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.


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.

On ‘Han-shan, Nanzen-ji’

From a lofty summit
The panorama extends forever
I sit alone unknown
The lone moon lights Cold Spring
The moon isn’t in the Spring
The moon is in the sky
I sing this solitary song
But the song isn’t zen.

Han-shan, Nanzen-ji

Can I ask about this? Or rather, can I ask about it and get a reply?

I’ve never been very ‘good’ with poetry, despite having a good “Bachelors” degree in English. What am I supposed to take from the poem? That might sound like silly, naive question, considering I mentioned having graduated in this subject, and should surely know full well that one is not intended by any one to take anything from a text. But, I mean: are not at least some (I’d like to call them ‘great’) authors aware of this when writing, and so make the writing more than a stream of ego, a stream of consciousness or self-consciousness? Might not these authors construct their work with the complexity of linguistic expression in mind, and so form their work in such a way as to attempt to clarify the inherent vagueness of linguistic communication?

Seems to me that this poem does intend to cause an effect.

It opens gently, depicting a tranquil and removed scene in restrained tone, but with evocative nouns — the first action is not until the third of eight lines, a quarter of the way into the poem, and that action comes from the verb ‘sit,’ which is almost as passive as it gets. Then a distinct and attention-grabbing images:

The lone moon lights Cold Spring

The capitalisation of Cold Spring makes it read as a proper name, presumably a place name (if it were to refer to a person, it would be the introduction of a mechanism so-far unused in the poem, and would make the former imagery seem redundant). A place name composed of two descriptors: one of time, and one of feeling, both that match the imagery of the previous lines, all of which suggests this is the name of place in which the poem is set, from whose tense we can ascertain is the present moment, and whose location is either the place Cold Spring, or a place like the depicted place the reader has visited and recalls, or a cold place in the spring, which thanks to Ana happens to be there here and now for many of us.  Or a place that has the attributes listed, in the imagination of a generous, ‘open’ reader.

Then this nonsense:

The moon isn’t in the Spring

Reading this reminded me of Hakuin’s scalding commentaries on the Heart Sutra. What utter rot, to say that the moon is not in a season! But then I recall the narrator mentioned Cold Spring, so presume this lines inherent meaning is just a statement of the bleeding obvious (to use the Basil Fawlty-like vernacular): that the moon is not in the town. This irks me: the poet made work for that, and I imagine that was intentional, as my next thought, after ‘the moon is obviously not in the town’, I thought, ‘the moon is in the sky, obviously’. My feeling of being ‘irked’ was naturally somewhat mitigated by the next line, for its obviousness:

The moon is in the sky

I was at this point in my initial reading at once irked and soothed — and soothed by that which irked me. This poet is clever — though I am not sure I actually ‘like’ clever.

I sing this solitary song
But the song isn’t zen.

By the time I reached this final couplet, I felt resolved on my reading of the poem — the postulation of a thing that is and is not: just as the moon itself is not in the world, but its light is; the song is a product of that here termed ‘zen’, the singing is not itself ‘zen.’

I wonder if there is any point addressing directly the imagery?

Having written all this, I’m not sure I really want a reply — I’ve had enough of this poem. Perhaps I will come back to it, or perhaps it is as ephemeral as the moment it depicts? Still don’t like poetry.

Notes on Zen Buddhism Through Popular Culture: building a list

The novels of Samuel Beckett: the trilogy and As It Isnothing to do with his mother.

Northern Exposure — large tracts of the show, but the Joel Fleishman’s final episodes (S06E01-S06E06) contain several Buddhist phrases amidst constant references to loss of a troublesome ego.

I stick my neck out for no-one.

— Rick in Casablanca, whilst he helps everyone rightful he can. One day I will put here a quote to sustain the argument that no-one who adheres to Shakymuni would ever claim to do anything.

Heidegger in Sein und Zeit: The dimension of space is irrelevant, the dimension of time is of critical importance — most define themselves by their relationship to the past and objectives for the future, in so doing missing the present. The individual must tear free from this aspect of social convention, to become “not ‘one’ but ‘I’.” The former is a fine depiction of samsara, and the latter, despite its language being in superficial opposition to the Buddhist creeds, in actuality perfectly reflects the reality of the practice of zen on Eight-fold Way.

Fredrich Nietzsche in Beyond Good And Evil describes Pratityasamutpada, specifically the dependent origination of Good and Evil, the dependency of one on the other, and thus their negation. ‘Faith’ is described as “peace of mind” (cf the chán poem, Faith In Mind). Nietzsche echoed Bankei in his view that the creation and appreciation of music allows the transcendence of “mundane reality.” Human, All Too Human is more explicitly zen: the “path of wisdom” is “forgive yourself your own self” and “throw off your own discontent at your own nature” to allow self-realisation. The words could have been written by Bodhidharma or Linji.

Avoid blinding anachronisms by removing Nietzsche’s Übermensch from the Nazis, to find justification for the sangha: “my principle article of faith … [is that] one can only flourish around those with an identical frame of mind.” The “trans-valuation of all values” stands for itself.

Barthes (in and around Death of the Author) and Saussure (Course in General Linguistics) both emphasise the lack of intrinsic objective value in words: cf Vajracchedika Prajna Paramita, the Diamond Sutra.

Bathes: To try to write love is to confront the muck of language: that region of hysteria where language is both too much and too little, excessive and impoverished.” “I cannot write myself. Who, after all, is this “I” who write himself?” – A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1990). Lots of references from the summer onwards in Barthes’ notes on the death of his mother, leadin gto The Neutral.

Lady Ga-ga: of whom Stephen Fry writes in the FT, ‘That message, “Find out who you are and be it,” clearly means a great deal to her.”‘