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Philosophies of the Everyday: from Aesthetic Emancipations to Ethical Life

Lecturer: Sergio Mariscal

Originally Taught: Summer School 2015

6-8pm | 5 Wednesdays starting 21 Jan

The mundane, the space of domesticity, familiarity, repetitive activity, applications of norms, customs and non-specialised language: all of these elements and many others make the everyday into a very elusive category and yet a fundamental one for understanding the kinds of beings we are, what we do and our possibilities. Already in the work of Aristotle there are intimations of both, the relevance of everyday life as a valid focus for the philosophical gaze and the impossibility of reducing it to theoretical certainties. This difficulty has been inherited by the modern world with the added concern that the everyday has become a realm of intensified conflict and contestation. It is rather surprising then that it was only in the past century that everyday life acquired the status of a worthy topic for philosophers. Furthermore, it was only with the theoretical re-casting prompted by the social movements of the sixties that the dynamics of the everyday, its configuration and more importantly, the potential for transformation implicit in it came under a more widespread and sustained scrutiny.

In contrast to the tardiness of the philosophical eye, artistic and literary practice has concerned itself with the everyday in a more consistent way. This is evident from a number of movements running from genre painting and then genre photography to the subversive interventions of surrealism and situationism. It is not surprising then to find that in the theoretical realm the everyday has often been linked to aesthetics and aesthetic emancipation and mostly through theories of the avant-garde. This has been both illuminating and reductive. The aim of this subject is to explore the very elusive notion of the everyday, noting its aesthetic appraisal and critique but taking as a starting point a more comprehensive approach.

Two main forms of understanding the subject will be dealt with: one that touches on phenomenological aspects and another one that refers to the critique of the everyday. Phenomenologically we will address questions regarding ‘repetition’ and ‘reflexion’ as ways of marking time; ‘home’ as a way of having space; and the relationship between habit and creativity. Within the critical approach we will explore the relationship between everyday life and second order reflexivity. Furthermore, we will look at some of the guises under which the everyday has been critically addressed: as a mould for the petrification of bourgeois values that ought to be transcended because it sets in stone patterns of consumption, conventional behaviour, hetero-normativity and ennui; everyday life as the realm of heterogeneity from where the drive to surveillance and order implicit in social systems can be disturbed; everyday life as the stage of intersubjective relationships that needs to be defended in the face of colonisation by the systems of money and power; and everydayness as the site for virtue without transcendence.

The points of departure and arrival will be provided by the work of Agnes Heller but other approaches will be also examined, in particular those of Henri Lefebvre and Raoul Vaneigem, Michel de Certeau and Tzvetan Todorov. A number of literary, artistic and cinematic works will be addressed: James Joyce, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Dutch painting from the 17th century, Marcel Duchamp, Piero Manzoni, Guy Debord and Chris Marker. The lectures are set at an introductory level and hence no previous knowledge of the subject is required.