25 November 2014
The Little Things
Wow! Reading Maira Kalman’s Principles of Uncertainty was certainly a whirlwind experience. From flowery sofas to the “silent sink in the Corbusier house that speaks the truth”(162)—and everything in-between—Kalman’s text works to seamlessly construct a piece of literature that captures the intricate relationship that exists between that which is sacred and that which that is mundane. To convey her point, Kalman works to disorient her readers through the intentionally chaotic presentation of her authorial message. Implicit to the very structure of her text—namely, her use of various mediums: photographs, hand-written text, type, and original illustrations—we begin to recognize divinity, purpose and significance in even the most seemingly insignificant, random, and obscure objects. It is through this chaos that Kalman is able to find rigid order within her world: within our world.
By addressing her observations of the mundane within the same narrative scope as historical events such as the Holocaust, Kalman is suggesting that the “little things” we encounter in life hold the same weight or relevance as the “larger things”. While Kalman successfully bridges the gap between this disparity, she does not intend to in any way discredit or minimize the pain or suffering that is often associated with the “larger things”; Instead, she offers us this comparison as a way of shedding light on the progression of the little things into the big things. If we accept this notion of continuity, then, “things”—whether large or small—are all one in the same; we begin to understand that the larger things aren’t so large, but rather, a mere compilation of a lot of subsequent smaller things.
In addition to Kalman’s ability to find both subtle and meaningful connections within our world, she also seems to drive her audience to a point of utter confusion. Just shy of an existential crisis, Kalman’s work raises many extremely difficult, yet central questions to human existence. Specifically, Kalman asks us if the “central premise of everything” is “the realization that we are ALL (you/me) going to die” (46). Further down on page 46, Kalman admits: “It stops me DEAD in my tracks a dozen times a day. Do you think I remain frozen? No. I spring into action. I find meaningful distraction”(46). Similarly, later in her text, she asks: “Knowing [that the sun will blow up in five billion years], How could anyone want a war? Or plastic surgery? But I am being Naïve. And the unknown is so unknowable. And who is to judge? Really (222). In both of these moments, we can obviously detect a pessimistic outlook on life; however, by addressing pessimism in an extreme and humorous way, Kalman is trying to tell us that deeming life “unmeaningful” is equally as absurd as her own writing style. I found this approach rather optimistic—it encourages her readers to relentlessly seek out meaning even if that means participating in something as “trivial” as dissecting a piece of cake. (an activity Kalman would likely not deem as being trivial…)
While the existential attitude is sometimes a tempting attitude to adopt—who doesn’t question their purpose on a particularly difficult day? However, Kalman tells us that life is always magical if you view it from the appropriate lens. Consistent with existentialism is social mobility. I found this relationship to be particularly relevant to my service learning experience. Specifically, just as people often feel that their actions are essentially meaningless in the grand scheme of our inevitable human nothingness, children who are born into lower socioeconomic households often experience these same feelings—they feel as though nothing they do in life truly matters. This is because they view their current social status as stagnant—a permanent fixture—and in doing so they dismiss their opportunity to overcome their current situation and progress. For example, many of the children whose parents did not attend college assume and accept that same fate for their own lives: they believe that because they have uneducated parents and limited funds that they are unworthy of a better life. This mindset proves detrimental to their personal and academic development in that they no longer want to perform inside the classroom, in social settings, in life. They figure: What’s the point of doing well in school when I’ll never get into college or be able to afford it anyway. They fail to recognize their humanly capacity to illicit change and make a difference in this world—something that Kalman would likely detest. However, in taking a Kalman approach, by relentlessly reminding these students of how smart they are—of how worthy they are--at every chance that presents itself, teachers at Tunbridge are able to maximize on “little” opportunities to enhance these children’s self worth—worthiness that will hopefully eventually lead to a larger dream!