Exceptional Experiences in Everyday Life

Essay Excerpt

The question remains, still, how does a human being lend meaning to experiences that touch him or her very deeply but yet are not encapsulated in an experientially standardized pattern (considering the attributes of time, circumstances, structure, duration, frequency, social context, as much as its consequences in personal and social terms)? Or, how does the individual objectify a subjectively experienced disequilibrium that might also threaten his or her perception of the social or moral order as much as that of his or her own position and roles in society?

I intend to explore precisely those occasions that have an arbitrary beginning and ending out of the stream of chronological temporality. Although these events usually lack any relationship to major passages in our life cycle, they leave strong marks on the map of our life experiences. In spite of their apparent riviality and the impromptu nature of the circumstances that initiated them,they remain stuck in our memory as symbolic insignia of our individual destiny. Some of these extraordinary encounters we often enthusiastically narrate to our relatives, friends, and casual acquaintances. But others remain as part of our untold or even secretive repertoire of life experiences that we preserve as a private domain of our social personality. They enter the shaft that stores millions of the stories that generations of humans have taken to their graves against all temptation of vanity, self pity, and other stimuli for public attention. [...] 

I cannot suggest a satisfactory classification of these events since I have not studied other individuals. I report on those apparently unimportant and disjointed events that remain tucked away in my memory, a method also employed by Dilthey and expressed in his eloquent words:"Elements in my awareness of the experience draw me on to elements of others which, in the course of my life- though separated by long stretches of time-were structurally connected with them" (1976:185). I doubt our ability as social scientists to identify that possible thread, but I assume we can suggest a meaning that might explain the power with which these experiences are endowed. (Shokeid, 234-235)

About the Author

Moshe Shokeid is a Profiessor Emeritus of Anthropology at Tel Aviv University. His areas of interest are as follows: Gender and Sexuality, Affect, Ethnography, Social Theory and Experiemental Ethnography. 

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