Accepted Paper:

The palace of cats and falcons: capitalist fauna in a Stalinist skyscraper  


Michał Murawski (University College London )

Paper short abstract:

The animal inhabitants of a Stalinist skyscraper in Warsaw have become pampered celebrities during the last two decades. I would like to show that, in the last instance, this fauna owes its fame and wealth to changes in Poland's economy.

Paper long abstract:

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 should be seen as the agentively inert beneficiaries of Poland's transition to a market economy.

Panel P08
Exhuming the 'big picture', burying fish, cats and falcons: limits to the agency of non-human things