It’s the holidays. People travel on the holidays. I’ll be traveling during the holidays.
Recently, we made a day trip to London, which, aside from the semi-required visit to a museum, was taken up in large part by meandering throughout town. My brother-in-law is an architect trained, and, taking the advantage of being in a World-class city the likes of The City, he understandably photographed a number of the more famous architectural colossi that accumulate in that place.
We intend to spend either side of New Year’s in Paris, where we will meet with a few of our friends, one of whom is also an architect. I assume that the same affair will play itself out – much like the heaping up of architectonic silt we see coagulating, periodically dredged from the Thames, the Seine has its own piled banks of engineered effluent, ossifying in sedimentary bands. There is an abundance to ogle.
Of course, for those of us not schooled in design, while touring a city, taking the time to view constructions modern and antique, while still an enjoyable experience, we don’t have enough purchase to really come to grips with what it is we see. In anticipation, to make more of the trip – there isn’t really any one thing I have to see, having already done the standard-run of the tourist there – I’ve been reading up on my Situationist literature. Rather than, say, really being set on seeing this exhibit, or that grave, I hope to grab hold of the experience of the city itself. I’ll go, and tour (despite the approbations Debord might heap) alongside the others, but, while they take photographs of instances of built interest, I’ll try to capture something else with the lens.
Reading about the genesis of the dérive, I began to wonder what the analogous experience would be, what the differences are between my life, as a 21st century West Chestertonian, and those of a Parisian in 1950s. Of course, it’s a silly question to ask, the gulf is immense, and yet, in a certain sense, it is easy to encapsulate. What is the primary mode that sets me, one of those most opprobrious Millenials, apart from them, those of the “Lucky Few”?
It is, of course, the fact that we, my colleagues and I, and our younger brothers and sisters, we lead dual lives the likes of which have not been seen before. How many of us, we comparatively affluent, spend the majority of our waking moments focused on the digital? It needn’t even be optically sewn to a screen – how many people, amongst the privileged, don’t possess a device that links them to the internet about them, all day, every day? It changes the way we interact with the world, it changes the way we associate with each other, it redefines our value systems. Standing apart from any other technological differences, any instances of cultural diversion, it is what most separates us from the ranks of our forebears. “Cyberculture” itself is in the midst of coming of age – it has become an “academically worthy” area of study.
So then, what of the drift on cyberspace, what is left for the flâneur of the future present? How does the dérive in the modern experience differ from that of yesteryear?
Unsurprisingly, my initial answer to the question was a negative one. While it is true that more and more of our time, creative and otherwise, is spent on the Web, how could it play the same vital role, how could it possess the same physical presence, as the “real world” of the embodied senses? The paths we blaze online, while they can be novel, and, truly, our experiences at this point are hindered only by lack of imagination and a distaste for application – at the heart of it, the fundaments of the Internet are limited, and policed in a way more thorough than ever the “real world” could be, despite any conception of “net neutrality,” however much of that is left to us in years to come. The building blocks of Web 2.0 are delineated in laws much stricter than those of physics, which can, after all, be fudged if you know what you’re about. No amount of novelty in terms of photons (and, it must be granted, sometimes soundwaves) can compare with the richness of the smells, the tastes, the textures we encounter in life. The dangers, as well.
Look, I’ve covered it before, but it ought to be stated again – I’m no Luddite. The fact that you’re reading this here should be proof enough! No, if we are to survive the coming ecological devastations on the horizon, if ever we are to achieve a life more worth living, if we do get off this singular rock and claim what is owed to us, our cosmic birthright, it will be through technology.
So, no, I’m not ideologically oriented against the online world, I’m not out to run a hatchet job on the possibility of deeper experience simply because I find it distasteful. Quite the contrary. No, what I am worried about is getting over-excited about it. Overstepping ourselves and overselling it, wrapped up in the zeitgeist. Despite the time of year, the Singularity has not come early. While the Internet is a great tool, we should always remember that that is still what it is. It is not a second space. Not yet.
Of course, I did just say that that was my initial answer. My stance, as of now, is a bit more complicated, if not necessarily any more nuanced. I’ve continued to look into the subject, and there do seem to be some fruitful uses of internet-as-tool. People have been able to harness its group-building properties to develop societies for real-world dérives, the most prominent being those of the London Psychogeographical Association and the New York Conflux. Furthermore, there have been tools set up, in part by groups such as the aforementioned, to use the mobile devices we so often have with us engage the physical world in a different way, using GPS to develop routes and the like.
There is also work being done on the knife edge between Spectacle and détournement proper – using the Internet, limits and all, for the kind of work described by the Situationists. This article does a good job at detailing some of the manifestations, in a more in-depth analysis than this post has time for (seriously, read it, it’s worth the while). While I disagree with the cautiously forwarded conclusion, that “if the Situationist International was correct, and the triumph of the spectacle in material space is inevitable, it may be that détournement, derive, and psychogeography in cyberspace—the conjoining of humanity, art, and cosmopolitan space within the completely artificial and algorithmic “space” of virtual reality—may, ironically, be our last means to glimpse the authentic life,” I’ll agree that “Contemporary avant-gardes cannot ignore a technologized space of performance simultaneously more visible and more invisible than any that has gone before.” The Internet is here to stay, and we need to develop the methodology to use the new tool-set appropriately and to our benefit.
Bringing a rather rambling post to a close – I’ll perform a dérive, or several, while in Paris. There will be photos. My route will be determined not by a preset map or set of instructions, but by the whims of my companions and the lay-out of the “sights” in the city. Look for it to come.
Towards a new Authenticity!
Posted on December 26, 2014, in Maunderings and tagged Art, Avant Garde, Cyberculture, Dérive, Détournement, Flâneur, Guy Debord, Internet, Lettrist International, London, Paris, Photography, Psychogeography, Situationist International, Situationists, the Left, the Singularity, World Wide Web. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.