de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life

Michel de Certeau
The Practice of Everyday Life
Area: Rhetorical and Critical Theory
General Introduction

•    Science of singularity: a science of the relationship that links everyday pursuits to particular circumstances
•    Everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others
•    Spectacular production corresponds another production called “consumption”
o    The consumer is manifested through its ways of using the products imposed by a dominant economic order
•    Many everyday activities are tactical
•    Rhetoric offers models for differentiating among types of tactics
o    Describes the turns or tropes of which language can be both site and object
o    Manipulations are related to the ways of changing the will of another
•    Sophists, Corax: make weaker position seem stronger
•    Production – consumption = Reading – writing
•    Xi: “Analysis shows that a relation (always social) determines its terms, and not the reverse, and that each individual is a locus in which an incoherent (and often contradictory) plurality of such relational determinations interact.”
•    Xii: “The ‘making’ in question is a production, a poiesis—but a hidden one, because it is scattered over areas defined and occupied by systems of ‘production’ (television, urban development, commerce, etc.), and no longer leaves ‘consumers’ any place in which they can indicate what they make or do with the products of these systems.”
•    Xix: “I call a ‘strategy’ the calculus of force-relationships which becomes possible when a subject of will and power (a proprietor, an enterprise, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated from an ‘environment.’ A strategy assumes a place that can be circumscribed as proper and thus serve as the basis for generating relations with an exterior distinct from it (competitors, adversaries, clienteles or targets or objects of research).  Political, economic, and scientific rationality has been constructed on this strategic model.”
•    Xix: “I call a ‘tactic’ a calculus which cannot count on a ‘proper’ (a spatial or institutional localization), nor thus on a borderline distinguishing the other as a visible totality.  The place of a tactic belongs to the other.  A tactic insinuates itself into the other’s place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance.  It has at its disposal no base where it can capitalize on its advantages, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances.  The ‘proper’ is a victory of space over time.  On the contrary, because it does not have a place, a tactic depends on time—it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized ‘on the wing.’ Whatever it wins, it dies not keep.  Its must constantly manipulate events in order to turn them into ‘opportunities.’”
Chapter V: Foucault and Bordieu
•    Every proper place is altered by the mark others have left on it
•    Foucault outlines the advantages won by a political technology of the body over the elaboration of a body of doctrine
•    It’s impossible to reduce the functioning of a society to a dominant type of procedures
•    The system of discipline and control is today itself “vampirized” by other procedures
•    Substitutability: a thing is always replaceable by another
•    To acknowledge the authority of rules is exactly the opposite of applying them
•    An economy of the proper place
o    Bordieu: maximization of capital (patrimony) and the development of the body
•    Achievements have no mobility on their own
•    Constructed model (structure) → assumed reality (habitus) → observed facts (strategies and conjunctures)
•    44: “In ‘forgetting’ the collective inquiry in which he in inscribed, in isolating the object of his discourse form its historical genesis, an ‘author’ in effect denies his real situation.  He creates the fiction of a place of his own.”
•    48: “The exceptional, indeed cancerous, development of panoptic procedures seems to be indissociable from the historical role to which they have been assigned, that of being a weapon to be used in combating and controlling heterogeneous practices. […] Beneath what one might call the ‘monotheistic’ privilege that panoptic apparatuses have won for themselves, a ‘polytheism’ of scattered practices survives, dominated but not erased by the triumphal success of one of their number.”
•    53: “’Taking a trick’ [strategy] involves both the postulates that determine a playing spaces and the rules that accord a value to the deal and certain options to the player, in short, an ability to maneuver within the different conditions in which the initial capital is committed.”
•    57: “This ‘genesis’ implies an interiorization of structures (through learning) and an exteriorization of achievements (what Bordieu calls habitus) in practices.  A temporal dimension is thus introduced: practices (expressing the experience) correspond adequately to situations (manifesting the structure) if, and only if, the structure remains stable for the duration of the process of interiorization/exteriorization; if not, practices lag behind, thus resembling the structure at the preceding point, the point at which it was interiorized by habitus.”
Chapter VI: Story Time
•    A theory of narration is indissociable from a theory of practices
•    Metis: obtain the maximum number of effects form the minimum force
•    Recitation of the oral tradition: a way of re-telling the consequences and combinations of formal operations, along with an art of harmonizing them with the circumstances with the audience.
•    Metis counts on an accumulated time
•    Metis concentrates the most knowledge in the least time
•    Memory mediates spatial transformations
•    How does time articulate itself in organized space?
•    Memory produces in a place that does not belong to it
•    An ‘art’ of memory is being in another’s place with possessing it
o    Memory ‘authorizes’ a reversal, a change in order or place
•    Memory is a sense of another
•    79: “One fundamental difference distinguishes them: in narration, it is no longer a question of approaching a ‘reality’ as closely as possible and making the text acceptable through the ‘real’ that it exhibits.  On the contrary, narrated history creates a fictional space. It moves away from the ‘real’—or rather it pretends to escape present circumstances.”
•    82: “The ‘turn’ or inversion that leads the operation from its point of departure (less force) to its destination (more force) implies first of all the mediation of a body of knowledge, but a peculiar one whose characteristics are the duration of its acquisition and its composition as an unending summation of particular fragments.”
•    82: “It is a memory, whose attainments are indissociable from the time of their acquisition and bear the marks of its particularities. Drawing its knowledge from a multitude of events among which it moves without possessing them (they are all past, each at a loss of place but a fragment of time), it also computes and predicts ‘the multiple paths of the future’ by combining antecedent or possible particularities.”
•    83: less force → more memory → less time → more effects
•    85-6: “The structure of the miracle has a similar form: out of another time, from a time that is alien, arises a ‘god’ who has the characteristics of memory, that silent encyclopedia of singular acts, and who, in religious stories, represents with such fidelity the ‘popular’ memory of those who have no place but who have time.”
•    86-7: “More than that, memory derives its interventionary force from its very capacity to be altered—unmoored, mobile, lacking any fixed position.  Its permanent mark is that it is formed by arising from the other and by losing it.  There is a double alteration, both of memory, which works when something affects it, and of its object, which is remembered only when it has disappeared.  Memory is in decay when it is no longer capable of this alteration.  It constructs itself form events that are independent of it, and it is linked to the expectation that something alien to the present will or must occur.”
Chapter VIII: Walking in the City
•    Have things changed since technical procedures have organized an ‘all-seeing power’?
•    The walker constitutes both a near and far, a here and there
•    Walking, which alternately follows a path and has followers, creates a mobile organicity in the environment, a sequence of patic topoi
•    Asyndeton: suppression of linking words such as conjunctions and adverbs either within or between sentences
o    In the same way, walking selects and fragments the space traversed
o    It practices the ellipsis of conjunctive loci
•    Synecdoche: more => totalities with fragments
•    Asyndeton: less => nothing in place of something
•    Stories diversify, rumors totalize
•    Memory is an anti-museum: it is not localizable
•    Freud: relationship of oneself to oneself governs the internal alterations of the place
•    91: “Unlike Rome, New York has never learned the art of growing old by playing on all its pasts.  Its presents invents itself, from hour to hour, in the act of throwing away its previous accomplishments and challenging the future.”
•    97-8: “At the most elementary level, it has a triple ‘enunciative’ function: it is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian; it is a spatial acting-out of the place; and it implies relations among differentiated positions, that is, among pragmatic ‘contracts’ in the form of movements”
•    100: “The walking of passers-by offers a series of turns and detours that can be compared to ‘turns of phrase’ or ‘stylistic figures.’ There is a rhetoric of walking. The art of ‘turning’ phrases finds an equivalent in an art of composing a path.  Like ordinary language, this art implies and combines styles and uses. Style specifies ‘a linguistic structure that manifests on the symbolic level…an individual’s fundamental way of being in the world’; it connotes the singular.”


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August 2008
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