Classical Sociology and Luxury Consumption

Numerous classical sociologists have analysed luxury consumption, mostly as a case study to begin to understand deepening modernisation, industrialisation and new forms of normative socialisation. These authors were active in the Gilded Age (1850s-1900s), a period of rapid technological advance and wealth inequality. It was within this era that the turn towards the individual saw luxury goods lose their stigma of being associated with immorality and vice. In this time, many items previously seen as rare luxuries reserved for the upper class became newly available to all classes e.g. certain foods, fabrics. Cheaper versions of luxury goods also emerged in the late nineteenth century, appearing in the new department stores. The Hollywood film star emerged, embodying glamour and luxury. These changes, alongside new forms of persuasive advertising, placed high social importance on the luxury lifestyle (Featherstone 2014, p.28). These relatively sudden developments combined to legitimize consumerism more or less as we know it today.

Significantly, sociologists of the time mostly saw luxury as modernity and capitalism writ large. Although not associated with luxury as much as authors such as Thorstein Veblen; Georg Simmel and Max Weber also addressed the social underpinnings of luxury about the same time Veblen published his work on the luxury lifestyles of the nouveau riche (Daloz 2008, pp. 27-29). In his 1892 study, Emile Durkheim contended that luxury consumption could be seen as anomic behaviour – an action intended to distance oneself from social collectivism, community and social connections. For Durkheim, the overall health of society suffered if moderation through mass consumption were to be exceeded. He was concerned that the luxury consumer was held above the social collective – essentially freed from rules, obligations and social ties (Falasca-Zamponi 2011, p.39). The functionalist sociological approach sees democratised luxury as disruptive of normative consumption and behaviour – thus, an undesirable social activity if every individual were to participate. Subsequently, Durkheim saw luxury as being only for the elite – not for the masses. This proposition is similar to some thoughts that classical economist Adam Smith and Charles Darwin separately wrote about some years before: in the case of socially signalling elevated status, if everyone were to do so, it would inevitably become overly costly and lose its message of prestige (Frank 2010 [1999]).

Werner Sombart, a lesser known sociologist who influenced Max Weber, was the first to explicitly address luxury in one of his critical treatises on capitalism – titled Luxury and Capitalism (1967 [1913]). In this monograph, Sombart approaches the hedonistic forms of consumption such as fashion and luxury. In this work, he argued that luxury was key to understanding capitalism – that the desire for hedonistic goods and a prestigious leisure lifestyle was the driving factor behind the ‘spirit’ of capitalism. In addition to this, he didn’t consider luxury to be solely bourgeois – rather, a force that energised capitalism, mostly driven by the demand of women and the multiplication and diffusion of feminised commodities ‘to charm men’ and of ‘sensuous pleasure’ for the woman herself.

Although inspired by some of Sombart’s writing on capitalism, nonetheless, Weber disagreed on this point; he contended that a normative Protestant ethic of industry and thrift allowed an upper class to accumulate wealth that fed into industry and consumer markets such as luxury, thus seeing the growth in production and circulation of such goods that ignited all capitalist exchanges. For Weber, luxury was for the upper classes and was not alone sufficient to drive capitalism itself as it was not seen as wholly moral or desirable for the masses. The ‘spirit’ of capitalism was underpinned by frugality, hard work and development of one’s wealth for enterprise, rather than hedonistic consumption (Levy Peck 2005, pp.357-358). Like Durkheim, Weber was concerned that the availability of luxury through mass consumption would have a disruptive effect on the working class and society as a whole. Weber, and later, Norbert Elias, looked at what they termed ‘court luxury’, as an “aristocratic economy of ostentation” associated with the necessitation of luxury as a political tool of social dominance. That is, royalty and nobility reflected their power through ornamentation and discriminating symbols (Delon 2013, pp.784-786). In this context, luxury worked to actively affirm unequal social hierarchies such as monarchy and the structures of nobility. As we can see, within this highly specified logic of distinction, there is little room for mass consumption of luxury.

Writing about luxury also at the beginning of the twentieth century, Georg Simmel considered how modernity had enabled this mode of consumerism, once only a possibility for nobility, to become an item of fashion for most individuals in cities. He observed that social dynamics and the divergent tendencies of the capitalist system (e.g. wages, open consumption markets) allowed lower social strata to access fashion and to openly participate in a system that had once been exclusionary (Sassatelli 2007, p.28). Simmel (1904) tended to view fashion as a form of social relations – an ‘objectification of the mind’ and a means for the individual to express themselves in impersonal cityscapes. Fashion could be imitated by others and especially in the city; it was a means to attempt personal uniqueness in a crowd. It satisfied the modern individual emergent need for differentiation – it was a stamp of exceptionality. However – in explicit reference to luxury, Simmel notes that the upper strata was careful to abandon any commodities taken up by “those of the lower” (1904, p.133). This reflexive mode of distinction dominates fashion, even luxury: once groups deemed ‘undesirable’ by the elite classes begin to appropriate luxury symbols, they are hastily rejected and relegated to lessened status (Daloz 2008, Goffman 1951).

To conclude this post, mass luxury consumption emerged between the 1890s and 1900s, around the same time the first sociologists were penning their ground-breaking work. From the thoughts above, we can see that, at the time, luxury was an effect of deepening modernity. It was observed as a materialisation of the greater wealth of the people, but for sociologists such as Durkheim and Weber, it posed a symbolic threat to the social order. Simmel and Sombart undertake what would be considered a more contemporary viewpoint and consider the development of the consumer. As noted by Simmel, and later by Erving Goffman, luxury objects only remain luxurious if it is scarce and/or only possessed by upper strata. Thus, in a current time where the Gucci symbol is as common as the McDonald’s golden arches, the superrich respond by conspicuously displaying new heights of luxury such as $US600 million 590 foot superyachts and champagne worth $US1.8 million. In my four years writing about luxury, I have observed a rapid ratcheting-up at the extreme end of the luxury spectrum. I theorise that this has more to do with the superrich competing with other members of their peer group rather than concerns about an encroaching middle class and their masstige goods. As the current political economic system is unlikely to be meaningfully challenged and the superrich continue to accrue unimaginable wealth, this trend will likely continue.

