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Trash Culture

Objects and Obsolescence in Cultural Perspective


Edited By Gillian Pye

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, concerns about the environment and the future of global capitalism have dominated political and social agendas worldwide. The culture of excess underlying these concerns is particularly evident in the issue of trash, which for environmentalists has been a negative category, heavily implicated in the destruction of the natural world. However, in the context of the arts, trash has long been seen as a rich aesthetic resource and, more recently, particularly under the influence of anthropology and archaeology, it has been explored as a form of material culture that articulates modes of identity construction.
In the context of such shifting, often ambiguous attitudes to the obsolete and the discarded, this book offers a timely insight into their significance for representations of social and personal identity. The essays in the book build on scholarship in cultural theory, sociology and anthropology that suggests that social and personal experience is embedded in material culture, but they also focus on the significance of trash as an aesthetic resource. The volume illuminates some of the ways in which our relationship to trash has influenced and is influenced by cultural products including art, architecture, literature, film and museum culture.


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Wim Peeters - Deconstructing ‘Wasted Identities’ in Contemporary German Literature 147


Wim Peeters Deconstructing ‘Wasted Identities’ in Contemporary German Literature One of the most beautiful essays for the waste-nostalgic is Italo Calvino’s text La poubelle agréée1 (1977), reflecting on the communal waste disposal in Paris. In his essay Calvino asserts that placing household refuse in an approved container represents the core of the social contract. By putting the trash on the street the pater familias disciplines himself and takes on a social role. He (or she) accepts the convention of placing the garbage only in the state-approved dustbin with its uniform military colour. In return the state approves of the everyday domestic ritual of the pater familias who decides what enters into the production cycle of the oikos, the household, and what goes out as a leftover of this cycle, which is pleasing for the self- esteem of the head of the family. The waste-disposal monopoly of the state ensures the household remains orderly, and it prevents it from confusedly identifying with what is left over from production and consumer life. The smallest unit of social life only finds recognition if it respects the border between waste and useful product, between waste and potential recyclables. For Zygmunt Bauman the men who day in and day out ‘refresh and make salient again the borderline between normality and pathology, […] the accepted and the rejected, […] the inside and the outside’ are the garbage or rubbish collectors. They are the ‘unsung heroes of modernity’ (Bauman 2004: 28). Like immigration of ficers and quality controllers...

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