Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau

General Introduction

This essay is part of a continuing investigation of the ways in which users-commonly assumed to be passive and guided by established rules-operate. The point is not so much to discuss this elusive yet fundamental subject as to make such a discussion possible; that is, by means of inquiries and hypotheses, to indicate pathways for further research. This goal will be achieved if everyday practices, "ways of operating" or doing things, no longer appear as merely the obscure background of social activity, and if a body of theoretical questions, methods, categories, and perspectives, by penetrating this obscurity, make it possible to articulate them.

The examination of such practices does not imply a return to individuality. The social atomism which over the past three centuries has served as the historical axiom of social analysis posits an elementary unit-the individual-on the basis of which groups are supposed to be formed and to which they are supposed to be always reducible. This axiom, which has been challenged by more than a century of sociological, economic, anthropological, and psychoanalytic research, (although in history that is perhaps no argument) plays no part in this study. Analysis shows that a relation (always social) determines its terms, and not the reverse, and that each individual is a locus in which an incoherent (and often contradictory) plurality of such relational determinations interact. Moreover, the question at hand concerns modes of operation or schemata of action, and not directly the subjects (or persons) who are their authors or vehicles. It concerns an operational logic whose models may go as far back as the age-old ruses of fishes and insects that disguise or transform themselves in order to survive, and which has in any case been concealed by the form of rationality currently dominant in Western culture. The purpose of this work is to make explicit the systems of operational combination (les combinatoires d'operations) which also compose a "culture," and to bring to light the models of action characteristic of users whose status as the dominated element in society (a status that does not mean that they are either passive or docile) is concealed by the euphemistic term "consumers." Everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others.

1. Consumer production

Since this work grew out of studies of "popular culture" or marginal groups,[1] the investigation of everyday practices was first delimited negatively by the necessity of not locating cultural difference in groups associated with the "counter-culture"-groups that were already singled out, often privileged, and already partly absorbed into folklore-and that were no more than symptoms or indexes. Three further, positive determinations were particularly important in articulating our research.

Usage, or consumption

Many, often remarkable, works have sought to study the representations of a society, on the one hand, and its modes of behavior, on the other. Building on our knowledge of these social phenomena, it seems both possible and necessary to determine the use to which they are put by groups or individuals. For example, the analysis of the images broadcast by television (representation) and of the time spent watching television (behavior) should be complemented by a study of what the cultural consumer "makes" or "does" during this time and with these images. The same goes for the use of urban space, the products purchased in the supermarket, the stories and legends distributed by the newspapers, and so on.

The "making" in question is a production, a Poiesis[2] -but a hidden one, because it is scattered over areas defined and occupied by systems of "production" (television, urban development, commerce, etc.), and because the steadily increasing expansion of these systems no longer leaves "consumers" any place in which they can indicate what they make or do with the products of these systems. To a rationalized, expansionist and at the same time centralized, clamorous, and spectacular production corresponds another production, called "consumption." The latter is devious, it is dispersed, but it insinuates itself everywhere, silently and almost invisibly, because it does not manifest itself through its own products, but rather through its ways of using the products imposed by a dominant economic order.

For instance, the ambiguity that subverted from within the Spanish colonizers' "success" in imposing their own culture on the indigenous Indians is well known. Submissive, and even consenting to their subjection, the Indians nevertheless often made of the rituals, representations, and laws imposed on them something quite different from what their conquerors had in mind; they subverted them not by rejecting or altering them, but by using them with respect to ends and references foreign to the system they had no choice but to accept. They were other within the very colonization that outwardly assimilated them; their use of the dominant social order deflected its power, which they lacked the means to challenge; they escaped it without leaving it. The strength of their difference lay in procedures of "consumption." To a lesser degree, a similar ambiguity creeps into our societies through the use made by the "common people" of the culture disseminated and imposed by the elites" producing the language.

The presence and circulation of a representation (taught by preachers, educators, and popularizers as the key to socioeconomic advancement) tells us nothing about what it is for its users. We must first analyze its manipulation by users who are not its makers. Only then can we gauge the difference or similarity between the production of the image and the secondary production hidden in the process of its utilization.

Our investigation is concerned with this difference. It can use as its theoretical model the construction of individual sentences with an established vocabulary and syntax. In linguistics, "performance" and "competence" are different: the act of speaking (with all the enunciative strategies that implies) is not reducible to a knowledge of the language. By adopting the point of view of enunciation-which is the subject of our study-we privilege the act of speaking; according to that point of view, speaking operates within the field of a linguistic system; it effects an appropriation, or reappropriation, of language by its speakers; it establishes a present relative to a time and place; and it posits a contract with the other (the interlocutor) in a network of places and relations. These four characteristics of the speech act[3] can be found in many other practices (walking, cooking, etc.). An objective is at least adumbrated by this parallel, which is, as we shall see, only partly valid. Such an objective assumes that (like the Indians mentioned above) users make (bricolent) innumerable and infinitesimal transformations of and within the dominant cultural economy in order to adapt it to their own interests and their own rules. We must determine the procedures, bases, effects, and possibilities of this collective activity.