 

References

Daloz, Jean-Pascal 2008, “Elite Distinction: Grand Theory and Comparative Perspectives” in Sasaki, Masamichi, Elites: New Comparative Perspectives, New York, Brill, pp.25-66

Featherstone, M 2014, “The rich and the super-rich: Mobility, Consumption and Luxury Lifestyles” in Consumer Culture, Modernity and Identity, Nina Mathur (Ed), New Delhi, Sage Publications, pp. 3 – 45

Frank, Robert H 2010 [1999], Luxury Fever: Why Money Fails to Satisfy in an Era of Excess, New York, The Free Press

Falasca-Zamponi, Simonetta 2011, Waste and Consumption: Capitalism, the Environment and the Life of Things, New York, Routledge

Goffman, Erving 1951, “Symbols of class status”, The British Journal of Sociology, Vol.2, No.4, December, pp.294-304

Levy-Peck, Linda 2005, Consuming Splendour: Society and Culture in Seventeenth Century England, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Sassatelli, Roberta 2007, Consumer Culture: History, Theory and Politics, London, Sage Publications

Simmel, G 1904, “Fashion”, International Quarterly, No.10, pp.130-155

Sombart, Werner 1967, Luxury and Capitalism, Trans. WR Dittmar, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press

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Human, All Too Human: How Does ‘Human Optimisation Culture’ Speak to Our Epoch?

The concern that society is moving at a rapid pace is not new, with writers such as Henry David Thoreau (1850s) and George Simmel (1900s) mounting missives against what they saw as the alarming speed of modern life. However, due to the rapid technological advances in about the last thirty years, it can be argued that current time is particularly characterized by a relentless speed-up culture.  Capitalism has always valued fast; but it is becoming a moral and social imperative for the individual to keep up in not only their workplace and in society, but also in their private life. Social acceleration bombards and individualises us, driving us to run faster, like a solitary hamster on a wheel. Those with a stake in the continuation of fast suggest that if people cannot keep up, it is an individual failing. Interestingly, numerous individuals actively embrace the peremptory for the individual to not only survive social acceleration, but to thrive. The libertarian spirit that imbues free market capitalism guides this philosophy – rather than seeing life-chances as truncated by precarity, such an individual remains convinced that there are now more opportunities for social mobility than ever before.

To begin, I would like to explore a basic aetiology of how self-help and self-care social movements commenced. The concept of one’s life and body possessing endless potential emerged in the late nineteenth century. This period, situated within the Gilded Age (mid-1800s-1900s), saw a sociocultural shift from religious views, which tended to see the human body as inferior to the spirit, and a turn towards philosophies about human development and self-actualisation.  “The ‘right’ to life, to one’s body, to health…[and] the satisfaction of needs” became newly emphasised (Foucault 2008, [1976] p.145). Through this idea, care of the self through the body emerged as a means for the contemporary individual to assert their rights. Expert discourse that instructed the individual about the best way to live also became evident here – which brings us to the topic that this post intends to mostly focus on. Self-help literature as a lifestyle guide appeared in this era – which, interestingly, was also the same period in which Thoreau and Simmel penned their critique. As I have outlined elsewhere, the Gilded Age has many cultural and political economic similarities to the current epoch. It is noteworthy that the name ‘Gilded Age’ originated from author Mark Twain’s observation that a thin gold veneer obscured a time of class exploitation, greed and corruption. Despite Twain’s cynicism, and deepening wealth and power disparities, most individuals in this period also believed that this era represented endless possibilities for individual success.

Expert discourse, such as self-help literature, certainly serves powerful interests. Many authors are multi-millionaires and CEOs of businesses peddling supplements or other commodities supposedly essential to maximising one’s potential. In 2016, the self-help industry was valued at almost $US10 billion in the United States alone. There are numerous sub-genres within this literature and this post will focus on the ‘biohacking’ or ‘human optimisation’ material. I prefer the term human optimisation as a means to describe this culture, as it has a sense of irony for me. We are not understanding our human frailty and hardships through philosophical reasoning, as Nietzsche might have it – instead, some of us are attempting to attain the heights of Ubermensch. The authors and advocates of this culture utilise (often pseudo-) scientific reasoning to fortify their bodies – whether it is drinking one’s morning coffee with butter in it, or taking daily cold showers, or exposing one’s scantily clad body to sub-zero temperatures to enhance ‘vitality’. Some adherents even ‘micro-dose’ illicit drugs such as MDMA  – which is rationalised by this individual, and others, as increasing his intelligence. Many advocate for the daily use of ‘smart drugs’ that include herbal formulas (‘nootropics’), ‘research chemicals’ (unregulated drugs), and off-label use of prescription medication. Human augmentation (i.e. implanting a RFID chip into oneself) is also an emerging trend gaining traction in this field. Due to its burgeoning popularity, there are more practices and philosophies related to Human Optimisation Culture (henceforth referred to as HOC) than I could possibly blog about here.

The biotechnical imaginary that informs HOC shares many commonalities with Anti-Ageing Treatment (AAT) culture. It is significant that HOC originated in the Silicon Valley, spearheaded by tech executives and entrepreneurs. Many of the wealthy adherents to HOC access concierge medical care that purports to extend lifespan and prescribe ‘health optimisation medicine’. Sean Parker, the superrich original President of Facebook, recently stated that due to his HOC lifestyle, he was going to live until 160 and was “going to be a part of this, like, class of immortal overlords”. Similarly, the founder of Google, Bill Maris, started a company that aims to ‘solve death’. This 2018 Guardian article notes that HOC “unites the hi-tech, wellness, anti-ageing and science communities; at its most basic, it means doing things to your body or mind to make them function better”.  This assertion certainly draws upon the idea purported by the American Academy of Antiaging Medicine (A4M) that human ageing can be regarded much like any other treatable disease – amendable to medicine and other forms of self-care (Haber 2001, p.9). Whereas A4M has attracted criticism from the medical community due to their dangerous off-label uses of Human Growth Hormone (Weintraub 2010), HOC advocates and biohackers also engage in risky practices that have raised medical concern.

Through these above examples, it can be seen how the HOC and AAT consumer conceptualise their practices as moral. These sub-cultures encourage self-development through the active attainment of expert knowledge and consumption of recommended commodities and drugs. These actions are usefully understood through Nikolas Rose’s (1999) ‘healthism’ theory. This concept builds upon Foucault’s thinking about how neoliberal individuals are subjectified to self-care and focuses mostly on health expert discourse. Sub-cultures such as HOC depend on an individual who perceives themselves as self-reliant and such sub-cultures are more or less a commoditised moralistic identity project. This interplay between consumer, expert discourse and consumption is fervently encouraged by governments aiming for lower social spending and the furthering of market interests. However, both governments and the beneficiary market interests both present the notion of care of one’s body as highly personalised and agential act (Giesler and Veresiu 2014).

