Refiguring the Ordinary

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Overview

If social, political, and material transformation is to have a lasting impact on individuals and society, it must be integrated within ordinary experience. Refiguring the Ordinary examines the ways in which individuals' bodies, habits, environments, and abilities function as horizons that underpin their understandings of the ordinary. These features of experience, according to Gail Weiss, are never neutral, but are always affected by gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, and perceptions of bodily normality. While no two people will experience the ordinary in exactly the same way, the multiplicities, possibilities, overlaps, and limitations of day-to-day horizons are always intersubjectively constituted. Weiss turns her attention to changing the conditions and experiences of oppression from ordinary to extraordinary. This book is an impressive phenomenological, feminist reading of the complexities of human experience.M. V. Marder, University of Toronto, Feb. 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Feminist Review - Brittany Shoot
In the last decade alone, how many have perceived the "ordinary" has drastically shifted. September 11th, if it can be evoked without vulgar sentimentality, brought a fresh worldview to many around the globe, most significantly to Americans and those living in the occupied Middle East. In literary circles, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking has caused more than a few thoughtful readers to consider that what we believe is pedestrian, everyday, and commonplace may instantly vanish. Even a high school student forced to read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis has realized that in an instant, life can be radically altered. "Ordinary" is simply not as we believe it to be, and exists on a spectrum of experience we often fail to consider.

Gail Weiss’s deeply engaging Refiguring the Ordinary comes on the heels of a remarkable decade and at a time when authenticity seems to be quite a buzzword in a world of MySpace—a space you can personalize, show off the essence of who you are—and YouTube, which begs of you to "broadcast yourself." It’s easy to understand the power of your own authenticity when we’ve all long been told that we—as feminists, women, oppressed minorities—have a right to our own voices and stories, that we are the ones who can best speak our truth to power. But what if authenticity itself is merely existentialism gone wrong, subjective judgments that still have little bearing on reality? How are we to be the judges of our own pure interpretations? —Refiguring the Ordinary repositions the ideas of existentialism and begins at a departure from the binary of the self and other in Western philosophy, arguing that perhaps this dichotomy is a lie.

Weiss relies on a wide range of philosophers, from the rather anti-feminist Heidegger to Sartre to radical thinkers like Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler, one of the greatest living feminist philosophers of our time. Weiss’s insistence to include a variety of perspectives is both a compliment to the intelligence of her assumed audience and a demonstration of her commitment to an inclusive academic investigation into the ordinary. Of particular interest to scholars and philosopher-activists alike is her entire section, multiple chapters, dedicated to deconstructing racist, classist, sexist, and otherwise oppressive behaviors often acted out of habit, cemented over time and difficult to name and alter, especially without the help of others.

While a philosophy book that will surely end up in university courses, Weiss’s pronouncements about the self, the other, and how we construct reality will no doubt contribute to feminist philosophical theory in a greater way. When taken with healthy doses of history as a foundation to understanding her work, Weiss’s explanation and subsequent reshaping of the ordinary becomes quite digestible and even a bit delicious. This isn’t a book for everyday leisure reading, but it is certainly recommended for any combination of curious philosopher, cross-disciplinary psychologist, radical feminist, and communication theorist among us.Brittany Shoot, Feminist Review, November 6, 2008

Elizabeth Grosz
"Articulate, readable, well-researched, and original... one of the best feminist readings and elaborations of phenomenological philosophy thus far published." —Elizabeth Grosz, Rutgers University
Thomas Busch
"[Readers] interested in phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty, and issues of embodiment in general, as well as feminist philosophy, would be interested in this book. It is written clearly and free of jargon." —Thomas Busch, Villanova University
From the Publisher
Weiss (George Washington Univ.) insightfully bridges phenomenology and critical theory in a way that leads to a mutual enrichment of the two fields. Her study renders hallmark phenomenological terms, such as "horizon" and "world," more concrete by insisting on the need to supplement their spatial and temporal aspects with the social and political determinations of the most ordinary human behavior, including perception and habituation. Concomitantly, Weiss not only constructs intricate phenomenological descriptions of experiences—ranging from life in the city to motherhood—but also suggests that the lived reality of oppression be understood on the model of sedimentation that sets rigid parameters for and normalizes the everyday modes of perceiving and understanding this reality. A carefully elaborated notion of indeterminacy, which pertains to any horizon or perceptual ground, is at work throughout the book, joining the stricture of sedimentation in a productive tension. Although the author does not endorse a naļve perspectivalism with its prescription to multiply one's horizons and standpoints in order to break free of sedimented experiences, she argues that the inherent indeterminacy of the ordinary itself, or the possibility of disruption it harbors, constitutes human experience. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers. —Choice

