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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Did shops kill the flâneur?

Back in the nineties I was a flâneur.

Flâneur is a stroller, an avid observer of life, someone who walks, takes part in his surroundings without really making himself felt present. The flâneur, according to Walter Benjamin, was a curious detective, understanding the urban landscape around him, strolling around just for the beauty of the discovery and not in order to actively participate in the activities of the crowds. In other words, we can’t find this character in shops. First, it is unlikely to visit the shops solely for the ‘gastronomy of the eye’, and secondly, even in the unlikely scenario that the flâneur is there only in order to observe, he can’t remain invisible. The amount of security cameras, at least in the UK, make sure that everyone is on display.

But when I was living in Moscow, the possibility to be a flâneur was definitely there. I was constantly on a stroll. You see, in the Soviet Union, it was unthinkable to think about a trip to the shops, because there were hardly any and when there were any shops they were hardly selling anything.

But then things started to change. The reforms that Gorbachev put in place had an initial effect of small starvation problems. Shops became even emptier and when a product would appear, everyone was after it, regardless of what it was: a vacuum cleaner, some bread, pants, bras or coats. Obviously, with such development, shops acquired a new status. They became interesting.

With it my experience of flânerie was changing but not yet disappearing entirely. The square near all underground stations reflected what was going to happen, but it was still eluding me, that this was the future. Instead of students gathering for political discussions or dating, these places were now full of ‘larioks’, small shops where one could buy stuff. For a while all of them were selling bananas (I reckon that this was the first major import that Russia experienced as an independent country) but later they switched to selling cola, foreign cigarettes and tampons.

But yes, these lareks were more a curious sight rather than a proper destination for unwinding, spending some quality time and relaxing. Of course, this is far from the truth nowadays. When I do visit Moscow now, shopping malls there would leave any Londoner or New Yorker in serious doubt as to whether their own state regimes care enough about them as consumers. Today there are gigantesque monsters decorating the city in all possible and impossible streets, providing satisfaction not seen anywhere else.

Yes, nowadays, it is the same as elsewhere, with shops being the ultimate destination for passing by time, providing the fake feeling of happiness and absolute delight when entering a shop, leaving it, going to another and so on, like an act of exorcism making you feel like a drug addict desperately waiting for the next dose of treatment.

So, I do agree with Evgeniy Morozov that the flânerie is dead, and it is shops which killed it. All other forms of being a flâneur, including cyber-flâneur are simply impossible when everyone’s attention is focussed on the next gadget to buy.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

I shop, therefore I am

In my previous post I mentioned the fact that being mad is a response of sanity to the world which lost its meaning. We live like zombies where we are defined by shopping, watching X-Factor, wishing for a nicer bigger house or a better car, and where in times of crises, it is more about reacting rather than acting. And one of the most grotesque manifestations of zombielism is the amount of time we spend in shops.

I am a shopaholic myself. It is hard nowadays to escape the phenomenon because everyone shops. I don’t even feel guilty about going shopping as it is where that life takes place. Going shopping is a well-planned, much anticipated trip when I can indulge myself fully and spend some quality time in the company of those like me. I am, obviously, not alone when I am in shops, as the number of fellow shopaholics demonstrates on my escapades. As it turns out we never talk, but it is the exact reason of shopping. I shop alone and in style. Just like the rest of the Western population. We smile politely to each other, we say ‘sorry’ when we try to reach in a hurry for the latest offer at Sainsbury and we don’t ask ourselves anymore as to why we are where.

Shops dominate every city centre in most countries in Europe. It is all about shops - the museums of the generation which has gone mad.

In my case, the addiction grew with age, time and experience, simply because I didn’t have a choice before (read my post on first capitalistic shops in Russia here). Trust me, if I did, I would have embraced it much earlier, so fun and fulfilling it is once on the scene. I look, I observe, I try and I buy, and I try once again when I get home, being consumed by guilt only later when I sit down and realise that once again… I spent the day in futility. But still, I return. There isn’t much else to do nowadays if one happens to be in town. Shops and shoppers are everywhere, luring me once again into the world where there is no meaning.

The whole Western hemisphere literally lives in shops. There are so many shops and people hanging out in there that I often wonder as to whether anyone is actually at work.

