Monday, 31 October 2011

To the Ordinary Man - Michel de Certeau

I'd like to post this beautiful and poetic forward (I believe it is not really a forward but a for-forward, if that is a real term in bibliographical parlance) by Michel de Certeau from the beginning of his book The Practice of Everyday Life.

The reasons I like it are multifarious: it is inspiring and hopeful (even utopian). It contains the history of the 'man in the crowd' and the metropolitan personality. Also, it heralds the onset of the multitude and introduces the postmodern subject that exists in a textural space. But, I guess, more importantly, it offers up the city to us as an "anonymous subject" in its own right - the city that proffers us a particular appearance that is desirous of political administration, of the streamlining of processes and systems, of geographic zoning and capital accumulation. An appearance that disguises the hidden consequences of social reproduction. One that tells a different tale of the city, if only we can spend the time to reveal it behind the spectacle. One that is open to interpretation.

To the ordinary man.

To a common hero, an ubiquitous character, walking in countless thousands on the streets. In invoking here at the outset of my narratives the absent figure who provides both their beginning and their necessity, I inquire into the desire whose impossible object he represents. What are we asking this oracle whose voice is almost indistinguishable from the rumble of history to license us, to authorize us to say, when we dedicate to him the writing that one formerly offered in praise of the gods or the inspiring muses?

This anonymous hero is very ancient. He is the murmuring voice of societies. In all ages, he comes before texts. He does not expect representations. He squats now at the center of our scientific stages. The floodlights have moved away from the actors who possess proper names
and social blazons, turning first toward the chorus of secondary characters, then settling on the mass of the audience. The increasingly sociological and anthropological perspective of inquiry privileges the anonymous and the everyday in which zoom lenses cut out metonymic
details—parts taken for the whole. Slowly the representatives that formerly symbolized families, groups, and orders disappear from the stage they dominated during the epoch of the name. We witness the advent of the number. It comes along with democracy, the large city, administrations, cybernetics. It is a flexible and continuous mass, woven tight like a fabric with neither rips nor darned patches, a multitude of quantified heroes who lose names and faces as they become the ciphered river of the streets, a mobile language of computations and rationalities that belong to no one.

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