Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 36, 1992
Postcolonial Fictions:
Proceedings of the SPACLALS Triennial Conference 1992
Edited by Michèle Drouart

Extraordinary Spaces in Ordinary Places: De Certeau and the space of postcolonialism

Ian Buchanan

The aim of this paper will be to explore and at the same time interrogate a number of theories relevant to the concept of space. The larger aim will be to show how de Certeau's ideas can be usefully incorporated into current work in the area of postcolonialism. Essentially, what I aim to show is that space is not a topic that can simply be glossed, as it so often is, and that literary studies needs to integrate a concept of spatiality into its fields of concern, and that postcolonialism, above all others, needs to think about space. This should already be apparent in the very term postcolonialism, implying as it does an intrinsic relation to space - an occupation, a being occupied and a de-occupying (of a space) - whether it be a homeland or suburban street. This brings me to the second aspect of my paper, which will be to argue that space is neither a uniform nor a homogeneous object or subject that can be apprehended without difficulty, that can be perceived similarly by all who choose to look. Put simply, there are spaces and there are spaces.

My starting point is Henri Lefebvre,1 a leading French socialist philosopher and foremost philosopher of space. Space, he argues, needs to be thought in terms that do not permit a notion such as "empty space" to circulate and be given currency. Space is not a receptacle, a vessel that can be filled and emptied of its contents - ideology, history, force etc. - at a whim. There is no natural space that can be culturated. Space exists only as it is inhabited: it is created by the act of occupancy. In a sense, all space is colonized. But this word is too homogenizing to be of much use, it is not amenable to the dialectical approach that I intend to take. A better term would be the concept of territorialization taken from Deleuze and Guattari's immense arsenal of concepts, A Thousand Plateaus.2 This term is preferable because it more adequately expresses the relationship between forces3 that occurs in the construction of space, it does not allow for a complete obliteration, a trace always remains, history cannot be determined completely by the victors, the vanquished too have their say (even if they are no longer around to do the speaking).

Territorialization is conceived by Deleuze and Guattari as a dual action process (a phrase I use to differentiate it from a dialectical or binary process) consisting of reterritorialization and deterritorialization. Neither process can take place in isolation from the other. This point is crucial. They must always be conceived in terms of a relationship. These terms are not the complement of each other as if they were two halves of a circle; they are, rather, supplements in the sense that Derrida gives that term.4 For example, as Deleuze and Guattari demonstrate by way of analogy:

How could movements of deterritorialization and processes of reterritorialization not be relative, always connected, caught up in one another? The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp; but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece of the orchid's reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen.5

This "model," if it can be called that, moves away from the typically binarist mode of thinking that opposes colonized and colonizer, and directs analysis toward a view that sees these hitherto conditions as roles (positions in a hierarchy). By refusing to consider as absolute either the state of being colonized, or the act of colonizing, it becomes possible to conceive colonialism (irrespective of the prefix) in a manner more empowering to those peoples generally perceived as disempowered. Not that it gives these people power in a material sense, rather it doesn't deprive them of it in an a priori theoretical sense.

In terms of an analysis of space Lefebvre's twin concepts of dominated and appropriated space drawn from his book, The Production of Space, is perhaps the most useful place to begin. These notions are especially suitable when raised as point and counterpoint to Foucault's disciplined space. Essentially then, their objective is to recompose Foucault's work within a dialectical frame (which is not, however, to say a Marxist paradigm). Quite simply, this entails writing the subject back into discourse, the active restoration of something almost completely absent within Foucault's genealogies. Absent by design. A genealogy is, in Foucault's own words, "a form of history which can account for the constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects, etc., without having to make reference to a subject . . . "6 While Foucault offers a powerful critique of regimes of domination and marginalization, his theorization of the marginalized offers no avenue for meaningful change. In the last instance the system will assimilate and accommodate all attempts at change, rendering revolutions meaningless. Foucault is theorist of place, not space, a distinction I will clarify in a moment.

