Notes on “The Practice of Everyday Life”, Michel de Certeau (1988)

Notes taken while reading Michel de Certeau’s 1988 thesis “The Practice of Everyday Life”, focusing on the “spatial practice” of “walking in the city” (chapter VII).

In this chapter the author describes walking as “an elementary form of [the] experience of the city”, especially among “ordinary practitioners” whose bodies “follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text'”, composing a “manifold story” with “neither author nor spectator”. The author goes on to describe one operation of the city as “the creation of a universal and anonymous subject which is the city itself”.

Even at this stage in the reading, I am struggling to grasp de Certeau’s theories, though perhaps I can sketch some connections between these initial notes and my own research interests. In a way it seems to me that de Certeau is suggesting that the logic of the city, or the idea of the city itself, is generated and maintained by the activity and presence of its inhabitants.

This to me is comparable to the logic of “the studio”, insofar as the studio – as more of an abstract concept than a definite kind of place – is itself defined by it’s population by an artist and their working practices, whatever they may be. At the same time as the activity of the artist defines, generate and populates the environment/concept of the studio, the artist/occupant is also beholden to the studio “text” which they have – at least in part- written themselves.

This is a complex way of saying that the artist may write their own rules of operation in the studio, but that those rules also hold sway over the activities that are possible or available to the artist in their environment. This idea links to that of “enabling constraints”, or on the other side of the coin “decision paralysis”.

I feel like there are a lot more insights to be gained from de Certeau’s text, however I am finding it difficult to follow, so will perhaps try to revisit it later. In the meantime, the notion of the studio as being generated or maintained by the artist – an idea adapted from de Certeau’s description of the city above – is an interesting way to think further about Ukeles’ “maintenance art” and could be a useful frame within which to develop my “studio diary” research project.

 

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