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 6, I use certain key figures to investigate quotidian activities: Michel de Certeau on walking; Luce Giard and myself on cooking; Do Ho Suh and Georges Perec on inhabiting; and Merleau-Ponty and Sarah Ahmed on perceiving. 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. In this chapter, I argue that contingency and improvisation are not simply aspects of daily life, but what makes daily life possible in the first place. In this sense, there can be no structural or functional difference between musical improvisation and social improvisation; both engage the circumstances around them, deploying a reservoir of contingent experience that is actualized in a moment.

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.