Cover image for The Ecstatic Quotidian: Phenomenological Sightings in Modern Art and Literature By Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei

The Ecstatic Quotidian

Phenomenological Sightings in Modern Art and Literature

Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei


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ISBN: 978-0-271-03228-3

280 pages
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Literature and Philosophy

The Ecstatic Quotidian

Phenomenological Sightings in Modern Art and Literature

Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei

“The basic idea behind this marvelous book is simple: contrast the ordinary and what defines escape from the ordinary, call that ecstasy. This idea is used to yield wonderfully challenging results. This virtuoso performance, erudite and very smart, is a book I wish I had written.”


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Winner of a 2008 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Fascination with quotidian experience in modern art, literature, and philosophy promotes ecstatic forms of reflection on the very structure of the everyday world. Gosetti-Ferencei examines the ways in which modern art and literature enable a study of how we experience quotidian life. She shows that modernism, while exhibiting many strands of development, can be understood by investigating how its attentions to perception and expectation, to the common quality of things, or to childhood play gives way to experiences of ecstasis—the stepping outside of the ordinary familiarity of the world.

While phenomenology grounds this study (through Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Bachelard), what makes this book more than a treatise on phenomenological aesthetics is the way in which modernity itself is examined in its relation to the quotidian. Through the works of artists and writers such as Benjamin, Cézanne, Frost, Klee, Newman, Pollock, Ponge, Proust, Rilke, Robbe-Grillet, Rothko, Sartre, and Twombly, the world of quotidian life can be seen to harbor a latent ecstasis. The breakdown of the quotidian through and after modernism then becomes an urgent question for understanding art and literature in its capacity to further human experience, and it points to the limits of phenomenological explications of the everyday.

“The basic idea behind this marvelous book is simple: contrast the ordinary and what defines escape from the ordinary, call that ecstasy. This idea is used to yield wonderfully challenging results. This virtuoso performance, erudite and very smart, is a book I wish I had written.”
“Lucidly and elegantly written, this is a significant contribution to phenomenology and literary/cultural theory alike.”
The Ecstatic Quotidian is a scholarly, detailed overview of the places where modernist art and phenomenology intersect. It is an excellent resource for those who want to understand the ways in which modernist art and philosophy are indebted to one another. By engaging philosophy, literature, and visual art into such a productive dialogue with one another, the author succeeds in placing some of our basic assumptions about these forms and their differences into question as well.”

Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University and a Clarendon Scholar at the University of Oxford.




1. The Quotidian and Literary-Phenomenological Departures from Everydayness

2. Sources of Ecstasis in Childhood Experience

3. Literary Phenomenology from the Natural Attitude to Recognition

4. The Mysterious and Poetry of the World’s Inner Horizons

5. The Painterly and the Poetic Image Between Rilke and Cézanne

6. The Silent Ecstasis of Vision

7. Ecstatic Mimesis in Trompe l’oeil





This book is devoted to an examination, through art, literature, and phenomenology, of that which is, by definition, the most ordinary and habitually unnoticed. The “quotidian” is the sense of life built up in daily experience, by everyday habits, by the sedimentation of ordinary expectations of the world, but also by the tensions between the regularity of the familiar and necessary innovation. The quotidian is that background in contrast to which new discoveries emerge and we are surprised; and more pointedly, it is a necessary condition for surprise, the regularity in contrast to which something new and unexpected occurs. Unfamiliarity, wonder, and mysteriousness are both embedded in and turnings-away from familiarity and predictability. These turnings-away, our stepping outside of the ordinary, do not leave it behind, but draw energy and vivacity from this deviation.

