JEAN-FRANÇOIS AUGOYARD: AUTHOR'S RESPONSE TO THE TRANSLATOR'S FOREWORD FOR STEP BY STEP: AN ESSAY ON EVERYDAY WALKS IN AN URBAN SETTING
DAVID AMES CURTIS
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Jean-François Augoyard, Step by Step: Everyday Walks in a French Urban Housing Project (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007)
Author's Response to the Translator's Afterword
With the informed and precious assistance of my wife Colette, I have read your Afterword very carefully and noted the care with which the book's wealth of theoretical references has been brought out.
First, I wish to thank you for this remarkable perspicacity and the patient care with which you have tracked down the network of influences and echoes in which Pas à pas was enmeshed. All this should be of help to English-speaking readers--at least I imagine so, not being myself familiar with this readership.
This type of work is of course difficult to catalog, first of all because it sits astride several fields of knowledge: the semiotics of space, a phenomenology of everyday life, a philosophy of the imaginary, a critical microsociology, and urbanist theories. It appears above all as a thorny oxymoron in which one's steps make one think and philosophy is put to the test of ordinary life. It is therefore not a great surprise that some commentators and reviews at the time, taking the easy path and neglecting the final chapters, saw in this book a study on everyday trips in an experimental high-density housing complex, while other readers (among them Michel de Certeau, the first reader of the manuscript, Françoise Choay, Jacques Ellul, Alain Corbin, and Georges Perec) perfectly well understood this undertaking's theoretical import.
Moreover, from the formal standpoint, the very genre, a thesis in urbanism, presupposed that the philosophical apparatus would not be placed too far in the foreground and that references would be cited to the extent that they might shed some light on the material under analysis. As a result, and although reworked over a period of several months during which 150 pages were shed, the published work retained this relative theoretical moderation wherein, notwithstanding the principal authorial references given, the properly epistemological and theoretical debates were passed over in silence. This may also have afforded a form of elegance in writing for a somewhat broader audience. On this point, one can discern the influence of Pierre Sansot, my last thesis advisor, who had himself defended a brilliant thesis in philosophy that contained not a single note.
To come to your Afterword, the exegesis as a whole is both valid and pertinent. All the main underlying questions are well identified. On the other hand, the emphases and main bases of support are not always where I had placed them. I therefore propose to offer a few general viewpoints that will add to your commentary and provide a context for the more limited remarks that come thereafter.
1. On the General Framework of the Theoretical Project
The central problem I broached is that of the relationship between conceived space and lived space. Whence the synoptic table given in an appendix as a retrospective grasp of the path taken. The first of these two notions was worked on more thoroughly in the thesis. But all the references find in this antinomy their relevance as well as the limit of their usage. That is how one is to understand the differential definitions of Inhabiting/Lodging and Building/Constructing, which refer back not only to Martin Heidegger but also to Georges Braque, to Henri Lefebvre, to Emmanuel Levinas (Totality and Infinity, 1961), or else to Situationism, and which are to be taken as a semantic square for the city of today, each pole defining the other through plays of opposing or alternating relations. (This technical apparatus for setting out notions was already practiced a great deal by Giordano Bruno.)
2. On the Main Authors Used
None of us is ever completely unbound from his education and his readings. This fact does not keep one from nurturing a personal form of thought. Also, it is impossible to define clearly all the gradations between explicit citations, diffuse theoretical influences, and what we think or believe we have invented (or forged, Deleuze would say). If I had to indicate my main bases of support at the time, I believe I would divide them into three groups.
- phenomenology, beginning with Husserl; I now refer more and more to Erwin Strauss, who greatly inspired Merleau-Ponty and offered the advantage of having taken the path from psychophysics to sensoritonic theory via experimentation, or else to Jan Patocka who raises the problem of the instantiated principle of the collective;
- an aesthetics-related "existential" psychology; the person who taught me this was Henri Maldiney (and much less Heidegger); in Pas à pas, this current of thought is the main way in which the psychical instance makes its appearance; the psyche is therefore not absent as the end of your Afterword might make one think;
- finally, the philosophy of expression, wherein--alongside my readings and intensive course studies (in preparation for the teaching certificate on the question of language), as well as my work on rhetoric and this current of thinking about expression that has been on the rise since the Renaissance--my other teacher, Gilles Deleuze, is a key presence. Indeed, I'm currently working on a theoretical work around this theme.
