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Such a globalizing assessment, of course, can not be made without objections and Meaghan Morris raises one of them in an essay called "Banality in Cultural Studies" (1990). In reference to Michel de Certeau's L'Invention du quotidien (The Practice of Everyday Life), Morris remarks that she is skeptical that a theory grounded on (rather than tactically using) the category of otherness can ever end up anywhere else [that is, as anything other than a 'unifying myth of common otherness']" (36). In this light, then, one should ask if the cultural studies approach to the everyday is indeed more useful or (politically) correct because less exclusionary than the historical one. Specifically, the purpose of this paper will be to examine what happens when two thirteenth-century Old French dits, "Les Rues de Paris" and "Les Crieries de Paris," are examined for what they offer in terms of the everyday, an everyday which is constructed from the apparently opposing positions of history and cultural studies. In order to proceed with such an examination, it will be useful to look at how the everyday is conceptualized first by an historian, then by a proponent of cultural studies.
According to Fernand Braudel, author of Civilization and Capitalism: 15th-18th Century (1981) of which The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible is the first volume, it is the "length of time observed" that separates the everyday from "History with a capital letter," and, further:
"If we reduce the length of time observed, we either have the event or the everyday happening. The event is, or is taken to be, unique; the everyday happening is repeated, and is more likely to become a generality rather than a structure. [... ] Through little details [like food, dress and lodging] a society stands revealed." (29)
History takes into account, then, either great spans of time and distance or monumental happenings, while "[e]veryday life consists of the little things one hardly notices in time and space" (29). Once brought into clear view, that is, once rendered readable, we can peel away this layer of "little things" in order to see the structure hidden beneath. Indeed, Braudel describes his sprawling study of everyday life as "a sort of 'weighing up of the world'; of the enormous place... occupied by 'material' life" (25). Fortunately enough for he who wishes to write a history of such a subject, however, "[m]aterial life conforms to... slow rhythms more readily than other areas of human history" (560). Regardless of its enormity, therefore, everyday or material life's slowness ("this layer of stagnant history" as Braudel refers to it) makes its capture easier for the hunter- historian, though "parahistoric languages-- demography, food, costume, lodging, technology, money, towns-- are usually kept separate from each other and... develop in the margins of traditional history" (27).
An idea of the "everyday," Braudel's everyday at least, could be stated in the following way: the everyday, made manifest through the objects of material life, through things consumed and the people who consume them, through the small and repeated details of day to day living, is a generally slowly evolving though massive and disorderly "chain" of "thousands and thousands of assorted facts" which constitute "the dust of history" (560). By sorting through this sea of facts and dust particles a diligent scholar may come "to define what material life is and has been" (559), to "introduce a kind of order, indicate a balance, and to reveal to our eyes the permanent features, the things that in this apparent disorder can be explained" (560). "Structure" thus revealed, a (the?) history of everyday life can be written, and, reciprocally, the everyday becomes worthy of history.
But the everyday is still not drawn in its own right into the domain of History with a capital letter. It is in volumes two and three of Braudel s project, The Wheels of Commerce and The Perspective of the World, that real History is made/written, for "[w]ith economic life we shall be moving outside the routine, the unconscious daily round" (562, Braudel s emphasis). Though Braudel has indicated in the introductory pages of The Structures of Everyday Life that the everyday forms a kind of cover over deeper, more meaningful "permanent features," now the everyday, like sand on the ocean floor, is subject to the waves or movements of what is above:
"What has this sophisticated level [real capitalism] to do with the humble lives at the foot of the ladder, the reader may ask. Everything perhaps, for they were drawn into its operations. [ ...] It was the inequalities, the injustices, the contradictions large or small, that made the world go round and endlessly transformed its upper structures, the only ones with the capacity to move." (562)
In Braudel's tripartite division of everyday/material life, market economy, and the "higher activity" of capitalism, the everyday lies firmly constrained under the weight of the other two, and the incapacity for active movement, as well as the disorder that renders visibility difficult become two of the everyday's primary hallmarks.
