To remain unconsumed by consumer society—this was the goal, pursued through a world of subtle and practical means, that beckoned throughout the first volume of The Practice of Everyday Life. The second volume of the work delves even deeper than did the first into the subtle tactics of resistance and private practices that make living a subversive art. Michel de Certeau, Luce Giard, and Pierre Mayol develop a social history of “making do” based on microhistories that move from the private sphere (of dwelling, cooking, and homemaking) to the public (the experience of living in a neighborhood). A series of interviews—mostly with women—allows us to follow the subjects’ individual routines, composed of the habits, constraints, and inventive strategies by which the speakers negotiate daily life. Through these accounts the speakers, “ordinary” people all, are revealed to be anything but passive consumers. Amid these experiences and voices, the ephemeral inventions of the “obscure heroes” of the everyday, we watch the art of making do become the art of living.This long-awaited second volume of de Certeau’s masterwork, updated and revised in this first English edition, completes the picture begun in volume 1, drawing to the last detail the collective practices that define the texture, substance, and importance of the everyday.Michel de Certeau (1925-1986) wrote numerous books that have been translated into English, including Heterologies (1986), The Capture of Speech (1998), and Culture in the Plural (1998), all published by Minnesota. Luce Giard is senior researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and is affiliated with the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. She is visiting professor of history and history of science at the University of California, San Diego. Pierre Mayol is a researcher in the French Ministry of Culture in Paris.Timothy J. Tomasik is a freelance translator pursuing a Ph.D. in French literature at Harvard University.
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This is a highly moral book. It is written in a kind of theorese, but one I have a lot of patience for, because you can see Certeau struggling to articulate a vocabulary for talking about previously untheorized and largely unconsidered practices--talking, walking, reading, writing, dying.
Certeau's main argument is that by focusing on the production of culture, we characterize human beings as passive consumers instead of active users, and that this is doing ourselves an injustice. The more relevant distinction than production/consumption is strategy/tactic--strategies are the disciplining sets of concepts, ideologies, rules and parameters that make possible or impossible certain kinds of actions and ways of conceiving, and tactics--which in a lovely way Certeau connects with both Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, but also with Kant's notion of logische Takt--logical tact--and metis, the Greek intelligence epitomized by Odysseus (tricky, wrestler of Proteus, etc.) that knows what to do. It's not "appropriateness," because that assumes a strategic outlook--"these are the rules." It's neither tact nor tactic, but a concept breaking down that opposition which I have not come up with a name for yet--tactality? tacticfulness? non-situational metis? Knowing how to improvise?
A tactic depends on a gift economy, where everything's worth is not known. A tactic is distinguished from guerilla warfare by recognizing its weakness, by never seeking to win. There is a lot to say about a tactic. In any case, it's a concept with obvious awesome implications for sticking it to the Man, and Certeau even obligingly lets you know about a sub-concept in France, perruque, which is appropriation of the resources and time of work for your own purposes, be it writing a love poem, checking facebook, stealing staples, or photocopying your buttocks. We be scavengers!
And so on, right? What were we doing, inchoately, with Capture the Flag? Reclaiming urban space and turning it to our own purposes, improvising a game with the city as field of battle. Breaking up the strategic lines of power. If writing is inscription of a master strategy, building an edifice, reading can be tactical, stealing a "white pebble" and taking it home to build a nest. In some ways I wonder what would happen if we were only allowed to talk about our everyday lives using this vocabulary, and only allowed to talk about our intellectual pursuits using the vocabulary of the everyday.