, the success of the entertainment industries and the culture of “convenience”—an incredibly global success that overcomes all cultural barriers—is not due solely to propaganda and manipulation, but also to the fact that the latter are united with the “natural” desire of the child to not abandon his narcissist status. The alliance between the new forms of domination, the requirements of capital valorization and marketing techniques is so effective because it relies on a regressive tendency already present in man. The virtualization of the world, concerning which so much has been said, is also a stimulation of the infantile desires for omnipotence. “No limits” is the greatest incitement broadcast today, whether it concerns a professional career or the promise of eternal health and eternal life thanks to medicine, the infinitely diverse existences that can be experienced in video games or the idea that unlimited “economic growth” is the solution to every evil. Capitalism is historically the first society based on the absence of limits. We are only now beginning to understand just what this means.

The entertainment industry is then absolutely integral to commodity society. Real art, on the other hand, if it is to be taken seriously, if it is to be faithful to its existence, must therefore never be in accord with the economy and the market. The qualitative and the quantitative are, in this connection, antithetical principles. But does this “real culture” exist, and if so, where is it to be found? We have defined it here above all in an ex negativo fashion, speaking of everything that it is not. We do not have the time to digress upon the greatness and the ambiguity of traditional culture. The latter was occasionally capable of moving the observer, the public, it was capable of saying “no” not only to society, but also to the constitution of every individual, imposing upon him, as a poem of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke says: “You must change your life”, or proclaiming, like the French poet Arthur Rimbaud: “You must change life”, or even as the French writer Lautréamont said: “Art must be made by all, not just by some”. Some works of the past, while we observe them, seem to observe us and expect a response on our part. One cannot however establish an absolute opposition between a “high” or “great” art of the past, always based on the improvement of human existence, with today’s cultural industry. Open or concealed complicity with the dominant powers and with dominant lifestyles has always characterized a large proportion of cultural works. What is important is that in the past there was the possibility of rejection, sometimes expressed through the aesthetic category of the “sublime”. A work of art, from this perspective, should not be “at the service” of the subject contemplating it. It is not the works of art that should please men, but men should seek to raise themselves to the level of works of art. It is not up to the spectator, or the “consumer” to choose his work of art, but to the work of art to choose its public and to determine who is worthy of it. It is not up to us to judge Baudelaire or Malevitch; instead, they are the ones who judge us and determine our faculty of judgment. Not so long ago—in the field of aesthetics—a person was judged according to the works he knew how to appreciate, rather than the works being judged according to the number of people attracted to them. A person who was capable of understanding all the complexity and the richness of a particularly well-done work of art was then considered to be someone who had made significant progress on the road of human realization, normally thanks to hard work of self-improvement. What a contrast to the postmodern view that holds that each spectator is democratically free to see whatever he wants in a work of art, and thus everything he projects upon it from himself! It is true that in this way the spectator will never be confronted with anything really new and will have the comforting certainty that he will always be able to remain just as he is. And this is precisely the narcissist’s refusal to enter into a real objective relation with a world distinct from himself.

This attitude of imparting essential shocks, of throwing the individual into crisis instead of comforting him and reinforcing his mode of existence, is visibly absent in the products of the entertainment industry, which look towards the experience and the event. Whoever wants to sell something investigates the needs of the buyers and their search for immediate satisfaction, confirming the high opinion they have of themselves rather than frustrating them with works that are not immediately “legible”. From this point of view, today there is almost no difference between “high” or “cultured” art and “mass” art. The works of the past are being incorporated into the cultural machine, by way of spectacular exhibitions, restoration work that must make works enjoyable for every spectator (by making the colors too bright, for example), or by means of bowdlerized versions of literary or musical classics which have been so altered in order to “make them accessible” to the public. Or mixing them with contemporary idioms that eradicate all historical specificity, as in the case of the unfortunately famous pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre in Paris. The bite that the works of the past could still possess, if only because of their temporal distance, in neutralized by means of their spectacularization and commercialization.

