Solids and Liquids – A Cultural Assessment

“Now here, you see,  it takes all the running you can do,
to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else,
you must run at least twice as fast as that!” (Lewis Carroll)

Ever wonder why we seem to be living in an age with so little stability and security – whether it is job security, relationships, political or social security, or even a sense of solid identities? Or why we seem to be constantly running and racing and chasing and never really feel fully satisfied or sustained?

Sociologist and cultural critic Zygmunt Bauman provides some theories in his books Liquid Modernity (2000), Liquid Love (2003), and Liquid Times (2007):


Definitions: ‘Fluidity’ is the quality of liquids and gases. What distinguishes both of them from solids, as the Encyclopedia Britannica authoritatively informs us, is that they ‘cannot sustain a tangential, or shearing, force when at rest’ and so undergo; continuous change in shape when subjected to such a stress’. (LM, p.1)

“An unprecedented fluidity, fragility and built-in transience (the famed ‘flexibility’) mark all sorts of social bonds which but a few dozen years ago combined into a durable, reliable framework inside which a web of human interactions could be securely woven.” (LL, p.91)

On failure and success: “But if you may never err, you can never be sure of being in the right either. If there are no wrong moves, there is nothing to distinguish a move as a better one, and s nothing to recognize the right move among its many alternatives – neither before nor after the move has been made.” (LM, p.63)

On the addictive nature of “running” and “racing”: “And so it is the continuation of the running, the gratifying awareness of staying in the race, that becomes the true addiction – not any particular prize waiting for those few who may cross the finishing line. None of the prizes is sufficient satisfying to strip other prizes of their power of attraction, and there are so many other prizes beckoning and alluring because they are untied.” (LM, p.73)

“Desire becomes its own purpose, and the sole uncontested and unquestionable purpose, and the sole uncontested and unquestionable purpose.” (LM, p.73)

“The competition game becomes, increasingly, its own purpose and its own reward; or rather, the game no longer needs a purpose if staying in the game is its only reward.” (LM, p.123)

On consumerism: “The history of consumerism is the story of breaking down and discarding the successive solid obstacles which limit the free flight of fantasy and shave the pleasure principle down to the size dictated by the reality principle.” (LM, p.75)

“People of our times, Albert Camus noted, suffer from not being able to possess the world completely enough.” (LM, p.82)

On urban life, strangers , and civility: “In Richard Sennett`s (1978) classic definition, a city is a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet. […] Strangers meet in a fashion that befits strangers; a meeting of strangers is unlike the meetings of kin, friends, or acquaintances. […] What follows is that urban living calls for a rather special and quite sophisticated type of skill, a whole family of skills which Sennett listed under the rubric of civility that is `the activity which protects people from each other and yet allows them to enjoy each other`s company. Wearing a mask is the essence of civility. Masks permit pure sociability, detached from the circumstances of power, malaise, and private feelings of those who wear them. Civility has as its aim the shielding of others from being burdened with oneself. […] The main point about civility is the ability to interact with strangers without holding their strangeness against them and without pressing them to surrender it or to renounce some or all the traits that have made them strangers in the first place.” (LM, pp.94-104)

On the commodification of love: “In a consumer culture, which favours products ready for instant use, quick fixes, instantaneous satisfaction, results calling for no protracted efforts, foolproof recipes, all-risk insurance and money-back guarantees, the promise to learn the art of loving is a promise to make ‘love experience’ in the likeness of other commodities, that allure and seduce by brandishing all such features and promise to take the waiting out of wanting, sweat out of effort and effort out of results. […] Without humility and courage, no love.” (LL, p.7)

On desire and relationships: “Desire is the wish to consume. To imbibe, devour, ingest and digest – annihilate. Desire needs no other prompt but the presence of alterity. Consumables attract; waste repels. After desire comes waste disposal. Love is, on the other hand, the wish to care, and to preserve the object of the care.” (LL p.9)

“The effect of the ostensible ‘acquisition of skills’ is bound to be, as in Don Giovanni’s case, the de-learning of love; a ‘trained incapacity’ for loving.” (LL, p.5)

“When guided by wish, partnership follows the pattern of shopping and calls for nothing more than the skills of an average, moderately experienced consumer. Like other consumer goods, partnership is for consumption on the spot (it does not require additional training or prolonged preparation) and for one-off use ‘without prejudice.’ First and foremost, it is eminently disposable. […] If found faulty or not ‘fully satisfactory,’ goods may be exchanged for other, hopefully more satisfying commodities, even if an after-sales service is not offered  and a money-back guarantee not included in the transaction.” (LL, pp.12-13)

“A relationship, the experts will tell you, is an investment like all the others: you put in time, money, efforts that you could have turned to other aims but did not, hoping that you were doing the right thing and that what you`ve lost or refrained from otherwise enjoying would be in due course repaid – with profit.” (LL, p.13)

This entry was posted in Books, Cultural politics, Inspiration, Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Solids and Liquids – A Cultural Assessment

  1. willyam says:

    Oh dear. I wonder what his overall take is on these developments?

    • Kat Sark says:

      Thanks for comment, Lyam! And thank you for reading!
      From the little research that I’ve done, I feel like his overall take is rather on the pessimistic side: along the lines of “this is how it is, and we’re all messed up.” He doesn’t really provide any answers, suggestions or solutions, he just kinda lays out the dis-functionalities, and sometimes even with a hopeless undertone.
      Hope you are well! What are you reading these days?

  2. maia iotzova says:

    I like the excerpts on love and relationships.

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