What are all these people doing in there, including me?

Thomas Humphrey Marshall once observed that when many people run in the same direction we can ask two questions: what are they running after or what are they running from? The same two questions can be applied to people in shops. Why are they where and what are they trying to achieve?

Let’s start looking at it in my next post.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Being mad is a response of sanity to the world gone mad

Yes, this is what I’ve been thinking recently. It is not madness which really matters but the core of the matter: why, indeed, do people become mad?

I have been reflecting on the issue for quite a while. Maybe it is the current world situation or the accumulation of reading the news about the world situation, but the answer, while being planted on a sub-conscious level for some time, finally reached my head in the morning of last week, when I was following the refugee crisis. With a mixture of total bewilderment and sadness I was reading about all this outcry taking place around the crisis. Which has been going on for a good couple of years, but no one seemed to notice, at least try to take part. But suddenly, secret billionaires and desperate housewives are on the scene with all kinds of ideas: from buying an island to sending tampons to refugee camps.

Debord, a brilliant sociologist of the last century said it already long time ago. We started to live in the society of the spectacle. It is not the act which matters but the image. The whole society as a whole lost its meaning. This outcry for refugees will die once something new and more exciting is presented to us by the media, while the starving refugees will hope that another terrible picture will emerge somewhere to bring spotlight back to them. They might only dream, because soon it will be about bombing and invading Syria. Media manipulates our public opinion as a good behaved crowd of sheep.

Unfortunately, all these crises don’t change the core of the matter. The society as such sucks. While the refugees and people in Syria try to survive as each day comes, here, in the West, we have mostly other preoccupations (I mean, who we are kidding really?). It is still about buying a new car, a new house, following a new diet and buying a new cream. We are still driven by consumption and accumulation and until our principles of life change, nothing in the world will change either.

And therefore, I decided to look bit by bit at the manifestations of madness in the Western world. I will look at the world which suffers from zombielism (look at the definition here), and mostly at things that seem to preoccupy the majority of our time, such as diets, gyms and whether to go for Botox or not.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The state of mania: to fear or embrace?

I intentionally put it as a ridiculous question because the explanations about mania are bordering on grotesque stupidity. Just google mania and it gives you the scary stories about what it means to be a bipolar. In the state of mania you are prone to quit your job, spend ridiculous amounts of money (probably if you are Stephen Fry or Robbie Williams), have numerous sex (I wish), and decide that you are Jesus Christ.

All these things are true and false to a certain extent. The only, real problem I decipher from all these statements is the money one can spend. And I don’t think that it is the problem of only bipolar people. Take any magazine or watch any TV programme and they all incite you to spend. The whole society is based on spending, so it is not a disease but a condition of living in the twenty-first century. So, as long as one doesn’t go into a minus, I wouldn’t call it as a major problem. Especially that you can claim all your money back. Yes, I did it, I know. I once subscribed to all female magazines when I was in the state of mania and was able to cancel it without any problems as soon as I was out of the hospital. And, I ended up with all their free gifts they promise upon subscription. Not bad, he?

The proclaimed promiscuous sex when you are bipolar is actually a good thing when you start dating, or so I noticed (and no, it isn’t like that in real life). Men want to date you because of this claim. It gives you a certain reputation. Being bipolar equals being good in bed. The saying goes ( and yes, yes, it is true!). But if you are in a relationship of seven years and running, with a small child in tow, it is the same as for everyone else.

As to quitting jobs I found that it isn’t a bad thing. When I became bipolar I was working as a financial analyst of banks, and as much as I loved the company for which I worked and my colleagues, I absolutely hated the financial analysis. I was analysing banks. So, I quit my job and since then received a bursary to do a PhD…twice. I am a Doctor of Philosophy and I organised my life in such a way that I can decide what job I do or not. Bipolar equals being clever, and yes, it is true as well.

As to being Jesus Christ, I have to admit that I am guilty. Yes, I was one. Or I thought that I was one. Or I thought that maybe I was related to Jesus, or maybe that Jesus is in me, as the Bible says.

So, are Christians then all idiots?

No, I don’t think so, but the majority of psychiatrists I met, are indeed.