The procedures of everyday creativity

A second orientation of our investigation can be explained by reference to Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish. In this work, instead of analyzing the apparatus exercising power (i.e., the localizable, expansionist, repressive, and legal institutions), Foucault analyzes the mechanisms (dispositifs) that have sapped the strength of these institutions and surreptitiously reorganized the functioning of power: "miniscule" technical procedures acting on and with details, redistributing a discursive space in order to make it the means of a generalized "discipline" (surveillance).[4] This approach raises a new and different set of problems to be investigated. Once again, however, this "microphysics of power" privileges the productive apparatus (which produces the "discipline"), even though it discerns in "education" a system of "repression" and shows how, from the wings as it were, silent technologies determine or short-circuit institutional stage directions. If it is true that the grid of "discipline" is everywhere becoming clearer and more extensive, it is all the more urgent to discover how an entire society resists being reduced to it, what popular procedures (also "miniscule" and quotidian) manipulate the mechanisms of discipline and conform to them only in order to evade them, and finally, what "ways of operating" form the counterpart, on the consumer's (or "dominee's"?) side, of the mute processes that organize the establishment of socioeconomic order.

These "ways of operating" constitute the innumerable practices by means of which users reappropriate the space organized by techniques of sociocultural production. They pose questions at once analogous and contrary to those dealt with in Foucault's book: analogous, in that the goal is to perceive and analyze the microbe-like operations proliferating within technocratic structures and deflecting their functioning by means of a multitude of "tactics" articulated in the details of everyday life; contrary, in that the goal is not to make clearer how the violence of order is transmuted into a disciplinary technology, but rather to bring to light the clandestine forms taken by the dispersed, tactical, and makeshift creativity of groups or individuals already caught in the nets of "discipline:" Pushed to their ideal limits, these procedures and ruses of consumers compose the network of an antidiscipline[5] which is the subject of this book.

The formal structure of practice

It may be supposed that these operations-multiform and fragmentary, relative to situations and details, insinuated into and concealed within devices whose mode of usage they constitute, and thus lacking their own ideologies or institutions-conform to certain rules. In other words, there must be a logic of these practices. We are thus confronted once again by the ancient problem: What is an art or "way of making"? From the Greeks to Durkheim, a long tradition has sought to describe with precision the complex (and not at all simple or "impoverished") rules that could account for these operations.[6] From this point of view, "popular culture," as well as a whole literature called "popular,"[7] take on a different aspect: they present themselves essentially as "arts of making" this or that, i.e., as combinatory or utilizing modes of consumption. These practices bring into play a "popular" ratio, a way of thinking invested in a way of acting, an art of combination which cannot be dissociated from an art of using.

In order to grasp the formal structure of these practices, I have carried out two sorts of investigations. The first, more descriptive in nature, has concerned certain ways of making that were selected according to their value for the strategy of the analysis, and with a view to obtaining fairly differentiated variants: readers' practices, practices related to urban spaces, utilizations of everyday rituals, re-uses and functions of the memory through the "authorities" that make possible (or permit) everyday practices, etc. In addition, two related investigations have tried to trace the intricate forms of the operations proper to the recompositon of a space (the Croix-Rousse quarter in Lyons) by familial practices, on the one hand, and on the other, to the tactics of the art of cooking, which simultaneously organizes a network of relations, poetic ways of "making do" (bricolage), and a re-use of marketing structures.[8]

The second series of investigations has concerned the scientific literature that might furnish hypotheses allowing the logic of unselfconscious thought to be taken seriously. Three areas are of special interest. First, sociologists, anthropologists, and indeed historians (from E. Goffman to P. Bourdieu, from Mauss to M. DÈtienne, from J. Boissevain to E. 0. Laumann) have elaborated a theory of such practices, mixtures of rituals and makeshifts (bricolages), manipulations of spaces, operators of networks.[9] Second, in the wake of J. Fishman's work, the ethnomethodological and sociolinguistic investigations of H. Garfinkel, W. Labov, H. Sachs, E. A. Schegloff, and others have described the procedures of everyday interactions relative to structures of expectation, negotiation, and improvisation proper to ordinary language.[10]

Finally, in addition to the semiotics and philosophies of "convention" (from O. Ducrot to D. Lewis),[11] we must look into the ponderous formal logics and their extension, in the field of analytical philosophy, into the domains of action (G. H. von Wright, A. C. Danto, R. J. Bernstein),[12] time (A. N. Prior, N. Rescher and J. Urquhart),[13] and modalisation (G. E. Hughes and M. J. Cresswell, A. R. White).[14] These extensions yield a weighty apparatus seeking to grasp the delicate layering and plasticity of ordinary language, with its almost orchestral combinations of logical elements (temporalization, modalization, injunctions, predicates of action, etc.) whose dominants are determined in turn by circumstances and conjunctural demands. An investigation analogous to Chomsky's study of the oral uses of language must seek to restore to everyday practices their logical and cultural legitimacy, at least in the sectors-still very limited-in which we have at our disposal the instruments necessary to account for them.[15] This kind of research is complicated by the fact that these practices themselves alternately exacerbate and disrupt our logics. Its regrets are like those of the poet, and like him, it struggles against oblivion: "And I forgot the element of chance introduced by circumstances, calm or haste, sun or cold, dawn or dusk, the taste of strawberries or abandonment, the half-understood message, the front page of newspapers, the voice on the telephone, the most anodyne conversation, the most anonymous man or woman, everything that speaks, makes noise, passes by, touches us lightly, meets us head on."[16]

The marginality of a majority

These three determinations make possible an exploration of the cultural field, an exploration defined by an investigative problematics and punctuated by more detailed inquiries located by reference to hypotheses that remain to be verified. Such an exploration will seek to situate the types of operations characterizing consumption in the framework of an economy, and to discern in these practices of appropriation indexes of the creativity that flourishes at the very point where practice ceases to have its own language.

