DEPENDENCE by Albert Memmi


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A broad, humane, fair-minded essay so rooted in common sense it verges on banality. Memmi, a professor of sociology at the University of Paris, has previously treated cognate but much narrower themes (The Colonizer and the Colonized, Dominated Man, Portrait of a Jew); what he gains in scope here, he loses in depth. Dependence, for Memmi, encompasses all of human experience. He defines it as ""a relationship with a real or ideal being, object, group, or institution that involves more or less accepted compulsion and that is connected with the satisfaction of a need."" He's talking, in other words, about love, friendship, habit, addiction, about every conceivable sort of bond. Since absolute freedom is impossible (and undesirable), we are all dependents linked to a variety of ""providers,"" who (which) are paradoxically at once unique and interchangeable. That is, we think we cannot do without a given person, place, community, pleasure, but over time it turns out that we can--usually. Dependency is based on need; but while we objectively need certain things to survive and maintain our humanity (food, sex, etc.), we may subjectively need useless or destructive things (drugs, say), and we have to discern the difference. We also often have to end our dependencies, whence the many rites of passage and symbolic exorcisms (e.g., psychotherapy) we resort to. Like an old-fashioned philosophe, Memmi writes lucidly for a non-specialized audience. The trouble is, he's continually underlining the obvious: ""The ambiguity of pleasure, our hesitant attitude toward it, and its often real dangers, should not make us forget its important and constant role in almost every human endeavor."" A useful popular survey, nonetheless, in its unassuming way.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Beacon