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Monday, February 07, 2011

Walking in the City- Michel de Certeau

the following is a write up on Walking in the City by Vandana S.


Michel de Certeau was a French scholar whose work combined history, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the social sciences. He was greatly influenced by Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. Certeau’s essay Walking in the City is from his well-known book The Practice of Everyday Life. It was originally published in French in the year 1980. Steven Rendall translated it into English in 1984. The book is considered as very influential in cultural studies as it talks about the value of everyday life.

The essay is carefully poised between poetry and semiotics. It begins with looking down on the city of New York from the top of the World Trade Centre, and enjoying the pleasures of seeing the city laid out below. He says ‘to be lifted to the summit of the World Trade Centre is to be lifted out of the city’s grasp’. Through this one gets a voyeuristic pleasure by being able to watch the city from a distance. But to understand the everyday life, one must finally fall back into the dark space where crowds move back and forth.

A city can exist only if there are people in it. The ordinary practitioners of the city are the pedestrians who make use of the spaces to walk and they bring life to the city. The pedestrians on the streets write the urban ‘text’ without being able to read it.

Walking in the city turns out to have its own logic – or as de Crerteau puts it, its own rhetoric. The walker individuates and makes ambiguous the ‘legible’ order given to cities by planners, a little like waking lie is displaced and ambiguated by dreaming- to take one of de Certeau’s several analogies. Walking in the City has been very influential in cultural studies just because of the waay that it uses both imagination and technical semiotic analysis to show how everyday life has particular value when it takes place in the gaps of larger power-structures.

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