August 4th, 2006


Think pink

I did a long interview yesterday with the Financial Times, for a feature the FT magazine is running about Berlin, and whether the city's current status as an ultra-cheap haven for creative types can last.

Reporter Eleanor Lee enjoyed my descriptions of the city as a creative class paradise ("I want all this on a T-shirt!" she said) but wondered if it was sustainable; wouldn't Berlin rapidly become as expensive as London and New York? My answer was that it's the lifestyles of London and New York that are "unsustainable", that Berlin's post-materialist, liberal and experimental lifestyles are important as a way to find "post-bling" ways to live in the 21st century, and that, even if Berlin is only the pleasant anomaly that it is due to odd historical circumstances, and even if its local dodgy economy only survives by massive subsidy from the rest of Germany, and even if the current bubble is only going to last for, say, ten years, it's still worth it, and worth being here. Ten years of brainstorming, ten years of ethical, aesthetic and political R&D is still something.

The image of a "bubble" kept coming up in our talk (in a pleasant cafe in Mitte), but so did a more abstract idea: indirection. I found myself championing "indirection" as a virtue, and arguing that indirection can only happen in bubble-like conditions. I wish I had a better word for what I'm talking about. Let me try to define it.

Indirection is what happens when you go to university to study literature for four years, despite the fact that the market really has very little use for people who've read a lot of old books. Indirection is what happens when you don't have to spend all your time earning the money to have something to eat and somewhere to live, but can actually pursue things for their own sake. Indirection is a company pouring money into research without demanding to see specific results within a limited time period. Indirection is when you're sure that creative activity adds economic value, but you can't say exactly where or when.

Indirection is related to play, and related to delay. Indirection says that there's virtue in not taking the most direct route between two points. Indirection is therefore in contradiction with traditional logistical and economic wisdom. It's more intuitive, more mysterious. And yet I'm convinced that it can also be justified in economic and logistical terms. It's crucial to human life, collectively, the same way childhood play or nocturnal dreams are crucial to the development of an individual. Someone who neither plays nor dreams cannot function as a pragmatic human being.

After the interview I took Eli to my favourite "creative class" bookstore, ProQM. Here, Berlin's arty types come to browse books and magazines they can't afford, to get ideas from other cities. Eli bought the Europe Endless edition of 032C magazine, and I bought Cabinet magazine's Insecurity issue. In the back of it I saw a book being advertised: a book on the colour pink.

"Pink," the blurb reads. "From the rosy tint of wind-reddened cheeks to the first flush of arousal, from cherry blossoms to Pepto-Bismol, pink is a sweet, intimate, fragile and sickening shade. Few colors trigger more contradictory associations and emotions—tender, childish, plastic, pornographic—or are so symbolic of both high and low culture. Pink is sometimes awkward, even embarrassing, but on the other hand it is enjoyed and associated with the idea of beauty... Viewer reactions are determined by cultural factors. For example, the positive perception of pink in Japan seems strikingly masculine to the Western viewer; every year the country pauses to contemplate the pink blossoms of the cherry trees, which, after just a few days, drift like snow to the ground, symbols of the death of the samurai, who falls in the bloom of youth."

When I got home I noticed all the pink stuff I've filled my new apartment with: light streams into my bedroom through pink plastic strips I've hung over the window, my clothes are packed in a pink crate, I spend much of the day in a pink bathrobe, I drink green tea from a pink cup, my dish-drying tray is pink plastic, the entrance to my kitchen is draped with a pink woollen boa, pink pages from Japanese magazines adorn the walls. The bubble I live in is a pink one, a flat in a city dominated by a tower currently stickered with big pink pentagons. Nearby, I sit giving pink opinions to a reporter from "the pink paper".