Word of the Day: “Reification”

Today’s word is ‘reification’ — suggested by Sid Arthur of Northern India, via the Marxists’ use of the German word Verdinglichung: ‘thing making.’

This concept is at the hub of Western civilisation, Capitalism, and those mechanisms visible within Capitalist states to repel threats from within the system by subsuming those threats, commercialising them, removing their thorns, and flogging artificially-sweetened, carefully-smoothed, mass-produced versions (cf. Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction).

Naturally — we all do this, all the time, of course: the ability to conceptualise, codify, nominate have for centuries been the measure of both a society, and its individual members.

A reified thing is a thing made at once more of a thing, and less of a thing: it becomes an exemplar of the superset the reification ascribes it, a chain in a link of concepts, a neuron linked to the network of neurons that represent that concept in the brain. In so doing, the uniqueness of the reified thing becomes less relevant — in naming the thing, we use distinct attributes to define it, and inevitably use those attributes to spot further exemplars.

There are thousands of well-written accounts of reification and the materialisation of abstract ideals, usually for the detriment of those ideals, and although many of these reports, investigations, and experiments have themselves been subsumed by the system which they observed, it seems to me that the internet is bringing to the mainstream media the story of those who attempt to avoid reification, partially, temporarily, for a short time each day, or every day as the core of their life.

Notes

In a way, the ancient practices and teachings of Judaism are living on through the Vipassana, Mindfulness, Buddhist stuff of the past few years — but that’s just collected reification.

Reification of women by a male-dominated society that perceived the gender difference as a threat to their material, intellectual, and philosophical equilibrium. Viz, The Sex Symbol.

Other favourites, to cf with Focault’s description of ‘reverse discourse’: The Jew, The Homo, The Black, The Paki, The Scotsman, The Taff, The City Gent.

See also: objectification.