Never was trash so beautiful [1]

José Luis Pardo


April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land...

T.S . Eliot, The Waste Land [1]

Book One of Marx's The Capital opens thus: ‹‹The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as "an immense accumulation of commodities"››. Today, we would have to say that the wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as an immense accumulations of trash. Indeed, no other form of society either previous or external to ours has produced trash in such quantity, quality and speed as we have. No other society has reached the stage reached by ours, that is, the stage in which trash becomes a threat for society itself. This does not mean to say that pre-industrial societies did not generate waste, but their trash was predominantly organic, and nature, urban animals and tramps made them disappear – recycled them or digested them – at a reasonable pace (although the images we create about this are often idillic too). Modern industrial cities, on the other hand, are distinguished by an unprecedented accumulation of population and by the massive appearance of a new kind of waste of an industrial nature. Both these factors constitute the obsolescence of the traditional, almost unconscious, methods of trash treatment. At the same time we find in these cities a huge proportion of refuse the recycling of which cannot be left in the hands of spontaneous or natural processes; and also a significant part of the population who cannot manage to integrate into the productive and consumptive processes, lack a social place and have lost the status they enjoyed or suffered in the traditional ways of political organisation. And this, as Marx's quote says, must be understood, without a doubt, as a "symptom of wealth". Nietzsche went even further and said that ‹‹the concept of decadence – waste, decay, elimination need not be condemned: they are necessary consequences of life, of the growth of life. The phenomenon of decadence is as necessary as any increase and advance of life: one is in no position to abolish it. (...) And even at the height of its strength [a society] has to form refuse and waste materials››. (Posthumous Fragments of the spring of 1888). And the more refuse – in quantity and quality – however richer, bolder and more energic the society... Indeed, trash is a symptom of wealth. Because wealth means squandering, wastefulness and surplus (and, on the contrary, societies without trash – the traditional cities we were just talking about – reveal an economy based on subsistence, an economy of shortage, in which nothing is spared and everything is made good use of).

That is the reason why modern societies – governed by some sort of malthussian principle according to which trash grows more rapidly than the means for recycling it – need to dispose of waste lands, tips and dumps where to deposit trash in order to get rid of it so as to carry on with life and keep on wasting without suffocating amongst their own waste. And together with these no-places (to use Marc Augé's appropriate terminology, to which I will come back later) it becomes necessary to have at our disposal social no-places to which we can transfer de remaining population that the productive and consumptive systems cannot absorb (suburbs, shacks, favelas, guettos, camps,etc.). "Trash" is that which does not have a place, that which is misplaced and, therefore, that which has to be moved to another place hoping that it might disappear as trash there, that it might be reactivated, recycled, extinguished: it is that which searches for another place where to make progress. In his work Wasted Lands the veteran sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has explained that the current crisis in modernity is expressed simultaneously in two ways: on the one hand, pollution problems (and especially, because of their symbolism, the problem posed by nuclear waste) have reached a turning point once it has been discovered that the planet is full, that there are no longer any waste lands where to move the waste in order to get rid of it; on the other hand, emigration, which was the traditional solution for residual populations which industrial and postindustrial progress shifted and left without a role, is no longer a feasible solution, because now all the social places in the world are occupied, there is nowhere to put those who are not wanted.

