Models of Memory and Place – Chapter 4

I seem to have take a bit of a writing break, so I will share this, yet another strange delving into the past. 

Credible history and habitability

Strategies and tactics

Perhaps De Certeau’s most influential work, the practice of everyday life examines the way people navigate the everyday. ( De Certeau investigate s the way users (individuals) function alongside the established rules of society, what tactics they employ to make the everyday easier. Rather than a study of society, this text is more an analysis into the operations that are at play in the everyday.)

He provides strategies and tactics in regards to the everyday. He differentiates between the two, a strategy being  power isolated from the environment, this requires relationships, competition and is often implemented in organised power structures, large or small, and are used to institute a set of rules on the subject in question.  On the other hand a tactic is based on time, and used by the suppressed. Tactics momentarily take control of place; they are employed to create opportunities. They are both physical and psychological. Being more limited than strategies, tactics are used in a defensive manner, in response to an enforced environmental strategy.

The chapter I (and many others) found most significant was ‘walking in the city’ (De Certeau) . He begins the chapter describing New York from the top of the world trade centre, demonstrating the strategies and tactics at play in the city.

 His elevation transfigured him into a voyeur. It puts him at a distance. It transforms the bewitching world by which one was ‘’possessed’’ into a text that lies before one’s eyes. It allows one to read it, to be a solar eye, looking down like a god. (De Certeau)

When we are able to see the city as a whole, we can rise above the strategies that are in place to control us. This god like view on the city is one many crave, we can physically and metaphorically rise above. This voyeuristic drive can be seen in modern-day architecture, constant reminders lay in the Utopian structures that tower above us.

These strategies De Certeau describes play a part in how we interact with place; they govern our responses, as we know we are not meant to challenge them. Those who implement these strategies can vary widely, from the powerful institution of the government, to the social expectations put upon us by shopping centres.

 The ordinary practitioners of the city live down below, below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk- an elementary form of this experience if the city; they are walkers, Wandersmanner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘’text’’ they write without being able to read it. (De Certeua)

In contrast to the voyeur, the walker experiences the city in a very different manner. They see the real veins of the city, without truly experiencing the city as a unified body. The walker is constantly adjusting the way he (Here I refer back to chapter 3 – the wanderer is usually male. )  interacts with the city, as his experience is continuously updated as he wanders further.

‘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’ (De Certeau. The emphasis being on proximity.)

The walkers are so close to the city they inhabit they cannot help but be blind to the true nature of it. However the voyeur is detached from the very thing he is admiring the most, his god like stance above, yet has the ability to truly see the city in a way the people down below never will.

The credible, the memorable and the habitable

The same is true of stories and legends that haunt urban space like superfluous or additional inhabitants. They are the object of a witch-hunt, by the very logic of the techno-structure. But [the extermination of proper place names] (like the extermination of trees, forests, and hidden places in which such legends live) makes the city a ‘suspended symbolic order.’ The habitable city is thereby annulled. Thus, as a woman from Rouen put it, no, here ‘there isn’t any place special, except for my own home, that’s all…There isn’t anything.’ Nothing ‘special’: nothing that is marked, opened up by a memory or a story, signed by something or someone else. Only the cave of the home remains believable, still open for a certain time to legends, still full of shadows. Except for that, according to another city-dweller, there are only ‘places in which one can no longer believe in anything. (De Certeau)

The past haunts a place; the memories that exist there begin to question its credibility. The habitable is not just a question of a place meeting requirements, the place in which we choose to live contain the stories of the lives that once were, regardless if they are true or not. These collections of myths begin to form a conceptual character of a place.

Places are fragmentary and inward-turning histories, pasts that others are not allowed to read, accumulated times that can be unfolded but like stories held in reserve, remaining in Places are fragmentary and inward-turning histories, pasts that others are not allowed to read, accumulated times that can be unfolded but like stories held in reserve, remaining in an enigmatic state, symbolizations encysted in the pain or pleasure of the enigmatic state, symbolizations encysted in the pain or pleasure of the body. (De Certeau)

A place is made up of the many histories that have occurred there. What we experience in a place has a lot to do with what once happened there.

De Certeau identifies the memorable as

‘that which can be dreamed about a place.’

Places we experience can trigger memories; they can create metaphors of what we once encountered, consciously or unconsciously, and trigger a re-memory. The act of being in a place that triggers this, in turn, solidifies the memory as truth.

‘The absence of meaning opens a gap in time’ (De Certeau) the application of meaning to a place or memory creates significance for the individual it involves. Without this meaning such things can seem trivial, as De Certeau states, this absence of meaning will create a void in time, a forgettable experience.

