Friday, November 6, 2009

ordinary leaves

One of the many things that I admire about Kathleen Stewart's Ordinary Affects is the way in which she suggests that in part, we register the ordinary through our knowledge of interruptions - things that break into everyday life. These needn't be the potentially traumatic (the knock on the door, the late night phone call), though of course she registers the ominous power of such things to break apart what she calls the cocoon of home. Rather, they can be interruptions caused by things that in themselves are ordinary: the "rogue intensities [that] roam the streets of the ordinary" (44). "At odd moments in the course of the day," she writes, you may raise your head in surprise or alarm at the uncanny sensation of a half-known influence" (60). Her example, at this point, is completely different from my own - she goes on to write about the sudden blast of personal tragic histories that comes across when one sees a "homeless and hungry" sign, say. But overall, in discussing the affect of the everyday - how it can seem redolent of something important that we can't quite name; that isn't symbolic, but that exceeds simple description - when, in other words, she's talking about the mysterious power of things - she hits (as I suggested yesterday) at something that's very close to what I think I'm attempting in my own recording of the everyday.

For here - not in a human-made object, but in a suddenly seen branch on campus - is a view that's very ordinary (fall leaves); that could certainly be forced into literary alliances (Shakespeare's "bare ruined choirs", or Coleridge's "one red leaf," etc.); but that basically has an aesthetic pull that, through its symmetry, makes an appeal on one. That last phrase is a limp one, because the whole point of such an affect is that one isn't talking about something that's easily read in symbolic terms, or that can be reduced to a neat, recognizable emotion. Maybe I should try writing differently to tackle the problem of isolating one's feelings, and adopt Stewart's strategy of using the third person: "she walked under the tree, and then suddenly stopped. fumbling in her bag for her camera, convinced that there was something here that she wanted to write about, even if she couldn't quite put a name to it...".

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