In L'invention du quotidien: Arts de faire (1990), Michel de Certeau dedicates his work to "l'homme ordinaire" (11). This ordinary man is a common hero, an unnamable walker: "c'est le locuteur... le point de jonction entre le savant et le commun" (17). The ordinary man and his everyday life are what the scientific method does not (can not?) take into its account, the unimportant leftovers of technical reasoning. The ordinary man is the silent master of everyday experience because he does not interpret or translate his experience as the "expert" in history, anthropology or sociology does (21), rather he lives it and the text (or poem) he creates as he goes along is one he can not read, the space he traverses as he goes along is one he can not see. (141) For the power to see and to read, to interpret and to translate belong, as stated, to the appointed expert: power is knowledge (and not the reverse). (60) Thus, unreadability and invisibility are key to what makes the everyday the everyday. Interestingly, this conclusion does not seem drastically different from the one drawn by Braudel.
But for de Certeau, the historian is mistaken in believing that the everyday can be rendered representable via an inventory of things (Braudel's "weighing up of the world"), for it is only through an evaluation of practices that the everyday can begin to be understood. Practices, however, escape conventional reading because they are in process rather than in fact. To claim that they are readable is tantamount to insisting that the map is the territory. To further deviate from Braudel, the everyday consists not mainly in the repetition of (passive) activities that settle into generalities, but in the constant adjustment to, compensation for and manipulation of what is imposed upon it what de Certeau describes as "tactics":
"[J]'appelle tactique l'action calculée que détermine l'absence d'un propre. [... ] La tactique n'a pour lieu que celui de l'autre. Aussi doit-elle jouer avec le terrain qui lui est imposé tel que l'organise la loi d'une force étrangère. [... ] [E]lle est mouvement à l'intérieur du champ de vision de l'ennemi... et dans l'espace contrôlé par lui. [... ] Elle profite des 'occasions' et en dépend .... Il lui est possible d'être là où on ne l'attend pas. Elle est ruse. " (60-61)
So while Braudel is indeed in accordance with de Certeau when he points out that the space of the everyday is delimited from above (by hegemonic forces or strategies), Braudel does not recognize that movement is of the everyday's essence, and that the very weakness of its position is its strength.
Of course, the idealism of de Certeau's theorization can be easily criticized, as well as the implicit assertion that the division between the everyday (which both de Certeau and Braudel, among others, locate "down below") and the visible power structure that imposes itself from above is a social class division. With respect to social class, de Certeau is not so far from the Marxist Henri Lefebvre who, in The Production of Space, laments rather than lauds "the silence of the 'users' of this space" who "allow themselves to be manipulated in ways so damaging to their spaces and their daily life without embarking on massive revolts" (51). On the other hand, what strikes Samuel Kinser in his article on de Certeau entitled "Everyday Ordinary" (1992) is that "people's cooperative habits, no matter how exploited, are as remarkable as their belligerence" and that "the paths of ordinary people through the city, like those of the elite, are rooted in routine as well as artfulness" (75-76). For Kinser, then, the question of the everyday is not so much one of social class as it is of human nature. Nevertheless, I would suggest that de Certeau would not have disagreed with either Lefebvre or Kinser, for de Certeau's conceptualization of the everyday is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Thus, it is of central importance that de Certeau's everyday is not primarily wrapped up in the routine itself, but in what the ordinary man invents in the routine, in the "art d'utiliser [les produits] qui lui sont imposés," and in ways that were not or could not be envisioned by the original producer, urban planner, law-maker, etc. (53). Keeping this in mind, let us move on to more textual tactics and the Old French dits.