Marginality is today no longer limited to minority groups, but is rather massive and pervasive; this cultural activity of the non-producers of culture, an activity that is unsigned, unreadable, and unsymbolized, remains the only one possible for all those who nevertheless buy and pay for the showy products through which a productivist economy articulates itself. Marginality is becoming universal. A marginal group has now become a silent majority.

That does not mean the group is homogeneous. The procedures allowing the re-use of products are linked together in a kind of obligatory language, and their functioning is related to social situations and power relationships. Confronted by images on television, the immigrant worker does not have the same critical or creative elbow-room as the average citizen. On the same terrain, his inferior access to information, financial means, and compensations of all kinds elicits an increased deviousness, fantasy, or laughter. Similar strategic deployments, when acting on different relationships of force, do not produce identical effects. Hence the necessity of differentiating both the "actions" or "engagements" (in the military sense) that the system of products effects within the consumer grid, and the various kinds of room to maneuver left for consumers by the situations in which they exercise their "art."

The relation of procedures to the fields of force in which they act must therefore lead to a polemological analysis of culture. Like law (one of its models), culture articulates conflicts and alternately legitimizes, displaces, or controls the superior force. It develops in an atmosphere of tensions, and often of violence, for which it provides symbolic balances, contracts of compatibility and compromises, all more or less temporary. The tactics of consumption, the ingenious ways in which the weak make use of the strong, thus lend a political dimension to everyday practices.

2. The tactics of practice

In the course of our research, the scheme, rather too neatly dichotomized, of the relations between consumers and the mechanisms of production has been diversified in relation to three kinds of concerns: the search for a problematics that could articulate the material collected; the description of a limited number of practices (reading, talking, walking, dwelling, cooking, etc.) considered to be particularly significant; and the extension of the analysis of these everyday operations to scientific fields apparently governed by another kind of logic. Through the presentation of our investigation along these three lines, the overly schematic character of the general statement can be somewhat nuanced.

Trajectories, tactics, and rhetorics

As unrecognized producers, poets of their own acts, silent discoverers of their own paths in the jungle of functionalist rationality, consumers produce through their signifying practices something that might be considered similar to the "wandering lines" ("lignes derre") drawn by the autistic children studied by F. Deligny[17]: "indirect" or "errant" trajectories obeying their own logic. In the technocratically constructed, written, and functionalized space in which the consumers move about, their trajectories form unforeseeable sentences, partly unreadable paths across a space. Although they are composed with the vocabularies of established languages (those of television, newspapers, supermarkets, or museum sequences) and although they remain subordinated to the prescribed syntactical forms (temporal modes of schedules, paradigmatic orders of spaces, etc.), the trajectories trace out the ruses of other interests and desires that are neither determined nor captured by the systems in which they develop.[18]

Even statistical investigation remains virtually ignorant of these trajectories, since it is satisfied with classifying, calculating, and putting into tables the "lexical" units which compose them but to which they cannot be reduced, and with doing this in reference to its own categories and taxonomies. Statistical investigation grasps the material of these practices, but not their form; it determines the elements used, but not the "phrasing" produced by the bricolage (the artisan-like inventiveness) and the discursiveness that combine these elements, which are all in general circulation and rather drab. Statistical inquiry, in breaking down these "efficacious meanderings" into units that it defines itself, in reorganizing the results of its analyses according to its own codes, "finds" only the homogenous. The power of its calculations ties in its ability to divide, but it is precisely through this analytic fragmentation that it loses sight of what it claims to seek and to represent.[19]

"Trajectory" suggests a movement, but it also involves a plane projection, a flattening out. It is a transcription. A graph (which the eye can master) is substituted for an operation; a line which can be reversed (i.e., read in both directions) does duty for an irreversible temporal series, a tracing for acts. To avoid this reduction, I resort to a distinction between tactics and strategies.

I call a "strategy" the calculus of force-relationships which becomes possible when a subject of will and power (a proprietor, an enterprise, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated from an "environment." A strategy assumes a place that can be circumscribed as proper (propre) and thus serve as the basis for generating relations with an exterior distinct from it (competitors, adversaries, "clienteles," "targets," or "objects" of research). Political, economic, and scientific rationality has been constructed on this strategic model.

I call a "tactic," on the other hand, a calculus which cannot count on a "proper" (a spatial or institutional localization), nor thus on a borderline distinguishing the other as a visible totality. The place of a tactic belongs to the other.[20] A tactic insinuates itself into the other's place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance. It has at its disposal no base where it can capitalize on its advantages, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances. The "proper" is a victory of space over time. On the contrary, because it does not have a place, a tactic depends on time-it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized "on the wing." Whatever it wins, it does not keep. It must constantly manipulate events in order to turn them into "opportunities." The weak must continually turn to their own ends forces alien to them. This is achieved in the propitious moments when they are able to combine heterogeneous elements (thus, in the supermarket, the housewife confronts heterogeneous and mobile data-what she has in the refrigerator, the tastes, appetites, and moods of her guests, the best buys and their possible combinations with what she already has on hand at home, etc.); the intellectual synthesis of these given elements takes the form, however, not of a discourse, but of the decision itself, the act and manner in which the opportunity is "seized."

Many everyday practices (talking, reading, moving about, shopping, cooking, etc.) are tactical in character. And so are, more generally, many "ways of operating": victories of the "weak" over the "strong" (whether the strength be that of powerful people or the violence of things or of an imposed order, etc.), clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things, "hunter's cunning," maneuvers, polymorphic simulations, joyful discoveries, poetic as well as warlike. The Greeks called these "ways of operating" metis.[21] But they go much further back, to the immemorial intelligence displayed in the tricks and imitations of plants and fishes. From the depths of the ocean to the streets of modern megalopolises, there is a continuity and permanence in these tactics.