To conclude this post, I would like to consider how HOC may represent not only precarity in Western societies, but also how we so easily accept this precarity and the continuing erosion of the social contract. To crudely paraphrase Habermas; the system is subsuming the lifeworld. The lifeworld is becoming increasingly colonised by the instrumental rationality of capital and its aims. Particularly in academia, we are enmeshed in this rationality, which suggests we follow rules for our own self-interest and professional advancement. Somehow, it feels easier for society at large to use Bitcoin to illegally order stimulating drugs than to protest longer hours for less pay, or to believe there’s a perfect to-do list, or productivity method that will allow us to run a bit faster on the hamster wheel. It needs to be noted that many of the HOC authors such as Marcus Aubrey are multi-millionaires with a significant stake in individuals accepting the notion that ‘optimisation’ is the answer to a much more complex problem. Marcus not only makes a mint off his books and podcasts, but he owns Onnit, a successful nootropic company with many corporate partnerships. The review that I conducted on this literature was nasty to endure – not just because most of it contained an aggressive ‘bro culture’ means of addressing the reader, or would often outright insult the reader. Something deeper bothered me about this literature – it was the sense that we have become perhaps the most active agents in our own subjugation.

 

Reference List

Giesler, M & Veresiu, E 2014, “Creating the Responsible Consumer: Moralistic Governance Regimes and Consumer Subjectivity”. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 41, October, pp.849–867

Foucault, Michel 2008 [1976], The History of Sexuality Volume One, Great Britain, Penguin Books

Haber, C 2001, “Anti-Aging: Why Now? A Historical Framework for Understanding the Contemporary Enthusiasm”, Generations, Winter 2001/2002, Vol.25, No.4, pp.9-15

Rose, Nikolas 1999, Powers of Freedom: reframing political thought. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Weintraub, Arlene 2010, Selling the Fountain of Youth: How the Anti-Aging Industry Made a Disease Out of Getting Old—And Made Billions, New York, Basic Books

Inequality, Culture and Consumption: Let them eat Luxury, or the Rise of Masstige

Since neoliberal restructuring in the 1980s, in the West, it can be argued that members of the middle class have either experienced upwards social mobility or lost considerable economic security via labour market restructuring. The neoliberal form of governance places emphasis on markets rather than ideal social outcomes and has allowed a ‘winner take all’ society to emerge (Frank and Cook 1995). Just recently, Milanovic (2010, 2015) shows that the richest 5 per cent of people receive one-third of total global income – or, to reframe this, the same share of income as the poorest 80 per cent.

Within this period, heterodox economists and other social scientists have focused largely on the truncated lifechances of those who have lost socioeconomic footing and are vulnerable to the self-interests of the wealthy (see the excellent work of Michael Pusey and Frank Stilwell for Australian contexts; and Joseph Stiglitz for a solid international analysis). However, in this post, I intend to propose a cultural sociological evaluation of the lifestyles of the wealthy (e.g. the top 10%) and also, how their norms and values have trickled into everyday popular culture.

To begin, I will examine a relatively new development in consumer culture. The most commonly sighted luxury good in social circulation in contemporary times has come to be known in industry circles as the ‘masstige’ luxury commodity. The word ‘masstige’ is a portmanteau – ‘mass’; meaning commercial – and ‘-tige’, an abbreviation of ‘prestige’. These ‘entry-level’ goods bear the luxury brand symbol and are mass-marketed as ‘democratic’ and available to almost all consumer types (Kastanakis and Balabanis 2012, p.1399). The inherent snobbery in the portmanteau underscores that the ‘real’ exclusive luxury goods are still out of reach of the mass consumer; which, arguably, almost diminishes the luxury message in the symbol. How can luxury be still considered luxury if it is ostensibly available to all?

However, these goods remain a popular contemporary form of conspicuous consumption for those with the means and desire to purchase them (Bian and Forsythe 2012). In an epoch where the glittering rich display their luxury lifestyles on social media, individuals without access to Kim Kardashian’s bank balance and structural advantage can also symbolize their own claims to status through the consumption of masstige goods. The popularity of Instagram and the ‘selfie’ have seen the rise of what some theorists call an attention economy. Luxury brands such as Chanel also realise the importance of marketing on social media, especially on the image-saturated platform Instagram and share images of their new seasons of the less accessible haute couture and also their ready-to-wear goods directed at the masstige consumer. At the time of writing this post, Chanel has 29.8 million Instagram followers eagerly partaking in the brand’s fantasy of luxury, beauty and hedonism.

The relatively recent addition of social media has allowed new spaces for the contemporary individual to symbolically communicate social status, often supported by displays of ‘right’ commodities or travel. The concept of the ‘status symbol’ was coined by Erving Goffman in 1951 to explain how individuals use objects of social value as cues that are selected to visibly divide the social world into categories that work to maintain solidarity or hostility. Thus, as Pierre Bourdieu later famously argued, taste is not innocent. It defines, divides and categorizes.

Drawing on Bourdieu (1984), we might say that tastes are class based and are cultivated as symbols of class status. Discipline and sophistication are seen in the proper acquisition of right symbols – in clothing, drink, food and furnishings. Cultural communication via the circulation of status symbols and thus, power, sees a useful understanding of how society operates (Goffman 1951, pp. 301-304). This proposition contends that consumption of particular objects is a means of symbolically displaying social identity or class identity via the medium of the commodity – which sees the individual derive prestige from a good (Baudrillard 1996 [1968], 1998 [1970]).

Masstige consumption fits within this paradigm, allowing the consumer of these goods to communicate their social prestige and distinction from others. The ‘status symbol’ notion also fits into the theory of conspicuous consumption, the critical term given to describe the acquisition of luxury goods and services that are then publicly displayed as a means of achieving or sustaining favourable social status (Veblen 2005 [1899]). Written in the 1890s, Veblen was inspired by the boom in luxury consumption and displays of excess by the upwardly socially mobile nouveau riche class of the Gilded Age, an era characterised by chronic economic and social inequality (Frank 2010 [1999], Wood 1993). It might be argued, as hinted by Thomas Piketty, that we could even be enduring another Gilded Age right now.