Migration and the movements of trash have, therefore, this in common: it is all about finding a place – somewhere else – for that which does not have one – here –. Therefore, the assumption of this circular movement is that everything has its place and there is a place for everything. Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio has suggested calling the order generated by this assumption the order of destiny, and this suggestion has a double pertinence. On the one hand, it reminds us of the original meaning of the term "destiny" [2], which is precisely this one: a diagram which assigns a place to everything – its destiny, its share by the design of the gods, the Moirae, the Parcae, or nature – that is, its unavoidable future, its fatal end. On the other hand, this designation is in line, in the first place, with the fact that the regions to which emigrants are moved to are called "destination countries", not only in the trivial sense of them being the place they are going to, but also in the sense that it is there where they will be able to "carve out a future" for themselves, that they are going to their destination places in search of a future they are denied where they come from. Therefore, they go there, in search of their identity, in order to become who they are (something they do not know yet and they will never know if they remain where they have no future). Secondly, the designation is also coherent with industrial trash: it cannot be left where it is generated because it is not in its place there and has no future whatsoever. It is necessary to move it to a waste land where it will have a future, where it can be regenerated, reactivated, recycled and integrated, where it will be able to be something different from what it is – trash, waste –, where it can regain the identiy it has lost, a place for breeding lilacs out of the dead land and stirring dead roots with spring rain. Yes, even if it is hard to believe at first, "trash" also means the following: that which has a fate, a future, a secret and hidden identity and which needs to make a journey in order to discover it, just like what the enchanted prince has to do in order to cease being a frog and become a prince, and the beast in order to break the spell and be beautiful again. Bauman's remark about the crisis of late modernity could therefore be reformulated in these terms: what happens when we can no longer find a place where to move that which does not have a place here?, when there is no longer a "destination" country where to emigrate, where to carve out a future? What happens to trash when it is left without a future, without hopes of recycling or regeneration? And what happens with those populations which have to resign themselves to live without social hope, when the frog understands that it will never become a prince, and the beast that it will never be beautiful again?

As you can see, it is not enough to talk about "the crisis of modernity" if we do not say at the same time that what is in crisis is the Utopia of a world without trash – an organised world in which everything is in its place –; that modernity, in spite of being the society of surplus, squandering and wastefulness and the "immense accumulation of trash", was also the society that dreamt of the absolute recycling of waste products, of a thorough recovery of what was worn out, of a full use of waste: the protestant ethic of ascetism and saving was always similar to the capitalist ontology of wastefulness. So modern society, as much as traditional or pre-industrial society, also wants to "imitate nature" (in which, according to the classics, "nothing is done in vain", that is, everything has a purpose, so nothing is wasted, there is no trash as such) and even "imitate divinity" (for the gods do not wear out, and so generate no waste), even if it has to be done by mechanical means. It is modernity which has thought of nature as a machine (a perfect machine in which each part carries out its function and there is no deterioration), and by identifying the "natural" with the "rational", has come to the conclusion that since nature leaves no waste, this – leaving no waste – is one of the distinguishing marks of rationality (that is why it has perceived as "anti-modern" and "anti-rational" at the same time those who show another image of nature where the machine has failures and produces trash that comes in form of monsters, prodigies and exceptions without destiny, future or purpose) which must also preside social constructions. This is not only an engineer's idea – a machine whose parts are never worn out by use, or which, at least, can regenerate themselves and be reused indefinitely –, but an accountant's idea too: the bête noir of the businessman is precisely wear, to confirm how in every productive cycle assets become liabilities, debts, a burden, negative figures, which need to be balanced with the profits and require new investments. The ideal of the businessman is therefore a business without losses, an always positive results balance; in times of runaway inflation this is also the hell of the merchant who sees how every profit he obtains – each time he sells a product in return for money – immediately turns into a loss, because the value of the currency is depreciated, so he or she must immediately spend what he/she has earned on another product to be sold, to which exactly the same thing will relentlessly happen; and it is also the nightmare of the consumer, who sees how everything he or she buys starts losing value from the precise moment it is purchased, it starts losing its currency, becoming unfashionable and demanding a rapid substitution for a new purchase that will start going down the hill of obsolescence the minute it goes from the window to his or her hands...