It is not in denigration of everyday life—not to “repudiate the ordinary” as Stanley Rosen describes philosophies that befriend disruption of the ordinary (Rosen 2002, 291), and not only to “problematize everyday life” as Michael Gardiner summarizes a tradition of its theorization (Gardiner 2000, 6)—but with appreciation of it, that the notion of the “ecstatic quotidian,” the stepping outside or “ecstasis” of the ordinary feeling of the self’s familiarity with the world, is here presented. Not only the fantastical which, as in surrealist renderings, has left the everyday behind, but also the tension between everydayness and ecstasis, become essential in manifestations of modernism, reflected in the interweaving expressions of literature, visual art, and phenomenology. A more intimate link between the quotidian and the ecstatic than a transparent opposition would seem to be nonsensical, yet their coupling is a persistent theme in modern art and literature. An intimacy between the quality of life and ecstasis that can occur with reflection on it is suggested, amplified, and defended, if not sometimes radically exaggerated, in works of modern literature and painting through which writers and painters embrace the paradox of seeing the everyday for its very everydayness and, yet, discerning within it latent possibilities of transformation. Of course, to look at the everyday with intensity and scrutiny is to already have stepped outside of it, to live primarily the reflection upon the quotidian rather than the quotidian itself. The quotidian usually remains hidden. In §129 of Philosophische Untersuchungen, Wittgenstein writes:

Die für uns wichtigsten Aspekte der Dinge sind durch ihre Einfachheit und Alltäglichkeit verborgen. (Man kann es nicht bemerken,—weil man es immer vor Augen hat.) Die eigentlichen Grundlagen seiner Forschung fallen dem Menschen gar nicht auf. Es sei denn, daß ihm dies einmal aufgefallen ist.—Und das heißt: das, was einmal gesehen, das Auffallendste und Stärkste ist, fällt uns nicht auf.

[The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (It goes unnoticed —because it is always before one’s eyes). The actual foundations of his enquiry do not strike a person at all. Unless that fact has struck him some time before. — And this means: we fail to be struck by that which, once seen, is the most striking and most powerful.] (Wittgenstein 1953/2001, 43; translation altered)

While in everyday life we necessarily fail to be struck by what is so familiar, the fact of things’ familiarity to us becomes a subject of intense study in modern art and literature, for which not the content, but the very fact and structure, of experience are thematic. In modern art and literature, from the late nineteenth (perhaps as early as the French poet Charles Baudelaire) to the mid-twentieth century, quotidian life has been a subject of fascination, even if this fascination necessarily changes the everyday quality of the world. But quotidian life is also a persistent theme in phenomenology, which studies the structure of appearance or phenomena. While Rosen has argued, to some extent justifiably, that phenomenological treatment among other philosophical approaches can reduce everyday life to concepts which “leave out everything that is characteristic of life” (Rosen 2002, 272). The efforts and strategies of phenomenology have been various, from Edmund Husserl’s scientific description to Martin Heidegger’s early formal indication and later poetic studies (Rosen concentrates mostly on Sein und Zeit), to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s studies of perception through art, not to mention Gaston Bachelard’s poetic phenomenology and Jean-Paul Sartre’s literary-phenomenological writings. Phenomenologists moving beyond Husserl’s scientific philosophy have been innovative in their attempts to address quotidian experience without reducing its content. In the main, their methods converge in the area of literary-aesthetic considerations of quotidian life. Thus one does not have to choose between repudiating everyday life for the aesthetic realm and reducing it to scientific concepts which rob it of all vitality. For in modern art and literature, and phenomenological responses to it, everyday life has become the subject of aesthetic attention; and the phenomenological approach, at least to some extent, has learned from its presentations of what is so elusive to conceptual thought.

