The concept of globalization, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the present, has taken on a wide range of symbolic and real meanings: that of a “universal police state”; that of the hegemony of “market logic” over all other ethical categories; that of a system “that no longer has an outside”; that of the cause of the progressive crisis of the concept of the State and all other forms of national aggregation.
Militant philosophers like Antonio Negri, Massimo Cacciari or Paolo Virno have attempted to unearth the historical and theoretical (not just political) roots of the concept of globalization as a system whose universal dimension can lead either to a “weak project and thought” or to a “project and thought of great power.”
These historical-philosophical reflections always start with the premise that globalization is an objective, real and established phenomenon, but that is not precisely so. To be more precise, the globalization that just began is already faltering…
Faced with the uniformity of brains and policies produced by the macro-dimension of globalization, unexpected phenomena are emerging of varying conflicting nature, demonstrating that the supposed “Pax Capitalista” does not exist. The Worldwide Market is breaking up into fragments to defend local production against international competition, producing a system of “local crises” that lead to experimentation with autonomous, provisional solutions. The present “financial crisis” is not an unforeseen accident. It is the direct result of the law of growth of capitalism itself, which can expand (as Kevin Kelly tells us) only through “cyclical crises” whose apparently “recessive” energy is actually the true “propulsive” energy of an otherwise inert mega-system.
Various forms of “inner resilience against globalization” are coming to the surface, starting with the violent return of the “religious question” that is shedding light on deep “anthropological platforms” that have not vanished inside world markets and reflect problematic scenarios that cannot find a response in the mere offering of merchandise and cannot be intercepted by political disintegration. It is on this plane that the “political question” of the design of the 21st century reappears.
We are the descendants of a Design Culture that crossed two world wars, atomic conflicts, racial extermination, the great dictatorships, without seeming to experience any disturbance of its established codes.
Unlike art, literature and music, which plunged deep into the devastating reality of history, the culture of Modern Design has always promised a “happy ending” and a future inside the order of technological efficiency and reason. A self-absorbed culture, elegant and intelligent, but utterly out of touch with reality. Today, the outlook of a “happy ending” no longer exists.
The time has come for design to get over its present “professional” dimension that punctually responds to the stimuli of external clientele and to come to grips with the dimension of a “Culture” capable of establishing a new relationship with reality, grappling with the themes modernity has ignored completely; themes that are a part of those “anthropological platforms” with which the deeper strata of an apparently globalized humankind can identify in every part of the world. Themes like “life, death, the sacred, bio-diversities, the animal universe, madness…”
The political problem Design Culture is faced with today does not, then, consist in the recouping of the old social-democratic issues, “enlightened” reformism, and intelligent answers to intelligent questions. Instead, it lies in knowing how to move in the dusk of a rationality in crisis.
Developing in depth and not just in breadth, with a realism that is not superficial but touches on the deepest roots of the relationship between humankind and its destiny. The defense of nature should not claim to measure the happiness of human beings in relation to the square feet of lawn available to them, nor can it claim to renew our habitat based on the sole parameter of renewable energy sources. Just as the “environmental problem” exists, today there is also the “problem of the environmentalists,” who have closed ranks in defense of the “status quo,” keeping a suspicious distance from any project that does not gauge its worth with the sole parameter of ecology. Dangerous simplifications that are (not coincidentally) aligned with both the political squats and the enlightened haute bourgeoisie.
The political question that faces an excessively cold, self-referential, perfect and technologically advanced design today has a frontal impact on our capacity to come to terms with a reality in profound transformation, investigating the murky depths that form the basis for the very reasons behind design. We need a new “dramaturgy,” which does not mean “dramatizing” but immersion in those “anthropological platforms,” in new narrations and capacities to interpret the new times that await us, as an opportunity for a deep renewal of our own language and our own themes of work. Themes that may be less pleasant, more hostile, less elegant, but able to come to grips with “the issue of death, like that of life.”
The category of the “tragic” during the second part of the 20th century has vanished, cloaking itself in the “apparent normality” of a society of wellbeing. This has been the true tragedy of Modernity, which in its “noble indifference” has thought that the theme of Tragedy (with which it was surrounded) could not be represented by the tragic masks, the torn clothing, the cries of the Erinyes.
Our capacity to develop a “new dramaturgy” cannot pass, in fact, through the myths of Greek tragedy, but through the ability to give form to an existential dimension of design. This theme represents the great political problem of the future, because—as the great Russian poet Joseph Brodsky has said, when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987—the collapse of the Socialist countries has led to an “aesthetic collapse” more than a political one, caused by absolute indifference to the poetic qualities of existence and its tragedies. This indifference has produced a profound political rejection, because just as a child says that “ugly” things are “bad,” the aesthetic category and the ethical category are actually closely connected in human experience.
Either capitalism will be capable of meeting this challenge and these human questions, or it will face political collapse… In this moment, both professional design and pure experimental design, which thrive on a “purely expansive innovation” of the market, have no prospect other than proceeding ad infinitum, recycling themselves and perfecting their fragile elegance, at an ever greater distance from the real world of human beings.