Monday, April 26, 2021


This week I’m reading two books that I’d like to share:

🎈👀👀 The $12 Million Stuffed Shark

The British artist Damien Hirst’s piece The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living—a 15-foot Tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde in a large vitrine—sold to hedge fund manager Steve Cohen in 2004 for an undisclosed amount, thought to be at high as $12 million. The story is one of many fascinating ones told in Don Thompson’s book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art. While written in 2008, no book is better in helping make sense of what is going on in today’s market for digital art, including NFT’s (non-fungible tokens). It’s about how mimetic desire (though he never uses that term explicitly) and having the right “models” drives contemporary art prices.

One thing that struck me: the careful “scene-setting” that goes into selling a piece of art at Christie’s or Sotheby’s is critical to the success of the auction. Scenes can be set up to encourage more or less mimetic desire and rivalry—and that is precisely how I think we should think about social media platforms. They are scenes that have been carefully constructed to make people do and say things that they otherwise would not. Online engagement grows by increasing disinhibition—not unlike a bidder at an auction house, who pays prices that he or she normally would not.

🙅🏽 How to Be Idle

As I am caught in the hustle and bustle of a book launch, I have enjoyed reading How To Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto, by Tom Hodgkinson. There’s nothing more anti-mimetic than resisting the urge to work ourselves into oblivion—to always have to be productive. “The idea that idleness is good goes against everything we have ever been taught,” the book starts. “Industry, hard work, duty, self-sacrifice, toil: surely these are virtues that will lead to success in life? Well, no.”

When you start running fast enough on the hamster wheel, the hampster wheel starts running you. It wasn’t until I spent three years living in Italy in my early thirties that I was able to start breaking the hold that hustle-culture had over me. I wish I’d read this book about ten years earlier.

👂👂 Quote

“The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person. This evil is even much more of the metaphysical than of the moral order.” —Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, writing to his friend Henri de Lubac in 1968.


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