Whereas Rosen, despite acknowledging the illustrative uses of literature in addressing the relation between ordinary life and extraordinary discourse used to express it, rejects the blurring of art and philosophy (Rosen 2002, 234–35), post-Husserlian phenomenological discussions have invited consideration of quotidian life specifically through art and literature. For phenomenology the world is not simply there to be described, but is to be described as constituted for a living consciousness. This constitution of the world can be examined, among other ways, through its analogies with artistic and poetic constitution, though those come to challenge claims about the universality of egological structures of constitution and essences discerned. This need not to affirm any radical skepticism about the nature of truth or objective reality, nor is it the purpose of this study to refute skepticism altogether. The primary concern here is not to critique the everyday, as has been worked out by Henri Lefebvre, Agnes Heller, Michel Foucault, and other post-Marxist and cultural studies approaches to particular features of everyday life, such as the micropractices of institutions, the organization of social space, the regulation of labor, production and consumption, the discipline of the human body, and so on. Rather, the aim of the present study is both more limited in scope and also more affirmative as it seeks to illuminate analogous structures between phenomenological studies and literary-aesthetic evocations of the quotidian and the resonances between their departures from everydayness, in order to show to what extent literary-aesthetic and phenomenological reflections upon the everyday are not only analogous but in some ways interdependent. For even Husserl acknowledged the need for the productive and fictive imagination, as well as the need for literary description, when pursuing the task of describing experience, even if the phenomenologist’s creative impulses are to be held in check.

The intimacy between the object of reflection, the everyday quality of life, and the act of reflection, is affirmed when writers and painters look for the origins of artistic creativity within the quotidian experience. Thus the most commonplace activities become the focus of intense literary and aesthetic study, including ordinary perception of objects, play and boredom, scribbling and musing, habit and challenges to its expectations, the ordinary activity of looking. Without disparaging it, these works of art and literature challenge the seeming stability and nontransitoriness of the quotidian as an illusion of habit, often drawing upon more fluid relations to reality experienced in childhood—which Proust, Rilke, Frost, Twombly, Klee, among others have evoked, and Bachelard, Merleau-Ponty, and Benjamin have studied. While this exposure of the quotidian as latently mysterious or provocative of unfamiliarity is aligned with existentialism and its anxieties about contingency, a glance through the absurdities evoked by Sartre, not to mention Kafka, toward other figures of modern art and literature, opens up the affirmative side of this exposure. In the modern aesthetic the occurrence of ecstasis—starting with what Shklovsky identified as “defamiliarization”—liberates ordinary expectations from the fallenness of habit.

The tone of these studies and evocations differs both from the valuable socio-political critique of the everyday, and from affirmations of the ordinary which regard the ordinary outside of any concern for fallenness. Theoretical critiques of everyday life often neglect to take into account the density and structure of individual experience and consciousness in favor of determining how the individual as social being is caught up and performs within abstract relations of power, commodification, regulations and proliferations of production, consumption, and desire. While not disallowing for renewal of quotidian life, theorists like Henri Lefebvre, focus largely on its alienated and abstracted aspects such as Baudrillard’s analysis of the world of simulacra (which will be useful in discussing mimesis in art in the final chapter), the world is seen as a “false world” (Lefebvre 1991, 35), and the utopian objective is to “annihilate” and “oppose” everyday life even as it is to “reorganize” it (Lefebvre 1984, 36–37). While excellent in many respects, Rosen’s account, by contrast, is insufficient to address the specific concerns that arise in reflection upon particularly modern everyday life. For whatever alienation may be felt, the ordinary has not only to do with the inadequacy of our accounts of it, but with the tensions or entropy within everyday lived experience. For modern artists and writers, not to mention philosophers of modernity, everyday life has been both a source of wonder and interest as well as the context of fallenness or alienation. In modernism—and given the reliance here on literature, the visual arts, and philosophical studies of culture, this term will be necessarily used in a broad sense—there is much ambivalence about everyday life.