And it is hardly necessary to draw attention upon the more than probable military genealogy of this delirious fantasy: a business without losses is the civilised transposition of a war without casualties (the same thing we now call "preventive attack" which not only minimises almost to zero the casualties of its own side but is justified precisely as an action which tends to the destruction of the offensive power of the opposing side). Napoleon mocked those who reproached him for the number of fallen soldiers his victorious campaigns involved by saying that a single night on leave in Paris yielded enough pregnancies to "replace" the losses and balance the scales. Rationalists in the seventeenth century also used the same model in which the passive (dark and confused passions, that is, dirty and wasteful) had to become active (clear and distinct ideas, that is, clean), where the selfishness of the hobbesian wolves in an all against all war would be recycled in the tameness of the social pact of all with all. A pact administered by the invisible hand of a market which would put things in their place with as much justice as the darwinian laws of evolution placed each individual in the place he or she deserved according to his or her contribution to the adaptation of the species to the environment. And, without a doubt, Hegel and Marx kept this diagram in mind when they thought that the individual or collective passions and ambitions of individuals, nations and classes were simply the unconscious fuel by means of which History – like the train in Marx brothers Go West which was fed by its own destruction turned into fuel ("more wood!") in order to reach its destination as quickly as possible – drove mankind to its final end (where all the numbers would tally perfectly and all the sacrifices and the seemingly vain suffering would be compensated for and balanced, where all the apparent trash of History – all the "concrete mass of evil" – would be recycled), and war was simply a cunning of reason or a class struggle, the engine of a History that would definitely dispose of the squandering and the unbalanced accounts, giving to each person exactly the share they deserved.

The crisis of this model, the awakening of this dream, was therefore originated, the moment we got to think that trash would end up devouring us, that it was the end of progress. The moment we started fearing that we would die suffocated by our own waste, just as we have seen happen in some third world old cities which did not need a special treatment of trash and, therefore, lacked the necessary infrastructure for its transfer and accumulation, and which the sudden massive introduction of industrial production and consumption has turned into huge unbreathable dunghills.

However, the genius of the human race is prodigious. Someone said about it that it only poses those problems it is capable of solving. And someone else said also, that when a problem cannot be solved it ceases to be a problem. And that the way of getting rid of unsolvable problems is not to weaken oneself trying to solve them but rather more simply to dissolve them. "Never was trash so beautiful"... I do not know who got the idea first but it was a really clever one. And like all the great inventions, once discovered it seems extremely simple, and it lies in the following: what if what we call trash was not really so? Then we would not have to worry about it devouring us, we would not feel suffocated by waste if we stopped experiencing it as waste and made a new urban landscape out of it.

I earlier referred to the no-place (the place for that which is not in its place) – notion coined by Marc Augé – as an anthropological concept defining overmodernity. But if we add this concept to our previous reflection about trash as "that which is not in its place", we clearly see that we could call it, less euphemistically, junk-place. It is easy to understand how an ethnologist of the twentieth century would come to produce such a figure: it is easy to imagine that the life of a contemporary anthropologist consists, amongst other things, of travelling from the postindustrial world to faraway lands in order to carry out field research and on the spot interviews. In these journeys, the scientist goes from a place which is, without a doubt, his residence town, which is therefore endowed with all the positive marks of the term place (it is cosy, inhabitable, well-known, one can walk around it with familiarity), to other territories which are often, as much a place as the origin of his or her journey but appear strange and, sometimes, even hostile or at least hazardous to the European urbanite; those places also take their populations in, are inhabited by people who walk around them with familiarity and feel at home in them. The anthropologist can perceive that those "other places" are not his or her place, can feel foreign in them and even fear for his or her safety; or alternatively he/she can come to be accepted and experience the peacefulness of feeling in those nooks as if in a second home, like someone going to visit a landscape where he or she knows he/she will be warmly welcomed. However, even if any of these extreme situations happen, or any of the unlimited intermediate possibilities, in his journeys the anthropologist will have to cross many transit zones, not only in the physical sense (waiting rooms, airports, train and bus stations, antechambers of official offices, transport vehicles, hotels, etc.) but also in the cultural and social sense (for instance, no-man's-lands and abandoned districts, rural areas in decline, preindustrial suburbs, peripheral shacks, outlying areas in ruins, refugee camps) spaces not made to be inhabited but only to be occupied provisionally, to be crossed or to facilitate the way from one place to another. At this point, it is impossible not to notice the contrast between places (be them cosy or worrying) and no-places (be them hostile or depressive, like the border territories where rival gangs or tribes carry on with a more or less latent war for the control of often ilegal or paralegal activities; or the relatively comfortable for the European visitor, like the western hotel chains or the international franchises of northamerican style fast-food restaurants placed in impoverished areas of the so-called "third world"). And, to a certain extent, if the journeys of the sociologist are extended long enough in a time of globalisation, inevitably he will have to notice, at least with curiosity and most probably with concern, the way in which no-places, conceived at first as mere "voids" between certain places, are extending their dominion and making progress in their occupation of physical, social and cultural territories, reaching even the point where they compete in magnitude and importance with strictly speaking places – and sometimes unquestionably triumphing over them – and, in any case, annoyingly blurring the formerly so clear distinction between place and no-place, and, therefore, and perhaps what is more relevant, between what/who has a place and what/who has not. Just as if it was a "side effect" or a "return of the repressed" of the colonisation by means of which Europe turned many places of its periphery into uninhabitable no-places, now, the European stroller walks around the city fearing that the periphery of the no-places (which is no longer in the outlying of Europe but in the outlying of European cities) will invade and destroy his own place. Le temps en ruine (2003), Augé says while strolling around Paris:

