For years now, it’s been no small frustration of mine that I should happen to be fated to live in a culture more validated by material acquisition than any other. I think it’s easy to look at something like that as being inherently detrimental (and maybe it is). More recently I’ve come to believe though that it perhaps in itself is not therein the problem entirely, but rather our perspective on it. If one were to take a step back and condense our culture essentially, I would contend that often you wouldn’t be left with much more than a nationwide hunger for material consumption. Thus, as I try it seems, I cannot escape the reigning fact that our western materialism, American materialism is here to stay.  This is a cultural idiosyncrasy that is too deeply rooted to have itself changed in the forseeable future and is absolutely one that to a certain degree, I am guilty of – but one that I guess I seek to charge with the adoption of an alternate eye.

I was reading an article recently about how we’re just starting to understand the profound impact that linguistics has on shaping the culture through which we develop, and thus view the world around us. Exemplary of this for instance, is the usage of gender associations given to inanimate objects in certain Romance (and other!) languages. If from birth for example, you understand that certain things are given a gender, it becomes impossible then, not to see that thing imbued with a sort of internal character or identity accordingly. . The thing takes on a communicative life that is intrinsic to the culmination of its physical appearance, practical usage, and its “gender.” It attains a resonance resulting from these things therefore in the minds of those who use or interact with it. English does not do this. Now this “resonance” of the object (and thus, our receptivity to it) is obviously an abstract human construct. It does not literally exist and is a by-product of the created language that named it. Despite this, the fact remains that to those exposed, the object has the vast potential to take on a life, a personality of its own. The created object has the ability to take on a meaning that is a symbiotic relationship between its inherent outward resonance and our receptivity to that resonance.

Inside of all of this lies the imperative need to understand that everything has meaning beyond itself. Even if the object is not so far animated to let us know explicitly what that meaning is, it will still represent something greater about it that I believe, we are charged to understand. Part of our problem in not seeing this perhaps comes in that our language doesn’t contribute to this. Our cultural appreciation for objects is not found in the individual object, but instead the breadth and volume of our ownership’s magnitude.

From where we are now then, I believe firmly that it is our charge as consumers to engage instead in what I’ll call an “active materialism.” We as a holistic culture are always in the process of inattentively purchasing- buying on impulse, enraptured by the forever separated sheen of advertising’s cunning, often attaining a myriad of different objects that maybe mean nothing to us, objects that maybe we’ll misuse anyway. For a reason retail psychology has become an industry in and of itself, as we endlessly prove ourselves a people consumptively malleable in the hands of a nationalistic greed. In this way, (again, because of the vast extent of permeated materialism) to see a lesser degree of consumption (in this lifetime) is probably an impossibility. Our culture is not as pliable as our purchasing habits. This being the case, we need to learn to derive a sustaining sort of validity from the smallest things that we choose to obtain. It is of no small import that we collectively hone our consumption into one that is more intelligent, more discerning, etc.

Look around you. In the room that you are reading this in. What surrounds you? Is it of your accord that they are there? If it is, is the space reflective of a communication between you and it? Do the objects around you engage with you in a discourse that’s simultaneously reflective of your choosing of them and their merits of choosing? I’m beyond confident that they contribute to our livelihoods in ways that has the potential to be endlessly enriching not because of their number or volume but because of their inherent contribution.

And so in summary, understand that objects will always attempt endlessly to communicate with us. Know that there is a lifeblood that runs through material objects, unique to the things themselves that is always a communicative engine. They will always have an essence, and one that speaks. I would contend that like any other form of communication then, this is only heard upon our active investment in listening to what is being said. Ask then all of the questions in the world of what it is that you surround yourself with. Ask questions of the things that you purchase -the space that you choose to occupy. Commanding ownership of material goods, I’ve come to realize is not the crime. Failing to be in communion with our material investments, and purchasing continually despite it is. Object worship is not the problem when the piece being worshipped is rightly deserving of it. And when chosen actively, the objects that we surround ourselves with, will often transcend themselves beyond what we expected of them, giving us back more than we ever thought they could.

“Whether people are fully conscious of this or not, they actually derive countenance and sustenance from the ‘atmosphere’ of the things they live in or with.” – Frank Lloyd Wright


~ by crossmd on September 2, 2010.

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