The Scholar and Feminist Online
Published by The Barnard Center for Research on Women

Issue 2.1 - Public Sentiments - Summer 2003

Patricidal Memory and the Passerby
by Rebecca Schneider

"The passing faces in the streets seem [. . .] to multiply the indecipherable and nearby secret of the monument."
             - de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 15

The Monumental

I begin with some images I gathered while thinking about Patricidic Culture. Patricidic Culture is culture that depends on the production of Dead Dads - dads must die to insure that dead dads remain. Patricidic Culture is a culture invested in insuring that the dead remain, and the live pass by.

This first image is a snapshot of a statue of Lincoln teaching a statue of some modern day Dad - a tourist Dad perhaps - to read the Gettysburg Address. The statues stand outside the building in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where Lincoln famously wrote the Gettysburg Address on the night before delivering the speech. That's me, standing with the statues, my fingers on the statue text. (I asked some passersby if they wouldn't mind taking the shot. They were very nice to comply.) I couldn't believe that the statue Dad had sneakers just like mine, only hard as rock! The plaque at our feet reads: "Return Visit." Inserting the picture into this essay I noticed that the image makes it appear as if a flag is falling out of Lincoln's top hat, like some magical rabbit. But, more likely, the flag was across the street. Maybe this seeming magic is what Walter Benjamin meant by the "optical unconscious" of photography - the stray details a photo can pick up that help us read for significances we might otherwise overlook (l979).[1]

Of course, a Dead Dad or Founding Father, such as Lincoln, is monumental - and a stray detail, like similar sneakers or the face of the driver in a passing Volvo, is seemingly rather more random, banal, or incidental. A warning in advance of reading: As I discuss monumentality here, I sometimes purposefully confuse the monumental with the following terms: "the edifice" and "the archive." I'm interested in the way the monumental bears a close relation to the archive (remember that monuments are erected as memorials and the archive is an oedificium of and for the remains of history). As Jacques Le Goff has written of the Western cultural mode of marking history: "History is composed of documents because the document is what remains" (xvii). According to this equation, that which is live, or that which is not given to document, disappears, does not remain, does not compose history - it passes away. We are habituated to think that the live is in some ways incidental, banal, and thus passing. And yet, the "live" so often props our monumentalized projects that to forget the live - to render it repeatedly disappeared, or to approach the live in thrall to disappearance - is to miss the crucial nexus of hand on stone, flesh on bone. To disappear the live allows the "passing" of the monument as monumental.

The passing faces in the streets seem [. . .] to multiply the indecipherable and nearby secret of the monument.

As this passage from de Certeau suggests, the "live" resolutely props the archive and the monument even as the monument and the archive depend upon the live to disappear, script the live as disappearing. Thus, as I contend in more depth elsewhere, to think of live performance as of disappearance only props this equation, and perhaps should be thought differently (Schneider 2001). To approach the live as remaining can render moot (arguably) the tired thrall to disappearance that marks modernity.

This is a picture of the Archive of the United States of America in Washington, D.C.. In Archive Fever, Jacques Derrida has written that archives are patricidic - productive of the primary mantra of archive culture: that the live disappears while that which is given to the archive remains - guarding against the very disappearance it scripts (l996). "Archive Culture" is obsessed with, intent upon, and impossibly tangled up with the illogic of "saving" - accumulating details as evidence of that which has passed. Archive Culture is culture in relation to detail as well as to monument - the saving and massive accumulation of information, the relegation of "remains" as textual, object, and evidential artifact, the determinations, via the logic of the archive, of what remains for history and what "passes" away. If we grant a relationship between monument and document, then we can read the archive as arbiter of relations between stone and flesh, tangled in a habit of culture that scripts flesh as a kind of living in excess of stone, in excess of text.