As I have previously outlined, such sociocultural conditions see the phenomenon of a ‘luxury fever’ (cf. Frank 2010 [1999]) as larger than ever groups of consumers scramble to spend their incomes on prestige goods. Much like Veblen’s nouveau riche, some contemporary consumers want to showcase their upward mobility and spending power through the purchase and display of material goods, often using credit to leverage their entry into the realm of luxury consumption.

Some economists argue that conspicuous consumption prevails as a spending pattern and social behaviour due to relative position, perception, incentive and social interaction. If an individual displays a socially desirable trait (in contemporary society, this could mean luxury) and is rewarded, it motivates others to emulate the action. In this vein, luxury can also be considered a ‘costly signal’ – like a peacock’s tail or other desirable trait (Frank 2010 [1999], p.122, p.137, p.152). This theory blends economic concepts with evolutionary psychology and behaviourist models to describe how individuals may be motivated towards conspicuous consumption.

In terms of the masstige good – be it a luxury-branded lipstick, pair of sunglasses or monogrammed handbag – there remains a considerable incentive for the individual to participate in this culture. Luxury has permeated popular culture. With social media’s focus on the individual, popular music boasting about lavish lifestyles (I see you, Kanye West) and reality television shows obsessively documenting the excesses of the super-rich, the younger generations, a large part of this market, may feel compelled to desire a crumb from the gilded plate.

 

References

Baudrillard, Jean 1996, The System of Objects, Trans. Benedict, London, Verso

Baudrillard, Jean 2002 [1998], The Consumer Society, London, Sage Publications, trans. Turner

Bian, Q and Forsythe, S 2012, “Purchase intention for luxury brands: A cross-cultural comparison”, Journal of Business Research, Vol. 65, pp.1443-1451

Frank, Robert H 2010 [1999], Luxury Fever: Why Money Fails to Satisfy in an Era of Excess, New York, The Free Press

Frank, Robert H and Cook, Phillip J 1995, Winner Takes All Society: How More and More Americans compete for ever fewer and bigger prizes, encouraging economic waste, income inequality, and an impoverished cultural life, New York, Free Press

Goffman, Erving 1951, “Symbols of class status”, The British Journal of Sociology, Vol.2, No.4, December, pp.294-304

Kastanakis, MN & Balabanis, G 2012, ‘Between the mass and the class: Antecedents of the “bandwagon” luxury consumption behavior”, Journal of Business Research, Vol. 65, p.1399-1407

Milanovic, Branko, 2010, The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality, Basic Books, New York.

Milanovic, B 2015, “Income Inequality: The Global Haves and Have-Nots in the 21st Century”, Social Europe, Online Retrieved from http://www.socialeurope.eu/2015/11/income-inequality-the-global-haves-and-have-nots-in-the-21st-century/, URL Consulted September 2018

Trigg, AB 2016, “Is Conspicuous Consumption a Weak Concept? A historical perspective on the French Revolution and Capitalism”, in Tae-Hee Jo and Frederic S Lee (eds), Marx, Veblen and the Foundation of Heterodox Economics, Routledge, New York and London

Veblen, Thorstein 1970 [1925], The Theory of the Leisure Class, Great Britain, Unwin Books

Veblen, Thorstein 2005 [1899] Conspicuous Consumption, London, Penguin Books

Wood, John C 1993, Thorstein Veblen: Critical Assessments, London, Routledge

Dial ‘M’ for Menulog – Marketised Solutions, Intersections of Inequality and the Outsourcing of Domestic Labour

What Arlie Hochschild eloquently called The Second Shift is being reconfigured. In contemporary times, a woman isn’t successful until she outsources her feminine duties and escapes the prison of being responsible for the neverending domestic workload. Whilst popularly conceived as too outdated to take to the streets over, or perhaps, simply tossed into the too-hard basket, women continue to undertake the majority of domestic duties.  To clarify, in order to be able to outsource feminine duties, the woman generally requires a relatively privileged social status (see Wong 1996); however, she may not be necessarily employed outside the home (but have the socioeconomic positioning in order to purchase domestic duties labour).

Addressed eloquently in the insightful Normal Chaos of Love (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim 1995), the gender struggle and women’s fight for self-actualisation often takes place in the heteronormative home. The illusion of gender equality is being confronted by women who expect equal rights and treatment but experience the actual conditions that confine them to domestic duties. There has been a lack of the decoupling of the old attitudes and behaviours, poignantly evidenced by women’s low representation in politics and at executive level in the corporate world. As Beck and Beck Gernsheim note, men imagine that gender equality is compatible with the old sexual division of labour, which leads women to battling for recognition for her personhood in the private sphere. In more recent literature, we can see that the sexual division of labour in Australian households continues to disadvantage women socially and economically, seeing an appreciable opportunity cost as women forgo other activities to be burdened with the lion’s share of domestic duties, child-care and responsibilities such as being the primary carer for an ill family member.

From a more macro perspective, these responsibilities stem from a sociohistorical base of sexual oppression and the enduring belief that women are naturally best equipped to nurturing roles. Caring is seen as a feminine duty and external to market valuation; thus subject to trivialisation. The devaluation of domestic labour was not addressed in a significant manner even by Marxian and Marxist scholars until the Italian autonomous Marxism movement of the 1960s (workerist communism, or operaismo) and feminist Marxism. It should be noted, however, that Marx (and Engels) did address female oppression to a degree; but, their views are based upon the heteronormative ideal of the conjugal family and their focus for liberation and self-determination tended to favour the male proletariat worker. Marxian critique and Marxism in all its forms remains a useful lens in which to analyse these issues – however, as scholars, we need to amend and challenge the outdated claims.

Working towards a political economic perspective, it should be noted that unpaid caring duties are increasingly undertaken in the home in response to a shrinking formal care sector e.g. the current emphasis on community care and the onus on the individual to self-care, or care for family members. For more detail, see Michael Fine’s excellent book that investigates the neoliberalisation of state-provided human services and how the provision of care has become legitimated as individual rather than social. Whereas ‘caring’ institutions such as asylums are in themselves problematic, social problems (such as ageing and mental health) have been re-defined as personal and individual issues, to be addressed at the level of the family and within the private sphere. Providing critique and recommendations for this are well beyond the scope of this post – which aims to dissect some of the possible contributing factors that may influence the normalisation of use of domestic duties outsourcing.

