While reading The Practice of Everyday Life, I found it easy to grasp the initial discussion of Certeau’s main terms of a strategy vs. a tactic. A strategy being a way for corporations, governments and big businesses to control people as well as the environment around them; And, a tactic being a way that individuals, subordinate to the “big” businesses, negotiate the world, “constantly manipulat[ing] events in order to turn them into ‘opportunities’” (xix). However, with the introduction of other philosophies, I began to get lost in Certeau’s overall argument and found it hard to grasp the detailed analysis he is putting forth.
Chapter 8, “Railway Navigation and Incarceration” was a breath of fresh air (maybe because of it’s length); I thought it was beautifully written and put forth an interesting analysis of something we rarely do – ride in a train. Certeau refers to riding in a train as “traveling incarceration” (111). Inside the train car, you are in a tiny ordered world, with no way out; you are detached from the outside world, constantly viewing a changing scenery of vast immense objects that stand alone and are unmoved. Certeau illustrates this symbolic and real separation through a description of the iron rail and the windowpane that isolates the traveler. This all links back to the superior machine, “the solitary god from which all action proceeds. It not only divides spectators and beings, but also connects them; it is a mobile sym-bol between them, a tireless shifter, producing changes in the relationships between immobile elements” (113). In our lifestyles today, we are so dependent on technology and machines in that these machines have become god – an all powerful god that provides the means for us to connect with each other as well as businesses to operate. Machines have become our life-support.
I particularly liked how Certeau uses Jules Verne to show that the railway can connect these technologies with dreams. This is apparent when leaving the incarceration (an “incarceration-vacation” -114), and all the chaos of the workplace returns. The word incarceration conjures up images of prisoners, crime, and a place that no one wants to be a part of. However, Certeau reminds us that with the chaos of everyday life – the stress of the workplace, the constant hustle of people on the streets, and our postmodern scatterbrains – we all crave an “incarceration vacation,” a few minutes of order. In moments of weakness, we want someone to tell us what to do, to give us a schedule, to make hard decisions for us. I think this hints back to ideas of hegemonic forms of consent. If the hegemonic culture provides an easy way out, an easy lifestyle governed by simple rules, it makes sense that the majority of individuals give his or her “consent” and buy into it. To be radical, to go against the norm, takes enormous energy, courage, and willingness to constantly be different, defending your ideals. It becomes far easier to just jump on the train, and take an “incarceration vacation.”