How to Do Things with the Ordinary
Richard Deming, a poet and theorist at Yale University whose work explores the intersections of poetry, philosophy, and visual culture, thinks that the ordinary has things to teach us about belief and skepticism, and about hope and despair, about our own lives as reflected in the lives of others -- if we pay attention. "The everyday," he says, "seeks to reveal and engage the ongoing occasions for interpretation and imagination that are encountered everywhere in daily life." Using examples ranging from the philosopher of film Stanley Cavell, stand-up comic Stephen Wright, artist Andy Warhol, and the photographer Thomas Struth, Deming weaves a paradoxical narrative about how self-consciousness enables a distance from everyday life that is, because of its proximity, at the furthest remove from our ability to perceive it and become fully aware of it. And the ordinary, in fact, he says, following in the footsteps of figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, is what most needs to be discovered.
But such a perplexing position leads to thinking not only about what makes up what we can “the ordinary” but also about the process by which we examine such a condition. Deming thinks that by paying closer attention to and interrogating everyday situations -- a stand-up comic’s routine, a Brillo box (the ones featured in this blog entry are not Warhol's, but rather Mike Bidlo's famed 2005 copy, "Not Warhol"), or a Hollywood movie -- we might glimpse the ways in which philosophy (the kind that teaches us better how to live) is shot through everything. Seen as such, Deming says, "everything has the potential to call for attention, engagement, acknowledgment."