University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Twentieth Century Think Tank > The palace of cats and falcons: 21st-century fauna in a 20th-century skyscraper

The palace of cats and falcons: 21st-century fauna in a 20th-century skyscraper

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The Palace of Culture and Science – a Stalinist skyscraper which dominates the city centre of Warsaw – has always been full of animals. Cats have lived in the cellars since 1952 (the year construction work began) and the Palace chronicles mention peregrine falcons nesting high in the tower during the spring and summer of 1981. In the course of the last decade or so, however, as the ‘wild’ capitalism of the post-socialist transformation raged all over town, a systematic but unplanned ‘taming’ of (some) Palace beasts has taken place. The sixteen (more or less) resident cats have been toilet-trained and placed on the municipal payroll, while the three-or-so falcons have been tagged, named and webcammed. Moreover, this handful of glamorous felines and avians have become media celebrities, better known and loved than the tens of thousands of human beings who work and spend time in the building every day – not to mention the skylarks, quails and redwings who die in their hundreds here each year, crushed by the Palace’s walls (Rejt 2000) or gorged with impunity by its birds of prey.

This paper argues that these newly glamorous cats’ and falcons’ fame should not be explained by reference to their elemental cuteness or any other autonomous faunal intensity. Rather, the Palace’s nonhuman inhabitants are agentively inert beneficiaries/symptoms of an epochal shift in the relationship between society and nature: from the 20th century drive to ‘mastery’ towards 21st century ‘political economies of cuteness’.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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