Another social issue that has been further individualised is the socialisation and care for children. Increasingly not seen to be a state problem, child-rearing and care is further pushed into the private sphere. Recent data reveals that women spend over 8 hours a day caring for their children, often regardless of their level of employment participation. Expensive childcare, old-fashioned notions about moral motherhood and gender pay/work inequalities exacerbate this. Emerging market-based ‘solutions’ that allow more privileged women to use their economic and social resources and advantages to outsource domestic labour are proliferating and perhaps alleviating some stress at individual level. Importantly, I want to highlight that access to these services does not challenge entrenched systemic gender inequalities and strongly held assumptions about who does what in a co-inhabiting heterosexual couple – in fact, it may reinforce this as a new form of domestic administration for exhausted and overburdened women. Management of outsourcing child-care and other domestic tasks, such as grocery shopping, still fall upon women – who tend to be seen as primary parents, as opposed to the view that the father is a helper who can opt out of unwanted parenting duties. Thus, women remain largely responsible for tasks such as laundry, cleaning and food preparation.

Considering this societal obligation for women to shoulder most of the domestic labour, the new breed of domestic labour outsourcing apps on smartphones seems like an attractive solution to a seemingly impossible and complex problem. However, it simply confirms and further perpetuates the sexism inherent in domestic labour – that is, scheduling app services such as Menulog to put dinner on the proverbial table is simply a new feminised task. This does not challenge systemic inequality but socially reproduces it and contributes to broader issues. Furthermore, it has seen the rapid spread of gig economies and what has been called Uberisation . Individuals providing these services are subject to what Peter Fleming calls ‘radical responsibilisation’ – that is, a new hyper-individualising outcome of deepening neoliberalism. Using Gary Becker’s human capital thesis, Fleming contends that Uberisation has led to greater economic insecurity, lessened personal autonomy and larger levels of personal debt due to low and inconsistent income. Moreover, it is important to underscore that the providers of these digitally enabled services tend to be of non-white ethnicity and often in the Millennial generation, who face greater economic insecurity and  structural disadvantage than previous cohorts. As Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim argue in Distinct Love (2013) – in an attempt to redress women’s desire to avoid the second shift of domestic work, global inequalities are increasingly being performed ‘in the kitchen’ via the outsourcing of domestic labour.

To use an analogy, I would propose that the reliance on apps to shunt away unwanted domestic labour has become a Meeseeks box of sorts – a rather terrible band-aid solution for an individual’s personal challenges that ends up causing further chaos. I hope that, in beginning to account for some of the possible drivers for the demand of these services – which is, I emphasise, is not even close to an exhaustive list – and also considering some of the broader disadvantages experienced by those providing them may assist in critiquing the deepening precarity that appears to becoming further entrenched and normalised. Looking to markets to offer solutions to the sexual division of labour obfuscates the original problem (our failure as a modern society to address sexual inequality) and creates new morally fraught issues, such as relatively advantaged individuals supporting industries with appalling working conditions. What Angela McRobbie calls the illusion of gender equality further complicates the above issues; as does the sociohistorical construct of domestic labour being women’s work.

Authors note: I would like to thank my wonderful students in ATS2561 (at Monash University, Melbourne) for inspiring this post via discussing the continuing problem of the sexual division of labour

 

 

 

 

 

Anti-Ageing Culture, Harm and Accelerations of Ageism

My current doctoral research aims to interrogate how sociocultural ‘fantasies of youth’, the booming anti-ageing cosmetic industry and the biomedicalisation of the face may assist the belief that the contemporary individual can erase, or even reverse, the physical markers of age. I also want to consider how commercial promissory discourse, neoliberalised subjectification and biopolitical forces may underpin the construction of the anti-ageing treatment (AAT) consumer. Biopolitics can be defined as the contemporary state imposing regulation and governance unto the bodies of their populations (Foucault 2008 [1976], pp. 138-145). Previous Western regimes before the nineteenth century was underpinned by the Christian ideology that human life and the body was subjugated to a lowly stature. However, the “life as a political object” and a new system of state apparatuses to control it emerged in the later part of the nineteenth century, bringing new philosophies that upheld “the ‘right’ to life, to one’s body, to health…[and] the satisfaction of needs” alongside the insistence that the body held unrealised potential (Foucault 2008, [1976] p.145). Through this idea, care of the self through the body emerged as a means for the contemporary individual to assert their rights. The promotion of health and assertion that death could be controlled arose from this thought.

Further to this, the Foucaultian ‘healthism’ technology of self theory of Nikolas Rose (1999) argues that the governed subject willingly seeks out expert guidance and market-based technologies with the goal of being healthy – which is a social and moral good. This notion posits that the neoliberal subject is governed by its ‘freedom’ and desire for a limited welfare state, which places the onus upon the individual to be responsible for formerly state provided goods such as healthcare. Thus, self-care of the body via self-reliant consumption is a moralistic identity project, “created and sustained by a market-based consumption system” within neoliberal “horizontal authority…[in] one…willing bears the consequences of its actions” (Giesler and Veresiu 2014, p.841). This system is underwritten by medical authority and expertise; however, it personalises one’s health into a discourse of agency and self-determination (Giesler and Veresiu 2014). Reading between the lines here, it suggests if one cannot afford the required self-care, then the fault is upon the individual, not the nation-state or a welfare state.

The above considered, my study concerns cosmetic AATs such as Botox, because, as Olshansky et al (2002) underscore, potent and effective anti-ageing drugs are not available to the public – thus, we see capitalists eagerly rushing to meet consumer demand for the potentially impossible. Over-the-counter consumables such as ‘anti-wrinkle’ facial creams suggest efficacy and peer-review, yet these creams maintain their status as ‘cosmetic’ to avoid regulation. Whereas drugs such as Botox are subject to closer scrutiny from state regulatory bodies, the popularity of these drugs as facial AATs has seen black markets and dangerous practices emerge. Examples include untrained practitioners administering treatments in shopping mall based clinics by beautician staff and other medical professionals without proper accreditation entering the lucrative market. Recent research suggests attending a clinic with an untrained practitioner may result in irreversible physical harm, such as blindness. Revisiting the idea of the morally responsible consumer looking to fend off disease and bodily decline via self care such as AAT use, there is a terrible irony. The neoliberal state wants citizens to exercise freedom of choice via market action, but also does little to protect them from ruthless capitalists looking to exploit a booming industry.