‹‹a fear: that these new neighbourhoods irrespective of their technical or aesthetic success – which will be,without a doubt, different – will one day look like those in any other part of the world, that they will follow a planetary fashion, but they will not set it, in short, that they will look like those "generic" cities that "look like their airports" (Rem Koolhaas)... I perceive in their streets the slow, insidious and irresistible invasion of the generic city penetrating from the periphery through the holes made by the railway... subversion is more advanced than what I thought... a joker-city, without a past or a future... Of course, I speak as a traveller unwilling to find, at the end of my Parisian outings, a neighbourhood of Sâo Paulo, Tokio, or Berlin››.

The virtue of this notion is that, due to its internal characteristics and its historical opportunity, it denotes a type of negativity liable of being applied in a more specific context, and, at the same time, in a more general one. For instance – in a specific sense –, the type of hotels and restaurants that would fall under the concept of "no-places" could be perfectly defined, in a more particular sense, as no-hotels and no-restaurants, since they constitute, to a not at all insignificant extent, the complete and absolute negation of the notion of "hotel" or "restaurant" that preceded them in time. The fast-food chains I alluded to above, which are not served by waiters and where those who prepare the food are not cooks, where the food provided does not constitute, strictly speaking, dishes, just as the tables are not tables as such (four people have to sit in a space where only two fit), nor the menus really menus, how could they be better defined than by saying that they are no-restaurants, attended by no-waiters who serve no-dishes prepared by no-cooks and consumed in no-tables? Likewise – and now in the sense of generalisation –, these chains of the restaurant industry are distinguished by often being in commercial superstores associated to growing areas of the postindustrial urban periphery, and many of its "style" and "personality" characteristics can be explained by the subemployment work regime – precarious and part-time hiring – that prevails over them, regime which by being more and more generalised in the new labour market (and in all the salary scales), could well be called, in contrast with the labour regimes consolidated in the second half of the twentieth century in the industrially developed and democratically governed areas, as no-employment (notion which would come to substitute those of "under-employment" or "un-employment" still dependant on the old labour regimes now partially outmoded) offered by no-companies; in the same way, the shopping-centres that surround these premises, could be described, for the same reasons, as no-shops – where, for instance, they sell no-furniture (more or less abstract modules and functional units to put together and take apart); and the living spaces that grow in these conurbations (the so-called "dormitory-towns which would not be exaggerated to rename as "junk-towns") as no-houses (decorated, no doubt, with that no-furniture). Although it would be a cruel joke to compare these kind of agglomerations of the "first world" with those found in the suburbs of poor or devastated countries, it would seem equally appropriate to say about those who inhabit the latter neighbourhoods that they are no-employees (since they are often out of the regular monetary economy) that live in no-houses (shelters improvised with heterogeneous materials) decorated with no-furniture (sometimes plain cardboard boxes or packaging filling), and who get their supplies in no-shops (in the black market or black economy). And needless to say that this application could continue until we could speak, for instance, of certain associations of people, especially emergent in our times, that could fall under the concept of no-families or no-couples; of certain television entertainment programmes that could only be called no-programmes; of a certain type of ever-extending cultural products for which the sign no-books, no-discs or no-paintings would be just right (and this both within the range of high culture and popular culture or mass culture); of certain diseases of our time that function as no-illnesses treated with no-medicines; and, lastly, even of no-universities (mobile schools of longlife education) where you can study no-degrees (continuous professional updating programmes) taught by no-professors (recycling experts); and of no-states (regional interim alliances) governed by no-politicians (administrators) whose legitimate subject is a no-citizen.

