The Challenge of the Everyday
I believe in my last post I chose a misleading example — writing. Writing is more or less monumental; it is a discrete event, a happening that takes place outside the drone and hum, or within the drone and hum but not quite as part of the drone and hum.
A better example, methinks, is getting dressed. Or taking a shower. Or eating breakfast. Or going to the bathroom, washing dishes, brushing teeth. You get the idea: everyday things, banal things, things that we do regularly and often as the basic maintenance of daily life.
These are the things that slip readily into habit: we do them without paying the least attention. Perhaps that's the way it should be. After all, who wants to pay attention to washing the dishes, especially when there are so many other things to think about — what Deleuze means by pure immanence, for instance, or how you can somehow seduce your co-worker or whether you need to cut your toenails.
But there is much in washing dishes — the sensation of warm water on your hands and running through your fingers, the way soap plays along sponge and dish, the give of grease. The wonders of the universe reside within that banal task of washing dishes. (Eeesh! Do I sound like a Buddhist?)
There's a great little essay by William Burroughs, "DE, or Do Easy" in "Exterminator!" Every task, he claims, has a rhythm, a mode. The trick is to find this mode, to heed the circumstance, to pay attention and, suddenly, you're doing easy. I like this because it stays in the realm of thermodynamic system thinking: it's about expenditure of energy.
But I do believe there is a beauty as well, and not just an efficiency, to heeding the moment, to truly enjoying the feel of bristle on gum or water on hands. After all, that is life happening. Just because it's banal doesn't mean it's not of value. This is all there is.
This, in a sense, democratizes experience. Rather than there being a hierarchy of events — these are important, those are not — this approach ushers in a field of endless wonder and differentiation: the world flows with the contours of itself, an undulating plane of intensities.
But this is truly demanding work. At every turn, habit is a temptation. To heed each and every moment, to live through every moment, to live well with things however seemingly banal, this is the great challenge of life. It's so demanding that we — or I do, at least — fill the empty space with noise — tv and news and music and porn and work and texting and anxiety and chitchat, all distractions from the banality and yet each, of course, so banal itself.
This is why the shows about people surviving incredible events don't do it for me. It may be cool that some dude survived being lost at sea for two months. But show we someone who can survive bourgeois life, day in and day out, and truly heed their lives and I will be awestruck, dumbfounded, torn asunder.
Kierkegaard says that the person of faith — the knight of faith — a rare if not impossible person — lives simultaneously in the infinite and the finite. With each step he takes, he moves from the finite to the infinite and back. There does not seem to be anything extraordinary about the knight of faith. He doesn't glow. He lives his everyday life but he does so extraordinarily. That, alas, is the task at hand: to live the infinite within the finite.
Any schmuck can rise to the occasion. The trick is to heed all occasions.