The art of the dérive

Chicago finally deigned to grace its residents with some decent weather last weekend. (Not actual spring weather, just straight to 80+ degrees. Because fuck you, is why.) Supposedly this will be happening again this weekend, though given the drop in temperature the rest of this week I call shenanigans.

With the return of climes that don’t bring on crushing seasonal depression, I’ve been able to take up one of my favorite pastimes again: aimless wandering and exploration. It’s like a real hobby except I don’t have to think that much, which is good for shaking ideas and inspiration loose and generally making myself less neurotic.

I was pleased to learn a few years ago that there’s a word for this that makes me seem like a glamorous French philosopher rather than a bored burnout on a long walk. The Letterists and Situationists called it a dérive. As defined by Guy Debord, it is “a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.” The intention, as far as I can tell, is to have an experience that’s not consciously planned around certain activities and obligations, but is instead a series of reactions to the environment around you as you encounter new areas and situations.

On Sunday, I went north on the street I live on. I had no real reason for doing this except that I hadn’t been more than a block north of my apartment on this particular street. I let myself be led around certain nearby blocks by whichever blooming tree or interesting building caught my attention until I found myself at a park I had no idea existed, lying on the grass under a tree covered in white blossoms, letting the wind cover me in petals and staring up through the tunnels the branches created. (It confuses your brain into thinking the tree’s way taller than it actually is. Try it!)

After that I went to find kulfi, which probably deviates from the true purpose of a dérive but is also delicious, so who cares?

A translation of the original Debord article can be found here. It’s interesting stuff if you like the concept of seeing your surroundings in a totally new way. If nothing else, it’s a way to get on your feet and out from in front of whichever glowing rectangle you’ve been staring at. (I admit that my laptop’s been intermittently throwing tantrums for weeks now, so its hold on me has lessened somewhat. Yay for more roaming!)

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One thought on “The art of the dérive

  1. Pingback: Behind doors | Weirding Language

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