Philosophers, writers, and artists—from the early nineteenth century to the period of the Second World War and its aftermath— have been both affirmative of the everyday—which in the course of the secularization of culture no longer needed to be considered secondary to a transcendent source of meaning—and skeptical of its codification due to mass production, urbanization, uprootedness from village or regional culture, from nature and more natural experiences of time, space, and physical life. Alienation from everyday life might lead to a repudiation of it, but it could also involve a desire for its renewal or revivification, to which many modern writers and artists have been devoted. Some writers and artists have seen this alienation as a source of distress, while others have hailed it as a liberation from the assumption that everyday life is invulnerable to conscious alteration. This ambivalent situation is a matter not only for social-political critique, but for uniquely aesthetic and literary reflection. There are, it seems, sources within everyday life, even when it is alienating, for imaginative renewal, creativity, and wonder, all of which can contribute to a revitalized experience of the world. This affirms Heller’s assertion that art draws its resources from not only the quotidian, where “pre-conditions, the embryonic outlines of the aesthetic way of looking at things, are inherent in the heterogeneous complex of everyday thought” but also that “aesthetic experience in some form or other, is always present in that complex” (Heller 1984, 107–8). Regularity and fascination need not be mutually exclusive, but are coupled in the works of certain modern painters and poets as well as in phenomenology, where they are bound by a tension that, in various experiences, pulls in one direction or the other, and at different strands of their connection. Yet while Heller looks to pre-modern models for an alternative, the works described here draw their possibilities from the very modern configurations of quotidian life which promote and provoke their reflections.

The subjects of this study are not representative of modern art and literature as a whole. Rather, selected works of art and literature will be studied which illustrate one or more aspects of the tension between the quotidian and its ecstatic transformation is reflected upon thematically and with respect to the constitution of experience. These are examined not in order to give a history of the quotidian in modern art, but to show the connections between artistic literary study of the quotidian and phenomenological reflection on the nature of experience of the everyday. The aim is to discover in what ways a thematic reflection evoked by some modern works brings them into a region of phenomenological consideration of everyday life, and how phenomenology, in turn, is indebted to the literary-aesthetic imagination. The meditations from Husserl to Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, Bergson and Bachelard will be invoked as well as the pragmatist aesthetics of John Dewey, which has much in common with the phenomenological approach to art. Although the studies of wonder and imagination by Peter de Bolla (2001) and Philip Fischer (1998) are helpful for thematizing the aesthetic-ecstatic quotidian, the present study will depart in critical respects from their analyses. Phenomenological sightings in modern art and literature, as the subtitle indicates, sightings that are primarily of and into artworks and works of literature, thus diverging from other approaches to the everyday. But phenomenology is not applied as a method investigation to literary aesthetic works; rather it is invoked where its themes and method coalesce with the artistic and the poetic. Also shown are ways in which literature and art elude phenomenological accounts.

The triad of phenomenological sightings, modern art, and literature is wonderfully illustrated in the writings of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, whose phenomenological-poetic investigations of intentionality—or relation of objects to the structures of consciousness—are expressed in poetry that has been, in turn, profoundly inspired by his study of visual works of art. Although Rilke is by no means representative of modernism, his works voice many of its concerns and thus figures prominently in this study. Heidegger’s investment in Rilke, and Merleau-Ponty’s in Cézanne make it all the more remarkable that the painter most important in Rilke’s poetic-phenomenological discoveries was Cézanne, in whom a similar form of objectivity was sought. For modern art, this seems to involve rendering visible the world being seen, that is, an attention to the processes of perception. Reflective absorption in the perceptual world leads to consideration of the structure of everydayness, which is then transformed by the artist’s poetic or aesthetic intensity with which it is considered. Rilke discovers a heightened intimacy by way of analogies between the inner life and the inner space of things in the world—for which he coined the word Weltinnenraum. In his interpretation of Cézanne this relationship is rendered through dynamic tension between the structure of things seen and the means, such as color, a trembling line, as opposed to scientific precision by which they emerge in living vision. Rilke’s work appears in several chapters of this book. His Sonnets to Orpheus (Sonette an Orpheus) and The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge), for example, the two sides of ecstatic exposure of instability can be seen in tense oscillation between anxiety and adoring affirmation of the world. That Rilke’s work is complemented by similar oscillations in other writers, for example Robert Frost’s poetry and the poetically dense and elaborate prose of Marcel Proust, as well as that of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and the phenomenological fiction of Sartre, suggests that this tension is unique not to a single literary genius, but characteristic of modern literary preoccupations. For phenomenology, and its elaboration in existentialism, affirmation and Angst are the dual aspect of the effect of this reflection on the modern subject. That Cézanne’s work, for its part, has been linked to both a groundbreaking way of making the world visible and to the very different transformations introduced by cubist and subsequent abstract art, reflect these possibilities inherent in his rendering visible, to some extent discovering, the structure of modern vision. The fact that the subject matter consists of ordinary objects of domestic life in still lifes and familiar landscapes is not merely a vestige of generic traditions, but part of the fascination with seeing.

