Thursday, March 03, 2016

I once did see but now am blind

More Michel de Certeau in "Lived Religion" today. I focused on two passages in The Practice of Everyday Life (L'invention du quotidien I: Arts de faire), one from the influential distinction between strategy and tactics, and one from the equally celebrated "Walking the City":

Lacking its own place, lacking a view of the whole, limited by the blindness (which may lead to perspicacity) resulting from combat at close quarters, limited by the possibilities of the moment, a tactic is determined by the absence of power just as strategy is organized by the postulation of power. (38)

The ordinary practitioners of the city live "down below," below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk - an elementary form of this 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. These practitioners make use of space that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them is as blind as that of lovers in each other's arms. (93)

Perhaps because I'd already described him as a mystic of everyday life, only one of the students was put off by all the negatives. The others saw that the "perspicacity" in question is the pearl of great price. And who wants distant sight when one can hold one's lover in one's arms?

Bringing de Certeau's ideas in is changing the tenor of our class discussions in interesting ways. What if what makes us most human, most alive, could at best be described by a paradoxical "science of the singular" - and if we understood religiosity and spirituality in its terms? Individual believers aren't making their own little religions. They lack a view of the whole because the whole isn't important to them (that's for planners, and intellectuals). Freed by their powerlessness from the responsibilities and the coarsening generalizations of institutions, creeds and theories (what de Certeau calls "strategy"), they discern (by engaging them) dimensions of reality that can't, and needn't be, articulated in words. Something like that!

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