Thursday, July 14, 2022

Happy Birthday!

The ultimate act of reification, the Marxist term for commodifying, is trying to decide on the right birthday present for your loved one. The object itself carries baggage as they say about people on whom the past lays a burden. The Germans have a compound word which refers to this usually in terms of history, Vergangenheitsbewaltegung. The word itself partakes of the pathetic fallacy. To say it, hear it or even look at it mirrors the very thing being described. It takes a while for the eyes or ears to take in a 23 letter word. One reason why some people try to find the perfect gift is that they hope it will accomplish what words alone can’t. The object itself becomes an objective correlative for a relationship. Pearls and diamonds are common gifts for those who can afford them. Then on a more modest scale there are roses and chocolate. Surprise isn’t a thing but it functions like one, again proposing a substitute for raw emotion. It takes a lot of planning to create a surprise. The net effect may be nothing more than worry in the creator of the event. Will it go off? However, it's guaranteed to inspire an adrenalin rush in the celebrant. Sometimes a gift may be funny but humor as Freud pointed out in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious can sometimes veil aggressive or hostile wishes. Maurizio Catalan’s “America," an 18 karate gold toilet installed in the Guggenheim for a year, is an example. The French psychoanalyst Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel wrote about this impulse in Creativity and Perversion. There are those who eschew materialism either because they're cheap or so romantic no one thing can ever do justice to the depth of their feelings. These individuals may wake up next to their beloved on a big birthday, turn towards them, peck them on the lips without any grand gesture and simply say, “I Love You.” The message is so simple, succinct and lacking in symbolism—so devoid of hyperbole and overcompensation—that it may hit the mark like Cupid's arrow.


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