3. On the Meaning of Daily Walks
I believe that one can quite simply refer here to the scholastic theory of double signification (but one could also take up again the old Stoic distinction between skopos and telos). If, as you point out I said, daily walks do not lead nowhere, that is because they have not only an extrinsic ("functionalist") function but also an ontological dimension (in the sense of modes of being) as well as an apophantic one--or, from another standpoint, also a self-signifying dimension. The ontology that would follow therefrom, were one to carry it out, would not place being under the sign of "abandonment." Here is one more difference with respect to Heidegger.
Having made these general remarks, I would now like to return to the thread of your text and make a number of points that raised questions for me, expressing myself with a sincerity that you will accept, I hope, and that will remind you of that elegant era of courteous but frank disputationes.
The references to Derrida remain minor. It seems to me that I employ "derealization" more often than "deconstruction."
On the Theory of the Imagination
I do not adhere to the Heideggerian position on this point (cf. "The Age of the World Picture"). And as a result, there is no contradiction and I do not have to struggle to dissociate myself from a cumbersome connection to which, once again, I am making no claim. I do not think that I have fallen into any Heideggerian "gap" on that side.
But I had trouble understanding what you were saying in the paragraph beginning "Thus, when Augoyard says, ‘Spanning affectivity . . . '" In this sentence-fragment, it is obviously "imaginary resonances" that is the subject of "mobilizing." This is to be discussed further, as I was unable to find the phrase in question again in my French edition.
As to the basics, I indicate my key sources in the work itself: the energetic Renaissance theory of the Spiritus Phantasticus (which is of Stoic/Neo-Platonic origin) and that of the three powers of the Kantian imagination (reproducing, synthesizing, creating). Obviously, the dynamic of the imagination does not pertain to the reproduction of images, which, as one knows today, are not "stored" but, rather, to its "schematic" power (in the Kantian sense) of producing something between the universal and the singular.
Finally, still on my way of thinking these three powers of the imaginary, there is no "detour" through the Renaissance here but, for me, a theoretical origin. For, this current of thinking nourished by the tradition of rhetoric since the time of Aristotle and Cicero is concerned less with images than with configurations, productive combinations, and expressive inventions.
A final question. I did not know how to interpret the adjective "municipally-based" which touches me, inasmuch as it is set near to the "woodsy Heidegger." One possible lead: Would I be opposed to him as the man of the "world of the Romans" (the urban) is opposed to the (sylvan) "world of the Germans," to borrow Heidegger's own famous distinction?
It is to be noted that I had indeed not yet read Castoriadis between 1975 and 1979.
On the Relation Between Science and Lived Experience
The quotation from Merleau-Ponty does not indicate an absolute paternity as regards my own position in this chapter which is much more influenced by existential psychology. Whatever the case may be, the paragraphs in your Afterword that begin with "Similarly, a certain doubt as to the pertinence and benefits of ‘scientific' studies is evident in this tome" do pose a problem of interpretation of the notion of what we call scientificité, scientificness.
To be brief about it, allow me to say that, on one side, the question of the proper way of expressing lived experience as communicable (under whatever degree of rationality and whatever kind of representation) remains an open one, and Hegel's phrase about the singular remains ever valid ("In the time that it would take to say it, it would already vanish"). And yet, an approach to lived experience remains possible in particular through language, including in its mimetic dimension, as you have well noted. This point is broached in particular at the beginning of the fourth chapter (instrumental status of the rhetoric of figures). And in the fifth chapter, this is the problem of the unity not of the sensible manifold (the problem of knowledge) but of the expressive manifold (the problem of meaning). The question becomes: What are the recurrences and principles of production of ordinary configurations that make sense?
