CONTINGENT LIFE

There is a whole discourse of “everyday life studies”, in which what we might call the “inside/outside” relation is central. What I mean by this is the question of our own agency within a structure. Perhaps most basically, the question here has been, What capacity does the subject have for agency within a structures that perpetuate the dominance of capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and heteronormativity? Much more simply, where do we locate agency for the subject walking on a path that is laid out before them? How do we navigate such a structure, and what options are available or unavailable based on who and how we are in a given moment?

Desire Lines

But this inside/outside relation can also be thought through the musical metaphor of playing inside/outside the changes, or even, inside/outside the written page itself. That is, when we improvise, are we not navigating a structure in order to see what possibilities can be achieved therein?

I take this basic comparison as my starting point for the third section. In chapter 5, I use certain key figures to investigate quotidian activities: Michel de Certeau on walking; Luce Giard and myself on cooking; and Do Ho Suh and Georges Perec on inhabiting. In chapter six, I push further, using Merleau-Ponty and Sarah Ahmed to discuss perceiving as a practice that must be actively improvised. In doing so, I attempt to locate contingency not as a part of everyday activities, but as the fundamental medium that makes such activities possible. Finally, chapter 7 circles back over the entire project to speculate about the political implications of various aspects of this study, including the choice to “define” improvisation as a contingent encounter in the first place. Subsequently, I move back and forth between interrogating the politics of improvisation as well as the improvisation of politics. You can read a condensed version of my argument from this chapter in the essay collection, Rancière and Music.