D.he virus keeps the world in suspense. Politicians react almost everywhere with contact restrictions in order to break the chains of infection. Germany has been in a second lockdown for months. The state is making every effort to compensate for the resulting damage as much as possible. Without exception, the focus is on economic damage.
This is also very important for the survival of all industries and thus of course also for the existence of the people, whose financial livelihood is in part completely deprived. Culture is also given massive financial support. Creative artists also see this as recognition of the importance of what they do for society. We owe this support in Germany to Economics Minister Peter Altmaier, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, and above all to Minister of State for Culture Monika Grütters. She fights like a lioness for the cultural area entrusted to her.
However, this recognition of the work of cultural workers disappears immediately when it comes to the question of systemic relevance. Although there is still an understanding of the need for existence in the cultural sector, politics still seems to attribute more to the function of an ornament or the icing on the cake in society. Because it is obviously not systemically relevant, since the lockdown will paralyze the entire cultural landscape of Germany. Museums, theaters, concert halls, galleries, bookshops are closed. The crisis shows how important culture really is in our society. Food is of course relevant to the system and must of course be purchased. But what about the culture?
As the book industry, we aim to make a significant contribution to the success of a free, diverse and democratic society with what we do. The broad field of literature not only gives people reliable information, but also support, encourages reflection and provides support in coping with life. All cultural workers deal with the being of humans, with their place in the order of the world, and with the question of why, and thus give people important impulses. That this corresponds to a deep inner human need is shown, for example, by the increased demand for books during the pandemic.
A longing breaks out
This could only be partially absorbed by online orders and click & collect. Because bookstores that are places of cultural exchange, inspiration, advice, and the mediation of content are closed. The important function of bookstores became apparent when after the end of the first lockdown in Germany, but also after the end of the lockdown two weeks ago in Austria, people kind of stormed the bookstores. A longing broke out, a deep need to deal with book culture. This pressure, this longing to deal with culture affects all areas of the cultural industry. That is why closed museums, theaters, concert halls and galleries are also places of longing and are therefore dangerously incapable of making an offer for cultural debate.
Dangerous because, with the pandemic that has now been going on for a year, our society is a wounded society, a society in great mental distress. This crisis shows more and more how important culture is for the wellbeing of a society.
The mood now seems to change: Many people no longer want to accept the situation. Because if it continues, there is a risk of barely calculable consequences for the coexistence of people and for social peace.
It’s about catharsis
Culture is an essential necessity of a society. Or, as Aristotle said in Poetics about the definition of tragedy, it fulfills the function of catharsis of people. The liberation from affects by mirroring living conditions. Culture in general also fulfills this function in the sense of expanding one’s perspective on one’s own life. This catharsis, understood in this way, is withheld from society by the closure of almost all cultural institutions and inevitably leads to further mental damage to society. It should not be forgotten that the closing of the cultural institutions will also largely interrupt the creative process. This will leave devastating traces long after all institutions have reopened.
Against this background, we must now, in recognition of the important function of cultural institutions in our society, demand that these institutions be opened immediately – of course, taking into account the hygiene rules. Culture is relevant to the system!
Alexander Skipis is the managing director of the German Book Trade Association.