According to the logic of the archive, performance can not remain. Radically "in time," performance can not reside in its material traces and therefore it "disappears." In theatre studies, scholars such as Herb Blau have been formative of the "ephemeralization" of theatre (see Blau l982).[2] The definition of performance as that which disappears, continually lost in time, vanishing even as it appears, is a definition that has gathered added steam over the last 40 years (even as it is arguably a quite ancient tenet of Western culture). Such a definition is well suited to the concerns of art history, the rise of action and installation art and the pressure to understand performance in the museal context where performance and the live appears to challenge object status or monumentalism and seems to refuse the archive its privileged "savable" original. But does an equation of performance with disappearance ignore the ways in which the seeming disappearing or banal "living" detail props the edificial, monumental remain? The way, that is, that the monument as the (live, banal, ordinary) passerby are deeply entangled in a mutually constitutive relationship.

The archive is linked to the patriarchal - not simply in its etymology as "the Archon's house" but in its logic as well. That loss as institution should make an equation that spells the failure of the bodily, the failure of performance (which is in many ways the failure of the mimetic, and by long-standing white cultural link, the feminine), to remain, is rife with a "patriarchal principle." No one, Derrida notes, has shown more ably than Freud how the archival drive is both patriarchal and parricidic. The drive to archive is in informed by a "paternal and patriarchic principle" which, writes Derrida:

. . . posited itself to repeat itself and returned to reposit itself only in parricide. It amounts to repressed [. . .] parricide, in the name of the father as dead father. The archontic is at best the takeover of the archive by the brothers. The equality and liberty of brothers. A certain, still vivacious idea of democracy. (95)

The paradox that patriarchal culture is patricidic - depending on the production of dead fathers, killed for safekeeping into the interest of brothers - is fundamental to archival culture. Of course, this is what anthropologist Michael Taussig might call a public secret, one everyone knows, and yet one unspeakable. We are not patricidic, most Americans these days would say, we are patriotic. Yes? No? Maybe so? The drama of brothers and fathers in opposition to others is horrifyingly playing out, performed, across monuments again and again. And yet: performance disappears? What we find is that patricidal patriarchy is alive and well, and that through the patricidic, dead dads remain.

The Banal

In the United States after September 11, 2001, we have watched our civil liberties coming down and with them, like some twin tower, the end of even the pretense of reasonable or respectful international relations on the part of the U.S. government. When violence - of any sort - is done in one's name, violence is done by and to oneself. The horror of war casting itself into the future, masquerading as "preventive," is close to unspeakable. The lack of other means to conflict resolution is deeply suspect. If historically the U.S. has attempted to keep its violences, global and national, discreet, in the case of "Operation Iraqi Freedom," covert has become coverage. And yet, the extent of the so-called coverage strangely rendered agendas as covert as they have ever been. Journalists became "embedded" with soldiers, and recent images of war were so constant, that there seemed to be as little news in news as there was "reality" in the current U.S. thrall to "reality TV." All day every day, in the months before the war was declared over on May 1, one could have seen death "live" - piped into one's living room, one's bed room, one's kitchen, wherever one had hooked up the televisual box, the digi-video porthole to corporate America, running a.v. like an I.V. - the TV - pulse of outside on the inside, inside become outside, giving away the ruse of any distinction between such binaries as distance inverted instantaneously into breath, rubble, dust - sand.

Mostly, one saw buildings blowing up, then soldiers in desert khaki walking through rubble. Just as often one saw soldiers, in line, kicking down a front door. Inside were women, scripted by news narrators as "happy" - happy to "greet the American liberators." Their faces registered confusion and hope, but also shame and fear. My face registered the same - at the other portal end of the televisual network. Is it my eyeball that bangs down the door? The box threaded its network way across America, displaying Iraqi insides, while every second car and truck in the U.S. displayed the American flag. The new fad of sporting televisions inside one's car (to occupy one's kids) meant that the "war on terrorism" could be mobile, carted about from soccer game to Church supper to academic lecture to golfing match.