Well, I think at this stage everybody understands that I am suggesting to conceive the no-place as an euphemism for the junk-place (and, therefore, as a symptom of us becoming tolerant towards junk-hotels, junk-restaurants, junk-waiters, junk-dishes, junk-cooks and junk-tables, towards junk-employment, junk-shops, junk-furniture, junk-houses, junk-families, junk-couples, junk-programmes, junk-books, junk-discs, junk-paintings, junk-illnesses, junk-medicines, junk-universities, junk-degrees, junk-professors, junk-states, junk-politicians and junk-citizens). And not only tolerant but enthusiastic. We have learnt to experience trash as luxury. Indeed, there was a time when junk-restaurants or junk-books were subproducts aimed at uneducated, meek and frightened masses. Not any more. Now we have luxury junk-restaurants, luxury junk-books, and whoever does not live in a junk-house or suffer from some junk-illness will quickly lose his or her social credit and will display an impoverished and depressing image of "low-class" and "social backwardness". As Pierre Bourdieu would say, we have turned the "marks of ignominy" into "signs of distinction". If you cannot beat trash in your fight against it, then join it. The essential lever thanks to whose fulcrum we have managed to move the world in this direction – that is, thanks to which we have managed to start not to see and not to feel the trash that suffocates us as such – can be summarised in a magic formula: we are travelling towards a new paradigm (and the application of this "new paradigm" will allow us not to live as trash what we used to consider so). Obviously, the only problem is that this new paradigm cannot be anything but a junk-paradigm, that is, a no-paradigm (because there is really no paradigm towards which we are walking, but only the systematic and arranged destruction of the one we lived under). The magic formula has, nevertheless, a tremendous symbolic effectiveness. The disappearance of places and their gradual replacement by junk-places (and this goes for junk-employments or junk-houses too) leaves many people in the world without a place, creates a throng of displaced people who, once again, are not only so in the physical sense of the word (although this is doubtless the most serious situation), but also in the social, working, cultural, economic or family sense. However, the pain that accumulates within this throng simply cannot be expressed as such, because the magic formula in question turns it into the labour pains of the birth of the new paradigm and, therefore, it threatens anyone who shows his or her discomfort with the stigma of maladjustment, backwardness and conservatism: they are sad reactionaries who refuse to untie themselves from their ancestral privileges, obstacles that hold back the progress of modernisation and which will, therefore, be excluded from its benefits. They are the real trash of our time, that which cannot be recycled.

