The Beauty and the Beast – or: Variations on the Seemingly Eternal

I admit, I did not expect that the question of the Beauty and the Beast would have so many different manifest facets, but I would always have assumed many hidden facets and we rarely think about them, and perhaps even barely recognise them. Some of these meanings may come across in a modern-dusted gown, others in old fancy dresses – of course I am aware of such formulation standing against the general expectation which usually sees dust on the old and fanciness with the new.

Be it so, I suggest starting with some patchwork snippets.

* The Beauty and the Beast – Crusades: the world of lords, knights, foot-soldiers, peasants: suggesting the fancy world of a suggested good: the One Lord reigning eternity, a holy empire for secularity, being an empire of holiness with gods, angels, gnomes and fairies …, presenting itself as mystical for some, but as simple and massive power block for others.

* The Beauty and the Beast – it is[1] about palaces and hovels: the world of glory, of glamour, first derived from gods; then derived from people’s votes; and frequently based on pure violence, all being seen as matter of power: the possession of ultimate control, all this standing against the corners, hidden, though they do not have anything to hide, suppressed though people are already living very much on the bottom, first supposed by gods as “his will” is that we are deprived from material goods which would distract from god; then seen as consequence of people’s decisions: the lack of work-ethics, the failure to show eagerness …, the refusal to serve the goods in form of commodities, and the adherence to the gods, seen as values of humane existence, worshipping justice and hoping for solidarity; and very often based on pure violence: open or structural, the force of competition of the pure market-society, people deprived from rights as much as labour is deprived from its social character – a disembedded economy.

– We may halt for a second as there seems to be another side to it: the lonely emperor, suffering from his old clothes, and the rich peasant, not controlling much, but at least controlling the little according to the own will. Much had been said about the happiness and the paradoxes, not only starting with the work presented by Richard Easterlin and the critique of the same – but too little had been said that the rat race is, or becomes at some stage purely capitalism as perversion, and nothing else: the production of waste, the perversion of its own rules and the perversion of people’s life – further topped by celebrating such perversion by a kind of exhibitionism.

* The Beauty and the Beast – new identities: in the society of No Logo the logo counts, and though there is still value to things in terms of their use, this use is shifting increasingly to a symbolic instance, the so called positional goods – the use of defining and allocating oneself, thus generating the social on a secondary, derived level: not the direct interaction as production and reproduction of everyday’s life as metabolism with nature, but the possession of goods: commodities, power and control over nature is “what counts”.

The old economy is “factory based” and “capabilities driven” and hence “production-focused” an manufacturing actual products

– and we should not forget: also on enjoying these products, nor should we forget that all this is also about hard work and suspension of gratification and satisfaction and maintaining, even reinforcing the Victorian distinction between the deserving and the non-deserving poor

while the new economy is “consumer based” and “consumer-focused” and hence concerned not with manufacturing products but “creating brands”.[2]

There is surely much to be discussed in the connection with all this and some had been pointed out earlier: the supposed facts, the analysis and the interpretation. Not least we have to consider

[t]hat defence [of traditional livelihoods] is easily supported by an anticapitalist Left in opposition, and has been adopted by the current World Forum Movement: ‘We do not want development. We just want to live’, declared a front-stage banner at the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004.

(Therborn, Gøran, 2008: From Marxism to Post-Marxism?; London/New York; Verso: 35)

As already stated elsewhere,

Of course, we should not overlook the inherent danger – and in particular looking back to Ireland as one of the pronounced EUropean countries or also looking at countries like Brazil one should not overlook what is easily forgotten: Pleading for more equal societies cannot mean ‘equality on unbearable levels of subsistence. The ‘old Irish poverty’, people likely saying ‘we are all poor’ may have had something tempting in its simplicity of suggested equality,[3] but it surely did not have anything tempting with respect to living standards, living conditions and simply in terms of bare existence.[4]

**************

It seems that all this found a point of culmination recently – at stake is a place of adoration: La Cappella Sistina, a place of stunning beauty and a place of spiritual elevation which is second only to the Vatican catacombs and there Confessio[5] and the private chapel where the popes supposedly begin their days with a private celebration of a mass[6]. The latter has this meaning at least in terms of the spiritual elevation (in modern language it translates to something like it the meeting room where the boss [= god] provides everyday the guidelines to one of the top CEOs, the branch manager of the Catholic section of human kind – it is widely unknown if and where he meets the CEOs of other branches, let alone that we any idea if and where he meets the CEOs of other planets).

