A Politics of the Ordinary

A Politics of the Ordinary

Thomas L. Dumm
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    A Politics of the Ordinary
    Book Description:

    In A Politics of the Ordinary, Thomas Dumm dramatizes how everyday life in the United States intersects with and is influenced by the power of events, on the one hand, and forces of conformity and normalcy on the other. Combining poststructuralist analysis with a sympathetic reading of a strain of American thought that begins with Emerson and culminates in the work of Stanley Cavell, A Politics of the Ordinary investigates incidents from everyday life, political spectacles, and popular culture. Whether juxtaposing reflections about boredom in rural New Mexico with Emerson's theory of constitutional amendment, Richard Nixon's letter of resignation with Thoreau's writings to overcome quiet desperation, or demonstrating how Disney's Toy Story allegorizes the downsizing of the American white-collar work force, Dumm's constant concern is to show how the ordinary is the primary source of the democratic political imagination.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4523-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    Ordinary life, the life-world, the everyday, the quotidian, the low, the common, the private, the personal—everybody knows what the ordinary is. The ordinary is what everybody knows. The ordinary gives us a sense of comfort; it allows us to make certain predictions about what will happen; it provides the context for the text we provide. The ordinary allows us to assume a certain constancy of life. It is reliable. We can count on it. The sun sets, the sun rises, another day of life begins. No matter what else happens, we live our lives in the manner of ordinary...

  5. 1 A Politics of the Ordinary
    (pp. 10-49)

    The television set is on in the middle of the day in western Massachusetts; it is deep in the winter of 1991.CNN Headline Newstells its viewers about a multiple murder that has occurred somewhere in northern New Mexico. The outline of a mesa serves as a backdrop for a reporter on the scene set along an arroyo in Chimayo, a village in the heart of the Sangre de Christo Mountains. The reporter tells of a man who has just slain his estranged common-law wife, her sister, her mother, his daughter, and a sheriff and deputy who had come...

  6. 2 Resignation
    (pp. 50-70)

    When we are bored, we allow ourselves a certain liberty that can take the form of a kind of self-conscious pause. This is a moment of loneliness that sometimes leads us to deep reflections concerning the human condition. Such an experience is democratically available to anyone who is willing and able to move past the distractions offered up as the fruits of the social contract, to resist the way our commodities come to establish themselves as the conditional terms through which we live together. The most democratic claim we may make in this regard is that we might all be...

  7. 3 Compensation
    (pp. 71-89)

    When we return from resignation to the world of society, we turn to a certain tradition of justice and injustice, though the principles by which people attempt to derive laws from claims of reason often obscure the idea that justice itself may be a tradition. But what does it mean to say that there is a tradition of modern justice? And what are its insufficiencies? Kafka’s question might not even be posed in reference to justice but only in reference to punishment, which surely must be something different, even metaphorically. Our most banal and common metaphor of justice is the...

  8. 4 Civil Society
    (pp. 90-117)

    Cultivation is dirty work. It entails everyday patience and impatience, care and carelessness, conversation, gesture, housecleaning, grocery shopping, taking out the trash, pulling weeds, making dinner, putting kids to bed, trying to listen to a friend when you don’t really have it in you, attending to the pain of a loved one. All in all, cultivation is a process of commitment. It involves all the quotidian obligations and routines that require thought at its lower register, often draining thought and frustrating the illusions of a higher ambition, in the hope and sense that this gesture or that chore is what...

  9. 5 Toy Stories
    (pp. 118-138)

    Let us make a reasonable assumption: I’m a white man in charge. After all, as I write this chapter I am a full professor at one of the elite colleges in the United States. I teach about American politics to young people who are either the privileged children of very privileged people or who, on the basis of merit and luck, are becoming privileged people. I enjoy my own privileges based on my whiteness, maleness, in chargeness. I project whatever social confidence I enjoy in large part on the basis of unspoken assumptions about how I can posture as a...

  10. 6 Aliens
    (pp. 139-158)

    In his monumental study of the medieval monarchy, Ernst Kantorowitz introduces modern readers to the politico-theological concept of the King’s Two Bodies. Kantorowitz refers his readers to Edmund Plowden’sReports, in which Plowden remarked of a case predating the reign of Queen Elizabeth concerning the authority of the monarchy:

    For the King has in him two Bodies,viz., a Body natural, and a Body politic. His Body natural (if it be considered in itself ) is a Body mortal, subject to all infirmities that come by Nature or Accident, to the Imbecility of Infancy or old Age, and to the...

  11. 7 Wild Things
    (pp. 159-170)

    In the spring of 1989, Jean Baudrillard attended a conference at the University of Montana in Missoula that was devoted to a wide-ranging exploration of his work and its cultural implications. After delivering the keynote lecture for the conference, he listened to a response by an American L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poet and then editor of theSocialist Review, Ron Silliman. Silliman allegorized Baudrillard as “the drag queen of theory.”¹ Misunderstanding Silliman’s comments; or taking the compliment as too little, too late; or deciphering a deep insult that some of us missed; or suffering from an uncharacteristic failure of imagination, for some reason...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 171-204)
  13. Index
    (pp. 205-214)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 215-216)