In a diner in Manhattan in mid March, 2003, I heard the waitress, two booths away, call back to the kitchen "Hamburger and French Fries." In a moment, a manager or a cook shouted quite loudly back: "Freedom Fries! We only serve Freedom Fries!" Over such a scene - the entire conflict at the level of a sliver of potato - columns of potatoes served in bowls or sometimes in paper cartons, or on plates, dashed in salt, smothered in ketchup - over such a banal object of ingestion: the most current war. Then this manager, or this cook, came out of the kitchen. This was the cast: the manager, a large, middle-aged, African-American man in a suit - yes, a manager, not a cook - and this waitress, a tall, middle-aged, platinum blond, white with a deep Queens accent - I could not see the patrons two booths away who ordered the offending fries - but then there was me, mid-life white academic from Rhode Island, the Smallest State in the Union - up on my feet now - struggling to take a stand, to articulate the international situation on the level of nationalized food. Was I ready to leave the restaurant over this? I wondered at this manager's vehemence. Did he lose someone in the towers? Is his son, his daughter, in Iraq? He had shouted "Freedom Fries" so angrily I had jumped out of my seat. The waitress hardly missed a beat: "French Fries/Freedom Fries - whatever." Then she said out of range of his hearing, "Sit down, honey." She practically cooed: "I'll bring you coffee." I sat down. I drank my coffee.

Everyday we witness the constant negotiation between the monumental and the banal - the larger than life image or event and the stream of life that passes by, that courses through, that navigates the ordinary through the wider edifices of our collective symbols (monuments) and collective actions (war). Writers like Michel de Certeau and Naomi Schor argued in the 1970s and '80s[3] that to focus on the banal (the stray detail), to shift the our sites of discourse away from the edificial, the emblematic, the grand perspective from the skyscraper to that which passes by or is easily overlooked or discarded is a shift in attention that can be, in some ways, resistant to master narratives, master plans, and events of mastery (such as war).

I would like to discuss the opening of de Certeau's well-known essay, "Walking in the City," in some detail. De Certeau begins the essay with, strangely, a sentence fragment - a sentence not complete in itself: "Seeing Manhattan from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center" (91). It fascinates me that this opening should be a fragment, truncated of itself, incomplete. The sentence itself is thus a column of words reaching only so far, but no farther - interrupted by a period, falling off, cut to a quick end. "Seeing Manhattan from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center, period." But we read on - we look beyond this first pedestal-like sentence to get the view: and we are given a lyric description of expanse - complete, punctuated to aid flow, and beautiful (in translation):

Beneath the haze stirred up by the winds, the urban island, a sea in the middle of the sea, lifts up the skyscrapers over Wall Street, sinks down at Greenwich, then rises again to the crests of Midtown, quietly passes over Central Park and finally undulates off into the distance beyond Harlem. (de Certeau 91)

We are rescued by this sentence into sense and delivered to the promise (the promise of a perspectival gaze) that there is space "beyond Harlem." But the flow of the second sentence, and its lyrical beyond, is haunted by the fragment that set its stage: "Seeing Manhattan from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center, period." By the end of the page that stretches beneath these two sentences (one truncated the other languid), de Certeau has called the towers: "the tallest letters in the world" and told us that they "compose a gigantic rhetoric of excess in both expenditure and production." Turn the page and de Certeau is orchestrating his famous "Icarian fall" (92) in order to bring his readers down among the footsteps of the passersby:

The ordinary practitioners of the city live "down below," below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk - an elementary form of experience of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban "text" they write without being able to read it. [. . .] The paths that correspond in this intertwining, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility. [. . .] The networks of these moving intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and indefinitely other. (93)[4]

The hope, as de Certeau's famous essay unfolds, is that in and through the "daily" and the "indefinitely other" of the banal detail, the footsteps, say, we can somehow interrupt the agendas of the monumental, or better, understand the frenzied ways in which they work in tandem. What are they ways they work in tandem? The banal detail of the everyday props the whole, bit by bit composing the whole, and yet (in Proustian and Barthesian logic) the detail simultaneously serves as the hole that might serve as puncture point, or punctum, through which the edificial could be completely reorganized. As Naomi Schor reminded in her important feminist study Reading in Detail, the whole depends upon the relegation of the detail to insignificance, to the "soon to be forgotten" or to "the feminized," the "overlooked." And yet this very banality - articulated as banal - creates what de Certeau calls an "oceanic rumble" - it both composes the ocean, and is, like any single drop, in extreme distinction to the monumentality it composes (de Certeau 5). (Click here for an image.)

