Thursday, February 2, 2012

Verdinglichung

English is a Germanic language but managed to get itself so mixed with Latin that the title of this post in English is Reification. Now that’s a word one has to learn. It does not communicate its own meaning. Well, Caesar did his damndest, but he didn’t succeed well enough to Latinize German. Therefore the same word, in German, communicates without your having to know, in advance of meeting reification, that its root is res, or thing. Translated literally, we’d have to say thing-making-into. That ending, making-into, we always render in Latin. It comes from facere. We have objectification, beautification, verification—and we verbify those words by using fy. So we could say thingify and get the gist just right—and right away improve the word by making thing visible. Now the irony of this little word is that it has Marxist origins. Marx accused Capitalism of thingifying people. He thought—at least for political purposes—that people were in some ways superior to things. He was being inconsistent, being an atheist. The notion that people are in some ways superior comes from the traditions of belief. (Yes, I’m aware. Reification is also used in the philosophical context as the concretization of something abstract, thus a fallacy—kindred of the pathetic fallacy that causes a lake to smile in the sunshine.) Reification came to my mind as I wrote the last post, because I find that action everywhere displayed as a cause or expression of mass culture—and I always think of it as Verdinglichung because it’s more, as it were, concrete.

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