I picked up Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life yesterday…like visiting a friend whose intonations and accents haven’t been heard for a long time. The visit yields distance – yes, I read these words (I have read them, I did read them) – but that was then (when?) and this is now (here, wherever), and things have happened since the last cracking of the pages. A few colleagues have been privileging the distinction between ‘tactics’ and ‘strategies’ of late – I’ve been wondering what that’s about, where they are getting their fodder, if they have gone mining for shiny stuff to show off or if they are invested in the long histories of such ideas. Rhetoric can be a virus, passed along with a handshake, and this one might be called the strategy-tactic virus, with de Certeau as one index case.
But to the density of it: de Certeau defines a strategy as “the calculus of force-relationships which becomes possible when a subject of will and power (a proprietor, an enterprise, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated from an ‘environment.’ A strategy assumes a place that can be circumscribed as proper (propre) and thus serve as the basis for generating relations with an exterior distinct from it (competitors, adversaries, ‘clienteles,’ ‘targets,’ or ‘objects of research’.” He distinguishes a tactic as “a calculus which cannot count on a ‘proper’ (a spatial or institutional localization), nor thus on a borderline distinguishing the other as a visible totality. The place of a tactic belongs to the other. A tactic insinuates itself into he other’s place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance. It has at its disposal no base where it can capitalize on its advantages, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances. The ‘proper’ is a victory of space over time. On the contrary, because it does not have a place, a tactic depends on time – it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized ‘on the wing.’ Whatever it wins, it does not keep. It must constantly manipulate events in order to turn them into ‘opportunities’.”
de Certeau may be a fine companion here (where I am now), in a place where the quotidian is misread as heartfelt (in the heartland) but is actually finely tied to behind-the-back moves, covered utterances and weighted silences all situated in a highly controlled, orchestrated landscape. As I move between my own moves – pressing clay, folding paper, smearing paint, typing words – his writing provides worthy echoes. A strategy is to keep de Certeau nearby, paying attention to his delineation of the acts of production – representation – consumption. Tactics are to enliven a certain kind of responsiveness to his texts – might it look like the “lignes d’erre” of Deligny’s autistic children?