In addition to this, other forms of considerable harm has come to many AAT consumers. Authors such as Arlene Weintraub (2010) focus on the consumer harm inflicted by off-label use of human growth hormone as an AAT – which has seen the rapid growth of deadly cancerous tumours in consumers and the culpable ‘anti-ageing’ doctors imprisoned for the death of numerous patients. Apart from physical harm, such as facial scarring, drooping and long term muscle laxity, mental and emotional harm can also result from the use of Botox and other injectables as AATs. In a recent study, Berwick and Humble (2017) draw on interview data to propose that Botox and other injectable drugs used as AATs may cause anxiety and depression in some consumers, with some participants reporting that these effects continued for over four years. Despite consulting with medical professionals for help, these consumers felt alienated and embarrassed for what doctors perceived as an act of vanity gone wrong. Other researchers, such as Debra Gimlin, have also noted how the concerns of cosmetic procedure consumers tend to be disregarded by medical professionals.

Furthermore, several authors suggest that the anti-ageing industry has seen a further devaluation of ageing (e.g. Hurd Clarke and Griffin 2008) and an intensification of ageing anxiety in even teenagers (Muise and Desmarais 2010, Morton 2015). Elsewhere I have outlined how airbrushed beauty ideals and the enthusiasm for ‘cosmetic wellness’ may influence consumer motivations and attitudes towards the AAT market. The point I wish to raise in this post is that these phenomena are more complicated than simple vanity preoccupations. As Jermyn (2012, 2016) suggests, celebrity culture, coupled with post-feminism, compound to subjectify women into wanting to do almost anything to avoid physical ageing. The social cost of ageing for female celebrities is to become obsolete in an interchangeable and commodified industry. Thus, to retain employment and avoid humiliation from the media, female celebrities utilise injectable AATs (in line with other surgeries etc.) and thus further normalise their use in social contexts. Recalling the biopolitics theory, pervasive media attention and celebrity use further encourages the use of risky AATs in the general population.

Increasingly, as it is expected that people can avoid the signs of age, the fear of social exclusion is also a pressing concern for Everywoman as she ages. Hurd Clarke and Griffin (2008) suggest that ageing women struggle to keep employment, romantic relationships and social relevancy more than their male counterparts. However, men are no longer immune from harsh physical evaluations around ageing. Recent research by Ojala et al (2016) contends that men are becoming increasingly engaged with the cosmetic AAT market as they feel pressure to have a more youthful face. Research from about 10 years ago from Calasanti and King (2005, 2007) argues that male AATs were not cosmetically focused; that is, the AATs men consumed sold ideals of performance, sexuality and physical fitness e.g. dietary supplements, dubious testosterone enhancers and drugs such as Viagra. Nonetheless, more recent studies reveal that men are also now concerned about attaining a youthful face and are now subject to beauty ideals. New data reveals how the men’s cosmetics sub-industry has now become mainstream, as social media (e.g. selfie culture, vlogging) and age anxiety has also emerged as a male concern.

Moreover, research by US sociologist Dana Berkowitz (2017) contends that men now pursue AATs such as Botox injections to appear fresh-faced and to be perceived as youthful in workplaces, able to fight off the younger competitors threatening their social positioning. I suggest that the above sociocultural developments indicate an acceleration of ageism and perhaps a challenge to the notion (myth?) that the AAT consumer is a ‘vain’ ageing white middle class woman. These developments, coupled with the largely unregulated, and often harmful, AAT market which dubiously promises to mask or erase ageing, the contemporary AAT consumer is faced with what I have previously called a double-bind.

In my 2014 article, I posit the problem as inherently feminine.  But, the above developments since my 2013 study (discussed in the hyperlinked article) suggest that anti-ageing culture and beauty ideals have crossed the sexual binary. As Jean Kilbourne commented; women did not want to see this kind of gender ‘equality’. The pervasive fear of age, and a deeper focus on appearance as self-identity, poses a problem fraught with exploitation, harm and deepening anxieties in an age of risk management. Biopolitics, and responsible self-care, has expanded to mean looking good – an ever-narrowing notion decreed by culture industries (such as celebrity) and the anxieties stirred by social media such as Instagram. Hence, the contemporary individual who wants to successfully ‘self-care’ and maximise their ‘beauty capital’ (a notion congruent with the theory of Bourdieusian cultural capital) is now faced with confusing and often conflicting messages on how to increase one’s longevity and what it means to be relevant in a period struggling with the ethics of unfettered capitalism.

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts – and suggestions for what I might have missed. I am overwhelmed by the pervasive ubiquity of anti-ageing culture and the vast number of new products 🙂

A website focused on my study will be coming soon – stay tuned!

References

Berkowitz, Dana 2017, Botox Nation: Changing the Face of America, New York, New York University Press

Berwick, S & Humble, A 2017, “Older women’s negative psychological and physical experiences with injectable cosmetic treatments to the face”, Journal of Women & Aging, Vol.29, No.1, pp.51-62

Calasanti, T & King N 2005, “Firming the Floppy Penis: Age, Class and Gender Relations in the Lives of Old Men”, Men and Masculinities, Vol.8, No.1, pp.3-23

Calasanti, T & King, N 2007, “Beware of the estrogen assault”: Ideals of old manhood in anti-aging advertisements”, Journal of Aging Studies, Vol.21, No.4, pp.357-368

Foucault, Michel 2008 [1976], The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, London, Penguin Books

Giesler, M & Veresiu, E 2014, “Creating the Responsible Consumer: Moralistic Governance Regimes and Consumer Subjectivity”. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 41, October, pp.849–867

Hurd Clarke, L & Griffin, M 2008, “Visible and Invisible Ageing: Beauty Work as a Response to Ageism”, Ageing and Society, Vol.28, No.5, pp.653-674

Jermyn, D 2012, “’Get a life, ladies. Your old one is not coming back’: Ageism and the lifespan of the female celebrity”, Celebrity Studies, Vol.3, No.1, pp.1-12

Jermyn, D 2016, “Pretty past it? Interrogating the post-feminist makeover of ageing, style and fashion”, Feminist Media Studies, Vol.16, No.4, pp.573-589

Morton, K 2015, “Emerging geographies of disciplining the ageing body: Practising cosmetic technologies in the aesthetic clinic”, Gender, Place & Culture, A Journal of Feminist Geography, Vol.22, No.7, pp.1041-1057

