To reify is to become real, to materialize, to have a dream become viable, to consummate in pursuit. Its associated experience, of reification, is a turbulent confluence of relief, elation, grief, and all things between.
This short essay is about the grief.
Grief is an aspect of emotional life that never fails to surprise the uninitiated. By the uninitiated I mean those for whom a particular event is still only a dream. Its object may be known, but its associated becoming-event has yet to reify in the life of its dreamer.
For example, consider a person who dreams of becoming a parent. For them the child is the object, and the event begins in pregnancy, when the person becomes an expecting-parent. The event moves through birth, when the person becomes a new-parent of an infant, and then through various phases of initiation: new-parent of a toddler, new-parent of an adolescent, new-parent of a teenager etc.
At each stage, the parent experiences their own reification, in parallel with the developing child. Acquiring new faculties, needs and desires.
Often overlooked in this process is that developmental is accompanied by loss. When a parent of an infant becomes the parent of a toddler, the former is lost. Which is why the eyes of parents become moist with tangible grief when they notice their children have grown.
Moreover, having dreamed about what each stage of parenthood might be like, the becoming parent holds an image of the future as a kind of fantasy. But reification invariably reveals something other than expected, in both parent and child, so that in consummating the pursuit of becoming, the person also grieves the death of a dream.
In the parenting example, the object, or the other, is a person. But the same thing happens in relations between people and material objects.
For example, when a person dreams of buying a car, the car is the object. In pursuing that object, the person also pursues becoming person-with-car. The event begins by entering the market, then moves through finding a car, then buying the car, and then through all the various trials and tribulations (initiations) of becoming person-with-car.
At each stage in the person-car relationship there flows a grief for the death of a dream. Grief for the car that was always reliable, that never looked dirty, that never needed new tires. Grief for the person who knew what to do when the engine light was on.
It is worth mentioning too that the more idealistic, romantic or creative a becoming-subject, the more profound their experience of grief is likely to be, because the gap between dream and the real is likely to be vast, and that distance correlates to the measure of grief.
This is not to decry the value of idealism, romantic or creative thinking, but to help such thinkers better understand the immensity of their emotional lives.
A final note on all of this. And perhaps the most important. Because there is an ethical dimension to the process of becoming real in the relational event. I mentioned above that the object of a dream is other to the subject-dreamer, and becoming is a process that occurs in relation to that other. Also that the object, the other, is subject to its own becoming. This is easy to see in the parent-child example. Because while the parent is becoming new-parent of a toddler, the infant is also becoming toddler of a new-parent. Things get a little more abstract in the example of material objects, but still, for example, in the course of becoming person-with-car, the car is becoming car-of-person, and traces of its particular car-person relationship will materialize as transformations in its condition over time.
The ethical dimension here concerns the responsibility of subjects to objects, and in this regard Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics of being for the other is instructive (see Marcus, 2008).
In a parent-child relationship, if the parent refuses to accept an initiation, for example by refusing to become parent of a toddler and instead continues to treat the child as an infant, they will trample some aspect in the child’s development. The consequences of this kind of trampling are more pronounced in parent-child relationships where the parent rejects becoming new-parent of an adult, and clings instead to the dream of being parent to a child, thereby avoiding the associated grief, but causing the child to struggle in the process of becoming an adult. To reify their own becoming, the child in this example may grow to resent the parent, compounding the tension, and find themselves fantasizing about severing the relationship altogether. Preferring instead the alternate dream of an absent parent.
Thus derives the ethical imperative to become for the other, and the notion that becoming reified in relation to otherness is an ethical responsibility.