August 24, 2002
9:08 AM   Subscribe

Do you ever just wander? Based upon the ideas of psychogeography and the dérive, a group called Special Airplane is orchestrating Drift next week in Vancouver. Also ref. The Cityspace Cut-Up @ Social Fiction, who seem somewhat responsible for this.
I don't see how Drift is "generative," but whatever; it's an interesting idea.
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posted by Su (18 comments total)
I discovered Paris just that way without thinking of it as a conceptual event. I got out at the train station and walked until I found a hotel I wanted to stay in. I just followed my nose every day for about a month, and pretty much covered the whole town and met a whole lot of people in an unharried, spontaneous, completely enjoyable manner. The most interesting part was how people, even Parisians, picked on me on the street from the crowd to ask for directions.
But I think this is a temperamental issue. My friend prepares his trips months ahead and if he does not meet his daily quota of places-to-visit, he is completely unhappy and feels his trip is a failure.
Another time while I was walking around "aimlessly" in Florence during another trip, I entered a church because of the great music I heard coming from inside. Well, it wasn't only a great Bach concert, but in the middle of it, looking up, I realized I was sitting 10 feet from a well known Michelangelo sculpture right inside what turned out to be the Duomo. In this manner it was a find, my find, a present of a wonderful experien
posted by semmi at 9:41 AM on August 24, 2002

experience. (sorry)
posted by semmi at 9:43 AM on August 24, 2002

totally interesting Su, thanks...
Two things really struck me from the derive text:
but also that the first psychogeographical attractions discovered by derivers may tend to fixate them around new habitual axes, to which they will constantly be drawn back. and "Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive.

It's like expanding your horizons, only to then possibly squeeze them down into your normal routines; sort-of negating the expansion by assimilation...
Do you know if this was to be done over and over, or was once supposed to be enough, given the futility(?) of the exercise given our habits....?
posted by amberglow at 10:01 AM on August 24, 2002

semni, you're not the only one who wanders round cities on foot - i do the same both on holiday and where i live. i'm kind of surprised that this is considered such a revolutionary idea. my best guesses are (1) we're odd or (2) the target groups is someone's characterisation of the "masses" as ignorant fools that need to be given a reason to enjoy themselves or (3) the organizers are the ones who need to spend more time walking round.

unfortunately i suspect the smart money is on (1).

ps incidentally, in my experience most regular left/right patterns end up with small loops.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:03 AM on August 24, 2002

Many years ago with some friends, I rented a car and drove Geneva-Milan-Lucerne-Geneva. While in Milan, we navigated around the city by peering very closely at a map of Europe. This slightly random lo-res control system managed to bring us past several unforgettable moments, the highlight being an unexpected burst onto the square in front of the Cathedral of Milan, complete with enormous flocks of pigeons just taking flight.

When we were thoroughly lost and we wanted to head north for the border, one of my friends noticed that most of the license plates had the letters MI on them, and deduced that this was a city or province code of some sort. Since the map told us that Como was right on the border, we watched for cars with CO licenses and followed them, eventually finding our way out of the city in the right direction.

Not that I'm advocating exploring a city by car! Count me among the people that prefer random walks around a new city.
posted by jeffj at 10:49 AM on August 24, 2002

yeah, my friend and i were walking around manhattan one time and we were like, "let's go to little italy!" but we had no idea how to get there except that it was south (and we'd started in harlem :) so after wandering about for awhile we just picked some people to follow and they took us to mulberry street :) and they'd closed it off for the weekend or something so it was pretty cool!

oh and sort of the same thing the first time i was in boston with my family we found faneuil hall :) and like we were really hungry! chicago's fun to bike around in too, although it can get pretty scary on the southside! (and cabrini green :) also i think driving around can be fun, but i guess more around the countryside and stuff.

psychogeography reminds me of this article about yi-fu tuan and "systematic human geography."
Collectively, they opened up geography to include an array of phenomena: human attitudes and values; the ways our senses perceive our environment; and how such responses are reflected in and shaped by a broad range of cultural expression, from art to common artifacts of the material world.
so like pscyhogeography! btw, i think yi-fu means clothes in chinese :)
posted by kliuless at 12:15 PM on August 24, 2002

That sounds like Dirk Gently's holistic method of navigation -- you find someone who looks like they know where they're going and follow them.
posted by kindall at 12:45 PM on August 24, 2002

on a similar vein, has anyone taped the sounds as they walk round? i once had a friend with a recording walkman and always planned to do it - i never did, but sometimes i do listen to sounds as i'm walking like it's a soundtrack, if you see what i mean. alternatively, carrying a camera helps me think about colours, or textures, etc.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:05 PM on August 24, 2002

