UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Into the heartland of the ordinary Blake, Miriam J.


The thesis examines various theoretical framings of the relation between the ordinary and the extraordinary in Western thought and art. In particular, it examines the ambivalence of theorizing with respect to its own extraordinary character, i.e. its acknowledgement of the implications of theorizing for mundane social life. Descartes is treated as a pivotal figure in that he attempted the formulation of a Method which would liberate thought from the grasp of habit and tradition, while at the same time advocating an allegiance to the 'customs of the country'. Amongst contemporaries, the cultural critic Slavoj Zizek and the ethnomethodologist Harvey Sacks are treated as resources for alternative formulations of the collective interest in the relations between the ordinary and the extraordinary. Zizek's injunction to "look awry" at the habitual and the commonplace is understood as interventionist, since it calls for a radical shift in our relations to the ordinary by recognizing the place of desire in mundane accounts of the lifeworld. Sacks, on the other hand, can be read as a theorist committed to "affirming the ordinary", to borrow Charles Taylor's phrase, in so far as his analysis of the ordinary segregates it from the artfulness of theorizing. Finally, employing the work of Jeff Wall and our contemporary ways of conceiving the house, the thesis looks at the relation between the ordinary and the beautiful as another site where the question of affirming the commonplace and acknowledging the extraordinary can be asked anew in the interests of a strong sociological conception of the nature of the ordinary.

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