The Third Man

Right around Chapter V of The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau reaches his personal apex of headiness (if that’s possible) by discussing a realm in which theory cannot even be explained by language. In other words, the vague ether of thought cannot be explicated in the real world with language, or symbolic gesture, or really any sort of discourse. I have not an inkling what such a situation might look like, but de Certeau uses this concept to set up his interpretation of the writer Durkheim, who discusses theory and practice as two entirely different animals that may exist outside each other.  Early on in the semester, we discussed the notion of “theory as practice” and vice versa. Durkeim, then de Certeau, pit the two against each other in the guise of science vs. art. Art is practice, with prescribed methods to achieve a certain visual end. With the translation system of science, that practice then becomes decipherable, readable, avilable for the multitude of analyses.

At least I think that’s what’s going on here. Imagine my relief when de Certeau brought in the concept of “a third man” who would unite science and art, theory and practice, reconciling them. The third man is an “engineer” who would seek to strengthen the real impact of theory while giving practice a greater significance than mere actions. However, de Certeau claims that this guy doesn’t cut as imposing a figure as many scientists and artists would have hoped. Instead, it seems that the third man has only attempted to subsume practice into theory by breaking down and studying the very mechanisms of art-making.

I sincerely hope I didn’t read any of this wrong, because I patently disagree with all of these claims. In de Certeau’s metaphor, science is a huge expanse of deep knowledge, instinct, and soul, while art is a series of ations and objects designed to interpret a world of science. Everything in me screams the opposite – science encompasses language, classification, information-gathering, all of which is abstractly represented in art. Art seems to concentrate on silences between words, while science is all about the words. Wouldn’t a third man, then, be charged with taking the proverbial widget of science and using it to unlock the secrets of the Ouija board that is art? I secretly think this metaphor owns de Certeau’s metaphor, by the way.

How can we make sense of de Certeau’s interpretation of theory and practice? And who is the “third man” in today’s culture? De Certeau claims that spot has been taken by the technocrat. So does this mean that governing bodies based on practice and not theory are attempting to bridge the gap…by disadvantaging theory?

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