The more meaning a space occupies; be it personal or physically located in the space itself, the more significance that place retains. This appropriated meaning to a place will influenced our reaction when experiencing it. When a place holds no meaning, we will not remember it. (This point relates to Augé’s theory on non-place as discussed in chapter 2. A non-place retains no real significance, so holds less meaning, so has less chance of staying in our memories. In a sense, the theory of credible and memorable things (De Certeau) stands at one end of the scale, with the theory of non-place at the other. This, in turn, solidifies both , in my mind, when one thing has an opposing force, it is more likely to exist outside of mere theory.)


Susan Hiller: collecting memories

Susan Hiller is interested in people, culture and dreams. She began her professional career with a scholarship in anthropology, but soon left as she wasn’t comfortable with its claims in objectivity. ‘She wrote that she did not wish her research to become part of anthropology’s ‘objectification of the contrariness of lived events’. During a lecture on African art, she made the decision to leave anthropology to become an artist.’ (Taken from Susan Hillers biography)

Hillers work is based on the collection and presentation of cultural artefacts from society. Her interest in anthropology influences her greatly, yet she always seems to undermine its practice. In ‘From the Freud museum

Susan Hiller – From the Freud Museum, 1991-1996


we can see her collection of pieces of memories, she places with suggestive meaning, and links, not explicitly explaining, but allowing the viewer to interpret in their own way, and in turn add a new level of meaning. (This openness to interpretation creates space for collective memories, see chapter 2. )

Sigmund Freud’s impressive collection of classical art and artefacts inspired me to formalise and focus my project. But if Freud’s collection is a kind of index to the version of Western civilisation’s heritage he was claiming, then my collection taken as a whole, is an archive of misunderstandings, crises, and ambivalences that complicate any such notion of heritage. (Taken from the Tate’s page on ‘From the Freud Museum’)

This work feels like it’s been plucked out of its environment, and placed in a glass cabinet, as if she has taken the relics of meaning from a place and preserved them for all to see. We can see these pieces of history create meaning. These memorable shards imply a place of great importance, as with De Certeau’s thoughts, discussed in the previous section, you could think of these items are the things that make a place credible and memorable.

Hillers focus also lies in the paranormal, which is less relatable to the subject of this essay; however I will touch on it briefly.

Witness is made up from a collection of voices from all over the world, tiny speakers hanging from the ceiling, beckoning you to interact with them.

Susan Hiller – Witness, 2000

As you look down, you can see the speakers make shadows that resemble UFOs.

Detail from Witness

This challenges our perception of the world, opens our eyes to other worldly possibilities. ( I have only briefly touched on perception in this essay in chapter 1 and chapter 2. It seems that the relation of place and memory has a lot to do with how we perceive things.)

Her way of challenging perception and generating deeply psychological questions about our very being creates an ambiguity between the normal and the paranormal. This in turn leads us to questions what we identify as possible, and leave reservation about our memories.

She approaches her practice with sensitivity, a subtlety that creates work which encompasses its viewer, but by no means over does it. I appreciate the way she presents her work, focusing on creating space for the viewer to discover their own connections. This is evident in her work, dedicated to unknown artists.

Susan Hiller – Dedicated to the unknown artists, 1976


Susan Hiller’s work is not pretentious or overdone. It is inspired by her desire to collect and discover ironic, subconscious or even hidden aspects of a society or people; the ghosts that haunt our daily lives and experiences, and the fascination with other worlds or possible truths. She doesn’t make work to sell or look aesthetically beautiful, although at times it does, but she delves into the understanding of why people do things and she aims to collect these random thoughts and notions into a way that can be shown within an artistic context. This is what art is about and this exhibition will inspire and encourage you to continue to search and maybe even to believe. (Taken from an online review of Susan Hiller (Chelsea Fitzgerald))


Big fat book list – 

Augé, M (1995) Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity 

Bachelard, G (1958) The Poetics of Space 

Benjamin, W (2002) The Arcades project 

Benjamin, W (1938) Berlin childhood around 1900 

Bergson, H (1912) Matter and Memory  

Calvino, I (1972) Invisible Cities 

Coverly, M (2010) Psychogeography

De Certeau, M (1980) The Practice of Everyday Life 

Gilloch, G (1996) Myth And Metropolis Walter Benjamin And The City 

Joyce, J (1922)  Ulysses

Joyce, J (1967) Dubliners

Massey, D ( 1994) Space, Place, and Gender

Miles,M , Hall, T, Borden,I ( 2000) City Culture Reader second ed 

Assorted writers (1992) Sexuality and Space 


I will no doubt get back into the swing of things and regain some writing mojo. For now, this will do. 



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