Indiana University Press

Choice
"Weiss (George Washington Univ.) insightfully bridges phenomenology and critical theory in a way that leads to a mutual enrichment of the two fields. Her study renders hallmark phenomenological terms, such as "horizon" and "world," more concrete by insisting on the need to supplement their spatial and temporal aspects with the social and political determinations of the most ordinary human behavior, including perception and habituation.... Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers." —Choice, February 2009
Feminist Review
In the last decade alone, how many have perceived the "ordinary" has drastically shifted. September 11th, if it can be evoked without vulgar sentimentality, brought a fresh worldview to many around the globe, most significantly to Americans and those living in the occupied Middle East. In literary circles, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking has caused more than a few thoughtful readers to consider that what we believe is pedestrian, everyday, and commonplace may instantly vanish. Even a high school student forced to read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis has realized that in an instant, life can be radically altered. "Ordinary" is simply not as we believe it to be, and exists on a spectrum of experience we often fail to consider.

Gail Weiss’s deeply engaging Refiguring the Ordinary comes on the heels of a remarkable decade and at a time when authenticity seems to be quite a buzzword in a world of MySpace—a space you can personalize, show off the essence of who you are—and YouTube, which begs of you to "broadcast yourself." It’s easy to understand the power of your own authenticity when we’ve all long been told that we—as feminists, women, oppressed minorities—have a right to our own voices and stories, that we are the ones who can best speak our truth to power. But what if authenticity itself is merely existentialism gone wrong, subjective judgments that still have little bearing on reality? How are we to be the judges of our own pure interpretations? —Refiguring the Ordinary repositions the ideas of existentialism and begins at a departure from the binary of the self and other in Western philosophy, arguing that perhaps this dichotomy is a lie.

Weiss relies on a wide range of philosophers, from the rather anti-feminist Heidegger to Sartre to radical thinkers like Simone de Beauvoir and Judith Butler, one of the greatest living feminist philosophers of our time. Weiss’s insistence to include a variety of perspectives is both a compliment to the intelligence of her assumed audience and a demonstration of her commitment to an inclusive academic investigation into the ordinary. Of particular interest to scholars and philosopher-activists alike is her entire section, multiple chapters, dedicated to deconstructing racist, classist, sexist, and otherwise oppressive behaviors often acted out of habit, cemented over time and difficult to name and alter, especially without the help of others.

While a philosophy book that will surely end up in university courses, Weiss’s pronouncements about the self, the other, and how we construct reality will no doubt contribute to feminist philosophical theory in a greater way. When taken with healthy doses of history as a foundation to understanding her work, Weiss’s explanation and subsequent reshaping of the ordinary becomes quite digestible and even a bit delicious. This isn’t a book for everyday leisure reading, but it is certainly recommended for any combination of curious philosopher, cross-disciplinary psychologist, radical feminist, and communication theorist among us.Brittany Shoot, Feminist Review, November 6, 2008

— Brittany Shoot

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253351579
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Gail Weiss is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Human Sciences graduate program at The George Washington University. She is author of Body Images: Embodiment as Intercorporeality and co-editor of Feminist Interpretations of Merleau-Ponty.

Indiana University Press

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Table of Contents

Contents
Acknowledgments

Introduction

Part 1. Figuring the Ground
1. Context and Perspective
2. Ambiguity, Absurdity, and Reversibility: Three Responses to Indeterminacy

Part 2. Narrative Horizons
3. Reading/Writing between the Lines
4. The Body as a Narrative Horizon

Part 3. (Re)Grounding the Figure
5. Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks? Habitual Horizons in James, Bourdieu, and Merleau-Ponty
6. Imagining the Horizon

Part 4. Urban Perspectives
7. City Limits
8. Urban Flesh

Part 5. Constraining Horizons
9. Death and the Other: Rethinking Authenticity
10. Challenging Choices
11. Mothers/Intellectuals: Alterities of a Dual Identity

Notes
Bibliography
Index

Indiana University Press

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