In our societies, as local stabilities break down, it is as if, no longer fixed by a circumscribed community, tactics wander out of orbit, making consumers into immigrants in a system too vast to be their own, too tightly woven for them to escape from it. But these tactics introduce a Brownian movement into the system. They also show the extent to which intelligence is inseparable from the everyday struggles and pleasures that it articulates. Strategies, in contrast, conceal beneath objective calculations their connection with the power that sustains them from within the stronghold of its own "proper" place or institution.

The discipline of rhetoric offers models for differentiating among the types of tactics. This is not surprising, since, on the one hand, it describes the "turns" or tropes of which language can be both the site and the object, and, on the other hand, these manipulations are related to the ways of changing (seducing, persuading, making use of) the will of another (the audience).[22] For these two reasons, rhetoric, the science of the "ways of speaking," offers an array of figure-types for the analysis of everyday ways of acting even though such analysis is in theory excluded from scientific discourse. Two logics of action (the one tactical, the other strategic) arise from these two facets of practicing language. In the space of a language (as in that of games), a society makes more explicit the formal rules of action and the operations that differentiate them.

In the enormous rhetorical corpus devoted to the art of speaking or operating, the Sophists have a privileged place, from the point of view of tactics. Their principle was, according to the Greek rhetorician Corax, to make the weaker position seem the stronger, and they claimed to have the power of turning the tables on the powerful by the way in which they made use of the opportunities offered by the particular situation.[23] Moreover, their theories inscribe tactics in a long tradition of reflection on the relationships between reason and particular actions and situations. Passing by way of The Art of War by the Chinese author Sun Tzu[24] or the Arabic anthology, The Book of Tricks,[25] this tradition of a logic articulated on situations and the will of others continues into contemporary sociolinguistics.

Reading, talking, dwelling, cooking, etc.

To describe these everyday practices that produce without capitalizing, that is, without taking control over time, one starting point seemed inevitable because it is the "exorbitant" focus of contemporary culture and its consumption: reading. From TV to newspapers, from advertising to all sorts of mercantile epiphanies, our society is characterized by a cancerous growth of vision, measuring . everything by its ability to show or be shown and transmuting communication into a visual journey. It is a sort of epic of the eye and of the impulse to read. The economy itself, transformed into a "semeiocracy"[26], encourages a hypertrophic development of reading. Thus, for the binary set production-consumption, one would substitute its more general equivalent: writing-reading. Reading (an image or a text), moreover, seems to constitute the maximal development of the passivity assumed to characterize the consumer, who is conceived of as a voyeur (whether trogiodytic or itinerant) in a "show biz society."[27]

In reality, the activity of reading has on the contrary all the characteristics of a silent production: the drift across the page, the metamorphosis of the text effected by the wandering eyes of the reader, the improvisation and expectation of meanings inferred from a few words, leaps over written spaces in an ephemeral dance. But since he is incapable of stockpiling (unless he writes or records), the reader cannot protect himself against the erosion of time (while reading, he forgets himself and he forgets what he has read) unless he buys the object (book, image) which is no more than a substitute (the spoor or promise) of moments 'lost" in reading. He insinuates into another person's text the ruses of pleasure and appropriation: he poaches on it, is transported into it, pluralizes himself in it like the internal rumblings of one's body. Ruse, metaphor, arrangement, this production is also an "invention" of the memory. Words become the outlet or product of silent histories. The readable transforms itself into the memorable: Barthes reads Proust in Stendhal's text;[28] the viewer reads the landscape of his childhood in the evening news. The thin film of writing becomes a movement of strata, a play of spaces. A different world (the reader's) slips into the author's place.

This mutation makes the text habitable, like a rented apartment. It transforms another person's property into a space borrowed for a moment by a transient. Renters make comparable changes in an apartment they furnish with their acts and memories; as do speakers, in the language into which they insert both the messages of their native tongue and, through their accent, through their own "turns of phrase," etc., their own history; as do pedestrians, in the streets they fill with the forests of their desires and goals. In the same way the users of social codes turn them into metaphors and ellipses of their own quests. The ruling order serves as a support for innumerable productive activities, while at the same time blinding its proprietors to this creativity (like those "bosses" who simply can't see what is being created within their own enterprises).[29] Carried to its limit, this order would be the equivalent of the rules of meter and rhyme for poets of earlier times: a body of constraints stimulating new discoveries, a set of rules with which improvisation plays.

Reading thus introduces an "art" which is anything but passive. It resembles rather that art whose theory was developed by medieval poets and romancers: an innovation infiltrated into the text and even into the terms of a tradition. Imbricated within the strategies of modernity (which identify creation with the invention of a personal language, whether cultural or scientific), the procedures of contemporary consumption appear to constitute a subtle art of "renters" who know how to insinuate their countless differences into the dominant text. In the Middle Ages, the text was framed by the four, or seven, interpretations of which it was held to be susceptible. And it was a book. Today, this text no longer comes from a tradition. It is imposed by the generation of a productivist technocracy. It is no longer a referential book, but a whole society made into a book, into the writing of the anonymous law of production.