If the descriptions of everydayness necessarily depart from it, this may be due to awakening, intense seeing, being drawn into mystery, or uncanniness. All these experiences, which can be called “ecstatic,” are also made possible in the initial motivations and movements of phenomenology, which attempts a reflective reach to the beginnings in consciousness of the world’s emergence as a world experienced. Analysis of poems, novels, and paintings in this book are governed by an attempt to grasp everydayness phenomenologically, though without strict adherence to any given set of phenomenological principles, for those come to be challenged by the very works they illuminate. Consideration of both the persistent entropy of everydayness that makes it monotonous and the extraordinary intensity of moments which counter this tendency leads to literary questioning of the phenomenological method as well as an indication of limits of scientific phenomenology in capturing the possibilities of ecstasis, or even of everyday life itself.

Chapter 1 situates art and literature, the aesthetic and the poetic, within an account of everydayness that engages the thought of Husserl, Heidegger, and Dewey. It is the aesthetic which offers a departure from the ordinary constitution of the lived world, which consummates its inherent possibilities for harmony, unity, and maximal significance of experience. Contrary to Dewey’s account of the consummatory experience of art, aesthetic departure represents a counter-direction to the slackness and monotony of ordinary life, that is, its tendency to lapse into a state of “fallenness” or inertia. The aesthetic or poetic approach highlights a rupture caused by recognition of the fragility (by Sartre thought as contingency) of the world’s appearance. This contingency invites reflection that tends to court notions of void, of nothingness, and of Angst. Sartre’s literary presentations, alongside others, present poetic or aesthetic creativity as a way out of a paralyzing anxiety; but it remains to be shown how literature and art provide a productive engagement with, even establishment of, new ways of being and dwelling.

There is, moreover, within us a residuum of that phase of human experience wherein fragility of appearances is coupled not merely with worry but with creative play. Chapter two focuses on childhood experience, which the adult must remember, and somehow retain or revivify. Such revivification, insofar as possible, is a source for re-imagining the structure of the given, for breaking through the sedimentation of adult expectations of the world. This is not to denigrate mature reflective experience in favor of an idealized naïve perception, but rather to examine why modern writers and thinkers continually evoke childhood experience as a source for understanding the vital possibilities of everyday life. Recaptured, albeit mediated, in the poetics of Rilke and Frost, in the early sections of Proust’s major novel, and in studies of childhood perception by Benjamin, Bachelard, and Merleau-Ponty, childhood experience has repeatedly been drawn upon throughout the modern corpus. The topic of childhood will be revisited in chapter 6 in the context of Cy Twombly’s abstract paintings composed of child-like scribbles that are seen as a representation of the tension between everydayness and the ecstatic on the cusp of language. The limits of Freud’s psychoanalytic formulation of the relationship between childhood and artistic activity will be indicated such that the rich source of experience that characterizes childhood and the literary retrieval thereof can be better understood.

