Unreal Nature

July 22, 2016

The Unusualness of What Is Usual

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… Wonder is ‘between’ the usual and the unusual insofar as it is in wonder that the usual is unusual and vice-versa.

This is from Fischli and Weiss: The Way Things Go, by Jeremy Millar (2007):

… The philosopher Arthur C. Danto, in his brilliance, writes essays on it; my four-year-old daughter, in her brilliance, asks to watch it on TV. It is a work — and this is a rare thing indeed — about which I have yet to hear a bad word spoken, a work whose public popularity has not diminished the seriousness with which it is regarded by people within the ‘art world.’

… the objects within The Way Things Go — the actors, or those that act — are no more than they need to be; if they are required to roll down a slope, then that is what they shall do, and no more. A chair tips up because it has been knocked off balance; a candle lights a fuse because it has been rolled underneath it; a pair of shoes waddle down a slope. Here there is no need for athletic bodies, for heads raised, arms outstretched, legs readied, steadied; Hermes’s winged sandals are superfluous when all that is required is that a pair of trundling loafers clatter into an oil drum.

[ … ]

… If it is the rigidity of that which is alive that makes us laugh — ‘something mechanical encrusted on the living’ — then the same is also true when the terms are reversed, viz. when something inanimate takes on the characteristics of the living. I would suggest that this is what occurs in The Way Things Go, and is one of the reasons for its humor.

[line break added] There are moments when, instead of acting automatically and with immediacy, simply falling or rolling, the objects seem to hesitate, as if reflecting on what it is they are about to do: the tyre resting among the burning newspapers before moving on, and resting again before rolling on once more; the can being filled with water before sliding down the orange slope; the lazy unfolding of the inflatable bed, like an arm stretching during a yawn.

[line break added] Of course, this is not always the case, and often the objects act exactly as we would expect, but there are occasions enough when the supposed symmetry of classical causality — ‘to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction,’ in the famous formulation of Newton’s third law of motion — does not occur, and the object falters, or fails to respond for some time, or seems to respond disproportionately.

… Descartes himself thought astonishment ‘makes the whole body [and mind] remain immobile like a statue [ … ] and therefore cannot acquire any more particular knowledge,’ while Bacon scorned the natural philosophers whose enquiries ‘ever breaketh off in wondering and not in knowing.’ These concerns grew ever stronger, and by the middle of the eighteenth century wonder and curiosity were once again opposed to one another, although now their respective statuses were the opposite of those they’d held in the age of Augustine.

[line break added] Now, ‘noble curiosity worked hard and shunned enticing novelties; vulgar wonder wallowed in the pleasures of novelty and obstinately refused to remedy the ignorance that aroused it.’ Curiosity had become earnest application; wonder little more than gaudy spectacle.

Heidegger explores three terms that he believes are incorrectly viewed as synonymous with wonder — amazement, admiration and astonishment — but he is also keen to show how different they are from what must have originally been meant by the concept.

… As Brad Stone has remarked in his commentary on the lectures of Heidegger:

Unlike curiosity, which presupposes that there is a difference between the usual and the unusual (the extraordinary), wonder is an attunement in which one finds even the usual to be extraordinary. The wondrous is not the extraordinary; instead, it is the unusualness of what is usual. As Heidegger states, ‘in wonder [ … ] everything becomes the most unusual [ … ] Everything in what is most usual (beings) becomes in wonder the most unusual in this one respect: that it is ‘what it is.’ [ … ] The extraordinary is right under our noses; what is wondrous is that beings ‘be.’

I think that this is perhaps as succinct and accurate a summation of the practice of Fischli and Weiss as I have found. In denying a distinction between the usual and the unusual, between the ordinary and the extraordinary, wonder allows no escape into, or retreat from, the unusualness of usual beings. As Stone points out, if everything is unusual, then there is no ‘usual’ to which we can return once we tire of the unusual, nor is there a ‘usual’ for us to flee in our pursuit of curiosity. He continues:

Once in this attunement, there is no way to overcome or to avoid wonder; one must think. Wonder shows that the usual and the unusual are two sides of the same coin: that beings ‘be,’ whether we take them for granted as merely being ‘usual,’ or by philosophically thinking of them in their extraordinariness. Wonder is ‘between’ the usual and the unusual insofar as it is in wonder that the usual is unusual and vice-versa.





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