Saturday, August 7, 2010

beurre

This has turned out as the oddest of images: it looks like a suspended piece of Victorian taxidermy - a rat wearing a yellow waistcoat, say. Actually, it's some butter ... which I'd just started to mutilate in order to feed tiny, tiny pieces to three of the four cats, who jump on the table in the morning requesting it (which is why old newspapers in our house often carry small, hard to identify greasy smears).

This is a daily ritual - the beurring of cats. This takes me back, at last, to the topic of the everyday (for I do have to write an article on "The Novel and the Everyday" by the end of this month, and despite much musing and some note taking on the topic over the year, my brain has been on a kind of shut-down for a while when it comes to my own thinking. But no longer!). And this image manages to bring two aspects of the everyday very happily together: everyday in the sense of the repetitive, the ordinary, the humdrum - feeding the cats their little tiny bits of butter is as much a part of (comforting, not deadening) daily routine as drinking strong mugs of Ohori's coffee. Yet this picture also makes something very everyday (a rather messy packet of butter, a counter-top, the bottom of a flower jug) strange. I came across for the first time, today, Georg Simmel's words in his "Sociological Aesthetics" (1896):
Even the lowest, intrinsically ugly phenomenon can be dissolved into contexts of color and
form, feeling and experience which provides it with significance. To involve ourselves
deeply and lovingly with the even most common product, which would be banal and
repulsive in its isolated appearance, enables us to conceive of it, too, as a ray and
image of the final unity of all things from which beauty and meaning flow.
I'm not sure about that final Bradleyan piece of philosophy, but the opening sentences are like an aesthetic manifesto for the importance of the everyday. Simmel doesn't take into account, however, the inadvertent appearance of a hanging rodent.

Just in case you're worrying about the bluebirds, they are still in their house, still chirping. But I was at my desk this afternoon and a huge flurry of brown and cream feathers came past, and I had to go out and shout and wave at a huge hawk who was sitting in the tree, staring straight at their little wooden home just a few feet away.

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