It is a startling thing to crave ordinariness. I hide behind startling. It is terrifying to crave ordinariness. To believe that there is something that feels full of ordinariness, a moment, a situation, an event, those accretions we term life. To imagine that there is something full of ordinariness, a moment, a situation, an event, those accretions we term living. As though the universe offers a pearl that can be desired, even attained. Ordinariness. And if one craves ordinariness, does that render one’s professed queerness obsolescent?
“Fag,” mutters the guy walking behind me as a faggy guy walks toward and past us. Identification shatters. I understand the “fag,” directed toward a white gay aestheticism that disappears “people like us,” even as I disidentify with the guy who continues to mutter. I cross the street to avoid being next to him, seen even to know him, change my pace as I walk past the ATM, refuse to use it because he’s too close. My “fag” may not be vocalized, but it’s there, too close, making my current residence in a gay enclave different. I could have lived here when I was 24. Not now.
It is seductive to believe in the world of beer ads. Those people who seemingly navigate the conversational and the daily with jogs, gyms, girlfriends, and beers. Who play music in bands and swap stories with buddies. The seductive homosocial. I know this fantasy dissolves when one imagines the actors who smiled through their lines as they worried about the next gig, about bills, about careers that might stall at a beer ad.
Fantasy refuses materiality.
What one knows is always fighting against what one imagines. One can only cite Althusser, citing Marx, on the making of the “ordinary”: “Marx noted that English workers need beer while French proletarians need wine.” If one reads blogs by academics—which I do—our ordinary seems to include vast amounts of alcohol leavened by running and yoga and TV. And very fashionable expensive eyewear. Well, as expensive as our jobs can afford.
To envision the ordinary as an “object” requires misrecognition, the kind of necessary misrecognition that allows us to identify scenes, events, situations, moments, these spatio-temporal renderings of time, as part of a meaning-producing whole.
Retirement parties are much like eulogies.
It must be terrifying to hear the preview of one’s eulogy, to understand how you have been valued, while you are still around. As always, Prufrock:
That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.
Is there a moment when others are talking that one recognizes that what one valued, what one really thought mattered, has been grossly misrecognized in the ideological reproduction of shared values? How terrifying.
A quick scan of blogposts over the past few years reveals a fascination with something variously called the “banal,” the “quotidian,” “propinquity,” the “everyday,” what I am now calling the fantasy of the ordinary. I wanted these terms to work beside a queer focus on the “normative,” to register ideological complexity without plunging (inevitably) into a critique of disciplinarity. I think this makes sense.
One might date this fascination back to an early encounter with Eliot—that wonderful image of measuring one’s life with coffee spoons. But also the modernist Ngugi as he records Waiyaki’s struggle to inhabit an elusive ordinary. Waiyaki is trying to build an ordinary from fragments whose edges he dare not understand.
Dating this fascination is not very important. In fact, not important at all.
What is it to experience ordinariness? What is the fantasy that something exists apart from what one does from moment to moment that can be termed “ordinariness”?
Class aspiration and achievement in a certain Kenya was shiny vaselined children. Years later, Vaseline would aid fantasies to completion. And, later, grant flesh to fantasies. But this is the transformation of Vaseline from the public realm to the private, from being a sign of shared public achievement to private achievement to private shame. As though ordinariness maps onto a shared linearity, as fictional and as consequential as longitudes and latitudes.
Vaseline, that unsuitable, much-used lubricant.
One is lubricated into ordinariness.
According to the technology that tracks these things, I last updated this blog post, or looked at it in May 2012. I’m returning to it in November, still interested in ordinariness, but now infused with a different sense of it. I’m reading Elizabeth Povinelli’s Economies of Abandonment, and I want to use some of her language here:
I am interested in forms of suffering and dying, enduring and expiring, that are ordinary, chronic, and cruddy rather than catastrophic, crisis-laden, and sublime. [I’m’] interested in the quasi-events that saturate potential worlds and their social projects. If events are things that we can say happened such that they have a certain objective being, then quasi-events never quite achieve the status of having occurred or taken place. They neither happen nor not happen. I am not interested in these quasi-events in some abstract sense, but in the concrete ways that they are, or are not, aggregated and thus apprehended, evaluated, and grasped as ethical and political demands in specific late liberal markets, publics, and states, as opposed to crises and catastrophes that seem to necessitate ethical reflection and political and civic engagement.
The “cruddy” the “sucky” the prolonged and elongated quotidian experiences that make ordinariness feel all the more desirable and elusive.
I have resisted the phrase “new normal” because of the temporal amnesia that it suggests, naming as break or rupture what is often relocation and intensification. Also, suggesting that the “normal” in some way registers acquiescence. This might be a language game, but I think the length of “ordinariness,” its clunky appearance and absurd spelling might mark a certain clunky sociality—or clunky distance from and embedding in sociality—that I need.
But I am tentative.
I must end, provisionally, on Vaseline.
If Vaseline at 6 and 7 lubricated Kenyan children to enter a shared, shiny, reflective sociality, where faces and polished shoes reflected off each other, Vaseline at 13 and 14 caused one to break out, ushering one into a different kind of pimple sociality. A roughened, abrasive, embarrassing world. Where our bodies created narratives we could not anticipate and could not control.
One rushed away from Vaseline, only to re-discover it. Faces stopped being shiny, but jars kept being emptied. This, too, is another story of ordinariness.