The ordinary practitioners of the city live “down below,” below the thresholds at which visibility begins… These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them is as blind as that of lovers in each other’s arms. The paths that correspond to this intertwining, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility. It is as though the practices of organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness.
Walking in the City – Michel De Certeau
As I move around cyberspace I am reminded of this quote from De Certeau derived from his essay Walking in the City, which itself is from a larger work called The Practices of Everyday Life. First published in 1984, it sets out to interrogate the validity of the ‘increasingly sociological and anthropological perspective of inquiry [that] privileges the anonymous and the everyday in which zoom lenses cut out metonymic details – parts taken for the whole’. It is at turns a philosophical, sociological and anthropological narrative that stalks the ordinary individual as they move through space, time, society and culture.
As I embody this figure, strolling around social media, inscribing my mark on digital palimpsests, generating paths and route maps through previously uncharted cyberspace, I inhabit the role of the digital flaneuse: a woman wandering. Elusive, and yet traceable by my movements online, I evade apprehension by those who attempt to control through panopticism. I operate at a level ‘below the thresholds at which visibility begins’.
And yet, as De Certeau qualifies, ‘it is as though the practices of organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness’. As I engage in these practices, I am graced with a privileged viewpoint – a subjective understanding of the ways in which this space functions. I, in collaboration with all other practitioners, organise this space. We manage this amorphous city of bytes and ether, unhindered by those who would seek to control our movements.
We are the ordinary practitioners – ‘the murmuring voice of societies’ – ‘a flexible and continuous mass, woven tight like a fabric with neither rips nor darned patches, a multitude of quantified heroes who lose names and faces as they become the ciphered river of streets, a mobile language of computations and rationalities that belong to no one’. It’s our connections to each other, those bonds between one individual to another, that defines cyberspace in the 21st century.
As one of those individuals, I connect, I create, I communicate. I am a digital flaneuse: at once a part of the crowd and apart from the crowd. An individual unto myself and a member of the masses.
Wow… this is beautifully written. I relate to being “at once part of the crowd and apart from the crowd. An individual unto myself and a member of the masses.”
The busier the noise of chatter and life-in-the-masses, the less I hear. But I see. I observe and think. I write and draw… and in the process hope to connect and communicate.
I just found your new blog from Liz Strauss’ comment section. I’ll be back… you are a joy to read.
Barb – I’m so glad that you decided to visit from Liz’s blog. She’s a star, isn’t she? I’m also glad that this post resonated with you as I so enjoyed writing it. It’s a lot more philosophical than some of the other posts here, but I’m hoping to do a bit of a mixture between the theoretical and the practical. Looking forward to all our future conversations!
Hi Amy I love this post.
Once I’ve wrestled my wordpress ignorance into submission I’ll be linking it in too!
This bit resonated in particular: I operate at a level ‘below the thresholds at which visibility begins’. And it’s precisely what’s got me a bit hamstrung with staring down the blank page of my ‘first blog post’. It feels like I’ll be operating just above the thresholds at which visibility begin and there’s bits of me that really aren’t sure if they want to go and do that.
I’ll just sit them down with a wee cup of tea though and press on!
Thanks for the inspiration.
Gurubody – thank you so much for taking the time to comment on this post. It was an absolute joy to write 🙂
Searching through your archives makes waking up too early in the morning worth it. Deep thought and Folgers. Can’t be beat.
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