Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Squeeze

One of the more interesting terms I've come across in my readings for this degree is reification. When used of abstractions it means granting them undue significance and reality. When used of people it means granting them too little. In both cases it involves denying an emotional reality in the name of an ideological agenda.

Reification as thingification of people is a Marxist concept, which would probably lead a lot of people to take it less than seriously. This attitude towards Marxists confuses me sometimes. Today in class we read excerpts of and spoke about Paul Nizan, who is a French communist writer I had never heard of. He was talking about many writers' tendencies to overromanticise the landscapes in their description of foreign lands - to imagine a nature and climate-based edification where there was only a cultural one - where there is always only ever a cultural one. The lecturer was characterising this view as a rather fanatically Marxist one. I said it just sounded like humanism. He said it was a specifically Marxist humanism.

What other kind is there then?

Whether it is bourgeois, bureaucratic, feudal or mob-tribal repression, the shitty thing about being a grown-up is that there are these arbitrary frameworks and pigeonholes where you're expected to fit, and when you don't, instead of making them larger as would be sensible and not idiotic, what's typically done is you are squeezed down and jammed into what is essentially just a glorified, compartmentalised landscape.

The problem, in other words, is that you're not allowed to stretch out. We're here for work, for quotas of whatever, the actual function of which is usually far less important than the perpetuation of its existence, and emotions and personalities and independence just get in the way. It's an idea, usually a fairly stupid one, the self-important earnest perpetuation of which, through a basic obedient inertia, tramples underfoot most actual, human concerns, rendering almost useless historically unprecedented material wealth and political freedom. Jobs, school, sexuality, art - not to mention politics and religion - take important things and turn them into mostly meaningless, pointlessly competitive and suffocating obligations rather than opportunities for self-expression, human connection, and contributions to the community.

But only mostly. It is theoretically possible, and I am told that even empirically verifiable, that some people do manage to stretch out within these arenas, and to successfully ignore their stupider aspects. What is necessary, however, to escape this squeeze, is both space and time, emotional as well as intellectual freedom from people trying to make you less than what you are. You should never respect anybody who demands or expects you to make yourself smaller. Nothing that is worthwhile actually necessitates that.