It is useful to compare other arts with this art of readers. For example, the art of conversationalists: the rhetoric of ordinary conversation consists of practices which transform "speech situations," verbal productions in which the interlacing of speaking positions weaves an oral fabric without individual owners, creations of a communication that belongs to no one. Conversation is a provisional and collective effect of competence in the art of manipulating "commonplaces" and the inevitability of events in such a way as to make them "habitable"[30]

But our research has concentrated above all on the uses of space,[31] on the ways of frequenting or dwelling in a place, on the complex processes of the art of cooking, and on the many ways of establishing a kind of reliability within the situations imposed on an individual, that is, of making it possible to live in them by reintroducing into them the plural mobility of goals and desires-an art of manipulating and enjoying.[32]

Extensions: prospects and politics

The analysis of these tactics was extended to two areas marked out for study, although our approach to them changed as the research proceeded: the first concerns prospects, or futurology, and the second, the individual subject in political life.

The "scientific" character of futurology poses a problem from the very start. If the objective of such research is ultimately to establish the intelligibility of present reality, and its rules as they reflect a concern for coherence, we must recognize, on the one hand, the nonfunctional status of an increasing number of concepts, and on the other, the inadequacy of procedures for thinking about, in our case, space. Chosen here as an object of study, space is not really accessible through the usual political and economic determinations; besides, futurology provides no theory of space.[33] The metaphorization of the concepts employed, the gap between the atomization characteristic of research and the generalization required in reporting it, etc., suggest that we take as a definition of futurological discourse the "simulation" that characterizes its method.

Thus in futurology we must consider: (1) the relations between a certain kind of rationality and an imagination (which is in discourse the mark of the locus of its production); (2) the difference between, on the one hand, the tentative moves, pragmatic ruses, and successive tactics that mark the stages of practical investigation and, on the other hand, the strategic representations offered to the public as the product of these operations.[34]

In current discussions, one can discern the surreptitious return of a rhetoric that metaphorizes the fields "proper" to scientific analysis, while, in research laboratories, one finds an increasing distance between actual everyday practices (practices of the same order as the art of cooking) and the "scenarios" that punctuate with utopian images the hum of operations in every laboratory: on the one hand, mixtures of science and fiction; on the other, a disparity between the spectacle of overall strategies and the opaque reality of local tactics. We are thus led to inquire into the "underside" of scientific activity and to ask whether it does not function as a collage-juxtaposing, but linking less and less effectively, the theoretical ambitions of the discourse with the stubborn persistence of ancient tricks in the everyday work of agencies and laboratories. In any event, this split structure, observable in so many administrations and companies, requires us to rethink all the tactics which have so far been neglected by the epistemology of science.

The question bears on more than the procedures of production: in a different form, it concerns as well the status of the individual in technical systems, since the involvement of the subject diminishes in proportion to the technocratic expansion of these systems. Increasingly constrained, yet less and less concerned with these vast frameworks, the individual detaches himself from them without being able to escape them and can henceforth only try to outwit them, to pull tricks on them, to rediscover, within an electronicized and computerized megalopolis, the "art" of the hunters and rural folk of earlier days. The fragmentation of the social fabric today lends a political dimension to the problem of the subject. In support of this claim can be adduced the symptoms represented by individual conflicts and local operations, and even by ecological organizations, though these are preoccupied primarily with the effort to control relations with the environment collectively. These ways of reappropriating the product-system, ways created by consumers, have as their goal a therapeutics for deteriorating social relations and make use of techniques of re-employment in which we can recognize the procedures of everyday practices. A politics of such ploys should be developed. In the perspective opened up by Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents, such a politics should also inquire into the public ("democratic") image of the microscopic, multiform, and innumerable connections between manipulating and enjoying, the fleeting and massive reality of a social activity at play with the order that contains it.

Witold Gombrowicz, an acute visionary, gave this politics its herothe anti-hero who haunts our research-when he gave a voice to the small-time official (Musil's "man without qualities" or that ordinary man to whom Freud dedicated Civilization and Its Discontents) whose refrain is "When one does not have what one wants, one must want what one has": "I have had, you see, to resort more and more to very small, almost invisible pleasures, little extras.... You've no idea how great one becomes with these little details, it's incredible how one grows."[35]


[1] See M. de Certeau, La Prise de parole (Paris: DDB, 1968); La Possession de Loudun (Paris: Julliard-Gallimard, 1970); L'Absent de l'histoire (Paris: Mame, 1973); La Culture au pluriel (Paris: UGE IO/ 18, 1974); Une Politique de la langue (with D. Julia and J. Revel) (Paris: Gailimard, 1975); etc.

[2] From the Greek poiein "to create, invent, generate."

[3] See Emile Benveniste, Problemes de linguistique generate (Paris: Gallimard, 1966), 1, 251-266.

[4] Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir (Paris: Gallimard, 1975); Discipline and Punish, trans. A. Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1977).

[5] From this point of view as well, the works of Henri Lefebvre on everyday life constitute a fundamental source.

[6] On art, from the Encyclopidie to Durkheim, see below pp. 66-68.

[7] For this literature, see the booklets mentioned in Le Livre dans la vie quotidienne (Paris: BibliothÈque Nationale, 1975) and in Genevieve Bolleme, La Bible bleue, Anthologie d'une litterature "populaire" (Paris: Flammarion, 1975),141-379.

[8] The first of these two monographs was written by Pierre Mayol, the second by Luce Giard (on the basis of interviews made by Marie Ferrier). See L'Invention du quotidian, 11, Luce Giard and Pierre Mayol, Habiter, cuisiner (Paris: UGE IO/ 18, 1980).

