To own your own life

Texts #16 & #17

Here is a brief comment about a couple of books I’ve read lately. I’ve come to the conclusion that the topic of ownership is underrated, and that an examination of our lives helps us recognize that ownership is central to our everyday existence and to our human condition in general. To own oneself seems to be the core of our existence as persons. Before we can become masters of the objects around us, we need to take possession of ourselves. Self-ownership is something that we tend to take for granted (and therefore we don’t talk about it).

The intuition of the centrality of self-ownership is presupposed by different philosophical and psychological texts. It can be traced in Freud’s doctrine of narcissism and self-eroticism,  Heidegger’s concept of Eigentlichkeit, Plato’s (and Kant’s) insistence on self-government, Nietzsche’s comments on freedom. All these authors seem to believe that the individual needs to own herself, to govern herself, to be her own sovereign, in order to exist. (Depending on the author and the context, this might be: to have a body, to be a person, to be authentic, to be free, just, or happy).

Literature also plays with self-ownership… and the lack thereof. For example, there is Selva Almada’s Chicas Muertas, which narrates the murders of four young women in Argentina in the 80s, and the author’s journey to find traces of their lives and reconstruct their deaths. Above all, Almada tries desperately to recover the victims’ voice. This makes you realize that, in the case of gender violence and extreme abuse, the victim loses control over basic things we take for granted in our everyday life: her voice, her body, her life. Someone else has taken hold of those basic aspects of a person’s existence.

To mention a very different book now, but one also written by a young contemporary and talented woman, there’s Nicole Krauss’ the history of love, which tells the story of Leo Gursky (and Alma, and her mom and brother…). Leo is a man that has lost everything, basically as a consequence of the Holocaust. He has lost his village, his country, his family, the woman he loved, the book he wrote, the contact with his only child. The result is half-a-man, a man that sees his own existence as diminished because of his losses. A man that is alive but who doesn’t exist, because he owns nothing.

I don’t want to elaborate about these points excessively, but please read the books and you’ll see I’m right.

 

Chicas muertas: http://www.cuspide.com/9789873650260/Chicas+Muertas/

History of love: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_History_of_Love

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