Thus, it has been possible to keep the modern situation (i.e. the "immense accumulation of trash") and, at the same time, reissue the no less modern utopia of a world without trash, which must now be understood as a world in permanent recycling and with no losses (that is the cosmovision of the junk-paradigm or paradigm of trash) and, therefore, of a world in which everything (and everybody) gets to its destination on time and acquires a new one immediately. It cannot be stated more clearly: there where nothing is trash, everthing is. And it is Marc Augé himself who has realised that, if things continue like this, our civilisation will be the first one in the world that does not leave behind it that special type of historical trash that are ruins. The generic city (junk-city) leaves no ruins because, when a building is in a state of obsolescence, it can be entirely reconfigured in order to provide a new use, in the same way as a company (if it really wants to be a junk-company) must be able to undergo at any time a process of re-engineering, and manpower (that is junkclass) must remain in a state of long-life education. Richard Sennett has explained this even better: "The second expression of the new capitalism is the standardisation of the environment. A few years ago, on a tour of New York's Chanin Building, an art-deco palace with elaborate offices and splendid public spaces, the head of a large, new-economy corporation remarked: "It would never suit us. People might become too attached to their offices. They might think they belong here". The flexible office is not meant to be a place where you nestle in. The office architecture of flexible firms requires a physical environment which can be quickly reconfigured – at the extreme, the "office" can become just a computer terminal. The neutrality of new buildings also results from their global currency as investment units; for someone in Manila to be able to easily buy or sell 100,000 square feet of office space in London, the space itself needs the uniformity and transparency of money. This is why the style elements of new-economy buildings become what US architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable calls "skin architecture": the surface of the building dolled-up with design, its innwards ever more neutral, standard, and capable of instant refiguration." I think the idea I am trying to convey is clear: something which is conceived for recycling from its origin is something which is from its origin conceived as trash. And this – being originally conceived for recycling – is what distinguishes both contemporary objectivity and subjectivity. So strictly speaking, the process by which something is turned into trash can be described as a process of disqualification: things turn into trash when their service makes them lose the properties that described them as these or those things, and so on and so forth, and turn only into that "thingness", fluid and without attributes, that accumulates in trash tips and whose regeneration depends, we could say, on acquiring their lost properties again, those that turn them into this or that. Since this process has proved to be impossible to perform (that is, since it is impossible to recycle at the same speed we waste), the only way of keeping our composure – and this is the brilliant idea we are talking about – is for things to lack properties from their origin (i.e, for them to be originally trash, without this conversion into trash being derived by the wear caused by use), that is, for them to be recyclable beforehand and, therefore, part of the fluid and disqualified "thingness" which is what we now – according to the junk-strategy of the new paradigm – have to experience, not as a degraded and "dirty" type of thingness, belonging to the tip and the dump, but rather as the superior form of objectivity, the quintessential luxury and clean thing, because it is the immediately recyclable. And, on the contrary, it is qualified things, such as the Chanin Building – which appear as desperately obsolete for being irrecyclable – which are turned into trash in the pejorative and "dirty" sense of the word, the ones to become tasteless and unfashionable, the ones that by having an entity of their own resist reformulation and requalification. It is necessary then, that production is already in its origin not a production of goods but a production of trash, a production of recyclables. And we must bear in mind that recycling cannot be conceived, then, as a genuine requalification or repair of things; the recycled thing is the thing which has regained its properties and, precisely for this reason, resists recycling; the recycled thing must be understood rather as the thing made recyclable, that is fit to receive qualities that can only be junkattributes, immediately recyclable and reformulated, transformable into any others. It is also necessary that this process affects not only objectivity but also subjectivity, even more when we consider that the quintessential modern things are those whose objectivity – whose "value" – comes from "subjectivity". If we think about it, it was elementary: it is exactly the same thing that has been happening, at least from the seventeenth century, with work in general, and the reason for the actual disappearance (although in writing the arcaism is maintained) of specialised employments and more or less free careers, in that they all become comparable in terms of working hours. ‹‹Indifference towards specific labours corresponds to a form of society in which individuals can with ease transfer from one labour to another, and where the specific kind is a matter of chance for them, hence of indifference››, so said Marx. And to him it seemed a great progress. Not long ago (Juan Pablo II. 22nd April, 2006), Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio reminded us that ‹‹the positive defence of “work” in itself and for itself emerged with capitalism and its need of manpower, and it was taken up straight away and without complaints by Marxism; the exaltation of work – without determination of content – as moral virtue was developed as the most perverse pedagogy for workers››.That is, the exaltation of work without determination of content is in itself the exaltation of junk-work. This is just what happens nowadays with the exaltation of "knowledge" (leaving all qualification aside, that is, the exaltation of junkknowledge) in expressions like the recurrent "knowledge society" no doubt born out of the new needs of manpower – only a 10% of it is involved today in the production of goods in the U.S., as Anthony Giddens reminded us also not long ago (Improving European Universities, 10th April, 2006) – but immediately embraced by the left (as the case of Giddens himself shows) as the <> of the twenty-first century, for those new workers that represent the main 90% of the workforce in the most developed countries.