[9] By Erving Goffman, see especially Interaction Rituals (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1976); The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Woodstock, N.Y.: The Overlook Press, 1973); Frame Analysis (New York: Harper & Row, 1974). By Pierre Bourdieu, see Esquisse d'une thÈorie de la pratique. PrÈcÈdÈ de trois Ètudes d'ethnologie kabyle (Geneve: Droz, 1972); "Les StratÈgies matri-moniales," Annales: economies, societies, civilisations 27 (1972), 1105-1127; "Le Langage autorisÈ," Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, No. 5-6 (November 1975), 184-190; "Le Sens pratique," Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, No. I (February 1976), 43-86. By Marcel Mauss, see especially "Techniques du corps," in Sociologie et anthropologie (Paris: PUF, 1950). By Marcel DÈtientie and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Les Ruses de l'intelligence. La metis des Grecs (Paris: Flammarion, 1974). By Jeremy Boissevain, Friends o 'Friendv. Networks, Manipulators and Coalitions (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974). By Edward O. Laumann, Bonds of Pluralism. The Form and Substance of Urban Social Networks (New York: John Wiley, 1973).

[10] Joshua A. Fishman, The Sociology of Language (Rowley, Mass.: Newbury, 1972). See also the essays in Studies in Social Interaction, ed. David Sudnow (New York: The Free Press, 1972); William Labov, Sociolinguistic Patterns (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1973); etc.

[11] Oswald Ducrot, Dire et ne pas dire (Paris: Hermann, 1972); and David K. Lewis, Convention: a Philosophical Study (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974), and Counterfactuals (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973).

[12] Georg H. von Wright, Norm and Action (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963); Essay in Deontic Logic and the General Theory of Action (Amsterdam: North Holland, 1968); Explanation and Understanding (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1971). And A. C. Danto, Analytical Philosophy of Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973); Richard J. Bernstein, Praxis and Action (London: Duckworth, 1972); and La Semantique de l'action, ed. Paul Ricoeur and Doriane Tiffeneau (Paris: CNRS, 1977).

[13] A. N. Prior, Past, Present and Future: a Study of "Tense Logic" (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967) and Papers on Tense and Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968). N. Rescher and A. Urquhart, Temporal Logic, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975).

[14] Alan R. White, Modal Thinking (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975); G. E. Hughes and M. J. Cresswell, An Introduction to Modal Logic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973); I. R. Zeeman, Modal Logic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975); S. Haacker, Deviant Logic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976); Discussing Language with Chomsky, Halliday, etc., ed. H. Parret (The Hague: Mouton, 1975).

[15] As it is more technical, the study concerning the logics of action and time, as well as modalization, will be published elsewhere.

[16] Jacques Sojcher, La Demarche poetique (Paris: UGE IO/ 18, 1976), 145.

[17] See Fernand Deligny, Les Vagabonds efficaces (Paris: Maspero, 1970); Nous et l'innocent (Paris: Maspero, 1977); etc.

[18] See M. de Certeau, La Culture au pluriel, 283-308; and "Actions culturelles et strategies politiques," La Revue nouvelle, April 1974, 351-360.

[19] The analysis of the principles of isolation allows us to make this criticism both more nuanced and more precise. See Pour une histoire de la statistique (Paris: INSEE, 1978), 1, in particular Alain Desrosieres, "ElÈments pour l'histoire des nomenclatures socio-professionnelles," 155-231.

[20] The works of P. Bourdieu and those of M. DÈtienne and J.-P. Vernant make possible the notion of "tactic" more precise, but the socio-linguistic investigations of H. Garfinkel, H. Sacks, et al. also contribute to this clarification. See notes 9 and 10.

[21] M. DÈtienne and J.-P. Vernant, Les Ruses de l'intelligence.

[22] See S. Toulmin, The Uses of Argument (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958); Ch. Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, TraitÈ de l'argumentation (Bruxelles: UniversitÈ libre, 1970); J. Dubois, et al., Rhetorique generale (Paris: Larousse, 1970); etc.

[23] The works of Corax, said to be the author of the earliest Greek text on rhetoric, are lost; on this point, see Aristotle, Rhetoric, 11, 24, 1402a. See W. K. C. Guthrie, The Sophists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 178-179.

[24] Sun Tzu, The Art o War, trans. S. B. Griffith (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1963). Sun Tzu (Sun Zi) should not be confused with the later military theorist Hsiin Tzu (Xun Zi).

[25] Le Livre des ruses. La Strategie politique des Arabes, ed. R. K. Khawam (Paris: PhÈbus, 1976).

[26] See Jean Baudrillard, Le Systeme des objets (Paris: Gailimard, 1968); La SocietÈ de consommation (Paris: Denoel, 1970); Pour une critique de l'economie politique du signe (Paris: Gallimard, 1972).

[27] Guy Debord, La Societe du spectacle (Paris: Buchet-Chastel, 1967).

[28] Roland Barthes, Le Plaisir du texte (Paris: Seuil, 1973), 58; The Pleasure of the Text, trans. R. Miller (New York: Hill and Wang)

[29] See GÈrard Mordillat and Nicolas Philibert, Ces Patrons eclaires qui craignent la lumiere (Paris: Albatros, 1979).

[30] See the essays of H. Sacks, E. A. Schegloff, etc., quoted above. This analysis, entitled Arts de dire, will be published separately.

[31] See below, Part 111, Chapters VII to IX.

[32] We have devoted monographs to these practices in which the proliferating and disseminated bibliography on the subject will be found (see L'invention du quotidien, 11, Habiter, Cuisiner, by Luce Giard and Pierre Mayol).

