New Years, Gramsci, and Easing into 2017

On New Year’s Day Jacobin magazine published a short piece by Atonio Gramsci called “I Hate New Year’s Day”. In the article Gramsci argues:

“I hate these New Year’s that fall like fixed maturities, which turn life and human spirit into a commercial concern with its neat final balance, its outstanding amounts, its budget for the new management. They make us lose the continuity of life and spirit. You end up seriously thinking that between one year and the next there is a break, that a new history is beginning; you make resolutions, and you regret your irresolution, and so on, and so forth. This is generally what’s wrong with dates.”

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sixteen-miles/9190040031

It was a compelling and interesting piece, and one I connected with immediately. The idea that society turns our lives into set dates and markers, making us “lose the continuity of life and spirit” is  an interesting way to look at dates such as New Years, and the rigidity that it creates. This I thought was particularly true given much of the angst around 2016 and the happiness many people had with its departure. More than ever this year New Years provided a sort of a breaking point — a time when people could leave some of the horror of the past behind, with an aim to start afresh and relish in challenges of the new year ahead.

It’s almost the end of the first month of 2017 but I still have Gramsci’s article in my head. While I connected with the spirit of his writing, in the physical reality in many ways I don’t connect at all. Because while it has almost been a month I still feel I am easing back into a new year, preparing myself slowly for the challenges ahead. I still see New Years as a defining line, one I continue to reflect on as we enter 2017 fully. 

It’s an interesting dynamic and one I hadn’t thought of until this time. January always feels like this for me. I ease back in, enjoying the heat, and the cricket and the tennis, trying desperately to avoid work and ‘real life’. And I make plans and resolutions, hoping to fix things I don’t like, and achieve things I want to achieve. I feel this is a common experience of this month, particularly in Australia where so many people have such time off to enjoy the Summer months.

So I end up in a dilemma. While I agree with Gramsci that these sorts of dates can “turn life and human spirit into a commercial concern with neat final balance, its outstanding amounts, its budget for the new management” at the same time I feel myself relishing in this opportunity. I feel a desire to have break in the continuity of life to reevaluate, assess and move forward.

That is what has happened once again this year. It is only now that I feel the desire to truly get back into normal life, and I do not regret that. In fact I feel liberated by the opportunity to sit back and evaluate in this way.

But then maybe that is the real point Gramsci was making. Why does this have to be considered a break from “real life”. Why must real life be the thing we hope not to have to return to? Why are our real lives so difficult that we need to designate a time every year to have a break from it? Shouldn’t our lives be one of continued “life and spirit” so that we can have the time for holidays, relaxation, and enjoyment, at all times, not just once (or maybe twice) a year. Why must going back to ‘real life’ be such a pain?

Gramsci I think outlines this thought perfectly in his piece, saying:

“That’s why I hate New Year’s. I want every morning to be a new year’s for me. Every day I want to reckon with myself, and every day I want to renew myself. No day set aside for rest. I choose my pauses myself, when I feel drunk with the intensity of life and I want to plunge into animality to draw from it new vigor.

No spiritual time-serving. I would like every hour of my life to be new, though connected to the ones that have passed.”

Maybe that is the reality of the joy of New Years and the months that precede and follow it. Is it maybe that these months are those that represent what we really want out of our lives? Are they the periods that represent the true spirit of life — ones that give us a genuine sense of feeling refreshed and excited for the challenges to come.

This is what I’m thinking about as I ease back into 2017. How do I make this feeling last for an entire year? How do we do that for an entire society?

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