India Uncut

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Leave them cafes alone

It's so irritating when these post-modernist types start taking apart mundane things like MacDonald's outlets or shopping malls or cafes as symbols of the ills that globalisation or capitalism or modernity is allegedly responsible for. For example, there's this lady named Charlotte Ashby writing in Comment is Free:
The homogeneity of the modern coffeehouse chain could be seen on one hand as a reflection of the democratisation of society. On the other hand it is evidence of the stifling impact of rationalising corporate culture. In the effort to create a space in which everyone can feel at home, no space remains for the transgressive, for seditious discussions of culture or political gatherings that characterised the coffeehouses of the past.
"Blogs?" I am tempted to ask, but that would be besides the point. Really, what on earth is meant by "rationalising corporate culture?" And what basis does she have for saying that "no space remains for the transgressive?" People who wish to be transgressive will surely create their own spaces for that, which seems to me the whole idea of being transgressive in the first place. If Ms Ashby relates "seditious discussions of culture" with the coffeehouses where they once took place, then she has missed the essential for the incidental.

Indeed, in no other time has it been so possible to have vibrant, cross-cultural conversations, across continents, across subjects. The local adda has been partly replaced, thanks to the internet, by the global adda. These are wonderful times, and I'm not going to complain about Baristas and Cafe Coffee Days looking alike, as long as they provide the utility I go to them for, and as long as I have the freedom to, um, transgress. I don't need a cafe for that.

Update (Novermber 21): Rishi didn't like Ms Ashby's piece either. He writes in:
"Can culture continue to be created in cafes in the 21st century or will it simply be handed down in the form of chain-authorised music, compilations and reading matter?"

The phrase "false. friggin'. dichotomy." occurs to me. But, in a way, the intellectual dishonesty is admirable. It takes a rare and bold liar to push her point by implicitly assuming that culture creation takes place solely in coffee houses. A lie, but what a stunningly large one. And so very smooth. I must use this technique in my next client presentation.

Her idea of a "transgressive space" is also astonishing:

"a world of contemporary, fashionable luxury. For the price of a cup of coffee or glass of wine it was possible to sit among polished lamps, marble tabletops and shining glassware in velvet-covered booths, enjoying the myriad reflections multiplied and refracted in gilt-framed mirrors."

Exactly the kind of place where you'd expect to find wild-eyed revolutionaries and dirt-poor, self-mutilating artists. Actually, this tells us what she is really lamenting. In spite of her lip service to "democratisation", she yearns for an [almost certainly mythical] era in which knowledge and ideas were restricted to an elite inner circle, in defined spaces, firmly set off from the rabble.
Great joy lies in being rabble.
amit varma, 11:54 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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