Not extra-ordinary, but infra-ordinary
Joe Moran is this cool academic anthropologist of daily life, who also gets stuff in the Financial Times (pauses to wipe tear from eye at how much he’s missin’ the pink ‘un). His latest post is a paean to Georges Perec.
Perec’s stories and essays often engage in encyclopaedic listings of mundane places, objects and activities. In Espèces d’espaces [Species of Spaces, 1974], he makes a series of inventories of his neighbourhood in Paris, and urges his readers to think critically about how streets are named, houses are numbered and cars are parked: ‘You must set about it more slowly, almost stupidly. Force yourself to write down what is of no interest, what is most obvious, most common, most colourless.’ Perec’s method is a bit similar to the I-Spy Books, those monuments to trivia which have sent many a postwar British schoolchild on the pointless quest for a ‘no loading’ sign or a mini-roundabout. But in Perec the aim of this pained, excessive attention to apparently unpromising material is to access what he calls ‘the infra-ordinary,’ the sphere of daily existence that lies beneath notice or comment, and within which ‘we sleep through our lives in a dreamless sleep’.
The point of making lists is that it forces you to observe the world as neutrally and contemplatively as possible, without pretensions or prejudgements. ‘Make oneself into the court stenographer of reality, let reality impose itself without intervening,’ writes Perec, ‘… and thereby found our anthropology.’