2021 Design Studies Thesis Prize: Proey Liao’s “An Attempt to Approach a Void: Georges Perec, Cause commune, and the Infraordinary”

by Proey Liao (MArch II/MDes '21) — Recipient of the Design Studies Thesis Prize

In February 1973, Jean Duvignaud, Paul Virilio, and Georges Perec introduced the infraordinary in the fifth issue of their small journal, Cause commune. The infraordinary subsequently became attributed mostly to Georges Perec, to describe his keenness for the everyday in his prolific literary works. Infra, a spatial preposition meaning under or below, modifies the ordinary, or everyday life, in a call to action “to question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us.” Such a simple, local act can have immense consequences—rather than removing “the everyday” from its context to defamiliarize it, the infraordinary studies the context itself, a seemingly blank space, or void, upon which the everyday is written.

The thesis is an attempt to approach the infraordinary not only as the subject of exploration, but as a method of writing itself. The aim of this thesis is to trace the infraordinary conceptually through the immediate textual context of the fifth issue of Cause commune, the work of Georges Perec, and the work of Cause commune’s other contributors. It is not an origin story, but a text enumerating scales and mediums of everyday life that coalesce in this journal. By excavating what is below everyday life, the infraordinary shows just how unfamiliar we are with everyday life in the first place as we constantly come up against and avoid a void, and how we are equipped to do something about it—through creative acts and life itself.

Visit the 2021 Virtual Commencement Exhibition to see more from this and other prize-winning projects.

animated gif showing spreads from the thesis.