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Sunday, 3 April 2011

Failed Chat and Marxian Alienation

Like most of our species, I find myself frequently in situations that, for a whole range of reasons, present themselves as awkward. So much can go wrong in an interaction between two people - so many tiny cues, miscommunications, skewed gestures, false interpretations - that sometimes you find yourself short circuiting. Your wit is not to be found, you struggle to make eye contact, you garble your words, you feel acutely stupid.

I experience this quite a lot recently. Contrary to what some may believe, I am usually fiercely socially adept and my chat is usually shit-hot; sometimes I just get into the perversely playful mood where the spinning of a web of shiftiness seems desirable. But not recently. Recently, I have found myself completely stumped and caught off-kilter.

A parent of a child I have worked with was sat in his front garden as I walked by, and he shouted over to me, perfectly normally "Alright, how's it going?!". Offguard, my interactional autopilot flicked into action, retorting "I'm off to bed!". It was 6pm, yesterday. Tied into my pointless and obvious lie, he replied that he'd 'already been there today' and we both laughed hollowly at each other's stagnant mendacity.

In the school, the kids asked me what I'd be doing over the Easter holidays. Honestly, I knwe I'd be doing little more than my dissertation, but to the kind enquiring child, I replied that I was going to stuff my face with chocolate and cake until I vomit. Laughter ensues at silly Mr Walker and his greedy false persona, despite his slim, if distinctly un-maintained, body. On that occasion I was able to withdraw a Bakewell Tart from my coat pocket, which was an apposite prop, but to extend this to categorise my entire holiday was, again, a pointless lie.

Thinking back to university, now to a situation that was intentionally transgressive of Grice's Maxims, my college wife one afternoon asked me what I was going to do that evening. Famously in the corridor folklore, I replied that I was going to wank into my hand and moisturise my back with it. Needless to say (I should hope), another unsolicited unnecessary lie.

Why does this happen?

Marx's 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts detail the young Marx's theory of alienation - within these pages lies the explanation for why the pleasantries of mediocre conversation occasionally elicit from me a poetic regalement about my carnal habits and loin spoils.

The result of alienation is that the human being (the laborer) does not feel himself to be free except in his animal functions: eating, drinking, and reproducing, at his best in his dwelling or in his clothing, etc., and in his human functions he is no more than an animal.

I would not go so far as to say that I am an archetype of alienated labour; not at all. As my CamCors testifies, labour is low on my agenda. Rather, behind the unctuous performances of selfhood, my volitions and wants are those not of the thinking rational man but of feral vermin as it scurries between its survival tasks.

Day to day interactions with near-strangers or those for whom the face is familiar but little else bring out this inner animal in me. My lack of freedom is manifested in my failed banter, which presents itself as an audible Rorshadt test - my alienated and wounded self whispering its name beneath my mumbled declarations about my consumptive, nocturnal, defecatory and reproductive actions.

Eating, drinking, and reproducing, etc., are real human functions. However, in the abstraction which draws them out of the circle of other human activities and makes them the sole activity to be sought after, they are animal.

Here is the saddest part. I like to think of myself as a heaving mass of ideas and potential, a healthy plant in fertile soil, a creative and innovative social agent. My autopilot mode throws me into sensationalising my actions or into subverting expectations - I refer again to my response to my college wife's question.

Is there not some mundane tragedy in the fact that my flights of fancy, in which my imagination goads me on to visualise a situation more exciting than that in reality for the sake of better chat, only extend as far as imagining myself over-satisfying my essential mammalian needs.

No new realities conjured up. No fantastical beasts. No new identities. No positive self-presentation. No self-aggrandising speech. No. Just lathering myself up with my own guck.

Not feeling myself free in my social interactions, all I have to fall back on are tales of my animal functions. Estranged from my labour, from my self, from my species and my species-being, I continue to alienate each casual passer-by.

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