2020 -all rights reserved - Luca Nizzoli Toetti
The "wealth of difference" is all that is valuable in human culture.
Text by Zygmunt Bauman
Dear Luca, judging from your collection of photographic records of Europe, perhaps you would wish (or not) to use the following tought:
As early as in the beginnings of the 1960s George Steiner, one of the last polyglots and erudites of our times, alerted his readers:
“It is precisely in the time Western sensibility has made of language its centre of reference that human discourse has come under the most extreme pressure. The populist and purely mercantile forces in mass-media and mass-consumption societies have brought with them a widespread diminution in the standards, in the formal and imaginative reach, of speech. Much of the vulgate has been, throughout history, brutal, reductive, and resistant to experiment. What is new in our condition is the impact of reductive brutalisation and the monotone of the lowest denominator on the ideals and practices of more privileged literacy and culture. The grammar of mediocrity enforced by ideological fear and censorship in the East is too often matched by the detergent emptiness and uniformity of the jargon of the media and the market-place in the West.”
Uniformity (or monotony; both used as antonyms of "God lies in the detail", variously attributed to the architect Mies van der Rohe, art historian Aby Warburg or novel-writer Gustave Flaubert) and emptiness (used interchangeably with the adjectives 'reductive' and 'detergent' as antonyms of complexity, subtlety, refinement and - expectedly - rich variegation of contents) are concepts that appear repeatedly throughout Steiner's manifold analyses of abasement, ignominy and disgrace into which what he calls "high culture" has fallen or is about (or bound?) to fall; they stand for the two principal fiends of all and anything cultural worthy of according that designation: the "populist and purely mercantile forces" of mass society and mass consumption aimed at denuding high culture from the qualities that made it "high" and a value deserving the dying for - acting in cahoots with the mass media pursuing the Gleichschaltung (uniformisation, standardisation, levelling down) of taste and discernment together with the cultural choices they issue and promote. It is against those two ogres that the life-and-death war to salvage the "wealth of difference" characterizing all that is valuable in human culture needs to be declared and consistently conducted. How to do it - one would ask.
To which Steiner, anticipating such query, replied in advance: "I do not know the answer. Only that those wiser than myself must find it, and that the hour is late".
At least a quarter of century has passed since those words of Steiner were written down. With the benefit of a hindsight, we can now declare with a good degree of certainty that Steiner's diagnoses of the quarter-of-a-century-old trends have by now turned to be prophecies coming true; also however that the war he summoned us to launch hasn't as yet started in earnest, scattered battles (if at all embarked on and fought) were lost, and that the question "how to do it" lies flat and looking vainly for answer as it was then. And finally: that hour is very, very late - if not already past and gone.
It is not just that the might of linguistic (and so, in effect, cultural) vulgarity, equipped with the cutting-edge media technology and sponsored by immense resources commanded by consumer markets has become overwhelming and made resistance all but idle and all alternatives to itself chimerical and fanciful. It is that the elite once setting itself off the cultural commoners as the monopolistic priest and guardian of "high culture", now is eager to do the same by an updated version of paternalism: manifestation of its tolerant, sympathetic benevolence to the commoners' idiosyncrasies, inclusive of their bizarre cultural choices. For the cultural elite, the time of cultural allergies and diets are over. From its banners (that is, if banners are at all needed once crusading spirit is extinct), discretion has been effaced and replaced with omnivorousness.