1 Things matter. 2 Things are material in the hardest sense of the term. Things have shapes, textures, structures, and even timbres. T...

Of Things by Azfar Hussain

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Things matter.


Things are material in the hardest sense of the term. Things have shapes, textures, structures, and even timbres. Things have tones, tunes, and even resonances. Things are silent and loud. Things have forms and functions. Things have dimensions and directions. Things have surfaces and depths. Things have angles and arms. Things are in motion and things are still. Things proliferate and dwindle. Things multiply and divide. Things are dead and living. Things are spectral and corporeal. Things are transformed and distorted. Things are destroyed and created. Thus, things constitute--and are constituted by--a universe of things themselves, and relations between things, and their presences and absences, all of which together point to the materiality of things and the 'thinginess' of the material. Our world rests on--among other things--the dialectics of things.


Words are things themselves.


Bodies are things themselves.


I love the glossy shape of a layered onion, the textured pulp of a lonely tomato, the orange composed of the peels of flame, or even the tang of an abandoned lemon. Thus, I celebrate things themselves in the world of things--both the surfaces and substances of things.


When I think of the poetry of things and the poetics of things and the politics of things, I think of Pablo Neruda. I think of his "Ode to Things." I think of how he says, "I love things with a wild passion." I think of how he cherishes tongs and scissors; how he adores cups, hoops, hats--things small and things grand; how he loves dishes, vases, the curves of a shoe, or the glints of eyeglasses. He loves rings, talismans, clocks, compasses, coins, and of course the silken plushness of chairs. And he loves wondrous tables, floating ships, even broken staircases. And he loves buttons, cups, knives, shears--the velvety depths of things, or the serene surfaces of things, or the multitude of things crafted by the human hand.


I think of another poet of things--Francis Ponge. He has a book of poems called "Things." He dissolves the borders and boundaries between theory and poetry while speaking of things--various things. He speaks of pebbles, handkerchiefs, fingernails, dusters, even spiders, and extra pages as things--sheer things--things that, however, clash, collide, control, resist, make, break, turn awry, and unite in the grand dialectics of things themselves.


Neruda again. His love of books-as-things, vibrant things, is again his love of life which is again his love of things. For Neruda, when a book becomes a little forest, and when a book reveals itself leaf after leaf, and when a book smells of the elements of the earth and fire, and when a book bears hunters and islands and roads and revelations and rebellious towns, and even when an occult book gets passed from pocket to pocket like a secret lamp--to borrow images from Neruda himself--and, above all, when a book bears human voices and is filled with human connections, things are humanized and humanity celebrates itself in the theater of things themselves, while things in turn participate as active agents and characters in the epic of humanity.


Things are both nouns and verbs.


The rage for the concrete is the rage for things themselves.


A thing-in-itself, a thing-unto-itself, and a thing-for-itself constitute the dialectics of things which, in turn, characterize the worldliness of the world.


Things have histories. Things have stories.


When I think of the political economy of things, I think of Karl Marx. Things are given, produced, re-produced, exchanged, distributed, and consumed within a horizon of specific social relations of production. The passage from natural things to social things under capitalism dialectically corresponds to the process of morphing a use-value into an exchange-value. Things are either useless or use-values incarnate. And the logic of capital enacts a microphysics of things such that their use-values are transformed into their exchange-values. In other words, both things-as-products-of-labor and things-provided-by-nature are turned into commodities.


Commodities rob things of their thinginess and their lives, while treating them as containers of invisible blood--blood on sale. Or things commodified are things drenched with blood.


The commodification of things refers to neither a thing-in-itself nor a thing-for-itself, but to a thing-minus-itself.


The history of imperialism and colonialism from at least the eighteenth century onward directly attests to the colossal cycles of the capitalist extraction and commodification of an entire range of things--raw and non-raw materials, metals, minerals, and products--such as cotton, wool, coffee, cocoa, sugar, fiber, spices, rubber, silk, lumber, copper, gold, diamond, leather, coal, oil, gas, plastic, iron, steel, and so on.


Let's restore things to things, things to humanity, and humanity to things, inaugurating a new dialectics of things, and for that matter, new production relations of things. How do we do that? Revolution is still the answer.

The writer is Vice-President of US-based Global Center for Advanced Studies and Associate Professor of Liberal Studies/Interdisciplinary Studies at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, while he is currently Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Liberal Arts-Bangladesh (ULAB).He writes in both Bangla and English.


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