Dominated space roughly equals disciplined space, the crucial factor being that space itself determines the nature and type of the inhabitant.7 My primary point of reference here is Foucault's Discipline and Punish, and so my examples will mostly refer to prisons. A prison cell makes a prisoner of its occupant and imposes prisoner-like behaviour. The very architecture shapes the way life can be lived within the confines of a particular environment: its possibilities and potentialities. Of course this is by no means restricted to built environments: there is no place for igloos on the Nullarbor! Missing from this picture, though, is the act of disciplining itself, or rather, as Deleuze and Guattari refer to it, the abstract machine of discipline: the panopticon, in other words. This is the means by which a room in the ordinary sense becomes a cell. There is no need to recount in any great detail Foucault's genealogy of power here. However, it is important to bear in mind the point that space is not intrinsically disciplined or appropriated, a bedroom or a cell. There is no insular interiority of space, there is only exteriority: impositions from without. Nevertheless, within Foucault's schema there is a certain smuggling in of space as interiority that cannot be overlooked. Space, in the panopticon specifically, becomes united with technology, and - according to Foucault - disciplines the occupant (thus making it a disciplined, or dominated space). Despite the obvious ability of space to determine behaviour - igloos on the nullarbor and that kind of thing - it is wrong to assume that this is completely the case. Different occupants have different relationships with space that transform space according to the acts of occupancy: what some called the Dark Continent, others called home.

This factor, space imposing behaviour on the occupant seemingly from within (that is, as an intrinsic fact of space), but actually from without (as a consequence of an act of occupancy), is central to the idea of appropriated space which inverts totally the idea of dominated space. Rather than predicate itself on the view that architecture shapes modes of living in a fundamental sense, it contends that occupation itself constructs space. A prisoner, for example, makes his or her room into a cell by the act of occupancy. This is not a matter of perception only; it is not a mentalist rationalization whereby a prisoner could choose to regard his or her cell as a bedroom in a palace and that would suffice to release him/her from incarceration. Obviously such a conceptualization would be wide open to attack from materialists of all types who would argue, very forcefully, that this virtual-reality construction of space8 does not change the hard fact that if you are living on the streets you are living on the streets.9 The environs will not become any more pleasant, or any safer, simply because the occupant chooses to see (in the limited visual-only sense) the streets as corridors within a massive palace that he or she owns.

The fact that it is possible to construct such a view of the streets, however, demands that space be rethought in the dialectical sense that Lefebvre suggests. Certainly, as Foucault has demonstrated, there are dominated spaces. There can be no argument: a prison is a prison. It is an enclosed space which employs an almost inexorable array of machines that ensure that the space remains controlled, that its ownership cannot be contested. More importantly, as Foucault illustrates with reference to the panopticon, this machinery shapes and ultimately modifies the behaviour of the occupants, thus uniting theory and practice. It is also certain, however, that the disciplinary apparatus cannot determine in an absolute sense, for all contingencies, the behaviour of all inmates all of the time. There will always be those who escape.

What I want to talk about primarily is those who escape without leaving (this phrase belongs to de Certeau and his work will inform much of what I have to say). Consider, for example, a prisoner caught within the web of the justice system: he or she has, for all intents and purposes, only two real choices:

(1) conform - go along to get along, as the saying goes;

(2) rebel - fight the system.

It is well known that the justice system has a great many means at its disposal to force rebelling prisoners to give up the fight. Direct confrontation with the system has only rarely been successful. Generally the outcome can be predicted with certainty: defeat for the prisoner. And defeat means the transformation of rights into privileges. In effect their forfeiture is the price the inmate must pay in order to be accepted back into the system. He or she must accept the fact that the onus will now be on them to prove the authenticity of their submission, they must now become "model" prisoners and must "model" prisoner-like behaviour as an example to their peers.

The other pathway, conforming, rather than rebelling, against the justice-machine, ends in the same place, but the route is much easier. The prisoner must still be a "model." He or she must still play the role of an incarcerated citizen, observing all regulations without question, proving daily that s/he has digested the new status and will not be a source of disturbance. But it is precisely at this juncture, this vortex between what is expected and what is delivered, that the system proves itself vulnerable. There is always the possibility that prisoner-like behaviour will prove to be an act; that is, behaviour as simulacra. There are two sub-categories to conforming:

(1) conform and be absorbed by the system;

(2) conform and thereby appropriate the system.

It is by this means that a prisoner can escape without exit: subservience is transformed into subversion; or, better yet, with respect to Deleuze and Guattari: subservient-becoming-subversive.10 The abstract prison-machine (as it might also be called) deterritorializes the convict, forcing him or her to conform to a new and foreign standard of behaviour. But at the same time the prisoner reterritorializes the role he or she is being forced to play and appropriates it. "Appropriating means to impose forms, to create forms by exploiting circumstances."11 "Exploiting circumstances" is precisely how de Certeau defines tactics: "It [tactics] takes advantage of "opportunities" and depends upon them . . ."12 And it is to this that I will turn in a moment.

It is this possibility, the potential for a radical reterritorialization in the face of a determined deterritorialization, that Foucault closes off in his genealogies by shifting the focus from the individual to the systemic. By recomposing this schema in dialectical terms, Lefebvre opens the way for the kind of reading realized by de Certeau (and to a certain extent, made possible by Deleuze and Guattari). This is a reading that refuses to allow itself to be blinded by the technology of regimes of discourse - the artifice of theory, as it were - desiring instead a position that does not ignore the individual. Most importantly, it must be an empowering theory, although this should not be at the expense of certain, inescapable facts, such as the actual material conditions of individuals within the system (defined according to their own scale of expectations).

The point I am making is that if Foucault is correct in suggesting that many of us are complicit in our own oppression, then it seems clear that an act of choice is involved: agency in other words. It is the exercise of this choice, either to rebel or to conform, or to conform and rebel at the same time, that corresponds to de Certeau's notion of the tactical. "Exploiting circumstances" means waiting for the most favourable opportunity, and what I'm saying is that what is perceived as passivity (docility in Foucault's terms) may in fact be the stillness of a creature of prey waiting to pounce.13 The ever present potential for the system to collapse spontaneously in the face of a vicious uprising demands that we regard the tactical as supplement, not complement. In spatial terms it means that disciplined spaces cannot be thought of as absolutely dominated; they can always be appropriated. The exercise yard becomes helicopter pad and the prisoner escapes!

In ontological terms correlation of this position can be found in Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche with regards the concept of becoming. This reading was later extended massively by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus, and it is to this work that I allude. What I am arguing is that if we prefix all the terms of reference habitually employed by postcolonial literary theorists with becoming, i.e. becoming-colonized, becoming-colonizer, (or, to use my own examples, becoming-prisoner, becoming-warder), etc., then it becomes possible to read docility as a potentially subversive state because the process of becoming is necessarily always incomplete. Therefore a becoming-prisoner can also be a becoming-prisoner-becoming-rioter and so on. Change is continuous and never irreversible. As Deleuze says:

If becoming becomes something, why has it not long ago finished becoming? If it is something that has become, how could it have started to become?14

This opens the way for tactics by enabling critics to see oppression as both becoming-subservient and becoming-subversive and as becoming-subservient-becoming-subversive. Thus positioning subversion and subservience in a supplementary - as opposed to a complementary - relation which is central to my reading of de Certeau. The most convenient way of articulating de Certeau's ideas, which I have alluded to frequently, is via his own terminology which I will now turn to: strategy and tactics; place and space.

To begin with what is perhaps the easier concept: place and space. These two terms parallel quite closely Lefebvre's dominated space and appropriated space: place = dominated space (Foucault's disciplined space is nearer still); space = appropriated space. Thus place is the shorthand term for an enclosed,15 institutional space, one that is able to regulate with precision its internal distributions by virtue of a rigorous closure shielding it from the affects of exteriority (that which comes from without). The twin operations of closure and internal administration fall under the rubric of strategy. In de Certeau's terms, strategy equals the institutional,16 it is the force that institutions must necessarily exert in order to remain institutions. This point is fundamental. The strategic can never relax its vigilance, the surveillance of its perimeters must be ceaseless. The strong must protect themselves from the weak.

The weak, or the colonized, which we might also now call the deterritorialized, or rather, since being deterritorialized involves in return a process of reterritorializing, the becoming-weak-becoming-stronger, proceed tactically; that is, from without, as that dangerous exteriority a place must guard against. Tactics are the means by which places are reconverted into spaces. Reterritorialized, in other words. The place of the dominant is made available for the dominated. As Deleuze and Guattari might put it, it is a practice of making smooth; it is the triumph of the nomad.17 The crucial point in de Certeau's work that is often missed is that strategy and tactics are not oppositional terms, although they are frequently characterized as such, most culpably by John Fiske.18 This has led theorists such as John Frow19 and to a certain extent Meaghan Morris,20 to describe de Certeau's theories as belonging to a weaker category of resistance and miss the mark completely. The point that is missed is that tactics are not simply, in the Deleuzian sense, reactive forces, a practice of response.21 They in fact define the limits of strategy, and inform its modes of operation in a fundamental sense, thus forcing the strategic to respond to the tactical. In other words, the tactical has an active element in its constitution as well as a reactive one.

The prisoners determine the level of security required at a particular institution. Their ingenuity means that while the strategic, abstract prison-machine must always endeavour to be one step ahead, it in fact is always one step behind. It is reactive rather than active. It is subject to appropriation; its disciplined/dominated spaces, places in other words, can always be made smooth by their occupants by the act of occupancy itself. In linguistic terms, the literal of the major language is metaphorized by its minoritarian use.22 As an aside, I find it quite surprising that this aspect of Deleuze and Guattari's work,23 as well as de Certeau's, has not been picked up on and used more widely. The theoretical implications of their thinking is implicit in the distinction between English and Aboriginal-English, for example. Just as space can be appropriated, so too can language. It can be metaphorized.

As my title suggests, extraordinary spaces can be found in ordinary places; meaning, quite simply, that within discourse there are always holes into which we can escape without leaving. These holes are created by the act of occupancy. They are appropriations, not necessarily aporia. Literary studies should redirect some portion of its focus to include the extraordinary within its scope. We need to find out not only how individuals become-subservient, which is the trail blazed by Foucault, but also how they become-subversive, a pathway that is only a light at the end of the tunnel, for no one has trod its path yet. The trail has been marked by de Certeau, but unfortunately he died before he could ever make explicit his intuitions. My intent today has been to offer both a means of entry into his work and a reason for doing so. I hope, to that end, that I have been at least marginally successful.

Murdoch University

1 See particularly, H. Lefebvre, The Production of Space trans. D. Nicholoson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991)

2 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. B. Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

3 "Force is not to be confused with power. Power is the domestication of force. Force in its wild state arrives from the outside to break constraints and open new vistas. Power builds walls." Brian Massumi, A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press 1992), 6.

4 See, Jacques Derrida, "That Dangerous Supplement," in Of Grammatology, trans. G. Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976)

5 Deleuze and Guattari (1987), 10.

6 Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, trans. C. Gordon (New York: Pantheon Books 1980), 117.

7 See Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan (London: Peregrine, 1987), particularly part three.

8 The construction whereby one flick of a mental switch and you are transported from one virtual world to another, so that all you need is the right apparatus and your imagination is your only limit.

9 In response to a paper by Fiske given at the "Cultural Studies Now and in the Future" conference (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaigne, April 1990), and called "The Culture of Everyday Life", in which he argued that the everyday has an importance that has not yet been adequately theorized, Elspeth Probyn said: "I'd just like to remind you that there are also questions of actual, real danger to people, to women who walk on the street." Probyn was saying, in effect, that theory isn't everything. What Fiske does not say, but it must be said, is that an empowering theory is just that: a theory that takes seriously the contribution of the individual, not a program that will make it safe for women to walk on the streets. The two issues are quite distinct. For the full text of this discussion see, Grossberg, Nelson & Treichler (eds) Cultural Studies (London & New York: Routledge), 154-173.

10 See Deleuze & Guattari (1987) A Thousand Plateaus.

11 Gilles Deleuze, "Active and Reactive," trans H. Tomlinson, in The New Nietzsche: Contemporary Styles of Interpretation (New York: Dell, 1977) 83.

12 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. S. Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984) 37.

13 "The man [sic] of metis [cunning intelligence] is always ready to pounce. He acts faster than lightning. This is not to say he gives way to sudden impulse, as do most Homeric heroes. On the contrary his metis knows how to wait patiently for the calculated moment to arrive." Marcel Detienne & Jean-Pierre Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, trans. J. Lloyd (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991) 15.

14 Gilles Deleuze (1977) 85.

15 Nevertheless, Deleuze, with characteristic perversity, demonstrates that Foucault is not a theorist of enclosure, as such. Foucault, he argues, "always considered confinement a secondary element derived from a primary function . . ." That is to say, the need to enclose, or the motive behind the construction of fortresses, or asylums, is more significant than the sites themselves. De Certeau's term place is useful here since it implies enclosure, a static defence, without at the same time implying an edifice of a particular type. Place can refer to a mode of thought, a mind-set as it were. Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, trans. S. Hand (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 42. See, also, Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History, trans. T. Conley (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988); Deleuze, "Postscript on the Societies of Control," October, 59 (1992) 3-7.

16 By definition, only an institution can be strategic since strategy always emanates from a place. See de Certeau (1984), particularly chapter 3.

17 See Deleuze & Guattari (1987).

18 See John Fiske, "Popular Forces and the Culture of Everyday Life," Southern Review, 21:3 (1988), 288-306; John Fiske, Understanding Popular Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Unwin Hyman, 1989).

19 John Frow, "Michel de Certeau and the Practice of Representation," Cultural Studies, 5:1 (1991), 52-60.

20 Meaghan Morris, "'On The Beach'" in Grossberg, Nelson & Treichler (1992), 450-478.

21 Gilles Deleuze (1977).

22 "A major usage of language restricts linguistic variation, isolates certain variables, and assigns them the function of constants, whereas a minor usage of a language puts linguistic variables into a continuous variation." Ronald Bogue, Deleuze and Guattari (London: Routledge, 1989), 147.

23 See Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. D. Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).


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