Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Walking in the City" by Michel de-Certeau - review

 "Walking in the City" by Michel de-Certeau - review

De Certeau's walking in the city doesn't start right away. First we are "lifted to the summit of the World Trade Center [which] is to be lifted out of the city's grasp". De Certeau starts there, at an all-encompassing yet detached and distanced stance towards his object of investigation. From the top of the high-rise the city is perceived in its totality. From there it can be studied, dissected and observed while being able to deny that you are somehow involved with it, that you are in a sense part of it. This is an intellectual stance and better yet, the dominant, even hegemonic, intellectual stance since the enlightenment which is according to de Certeau "the fiction of knowledge [which] is related to this lust to be a viewpoint and nothing more". This is the fiction of disinterested, disengaged knowledge which presents itself as none-historical and none-political by virtue of its self validation as objective.

But de Certeau replaces totality with specifity, meta-narrative for micro-narrative, disengagement with engagement, viewing for walking. Like Heidegger and the phenomenologists, de Certeau starts from within experience, not outside of it, or above it. Reading the city is walking it the city, and strangely enough, also writing it. For de Certeau holds, Like Barthes in "Death of the Author", that the reader of the story also takes part in its writing. Furthermore, the micro-narratives of walking in the city "compose the manifold story that has neither author nor spectator". If meaning starts from within experience and not outside of it, it is therefore always limited to that experience and cannot transcend it, as the enlightenment philosophers had hoped.

De Certeau says that "there is a rhetoric of walking". Meaning is revealed as it is created, it did not exist there before. The city does not precede its actualization by people living in it, living it. In a sense the city is Saussure's Langue while walking in it in a certain path is Parole. And de Certeau's path starts with speaking, with saying something about the city through the medium of walking in it. The city seen from above is an illusion, a simulacrum. It starts when you take the first step in it.     


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