coromandal


starbucks-a-go-go
May 14, 2008, 12:06 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,


Here’s some light reading on one of my favorite pursuits.  I suppose you thought that cup of brown you slurp every morning is little more than the buzz you get.  Or, for the hardcore drinker, the chemical you need to keep from slumping over your desk after lunch.  How naïve!  Mental slavery!  As we will see, its much more than that.

Here, there are two arguments — imagine arguing over coffee!  One is that capitalism-pushers and puritans propagandized the use of coffee to wire us up.  The other is that the coffee house is the glorious space that is left after the entanglements of family, society and government are cleared out of the room.

At first these two images appear to cancel each other out:  one occupies the world of desk-slavery and high! profit! margins! and the other slums it with really smart guys with white beards who can’t dress themselves.  But coffee probably does both things:  is the soma drug of choice for the prevailing system of work-gluttony (must work! more work!) and the catalyzer for speaking freely in a smoky room.

Historians of stimulants have tried to invest coffee with characteristics that would explain its agreeability to the bourgeoisie. Coffee does not contain alcohol and can easily be promoted as its antidote, as a means to maintain energetic sobriety and keep working, a disposition in line with the ascetic ethos of the agents of early capitalism.  There is no shortage of advertising material from the period to support such a view. Drawing on puritan coffee propaganda, the historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch asserts that, with coffee, rationalism entered the physiology of man.  Its somatic effects associate it with the exhortation to constant alertness and activity.  However, to Habermas, the chemical constituents and invigorating effect of coffee do not play any overt role in the constitution of the public sphere. As a thinker with Marxist allegiances, he avoids the fetishism that seems to inhere in the genre of commodity histories, in which objects of consumption take on unexpected powers and become protagonists in adventurous narratives.  Yet no Marxist would believe that social relations can be neatly disentangled from commodity capitalism. According to Habermas, bourgeois individuals are able to enter into novel kinds of relationships with one another in the coffeehouse because the links between family, civil society, and the state are restructured under capitalist conditions.

~Coffee and Civilization, Scott Horton, Harpers Magazine, 2007



safe at home
May 10, 2008, 6:32 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

(haris panidis | saeco etienne coffee maker | electra coffee machine)

In this piece, the middle class, after having been harangued by Luther for their pursuit of comfort and sensuality, turn to the drawing room and its rituals of pleasure-without-risk, including the drinking of coffee.  It is at home where risk is erased.  The theorist Schmitt criticizes the middleclass for leaving broader social life and retreating into family life.  This life turned inward may be comfortable, but is marked by fear of the world outside and aversion to conflict.  In it, mother’s tut-tutting isn’t merely corrective; it’s sinister.

“In a note in his acrimonious postwar glossary, the legal and political theorist Carl Schmitt captures the stale atmosphere of the bourgeois interior, and points to coffee as a symbol of the desire to enjoy undisturbed security within the confines of the household:

“French: sécurité; German (until now): Gemütlichkeit. That is the internalized – or interiorized – but at the same time secularized assurance of divine grace, the end of fear and trembling at a nice cup of coffee and a pipe stuffed with spicy tobacco. It is the reappearance of well-concealed sensual enjoyment, after Luther and the Moravians raged against security as the actual form of sensuality.”

In Schmitt’s view, the typical bourgeois philistine, unmistakably portrayed in his entry, is not so much ascetically opposed to pleasure as he is wary of pleasure that cannot be enjoyed securely – that is – without worry. Coffee, in combination with tobacco, stands for intoxication without risk; it is a stimulant that does not dangerously loosen the subject’s self-possession. It signifies a furtive bliss distinguished from the ecstatic, which implies a movement transcending the bounded ego lodged in the safety of plush comfort.Yet the note contains a more far-reaching critique. Schmitt contends that the comfortable life in the bourgeois interior, despite its mundane and modest quality, seduces men into a sinful attachment to worldly enjoyment. The sinfulness resides in the pursuit of security: the will to achieve a state of complete safety in the shielded salon betrays a blasphemous belief in the possibility of a man-made utopia.

Schmitt’s diary entry might come across as a peculiar expression of a severe Christian ethos, but he joins a long line of critics of the bourgeoisie, who fault it for its incapacity to appreciate a community that extends beyond the realm of the family. The bourgeois individual typically believes that his real life plays out in the private sphere, and perceives the outside world as a foreign and dangerous territory. To the extent that the bourgeoisie does act politically, however, it continues to be guided by the desire for security nurtured in the home, and its ambition is to turn the world into a calm interior. To the bourgeoisie, conflict rudely disturbs the continual traffic of discourse – it should simply not take place. At this point, the bourgeois host’s call for the re-establishment of placid conversation – Nur immer gemütlich! or “Temper! Temper!” – sounds increasingly sinister.”

No Coffee by Jakob Norberg from Eurozine