The Dérive and Urban Hiking

This was originally posted on my old art blog at http://www.terrisaul.com. The places inserted into the Guy Debord quote can be found in San Francisco's Mission District.

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"What do you do anyways?"

"I don't really know."

"Reification," Gilles replied.

"It's serious work," I added.

"Yes," he said.

"I see," Carole said with admiration. "It's very serious work with thick books and a lot of papers on a big table."

"No," Gilles said. "I walk. Principally I walk."

Jane Dark's Sugarhigh says the last line is usually translated as "I drift. Mainly I drift." But, that doesn't quite get at the meaning of "Je me promene" either. In the everyday act of the translation of the political, philosophical, poetic, and historic, choosing one word or another makes a difference.

As noted in the post by Jane Dark's Sugarhigh, this refers to the S.I. idea of the drift through the city as a critical act -- the Theory of the dérive.

By Guy Debord; Bold copy by Sister Rye,

"In his study Paris et l'agglomiration parisienne (Bibliotheque de Sociologie Contemporaine, P.U.F., 1952) Chombart de Lauwe notes that "an urban neighborhood is determined not only by geographical and economic factors, but also by the image that its inhabitants and those of other neighborhoods have of it." In the same work, in order to illustrate "the narrowness of the real Paris in which each individual lives . . . within a geographical area whose radius is extremely small," he diagrams all the movements made in the space of one year by a student living in the 16th Arrondissement [16th and Mission in San Francisco]. Her itinerary forms a small triangle with no significant deviations, the three apexes of which are the School of Political Sciences, her residence and that of her piano teacher [Tartine, her residence, and Dolores Park]."

The dérive was a Surrealist and Situationist attempt to meander in cities in a way which would break free of this habitual triangulation between apexes.

"We can say, then, that the randomness of a dérive is fundamentally different from that of the stroll, but also that the first psychogeographical attractions discovered by dérivers may tend to fixate them around new habitual axes, to which they will constantly be drawn back."

"The average duration of a dérive is one day, considered as the time between two periods of sleep. The starting and ending times have no necessary relation to the solar day, but it should be noted that the last hours of the night are generally unsuitable for dérives."

The modern phenomenon of the urban day hike can be seen as a form of the dérive, in that it is not a hike, a walk, a stroll, or a promenade. Also, it is emphatically not a shopping spree.

"The spatial field of a dérive may be precisely delimited or vague, depending on whether the goal is to study a terrain or to emotionally disorient oneself. It should not be forgotten that these two aspects of dérives overlap in so many ways that it is impossible to isolate one of them in a pure state. But the use of taxis, for example, can provide a clear enough dividing line: If in the course of a dérive one takes a taxi, either to get to a specific destination or simply to move, say, twenty minutes to the west, one is concerned primarily with a personal trip outside one's usual surroundings. If, on the other hand, one sticks to the direct exploration of a particular terrain, one is concentrating primarily on research for a psychogeographical urbanism."

"In every case the spatial field depends first of all on the point of departure, the residence of the solo dériver or the meeting place selected by a group. The maximum area of this spatial field does not extend beyond the entirety of a large city and its suburbs. At its minimum it can be limited to a small self-contained ambiance: a single neighborhood or even a single block of houses if it's interesting enough (the extreme case being a static- dérive of an entire day within the Saint-Lazare train station)."

Urban Hikers have taken advantage of the use of modern forms of map making/reading, aided by the technology of Google maps, in particular the hybrid map/satellite view and the pedometer.

"The exploration of a fixed spatial field entails establishing bases and calculating directions of penetration. It is here that the study of maps comes in, ordinary ones as well as ecological and psychogeographical ones, along with their correction and improvement. It should go without saying that we are not at all interested in any mere exoticism that may arise from the fact that one is exploring a neighborhood for the first time. Besides its unimportance, this aspect of the problem is completely subjective and soon fades away."

[Bibliography:A slightly different version of this article was first published in the Belgian surrealist journal Les Livres Nues #9 (November 1956) along with accounts of two dérives.]

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