Thursday, 28 January 2010

Navigating the city

If the flâneur's aimless wandering was the 19th century preferred method of navigating the city, then the dérive or drift was the 20th century's version. First proposed by the Situationists, an avant-garde political and artistic group in 1950s Paris, founding member Guy Debord defined the dérive as a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances, locomotion without a goal. Unlike the unhurried strolling and taking in of the sights and sounds of the city, the dérive was a different affair:

"where one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there."

Incorporated within this idea is the theory of psychogeography - a study of the effects of the geographical environment on the emotions and behaviour of the individual. By studying this effect, they hoped to expose the manipulation and control to which everyday urban life is subject. The arbitrariness of the method served to force the participant to become aware of the city's hidden or encoded aspects, turning the mundane into unfamiliar territory.

The dérive also contained a playful element - participants would often deliberately disorientate and confuse themselves to show the concealed potential of experimentation, pleasure and play in everyday life. Methods included requiring the walker to follow a route plotted on a street map of one city superimposed on another, or following a straight line or circle drawn between two random points on the map. It is this playful aspect that I wish to emphasise in my own set of journeys, turning the whole enterprise into a kind of game by which I can navigate the city.

You would think that chance would play a large part in these proceedings, but Debord made some surprising observations about the limitations of chance. He maintained that the action of chance is by nature conservative ie. old habits die hard - even in new situations we revert to habitual actions or choices between a restricted number of variations. Something to bear in mind as I make a choice - left or right at the junction.


  1. I have to admit: "Guy Debord"- "derivé"- absolutely tabula rasa in my mind/brain! I find the thoughts you are citing and refering to very interesting and surely worth to get tested in practicing them while strolling through a town- I remember as younger person sometimes to have done like while following a spontaneous idea or unplanned decision- let's go now left around the corner, now right around the corner- let's see what will be coming... - The pic-sign looks more like a "Sackgasse"/deadlock (what for a horrible English word!)- a crazy sign you have found- and its red lines fit the well known red shoes, your special logo! You should tell one day a story or a travel- guide from the point of view of your red shoes!

  2. Until I did some research into psychogeography for an essay I wrote last year, the derive was an unknown concept for me too. What attracts me to the idea is the spontaneity involved - something quite difficult to achieve when you live 100 miles away from the city you wish to explore, as I do! That is why I am proposing to turn my project into a kind of game - hopefully the red shoes will play their part!