I acquired Reading the Everyday from work several years ago, and only recently got around to reading it, in part after Alex’s hugely enthusiastic feedback. It turned out to be a wonderful read. I’m not particularly well-versed in cultural studies, so much of the French work Moran refers to is somewhat new to me. It is, however, fascinating to see such a uniquely British study of the everyday; just as the French ideals of le quotidien are very much rooted in 50s France – and the Parisian suburbs especially – so Moran focuses on a Britain that developed in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, through the booming newtowns into Thatcherism.
The book gets especially good as it moves out of criticism of theory and into more focused case-studies, on everything from bus-shelter advertising and queuing to the M25 and traffic lights. Anyhow, enough rambling. On with the quotations, from dog-eared pages, or (more often) just stuff I underlined. It’s been a while since I read a book with a pencil so vigorously in hand!
“It is hard to stand at a bus stop, as the single-occupant cars stream by, without feeling somehow denied full membership of society”
“Henri Lefebvre suggests that everyday life is increasingly made up of this ‘compulsive time’, a kind of limbo between work and leisure in which no explicit demands are made on us but we are still trapped by the necessity of waiting.”
p.47, on the final episode of The Office:
“It is about the forgetfulness of office life, the way that its impersonal procedures do not acknowledge the finite trajectory of individual lives, despite the leaving dos and retirement parties that lamely suggest otherwise.”
p,65, in a wonderful section all about the Westway:
“In truth, the Westway provokes conflicted emotions, commensurate with our cultural confusion about the relationship between the individual freedom of driving and the collective horror of traffic congestion.”
p.86, on how we read images from CCTV cameras:
“The telltale digits in the corner of the screen revealing the date and time convey not the reality of round-the-clock surveillance but the specific moment at which an extraordinary event happened or was about to happen.”
p.98, on motorways as an example of what Marc Augé called “non-places”:
“The importance of the road sign in the non-place, for Augé, is that it allows places to be cursorily acknowledged without actually being passed through or even formally identified.”
p.101, quoting Chris Petit’s commentary on his film “London Orbital”:
“[the M25 is] mainline boredom, a quest for transcendental boredom, a state that offers nothing except itself, resisting any promise of breakthrough or story. The road becomes a tunnelled landscape, a perfect kind of amnesia.”
and later in that page, on Iain Sinclair’s book of the same name:
“Sinclair notes that in the nineteenth century, the area now occupied by the M25 housed mental hospitals and sanatoriums, and represented the safe distance to which Victorians would remove contaminated parts of the city.”
p.108, in a section on service stations:
“When they first opened, young people would drive to the service stations at high speeds to play pinball, drink coffee and eat ice cream, as a more alluring alternative to the only other all-night venue, the launderette.”
I never thought of that – launderettes as the only mainstream 24-hour venue in the provinces. Like so much of the book – a great wake-up call.
p.132, in the chapter on “Living Space”, Judy Attfield offers commentary on home makeover shows like Changing Rooms:
“…such shows elevate a notion of design, which she defines as ‘things with attitude’, over the banal reality of material culture, which she calls ‘design in the lower case’.”
Totally. I loved this distinction – the idea that things with attitude, so valued at the temporary level (a cool thing in a shop, the first five minutes of staring at a made-over room) are not necessarily the things we want to spend long periods of time with.
p.145, quoting Paul Barker on ‘Barratt’s transformation of Britain’s vernacular landscape’:
“When the social history of our times comes to be written, he [Lawrie Barratt, the company’s founder] will get more space than Norman Foster. You can search out Foster masterpieces here and there. But Barratt houses are everywhere. Foster buildings are the Concordes of architecture. Barratt houses fly charter.”
p.157, on Moran’s trip to Chafford Hundred, a new housing-estate-cum-new-village in Essex:
“Walking around Chafford Hundred, it is not long before I am completely lost – partly because the sameness of the houses provides no landmark, and partly because the curvilinear streets are disorientating. Invented in American tract developments to close off the vista and protect the viewer from the unwelcome sight of an endless row of subdivisions, the curvilinear street has the unfortunate side effect of destroying any sense of direction… getting lost in Chafford Hundred seems like a metaphor for housebuilding as a political black hole.”
“In a note to its clients, [investment bank] Durlacher observed: ‘Probably the best indication of difficulties in the market will be when Property Ladder is no longer commissioned”
p.164, on the design of the Trabant:
“Its accelerator pedal even had a point of resistance part of the way down to discourage excessive fuel consumption.”
Moran points out that everything about the Trabi was counter to the traditional “counternarratives of speed, status and freedom” that cars espouse in the Western world, but I love the idea of the values of a society and culture being literally built into the products it produces; the socially-responsible accelerator pedal feels like a very good example of that.
p.167, on the problematic aspects of “mourning and coping narratives” in a post-9/11 world:
“…they confront us with and ‘ordinary life’ whose normality is never questioned. It is more difficult to make a similar imaginative connection with Iraqis or Afghans killed by bombs dropped from fighter planes, because their daily lives are not so easily recognizable or represented.”
Moran talks a lot about the dangerous ideals of “ordinary life” and “ordinary people” in his books – concepts we know are very dangerous in the concept of design. The idea that their are specifivites in our understand of the everyday that do not map elsewhere is a very important one, and a reminder that if anything is presented of foreign culture in the media – especially the news media – it is rarely the truly “everyday”.
More on that further down the page:
“Richard Johnson points out that the term ‘way of life’, which has a particular resonance in cultural studies and was constantly reiterated by politicians such as Tony Blair and George Bush in the months after September 11, ‘resists instant and “fundamentalist” moral (or aesthetic) claims to superiority without letting go of evaluation entirely’. It conflates ‘the necessary sustaining practices of daily living and the more particularly “cultural” features – systems of meaning, forms of identity and psycho-social processes – through which a world is subjectively produced as meaningful'”
p.169 – the final page, and a wonderful quotation from Henri Lefebvre to conclude these notes:
“Man must be everyday, or he will not be at all.”
A great book, then. There’s masses in it about ideas of mundanity and the everyday, and I got a lot out of it from a design perspective, particularly. It also looks like it will overlap with Adam Greenfield’s “The City Is Here For You To Use” quite nicely. Highly recommended!