the practice of everyday life notes (for reading group) (1)

hi emilye & ellen. is jen on this? justice remains intractable but maybe this can help with the conversion effort.

instead of what i've been doing for other stuff i'm just going to throw some quotes and questions at the wall here. more tk.

general intro

the practice of everyday life is the 'art of manipulating and enjoying' (xxii). michel de certeau doesn't think his framework of 'users' & 'ways of operating' is individualistic because 'each individual is a locus in which an incoherent (and often contradictory) plurality of...relational determinations interact' (xi). sure, though i have some doubts about the methodological implications that follow.

the metaphor of 'poaching' ('everyday invents itself by poaching') is interesting, a submerged poesis 'scattered over areas defined and occupied by systems of 'production'' (xii). rather than letting systems of production determine the meaning of these areas, de cereteau thinks that 'ways of using the products imposed by a dominant economic order' reveal a(n implicitly utopian?) subterranean set of everyday practices (xiii).

he exemplifies this through the indigenous populations who made use of the spanish culture imposed on them. de certeau's illuminating phrase for this is 'secondary production' (xiii). two concepts, for de certeau, allow access to the secondary productions that users make of a hegemonic order:

de certeau describes his project as an inversion of foucault's 'microphysics of power' / dispotif (xiv). de certeau aims at a description of 'the network of an antidiscipline' at the local scale (xv).

de certeau's key distinction is a conceptual binary:

that's the setup. i have some issues/questions which i think could be interesting for discussion.

marginality is today no limited to minority groups, but is rather massive and pervasive . . . marginality is becoming universal. (xvii)

if marginality is universal, there's no margin. who or what is de certeau's antagonist here? if the 'user' is both the victim of a 'system of production' and the heroic bricoleur who effects a 'secondary production' at an invisible scale, what are the power relations that define production and what are the effects of a secondary production that doesn't seem to affect these power relations?

the tactic/strategy concept lends some clarity, since it at least wants to diagnose differences in power. but one of de certeau's examples of tactics bothers me:

in the supermarket, the housewife combines heterogeneous and mobile data--what she has in the refrigerator, the tastes, appetites, and moods of her guests, the best buys and their possible combinations with what she already has on hand at home, etc. (xix)

this is a heroic way to describe what is definitely an everyday tactic. but if domestic labor is a tactic, is there really political utility in tactics? in the anecdote above, the 'housewife' (defined in language that identifies her with her role as domestic laborer and sexual property) is performing a task with skills and adaptive responses, but that task is for others at least as much as it is for herself. the outcome seems to be that she will be tasked with yet more labor throughout the week, cooking for her family. is this an instance of 'secondary production'? what are the risks of celebrating tasks that seem compulsory or at least coerced by power relations that seem to go unchallenged?

both of these examples point to what i'm having the hardest time with, which is that de certeau seems to have an entirely metaphorical relationship to critical theory and an insufficiently antagonistic relationship with the world that critical theory so powerfully describes.

'for the binary set production-consumption', the marxist framework which lets you see who is free and who is compelled by necessity under the guise of freedom, de certeau wants to 'substitute its more general equivalent: writing-reading.' i do like de certeau's point that 'the activity of reading' is in fact a kind of 'silent production' and that 'the thin film of writing becomes a movement of strata, a play of spaces' which 'makes the text habitable' and 'into a space borrowed for a moment by a transient' (xxi).

that's a nice framework. i remain anxious about the politics that result. it seems to me that de certeau just likes stuff and that's fine. what bothers me so far is that he seems to think he needs not just to like stuff but also to present it as politically liberatory, which leads to the worst kind of politics: a 'therapeutics for deteriorating social relations' (xxiv). (nb: not a /corrective/ for such relations.) but the next few chapters address my grievances here, so i'll throw up some notes when i read those.

part 1 - a very ordinary culture - chapter 1 - a common place: ordinary language

lol i like that i said i was going to do something different and then did fine grained summary again. okay this time i will do something different. i like how you can tell that de certeau studied freud. definitely makes me well disposed toward him.

and speaking of freud, this rocks:

freud . . . ends his reflections with a pirouette. "the complaint that i offer no consolation is justified," he writes, for he has none. (4)


and freud is a useful way into de certeau, because like freud de certeau wants to think about 'the trivial' in cultural texts not as 'the other' but 'the productive experience of the text,' a moment where we feel 'the oceanic rumble of the ordinary' (5).

another echo here is lefebvre, insofar as de certeau perceives a split between science and everyday life, in that science has 'constituted the whole as its remainder' (i.e., everyday life) and that 'this cleavage organizes modernity' (6). in these conditions, 'the expert' becomes an archetypal, 'generalized figure' (7). (this is de certeau's Theory of Podcasts.)

de certeau, like lefebvre and rancière (very french pathology i guess), thinks that there's a zero sum game of 'authority' and 'knowledge' and that authority does not rest on knowledge so much as it comes with the sacrifice of genuine familiarity with everyday reality: the specialists thus 'have been walking on air' (8).

de certeau wants to get back to the ordinary and the everyday, then, by way of wittgenstein and ordinary language philosophy. i've read very little wittgenstein, but this description of his infamously anti-metaphysical thought was very appealing: 'as in the ship of fools, we are embarked, without the possibility of an aerial view or any sort of totalization' (11). de certeau makes wittgenstein sound a lot like derrida: 'there is no outside' (14).

there's no extra-textual or extra-historical position from which a truth claim can be sought. we're caught in the mire of the everyday and have to deal with the reality of that, a reality which excludes the possibility of authority as such. this chapter actually does strike me as flowing downstream into a fairly serious political position, too, especially from within an academic context.

so i liked that, most of the notes i wrote in the margin are just questions about wittgenstein.