The Everyday

The bigger your blog gets, the harder it gets to remember if you've written about something before. What saves you is nobody reading it anyway, so nobody complains.

Everyday life is an interesting thing. Not that two lives are the same, Posh and Beck's everyday lives are fairly removed from mine. But even then most people have a part of their life which could be described as 'ordinary'. Doing the shopping, taking the kids to and from school, watching TV, cooking dinner, a bit of gardening or reading, conversations with friends and neighbours etc.

I'm a huge fan of the ordinary. For similar reasons that I'm not a huge fan of travel, which was the subject of a previous post. There is a groundedness to ordinary, everyday life which is much more sophisticated than seems to be realised. It's not uncommon for the ordinary to be considered boring. A bourgeois substitute for real living, where real living is lots of drinking, gymnastic sex, travelling, partying, extreme experiences, stamping out injustice, eating and drinking only the best viddles, reading the best books, consuming the best art and films, and so on. Apparently.

I don't buy that sort of grass-is-always-greener life philosophy. That itinerant sensualism. There's so much striving about it, an endless dissastisfaction with simple being. It's a particular disease of city folk, who tend to be fascinated above all else by each other. The city is its own invention, city life is so often self-referential loops passing for reality itself. One 'event' after another, life driven by a news and event cycle. Always the next amazing performance or art to go and see, or bridge to walk across. Like salon life in Paris in the 19th century.

Despite its drab bourgeois clothes, the ordinary is actually the most complex part of our lives. And therefore the most satisfying to get right. There's no place like home. By analogy, although it's not really just an analogy if you're a card-carrying Lucretian materialist like me, take any object or state of affiars that gets studied, by science or some other field. The phenomenon itself is never really studied, it's always sliced and diced, as the saying goes - it's refined and made controllable, usually by a collection of instruments. Without all those you couldn't grasp the object in any way at all, there's just too much going on. Marey helped to pioneer high-speed photography for just this reason, to help people to see things they could never see without it, like the pelican in flight above.

What this means is that the phenomenon itself, the ordinary, everyday thing, is where all the complexity resides. That ordinary everyday pelican doing what for it is ordinary, everyday things, like swooping down to catch some fish, is magnitudes more complex than any of the sophisticated-looking knowledge about that activity that we come up with. Not that I want to subscribe to some silly idea about knowledge always being 'reductionist' - that one got a guernsey here, and in other places on the blog. Knowledge of something is always much simpler than the thing itself, but it never replaces the thing and so there's no reduction going on - it re-presents it, that's all.

Anyway, what I'm getting at is that the ordinary or the everyday is the most rich, interesting part of a life. No matter how much you travel or consume fine art, or whatever, it won't even come close to the degree of sophistication and complexity of the everyday things you do. Travel is an easy example, despite the appearance it gives of diversity and difference, new sights and sounds, when you peel it apart you're not truly engaged in any of those sights or sounds to anywhere near the same extent as you are with your ordinary life at home. You're always 'just passing through', no matter how hard you try to get the most out of it all. If you weren't you wouldn't be travelling, you'd have moved there. You're always just dipping your toe in the water, or maybe your foot, if you're a good traveller. You may meet lots of new, interesting people, but it's pretty skin-deep - you're not having to deal with them in any sort of ongoing, serious way. You're not having to make compromises.

Ditto for art. While an artistic representation of a bowl of fruit for example may be exquisitely rendered, it will never be as interesting or even remotely as complex as the actual bowl of fruit itself. And yet so often somebody might devote endless hours to the study of the art, and completely ignore the real bowl in its gorgeous presence.

This has a flow-on to how we understand knowledge as well. Next time for that.


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