It all started because of a terminological change which was apparently only technical: instead of having subjects, university degrees started having credits. The name seemed suspicious (why credits and not "contents", or "knowledge" or even "lessons"? Despite the obvious financial analogy, no one was too worried), but for the moment it was used to introduce surreptitiously in the system of knowledge a new measuring instrument which, as if by magic, managed to turn into equivalents things that could never have seemed to be so before, like, for instance, Mayan Archaeology and Molecular Biochemistry, since both one and the other could be translated into a number of credits, that is, countable hours and, therefore (here is the crux of the monetary analogy) into money for time unit. If the disqualification of labour was considered as progress, how could we not consider as progress the indifference towards all determined knowledge – Medieval History, Pathological Anatomy or Physics of the Condensed Matter –, which is suitable for a society in which individuals can easily shift from one knowledge to another and where the determined type of knowledge is fortuitous and consequently indiferent to them? So, contrary to appearence "knowledge society" does not mean anything similar to "science society": when Giddens says that "in current advanced economies more than 80% of manpower works in the sector of knowledge production" he is not trying to plausibly say that this percentage of employees is constituted by scientists; he is more likely showing that this is the euphemism (workers of the sector of knowledge production) which is appropriate for the proletariat of our time (junk-workers). That is why it is a contradiction of his argument to say that this situation entails the decline of non-qualified manpower. On the contrary, this knowledge is precisely a disqualified flow (and that is what its defence is all about, about its flowing without barriers or "specialities", restrictions or intelectual organisation, that is without attachment to any quality) in which to dissolve, as if in a cauldron, all the sciences and all the more or less systematic knowledge formerly taught at universities and schools and currently decomposed and sort of shattered into "competences" and "skills" which roam freely and with no constriction whatsoever except for its measurement in "credits". This is certified by the fact (in this as in everything we must look at those ahead of us) that the state institution in charge of the administration of public education in Giddens's country is no longer called "Ministry of Education and Science" but "Ministry of Education and Skills". The fact that the teaching of these neoproletarian skills – that is, the demand of the dequalification of the sciences and the decomposition of scientific knowledge into the competences required in each individual case by a business market that constitutes the turbine to which the "cauldron" of knowledge is attached – is in the hands of universities, and the fact that individuals are asked to continue with this "high education" throughout their working lives (longlife education, life imprisonment) is itself rather expressive: only a completely disqualified manpower (or "knowledge power") – that is, originally produced as recyclable trash – is fit to receive a qualification in itself disqualified and disqualifying; and only a qualification that is no more than a junk-qualification, which only qualifies in an ephemeral and superficial way (a skin qualification), is the kind that would need to undergo this process in a permanent way. But in this case it is not at all clear why high education is "higher" (maybe that is the reason why Giddens symptomatically calls it "post-secondary education", that is, an indefinite prolongation of secondary education): as Giddens himself admits,‹‹many [young teachers] are currently attracted by jobs – like industry and banking – that in my generation (with our snobbery) we, [university professors] would have not even considered››,which is a way of admitting that high education has not lost its superiority over industry and banking due only to the disappearence of youthful snobbery (why has this snobbery vanished?) but rather that it has become a subsector of the "production of knowledge" for industry and banking.

So it happens that the time when subjectivity has become more unstable, more elastic, flexible and modular is also the time in which identity has become the most tyrannical and rigid of individual demands, the most serious of political problems. And it is just as if each enclave built on the street should be an unmistakeable identifying mark and, at the same time, an infinitely redesignable space, that is, a ground zero.


Lecture for the Urban Distortions course, Basurama06.
La Casa Encendida. Madrid, the 17th of may 2006.

Translation: Natalie Gómez Handford and Ana Fernandez-Caparrós Turina


José Luis Pardo is Senior Lecturer at the School of Philosophy in UCM (Universidad Complutense de Madrid). He also collaborates with newspapers such as EL PAIS and has translated the work of contemporary philosophers like Deleuze, Serres, Debord or Lèvinas among others. His numerous publications include Transversales. Textos sobre los textos (1978), Sobre los espacios: pintar, escribir, pensar (1991), Las formas de la exterioridad (1992), La intimidad (1996) and La regla del juego (2005), the latter awarded with the Spanish National Essay Award.



1. "Here I am traveller / of a time which is lost amongst the undergrowth / of the couldn't care less and the I don't care... but never was trash so beautiful" (Juan Bonilla, "Treintagenarios", in Partes de Guerra, Pre-textos, Valencia, 1994, p. 27).

2.In Spanish, the word `destiny' means both fate and destination.