Michel de Certeau and Paper Basketball

The most striking element of Moran’s second chapter of Interdisciplinarity was, to me, his inclusion of Michel de Certeau‘s cultural beliefs on everyday life and its relationship to society on a macro-level. As our presentation discussed on Thursday, he focuses on the concept of tactics: a method for subjugated individuals to subvert popular culture and/or large scale establishments through seemingly trivial, banal actions, e.g. playing solitaire on company’s time or taking excessively long bathroom breaks during math class. These monotonous activities can occur on both conscious and unconscious levels, but tend to veer toward the latter due to their colloquial and commonly implicit nature. Business executives and IRS workers alike don’t toss needless, scrunched-up papers into the trash from across the room because they are trying to overthrow their respective employers; simply enough, they’re bored. This is important, however, because such activities go unnoticed in the academic sphere, and when weighed in conjunction with one another under a focused, scholarly light, their importance grows in scope. Moran cites de Certeau in the hope of conveying this very point: “Everyday life is profoundly related to all activities, and encompasses them with all their differences and their conflicts; it is their meeting place, their bond, their common ground” (68).

We cannot reach grandiose, lofty ideas about the human condition, for instance, without the preexisting conditions of everyday life. Here, we all invariably start. A problem emerges, though, namely, the ways in which we might document our daily existence and illustrate the importance behind phenomenon like tactics. Enter literature, the indiscriminate, interdisciplinary beast we all know and love. Specifically, de Certeau pays attention to the novel because of its unending breadth as a literary medium. It propounds everyday life, guiding the reader’s eye to the extraordinary within the banal, emphasizing the many sociocultural microcosms which surround us at any given time. Moran weighs in on this by saying, “the novel is such a capacious, heterogeneous form, which brings together many different modes of writing and types of human experience…particularly those shadowy and barely perceptible customs and practices that de Certeau defines as the ‘everyday’” (70).

One notable novel, in particular, comes to mind when I think of de Certeau’s attention to everyday life: James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’ve only read fragments of Joyce’s legendary narrative centered in Dublin on June 16th—now known as Bloomsday, a national holiday in Ireland—but the 800+ page epic pays amazing attention to the multitudinous details of daily life. One section I do remember reading is part one which chronicles Stephen Daedalus, a primary figure in the text, and his early morning routine and correspondence with other characters—many of which appear to be metaphorical placeholders or microcosms of larger cultural themes pervasive in Ireland at the time. At one point, Daedalus, teaching at a local school, tells his students an obtuse, possibly incomprehensible riddle of which none answer correctly. Scholars speculate on the nature of this scene questioning whether or not the riddle has an answer, and what it would mean if it didn’t. One interpretation suggests that it’s Daedulus’ way of stumping the kids with impossible material for his own amusement, and, further, represents Joyce’s commentary on the unnecessary density of pedagogy at the time. From the perspective of Daedulus, whether conscious or unconscious of it as a character, this serves as a tactic because he is subverting the larger landscape of teaching at the time. On the other hand, from the perspective of Joyce, due to his mythological literary prowess, this serves as a strategy: an autonomous act of subversion against an establishment which is at once independent from the natural flow of society and facilitated by people in power. The dual relationship of strategies and tactics in the literary form is no coincidence. Literature conduces this dynamic because stories concern an author—a willful figure often unbound by the reach of popular culture—as well as the individual, the character, and his or her everyday life, trivial, exciting, or otherwise.

One Reply to “Michel de Certeau and Paper Basketball”

  1. If you pay attention you can see the power struggles that Certeau discussed taking place every day. On a regular basis I find myself sucked into the war against the establishment at my job, both tactically and inadvertently. There is merit in investigating all of the motivation and meaning behind these struggles, I’ll admit, but to me the real fun is in the documentation of it. In the same way Office Space, the story of cubicle jockeys at the mercy of big business, became a cult hit why can’t the story of all of our little struggles can at least be entertaining if not mind-blowingly literary?

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