A Philosophy of the Everyday
Philosophy, especially in the West, tends towards the abstract and complicated. This website is dedicated to the pursuit of recapturing philosophy from these distant and often incomprehensible heights and bringing it back down to Earth. Raw material for philosophy isn’t just found on dusty library shelves or exclusive journals. It can be discovered in everyday life if we know where to look.
By correcting our vision ever so slightly, we discover so much suitable material for philosophy that we would often overlook; haircuts, clothes, or the furniture in our rooms. There is a hidden message encoded in our various actions, a message conveying to other people who we are. By learning to look differently, we can think differently; and that is the beginning of philosophy.
Everything we do ‘says something’ about us; that is, our actions carry a tacit message about who we are. Or, in the vein of Roland Barthes and his book Mythologies, these acts signify our persona. Whether we choose to buy that solid, stiff and upright chair, or choose the smooth, cushioned and lounged chair, there is a message there beckoning for a philosophy about our ideas, beliefs and values.
This website, if anything, is dedicated to unearthing and uncovering the unseen and buried aspects of life, and piecing together the fragments found. It is, without putting too much of a poetic emphasis on it, an archaeology of the everyday.
If Martians landed in Melbourne, they would be astonished by the degree to which we care about our hair. Barbershops and salons occupy every corner (and sometimes two or three to a street). We dry, blow-wave, cut, colour, curl, crimp, condition (and surely other verbs starting with ‘c’) our hair into all manner of shapes and sizes. We fold, stretch, bend, twist and straighten. Our Martian observers would be confused, ‘why do they put so much emphasis on keratin tendrils coming out of their head and face which serve no immediate functional purpose’? The answer is in what these acts signify; that is, how say something about who we are.
Hair pulled straight back says that you are serious, in control, and like everything to be in its proper place. Flamboyantly curled hair says you are fun and extroverted, with some good chaotic energy thrown in. Hair parted down the middle says you are ready to get down to business, are professional, and want to be taken seriously. Colourful hair says you like to have fun, diverge from the mainstream, and prefer the interesting to the safe. Tangled hair that hasn’t been combed or brushed says that you are relaxed and don’t necessarily conform to standards, you are more spiritual than material, and you pay attention to what really counts in life.
We can’t speak to every stranger we walk past, so we often let our hair do the talking. ‘I’m fun’, ‘I’m serious’, ‘I don’t conform to society’s expectations’. We encourage our hair to communicate who we are without having to speak a word.
At some point in our lives, we move from being dressed by our parents and wearing uniforms at school, to finally being able to choose for ourselves the type of clothes we wear. What this gave us, in no small way, is a chance to express ourselves, not as a subordinates to our parents taste nor as accessories of the school system, but as unique individuals with agency.
So, the choice in clothes (and this includes socks, shoes, perfumes, and nail polish) says something, like hair, about who we are. Embodied within every decision is a sign. This is not about creating significance where there is only insignificance; it is about appreciating that there is no coincidence in our choice of clothes (or hairstyle). We like certain clothes because they correspond to certain aspects of our personality, whether known or unknown. Think of people you know who, after a breakup, buy new clothes or go to the hairdresser…
What are her clothes saying in this photo?
Wearing exclusively organic materials says to the world that you care about the environment and your impact on the world. Wearing clothes with lots of colour and wild patterns says you are fun, quirky, and don’t like being put in a box. Wearing clothes that are starched, perfectly tucked and neatly ironed says you are someone who cares about being in control, appreciates order, and is quick to defend.
Of course, a certain degree of compensation is at play here. We may have to wear a suit and tie all day for work and would like nothing more than to escape the bondage of starched fabrics and embrace loose fitting tracksuit pants and moccasins. Or, we may spend a significant amount of money on designer clothes to display to others that we are well-to-do and have escaped the trash of the lower class. But, while we may give off an impression one way or another, the real sign (if only we knew the whole story) is saying something else. So, just as clothes may indicate who we are, they might also be pointing at the person we want to be. Whether it is one or the other is never immediately apparent.
There is a reason why corporate job interviews involve you in a suit and tie (double Windsor, above the top button please) or a prim and proper dress (buttons, but nothing flashy; a high cut, nothing revealing). Because this regalia says you are ready to work, you will conform the same way as your tie, and you will blend in like your buttons; and this is precisely the reason you don’t feel the need to wear a suit and tie with friends. Unlike an unknown employer, your friends already know you. You can be with them in an old t-shirt and tattered pants. They already understand you, and therefore, aren’t looking to your clothes for clues.
Clothes can tell us important information about people we don’t know anything about if we are paying attention. Hidden in the most ordinary of things is a treasure trove of information waiting to be uncovered.
We think of it as ‘our space’, and not without reason. Our bedroom, our retreat and sanctuary, is an embodiment of who we are as a person. Our bed, rug, tallboy, bedside table, lamp, duvet; choice of colour, texture, and form; and whether the room is chaotic or patterned, neat or messy, dusty or clean, all say something about who we are. (I think you are beginning to see the pattern now).
A neatly and orderly room says ‘I take life seriously, and everything must go to plan’. A messy room says ‘I know what is important and don’t care if a shirt is on the floor, what matters to me are that the bills are paid’. However, the compensatory nature of our unconscious can hold sway here too. A neat room can be an insurrection against the chaos of life and the feeling that one can never quite be safe or secure enough. A messy room might be a revolution against the imposing order of society, and after conforming for 50 hours a week, one can finally be who they want. Seeing a bedroom, in this sense, compliments understanding a person but doesn’t replace it because, ultimately, it is just a room.
The Temple of Zeus embodies order, strength, and permenance
But, in another sense, it is not; it is not just a room. The ancient Greeks built the temple of Zeus with strong sturdy columns set across parallel lines, with limestone and beautiful engravings. They did this because they saw the king of the gods as representing order and structure, strength and continuity, while also embodying the inherent beauty of the universe. Christian cathedrals were built with ornate and cascading architecture of almost infinitely receding lines and inspired paintings within because the message was that God is incomprehensible in his complexity yet beautiful in a way appreciated by the human eye. Architecture, like the bedroom, speaks to what we value, even if we may not know from whence this value arises.
When we speak to someone, there is only so much we can say to indicate the type of person we are. We may, such as on a first date, describe ourselves, but there is only so much time to share. So, our partner looks to other things, certain signifiers that will provide clues about the type of person we are. We are, in this sense, all detectives of the unspoken, and use this to create a profile of whom we are engaging with.
In an interesting way, our choice of hair-do, clothing and bedroom says things about us that we may not be able to verbalise in our everyday life. These unwritten codes become, in this way, clues to both others and ourselves. What do you think your aesthetic choices say about you?
Just like architecture, our hair, clothes, and choice in furniture – in a strange and non-verbal way – speak; they speak to who we are, what we think is importance, and the dimensions of our personalities. They are significant precisely because they signify not only who we are, but also who we want to be.