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In The Waste Land
With Mr. Zygmunt Bauman
Security from toxins could only be increased by surrendering more pleasures, and could be made foolproof only the Hades-style: by putting an end to all pleasure and joy. The whole interface between the body and the outer world needs to be therefore closely watched; the apertures of the body need full time, 24/7 armed guards - and vigilant and demanding immigration officers.
Anorexia is an equivalent of the North-Korean or Burmese type of response to the ambivalence of the outer world: closing the borders altogether, prohibiting all imports from beyond the borders, at the price of keeping the insiders in the state of perpetual misery and want. The insiders may even get used to their life of misery and start fearing any change; famished, they would resent the full-stomach feeling – like the hero of Franz Kafka’s A Hunger Artist story, outraged and despaired of having his fast limited to forty years only: ‘While stop fasting in this particular moment, after forty days of it? He had held out for a long time, an illimitably long time; why stop now, when he was in his best fasting form, or rather, not yet quite in his best fasting form? Why should he be cheated of the fame he would get for fasting longer … since he felt that there were no limits
to his capacity of fasting? (
’Bulimia, on the other hand, means facing the challenge point blank and a resolve to fight it on its own terms … It can be seen as a variety of Gregory Bateson’s ‘symmetrical schismogenetic chain’ – where both sides in a conflict (market-induced temptations and the targeted consumers) compete in the same game, a triumph of each boosting the resolve and the fighting spirit of the other. The more brazen, impudent and obtrusive the challenge, the more defiant and provocative the response. Opulence answered with more opulence …  
To be sure, both responses are culturally prompted; spreading as the copycat behavioural patterns do, they are likely to go out of fashion in a similar manner. After all, they are fanciful responses to a genuine problem; irrational, since they neither resolve the problem nor prompt it to go away. Sooner or later, their ineffectiveness is probable to erode their popularity and new responses, not necessarily more effective but so far untried and not-yet-discredited, will be sought and found. To cut the roots from which they grow would take however more than that. The roots, after all, are sunk and proliferate in the fertile soil of the liquid-modern consumerist opulence.  

Always in Homo consumens** you condemn without half measures (and justly, according to us) the consumers society. What judgment do you express on the systematic study of the attitudes of consumption, on to scrutinize the desires of the consumers, real or presumed such, that the great enterprises operate both with the classical market researches and with the use of technologies ad hoc, like observing with television cameras in the supermarkets the people’s behaviors?
Desire to control (all things, animate and inanimate, human or natural) was always the prime spiritus movens of
cognition – whether magical or scientific. With the present-day commercialization of all any human inclinations much older than the world-wide consumer market, no wonder that expert in scientific research are hired to put the human predilections, instinctual impulses and dreams to commercial profit. Most of scientific research projects under way are presently financed (and so also stimulated) by commercial interests vying for the topmost role solely with the military programmes.
But what the cameras installed for ‘scientific purposes’ are expected to find out? Are they, as you suggest, ‘desires’? This is what the official spokespersons for commercial companies would say, insisting that the intention of their managers is ‘to serve’ the consumers, and to serve them ever better, and to satisfy thereby theirs, the consumers’, wishes. This may be truth, but most certainly not the whole truth. Most of the advanced scientific research of the so-called ‘shopping behaviour’ is aimed today In fact at the possibility of ‘decoupling’, dissociating, ‘liberating’ shoppers’ decisions from their conscious or even subconscious ‘desires’. In the society of consumers like ours even ‘desires’, as previously the ‘needs’, are viewed as unduly limiting the consumers’ willingness to spend. From the point of view of marketing, they are more liabilities then assets – an obstacle that needs be pushed out of the way towards the infinite growth of commodity circulation, volume of consumer spending and commercial profits. To achieve that purposes, the ways are researched to stimulate buying prompted by ‘wants’ rather than ‘desires’; wants that are born suddenly, on the spot, as if from nowhere; wants for things which the shoppers never before desired but whose temptation they are unable to resist once they have been shown to them in a particular manner.

Finally, how do you judge the instrumental use, of marketing, of the solidarity themes, of the social responsibility, and in general of the ethics from the enterprises?
As I said before, the markets invade, conquer, and annex (or at least earnestly try) all remaining scraps of ‘no man’s land’, that is of the areas of human pursuits which are not as yet ‘mediated’ by the markets. Observers of contemporary life have noted for instance the on-going process of ‘commercialization of love’: keeping relationships alive with the help of expensive presents instead of with togetherness and ‘being always there to help and console’ which is increasingly withdrawn or at least shrinking. That applies to relations between in love partnerships, parent-children relationships, communal/neighbourhood relations … And, as you rightly commented, to solidarity as such. The hurried life, the ‘tyranny of the moment’, rising demands on employees time coupled with, and reinforced by, a cut-throat competition for jobs, promotion, status stand in the way to solidarity known to be owned to the partners, children, workmates and desired to be manifested, and that in turn generates guilty conscience, an utterly unpleasant condition for which the market hurry to offer a remedy in the shape of the ‘love substitutes’ obtainable in the shops…
bauman foto06.jpg
Translation of introduction
and questions
by Antonella Capasso.
Our sincere thanks
to Riccardo Mazzeo
and Sara Modena
(Edizioni Erickson) for their essential collaboration.
1. See Jacques Derrida,
Chaque fois unique, la fin du monde,
presented by Pascale-Anne Brault
& Michael Naas, Galilée 2003.

2. See Vladimir Jankélévitch,
Penser la mort?, Liana Levi 1994,
pp.10 ff.

3. Sigmund Freud,
Thoughts for the Time of War and Death,

4. Franz Kafka, ‘A Hunger Artist’,
trans. by Willa and Edwin Muir,
in Collected short stories,
Penguin 1988, p.271.

* Bauman qui si riferisce
Probably Bauman refers to Louis Chevalier,
Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses,
à Paris pendant la première moitié
du XIX° siècle, Librairie Plon, Paris, 1958.

** Cfr. http://
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