Dorfman begins Foundations of the Everyday by discussing the contemporary importance given to “experience,” where living would consist in “events”—the most important, defining moments in life—conceived in contradistinction to the homogenous “everyday.” Rather than endorsing either experience to the exclusion of the everyday, or vice versa, Foundations consists in a thematization of the origins of, and the problems associated with, this dichotomy within late modernity, ultimately articulating a clearer understanding of the dynamics between the two.
As one might surmise from the title, Dorfman carries out this project in terms of the conceptual architecture associated with “trauma”: understood in terms of shock, the extraordinary is “integrated into the everyday” through the related mechanisms of deferral and repetition, where shocks are deferred and “the new is integrated into the old” through repetition (4). Crucial here is the claim that, not only is it impossible to understand the extraordinary apart from the ordinary, but also, for this reason, the everyday is a positive category in its own right (90). However, as mechanisms of the everyday, shock, deferral, and repetition have transformed in late modernity. This transformation has been a condition of late modernity (5).
Although the rise of standardization and mechanization leads many to characterize modern life as uniform, and therefore lacking in experience, Dorfman claims that precisely the opposite is the case: late modernity consists in too much experience (21), where shocks are “hardly deferred or deferred too much” (4). He ultimately claims that “that negativity” within modernity “stems not only from the realm of the ‘too little’ but also from the ‘too much’ in an age of infinite choices” (188).
Dorfman begins by discussing this claim in relation to Georg Simmel’s analyses of the modern city, as well as Catherine Malabou’s criticisms of “flexibility” and praise for “plasticity.” Whereas “flexibility” refers to mechanical processes necessary “to adapt and survive” in a quickly changing modern world that is lacking predictability and routine (20)—in this regard, given its emphasis on the new, “flexibility goes hand in hand with an aversion to repetition” (21)—“plasticity” refers to a creative engagement with changing circumstances. Malabou thus characterizes the crisis of the everyday as one of plasticity (20).
Responding to this characterization, Dorfman writes that the “question is not” so much “how to avoid flexibility but rather how to play on the huge variety the modern everyday offers, how to constitute a routine—an everyday—which would permit emotion, personal value and meaningful identity” (20). He spends the largest part of Foundations examining authors whose work addresses this problematic and describing phenomena indicative of it for the sake of developing a conceptual framework in terms of which to resolve it. As the book’s content is too rich to justly describe in the format allowed by a review, in what follows I simply chart the book’s broader structure with reference to the major figures that Dorfman discusses.
Whereas the aim of Husserl’s phenomenological reduction consists in a suspension of the everyday so as to better found it, Heidegger discovers this foundation in the everyday itself, through the foundation of, and breakdown within, the world through the use of tools (48). In [End Page 214] Dasein’s “average everydayness,” the negativity lying at the heart of one’s world—wherein tools would cease to work and the world would break down as a result—is avoided or concealed. However, deficiencies within Heidegger’s account—specifically that there is no negation in Dasein’s existence (56)—lead to an examination of Merleau-Ponty’s account of the body.
Unlike Heidegger, for whom only a “pure form of nothingness” would be “enough” (57) (i.e. death becomes one’s “ownmost possibility”), Merleau-Ponty locates negativity within the body: that is, the body as lacking (72). Here Dorfman provides a masterful analysis of dancing as a way into Merleau-Ponty’s account of the body (68), wherein the body connects one to the world.
Dancing never takes place in a void but generally with music...