22 November 2022 in Science & Technology


This is the image of the entrance to a New York shopping mall at almost midnight on Thanksgiving Day. Although the phenomenon seems to be (very) slowly decreasing[1], the place where the vast majority of Westerners spend their leisure time is a shopping mall – a non-place: an anonymous space in which loneliness is mitigated by the evidence of being a multitude. Non-places are stations, airports, supermarkets, large hotel chains with their interchangeable rooms, but also refugee camps where refugees are parked indefinitely. And its anonymity, paradoxically, can only be accessed by providing proof of identity: passport, credit card[2].

This is the extreme consequence of the mutation of the capitalist system after the great crisis of 1973, when it became evident that continuous growth was impossible, and that industry was no longer capable of generating surplus value and stability[3]. Until then, the economy had needed conscious citizens, with a strong degree of adherence to capitalist and democratic values, and who obtained a growth in welfare and spaces of freedom in exchange for their engagement in assembly lines[4].

From 1973 to the great global crisis of 2008, citizens all over the world allowed themselves to be transformed into consumers: welfare was obtained in exchange for acquiescence to an out-of-control financial capitalism (and creator of niches of covert power) and the irreversible crisis of class consciousness[5]. This transformation is accompanied by serious unemployment[6], and the support of welfare has been shifted from entrepreneurship to the tax system – which has led to the collapse of Eastern European countries, which made full employment an indispensable condition of any political and economic strategy[7].

In 2008, the financing of the redistribution of wealth through the continued growth of financial bubbles exploded, and left behind a world in which we returned to the original foundations of capitalism: wars as a necessity to sustain industrial growth[8], chauvinism, nationalism and religious fundamentalism[9] as a method of organising consensus. With a novelty: that of the emergence of escape routes from reality – first through drugs, and now through the extension of virtual and electronic realities, which have created a commodity sector that, in terms of turnover, is likely to soon reach a quarter of that of food[10].

The result is the disintegration of society, the advance of a worrying cultural illiteracy, and the emergence of a substratum of violence – expressed ever more freely. The pandemic has delivered the final blow: better to stay at home, better to avoid confrontation, especially in old age, or to organise socialisation via computer. This evolution is in turn the cause and effect of the crisis in traditional cultural identification ganglia: music, literature, cinema. A great deal is produced, often of truly cheesy quality, but this disappears into the magmatic ocean, which brings with it the fact that an artist cannot last for decades (as he once did), but is lucky if, by a series of coincidences, he manages to have one great hit and to place a single work.

Guitars and bonfires on the beach – a reminder of the past

Andrea Montanari explains this development when speaking of the Turin Book Fair: ‘what is the public utility of the initiative, the collective added value that justifies the conspicuous support, or contribution, it enjoys? (…) The Fair, I recall, was born with the specific intention of creating new readers and not drawing on the existing pool of readers (…). The idea was to adapt the business – breweries, clothing shops, restaurants, etc. – to unique historical events that had happened. – to unique historical events that happened in the very place where the business is located. To make it unique, transformed according to its specific, unique and unrepeatable history. Where was the first Italian football championship played? Where the first Italian car was born? Where were the wagons of the Orient Express or even the first Porsche 911 prototype manufactured? Missing, or forgotten, memories of which few traces remain. And here’s who, for example, selling beer turns into a promoter and historical animator (…), you could have premises and businesses with a precise identity’[11].

Let me explain: Montanari describes the crisis of the book (rightly) not as the crisis of literature, but as a crisis of the market that is connected to it – and the same goes for music and theatre. I believe that one of the disasters of today’s society is the death of the ‘affective hubs’: the grandparents’ farm, the neighbourhood baker and newsagent, the bar with the tables in the street, the local party section, the children’s playground, the bookshop, the square with the amateur guitarists (without headphones, without devices, without snowboards), the oratory, the counselling centre, the field behind the school, the tavern where people play cards. Only the stadium is left, and it is functionalised for the venting of anger and frustration.

All that is gone, replaced by the massifying experience of spending the weekend in shopping malls, and then locking oneself up at home. The book is ‘slow’, because the absence of competence in socialising pushes us into augmented reality pastimes – made of exasperated speed, fleeting impressions, anything that can anaesthetise against reflection, considered a frightening legacy of a past for which we are no longer prepared. Montanari is right: the only solution is to reconstruct affective hubs, and to do so with the same ‘weapons’ that were used to destroy their existence – because massification, in addition to bringing herds of humans to non-places, has simultaneously created a need for uniqueness, for distinction between self and all, and the most functional way to do this is to reconnect to a memory that even the human being of the present can link to a known or recognisable sensation.

Any other manifestation of art is, otherwise, lost: the production is endless, the advertising pressure only supports extremely shoddy or ridiculous products (like the autobiography of teenage heroes of a reality show) that only serve as furnishings, because they create identification even among the least aware and acculturated people. But the time for a change is ripe: we need to create situations of aggregation linked to the only affections that are still perceived (food, entertainment, self-celebration) and bring in the book, the music, the play as a destroying bacterium of massification, explained for what it is: the supreme means of showing where we belong and where we do not want to belong.

It doesn’t mean reading a book or playing the violin while eating, because that kills the fulfilment of why you are in a certain place – but creating alternative spaces to the aperitif where you enjoy culture, where you meet unknown people or even old friends, where you go to distinguish yourself from the masses and emphasise your belonging to an easily recognisable elite that is not connected to the humiliating use of power.

These sound like difficult phrases, but they are obvious. Affection, to be experienced, does not need a mobile phone, but a look and, if one is shy, a supportive environment. Calling it an affective hub is prissy, of course, but that is part of its charm.


[1] https://forbes.it/2018/02/20/la-notizia-della-morte-del-centro-commerciale-e-fortemente-esagerata/

[2] Marc Augé, “Nonluoghi. Introduzione a una antropologia della surmodernità”, Elèuthera, Milano 2018

[3] https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2012/recession/pdf/recession_bls_spotlight.pdf

[4] https://giornatedimarzo.it/2020/10/31/storia-del-sindacato-in-italia-dalla-nascita-della-cgl-alla-svolta-delleur/ ; https://www.ipe-berlin.org/fileadmin/institut-ipe/Dokumente/Working_Papers/IPE_WP_114.pdf ; https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2018/05/17/the-legacy-of-world-war-ii-on-social-spending-in-the-western-world/ ; https://www.eh.net/eha/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Bossie.pdf ; https://storiamestre.it/pdf/PB_EPT.pdf

[5] http://www.proteo.rdbcub.it/article.php3?id_article=731 ; https://journals.openedition.org/qds/1473

[6] https://stats.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1983/02/art1full.pdf ; https://www.bls.gov/cps/

[7] https://www.hdg.de/lemo/kapitel/geteiltes-deutschland-krisenmanagement/niedergang-der-ddr.html ; https://deutsche-einheit-1990.de/ministerien/ministerium-fuer-wirtschaft/die-ddr-wirtschaft-im-umbruch/

[8] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265721064_Is_War_Necessary_for_Economic_Growth ; https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/2006-11-01/war-necessary-economic-growth-military-procurement-and-technology ; https://pesd.princeton.edu/node/386

[9] https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/in-gods-we-trust/201810/does-society-need-religion ; https://www.quora.com/Does-our-society-need-religion ; https://www.theperspective.com/debates/living/perspective-religion-good-bad-society/

[10] https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/global-telecom-services-market ; https://www.statista.com/forecasts/1243605/revenue-food-market-worldwide

[11] https://vocetempo.it/salone-del-libro-un-vero-successo-o-unoccasione-mancata/

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