Saturday, May 22, 2010

The City as a Milieu for the Virtual to Happen, Part One

Guy Debord, the leader of Situationist International, in “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography,” introduces the term psychogeography, which means the study of the particular effects of the environment on the emotions and behavior of city habitants. The prevailing mode of acting in the city, according to Debord, is usually controlled and manipulated by the consumerist ideology, which constantly proposes the legitimated actions within the city. Therefore, a representational layout of the contemporary city supports already known redundant practices within it. In this connection, Guy Debord states that the city should be explored without any preconceptions or prejudices. The Situationists criticize the ordinary mundane interactions with a constructed urban milieu and propose the practice of derive. This practice proposes to read the city interpretively, to turn the city around (détournement) and reconstruct it. In this context, the city practitioners see the possibilities (or we can say virtualities) of the city in places of present fragmentation rather than in already known and constructed areas. In my opinion, the Situationists tried to demonstrate the contrast between how the city life practice is effected by representations and what it could be beyond spectacular, representational impact.

In this connection, I found remarkable similarities between how Deleuze describes the attentive, non-representational ways of becoming, for instance, art practice or traveling, and the open city explorations suggested by the Situationists (and to some extent by Charles Baudelaire earlier). As Bergson states, the virtual image is only possible by having the zone of indetermination in our relations with other objects. In this light, Situationist thoughts about their practices remind me of the distinction between actual and virtual images in Bergson and Deleuze. According to the Situationists, psychogeography suggests the possibilities of new findings allowed by the unpredictable influence of the environment on human feelings. So any situation or conduct of a city's inhabitants that seems to reflect the spirit of discovery was understood as a search for something creative and new. Consequently, the Situationists were trying to realize the new practices within the city (spontaneous, unknown in advance), instead of following the mundane routes and actions. Thus, I would say, that an openness to the unknown, the virtual, is essential for an attentive experience of the city. And that is why I found the Situationist approach to the practice of everyday life close to the Deleuzian one.


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