Husserl admitted that the imagination, productive of fiction, is essential to the phenomenological task. Chapter 3 draws on the origin of scientific phenomenology in Husserl and shows how his phenomenology, as a description of experience and its relation to consciousness, requires literary description, and is given analogous renderings in the work of modern poets and writers. The relation between poetic and phenomenological description is investigated here in light of their common departure from the “natural attitude.” While experience and its structures are described and examined in both literature and phenomenology, questions and presumptions about the being of what is experienced are put in abeyance. The poetical consciousness at work in Rilke, as first established in Käte Hamburger’s studies, reflects the consequences of the phenomenological reduction, wherein the world is retained as phenomenon that is intimately intertwined with the intentionality of consciousness. Rilke’s understanding of the intimacy between objects and seeing consciousness, the fantastical analysis of ordinary objects in the prose-poems of Ponge, and the nearly obsessive description of quotidian life seen up close in Robbe-Grillet’s narratives, all present ecstatic transformations of this break with the natural attitude that is part of the phenomenological approach to objectivity. From the naïveté of the natural attitude to the phenomenal objectivity of things, poetic and phenomenological descriptions follow interimplicating procedures. This chapter presents an analysis of these analogous descriptions, but it also shows, diverging from Hamburger’s thesis, the literary-poetic means by which writers call into question the viability of the scientific aims of phenomenology proper. Despite Husserl’s acknowledgment that fiction is necessary source for the phenomenologist, some aspects of his philosophy have been challenged by writings that most closely parallel phenomenological discovery, straining phenomenology’s claim that the essence of what is can be grasped and expressed univocally.

The mysterious is a notion that arises in correlation with the fragility of the quotidian look of the world, and it is the subject of chapter four. Husserl’s descriptions of what constitutes a world, with its inner horizons of what is perceived and known and its outer regions of the unperceived and unknown, resonate with poetic intimations of the power that resides within everydayness and informs the way ordinary things admit a horizon, suggesting another side of reality, unseen within our habitual quotidian regard. The poetry of both Rilke and Robert Frost intimates another side of things beyond the world’s inner horizons, suggesting not so much a radical mysticism, but a view that the mysterious and unknown remains rooted in our everyday life, as a potential halo surrounding the most ordinary things and experiences. When the mysterious is acknowledged, the ordinary look of things is radically transformed; for these poets this means that they are seen more truly in a reality of greater and more intensely magnified dimensions than our ordinary habits of perception allow.

The deeper connections between language and seeing are the subject of chapters five, six, and seven, which are devoted to the medium of painting. Chapter 5 examines the means by which poetical images are related to painterly images, disclaiming traditional aesthetics which has always separated them. The divide, which art theorists have maintained since at least Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and echoed in premodern poetry (in poems that try to present visual works), is thrown into question by the appropriation of modes of painterly seeing by poetic writers. At the center of this revolution of the traditional aesthetics is Rilke’s fascination with Cézanne’s paintings, from which he claims to have learned a grasp of objectivity, a truer vision of the world than ordinary seeing affords, a vision that is enacted in his poems. This is presented in light of Cézanne criticism and his influence on modern art, and the relation of abstraction to a perception of reality, truer, for Cézanne, than established perspectival renderings and what he considered artificial realism. The aesthetic objectivity so won, as discussed in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, is understood through strategies of painterly practice and the way they make visible the invisible structures of seeing. With Cézanne not only what is seen, but how it is seen, becomes the subject of painting. Informed by this view, Rilke’s poetic images in language present a challenge to the theoretical divide that assigns the art of painting in strict division to experience of virtual space and poetry to that of time, allowing only for poetry to occasionally try to imitate painting. A phenomenological approach to the aesthetic experience can help overcome major aspects of this division and show how painting and poetic images in concert can contribute to the study, and here also ecstatic transformation, of the given of quotidian life.

Painting again is the subject of chapter six, in which the ecstasis of vision is considered as a form of silence. In light of the previous discussion of the tutelage Rilke’s poetry found in Cézanne’s images, other works of modern art are examined in a contrasting maximization of the visual sense at the expense of language. Both Heidegger’s interpretations of van Gogh and Merleau-Ponty’s interpretations of Cézanne and other painters, treat painting as a form of language, albeit radically reconceived as disclosure and revealing in Heidegger’s view and the expression of gestural-embodied life in Merleau-Ponty’s. This chapter is devoted to how certain forms of aesthetic ecstasis—the feeling of stepping-outside of ordinary vision in a heightened contemplation or cognitive stimulation—evade the linguistic analogy. Color Field painters like Morris Louis, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko realize an ecstatic silence of vision. These paintings refuse anything like linguistic expression, in contrast to counterparts in abstract expressionism. Situated between this silence and the echoes and residues of gesture and writing are the works of Schiele and Twombly. Their images evoke a suspension of legibility or ironization of gesture. Phillip Fischer highlighted a particular ecstasis in Twombly’s work, effected by the double recognition in viewing this work of both an ordinary object (like a blackboard with chalk scribbles) and of the surface of a painting as painting. Yet Twombly’s paintings also bring to the surface of the work a subterranean consciousness of pre-linguistic experience, associated with childhood, which grants a special quality to everyday experience and the transport from everyday experience. In Schiele’s paintings, an ironic mimesis of gesture renders them uniquely visual by canceling expression and evoking the figure’s feeling of loneliness through the paradoxical isolation of desirous seeing.

The quotidian in visual art is perhaps nowhere more explicit than in trompe l’œil painting, a style that became particularly strong at the end of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, it was adopted by René Magritte and Andy Warhol. A hint of it can also be found in Twombly’s work. Chapter 7 examines trompe l’œil paintings that deceive the eye into registering the actual presence, rather than painterly semblance, of usually very ordinary objects of quotidian usage. The metaphysics of trompe l’œil is a teasing and sometimes ironic play with the familiarity of everydayness, in which the viewer experiences at first an undisturbed practical relation to objects which, as discussed in chapter 1, constitute the quotidian world. If the trompe l’œil highlights the viewing subject’s relation to ordinary things is brought to light with trompe l’œil, it is also challenged hereby, inasmuch as it is exposed as constituted by the attitudes of looking and is vulnerable to transformation. The persistence of trompe l’œil as a genre, albeit relatively uncelebrated, in Western art since at least the time of Plato, makes it all the more remarkable that a work similar to trompe l’œil, Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box, presenting the humblest of domestic objects, could usher in a revolution in art. Whereas Arthur Danto celebrates Warhol’s work as ushering in the end of art—after which anything can be art—its resonance with trompe l’œil suggests a persistent self-reflective tension within the act of painting itself, which finds unique expression in the modern fascination with quotidian objects. Within the broader framework of this chapter, attention will be paid to mimetic gestures in contemporary art to determine how mimesis contributes to productive reflections on quotidian life.

The epilogue poses questions about the desirability and quality of ecstasis available in the fast-paced presentday quotidian life, with its hyper-stimulation of the senses, and all the troubles, burdens, and denials that have intervened since Husserl’s The Crisis of the European Sciences. These entail not only a confrontation with technology and its imbalanced development, but with new dimensions of illness, inequity, terrorism, and destruction. While art and literature are not only to change the world, as Sartre would have it, they also inevitably reflect the world and they do affect our expectations of it, our possibilities for understanding it. The individual experience that is expanded through art and literary experience need not be dismissed for its possible insignificance on a political scale, since it is also a source for critique, differentiation, and resistance of grand or overpowering political ideologies and movements. To illuminate the quotidian in this way may be a claim and defense of its worth, but one must also pose questions about the relation between reflection upon quotidian life and life as it is lived and a renewed capacity for preservation and transformation. The question that then arises for contemporary art is whether a provocation of ecstasis, as an aesthetic departure from reflection on everydayness, can be a source for revitalization of the everyday that opens new expressions of the feeling of life and new possibilities for its reconfiguration.

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