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. 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.