There is nothing more annoying than those museums that become “teaching institutions” and seek to make “culture” “accessible” to the “common people” with a series of explanations on the walls and by means of the headphones that tell everyone precisely what they should feel about the work, videos, interactive games, museum shops, sneakers. . . . It is claimed that this makes it possible for culture and history to be enjoyed by the non-bourgeois strata, too (as if today’s bourgeoisie were cultured). To me, it is just this user-friendly approach that seems to be the pinnacle of arrogance regarding the popular strata, concerning whom it is supposed that they are by definition insensible to culture, which they can appreciate only if it is presented in the most frivolous and infantile manner possible. This also signals the end of that pleasant, somewhat dusty atmosphere of the museums of the past; pleasant because it seemed that one entered a separate world, where one could relax away from the tornado of activities that always surrounds us, and this was to some extent true because these museums were seldom visited. Now, the “more efficiently managed” and more attractive to the public a museum is, the more it takes on the characteristics of a combination of a train station at rush hour and an information booth. And since we are discussing the topic of museums, why bother to continue to visit them at all? One might as well look at the same works on a DVD, because nothing at all remains of the “aura” of the original work anyway. This is another perverse way of uniting art and life, of erasing their difference and eliminating any idea that something different from the global plane of reality that surrounds us could exist. The old museum, with all its defects, was capable of being the appropriate space for the appearance of something truly unprecedented for the spectator, precisely because it was so different from the latter’s everyday life. Today, the groups of students led through the exhibition halls receive, more than anything else, an effective preventive inoculation against any risk that they will be able to grasp an essential message from art or history, or at least the risk that they will seek them out on their own account. . . .

So-called “contemporary” culture generally has a similarly regressive impact. The artists themselves have betrayed the duty of art. This is demonstrated by contemporary art’s eternal repetition of Marcel Duchamp’s joke for the last forty years. The urinal displayed in 1917 as a “fountain” was a provocation that had the effect of conferring a carte blanche for anyone to display any object as a work of art, thereby eliminating any idea of an excellent or “sublime” work. Such art is just as incapable of excellence as are the products of the entertainment industry, and for the same reasons. While the so-called “classical” vanguards of the first half of the 20th century knew how to say what was essential about their historical epoch, today’s art can hardly avoid giving the impression of its own insignificance. One can also reject the idea of a general “death of art” (I have already dealt with this problem elsewhere), but it is nonetheless difficult to find a contemporary art form that can stand comparison to its predecessors. Contemporary art is involved in the general de-realization, like the entertainment industry, and it has become a subspecies of design and advertising. It therefore deserves its commercialization. Contemporary art has thrown itself into the arms of the culture industry and humbly petitions to be admitted to its table. This is a result, long postponed and unforeseen, of that enlargement of the sphere of art and the aestheticization of life that was initiated a century ago by the artists themselves, Duchamp among them. It appears then that there cannot be many works capable of contributing to the birth of critical subjects. There are only clients. It then makes little difference how the museums are operated. It is claimed that museums must adjust to the need to “generate a public”, or else disappear. But the result is the same. An art that serves only to create satisfied customers is in any case no longer an art worthy of the name.

It is at least necessary to admit a qualitative difference, a difference of importance, between the products of the entertainment industry and a possible “real culture” in order to be capable of evoking a separate treatment for the latter. It is then necessary to admit the possibility of a qualitative and not just a purely relative and subjective judgment. There is a big difference between wanting to establish parameters for judgment, knowing that they will not just drop from the sky, but must be subjected to debate and change, on the one hand, and denying a priori the very possibility of establishing such parameters, so that everything equals everything else, on the other hand. If everything is equal, nothing is worth the trouble anymore. It is these equivalences, and the indifference that follows in their wake, that are unfolding like a shroud over a life dominated by the market and the commodity. The latter are undermining the basis of the ability of humans to confront the omnipresent threats of barbarism. The challenges that await us in the times ahead must be confronted by people in the full possession of their human faculties, not by adults who are still children in the worst sense of the word. It will be interesting to see what place art and cultural institutions can occupy in this epochal transformation.

Originally published as “Il gatto, il topo, la cultura e l’economía”. Translated into Spanish by Magdaluz Bonilla Atrián. México 2009. Spanish translation published in El Viejo Topo, No. 263, December 2009. Spanish translation at:

Original text in Italian at: