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Diacritics 29.3 (1999) 63-80

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The Transversality of Michel de Certeau: Foucault's Panoptic Discourse and the Cartographic Impulse

Bryan Reynolds and Joseph Fitzpatrick

Above all (and this is a corollary, but an important one), the phenomenological and praxiological analysis of cultural trajectories must allow to be grasped at once a composition of places and the innovation that modifies it by dint of moving and cutting across them.

--Michel de Certeau, Culture in the Plural

Through his rigorous examinations of the common, the quotidian, the personal, the plural practices that establish and continually transform societies, Michel de Certeau develops a conception of culture born of the perpetual transgression, however subtle or pronounced, of the boundaries imposed by all totalizing systems, whether theoretical or social. This view of culture as a "cutting across" of boundaries, which can be found in many forms throughout his work, achieves a special significance for the study of subjectification in his discussion of "Spatial Practices" that comprises the third section of The Practice of Everyday Life. In an important essay on Certeau's theory of space, Ian Buchanan argues that "our understanding of culture must commence with an understanding of the formation of the subject," and that the latter is addressed by Certeau through his essays on space [129-30]. Following this assertion, we want to argue that Certeau's analyses of spatial practices in Heterologies, "The Gaze: Nicholas of Cusa," and The Practice of Everyday Life [particularly the chapter "Walking in the City" 91-110], outline a theory that describes subjectivity as what amounts to, as Certeau puts it in Culture in the Plural, "a composition of places and the innovation that modifies it by dint of moving and cutting across them" [146]. Furthermore, by articulating the close relationship between Certeau's spatial theory and our own work on "transversal movement," we will attempt to show that the method of analysis Certeau uses in "Walking in the City" (and describes in several other works) is itself marked by the "transversal" tactics that his theory describes. 1 By focusing in particular on Certeau's methodological critique of Foucault in both The Practice of Everyday Life and Heterologies, we will demonstrate the various ways in which he moves beyond what Bryan Reynolds and James Intriligator have labeled the "dissective-cohesive mode" of analysis, an analytical [End Page 63] [Begin Page 65] approach (characteristic of most dialectical argumentation) that breaks its subject matter into constituent parts and examines those parts with the goal of reassembling them into a unified and accountable whole (such as, say, the city or the human subject in "Walking in the City"). 2

Postmodern Space: Certeau and Jameson

In his essay "Heterophenomenology, or Certeau's Theory of Space," Ian Buchanan situates Certeau's writings on the production of space within the postmodern debate over the autonomy of the subject, opposing Certeau's view to Fredric Jameson's "assumption that the subject takes his or her psychic bearings from the built environment and only has certain existence so long as he or she can cognitively 'map' this environment" [Buchanan 114]. Citing the example of the Westin Bonaventure hotel in Los Angeles, Jameson argues that "this latest mutation in space--postmodern hyperspace--has finally succeeded in transcending the capacities of the individual human body to locate itself, to organize its immediate surroundings perceptually, and cognitively to map its position in a mappable external world" [44]. The effect on cultural politics, according to Jameson, is that the subject "submerged" by this postmodern hyperspace is deprived of the "critical distance" that makes possible the "positioning of the cultural act outside of the massive Being of capital" [48]. Buchanan finds in "Walking in the City" the basis for a critique of this view though a conception of space stemming from "heterophe-nomenology," defined as "a phenomenology predicated by a heterogeneously constituted subject which does not take for granted the unity of the body" [112]. Focusing on Certeau's debt to Merleau-Ponty's theories of perception (which can best be seen in...