[33] See, for example, A. Lipietz, "Structuration de l'espace foncier et amenagement du territoire," Environment and Planning, A, 7 (1975), 415-425, and "Approche thÈorique des transformations de l'espace franÁais," Espaces et Societes, No. 16 (1975), 3-14.

[34] The analyses found in Travaux et recherches de prospective published by the Documentation FranÁaise, in particular in volumes 14, 59, 65 and 66, and notably the studies by Yves Barel and Jacques Durand have served as the basis for this investigation into futurology. It will be published separately.

[35] W. Gombrowicz, Cosmos (Paris: Gallimard Folio, 1971), 165-168; originally Kosmos (1965); Cosmos, trans. E. Mosbacker (London: Macgibbon and Kee, 1967).

Above copied from:

Monday, August 18, 2008

From A to D and back again:The emerging aesthetics of Interactive Art, Simon Penny

First published in Leonardo Electronic Almanac april 1996
NextWave catalog, May 1996, Melbourne Australia

Interactive art represents a radical phase-shift in western esthetics. Artists are confronting unexplored territory: the esthetics of machine mediated interactivity. Designing the interactive experience adds an entire dimension to the esthetic endevour, one without precedent in the visual and plastic arts. In the west, the visual arts have no tradition of an esthetics of interactivity. Six hundred years of painting has resulted in a rich esthetics of the still image, of color and line, shape and area, of representational geometry and perspective. The effect of six hundred years of enculturation is that we know how to read images (which observe the conventions of renaissance perspective) before we can read text. One hundred years of moving image has given us a culturally established set of cinematic conventions: we can read cinema. But as yet we have no culturally established esthtetic of real time interaction.

The implications of this observation are resounding. Jonathan Crary cogently argues that meaning in an artwork is constituted between the viewer and the work, that the `techniques of the observer' are as important as the techniques of the artist. Artists are struggling to establish a new canon, a new genre, but not only are understandings about the dynamics of the interactive experience very limited among artists, but the `techniques of the user' are non-existant. What results is a crisis of meaning: the work cannot `mean' because the user doesn't speak the language.

What I hope to do here is lay out some tentative definitions and contingent categorisations, and question some obfuscating notions, in order to stimulate closer, more rigorous thought on the subject. In the past, some people have proposed to me that a photo or a painting is interactive, I find that infuriating. So I'd like to define `interactive' for the purpose of this discussion: An interactive system is a machine system which reacts in the moment, by virtue of automated reasoning based on data from its sensory apparatus. An Interactive Artwork is such a system which addresses artistic issues. A painting is an instance of representation. A film is a sequence of representations. Interactive artworks are not instances of representation, they are virtual machines which themselves produces instances of representation based on real time inputs.

There are two new esthetic tasks in interactive art. The first is to discover the nuances and modalities of the interactive dynamic, and to find out how to apply these to esthetic goals. The second is the integration of the esthetically manipulated interactive dynamic with the other components of the work, be they physical objects, images or sounds, into an integrated esthetic whole.

Interactivity implies real time, now. The difference between an interactive application and handwritten correspondence is essentially one of time. There is a time frame which is percieved by humans as `real-time' response, it is the time frame of physiological reaction. Slower (or faster) than this is not `real time'. Switching a light switch produces a real time response, but it is simplistic. Interactivity allows reactions by a machine in real time which are intellectually and cognitively complex. This defines the medium. This capability is made possible by high speed data processing.

Observation of altered of spatial and temporal relationships has been one of the staples of new media theory for decades. These changing relationships are effecting critical social and cultural changes, and it is to be expected that artists will get interested in such changes.

Peter Callas observed some years ago that the televised spectacle was in the process of taking on the functions historically assigned to the architectural monument. The architectural monument is localised in space but persistent over time. The broadcast media spectacle, on the other hand, is localised in time but spread wide over space. A book is a medium in which time is collapsed (you read after I write) but space remains stable (I cannot access the book unless I am sharing my physical space with the book). Conversely, telematic works collapse space but `maintain' time. A book is like a monument. A conventional artwork is like a monument. Interactive artworks may be inherently Warholian, they may have significance only for their "15 minutes of fame". On the other hand some interactive artworks present themselves in the guise of static, permanent `monumental' things (this may only be a transition phase).

The advent of artworks which combine electronic image (and sound) technologies, sculptural utilisation of space and digitally coordinated automation of parts; often with electromechanical elements and recourse to data from sensors or other user input devices; presents us with a new esthetic complex, the conformations of which are only marginally amenable to the techniques of traditional artistic analysis. Therefore it seems necessary to attempt an evaluation of the esthetic modalities and formal qualities of various types of interactive work, by reference to some well known examples.

Two preliminary distinctions must be made. In the first case I would like to distinguish between systems which embrace the `top-down', serial processing single cpu model. These works are usually built on or for desktop computers. Another genre of work, inspired by robotics, complexity theory and artificial life models, utilises discrete or networked multiple processors, and are usually installations or performances with mobile components. This paper will concentrate on the former category (although my own work concentrates on the latter)

A second distinction must be drawn within the `single cpu' category: between screenal and spatial interactivity. The first extends the idea of the painting or the cinema/tv screen, the second engages the kinesthetic aspects of embodiment, the sensibilites of sculpture and dance. Hypertextual works offers through the screenal window a navigable dataspace, a space which is experienced intellectually rather than physically: Henry See's A Memory Project and Lynn Hershman's Deep Contact were early examples of this paradigm which has become ubiquitous in what is now called `interactive multimedia'.

