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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, June 27, 2007
    The everyday level and the thin place
    The latest issue of Variant is out and, alongside some interesting looking pieces on class/sectarianism in the new Northern Ireland, UK urban surveillance, 'Reframing the Poverty Debate' the New Labour Way and the usual engrossing review of left-field 'zines, there's also a helpful piece of writing by Alex Law, reviewing John Roberts' Philosophizing the Everyday: Revolutionary Practice and the Fate of Cultural Theory. Law/Roberts draw out some themes in Lefebvre which resonate with me (even though I don't find French cultural theory easy to follow, so take a deep breath, and:)
    So the everyday is something less than totality, society in its entirety, and something more than any isolated practice like work, culture, leisure, domesticity, technology, consumption, and so on. Lefebvre calls it a level since the everyday mediates between the whole of society and the varied fragments of life. At this level, material necessity in the form of social and natural needs and desires enter into perpetual conflict with the alienated means for satisfying them.
    Now, the idea of a level which mediates between an absolute whole and the fragments of life, is one I'm familiar with through quite a different avenue of enquiry: in so-called Celtic spirituality it's suggested by the Thin Place, which exists at a level where we sense that the divide between earth and heaven is tissue-thin (see George Macleod, 1938, and virtually every article ever written since about Iona, Holy Island, Nevern churchyard, and er, Goodison Park on the day we applauded the late Alan Ball - especially the last one).

    What I notice about a lot of
    such writing is the way it disconnects so-called thin places from 'ordinary' places. Thin places themselves are different, special, disconnected from the norm. I don't find that particularly helpful - or true (ask an Iona island resident if they think it's a thin place and prepare to be educated). What stimulates me about the link with the Lefevre passage is the suggestion that the everyday, itself, is the thin place. What is even more rich about this idea is the suggestion, in Lefebvre, that the thin place is a place of conflict, which again seems to hold deep truth.

    This line of enquiry may make a mockery of my spending lots of time and money visiting Iona every year to rediscover the other Other. I could do that just as well right here. But while I'm there in August, instead of spending all week reaching for that elusive tissue I'll enjoy trying to encounter the island at the everyday level, becoming a tourist possessed not with trying to grasp the Columban experience but instead - you guessed it, Greenbelter - looking for Heaven in the Ordinary.