Friday, September 20, 2013

Ossi Naukkarinen replies to Tom Leddy on Everyday Aesthetics

First, I’d like to thank Tom for the excellent comments and questions. I feel very privileged to have such a sharp and rigorous reader.  [See previous post by Tom Leddy in this blog.]
As you say, we seem to agree on many issues but there are some points that call for further explanation. After that, we may still disagree on some questions – but in a fruitful way, I hope.
You propose that we could perhaps have use for a broader category of “life aesthetics”. That’s a good idea and I agree that my version of everyday aesthetics would cover only a part of that. In fact, the figure I present could be read in the way that in its entirety it would depict the field of “life aesthetics” or even “general aesthetics” whereas the core of it (the somewhat darker area within the inner dotted line) is the field of “everyday” in the sense I tried to describe it. Although, actually, the figure can be understood to depict “everydayness” and its relations to “non-everydayness” also in other contexts, not only in the ones related to aesthetics. The figure does not include the term “aesthetics” for it seeks to say something of everydayness in general.
I also agree that it is sometimes difficult to say exactly how often and regularly we should do something to make it of everyday kind in the sense I describe everydayness. Of course, there are not very many things we do exactly in the same way and literally every day, and I’m not after those cases only. To my mind, this issue can remain somewhat open. There are clear cases of repeated everyday activities such as eating (if we are not talking about very special fine-dine moments), and why not also things we do rather often such as Sunday drives – and equally clear cases of non-everyday events such as getting married or into a car accident; moments that are “wildly” unfamiliar. And border-line cases: holidays, maybe. I can happily accept variability, and try to judge case-by-case whether something is everyday-like or not. I think, as you suggest, that “the everyday is flexible enough to include the nearly every day” if we just remember to use the word “nearly” when needed.
Why did I bring in the word “necessarily” in the sentence you take up? Simply because I wanted to emphasize the self-evident but yet important fact that we cannot, in the end, live anyone else’s life and we must live our own, even if we can, I believe, share things with others. We – yes, we – all have our own perspective on the everyday because of our background, skills, knowledge, etc. and we cannot avoid having that as long as we live. We have limited possibilities for breaking the everyday even if we wanted that, which means that most of us, most of the time, necessarily live the everyday.  But ok, it might not be quite that important to accentuate this and there might be exceptions to the rule as I tried to point out.
How are exceptional events like Sunday drives based on everyday events? I’d say, for example, that also Sunday drives are drives, events where we use very common, normal, regularly used driving skills and do something non-everyday-like with the help of them. Everyday is the normal, non-everyday the exception. Exceptions don’t exist without something they are exceptions from.
I did not want to say that exciting, disturbing, great, interesting, etc. events and objects are not relevant and important for our lives and aesthetics as a philosophical discipline. That is why I state that “Most of us don’t want to have the routine on all the time, to just continue living the everyday.” I am not suggesting a normative approach that we should avoid special, exceptional and interesting things, aesthetic or otherwise. I like them too, and I would not like to lead a life that is only everyday-like and nothing else. Actually, I would hate it! I am, rather, describing an attitude and events that I believe deserve to be called everyday-like, and in its core, at least, I see the everyday as routine, familiar and why not also comfortable and peaceful. I guess I could have been clearer about the difference between the normative and descriptive approach.
The question of doing something automatically and still noticing its aesthetic aspects or properties is interesting. I agree that if you do something completely automatically you don’t really pay attention to this thing at all (breathing, most of the time, if you are not meditating or doing certain kinds of sports) – but it is somewhat different if you do something almost automatically. For example, I can prepare my daily cup of espresso almost automatically, pay attention to the aroma and taste, go through the whole process nearly automatically. There’s nothing special in it while it happens almost every day. It’s comfortable, routine, normal, and to me, the aesthetic quality of such a process, that I still notice very well, is of this kind, too. I just cannot agree on the thought that “the very fact of paying attention raises them out of the ordinary”. If this was the case, almost everything would be “out of the ordinary”. What would be ordinary then? I think we can have different attitudes towards things (coffee, cats, shadows) within the sphere of the everyday and other kinds of attitudes “outside” of it. What is inside and what is outside for whom, varies with time. That’s why I have dotted lines between different spheres, not closed borders. Yes, the “division lines” are not clear in the figure, because I don’t think they are clear in the world we live in.
I’m not quite sure whether I have been able to answer all the sharp questions you posed in your text. In fact, it seems that I would need to write a whole book to develop my points further, and perhaps I will. If I will, your comments will help me a lot. But for now, I just want to thank once more for excellent points – in their excellence they are definitely something quite non-everyday-like! 

Ossi Naukkarinen

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