Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Now we are getting somewhere

Guy Debord unquestionably saw the  dérive as a primarily urban activity going so far as to say that “Wandering in open country is naturally depressing, and the interventions of chance are poorer there than anywhere else.” and that …”the primarily urban character of the dérive, in its element in the great industrially transformed cities that are such rich centres of possibilities and meanings…”.

The city in which every space is rich with nuance; continually contested and defended, mapped and redrawn through time and space offers itself up as the natural habitat of the dériveur but should the countryside be so easily dismissed, indeed did Debord misread the potential for out of town deriavtion ?

Certainly it is true that the country is depressing for the city dweller for though it offers a possible retreat from the caffeine like stimulus of the street just as soon as we have got ‘away from it all’ we feel immediately alienated; our senses simultaneously under stimulated and overwhelmed as the oppressive open sky bears down on us offering no shade or comforts. For whilst the city presents a continual series of opportunities for pleasure (underpinned in the capital by commercial transaction) the countryside offers no such joys. In an open field the best thing to do with one’s money is to set light to it to keep warm.
Physical discomfort is everywhere in the country and the townsman is ill prepared with the wrong clothing, shoes, headgear, baggage and most of all temperament. Nonetheless if the dériveur can overcome these obstacles and indeed possibly integrate them into his or her dérive the country side is a rich source of possibilities. Far from being in any sense wild and unplanned it as worthy of psychogeographical study and reinterpretation as any street or avenue.
Arguably indigenous Australians and Canadians were the first landscape dériveurs: mapping the terrain they traversed as an ongoing narrative. The projected landscape of dreams, criss crossed and continually redrawn to reflect changing weather patterns, migratory animal movements, plant growth, seasonal variations is a form of daily dérive in which movement is the norm and one is only ever camped out and never settled down.
The contemporary countryside offers few such possibilities. Though stripped of the simple financial exchanges of the city in which time and space can (and indeed increasing have) to be bought every acre in the countryside is mapped, parcelled managed and commodified. Even set aside, land allowed to idle is a paid for and carefully (un)managed to sets of guidelines.

But for every sign declaring ‘private property keep out’ there is a footprint asserting a right of way; a declaration of the temporary nature of land ownership and the ancient right to traverse the terrain, and tread the ground, creating paths and track ways  from A to B and back again but possibly via C or D or even F. Such track ways can be both immediate – the ill advised short cut through some unlit scrubland always advised against and yet always taken or so ancient that they form Ley Liens or with a magnetic pull drawing the walker along the arteries of a psychogeographical  energy grid linking nodal points. The repeated traversals creating a ritualised focus for the accumulation and discharge of energy influencing the land and people around them.

Lest we get confused though it should be made clear the contemporary countryside dériveur is no rambler equipped with Gortex, stout shoes, thermos and proper maps. On the contrary the outdoor dériveur should come ill equipped physically and mentally and be prepared to get lost, to stumble both literally and psychogeographically upon the terrain. The contemporary countryside dériveur should come equipped with recording and playback devices (hand held or otherwise) and an open mind filled with vaguely remembered stories, rumours and half baked and misunderstood theories. Above all they must be resolute and painstaking in the pursuit of the purposeless nature of the activity ideally recording anything and everything. Finally they must be prepared to abandon the project at the first possibility before then retracing their steps through the time and space of tapes and terrain.   

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