I've been bored lately, and I just bought a new old bmx bike, so I'm gonna be there. wheee!
posted by imaswinger at 1:17 PM on August 24, 2002

It's like channel or web surfing.. lots of width not much dept.. random and seemingly disconnected events coming together, a metaphore of the modern age.
posted by stbalbach at 1:39 PM on August 24, 2002

Wandering around seems so natural to me that I find it inconceivable that someone felt the need to create rules for it. It's the only way I know of to fully enjoy a place, and that's a big reason why I've never owned a car. It's a shame that there are so few real walking cities in the world.

But there are different ways of wandering around. "Derive" is drifting: aimless, passive, and pointless. A much better French word is "flaneur", which means someone who wanders around without a goal, except for the goal of finding pleasure in his surroundings. Baudelaire called the perfect flaneur a "passionate spectator". stbalbach's comment above about width vs. depth nicely separates the deriveur from the flaneur.

It's hard to be a good flaneur. You can't do it by following rules about when to turn right or left, or through a theory of psychogeography, or out of sheer laziness. You actually have to be aware of your surroundings and your feelings, and make choices based on some kind of intuition about where serendipity lies.

The periods in my life that I've tried to be genuinely aimless, I've always wound up seeking refuge in some kind of activity, not so much out of boredom as out of a sense that I wasn't a good enough flaneur to make it the meaning of my life. But while those periods last, wandering around with my eyes and ears fully open has felt like the most interesting activity I've ever devoted myself to.
posted by fuzz at 3:33 PM on August 24, 2002

I do this on my motorcycle almost every time I go out riding. I just pick a direction and go. The best times are when you just stick a finger in the wind and go.
posted by jbelshaw at 3:42 PM on August 24, 2002

Thanks fuzz for the wonderfully appropriate Baudelaire link. My experience, however, is that one does not try "to be genuinely aimless." Being a flaneur is obsession driven by a solitary loneliness that simply cannot afford to be immobile, to be swallowed up by its own isolation. It is a form of witnessing life from a heightened perspective instead of sinking into the quicksand of one's own memories.
posted by semmi at 10:05 PM on August 24, 2002

That's a beautiful pithy piece of writing, semmi, thanks. Lots of new ideas for me to think about, in only 3 sentences.

Being a flaneur means not just being free of memories, but also of hopes about the future. By being resolutely in the present, you refuse to give yourself a purpose or a plan, other than "witnessing life from a heightened perspective". That's what I meant by "aimless"; maybe "goalless" would have been better (insert obligatory reference to the Bhagavad Gita here).

Being a flaneur is obsession driven by a solitary loneliness
A solitary obsession, yes, but I wouldn't call it loneliness, because it doesn't feel like a lack of anything. Could wandering around the city be a way for solitary people to enjoy being with others? I know that it works that way for me.
posted by fuzz at 7:11 AM on August 25, 2002

To avoid the risk of detection,
he travelled to an alien land
whose tongue was different from his.
Their rejection of him seemed
like simply a mis-understanding.
It would have been far worse if they
had accepted him; that would have
proven him a stranger to himself.
posted by semmi at 1:08 PM on August 25, 2002

wow, that has a lot of dept.. keke :) really!
posted by kliuless at 4:30 PM on August 25, 2002

Well, the guys at Social Fiction added a generative element to the derive or drift by inventing the instruction card. We use these, they go 'First left, second right' and any variation thereon. You follow them and get a pattern. You discover new aspects to the city, it really works. Find out about the Hot Summer of Psychogeography here I coined the psychoderive to run one in London. Go for it.
posted by ivan007 at 12:05 PM on August 29, 2002

Talking about using totally out of scale maps to navigate. Many years ago I used to hitch to Greece from London each year (through what was Yugoslavia). At the end of each summer I hitched back. It wasnt a complex route, but I never had a map of Greece or Yugoslavia. I used to pick up a tourist map of Athens and use the large scale map which ran out just outside Athens to start my journey. Then it was a matter of aiming at Yugoslavia. One road through the middle of Yugo was easy (though it was called the Death Road with good reason). Out the other side and up into Germany, where their excellent autobahn system would provide all the maps you needed to get you home ... I learned a lot about navigation by wondering around in those days.
posted by ivan007 at 12:09 PM on August 29, 2002

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