Space to Pass

De Certeau wanted to read the way in which the ordinary, as a spatial practice, might interrupt the myth of the monumental, or at least let us see the monumental as it works through and around the passage, or the movement, of details it scripts as disappearing. There is also the suggestion, in both De Certeau and Schor, of resistance - through refocusing our analytic energies onto the banal, the detail, we unsettle the prerogatives of the dominant order that that detail has been given to prop.[5] But there is more to this shift to the ordinary (which is, for de Certeau, a spatial shift), and that is that in reading the detail as a practice, in play - we shift our focus to movement, to moving through, and in shifting to movement, change becomes not only possible, but the condition of any myth of stasis (the monument's secret). Twenty years after these two books, the project of thinking about the space between the grandly monumental, or the "whole" of a master text, and the deployment of the detail in either its service or in resistance is still resonant.

In Third Space, a 1996 treatment of Henri Lefebvre's work on "the production of space," Edward Soja bemoans what he sees as the tendency of scholars to use de Certeau to "overprivilege" the local - to insist on local place as opposed to the more complex and movement-riddled tangle of complicity that is "space" (Soja 20). De Certeau himself spoke less of "space" than "alterations of spaces" (de Certeau 93). To read only on the level of detail and forget the tangle de Certeau posed between the monumental view from on high and the localized footsteps of the passerby in the streets below, is to miss the greater invitation in the work. Instead, Soja attempts to "add some stimulating confusion to the growing tendency in postmodern critical urban studies to overprivilege the local [. . .] at the expense of the [. . .] macrospatial" (20). Soja pitches his book toward the tangle he finds in Lefebvre's notion of lived space - lived space, that is, as an always mobile negotiation between monumental, emblematic structures and their intimate or microspatial engagements. This is not an "either/or" reading - a reading either for the banal and feminized passerby or the monumental patriarchal edifice - but an attempt to account for what Soja calls the "both and also" that resists a strictly temporal dialectic for what he posits as a spatialized dialectic - a dialectic become, by the acknowledgement of lived spatiality, "trialectical." I am not going to romance the term trialectics here (nor will I offer here my critique of Soja's larger project), but I will take up the effort to "add some stimulating confusion" - or, perhaps better, take up the effort to stimulate further possibilities in thinking the spaces between the passerby and the passed-by that continue to orient us in archive culture.

It is worth reminding ourselves of a passage from the conclusion of Lefebvre's Production of Space:

Space is becoming the principal stake of goal-directed actions and struggles. It has of course always been the reservoir of resources, and the medium in which strategies are applied, but it has now become something more than the theatre, the disinterested stage or setting, of action. (410)

Writing this in 1974 (the same year de Certeau published The Practice of Everyday Life in France), Lefebvre could dismiss "theatre" - could claim that space was becoming more than theatre. From our vantage point at the turned millennium, the scholarly influences of performance studies in tandem with rigorous queer and feminist theoretical analyses of "performativity" invite us to amend Lefebvre's insight. Instead of his claim that "space has now become something more than the theatre" we can suggest that space has now become readable as the very theatre in which interested actions are rendered to pose or perform (and pass) as disinterested. That is, we can suggest that it is the theatricalities of "passing" - the passing of the passerby, passing the (monumental) past - that might "add stimulating confusion" to our interrogation of the tangle between the monumental and the everyday.

The passing faces in the streets seem [. . .] to multiply the indecipherable and nearby secret of the monument.

Affect - the passing show of sentiment, the "disposition" of the body - and edifice - that which is set in stone, the sedimented or the "deposited" - are often considered antithetical to each other, much as the live is supposedly distinct from the record of the live, from its fossilized or monumentalized remain. The affective (feminized) body of flesh is given to accumulation and dispersal, to the constant passage of detail in the flux of gesture and expression - to, indeed, passing. The edifice, on the other hand, is given to stasis, solidity, and sameness. And yet, writes de Certeau, "the passing faces in the streets" around the monument "seem to multiply the indecipherable and nearby secret" of that monument as if the edifice garners its monumentality from affect - or more specifically, from passing affect.

