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Philosophies of the Urban Foot

Philosophies of the Urban Foot
  • Subverting Cartography: the Situationist... (by )
  • Lynch Debord: About Two Psychogeographie... (by )
  • A Sociedade Do Espetaculo Guy de Bord (by )
  • The Poems and Prose Poems of Charles Bau... (by )
  • The Revolution of Everyday Life (by )
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In his influential 1953 essay "Formulaire pour un Urbanisme Noveau" ("Formulary for a New Urbanism"), Ivan Chtchegov wrote, "We are bored in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun ... We are bored in the city, we really have to strain to still discover mysteries on the sidewalk billboards..."

We are creatures of habit. When navigating a city, our modus operandi is bouncing between home, work, office, grocery store, daycare, mall. A place of otherwise diverse coincidence is sterilized in such a tight loop. A European group of Marxist and avant-garde artists and intellectuals called the Situationist International formed in 1957 to change this by addressing the theory of the spectacle. Derived from situationist Guy Debord's book The Society of the Spectacle, the theory argued that society had shifted away from first-hand, lived experiences (authentic desires) towards proxy expressions of exchange and consumption. The importance of the group's name lay within the act of consciously constructing "situations," or moments of life designed solely for reawakening authentic desires that the spectacle had covered.

One of the most important constructions for the situationists was psychogeography and the dérive. Where psychogeography (a portmanteau of psychology and geography) encompassed the entire theory of the perception of geography, dérive focused on the act and the evidence. These were new ways to map and explore urban environment by consciously dropping all the old habits of walking through a city space. As described in Debord's essay "Theory of the Dérive":

Persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there… But the dérive includes both this letting go and its necessary contradiction: the domination of psychogeographical variations by the knowledge and calculation of their possibilities.
The dérive (a more purpose-driven act than its predecessor flâneur, developed by Charles Baudelaire) centered upon the individual. Chtchegov, whose work strongly influenced the situationists, inculpated architecture as a source of boredom and obstruction of metropolitan mystery. He proposed that a new type of building would bring the freedom they desired, a building that expressed the nature of human aligned with the nature of the universe:

Stars and rain can be seen through glass ceilings. The mobile house turns with the sun. Its sliding walls enable vegetation to invade life. Mounted on tracks, it can go down to the sea in the morning and return to the forest in the evening. ("Formulaire pour un Urbanisme Noveau")

Another situationist, Raoul Vaneigem, addressed staleness as the symptom of a modern city that objectified and compartmentalized humanity. His book In The Revolution of Everyday Life addresses the manipulation of people as objects in the stew of modern city life made of isolation, humiliation, and alienation by capitalism and miscommunication.

The artwork and philosophies of the situationists still ring true today in our ever-expanding metal cities. For more on their theories, read Subverting Cartography by Pindertt and About Two Psychogeographies by Denis Wood. 

By Thad Higa

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