Location: Lobby of the Langham, London
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Placeholder for a desire to think more about hotels.
Perhaps it comes from participating in Precarious Gossips last month at Hotel Zoo, Berlin - or seeing that Helen Hester has been writing about them lately too (on rather more defensible, labour relations grounds). Or perhaps it’s because I’m reading ‘Tender Is The Night’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald, about a caste defined by the fact they live out of them, anywhere and nowhere.
The department store of the 1880s was instrumental in the production of modern subjectivity: it was “conceived as a technology of self-invention” through consumer choice, says Joanne Finkelstein (2007). Pace Lukacs she notes how “the inner self has been hollowed out and made into a subjectivity that becomes an object - to be groomed and improved.” Felix Guattari writes of the court of Versailles that subjectivity itself is understood to be a commodity. It’s all a performance of sensibility and taste; the flâneuse, rather more than the flâneur, “the real model for the modern consumer subject” – Kevin Hetherington, 2011.
The hotel, though… It seems as though it should be the same sort of space as the department store, a cosmopolitan public - and perhaps its bars and restaurants are, but the hotel really is not. It is something the opposite, a place of escape and avoidance.
But it’s nonetheless also productive of a subjectivity too. So of what sort?
Location: York Minster, northern England
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Over dinner, my uncle asked me how I felt about the future. “Personally optimistic, globally pessimistic,” I replied. Climate change, of course - and more so the political & human horror that will accompany it. If the ice sheets were to melt into the oceans without taking democracy and human rights with them, I might take that deal.
We talked about what it takes to feel invested in the future beyond your lifespan. To my aunt it was inherent, it just made sense. “Children,” said my uncle. He didn’t think he was so invested, if he were honest (we’re all three child-free.) “Money,” I said. Perhaps it’s a luxury to be able to care about the future. Many are one paycheck from disaster and have more pressing concerns.
I talked about how crisis-averting change is possible (ecologically, economically) and impossible (politically, perhaps psychologically). We in the West do not live in a system that can act beyond the financial quarter or the electoral cycle. Time discounting is a cognitive norm.
But, I said. There are also systems that take a longer view. The Native American principle of thinking for seven generations. Japanese thousand-year corporations. And a cathedral a hundred yards away that on just three panels lists its archbishops back to 314.
This deep thread of continuity in place is something close to the heart of my personal sense of Englishness. It’s one of the things that makes Europe (and Japan, and China) different to America.
Continuity does not mean ethno-nationalism, though. Just look at these names. The ruptures within them.
From the Romans Eborius and Paulinus to the Celtic name Chad, to the Angles of the Kingdom of Northumbria: Wilfrid, Egbert, Aethelbert. The capture of York in 867. Wulfstan I, who played off the Vikings vs the Wessex kings. The Danes Oscytel and Oswald. 1066, conquest. 1071, a new Norman dynasty of names: Thomas. Bastard offspring of royalty (Fitzherbert). Kin of kings (Plantagenet). In 1514 the common son of a butcher, Thomas Wolsey.
This list of archbishops ends (for the moment) with John Sentamu, 2005—, who was born in Uganda.
In order to have a future, we need a new conception of time, which has been present all along