Sui generis (of its own kind)

I am who I am. Take it or leave it. Don’t try to change me.

How many times have we heard these lines used in arguments, relationship discussions, in society. Do we believe in them? I am sure that question will get a real mix bag of answers, but in reality, these first lines form an impossibility. It is impossible for humans never to change and it is impossible for humans to forever remain unchanged. Every human process is about change and everything in this world affects it. The problem here is that humans don’t like to be told what to do or worse, what’s wrong with them. Discoveries need to seem self-made, though it never really is.

I recently started studying a bit more of Theodor W. Adorno‘s thinking and the more I learn, the more I agree with him. I am sure that we will find something to disagree on at some point, but today, I want to introduce you to two of his quotes. Both are taken from Minima Moralia and both quotes are to do with individualism, or at least I will look at them today with the question of individualism in mind.

“The human is indissolubly linked with imitation: a human being only becomes human at all by imitating other human beings.”

Here, Adorno tells us that to copy is to be human. It is impossible for us to know or be anything that is unique in this world, because to be completely different or unique, is to be something that nobody knows and can even recognise. If no one recognises it, how can it be unique? When I say recognise, I mean that no one would even take any notice of it, because anything that is not the norm or against normality is not interesting to humans and thus ignored.

A similar thought is broached by Bataille, who tells us that “The impossible is only reached through the possible, without the possible, there would be no impossible.” When we use words like miracle, impossible and magic, we actually mean something that is ‘special’ but at the end of the day, not outside of normality. Something that is still within our understanding based on everything worldly that we are aware of today.

Perhaps it can be argued that real genius and miracles can be seen through the great thinkers of the past, like the Greek philosophers who ‘discovered’ atoms or the scientists who realised that light travels in a specific speed. These examples, though were great discoveries of the past, can still be explained with developments of the time and how the thinking spurned not from nothing, not from thin air. The ideas came from somewhere, from discussions about what is in the world, about things that already exists, questioning boundaries and pushing further out of the normal reach.

So, why do we still believe in miracles and in magic when it is just part and parcel of the world we live in? Some would probably say that society today believes in miracles and magic less than we did historically. Others might argue against that with religious or mystical examples, suggesting that in the cold capitalist world today, we need miracles and magic to keep our faith and to give us hope in humanity. Whatever we really believe in or not, it is clear that we make these choices to show the world what kind of an individual we are.

Take this blog post as an example. I am writing this probably because I want you to know that these issues are important to me. I also want you to know that I enjoy writing and telling the world what I think is important. I am inadvertently (though probably not completely, since I am aware of this process right now) creating a public image of myself. To be a complete cynic, I could even say that I am making myself a product of capitalism, interested only in finding followers who have the same interests as I do and who sees me to be an interesting writer or thinker, giving my ego a good massage.

Perhaps I am a cynic, but perhaps I truly believe that to speak about different things that may trigger reactions of any kind from an individual or an audience is a good thing for humanity. If we don’t think, we won’t grow. If we don’t grow, well, it paints a bleak future, doesn’t it?

Whatever it is, I am just asserting my individualism the only way I know how. By creating my individual self through choosing bits and pieces from society, creating a collage that I find acceptable in calling ‘me, myself or I’ at this very moment. This is because like many others, I agree with Adorno in (his second quote, as I promised) that “he who integrates is lost”. There are of course collective societies out there who cherish and encourage complete integration within the community, but for me, living in London, arguably the forefront of an individualist European post-colonial society, I want to be different. In fact, I need to be different to survive within this society, to get ahead of others and to be seen as something special.

Even though I know that this ‘specialness’ will only be visible or effective in a small fragment of society, I think that is enough for now, for all of us who live and buy into the individualistic society anyway, to know that we are at least at the top of our class, if not school. To be the top of the world is perhaps a dream and for some, a plan, but that is what drives the individualist society after all.

Let’s see how far we can push the boundaries of our thinking, understanding and knowledge. Perhaps it is time for the next genius to make an appearance.

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5 thoughts on “Sui generis (of its own kind)

  1. Yes, you can change, you always do, you just don’t realise it. Being a normal Blogger with hundreds of normal followers. Are you (not) normal any longer? I like your blog. Thanks for sharing your insights in such a crafty way. Not everyone can do this.

  2. Hi Yen,

    I came upon your website via John-son Oei’s recommendation on FB. Of course, where else would anyone find anyone else these days? Lol.
    I’m a Malaysian anthropology postgrad student in London. Perhaps we should meet for a good cup of coffee one of these bright Spring days, and talk about miracles and magic.
    If you wish to, my sites:
    http://www.foongwai.com, and http://www.design-anthropologist.com

    Take care and keep on writing. :)

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