In a chapter of L'Invention du quotidien called "Marches dans la ville," de Certeau identifies a "rhetoric of walking" in the city, which functions like the relationship between speech act and language (parole and langue, "user"; and system): "L'acte de marcher est au système urbain ce que l'énonciation (le speech act) est à la langue.... [C]'est un procès d'appropriation du système topographique par le piéton (de même que le locuteur s'approprie et assume la langue); une réalisation spatiale du lieu (de même que l'acte de parole est une réalisation sonore de la langue)" (148). Curiously enough, since de Certeau most likely did not have the medieval city in mind, this "rhétorique de la marche" (151) is useful for deciphering some ordinary little poems that have come to us from a place as far away as the thirteenth century.
First, however, it must be asked what or who makes these works ordinary? The nineteenth-century editor, for one, who collected them, along with more "important" pieces, in a volume of fabliaux and contes from the eleventh through fifteenth century, states in reference to "Les Rues de Paris" that:
"Une pièce singulière, et qui paroît unique dans son espèce, sur les Rues de Paris, m'étant tombée entre les mains, j'ai cru la devoir ajouter à ce volume, parce qu elle sert à prouver jusqu'où Paris s'étendoit depuis que le Roi Philippe-Auguste l'eut fait entourer de murs. [... ] On mettoit en vers aux XIIIe et XIVe siècles certains sujets qu on regarderoit aujourd hui comme très-peu susceptibles de poésie. Aussi ne se gênoit-on guère sur la rime; et pour faire des liaisons, ou pour remplir la quantité et la mesure, on fabriquoit des termes, et on inseroit des sermens par tels ou tels saints réels ou imaginés." (Barbazan, 236, my emphasis)
Even the poem s narrator starts off with a kind of apology for the mundane nature of his project, something, he would have one believe, he is not normally prone to:
Maint dit a fait de Roys, de Conte
Guillot de Paris en son conte;
Les rues de Paris briément
A mis en rime, oiez comment. (Barbazan, 238).
(That the poem continues for 549 verses is a strong indication that the apology may be less than sincere.) Nevertheless, the editor assures the potential reader, in spite of its rather uninspiring quality, this work does have something to offer, because "[e]lle apprend quelles sont les plus anciennes Rues [et] elle aidera à connoître la situation de ces mêmes Rues," allowing the contemporary reader then to (re)situate these streets in a mind's eye, to know them, to know what Paris used to be. In other words, the nineteenth- century editor believes these poems to be useful only in so far as they authorize (or put into question) a mapping of the streets, monuments or even customs of (the reader's) Paris.
Through copious notes which act to supplement the impoverished nature of the poem, the editor proposes, or rather imposes a view of the city from above, the view of de Certeau's urban planner: "La ville-panorama est un simulacre théorique (c'est-à-dire visuel), en somme un tableau, qui a pour condition de possibilité un oubli et une méconnaissance des pratiques" (de Certeau, 141). The superior position assumed by the editor, probably unconsciously, in his running commentary on "Les Rues de Paris" is revealed in his use of language: "On l'appelle maintenant la rue "; "Il faut que ce soit le bout supérieur de la rue "; "C'étoit une ruelle qui tomboit d'un bout sur la place devant "; "Le cul-de-sac, qui lui est parallèle, porte encore le nom ." On the other hand, the position occupied by the narrator of the poem affords no bird's-eye view, for it is situated down below, within the space identified grosso modo as Paris. This inferior positioning, "en bas à partir des seuils où cesse la visibilité, [où] vivent les pratiquants ordinaires de la ville" (de Certeau, 141), is likewise revealed in the narrator's use of language:
Conte val rue de la Harpe
Ving en la rue Saint Sevring,
Et tant fis c'au carrefour ving:
La Grant rue trouvai briément;
De là entrai premierement
Trouvai la rue as Ecrivains . (Barbazan, 241)
Further, the editor's interest in the streets mentioned in the poem extends little beyond the purposes of mapping, and he addresses his "research," in fact, to city functionaries charged with the task of renovating street signs:
"On met ici en caractères italiques les noms qui ne sont plus d'usage, soit que les Rues soient devenues couvertes de maisons, et n'existent plus, ou que le nom ait été changé par la fantaisie du peuple; je renvoie, au bas de la page, le nom qu elles ont aujourd hui. Je laisse en caractères romains ce qui reste de ceux qui ne sont que défigurés: et je souhaite que ce petit ouvrage puisse engager les personnes préposées à la renovation des écriteaux des noms des Rues, à les faire mieux ortographier." (Barbazan, 239)
But the narrator is discursively and topographically wrapped up in telling what is happening in the streets, which necessitates that he walks as he tells and tells as he walks:
En la rue Raoul Menuicet
Trouvai un homme qui mucet
Un femme en terre et ensiet.
