Why we classify
From the moment we become cognizant of our surroundings and our place among them, we are conditioned to understand things as a series of recognizable elements and to classify them into neatly defined categories. When we learn our alphabet, the number system and how to tell time we acquire the building blocks necessary for participation in the accepted cultural order. Everything we know, from the structure of a narrative to the commodities of the consumer package, are defined by specific characteristics according to height, weight, length, price, color, duration, genre, etc. But what if absolutely everything we knew were shifted one degree to the left? Would it be possible to learn any more about things if they were defined in a different context? Better yet, what if our perspectives were completely reversed and we were trained to look at, not things, but the spaces in between the things? What would we see then? In his book "The Order of Things" Michel Foucault attempted to deconstruct the underlying structure of our society and the human inclination to classify. In it he questioned why we separate things the way we do, and how it is that we come to an understanding of these things both individually and collectively. Foucault understood that there is more to what we see—that in fact what is underneath tells us as much, if not more about what is on the surface.
How we classify (time and space)
The dominant structure of the Western world is built according to the order of material in space and the linear flow of events through time. It seems that in our collective, contemporary mindset, it is necessary to capture time and space inside of specified boundaries in order to really understand them. We know that movies last for about two hours, that our groceries for the week cost about $60 and that we rent about 1000 square feet of space to live in each month. Everything happens according to schedule (or otherwise not according to schedule) and our days are ultimately partitioned into periods of activity and rest, production and leisure, work time and vacation time. Ever since the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of the assembly line, productivity has become increasingly more efficient. Unfortunately, with the streamlined efficiency of the workforce came the deficiency of human behavior and personality. The assembly line and consequent workforce mentality have turned workers into robots generating repetitious activity, dissuading any type of subjective or creative input. Since humans are by nature NOT robots there then came the need for "rest periods" and "vacation time" to restore vitality and energy back into natural biological rhythms. And so it came to be that work became the dominant activity of our society and the work week became the general schedule around which our lives are built.
In general, it is understood that we, as individuals, are identified by two things: 1. our occupation and 2. our family relationships. From 9am to 5pm we are the person who carries out specific duties for whatever company or organization we work for and at all other times we are someone else's sister/brother/wife/husband/mother/father/son/daughter. We are very different people at home than we are in public. And if you think about it, these spaces are really only a matter of one side of a threshold as opposed to another—a doorway, a curb, a few inches in one direction or another. We have clearly defined boundaries when it comes to public and private space—boundaries that are delineated by social edicts and protected by the law, which dictates when, where and how we do things. But who are we in the threshhold? Who are we on the way home to dinner?
How we are manipulated by corporate-controlled "thingness"
Our attention spans are continually decreasing as the speed and demand of advertising, entertainment and sheer amounts of information to consider are increasing.
As they say, "time is money" and "money talks." So we listen and we abide. We work to keep a roof over our head, to pay the bills, to buy food, to put gas in the car so we can go to work, to pay the bills, to buy the food, to put gas in the car, to go to work....If we stay with the same company long enough we accumulate vacation time which is eventually cashed in to spend it fighting the crowds at specified times during the year to sit and fry in the sun on a little patch of sand at the beach or shopping for Christmas presents that no one really wants or needs. But for most of the year our time is spent at work, watching the clock and waiting for our coffee break, and then for our lunch break and then for another coffee break and then for the end of the work day. And then we go home, we make our dinners, we watch our regularly-scheduled television programs or catch up on the news or reading and then we set the alarm for the next morning to wake up and do it all over again. What little time we have left is spent thinking about the weekend when we can do things that we actually want to do. And one wonders through it all if we are ever really in the present moment. The compression of time and space into schedules, newsclips, shopping malls, apartment buildings, parking garages, web browsing, work time and leisure time has created something of a societal schizophrenia as the cycle of supply and demand continually adds to our already overburdened personal and collective conscience. Our attention spans are continually decreasing as the speed and demand of advertising, entertainment and sheer amounts of information to consider are increasing. The colonization of time and space seems to have reached its maximum.
How we can fight the corporate mentality
The very concept of time is a conventional way to categorize events into an agreeable and understandable order. It seems logical for us to think of things happening one after another in a linear flow. But Marcel Proust, James Joyce (even Quentin Tarantino) and countless others have illustrated that consciousness does not necessarily work that way. Our thoughts and experiences are a patchwork of moments in time, triggered by external stimuli and interrupted by other thoughts and experiences along the way. So if our lives don't naturally follow a pre-determined linear flow, it seems somewhat counterproductive to make the effort to put everything into neatly defined categories. We should instead allow things to happen as they may, to appreciate the natural disorder of things and to pay attention to what happens when nothing in particular is happening because often that's when things happen the most. The incubation period is just as important as the whole chicken. If we want to stop the coporate takeover of the world, we need to stop ordering our lives around TV programs, to stop shopping at Target and to stop thinking that our lives are defined by which cubicle we sit in and what kind of benefits package we have. We need to start paying attention to the spaces in between—to give ourselves the room to ponder and discover other things—the non-being, non-space and non-time in between the corporate crap of the world designed to keep us trapped inside of its ugly circus.
This essay is written in appreciation of negative space and the work of Samuel Beckett, Bruce Nauman and John Cage.
(themes and variations on) relational space