Now there is a “new access”: The Vatican opened the Chapel for “the public”, another public, namely that public that is able to pay: in this case a Porsche club, accessing the chapel supposedly as part of a charity event. The Vatican rejects that it is a business issue and claims the charitable character standing at the very centre.

**************

Still, one may ask if this is the right point for surely needed disenchantment – or perhaps the question should be put forward in a different way: if this is the right way for such disenchantment. Asking this is not about religious issues: the justification of the claims of mystery that is usually connected with religion. But it may admittedly be a matter of the valuation of arts and the excitement of really experiencing the immediate and “private” confrontation with such masterpiece – I have am lucky and privileged in having some personal experience standing behind this statement, though linked to van Rijn’s Nightwatch and Picasso’s Guernica. Such experience – standing in front of such piece just by way of a “private encounter”[7] is truly unique and actually the opposite of private: it is about delving into the public, social world of another era: an era of unbelievable grandess and construction in the one case; an era of unbelievable dehumanisation and destruction in the other case.

Thinking about the “nuova porta santa”, I am torn between different interpretations: disenchantment of religion and arts by commodification of another realm; the need of money to appreciate something special or the availability of money as making something special – visiting the chapel because it is expensive, because others cannot do it (this way); and finally the interpretation that all this actually the return of (though not religion so at least) the institutionalised “modern” church to its very existence, while wearing a new dress. History gives surely some clues, the two most important: first, the sale of indulgences can be seen as taking a new form: “doing good”, paying for charity and being allowed to experience the extraordinary even during this life; second, the role in particular of the Medici, somewhat alternating between the two roles of being banker of the Vatican and being pope. Indeed and cum grano salis we may refer to the famous passage

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

This is surely a question about religion, the self-understanding of the Vatican, institutionalised religion and so on. But it concerns also a much wider issue. One commentator brings it to the point

Ma si! Affittiamo pure il Colosseo per fare di nuovo i giochi gladiatori. Renzi contro Berlusconi non sarebbe male! Sai i soldi che farebbe la RAI trasmettendo il duello in mondovisione!

It would also fit well into my considerations about World’s New Princedoms. Critical Remarks on Claimed Alternatives by New Life.

And even the recent posting on the Finnish Babybox plays a role.

Finally, is it true then… ? Can progress only be obtained for the price of exclusion ….? How do we define the backyards and the yards of the courts – and how do the rulers of the courts define us who are living in the backyards, occasionally being allowed to have a glimpse over the fence?

Disenchantement. Enlightenment suggested it in different versions as “pure reason”: The French rational citoyen; the German rational bourgeois, the Scottish rational market citizen – all moving rationally forward by the “pursuit of Happiness”.

This had been well summarised a long time ago:

This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all.

Now, disenchantment has also some other dimension, bringing dialectically two issues together: It had been said that

[m]en make their own history.[8]

And it had been said that

[t]he philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

In this light, thinking about progress has to mean to change the conditions under which we make our history, i.e. to control these conditions under which we make history.

Finally, isn’t it true?

There are no supreme saviours

Neither God, nor Caesar, nor tribune.

 

[1]            Keep also Buechner’s Hessian Courier in mind.

[2]            Barber, Benjamin R.: Consumed. How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole; Bew York/London: W.W. Norton&Company: 169 f., with reference to Marc Gobé, 2001: Emotional Branding. The New Paradigm for Connecting Brands to People; New York: Allworth Press: XIV

[3] Leaving aside the fact that such equality surely had been at no stage absolute.

[4]            Social Policy – Production rather than Distribution. A Rights-Based Approach; Bremen/Oxford: EHV Academicpress; 2014: 89

[5]            Rarely open to the public

[6]            Of course, more or less never open to the public – here religion finds the only location it should be allowed to claim: the private realm.

[7]            Yes, there had been security …

[8]            Yes, women too – just one example for Marx thinking in this way comes from a letter to Kugelmann, written in 1868:

“I think that German women should begin by driving their husbands to self-emancipation.” Actually there are many other references, taking up the immediate role of women and also the reference to assessing progress by looking at the emancipation of women.

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