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The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: The…

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: The Aesthetics of Everyday Life

by Thomas Leddy

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Aesthetics deals with the beautiful and the sublime so we are trained to think of aesthetic experience happening when we visit a museum to see an exhibit of Claude Monet or go to a concert to hear a Mozart string quartet. Or, if we expand our vision a bit, we imagine aesthetic experience happening if we climb a mountain and breathlessly scan the entire mountain range. But how about the other 99.9% of our modern lives, when we are drinking our morning coffee or discussing the local weather or putting out the garbage, that is, our world other than the world of art and nature? To help us appreciate and more completely understand the depth of this question, Thomas Leddy has written his book addressing the aesthetics of everyday life.

By my eye, one key statement made by the author is: "We call something an aesthetic phenomenon when it is perceived aesthetically, and all non-art phenomena can be perceived aesthetically under some circumstances; one needs simply look at it in the right way or provide it with a suitable framing or background story." So, going back to our drinking our morning cup of coffee, we can have an aesthetic experience on many levels: the feel of the mug in our hand, appreciating the smell of coffee freshly made, the kinesthetic sense of our body as we move the mug to our lips, delighting in the strong taste of the Colombian mix. How many aesthetic experiences do we have in the course of our usual day? The answer can be seen in terms of the degree of our awareness of the world in and around us. Thus, the title of Leddy's book `The Extraordinary in the Ordinary'.

Leddy gives a brief history of what philosophers said about everyday aesthetics, from Plato and Marcus Aurelius disdaining our senses to modern thinkers like Hume, Kant, Emerson, Pater, Tolstoy and Dewey, who, in their own way, appreciate the aesthetics of the everyday world. There is even a Non-Western section. For example, here are four historical references cited by Leddy in framing everyday aesthetics:

--"I see the relationship Hegel finds between art and life as dialectical. That is, the art responds to everyday life which in turn is seen in terms of the art."

--"In sum, Marx argues that the loss of production according to the laws of beauty under conditions of capitalism give rise to alienation, i.e., an unnatural separation from one's species-being and species-life. Thus, the everyday activity of production should, ideally for Marx, be aesthetic."

--" In France, Charles Baudelaire drew attention to the ways that the daily life of the city can be appreciated from the standpoint of a special kind of aesthetic observer, which he called the "flâneur." This word is often translated as "stroller" or "lounger" but also carries the implication of savouring the delights of the city."

--" Sei Shōnagon (a court lady serving a Japanese empress around 1000 A.D.) represents a certain type of aesthetic ideal: the aesthete." (Leddy notes how she includes things like a pretty child eating strawberries and a white coat worn over a violet waistcoat in her list of elegant things).

Leddy goes on to have us consider the importance of everyday aesthetics and everyday aesthetics in the various art traditions. We are asked to reflect on a number of philosophical positions, for example, Paul Duncan arguing "that because of social, economic, and technological changes, everyday aesthetics has become preeminent, overshadowing fine art." By thinking through such positions with Leddy, we come to have a greater appreciation of the scope of everyday aesthetics in our day-to-day lives.

All of what is written above is drawn from Chapter 1, which is meant to simply whet the appetite. For a complete multi-course meal, I would urge anybody interested in aesthetic experience and expanding awareness to pick up a copy of Leddy's book and give it a good, careful read. The experience will prove to be not only most enjoyable but, dare I say, aesthetic. ( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 155111478X, Paperback)

This book explores the aesthetics of the objects and environments we encounter in daily life. Thomas Leddy stresses the close relationship between everyday aesthetics and the aesthetics of art, but places special emphasis on neglected aesthetic terms such as ‘neat,’ ‘messy,’ ‘pretty,’ ‘lovely,’ ‘cute,’ and ‘pleasant.’ The author advances a general theory of aesthetic experience that can account for our appreciation of art, nature, and the everyday.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:05 -0400)

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