Of course, referring to the faces in the streets, de Certeau means "passing" as in passing by, in movement that "seems" to acquiesce to the silent sentinel, forgetting its presence by taking it simply in stride. But we might also submit the "passing" of these faces - their footsteps, their everyday walking - to another category of passing, one of affect linked to the feminized and therefore (according to the longstanding logic of the West) polluting realm of mimesis - passing for. The passing that lurks in tandem with the banally accumulating details of everyday life is the possibility of passing for something one is not given to be according to the standards of ideology that monuments, arbiters of "public space" and "public face," mark. The secret of the monument, then, in de Certeau's aphoristic sentence, has something to do with passing, and passing has something to do both with keeping the secret of the monument and with the telling fact that that secret is kept, which is to say, a matter of everyday performance.

Details of passing-affect threaten to give the (w)hole away, even as the passing detail enables the whole. Attention to detail - to the nameless passers by, the ocean of differences, the flux of the everyday - can, somehow, de Certeau promises, "reorganize the place from which discourse is produced," shifting ground between the effigy of the founder, or his edificial face, and the daily practices of those who labor in his face, pass across his space. Showing how the ordinary, the detail, "insinuates itself into our techniques" can "reorganize the place from which discourse is produced" (de Certeau 5).

I wanted to include here some images of monuments and passersby that I had poached (a word from Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life) from the web, but could not do so due to copyright. Instead, please follow the following links. The first site contains an image of passersby and the Washington Monument reflected in the sheen of the Vietnam War Memorial. The second site contains an image of a woman in a burka passing by a monument of Saddam Hussein from the August 14, 2002, edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

I am interested to read the passing (both in passing by and passing as) Presidential Patriarch in the U.S. everyday. I am interested in this because the role of the edificial patriarch in the "secret" de Certeau cites, cannot be both more obvious, nor (by virtue of the familiar) more underestimated. The monumental is linked to the patriarchal. Of course, in patriarchal culture this is hardly a surprise - I hardly need to cite all of the scholars who have noted, as Malcolm Miles has recently, that "specific women" and monuments (as opposed to allegorical women and monuments - Justice, Liberty, Africa, America) do not mix (Miles 39-57). If the monumental is linked to the patriarchal we must remember that the masses of unnamed "passing faces" which "seem" to keep its secret have been distinctly feminized in the Western imaginary. After all, it is the other sense of "passing" - passing as affect - that has overly determined femininity as given to excess, indecipherability, and fundamental duplicity, linking femininity at all points to mimesis and its indiscriminacies.

How can we read the passers by, the passing away of flesh, as not only propping the monument, but in any way resisting its terms? Can the feminine, excessive detail, be bought into any relief? In attempting to wrestle with this question of (excessive) detail, I created a slide show! I'd like you, reader, to view this slide show along with the following text - wandering (passing) through the images as you read.

Space to Pass

First Set of Images (Photographs by Rebecca Schneider and J.R. Bradley. Chicago. August, 2001). In 2001 I traveled to the "Seated Lincoln" by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, created between 1887 and 1906, that stands in Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois. This Lincoln is, of course, properly "monumental" - his chair is elevated far above the park and indeed his gaze "overlooks" the passersby. The first set of slides show this statue. Isn't he regal?

