Some Words on de Certeau (whom the author really likes)
(this is the juncture of three points)
This orbital is a nodal point which links together three important points relating to my discussion of hypertext, and it is my hope that the points raised here are dispersed throughout my mini-system to germinate and inform the other discussions which occur. De Certeau, for me, marks a juncture in my discussion on poaching. Stemming from this is de Certeau's discussion in The Practice of Everyday Life of walking through the city -- for him a way of dodging the panoptic eye. This metaphor of walking through the city will come in handy when discussions on the labyrinth arise in the core.
"La perruque" (trans: wig)
In de Certeau's General Introduction to The Practice of Everyday Life, he begins with the premise that disciplinary powers are infusing society with their grid of control more and more extensively (see: 'Note' in the node on poaching). His question is how an entire society can "manipulate the mechanisms of discipline and conform to them only in order to evade them" (de Certeau, xiv). De Certeau is interested with what devices, actions, and procedures people use every day on the micro level in order to subvert, for brief moments, the disciplining powers. He finds the answer to this in "the tactic", an action which he defines as insinuating itself within the space of the other, worming its way into the territory of that which it seeks to subvert, like a tiny virus infecting a vast computer program. This tactic insinuates itself not to destroy or take over the entirety of that which it is entering. It claims no space for itself, relying rather on time -- "it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized 'on the wing'" (de Certeau, xix). In addition, the gains from its minute coups are always discarded, "whatever it wins, it does not keep" (de Certeau, xix).
To illustrate this definition of "the tactic", de Certeau introduces us to "la perruque". "La perruque" is the worker's own work being performed at the place of employment under the disguise of work for the boss. Nothing of value is stolen; what is taken advantage of is time. De certeau further defines "la perruque" on page 25 by saying,
"It differs from absenteeism in that the worker is officially on the job. La perruque may be as simple a matter as a secretary's writing a love letter on 'company time' or as complex as a cabinetmaker's 'borrowing' a lathe to make a piece of furniture for his living room."
In this tactic, the worker diverts time away from producing profit for his or her employer and instead uses it for his or her own enjoyment, for activities that are "free, creative, and precisely not directed toward profit" (de Certeau, 25). Everyday life, for de Certeau, is made up of such tactics as "la perruque". Everyday life is made up of "clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things, 'hunter's cunning' ..." (de Certeau, xix). Everday life is made up of tactics and of poaching.
The link then which de Certeau represents between Foucault and Fiske becomes evident. Whereas Foucault's geneaology of the eighteenth century revealed how poaching becomes problematized at the time when anxieties develop regarding capital and material objects, de Certeau shows the ways in which poaching shifts from a tactic of stealing goods to a tactic of time, of fleeting encounters with dominant formations in which nothing of material value is gained. By calling these manuvers "clever tricks of the 'weak'", de Certeau creates the possibilities for Fiske's discussions on poaching in Understanding Popular Culture (de Certeau, 38). "The landlord provides the building within which we dwell, the department store our means of furnishing it, and the culture industry the texts we 'consume' as we relax within it," says Fiske, but in inhabiting the landlord's space, "the practices of dwelling are ours, not his" (Fiske, 33).
Where exactly do tactics take place? De Certeau makes it clear. A tactic must
Fissures, or, Walking in a City of Perpetual Blackout"...make use of the cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of the proprietary powers. It poaches in them. It creates surprises in them. It can be where it is least expected. It is a guileful ruse" (37).
Tactics take place in fissures created in the panoptic gaze, which portends to be austere, totalizing, and omniscient. This panoptic gaze, in relation to the city, could be conceived quite easily as a map: a map of the city. We look at a map of a city and assume a view from on high. For de Certeau, the city is New York, and the view is from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center. This eye from above is a fiction, birthed by Renaissance painters who "represented the city as seen in a perspective that no eye had yet enjoyed" (de Certeau, 92). The construction which has emerged from that period and carried through Modernity has been that of a celestial eye, a god-like eye.
This view does not correspond to the actual lived experience of the city. Take London, for example. London has generated countless maps which attempt to 'know' the city, sometimes in different ways, but all under a program of organization and totalization. The tourist map of London places the center at Piccadilly Circus, the heart of the West End of the city's entertainment. Markers circulating around this point are historical markers -- monuments, art galleries, museums. The map of the London Underground famously produces a fallacy of London as organized around logical points linked by straight lines and right-angled curves, a city fenced in by the District and Circle lines. And then there is the London A-Z, a venerable book which attempts to show every street, mew, square, avenue, and passage way with its correct name and designation indexed and marked by points on a grid. None of these could in fact be the real London -- there is none. Rather, an infinite number of Londons, each with different centers oriented by different people.
For de Certeau, the ordinary citizens of a city live "below the thresholds at which visibility begins" (de Certeau, 93). Walking is the procedure which produces true maps of London ... walking is "an elementary form of this experience of the city" and integral to this experience are walkers, "wandersmanner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban 'text' they write without being able to read it" (de Certeau, 93). Admittedly, routes can be mapped ... the route one takes from one's front door to the post office three blocks away can be traced "on city maps in such a way as to transcribe their paths ... But these thick or thin curves only refer, like words, to the absence of what has passed by" (de Certeau, 97). The act itself of walking by, of window shopping, or pausing to pet a dog or tie a shoe or read the headlines of a newspaper or to make a telephone call from a payphone are actions of privilege and agency which breathe life into -- if only for a moment -- certain possibilities (de Certeau, 98).
Taking the argument for walking in the city further, Marc Auge interprets "place" as merely a collection of inanimate elements "coexisting in a certain order" (Auge, 80). "Space" is brought into existence by a human body moving across and through this "place". Pedestrians transform a street into a space (Auge, 79).
How does this relate to the Internet?
That question at once assumes that we can think of the Internet as a city. Can we? William J. Mitchell, writing in City of Bits, says that
"The Net negates geometry. While it does have a definite topology of computational nodes and radiating boulevards for bits, and while the locations of the nodes and links can be plotted on plans to produce surprisingly Haussman-like diagrams, it is fundamentally and profoundly antispatial" (Mitchell, 8).
Metaphorically, though, I think conceptualizing the Internet as a city, and thus, linking it to de Certeau's walking in the city, has its advantages.
The Internet is a city of darkness, a city where we each have our own tiny flashlights, and in the process of surfing illuminate only what we see in front of us. Links represent the terminators of these arcs of light. Beyond them, we cannot be sure of what lies. The titles of links give us an idea, but a link which says "disney.com" might lead somewhere else entirely. Within this city in perpetual blackout, enclaves are set up. Along the darkened streets, anyone can set up shop. Some choose not to be noticed or located. Others burn brightly with the collected light of many visitors. From out of the darkness, hackers make hit-and-fade attacks against websites, defacing them, taking advantage of fissures, breaks in surveillance. Undetected, they recede back into the cover of darkness. Human agency is required to make any sense of the Internet ... maps do not exist except momentarily in the minds of those who enact the process of walking down the street by linking across various documents and pages.
Walking Through the Labyrinth
All of this has informed my work on A Day in the Life of ... With this piece of hypertext I attempted to create a labyrinth through which a user could take on the role of one of de Certeau's pedestrians. A map of one's journey through the hypertext should be impossible to create, except in the memory of the user completing the narrative.
read about the author of this work of hypertext
sign the author's guestbook or send him email
become a pedestrian in a city of darkness
back up a bit
the entire content of this website is copyright © 2000 Jason Weidemann