Muise, A & Desmarais, S 2010, “Women’s Perceptions and Use of ‘Anti-Ageing’ Products”, Sex Roles, Vol.63, pp.126-137

Ojala, H, Calasanti, T, King, N & Pietila, I 2016, “Natural (ly) men: Masculinity and gendered anti-ageing practices in Finland and the USA”, Ageing & Society, No.36, pp.356-375

Olshansky, S.J., Hayflick, L & Carnes, B.A. 2002, “No Truth to the Fountain of Youth”, Scientific American, June 2002, pp. 92-96

Rose, Nikolas 1999, Powers of Freedom: reframing political thought. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Weintraub, Arlene 2010, Selling the Fountain of Youth: How the Anti-Aging Industry Made a Disease Out of Getting Old—And Made Billions, New York, Basic Books

 

 

NOLA: Fast Times in the French Quarter and – the Cities of the Dead

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“But if I die without trying again, I’m a coward. I don’t mind having regrets about stuff I’ve done. It’s the regrets about stuff I haven’t done that bother me.”
– Poppy Z Brite, Exquisite Corpse

I have always wanted to go to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Whether it was the erotic dark beauty penned by the incomparable Poppy Z Brite; or the drunken wailings of Tom Waits, it was the first United States city I wanted to visit. Last week, my wish was fulfilled.

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I fell in love. 24 hour parties, the lively Bourbon Street, the lush old trees coated in ivy and moss…it was perhaps the most unique place I have visited.

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The week I stayed in NOLA was unusual – it was Wrestlemania week and the city buzzed with the excitement and energy of 75,000 hardcore wrestling fans, from almost 70 countries worldwide. My best friend and I were also wrestling pilgrims – although, admittedly, I am the life-long wrestling fan and she was kindly humouring me (however, I think I have converted her!). Held in the commanding Superdome, the incredible Wrestlemania was on my birthday this year, in a city I have wanted to visit all my life.

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We had ninth row ringside seats, on the camera-facing side. I re-watched Wrestlemania the other night and to our amusement, we could see ourselves throughout the pay-per-view. I learned that I talk a lot and pull a lot of weird faces!

rasslemania

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Throughout our time in NOLA, we made thousands of amazing new friends and barely slept in our Baronne Street apartment. Legally, one can purchase the very large cocktails in plastic cups and walk around the streets. The only rule is that imbibers carry no glass, so even 1 litre beer cans were OK. One could even go into most shops, sipping liquor. I spent perhaps too much at the amazing Roadkill – a Gothic/metal clothing shop. And majorly crushed on the gorgeous shop girl with cosmetically enhanced vampire fangs.

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However, between the wrestling events we attended, the wild nights, Virginian tobacco and always-open nightclubs, I think I have irreparably damaged my vocal cords. I now understand how Tom Waits’ achieved his raspy snarl.

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Death haunts New Orleans. The upturned sidewalks and battered beautiful old buildings tell a tale of vicious hurricanes and broken levies. The old cemeteries are unapologetically decayed and the French Quarter is lively with crowds yet the twang of the blues can be heard from the many bands and street musicians. In the streets, receiving many beads from numerous admirers, male and female, I felt the weight of my mortality and the ghosts of those who once who once walked my in steps. Warm from booze but chilled by the presence of New Orleans, I felt both thrill and reverence.

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The city has a mood like no other. It is an alluring entanglement of otherworldly beauty and obituary. It hums with intense energy and a feverish passion. I was an addict. I was in a constant drunken sleep-deprived haze, swimming through the old streets dreamlike. Maybe it was the sweet sting of the thick green absinthe, but the delicious prose of Anne Rice whispered in my ear. I wanted a beautiful stranger to push me against a crumbling wall, to bite into my neck with sharp teeth. In the French Quarter, under the dark purple sky, it felt like unfathomable possibilities could manifest. As Poppy Z Brite wrote; “The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets.”

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In my time in NOLA, I spiraled between dark introspection and losing myself in the crazed fun of the city. I did not relinquish my terrors; I was unafraid of the velvety dark of the blackest parts of my soul. Someone we had drinks with told us that a guy died at one of the wrestling events; one minute he was drinking a daiquiri, the next he fell asleep forever. I thought that I wouldn’t mind if NOLA claimed my bones. My favourite death will always be what almost happened to Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) in The Birds – being attacked by crazed ravens against a bookshelf – nonetheless, dying from too much partying at a professional wrestling show would also be a damn good way to go out.

the birds

I think I went to NOLA at a special time. I was a part of crazed mobs of party people drunk on the energy of Bourbon Street and Wrestlemania, and saw many wrestling celebrities partying at the clubs (unlike other jack-offs, I did not approach them – Anoushka does NOT fan-girl. Ever). We flew Business/First Priority and the champagne kept flowing for 7 days. We raised hell on the flights and drove the posh people crazy. My best friend broke a Qantas sky bed by somehow accidentally (drunkenly??) jamming the seatbelt down the side of it but I’ll never tell! Oh shit…I just did! It was the party of my life. My usual jaunts in my hometown of Melbourne, Australia will never compare to walking around Bourbon Street, my shirt completely unbuttoned, beads bouncing around, a litre of Appletini in hand. Wrestlemania 35 is in New York next year, the day before my birthday, and I can only hope that NY will be half as fun.

And, as for right now – as Tom Waits once sang; I wish I was in New Orleans.

 

The Soil Beneath Your Feet is Millennia of Decay

 

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“The concept of progress must be grounded in the idea of catastrophe. That
things are “status quo” is the catastrophe. It is not an ever-present possibility but
what in each case is given… hell is not
something that awaits us, but this life here and now.”
― Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

I was a Parisian flaneur for almost 2 weeks. Yet I saw none of the Benjaminian arcades. But this was intentional.

I did not visit many of the usual tourist spots. I abhorred the lines to the Louvre. I refuse to stand in lines.  The late December morning was particularly bitingly cold and I wanted to walk in the foggy chill, to assault my lungs. This day I walked very far, 15 or more kilometres from my luxurious hotel, Le Burgundy. I walked past Notre Dame to get to a champagne bar which was open at 11am. I bought a 50 euro box of macrons and gobbled them in bed, washing them down with champagne. As a single woman, I iterate such indiscretions. Nightly almost. There’s no one to live healthily for and I am dying one day at a time.

