Saturday, 13 March 2010

The everyday remains

I’ve just finished Frank McDonough’s gripping account of the life of Sophie Scholl, and I am struck once again by the slightly surreal resilience of everyday life in the most tragic and chilling circumstances. Distributing leaflets about the White Rose resistance movement at the University of Munich on 18 February 1943, she decided on impulse to throw the leaflets down the long stairwell of the entrance hall known as the ‘Lichthof’, and ‘they fluttered down like confetti at the exact moment the students started to pour out of the lecture theatres and seminar rooms’. Sophie and her brother Hans were shopped by one of the university porters and executed a few days later. It made me think of some of my own students, putting up posters about flatshares and adverts for bass players.

It is interesting how many of the great theorists of everyday life were formulating their theories in periods of historical crisis. Siegfried Kracauer’s work on office life was conducted during the death throes of Weimar Germany, as the aftermath of the 1929 Crash destroyed the fragile social reforms and economic recovery of the Stresemann era; and his theories of film and photography were forged out of his subsequent experiences of fascism and exile. Henri Lefebvre wrote his first book on everyday life in France in the immediate postwar era, when fuel, food and housing shortages made the simplest matters of quotidian life of pressing concern. The everyday can seem like a banal continuum existing outside of historical change; but historical crisis also makes the everyday visible, makes its taken for granted routines suddenly seem hard-won and precious.

Mundane quote for the day: ‘History appears as a transcendental reality occurring behind its back and bursting into the everyday in the form of a catastrophe into which an individual is thrown as “fatally” as cattle are driven to the slaughterhouse. …While the everyday appears as confidence, familiarity, proximity, as “home”, history appears as the derailment, the disruption of the everyday, as the exceptional and the strange. … History changes, the everyday remains.’ – Karel Kosik

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