As I sit on a train to the coast, I think about how much of this year has been about rediscovering the beauty of a simpler life. So much of my life pre-covid was about travel and community gatherings. Everything was experience-driven - the dinners, the reunions, the weddings. It was all about how extraordinary, memorable - and thus, meaningful - an event can be. Now, activities are stripped from their exotic texture. Everything is a little more... ordinary. But oh, there's still beauty.
Novelist Gorges Perec uses the term "infra-ordinary" to drive attention to the elements of everyday life that are so common that often remain unnoticed.
What speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event, the untoward, the extra-ordinary: the front-page splash, the banner headlines... Behind the event there is a scandal, a fissure, a danger, as if life reveals itself only by way of the spectacular, as if what speaks, what is significant, is always abnormal. [But] how should we take account of, question, describe what happens everyday and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?
If we can't host extraordinary events and gatherings for a while, can we envision a different type of experience design that is focused on the small, seemingly insignificant fabric that everything in our day is made of? Can we rethink the way we engage with our surroundings, people, objects, and ourselves?
This week I discovered that Abraham Maslow (who theorised the hierarchy of needs), described peak experiences as "rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, and elevating". They are experiences that generate an "advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter". It's the feeling of reaching our full potential. Towards the end of his life, however, Maslow praised a more sustained state of serenity that he called plateau-experiences. I like to think that while we are rediscovering life day-to-day, we are finding beauty in what experience can be, moment-to-moment.
What’s needed perhaps is finally to found our own anthropology, one that will speak about us, will look in ourselves for what for so long we’ve been pillaging from others. Not the exotic anymore, but the endotic. (Perec)