La rue des Estuves emprès siet.
Emprès est la rue du Four:
Lors entrai en un carefour,
Trouvai la rue des Escus.
Un homs à grans ongles locus
Demanda, Guillot, que fes-tu?
Droitement de Chastiau-Festu
M'en ving à la rue à Prouvoires . (Barbazan, 258)
Returning to de Certeau's "rhétorique de la marche," then, it can be said that the nineteenth-century editor directs his "expert" attention to the urban system, while the narrator is caught up in the "acte de marcher" within that system. Not only can it be proposed that the narrator's "art de 'tourner' des phrases a pour équivalent l'art de tourner des parcours" (de Certeau, 151), his art of turning phrases is inseparable from the art of "making his way." Further, the narrator makes no attempt to interpret what he sees: "On Raoul Street, I found a man who buried a woman and left. Estuves Street was next." Nor does he explain the significance of the man with the unkept fingernails who is the only one to address the Conte Guillot directly throughout the entire poem. And it is striking that the man does not ask Guillot where he is going, but what he is doing. This question too remains unanswered, as Guillot merely continues to make his way or perhaps this gesture is in itself a tactical response to the question, the kind a "conventional" reader will not (be able to) see. Indeed, "Les Rues de Paris" is as "unreadable" as the narrator/walker's trajectory. It almost begs for a "mise-à-plat" (to borrow de Certeau's term), that is, for a map to be spread beside it in order to "follow along" by actually marking out Guillot's path, thus creating the illusion of readability by simultaneously obliterating the work's enigmatic nature.
"Les Rues de Paris," the editor maintains that "Les Crieries de Paris" is not much in the way of poetry (with a capital P, no doubt), but it is useful insofar as it will let the reader know certain facts of medieval life:
"Cette pièce de Poésie, toute indifférente qu elle paroisse au premier coup-d'oeil, servira beaucoup à nous faire connoître plusieurs usages de la fin du treizième siècle; temps auquel elle a été écrite: elle ne contribuera pas peu à faire connoître les moeurs de ce temps reculé." (Barbazan, 276)
True, the art of the crier is all but lost in the modern city where 24 hour-a-day traffic drowns out the occasional vendor's oral invitation from the street corner. Thus, it is interesting to wonder about a time when the cries of the street and market vendors must have completely filled the air from earliest morning to nightfall, and to imagine how, in a city as large and as populated as Paris, even in the thirteenth century, these cries would have meshed together to form an indistinguishable mass of "background noise." Perhaps this massive tangle is what inspired Guillaume de Villeneuve, narrator of "Les Crieries de Paris," to single each cry out, to reveal the usually masked detail contained in the aural fabric of daily city life the kind of order-rendering project Braudel described in the introduction to The Structures of Everyday Life. Or perhaps the reason for Guillaume's dit is as simple as the one he himself offers: "Je fai moult bien que je sai fere" (Barbazan, 280).
Whatever it is that Guillaume knows how to do well, the nineteenth-century editor opines that it is not particularly worthy of being put into verse. "Les Crieries" is not remarkable for its form: the rhyme is simple, the dit is lengthy (almost two hundred lines), and it constitutes little more than a list of things and sounds:
J'ai chastaignes de Lombardie,
Figues de Melites sanz fin,
J'ai roisin d'outre mer, roisin.
