Who’s talking? Who’s listening?

Dialoguing Seeds, installation by Giulia degli Alberti, fireclay and oxides, 2014

These questions used to have a self-evident answer. The speaker was the orator, the politician, the artist. The listeners were the public, the faithful, the dreamers. The former aimed to convince, arouse admiration, move. While the latter would abandon themselves to words or images, absorbing their meaning, studying their logic. This link between speakers or writers and listeners or readers was very strong. It was based on everyone’s experience, on the awakening of memories, on the correspondence of a common feeling.

Today this link is looser, and the responsibility for this loss lies in the triumph of technology. A tiny cell phone can transmit any political, social or cultural speech, which is instantaneous but at the price of being short-lived. Today’s whole culture and our ability to socialize are often enclosed in a few sentences, in a few words, even in some puppet who smiles or pouts to convey acceptance or rejection. Even the concept of lies, which once stood to protect us from the pitfalls of thought, is proffered today as an anti-truth that claims to be innocent. The important thing is to communicate.

Every cultural message pays for its conquest of universality with its universal diffusion, breaking the link with reason, which brings order, and abandoning it to thoughts that are frayed and full of pitfalls. This brings into play a bygone ancient cultural mismatch, that is to say, the definitive predominance of technique over science, which has taken away the value of in-depth knowledge, transforming it into an agitation. Everything that science had methodically tackled and solved, technology unravels in terms of immediate utility.

What is to be done? The ancient and ever-pressing question presupposes a drastic, if doubtful, answer. The relationship between science and technology, once regulated by precise hierarchical dispositions, has rapidly been upside down. The passage from the dominating subject (Descartes’ “I think”) to the predominant object (the merchant “I possess”), has brought thought back to things, destroying however our capacity to distinguish between them. Furthermore, the two extremes touch each other. This is the era of hybridization, the mixture between high and low, where work, as it is presented to an indifferent audience, is at one and the same time unique yet repeatable, exceptional yet of the masses.

We need to get out of these shallows, where culture and anti-culture seem to drown while holding each other’s hands. 

It will then be necessary to have the strength and wit to bring them back up to the same level, making science a model to be followed and technology a cornerstone of behaviour, attributing to the former a symbolic value and to the latter an exchange value. With the understanding, however, that mutual positions can be exchanged, giving science a popular character and technology a higher value. Of course, the success of the operation must be negotiated every time, day by day. But at least something on the horizon will move.