I’m currently studying a module entitled Reading Texts which arguably illustrates the reason so many people hated English at school, i.e. “Why is this comma here? Let’s look at how many meanings there are behind the word ‘as’!” …but once you get past that, the current text we’re studying is really rather interesting.
It’s a book called Minima Moralia by German born philosopher Theodor Adorno, made up of a series of extended “aphorisms”.
Aphorisms are principles expressed concisely, for example Austen’s famous: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.” A writer generally goes on to expand on this and to prove or disprove their principle.
For this reason, Adorno’s aphorisms are considerably longer than a single line, but only tend to last—cue sigh of relief—two pages at most. They are largely statements on culture and society during the years after the Second World War. They are also largely a bunch of musings about how much he hates the world and is fed up of everything ever—“Each visit to the cinema leaves me …stupider and worse”—but for the most part he manages to achieve these rants without leaving the entire seminar group stupider, worse and with the unshakable desire to hurl ourselves out of the window.
Without further ado, I had a go at my own Adornian aphorism and my seminar group seemed to enjoy it, choosing it as joint first in the class. I know: I’m not just a pretty face.
Here is “Snowflakes to Slush”.
Individuality has become more a skill than a natural human trait—we are born, as our mothers and fathers and the more homely, cardigan-sporting primary school teachers have assured us, as perfect individual snowflakes. Designed to be different from one another but no less special, or interesting, or…white and cold.
Essentially, each human is physically and mentally different from any other human being. This is a given. Even those rarities who sport the same finger-prints are still distinct in their tastes, their mannerisms, the freckles on their left feet.
Individuality, on the most basic level, comes as naturally as breathing, and for many years the effort had been to stamp it out, to avoid it, and to become a version of everyone else. Those of us who fear we will never be “better” or “best” content ourselves with striving the hardest to be exactly the same.
Aesthetically, we colour and style our hair, grow or trim or shave our beards, purchase a variation of the same jumper for every day of the week in the hope that someone will be sporting a similar—but not the same, God forbid the same—outfit, thus confirming to us that we have made, if not the right, then at least not too wildly wrong a choice. Because of course, the clothes we put on our back can be very definitely “right” or “wrong” solely on the way they skim our hips or complement our skin—both of which we have spent hours on a treadmill or at a dressing table ensuring are exactly the same size, colour and texture as those of our counterparts, who must of course be “right”.
All of a sudden, society experienced a revolution which, unlike the French or American revolutions, didn’t actually give anyone any different rights or more freedom or democracy. This would have caused too many problems. This revolution decided that snowflakes shouldn’t have to be melted into water that looks and feels and tastes the same, and instead should be allowed to float through life being as different as they please. After all, it was only natural.
We decided to reconstruct the molecules of our snowflake by listening to music that “nobody else has heard” and wearing clothes from charity shops that “nobody else has worn”—except that for something to have ended up in a charity shop with two holes in each sleeve and what appears to be a cigarette burn on the collar, it can be assumed to have been worn before, rather a lot. And for an artist to supply YouTube videos, merchandise, three albums and a tour of the UK, it can also be assumed that at least someone else has heard their music, at some point.
We become frantic. Obsessed. Having realised that when everything is the same, nothing is the best, we open a Wordpress account and panic on realising everyone has a blog, we take up knitting only to be gently reminded it was going on before we were born, we fall in love with vintage only to fall out of love when we remember that to have become vintage, a phenomenon must at one point have been popular, or even dare we use the word, “mainstream.”
We become what we try to avoid and our snowflakes all melt together in a confused flurry before that final denim jacket or pair of Buddy Holly sunglasses pushes us over the edge and we melt into one single lump of stressed and worn out slush.
We are born as a snowflake. We spend our formative years shedding our individuality and melting together. When we struggle to break apart we succeed only to join another downfall of sleet and be frozen back together again.