J'ai porées, et s'ai naviaus,
J'ai pois en cosse toz noviaus.
L'autres crie feves noveles;
Si les mesure à escueles.
Hanni d'aoust flerant com bausme,
L'autres crie chaume, i a chaume [etc.]. (Barbazan, 285)
"Les Crieries," however, impedes straight-forward reading as well as "Les Rues de Paris" does. For example, Guillaume claims at the beginning of the poem to present a "nouviau Dit" because "povretez le justise"; but immediately thereafter, he tells us that the poem will reveal
...en quele guise
Et en quele maniere vont
Cil qui denrées à vendre ont,
Et qui penssent de lor preu fere,
Que jà ne fineront de brere. (277)
So in a sense, it is because of (in the name of?) some kind of relation to poverty that Guillaume will speak of consumption. But there is no indication as to whether the poverty is his own or whether he speaks of poverty in general, though something of a clue might be found at the end of the dit. Seduced in the process of making his way through the market-filled streets of Paris, he can not help but buy and spend :
Tant i a denrées à vendre
Tenir ne me puis de despendre. (286)
So much has Guillaume spent, in fact, that he has had to sell the shirt off his back-- lechery, he says, has disrobed him. Returning, then, to the beginning of the dit, a different reading might occur. For example, the work might serve a didactic purpose: one should refrain from wanting, wanting, wanting even though all the others are crying "I have, I have, I have." But this is not terribly different from believing the eighteenth-century pornographer, Restif de la Bretonne, when he claimed to write pornography to repel the people who would read it. In other words, one can read the end of "Les Crieries" as a moral decrying the sin of gluttony, but the poetic production is itself gluttonous, reveling in a seemingly unending list of goods and services, producing in spite of apparent over-consumption. Guillaume too is a crier as he pulls the reader into a circuit of want and lack, and his tactic is one that cleverly seduces the reader into re-reading into re-consuming. Further, what Guillaume consumed on his way through Paris was most likely not used in the way intended, for Guillaume s consumption is what produced his text/material in losing one (his shirt), he produced another ( "Un noviau Dit"). Hence, like Guillot in "Les Rues de Paris," Guillaume resorts to practices very much like those de Certeau identifies as the ordinary man's "mille manières de faire avec" (50)-- that is, the art of making do.
The objection can always be raised concerning the use of "literary" works, medieval or otherwise, as historical documents that can accurately represent, provided one knows how to read them, what daily life was like. Identifying a practice or practices that characterize the everyday appears for the purposes of this presentation to have been more useful. In my status as not a "professional" or "expert" medievalist or historian, it may well be said that I am using certain products in ways that were never intended, but perhaps in positioning myself as an everyday scholar and a scholar of the everyday, this can not be avoided. History with a capital letter must be necessarily suspicious of the everyday, because to theorize the everyday is to theorize practice, and History itself refuses or can not theorize its own practice, for this would mean laying bare the devices that allow it to produce the readable, and pulling the plug on its claim to objective truth. Both "Les Rues de Paris" and "Les Crieries de Paris" operate through practices that impede elucidating reading, whereas "normal" or "straight-forward" reading proceeds by establishing sens/e (both direction and meaning) and, consequently, understanding. Paradoxically, perhaps, understanding usually implies standing-over, surveying, or reading the "mise- à-plat," as opposed to reading as we make our way, which would suggest rather a standing-in. Reading as we make our way is what happens in the two poems considered in this essay.
Braudel, Fernand. The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible. Trans. Siân Reynolds. New York: Harper and Row, 1981.
de Certeau, Michel. L'invention du quotidien, 1. Arts de faire. Paris: Gallimard, 1990.
Kinser, Samuel. "Everyday Ordinary." In Diacritics (Summer, 1992), 22.2:70-82.
Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1991.
Morris, Meaghan. "Banality in Cultural Studies." In Logics of Television, ed. Patricia Mellencamp. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.