feet-in-water-bw1“But out here, he discovered, everything was just itself. That was what seemed new. In being just itself, neither more or less, each thing appeared to him in a form he barely recognised …” from the novel Ransom.

Over the Easter weekend I read the new novel Ransom by David Malouf, a well known Australian writer. The book follows the journey by Priam, King of Troy, to reclaim the body of his son, Hector, who was killed and then dishonoured by Achilles. Priam was escorted on his journey by a common man with a cart and his two much loved mules.

I loved the book. While it is a great story, and told in a lyrical but flowing way, one particular aspect of the book really resonated with me. This was the discovery by Priam, for so long removed from reality by his role as King, of the joy in simple things, like the trickling stream around his feet, or his companion’s ordinary but particular descriptions of his daughter-in-law skilfully cooking pikelets.

We often resort to a universal perspective, and describe the world in abstract, conceptual and quantitative terms. We forget the real joy in being with the common but elegant nature of the particular, actual and immediate. Freya Mathews, in her book Reinhabiting Reality says this: Resort to a universal perspective – which is to say, retreat from the particularity of things, betrays desensitisation to subjectivity and a refusal of dialogue. This is because the subjectivity of others is communicated to us via particulars. Communicative cues reside deep with the particularity of things.

If our general mode of perception fails to be with particulars, we may also fail to be with others (people or places) in their particulars: their mystery, their energy, their embodiment, and their very ordinariness. We may see others descriptively, or as falling into a category. We may fail to be with this person, this tree, this river, or this place.

We may even think of particular people and places as homogeneous or interchangeable, and sometimes replaceable (see for example the poorly conceived NSW green offsets scheme).

Our propensity to name (or label) things can also hide particulars. As Susan Murphy, Zen Roshi, asks: “Who is the one you enclose with your name?” Does our name (or label) contain barriers to knowing?

Are we like Priam, King of Troy, so removed from reality and so cocooned from the messiness of life, that we miss the all important cues residing in the particularity of things and fail to allow a real dialogue to take place between us and other people and places? Can we recreate joy by being with the ordinariness of everyday life?