By Paraskevi Papagianni
Dystopia is always a result of extreme definition, of the flustered or sadistic frenzy to banish from the exit point of the equation, an unclean result. This happens through classification, psychologisation, stereotyping and narrative cliche which trickles down through all levels of psychosocial activity (intra-personal, interpersonal, inter-group, ideological).
The offensive element in classification, in explaining away (especially in terms of character and behaviour) is that the explained is denied their dynamic character and agency. They are understood and typecast and therefore can be put away, no longer irksome, threatening, or potentially delightful and affecting to the perceiving mind. An indexed thing can be elegant and comforting but rigid; definition instrumentalises and casts a deterministic (and often binary) character on the individual or quality in question.
Definition and classification are most often a-historical. This means that they obscure and eschew, disconnect, and ultimately disregard causality, narrative and particularity in the sense of palpable singularity, aliveness. The story, to speak on a narrative level, is acceptable or at least plausible in its comfortable but unconsoling predictability. The minefield is fast asleep, carefully delineated with plastic tape.
There is a fine line between identity and definition and this is one of the subtle trappings of identity politics and the latent oppression that results from the fractional and fragmentary tendencies that it brings about. People in pods naturalise the state of retreat and are deprived of the uplifting and empowering effects of lived, witnessed and exchanged universality.
This is especially apparent in the myriad of classifications around sexual behaviours, the most amusing one being ‘Demi-sexual’ as in a person who only engages in sexual relationships after a certain level of intimacy has been reached with a potential partner. This suggests the provisional normalisation of a previously abnormalised behaviour which is neither specific (personality related) nor even stricking, culturally, morally, or diagnostically speaking. Each sub-faction in this case expends tremendous mental and emotional energy attempting to conceive of, embrace, brand and communicate its own ‘elephant in the room’ and through this wearing contrivance activism is thinned and reduced to a game of borderlands, chalk lines while popular representations and attitudes are not moved from the picturesque, the forgiving and the condescending.
Graham Greene makes an amazingly clear and simple observation in ‘Monsignor Quixote’. (Despite the alleged antiquated style of its writing, I found it to be a very poignant and current reading on many levels, but more so in its absurdist, humorous and compassionate treatment of the subject of political and ideological resistance.) “A believer will fight another believer over a shade of difference. The doubter only fights with himself”. This quote is perhaps the essence of the entire book and the root of all variants of confusion, apathy, defeatism and lack of effective and constructive organisation at a grassroots level. The damning straightjacket of superimposed classification and power lines looms over the heads of those either too uncertain about the benefits of an unconpromising loyalty compared to brooding veering or too gifted with the type of soft pragmatism that is able to recognise the practicalities of engineering and applying any social treaty.
In 1984, the advent and the practice of Newspeak (as I have personally understood it at least) was among other things (if not above all things) a hierarchical, top-down attempt at definition in its most cryptic (precisely because of its blatant grandiose character) and destructive form. The destruction of language as an official act, through highly specific wording, rearranging and targeting, results in an unreal -but entirely conclusive- blurring of concrete and symbolic violence. The privation, the destitution, the blow is real. The violence is obscure. And legitimised. In the age of networks this violence is not dispelled, but rather it is spread into a thin ubiquitous sheet of constant dust.
There is always the question of cognitive economy, but in the post-modern, capitalist organisation of things this boils down not to a rational and manageable organisation of available information, but to the extremities of speed, specificity and productivity to which we have been driven: The prevalence of business poetry (content creation- where content refers to stuffing for standardised informational buffers: pillowcases) over aesthetic realism (contemplative relationality). Efficiency and novelty over perseverance and intimacy. The savant consumption of others in profile(d) form over the uneasy and volatile, but catalytic and cathartic public co-existence. The intoxicated habitual entertainment through a cultural industry rife with serial dystopia, rather than the possibility of eutopia.