de Certeau

Although I didn’t manage to finish reading The Practice of Everyday Life, I was greatly intrigued by the wide array of disciplines de Certeau works from in order to expand the view of cultural studies to the eveyman, to the everyday. I loved his tone which bordered for me upon the literary in a variety of ways. An example of this interesting tone comes in the concept of la perruque, the wig, which, within the French language somehow has come to mean all of the work that is done within the workspace that does not contribute to the profit of the corporation: “In the very place where the machine he must serve reigns supreme, he cunningly takes pleasure in finding a way to create gratuitous products whose sole purpose is to signify his own capabilities through his work and to confirm his solidarity with other workers or his family through spending his time in this way” (25-26). De Certeau’s work is theorizing what we do to resist (resistance is an important aspect of popular culture as he understands it). He asks the reader, “if one does not expect a revolution to transform the laws of history, how is it possible to foil here and now the social hierarchization which organizes scientific work on popular culture and repeats itself in that work?” (24) His response is quite cunning—he is in some sense a “scientist”, because he is taking cultural tendencies and holding them up as artifacts of study. He is thus employing the only method possible to any sort of intellectual (philosopher, scientist), using the common language and claiming expertise. At the same time, however, he is profoundly influenced by the practice of everyday life, by methods such as the perruque. His goal, as he explains in an incredible passage on page 28, is to use perruque within the intellectual sphere: “In the area of scientific research (which defines the current order of knowledge), working with its machines and making use of its scraps, we can divert the time owed to the institution; we can make textual objects that signify an art and solidarities; se can play the game of free exchange, even if it is penalized by bosses and colleagues when they are not willing to “turn a blind eye” on it; we can create networks of connivances and sleights of hand; we can exchange gifts; and in these ways we can subvert the law that, in the scientific factory, puts work at the service of the machine, and, by a similar logic, progressively destroys the requirement of creation and the “obligation to give” (28). Although (like much of the rest of the book) much of this passage remains beyond my comprehension, I can tell at least that in theorizing the everyman, de Certeau is also interested in theorizing himself—how he is influenced by his work, what his work can do for his own life, and how, like the everyman, he can subvert the institution of which he is a part. The profound self-referential tone of this passage, and of others, in which he describes walking through New York City, or how it feels to stand in front of churches, is what gave this theoretical work a literary feel, which I really appreciated.

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