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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, November 25, 2004
    Liquid living
    Generous of Zygmunt Bauman to come over from Leeds to talk to a bunch of Liverpool clergy. He held our attention for well over an hour tonight (not easy for a bunch of yawners knackered after a week of home visits and old folks' socials), talking about culture.

    Bauman went into some detail about the history of culture. On the one hand it is an eighteenth-century invention designed to organise society morally, prevent deviance, eliminate transcendence, adopted by modernity and at times dangerously close to Nazism. On the other it is the critical edge, sounding dissidence against the prevailing norms. There is a case for seeing that more recently culture has become emancipated, that our society enjoys new creative freedoms. However, Bauman says, all that is new is that the management has changed hands - culture is no longer a tool of the state, it belongs to the market - and is now used purely to create consumers. People's cultural choices are no less 'uniform' than before.

    The market's methods, he says, are to keep things rapidly circulating to perpetuate a desire for more novelty. And this is how culture works now: we no longer think about works of art, we are stimulated by the artistic event: 'culture', as mediated to us, is a series of happenings - the Turner Prize, the latest big exhibition of old masters, and dare I say it, the new U2 album. We are fixated by the 'kalideoscopic change in the moods and fashions in culture'. This is liquid modernity, where everything is fluid - celebrities, our 'life-skills', companies, networks, etc.

    Bauman meditated on the impression that culture is the way human beings deal with our mortality. It gives us ways to leave a trace, make a difference, to offer ourselves as something of lasting significance ... to distance ourselves from death. If we keep 'chasing the hare' we don't have to think about death; if we catch the hare death stares us in the face, we have to embrace our reality. Liquid living equals chasing the hare.

    All of this is fascinating, needs more engagement. Tonight, I'm impressed by the coincidence that the lecture came on the eve of the end of the 2004 Liverpool Biennial, the latest in a series of 'happenings' in this city over the coming four years. Bauman's extensive work of creative sociology offers us ways of understanding what 's actually going on here.