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La Dérive

Related: city - flâneur - street - psychogeograpy - Situationism - modern architecture


La Dérive, a French concept meaning an aimless walk, probably through city streets, that follows the whim of the moment.

French philosopher and Situationist Guy Debord used this idea to try and convince readers to revisit the way they looked at urban spaces. Rather than being prisoners to their daily route and routine, living in a complex city but treading the same path every day, he urged people to follow their emotions and to look at urban situations in a radical new way. This led to the notion that most of our cities were so thoroughly unpleasant because they were designed in a way that either ignored their emotional impact on people, or indeed tried to control people through their very design.

Sadie Plant wrote: "to dérive was to notice the way in which certain areas, streets, or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires, and to seek out reasons for movement other than those for which an environment was designed. It was very much a matter of using an environment for one's own ends, seeking not only the marvellous beloved by surrealism but bringing an inverted perspective to bear on the entirety of the spectacular world." --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%E9rive [Mar 2006]

Psychogeography, flânerie and the dérive

The history of psychogeography is bound up with certain walking practices, notably flânerie and the dérive, which are not to be confused. Flânerie tended to be solitary, relatively leisurely, and bound up with commodities (window-shopping, second-hand books, prostitutes) on familiar ground. The dérive ignored commodities, was often communal and could be gruelling. Chtcheglov saw the dérive as potentially a kind of ambulant free-association: The dérive (with its flow of acts, its gestures, its strolls, its encounters) was to the totality exactly what psychoanalysis (in the best sense) is to language. Let yourself go with the flow of the words, says the analyst'...Chtcheglov, 'Letters from Afar', Internationale Situationniste, 9 (August 1964), p. 38 (fragment in Situationist International Anthology, ed. Ken Knabb, p. 372). Chtcheglov wrote this from an asylum, possibly La Borde, where he is often said to have been a patient of Felix Guttari. The dérive has subsequently found echoes in Lyotard, 'Driftworks' (Dérive et partir de Marx et Freud, Paris, 1973), and Deleuze and Guattari (nomadism passim, 'the schizo's stroll' in 'Anti-Oedipus'). --Phil Baker, Secret City: Psychogeography and the End of London via http://www.camdennet.org.uk/groups/soundevents/articles/item?item_id=14891 [Feb 2005]

The flâneur of Charles Baudelaire’s Paris

A recent topic for fascination in architectural theory has been Walter Benjamin’s work on the flâneur of Charles Baudelaire’s Paris. This figure, more than just a wanderer, shopper or tourist, characterises one aspect of the modern city-dweller’s condition, as found in the Parisian arcades. This meandering, aimless ‘Man Without Qualities’ so informs how we understand the city, for example, as a prototype for both the cinematic subject and audience. Flânerie also has its uses as a thinking tool. City-based artistic movements in the 20th century, from the Dada and Surrealists through to Fluxus and the Situationists have all exploited similar modes of distracted attention in traversing the city. This trajectory takes us to the Situationist International in particular, who engaged with the city in a fashion analogous to the paper support for a drawing, equip us with new ways of understanding the experience of the city. As a part of my general inquiry into the role of drawing and notation in creative practice, the graphic representation of the city forms a case-study of particular interest. How do these alternatives to the traditional tools of architecture and urbanism aid or reconfigure our understandings of cities? This final section shall outline some of my own working practices. Drawn from the tradition of the architectural fantasy, which traces its history from Piranesi through Ferriss and Constant to Tschumi, Koolhaas and MVRDV. By considering architecture as a practice of representation as well as of space- and place-making, the architectural fantasy or paper project offers distinctive possibilities beyond what is commonly assumed to be simply an ‘unbuilt’ or ‘unbuildable’ project. As such, I place my reflections upon Tokyo into this tradition - I will explore the process I have worked through in re-presenting a journey taken through Shinjuku station. -- Raymond Lucas Inscribing the city: a flâneur in Tokyo via http://www.anthropologymatters.com/journal/2004-1/lucas_2004_inscribing.htm Feb [2005]

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