I spent a lot of time feeding local corvidae (hooded crows, I think) in the winter-stricken Tuileres Garden. I talk and coo to them, delighting in their friendliness. Other tourists take joy in my weirdness and some young women take photos. An older Parisian man tells me that bread is not especially good for crows and I admit that I know this, but wanted to get their attention. He likely wanted to get my attention via his admonishments; he asks me to dinner. I decline. My holiday is for me and I have very little interest in romance these days anyway.

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In Paris, I ate a lot of smoked salmon and drank a lot of champagne. The escargot was also excellent. I spent New Year Eve in bed with The Archaeology of Knowledge, vintage brie and champagne. I learned that if you don’t tie your neck scarf into a neat knot, Parisians laugh at you. I needed to step up my fashion game here. I happily shopped at the beautiful boutiques – it was heaven for an aesthete like me. I needed to purchase another suitcase for my purchases. Everything was so beautiful.

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I also noticed that French men are insufferable romantics. I was asked out on impromptu dates perhaps five times a day. Most of them were impossibly handsome and charming, it took a lot of personal constraint to pass. The closest I came to the Tour de Eiffel was sitting in a cobblestone gutter, sharing Gauloises Blondie cigarettes with some fantastically sardonic French men. They asked what I’d seen in their city and I answered, “A fuckton of champagne.” We laugh and joke at the new death pictures on the French cigarette packets. The cute one says, “No, the family isn’t crying because Daddy is dead…it is because he is Dracula!” We laugh and one of the men produces some liquor. It is a good night.

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My holiday is planned on the fly; just like my life is right now. I decide where to go next 2 days before departing Paris. I choose Helsinki, Finland because it is the death metal capital of the world and was a favourite haunt of the legendary Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead. I fucking love that band. And I love metal. I book several local metal shows and find out the location of all the metal bars.

I was unprepared for the cold beauty of Finland, it’s architecture and charm. The 7 days I spent there I was mostly ensconced in the penthouse suite of the gorgeous Klaus K Hotel:

I enjoyed the litre cans of beer, which can be purchased at the local Finnish supermarket (food library??) and I purchase a multitude of spicy fish cakes and other fishy goodies. I went to Lemmy’s favourite metal bar and ordered several serves of the ‘Lemmy’ – a double of Jack with Coke. Cuz nothing beats a goddamn classic.

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Rock on, Mr Kilmister. Metal misses your bad ass caterwauling about jailbait and shit.

In my time in Helsinki, the egalitarian normalcy of the people struck me. Everyone seemed to be blonde and wearing North Face puffer jackets. I felt like I had been implanted into Children of the Corn. Many of them openly stared at my over-the-top faux fur coats and tweed suits. My findings from my previous study on luxury echoed in my mind: the Nords eschew ‘standing out’ for fitting in, egalitarian Nordic style. No embellishments, little jewelry. Locals asked if I was “from London”. The Russian tourists, wrapped in lush minx and jewels, asked admiringly where I had bought my clothes or accessories.

The final day, there was powdery soft snow. I had booked a flight to London a day ago and the minus-7 degree (Celsius) temperatures and beautiful dusting of snow made me wish I could stay longer in Helsinki:

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I realised the difference between Nordic ‘luxury’ and Western luxury taking FinnAir’s business class, which was very similar to Economy. Turbulence forced me to hold onto a need for the bathroom and I was profoundly annoyed at the lack of flowing top-shelf champagne. I had been spoiled by Emirates’ business class, arguably the most luxurious airline in the world, and I had a diva moment, sniping at the hapless flight attendants about how FinnAir’s business class absolutely sucked and was totally not world-class. I was pleased to see Heathrow, even if we had to hover for 45 minutes before we could land. The view was amazing –

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I stayed in the Astor Room of the Waldorf Hilton in West End London for 7 days. It had gold champagne buttons to press if you needed more champers. There was even one bedside. At last, a hotel that *gets* what a drunken lazy slob I am.

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The main reason I chose London as my next destination, however, was the scintillating Tower of London and its beautiful ravens. After buying some gorgeous clothing (navy velvet boots being a highlight!) and visiting many pubs in the amazing West End, I planned to do my one tourist thing. I realised that Londoners shared my odd sense of humour. I drank a champagne-bottle sized Dom Perignon brewed beer as I waited on my hotel room. I said to the bartenders, “Hey, I got to kill some time, might as well kill my liver too” and they laughed, delighted – I am used to such comments being a faux pas back in Australia. Seven days were not enough to spend in London. I want to go back.

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However, the highlight of my European jaunt was the Tower’s ravens. I spent about three hours watching the ravens. They were beautiful, majestic birds with strong personalities and charisma. I was in love. I have always loved ravens and crows but these ones were very special.

The feeling of homesick set in before my return. I considered visiting another country but I wanted to go home, to see my 2 little white cats and my friends and fam. I had 50kg of luggage and business class accommodates such indulgence but lugging it was getting tiresome. I needed some male schlep to drag my indiscretions for me but no dice. Landing at Tullamarine, I buy expensive Japanese whisky duty free and continue my way back to my rundown old rental. I enjoyed my travels but home, in its ugliness and crudity, also has its comforts. To return to the Benjamin quote that opened this post; hell is everyday life, in its grotesque blandness and tiresome adjustments. I will always loathe the normal and the status quo. But even excitement and travel wears thin and melts into  normalcy. What lies beneath our feet is the decay of ancestors, plants and animal remains. At the end, everything is the fucking same. My desire to sleep long hours to escape still existed in Europe because I realised how life is just pain and a circling trajectory towards the inevitable demise. For that time when you return to the earth, to rot, to become decay looms. Destiny is a bitch of a thing. The sweetness of life is fleeting and short – the cold dark periods long and heavy. We like to conceptualise death as a long sleep or entry to paradise but what if it is not? What if we wander the earth, invisible to corporeal alive beings and only communicating with the perceptible, the super stoned? What if a Dantesque hell awaits? What if the pain continues, intensified? Layer upon layer, trial after challenge. The cathedrals of Rome provoke a belief in me, a concern that there is something bigger, something greater than mere humanity. The body becomes dirt – but drawing upon theological concepts, and a Cartesian philosophy, what if the soul is substantively different? Do we transcend? I really cannot decide a worse fate: dirt or eternity.

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Obsessive maintenance of the 'thousand flowers of the soul'