Second Set of Images (Photographs by Rebecca Schneider and J.R. Bradley. Chicago. August, 2001). After viewing the Seated Lincoln, I walked in the city. As chance would have it, a public art installation project was in place in Chicago and several blocks from Saint-Gaudens "Seated Lincoln" I came upon another statue that interested me very much. This statue was part of Chicago's "Public Art Program" which sponsors sculpture in temporary installation in public space throughout the city. For the 2001 project, Suite Home Chicago, artists were commissioned to create domestic furniture art (insignia of private space and commemorative of Chicago's historic furniture industry) in monumental fashion in public space. (The Cows on Parade project of 1999 is perhaps the best known of these public and largely popular endeavors that are marked by humor, irreverence, and the carnivalesque.)[6] Suite Home Chicago featured life-sized fiberglass forms of a suite of furniture - sofa, chair, ottoman, television - each designed by a local artist and sponsored by a business, organization, or individual. Televisions and sofas as monuments appeared throughout the city as if the city had turned itself inside out, tumbling the contents of private interiors onto public streets and rendering the TV and Sofa as monumental. This work made me think of the medieval practice of Corpus Christi when the religious mansions from inside the Church were carried out into the public square, into the marketplace - except in Chicago in 2001, the mansions of Christ's passion had become the living room sets containing TV drama, and stations of the cross were channels on TV.

The sofa set I was particularly interested in was built and designed by an anonymous artist, sponsored by the Illinois Bureau of Tourism, and located at 400 North Michigan. It was titled "Don't Just Sit There, Do Something." This public monument included a sofa with a fiberglass Abe Lincoln figure sitting atop of it. The figure was part of the sofa, and people sat on the sofa next to Lincoln, or sat on his lap, held his hand, and leaned up against him. Go though the images one by one - I've lined them up with some care. Eventually you'll notice that the figure also had a huge bloody hole in his head - just the right size for a finger! Look at how the passersby react to it. I spent half of one day with this figure, photographing the invitation to touch and probe, amazed at the numbers of people who caressed the Dead Man almost nonchalantly, and sometimes with extreme tenderness.

Third Set of Images (Photographs by Rebecca Schneider and J.R. Bradley. Chicago. August, 2001). I made a "return visit" to Saint-Gauden's Lincoln. In contrast to the anonymous "Don't Just Sit There, Do Something," Saint-Gauden's Lincoln chair sits atop a pedestal, removed in every aspect from the domestic (no bronze TV, no bronze ottoman). There is no hole in this Father's head. And there is no access to his lap. While I was there, no one came to caress this austere patron memorializing Illinois and America - except me - as you'll see. Of course, much could be written here of the shift in statuary (and the problem of memorial) between the last turning century and the most recent one, but for the moment space is limited, and thus we will consider the passerby more than that statue itself. With the help of a friend, I climbed up onto the lap of the monument and had myself photographed touching this Lincoln as so many touched the "other" bloody-holed Lincoln several blocks away. Wow - I thought - this is quite a view! From atop the statue, however, I was not in a position to be overlooked, and thus, feeling uncomfortable, and rapidly forgetting why I'd followed this impulse in the first place, I scrambled down from the Dead Dad's lap almost as quickly as I'd dared to scramble up. I merged, again, into the street, and passed by.

In Place of a Conclusion - Question?

If the anecdotal French fry story I told earlier illustrates the banal as a site of negotiation and exchange, the strategy of "coverage" in this recent war also makes apparent the tangle of complicity between the monumental and banal. This tangle asks us to continue to render the relations between monument and banal detail deeply complex. The grandiose terms of this war - "Operation Iraqi Freedom" - already bespeak the master narrative upon which monumentality has historically been erected. But this operation and this monumental narrative were also thick with detail: an oceanic build-up of minutiae of daily life on a constantly running televisual "reality TV-scape" in which "embedded" journalists sent back details of soldier life on the front. We were given to read this latest war through a screen of anecdote - like a sandstorm of stories - culminating in the dragging down of the monument of Saddam Hussein.

At a recent Brown University conference in memory of Naomi Schor, Christie McDonald argued that the soldier anecdotes performed a kind of flip-side response to the "Portraits of Grief" that ran in the New York Times for the year following September 11, 2001. The Times "Portraits" had attempted in every case to find something extremely ordinary about each 9-11 victim. The portraits excavated stories about the way X would put the toothpaste on his wife's toothbrush every morning and leave it for her by the sink, or about the way Y would stroke his niece's hair while he told her fairy tales. That is, these deaths were memorialized though an oceanic build up of daily anecdote in which each victim was remembered not by grand acts or professional accomplishments, but by incidental particulars usually overlooked. Similarly, the war that followed was waged on U.S. sentiment through a barrage of visual and anecdotal detail. So massive was the televisual stockpile of images that the larger, more monumental project (world domination?) was perhaps "overlooked" by U.S. citizens in sentimental thrall to X and to Y as particular suffering soldiers. Here, arguably, the monumentalizing agendas of the war were both propped and obscured by the sandstorm of affective, sentimentalized, details leveled at the televisual screen on the home front under the rubric "LIVE."

