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Being a Description of the World

By Eli Siegel


Everydayness is the feeling of existence as close, expected, customary.

      The everyday feeling is as hard to express as any. It is taken for granted, but much, much had to be before it could be. Going to a grocery, getting up in the morning, meeting a person we expect to meet, eating breakfast, finding a chair where we expect to find it, seeing that our clothes have buttons—are aspects of everyday feeling; but seen from the viewpoint of existence as a whole, they are strange and wonderful. That people should feel warmly familiar, routinely intimate, unsurprisedly comfortable, in expected and fairly comfortable milieus—from the point of view of time as a whole, space generally, matter in itself, motion unadorned, existence straight—is a grandly amazing state of affairs.

      We go about and we feel, or can, that things are as they well may be anticipated to be. There is a dimension of solid usualness about. When we consider this warmth in its place among all things, a street in a town near the Mississippi, or a bank in New York, or a cottage outside Philadelphia, or a side street in Chicago becomes a thing astonishing as any. It took a long time for the world in any way to be taken consciously for granted.

      Animals, we can be sure, don't have the "comfy" feeling that men have. They don't feel that they are of what's around them, as men can. To feel the world ordinary, warm, everyday, necessitates the presence of an I which can mingle what's about with itself.

      What man has been able to do, makes for this ordinariness. A house surrounded by farmland seems more ordinary after a while, than the farmland; and farmland, somewhat tilled, seems more ordinary than wild territory. Everydayness has to do with the fact that man can make things.

      All our thoughts, as I have said, have some arrangement of new and old, strange and ordinary, unexpected and everyday. Even in the most routine day, some things strike one, stand out. Were there monotony and nothing else, the everyday feeling could not be had. Some sense of the difference of events and situations must be had. If there weren't "news" in the ordinary, the ordinary could not well be.

      Our selves likewise seem everyday. We get the "body" feeling, which is the feeling that our selves belong, just are. The "I" to itself, then, becomes folksy: it is at home.

      Man is the most at home, or everyday thing there is. As his mind grows, takes in more, he takes more for granted. In terms of the history of the world as to man's mind, it has been a history of more and more taken for granted. If radio and the telephone and flying in the sky seem everyday now—well, this coming to seem everyday is what has been going on ever since men have been adequately functioning.

    When there's the everyday feeling, it is a great thing. When a man has been comfortable, unperturbed, honestly easy, the coldness and abstractness of the infinite has received an alteration from which, truly, it can never recover. That there should be everydayness in a world of equations, astronomy, centuries, suns, dark, orbs, geometry, molecules, and abstraction shows that the world just wasn't complete without the Kansas rocking-chair feeling, or the Nebraska baby-smile feeling, or the Philadelphia how-are-you-Mrs.-Brown feeling. It must be seen that the causes making for interspace have also made for two people glad to shake hands on an Ohio street.

      The everyday sense is the life sense. It is the general overall feeling of being I, speaking generally. It is immediacy become continuous and secure. It is the moment without fright. It is time placing its hand kindly on one's shoulder. It is the world beaming and benevolent.

      It is also a spring-board. The everyday feeling is not a deception. It shows we can be at our ease in the unlimited. It shows we can walk carelessly, loafingly, in the large brightness of the real. The everyday feeling tells us that the world need not be feared; and that the absence of fear in the everyday should be used for the purpose of fearing less and less. The everyday must extend. It should take in more. It should be bolder and bolder. If it isn't, it becomes routine, not with warmth and expansion, but with hidden fear and contraction.

      What are the limits of the everyday? Are there any things which have to be strange and aloof? Can't we extend the sun of a village to "grander" territory? Must the everyday stop at the strange? Was not the everyday once itself strange?

      Since the everyday is an aspect of existence pleased with itself, there is depth in its meaning. One of the things against man today is the setting up of the "learned," the "wonderful," the "subtle," the "scientific" against the everyday. When this is done, we hug the everyday too much, and also despise it. We go for the "unusual" too much, and also fear it, while we want to have contempt for it.

      When we can see Mars or Betelgeuse as strange, but can, from the viewpoint of Mars or Betelgeuse, see a street in St. Joseph, Missouri, as strange, too, we are taking the everyday sensibly. The world can be comfortable, immediate, common sense; indeed, it is these things. Good sense, the expected, the warmly reasonable, are indispensable for a world in its fullness. Since the everyday as we have it now, arises from the past of a world which has no beginning—or is infinite—we can say that the unlimited eventuated into the cozy; that the Endless Great All culminated in a warm interior. The profoundly cozy, then, should not be appalled by mighty distances and inconceivable abstractions. The everyday should invade the unlimited. The unlimited doesn't seem to mind; in fact, it seems it is working for it, and has worked for it.


© 1945 by Eli Siegel

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