The everyday: what is most difficult to discover
I want this course to serve as a jumping off point for you to explore your own relationship with the cultural life of the city. We are living in the place that we are studying. That’s pretty unique, an event, insofar as it enables us to bring life, thought, and research together.
This emphasis on the existential, the everyday (a modern concept, if ever there was one), is also why I ride and build mopeds with a community of people who share a similar desire to explore the unknown city that is San Francisco. As my friend Benji once said “It’s about rediscovering San Francisco. Riding around on streets no one has ever heard of, ending up on some street at two in the morning with your friends.” This is about experiencing the unknown, the new and the different, or experiencing the known and familiar in new and different ways. And through these wanderings, discovering places you’ve never seen or even heard of before, like the Seward Street Slides, or the Wave Organ. Such experiences of the new and the different can allow us to enter into history; insofar as history (as Walter Benjamin argued) can only emerge once the presents “image of itself”— as unending”progress” and the continuation of the monotonous, homogenous, and linear time of modernity—has been interrupted.
I want you to think about your research in this course in a way that is as vital and alive as our own experiences of this singular space. We are reading about the lives and experiences others have had in this city since its founding. One way we can enter into this cultural history is through our own experiences, encounters, exposures, and relations with this place in the present.
The critical term “everyday life” is much contested. Some scholars use the term in a historicist manner: pointing, for example, to specific works of human expression, modes of living, and consuming as evocations of a more literal “everyday life” of the past (particularly with regard to what we have excluded from our usual histories, such as gender, race, and sex). For others, the concept of the “everyday” is something inherently non-representative, something that needs to be invented and discovered. It is inseparable from the creation of new ways of thinking and living. I mention these usages of the term here because some of the textual material in this course will clearly make use of the first model of thinking the “everyday.” It is up to every student in the course to decide, for themselves, how to go about using this material in a way that may draw out the latter sense of “everyday life.” I believe that both ways of thinking this term have their place in this course and the work that we will do together.