Watching television, I began to formulate a question. Had we, the viewers, become monuments - rigidly fixed, seemingly unmoving, in front of our "sets" - overlooking what we saw (and overlooking the significance)? Had we, sometime voters, been bypassed? Before our screens, I felt myself rendered immobile. Seated on a sofa. Staring. Are images, now, the passersby and have we become forgettable sentinals of mythic actions past? If so, time to take action.


1. In his 1931 essay, Benjamin writes of how the naked eye cannot penetrate all details - even quite ordinary ones - of any scene. "We have no idea at all," he writes, "of what happens during the fraction of a second when a person steps out." Photography, however, "reveals the secret" (1979). Thus, photography, under materialist analysis, performs a kind of talking cure through provoking explication of ordinary, generally overlooked, details. That photography also makes the "fraction of a second" available to the archive is less important for Benjamin than the analysis that, through the photo, can be performed. This final point will hopefully gain in clarity as this essay progresses. [Return to text]

2. Richard Schechner defined performance in 1965 as "an ephemeral event" (1988). This approach to performance became a cornerstone of the emergent field of Performance Studies in the 1980s. Interestingly, ephemerality remains. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, another longstanding member of and influential thinker in the field, employed the term "ephemeral" in 1998 claiming that: "The ephemeral encompasses all forms of behavior - everyday activities, story telling, ritual, dance, speech, performance of all kinds" (1998, 30). In 1993, Peggy Phelan, building on Herbert Blau, read ephemerality as "disappearance," writing the often cited phrase "performance becomes itself through disappearance" (1993, 146). In an excellent 1996 essay, "Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts," José Esteban Muñoz turned the table on ephemerality to suggest that ephemera do not disappear, but are distinctly material. Muñoz relies on Raymond William's "structures of feeling" to argue that the ephemeral - "traces, glimmers, residues, and specks of things" - is a "mode" of "proofing" employed by necessity (and sometimes preference) by minoritarian culture and criticism makers (10). [Return to text]

3. Michel de Certeau's L'invention du quotidian was first published in 1974 (Vol. 1, Arts de faire). The book was translated to English as The Practice of Everyday Life in 1984. Naomi Shor published Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine in 1987. [Return to text]

4. For an image to accompany this excerpt, please click here. Another image can be accessed by going to the following link and typing in the phrase "muddy shoes underscore the weariness." [Return to text]

5. This is, of course, a methodological exercise in tandem with post-structuralism generally, though Schor is eager to point out how post-structuralist analysis (pre-1987) so often forgets the historical feminization of the debased detail in order to prop its new, and masculine, literary promise (Schor 6). [Return to text]

6. For Suite Home Chicago see the website. For Cows on Parade see the website. [Return to text]

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. "A Small History of Photography" in One-Way Street and Other Writings. Translated by Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter. London: New Left Books, 1979.

Blau, Herbert. Take Up The Bodies: Theater at the Vanishing Point. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1982.

de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven F. Rendall. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984.

Derrida, Jacques. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

Le Goff, Jacques. History and Memory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

Miles, Malcolm. Art, Space and the City. New York: Routledge, 1997.

McDonald, Christie. "Grieving in Portraits." Paper presented at "The Lure of the Detail: A Conference in Honor of Naomi Schor" at Brown University's Pembroke Center. April 5, 2003.

Muñoz, José Esteban. "Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts." Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 8.2 (1996): 5-16.

Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Schneider, Rebecca. "Performance Remains." Performance Research 6.2 (2001).

Schor, Naomi. Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine. New York: Routledge, 1987.

Soja, Edward W. Third Space. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.

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