Thursday, October 11, 2012
It's nothing terribly original to note that we are shaped by all sorts of messages that train us to see everything that matters about the world as adhering to individuals, and very few messages that give us other ways to see things. Every feeling we feel is me and is mine. Every thought we have, every action we take -- just the same. Of course there's a certain sense in which all of that is true, but it is true and partial. And in learning to see only that part of the whole, the overall picture with which we are most commonly left ends up being substantially incomplete and therefore false.
This intense individualistic messaging also makes it very difficult to try and make visible the ways in which this incomplete picture is false. When you try to suggest that we cannot speak but through words that have already been spoken, we cannot act outside of circumstances that have been socially organized and socially produced, that our very selves are constantly being forged in how we move through the conditions of constraint and possibility that shape our moments, you are likely to get funny looks, misunderstanding, or even hostility.
Enter L, my kid. As I was putting him to bed tonight he said, in a tone imbued with all the world-weariness of his nine long years, "At least tomorrow's Friday." As we continued with the nightly ritual, I thought about this statement, and it struck me as being a good, simple illustration of what I'm talking about above.
That statement represented a heartfelt expression of L's emotional state and of his desires. It was his. It expressed him. Though this is likely no longer true even at nine, it might well have felt to him like some kind of original observation -- something that is far from true for those of us farther along in years for whom such statements are so ritualized as to be a kind of commiseratory bonding in many circumstances.
Yet it very clearly manages, at the same time, to reflect the side of things we are so often taught to ignore, in which the individual "I" is inextricably bound up in the social world, in the "we". Not only is it likely that he has heard such sentiments before -- from his parents, from his teachers, from tv, from his peers who have heard from all of those sources too -- and is reproducing the repertoire of possible statements and ranges of feeling already made socially available to him, but even if he hadn't encountered this sentiment before, it would still be an obvious product of the ways in which time and labour are socially organized. Factory worker, cubicle drone, retail seller, or grade four student, your time is organized into the time which is clearly under someone else's control and which you want to be over (see this recent post on alienation in another context) and the time which can be spent in more pleasurable and more (ostensibly) self-directed ways. Not everyone reacts to this organization of time and labour in the same way, and I wouldn't for a second question L's words as expressions of self. But it is clearly also a feeling and a statement that has been socially produced.
Not a very original point, perhaps, but an everyday moment from which to extract it that struck me as kind of interesting.
Posted by Scott Neigh at 10:56 PM