On the other side, the relation between the given ("physical") world and the lived world has, in the field of research, undergone a series of well-known changes since the 1970s. This evolution is twofold; on the one hand, the physical sciences have recognized their own relativity as well as their limits (see Ilya Prigogine, Isabelle Stengers, Thomas Kuhn,(1) and all of present-day epistemology). Moreover, neurophysiology now verifies the theses of phenomenology and Gestalttheorie. On the other, the world that was claimed to be "objective" and objectal is recognized as being for us only a list of properties grasped by our senses, constructed as objects by perception and by operations in which belief takes up a considerable place (see the latest theses coming out of international analytic philosophy). From this standpoint, and notwithstanding some inter-disciplinary shop quarrels, the exact sciences/human sciences antinomy is rather a rearguard battle. This evolution of the issue is also what renders both audible and communicable the work done in my laboratory. That work was barely understood at all twenty-five years ago either by those in the exact sciences or by those in the human sciences.
What I indicated, above, about the critique of representation (relativity and suspension of a priori objectivation) also allows us to cast some light on the possibility, today, of providing a reconsideration of observable phenomena starting from points of view that are largely pluridisciplinary, without any prior hierarchy (such as quantification over qualification), and noncontradictory.(2)
Also to be noted is that the term "scientific" in CNRS is today quite ecumenical and, above all, more and more interdisciplinary in nature. There are also, in house, qualitativists, hermeneuticians, phenomenologists, and so on. On the other hand, the prerequisite for any research that can be communicated is the search for universals (in Step by Step they are rhetorical) and rigorousness in one's approach. This is in line with the thought of Wilhelm Dilthey: the true identifying trait of a science is not mathematical exactitude but, rather, rigor.
Frankly, I find excessive your remark about "scientific jargon." On the one hand, we all use technical language, which saves time or respects the territorial habits and tics of the group that uses it. It is in this spirit that I read the locution you wrote, "as phenomenological intentionality metamethodologically . . . " On the other hand, in all the social sciences and in ethology, the adjective "nycthemeral" is commonly employed in France today. To write cycle jour/nuit (day/night cycle) is not to use a very elegant phrase in French, either. But it is true that we all have to make efforts to achieve broader communication and to watch our choice of terminology and the length of sentences, for example. I am more sensitive to this today than I was at the time.
One small error: I applied the same method as the one in the thesis to four other Grenoble neighborhoods. See "Situations d'habitat et façons d'habiter," a 324-page 1976 research report for the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris.
On de Certeau's attitude, a more precise bibliographical reference can be given: François Dosse, Michel de Certeau. Le marcheur blessé (Paris: Éditions La Découverte, 2002), 479.
It might be interesting to note some very recent happenings at the Arlequin housing project. Whereas the ethnic and socioeconomic composition of the neighborhood is quite comparable to other high-density housing complexes (not to forget the high numbers of Africans and Asians) and whereas groups or bands of young people are quite present and active in the public space, the Arlequin remained calm during the Autumn of 2005; just one or two cars were burned on Saturday nights, as per usual. One might therefore want to inquire about this exception. Among various interpretations, three emerge--and perhaps go together--in current public opinion. Either, (1) politics on the Left in Grenoble is (in spite of criticisms from the Far Left and the Greens) more attentive to the problems in the "projects"; or (2), beneath the appearances of permissiveness and ordinary disorder, the various communities still retain a hierarchical structure and a power (via the parallel economy or religion) that knows how to make itself heard upon occasion; or (3), the presence of instances of authority favoring negotiation and temporization and still ready to stand up during crises and conflicts is more efficacious than one might have thought. Despite the immense difficulties involved and an undeniable ambiance of weariness, the neighborhood association has never really disappeared and the public celebrations and festivals it organizes do bring together and unite many inhabitants who still believe in the neighborhood's survival.
I'm curious: Is "reader" feminine?
On note 17: To set this question back in perspective, see the references to phenomenology and, in particular, to the first person to have stated that "all feeling is a moving," Erwin Strauss. Strauss's point has since been validated by the neurophysiology of perception. (Pure) movement is to be understood here as the motive principle, the essence of being in a situation. Being is not only perceiving (Leibniz) but also moving.
1. Kuhn's 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions appeared in French translation only in 1972 (Paris: Flammarion). --Trans.
2. See Jean-Francois Augoyard, "Une physique contextuelle des ambiances urbaines," Culture & Recherche ("Physics and Culture" dossier), 104 (January-March 2005): 21-22 (http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/editions/r-cr/cr104.pdf), and Jean-François Augoyard, "Éléments pour une théorie des ambiances urbaines," Les Cahiers de la Recherche Architecturale, 42-43 (1998): 7-23.