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The South Atlantic Quarterly 100.2 (2001) 519-542



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Certeau á la Carte:
Translating Discursive Terroir in The Practice of Everyday Life:
Living and Cooking

Timothy J. Tomasik


When Habiter, cuisiner, the second volume of L'invention du quotidien, appeared in 1980, Michel de Certeau was credited not as one of its coauthors (along with Luce Giard and Pierre Mayol), but only for his preface to it. When Giard edited and published a revised, expanded edition of this volume in 1994, she and Mayol decided to include Certeau as a coauthor since they were adding one essay by Certeau and another that he had written with Giard. His relatively minimal presence in Habiter, cuisiner notwithstanding, Certeau's theory and analysis had constituted a framework for the texts by Giard and Mayol in the collection. My own English translation of it having been subsequently published as The Practice of Everyday Life: Living and Cooking, the volume now offers a unique terrain on which to engage problematic issues of translation common to this and other works by Certeau.1

In introducing her second edition of Habiter, cuisiner, Giard noted that "the translation of volume 1 and the strong presence of Michel de Certeau in California aroused a wide diffusion of his ideas which was continued and amplified [End Page 519] after his death. Not having been translated at this time, volume 2, which the American publisher had judged too closely linked to something specifically French to interest the American public, was less read."2 This reluctance on the part of "the American publisher" to follow up The Practice of Everyday Life with an English edition of Habiter, cuisiner may be explained (as I suggest in my "Translator's Note" to Living and Cooking) in terms of the French concept of terroir. Etymologically linked to the Latin terratorium and territorium (hence territory), terroir connotes a strong attachment to the soil and land. This concept is often invoked to account for the unique flavor imparted to certain regional food products like wine and cheese by local geographic, geologic, and climatic conditions. Habiter, cuisiner was perhaps "judged too closely linked to something specifically French" on the grounds of "discursive terroir." It is larded with cultural allusions, idiosyncratic expressions, and wordplay, which, when uprooted from their cultural-lingual soil, pose the greatest challenge to translators. Yet their deracination cannot, paradoxically, be associated with any specific or localizable place; they are torn, rather, from the much more mobile terrain of what Certeau elsewhere calls "die Mutter Erde" (Mother Nature).3

In a limited literary sense, terroir connotes authorial regionalism and generally conservative returns to rural life, wisdom, and culture. It marks the twentieth-century work of Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono, for whom enduring values of man and soil are equated with the political ideals of national socialisms or are intended as correctives to the perceived urban values dominating the (Parisian) administrative center of postindustrial France.4 Certeau, however, mixes and confounds the spaces that demarcate the urban and terroir in ways that seem to anticipate the experience of atopia characterizing much of the current electronic age. But his writings belong to a broader context of speculation on territoriality, by which I mean a host of concepts and practices such as those exemplified, most notably perhaps, in the dramatic reflections of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari on geography, photography, nomadism, emigration, and displacement in What Is Philosophy?5 These authors in fact serve to underscore what was already a mode of operation and a practice in Certeau's historiography and heterology. For them terroir is a function of territoire, an abstract definition of space that cannot be mapped without changing or turning the object of its representation into a place. They would concur with Borges, in his celebrated story of impossible cartography, adducing that a terroir is a sort of movable mental and [End Page 520] physical feast, a selection of geographic and sensory shapes that carries a strong affective charge.6 Terroirs, plural and polyglot, are not sites of native origin, nor do they pertain otherwise to originarity. But they are—if I may offer a culinary inflection of Certeau's sociological...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8026
Print ISSN
0038-2876
Pages
pp. 519-542
Launched on MUSE
2001-03-01
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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