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In The Waste Land
With Mr. Zygmunt Bauman
Nothing to be puzzled about… I keep repeating that arts and sociology are ‘in the same business: reinterpretation of human perception of the world and visualizing the overlooked/neglected/ignored alternatives to the status quo. Arts and sociology are similarly engaged in the continuous dialogue with human experience and expanding the horizons of its possible interpretations. Relationship between arts and sociology are at best full cooperation, mutual feedback and reciprocal inspiration, and at worst a sibling rivalry… Personally, I learned much more about human Lebenswelten from Calvino, Kafka, Borges, Musil or Perec (to name but a few) than from hundreds of scholarly studies of numerous highly reputable sociologists. Not being like us, sociologists, constrained by the rules of the academia and the currently binding usages, the artists of pen or brush are in a better position to note, locate and announce the new and unprecedented in the human perception of the world and suggests revisions that inside the academia would be descried as insufficiently ‘grounded’, perhaps heretical…

In your Homo consumens you face the theme of unhappiness that would be typical of the man of post modernity, just because he’s dominated by the desire of the non-stop consumption. Indeed, an indirect indication to the theme is also in Wasted lives, when you remember the increase of the cases of depression among the young contemporary boys. Could we consider the anorexia a strong symbol of this discomfort? Is it perhaps the adjourned version of the nihilism in the consumption era?
The bookstore shelf-life of bestselling books is somewhere between milk and yogurt; the titles on bestsellers lists change fast, from one week to another. And yet two kinds of books appear, in the US at least, on every weekly list. These are the books on new dieting regimes and cookbooks with new exciting and whimsical food recipes.
American (and not just American) soul is split. Trained, nudged and counselled to seek ever new pleasures, while exposed daily to ever new promises and temptations, Americans (and not just the Americans) yearn for the yet untried raptures of the palate, as well as (don’t forget the ego-boosting crave!) for being watched and admired in the role of a refined and sophisticated connoisseur by friends and other persons that count. Trained, nudged and counselled to keep their bodies, as receptacles of the past, present and hopefully future pleasures, fit to go on absorbing new delights, but warned daily against fat, toxicants and other ‘enemies within’ threatening to prevent them from doing that if ingested, Americans (and not just the Americans) cannot but watch with suspicion every morsel of food they put into their mouth, count calories that would need to be disposed off were the morsel swallowed, and study the strange chemical terms on the package in the hope to strike the right balance between the hoped-for benefits and possible harms. A double bind, if there ever was one; a classic setting for schizophrenia. Each step calling for an antidote to effacing its morbid side effects. Viagra in the evening, a contraceptive pill the morning after.
Which makes anorexia, and its alter ego bulimia, the twin children of liquid-modern life of the consumer. Both are well
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attuned to a life condemned to endless choices, forcing the sailor to navigate between incompatible values and contradictory impulses; and to a life lived in an expectation that with due diligence and proper shopping wisdom a way to resolve all and any contradictions will be found and applied. Whenever the contradiction persists, the efforts made to resolve it, or the knowledge used in those efforts, is bound to be deemed inadequate, and the actor likely to be accused of ineptitude or neglect.
Miller and Dollard conducted an experiment with rats faced with a ‘package deal’ of tasty lard and nasty electric shock. Rats circled around the source of ambivalent message, unable to do anything rational (there was hardly anything rational to do …) The two researchers developed a theory: at the point where ‘adiance’ and ‘abiance’ (pull and push, attraction and repellence) balance each other, imbalance of mind and irrationality of behaviour are the most likely reactions. Konrad Lorenz experimented with stickleback fishes cramped in a too tight aquarium and so unclear as to whether they are still in their own territorial water (in which case instinct would prompt them to fight away the intruders) or on a territory of another stickleback’s (in which case they should run away). Facing such, fishes stood tail up and buried their heads in sand, unable to follow none of the two ‘rational’ patterns: choose between attack and escape.
Both experiments cast some light on the phenomena of anorexia and bulimia in liquid-modern society of consumers, of which the ‘package deals’ of attractive gains and abhorring side-effects, as well as ambivalence of the rules ascribed to the situations of choice, are most common and permanent features. One could even say that under the circumstances anorexia and bulimia would be expectable reactions – were it not for the factor absent in rats or fishes: forms assumed by human reactions tend to be culturally induced, instead of being determined by inborn instincts and so immune to the vagaries of cultural norms. While ambivalence is a constant companion of human existential condition, reactions would not probably took a form of food-related disorders were it not for the present-day consumerist culture identifying le souci de soi and l’amour propre with, primarily or even exclusively, care of the body: more precisely, with the care of its fitness, that is its ability to produce and absorb the pleasures which the world and the other humans populating it are able to offer, and its appearance meant to attract the potential donors of pleasurable sensations.
Souci de soi reduced (or almost) to the care of the body casts men and women of the consumerist society in a situation similar to Miller & Dollard rats and Lorenz sticklebacks. The borderline between the body and the rest of the world is bound to become the site of intense ambivalence and so also acute anxiety. The ‘world out there’ is the source of all substances necessary for bodily survival as well as supplying the pleasures that motivate the care of the body. That world however contains also the dangers, to survival and to the pleasure-arising and pleasure-consuming capacity of the body. Awesome dangers – the known part of them all the more horrifying because ubiquitous and under-defined, and for that reason difficult to spot and avoid, whereas the rest of them terrify yet more for remaining as yet undisclosed. The radical (rational?) solution to the quandary - closing the boundary and prohibiting altogether the frontier traffic - is not, however, an option.  
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