HAVANA TIMES — I used to be suspicious of people who carry handkerchiefs in their pockets. When I say “used to”, I mean when I was still living in Cuba. I can’t explain what I had against handkerchiefs exactly.
I suppose I felt I was surrounded by things that called for something other than a handkerchief, innumerable things a handkerchief could never clean…or something like that. Such are the excesses of youth. I would assign meanings to things where reasons were lacking. This way of thinking now strikes me as something from a remote, long-gone past.
With my new life in Japan came the time of the “now”. In the time of the now, things multiply before your eyes and adhere to their meaning or use value. Whenever I leave the house, I put on my gear: watch, handkerchief, wallet, cell phone. All kinds of cards: a bus pass, a train pass, a credit card, an ID, a medical insurance card, a municipal library card, a dentistry card, a hospital card, and so on and so forth.
I suppose that, if I’ve been able to accept this over-determined world full of use-objects, this is because I have seen what a world that is less geared towards enjoyment can be like. I savor every little thing, I satisfy my senses with colors, forms and flavors without looking for any kind of meaning in the least. This is what I did, at least, when I first arrived in Japan.
The day I tasted my first non-alcoholic beer, a number of suspicions arose in me. While life appeared to be promising a world of enjoyment that was to take part of the load off my shoulders, the slogan before my eyes was “enjoy with moderation.”
The slogan today, however, has become something along the lines of: “don’t stop, enjoy with no limits and no guilt in a world emptied of all danger.” Non-alcoholic beer, cigarettes without nicotine, decaffeinated coffee, organic products. As though this weren’t enough, McDonalds and Starbucks now advertise the fact that, with their sales, they are helping Third World countries.
Yesterday, I came into contact with yet another dimension of this new world of clean debauchery. My wife bought some German beers without alcohol. The label announced the novelty that the alcohol had been extracted from the product after the brewing process had been completed. I suppose they expected one to go “wow!”
My first reaction was to say: who cares? Someone versed in the beer brewing process could, of course, offer an abundance of explanations about how this improved the whole production process and how it gives the product a new level of quality. I would then become a vulgar, unrefined man who is oblivious to the subtleties of modern life.
Though I would have no problem accepting such a conclusion, the main thing here is something else. It is the fact that what matters is no longer how the beer tastes. What matters is giving the consumer the opportunity to be part of what’s novel.
Today, you no longer drink a beer because it’s refreshing, because you want to enjoy a particular flavor or simply wish to relax a bit. Drinking a beer is an activity that puts you in step with the times, which gives your life a specific form, includes you in the manufacturing process, not as a taster at the end of the assembly line, but as a person who obtains the product as a kind of award.
I am certain that most people who pick up this German beer and drink it after reading the label will say that, without a doubt, it is a better quality product with a more exquisite taste. Personally, I prefer a stronger taste.
The positivism of dictators and a bourgeoisie that over-emphasizes scientific ideas, which reduces truth to the outcome of a struggle between opposites, neglecting the exaggeration and irresponsibility inherent to thought as such, is finding a new body.
Before, excess would destabilize its certitudes. Today, it opens up its barracks to it and turns it into its warder. The flags raised over this prison bear the high-sounding slogans which accompany this new and improved form of positivism: a healthy life, concerned over the evils of this world. The elevation of great causes, manufactured at specialty shops, used to adorn our modern lives.
I am not sure of this. I am suspicious and take a step backwards. I’ll think about what to do later. For now, I will limit myself to placing these lofty banners before me like so many objects of reflection. I think about them while I knock back an alcoholic beer, or, better, five of them, promising myself I won’t buy the new IPhone 5 (though I may later break this promise).