It’s all about experience for the modern man and woman. We are a new human species – homo experiens, the experiencing man.
Google Ngram Viewer shows an increase in the frequency of the use of the word “experience,” compared to, for example, the decline in the frequency of the word “taste,” “delight,” and “pleasure.” Random observation or is there more to it?
Experience has become a part of personal economy and identity and functions as a resource which grants authority, truth and authenticity. (1)
But what is experience? Can we produce and buy it as a product and a commodity?
According to Raymond Williams(2), since the 18th century, the word experience has been used in two different senses:
- “as knowledge gathered from past events, whether by conscious observation or by consideration and reflection.” Think work experience, for example. Or lessons you’ve learned that have made you into who you are.
- “a particular kind of consciousness, which can in some contexts be distinguished from ‘reason’ or ‘knowledge’.” Think aesthetic or religious experience. This kind of experience is usually considered personal, yet it feels so authentically true that we often need to share it.
The first sense of the word refers to something we’ve learned in the past, whereas the second sense relates to something we feel in the present during which the whole being and consciousness is activated.
- Are these two ways of thinking about experience mutually exclusive?
- Can we learn to experience authentically?
- Can we have authentic experience on a habitual basis?
- Do we feel more free and real when we do something habitually or when we do something new and exciting?
- Can a consumption of a product give us a sense of freedom?
- What’s the role of shame in all this?
These are some questions I’m going to look at.
1. Abrahams, Roger D. (1986) “Ordinary and extraordinary experience.” In The antropology of experience. By Victor W. Turner and Edward M. Bruner. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 45-72.
2. Williams, Raymond. (1983) Keywords. A vocabulary of culture and society. Revised edition. New York: Oxford University Press.