Issue 2.1 Homepage

Article Contents
·Ordinary Life
·Odd Moments
·The Public
·A Still
·Still Life
·Home Alone
·The Perfectly Ordinary Life
·Still Watching
·Works Cited

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Kathleen Stewart, "The Perfectly Ordinary Life" (page 8 of 11)


Things have a double trajectory. They move to become solid and still and they transform, dissipate, or flee. The still life holds the two poles in a state of arrest. Fixing its sights on the watery line between what is and what might be, it makes things luminous with the promise that ephemeral qualities can be distilled and latent sensibilities can be given form, draped in luxurious textures, and consumed. It has the fluid force of the fetish, displacing desire at the same time that it inflames it. Hitchcock was a master of the still in film production. A simple pause of the moving camera to focus on a door or a telephone could produce an excruciating suspense.

Ordinary life, too, draws its charge from rhythms of flow and arrest. We go along with ways of sensing and feeling, of relating and exercising power, of suffering impacts and claiming agency. Then something happens to cull things into a form both more potent and suddenly tentative. Then things get vague and diffuse again or drop back onto a track that makes particular, unhesitating, sense of them.

The something that happens can be something big or nothing more than a pause.

There are the odd moments of spacing out when a strange malaise might come over you and you scan your brain for something that happened or might be about to happen.

There are the still lifes of pleasure collected by the life of privilege like marbles: the writing desk with flowers illuminated by a warm ray of sun in a profoundly still and secluded interior.

There are the still lifes of a vitality satisfied, an energy spent: the living room strewn with ribbons and wine glasses after a party, the kids or dogs asleep in the back seat of the car after a great day at the lake, the collection of sticks and rocks resting on the dash board after a hike in the mountains.

The still life can make a fetish of ordinary life - a daydream of static, finished happiness captured in a scene. But it can also give pause to consider what we call in cliché "the simple things in life": the unexpected discovery of something moving within the ordinary, or a still center lodged in the smallest of things.

It fixes on the fluid space where emerging and submerging forces continuously meet.

But there is still life. In cliché, "life goes on." The still life drifts back into the open disguise of things so ordinary that they can't be seen for what they are. Or it lingers in the elusive, shadowy, haunting realms of promise and threat to become the continuous possibility that a moment of intensity will emerge out of the ordinary - a stopping driven by the desires it pursues and makes, still.

S&F Online - Issue 2.1, Public Sentiments - Ann Cvetkovich and Ann Pellegrini, Guest Editors - ©2003.