Many interactive artworks explore the relationship between real space and virtual space. One way to understand this phenomenon is to `see' it as a visualisation of the relationship between the physical world and the imperceptible digital world. The entire phenomenon of VR may be seen this way, as a metaphorisation of digital data'space' into the visual. Certainly the conflation of digital communication with some kind of non-existent `space' is a consistent trope from the `cyberspace' of Gibson's Neuromancer to Lawnmowerman. Thankfully, VR's fifteen minutes of fame came and went. Now we look back in wonder at all the utopian brouhaha that was generated around what basically amounts to a viewing device. I note that many projects which are presented as `VR' these days have dumped the HMD and are presented on monitors or projections screens, they amount to navigable CAD projects.

Two of Jeffrey Shaw's works: Legible City and Virtual Museum, are paradigmatic of works which map a virtual space onto a real space. In these works physical movement in real space navigated the viewpoint through a superimposed virtual world.

In legible city, speed of travel through the virtual world was controlled by peadlling a stationary bicycle. There was a one-to-one correspondance between the rate of movement through the virtual world and the speed the bicycle would have been travelling, were it mobile. In effect, the bicycle is a mouse. It is worth noting that the interfaces to virtual worlds are seldom mapped one to one. Generally a small movement in the real world produces a large movement in the virtual world. This tendency replicates the paradigm of the labour saving machine. This paradigm is taken to the absurd extreme in the `flying eye' type of VR interfaces in which the gaze seems to be rocket-propelled. In Virtual Museum, simply leaning in your seat provided the motion through the virtual world.

In Legible City, the bicycle analogy allows for the dissociation between steering and linear travel. This dissociation of rotational and linear modes is carried to extreme in EVE, (Experimental Virtual Environment, Jeffrey Shaw et al). In EVE the three degrees of rotational movement are mapped directly from the movement of the head, ie, I turn ninety degrees to the right, the image also moves ninety degrees to the right. But the three degrees of linear movement are abstracted, mapped through the use of a joystick.

Another type of relation between virtual space and real space is the `paradoxical map', in which the virtual space replicates and is aligned point for point with the real space, except for certain digital phenomena. Gideon May's `Table with the Spirits'(1993) is one of several examples of this type. In most HMD (Head Mounted Display) type VR projects, Virtual Space and Real Space are totally separated.

David Rokeby's Very Nervous System presents us with a paradigm of non-visual interactivity in which human physical movement illicits responses (in this case sound) in a more or less marvellous way (in this case video image interpretation). There is no metaphor of travel here, you are (only) where you are. Yet a kind of invisible `virtual world' is mapped over the real world. Interaction with that virtual world produces sound. In some circles this instrumenting of an architectural space is referred to as `ubiquitous computing', and is discussed as the inverse of VR.

Screen-based `hypertextual works', `instrumented physical spaces' and `mapped virtual and real environments' are three new genres. Another `dimension' can be added to each of these by the inclusion of fast, wide bandwidth digital comunications technologies. We might call this tele-interactivity. There are identifiable sub-genres in which the interaction is: between people geographically separated; between a person and a machine, geographically separated; or between people geographically separated at a virtual site.

The first we might call `teleconferencing art'. Paul Sermon has produced provocative works in this vein, such as Telematic Dreaming. In this work, a video camera sends the image of Paul, one a bed, to another site at which it is projected onto a bed. At the second site, a guest is invited onto the bed. Paul can see the remote site by a returned video image. Pauls image interacts with the guest on the bed. The piece also includes two way audio contact. Through its direct eroticism pieces generates a host of questions about prescence.

A second sub-genre utilises the idea of teleoperation. Eduardo Kac and Ed Bennett's Ornithorinco allows a user to teleoperate a robot (over phone lines) to explore an enviroment. More provocatively, Stelarc's recent Fractal Flesh project allows his body to be teleoperated over the net. In both these works some aspect of the user (vision, volition) is extruded over the communication network to `be' in another place. A third sub-genre (exemplified by Agnes Hegedus' Fruit Machine) allows multiple remote users to cooperate in tasks in a shared virtual environment.

The sudden explosion of networked multimedia (via the World Wide Web) has finally realised the dreams of the pioneer network artist of the mid eigthies, (though this realisation has a decidedly commercial cast to it). A recent network project by the Berlin based Art+Com group, T-Vision is on one hand chillingly panoptical, but on the other it demonstates coordinated global data retrieval in a way that the WWW only hints at. T-Vision offers a radical new paradigm of computation. In this work, a user rolls a beach-ball sized trackball, and a globe of the world presented on the screen, rolls correspondingly. This image is made up of a patchwork of satellite and aerial photos. This world can be zoomed. In some cases one can zoom from the entire globe down to a city street in one smooth swoop. In one case, one can zoom into the Art+Com office, and look through a video camera pointing out the window, and see real time video action! T-Vision can utilise the entire internet, drawing on dispersed databases for its images, so that the globe is continually updated, even to the extent of real time video, if available.

As cinema emerged as a technology and an esthetic, it also built its institution its cultural niche. Cinema did not find its home in the museum. It built another institution, where the notion of the `original' was absurd. (No one asks if the particular print of the film you're watching is an `original or a copy'.) In the same way, interactive art will forge its own cultural niche. Is the web the environment where Interactive art will settle? Only time will tell.

Simon Penny. Pittsburgh PA 1996

Above copied from: