Il 16 maggio 2018 l'Associazione Psicogeografica Romana (l'APR) ha tenuto una lecture alla Venice International University (VIU) sull'isola di San Servolo a Venezia su deriva psicogeografica e ambiance. Di seguito troverete il testo in inglese. Il 18 maggio 2018 l'APR ha condotto una deriva psicogeografica per Venezia con gli studenti della VIU, si è trattato inizialmente di una simulazione di una deriva spaesante, in seguito di una deriva lucida e, infine, di una deriva casuale di cui prestissimo presenteremo un report. Vogliamo ringraziare di cuore Guido Borelli, sociologo dell'ambiente e del territorio, Luca Pes, Director of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) della VIU e la tesista Mersida Ndrevataj (per il materiale fotografico raccolto).
Lecture: Psychogeographical Drift and Ambiance. Venezia 16.05.2018.
Psychogeographical drift. Venezia 18.05.2018
Associazione Psicogeografica Romana
Hi, my name is Daniele Vazquez e she is Alessandra Dal Secco, we are part of the Roman Psychogeographical Association, a group undertaking research on urban theory and drifts on the territory of Rome.
We will talk today about the origin of psychogeography, about its methodology and about the technique of drifts. So, now we will start form psychogeography.
The official definition of psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”. This definition was first articulated by Guy Debord in 1955 in the short essay “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography”. This text was published in the sixth issue of the Belgian surrealist magazine “Les Lèvres nues” and does not correspond to the actual practices of exploration of the city, the drifts, which he led in Paris since 1953 with his group of that time, the Lettrist International. This definition was more deterministic, scientific and intransigent than the documented practice, as the latter used instead a composite imaginary in which novels, comics, adventures, horror movies, and crime news of the era came into play. The practice of psychogeographical drift or dérive encompasses speed, casual encounters, stops in bars, outflows in commercial places and hyper-compact urban spaces. Also, it willingly crossed the threshold between outdoor spaces and interior spaces, whether they were the passenger compartment of a taxi or a metro, a hotel room or an apartment. From the examination of the documents of the Lettrist International first and of the Situationist International later, it is clear that what really interested Debord and his adventure comrades, Gilles Ivain among all, alias of Ivan Chtcheglov, was the search for “unities of ambiance”.
“Ambiance” is a key word for the psychogeographical exploration. It has often been translated with atmosphere, however it is a broader term that has to do with the perception of space in all its forms: visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, gustatory, and with the relative sensations that stem from the play of their combinations. Therefore, if compared with the concept of atmosphere, it has a wider meaning which has led many authors to consider it as an “aura” of the places and the individuals gathering there, holding a great power to influence moods and behaviours. For example, Marina Russo has translated the word “ambiance” which appears very often in Melancholia by Léon Daudet with the term “aura”. In the Italian edition published in the twentieth century, when we read: “I want to talk about the Aura. It envelops space and time”, one should, in fact, read “ambiance” and not “aura”.
It is an implicitly deterministic term because, in spite of its vagueness, it has been considered for some time and especially among the romantics, a sort of invisible reality that was so powerful as to influence the moral character of individuals, groups and peoples. If an attempt was made to make it visible by capturing it with photographical or cinema devices, then the Lettrists will try to capture it with cartography. Psychogeography was a practice of exploration in search for places where there was a clear and unified “ambiance”: the “unity of ambiance”. The Lettrist search for unities of ambiance favoured passion of love, game, atheism, riots, and meetings. The Lettrists departed from the fact that the revolutionary behaviours they hoped to spread were countered by the dominant “ambiance” of the city of Paris, yet there were singular places in which this influence instead manifested itself in favourable forms. It was not only a matter of finding such “ambiance”, but also of learning the exact laws to be able to generate them at will.
What else did it mean to “construct situations”? Everything comes from psychogeography and drift or dérive. And if Debord expressed the desire to invent “a science of situations” in 1952 in a passage of his famous film in which only black and white screens alternate, in fact this science existed already since 1936. In this year, the psychologist Kurt Lewin (1936) proposed the key formula of his topological psychology: “behaviour is a function of the person for the environment”, C = f (PxA). Similarly, we may say that the Lettrists were proposing the formula “passion or emotion is a function of a person for ambiance” E= f (PxAmb). In the popular moment of the Situationist theory, it is common thinking that the Lettrists considered architecture as the fundamental variable to perceive a “unity of ambiance”. However, in the only three reports that we have now, it is clear that they gave much more importance to the anomalies of co-locution between passers-by than to architecture. The spatial character of this co-locution has to be always recognized: the presence of walls, narrow streets, stairs, bridges, “secret passages” and small parks generates precise rules of proxemics, which are completely different from those typical of a dispersed urban space. Situationist maps show “unities of ambiance” and not pieces of urban territory for their aesthetic or socio-geographical interest. The word “unity of ambiance” for the Lettrists indicated places whose meaning was the product not only of the inhabitants but also of the visitors - those that Guido Martinotti calls in a way excessively linked to the consumption of the city: city users. Frequent passers-by often contribute to the “unity of ambiance” in a place, rather than the inhabitants who usually stop in their houses. We believe that, next to an anthropology of inhabiting, we should investigate an anthropology of the passer-by, in which the distinction between finalised and utilitarian mobility and un-finalised and anti-utilitarian mobility could still play an important role today.
In the Situationists, and in particular in the texts of Guy Debord on psychogeography, a dialectical opposition between an ethic of inhabiting and an ethic of drift or dérive is clearly identifiable, an opposition on which Debord built the disciplinary differences between human ecology and psychogeography. One would study the population “based”, the other the population in continuous movement. Therefore, the reason why Marxists reject the concept of inhabiting is that, from their perspective, it is closely linked to housing as a sphere of private life. For them, situating oneself within a separate space means to be individuals only, as opposed to other features of urban life. By contrast, in the streets and the squares, meaning in public spaces, individuals become crowd, while in the factories and in their associative moments, individuals become working class. Not only, but in the twentieth century Marxists strongly insisted that the concept of inhabiting suffered a crisis also because of the bad solution given to the question of housing by capitalistic societies. On the contrary, it is interesting to note how the notion of “inhabiting” has always been key to conservative thinking, widely used and loved by authors like Heidegger. In Marxist view, mobility allows to lay the foundations of the face-to-face exchanges necessary to internationalism and to union of class struggles in different countries, reducing the vulnerability position of workers in factories and placing them somehow on the same revolutionary and nomadic level of the capitalist. The view of conservative authors like Carl Schmitt, based on the vision of the world of the decayed landowner, conceived of the separation between order and spatial orientation as the source of all nihilisms - for example in the case of internationalism, of financial capitalism and even of the utopia that projects spatial orders in imaginary places. In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, the young Marx describes with great humour this conflict between the capitalist, always on the move and dissolving any traditional and moral bond, and the landowner, unable to move, apparently moralist and romantically linked to the idea of an uncontaminated land. This short digression was necessary to demonstrate that psychogeography is internal to the Marxist perspective about inhabiting.
If we go back to the experience of the “ambiance”, it is relevant to highlight that it concerns everyone, not only the specialists of the urban emotional space. Everyone perceives something more than just an atmosphere, something about the space and the people gathered in that space, something that modifies their moods, like in the sentence “the air is cut with a knife”, or “there was a cheerful atmosphere”. It is, therefore, something concerning our everyday experience and it is an extremely central topic in philosophy nowadays. In Italy, the philosopher Tonino Griffero has focused on this topic with his “atmospherology”. Griffero believes that atmospheres are “relatively objective”, meaning that they are not our projections and we are not generating them. In his theoretical approach, they are there, we can only passively expose ourselves to them or we can possibly oppose them. So, if the atmosphere is sad or happy, we can only react by participating in this sadness or happiness or, at the most, we could refuse to be conditioned; however, even in this case, it would be like admitting that the atmosphere is there, objectively given, that it is influencing us even though we do not want it. However, with the word “atmosphere” this theory sounds weak, as the concept of atmosphere is too indebted with meteorology rather than with the anthropology of space. Psychogeography, at the beginning, was even more radical, as it was arguing that the “ambiance” is “completely objective.” Insofar as they are objective, one could discover “exact laws” and predict “specific effects” to generate them in the shapes we like the most. In fact, it is the Lettrist psychogeographical experience itself that casts doubts on this way of approaching the “ambiance”. Another philosopher from Germany, Gernot Böhme, is working even to refound all the aesthetics starting from the experience of the “ambiance”. The word in German is “Stimmung”, and it recalls the relationship between mood and space even more stringently. Likewise Griffero, Böhme claims the “quasi-objectivity” of the Stimmung, yet he is more cautious than the Italian philosopher inasmuch as he admits that they exist only “in-between” the subject and the object, and that they are determined only by the co-presence of a subject and an object: in short, without the subject perceiving them, they remain emotionally undetermined. In our opinion, Griffero’s theory is not familiar with the anomalies of the emotional space especially introduced by the romantics, although he sees himself as linked to positivist and romantic authors such as Willy Hellpach. At the same time in Böhme the “solitude of the subject” before the object (a landscape, a tree, a building, a crowd, a design object) is exasperating. In fact, Böhme does not take into consideration the “Stimmung” as experienced by a collective subject, by a team or, more simply, by a group of friends, where interesting contradictions arise: one may perceive the “ambiance” as depressing, the other as exciting, a third one as troublesome, and someone else as boring. Any single space could produce different moods.
Koolhaas writes about the “Generic city”: “In A, tower blocks lead to suicide, in B to happiness ever after. In C, they are seen as a first stepping stone toward emancipation (presumably under some kind of invisible “duress” however), in D simply as passè”… and so on (Koolhaas, 1995: 44-45). It is the experience of a shared “ambiance” itself that sheds light on the extent to which the search for “relative objectivity” or “quasi-objectivity” is a pleasant intellectual obstinacy. It was the romantics who have made the world of emotions a complicated one; more than any other, they have systematically practiced the aimless walk and exploration of spaces. After them, the Spinozian geometric unfolding of passions, affections, and emotions radically changed, as it became much more common to find individuals who seemed to draw more power – potentia in the Spinozian sense - from melancholy, sadness, and “spleen” than from joy, happiness and serenity. So, why should we think that melancholy and sadness precisely produce what these words seem to recall uniquely? And why not considering that there are individuals or groups that find their comfort in sadness and melancholy as their secret joy and happiness, despite them being unpleasant to others? So, an “ambiance” that is sad for an individual could be happy for another one: there is no possible objectivity because the “ambiance” is neither subjective nor objective: it is rather an “intersubjective” experience. And it remains so even if it is experienced by an isolated individual, as his memories, his reverie, his suggestions, and his emotions always entail the presence of others, and other spaces.
The psychogeography of the origins has specifically failed for this reason. As the psychogeographical explorations proceeded, the Lettrists in fact realized that the “unity of ambiance” was not an objective reality. They shifted to conceiving of it as a subjective experience, to the extent that the results of the psychogeographical drifts were considered as a non-communicable path, and at the very end of their experimental search, as an unspeakable intimate experience. However, they were wrong, as the ambiance is not subjective, it is rather the product of the “inter-subjective” and “supra-individual” experience of the group itself.
In fact, when the relational networks eroded and the psychogeographical group dissolved, the perception of objectivity started to fade away. And such objectivity proved to be the wonderful consequence of a “mythopoietic” construction, which was based on a shared imaginary invented from movies, photography, novels, comics and news. All the imaginative construction that was behind the perception of an “ambiance” (for example “this is the place of such an event”, “here is where the character of that film or novel does that thing”, “this is the place photographed in that book “,” here in 1871 they ordered the barricades of the Commune”) collapsed with the dispersion of the group members who had experienced it together. It is no coincidence that the Lettrists reports resemble fragments of adventure novels; the results of the psychogeographical drifts are transmissible and communicable if we regard them as a story-telling; it could certainly be a literary narrative, but also a cartographic, cinematic or photographic story. From this point of view, psychogeography has always been underused and misunderstood, and has not yet expressed all its potential.
If psychogeography was about “walking hurriedly” because the speed allowed to better perceive the shock produced by the transition from one unity of ambiance to the other, if it was a selective practice excluding market places, if it required to be experienced in group and not in solitude, on the contrary, flânerie required a slow pace and a solitary condition, it required either crowd or market as spaces to get pleasantly lost. In any case, flânerie like psychogeography is a practice of urban exploration that is possible only in hyper-compact spaces.
According to Benjamin, the flâneur would have willingly had his time and pace dictated by the turtles that were walked on a leash across the Parisian passages and his idea of progress should have taken this pace. Moreover, to him “the warehouse was the ultimate adventure of the flâneur“, and the merchandise displayed in the shop windows or on the shelves was his favourite show. Benjamin writes: “The crowd was the veil from behind which the familiar city as phantasmagoria beckoned to the flâneur. In it, the city was now landscape, now a room.” [In Angelus Novus, Benjamin, 1955: 155). To make the crowd a room where to hide, a prerogative of traditional city is necessary, which is now ever lost: anonymity. Furthermore, flânerie being the activity of slackers and aesthetes required a lot of free time available. Today, we can see that in the compact city the conditions that made flânerie possible are missing. The experience of the crowd as it is understood in modernity has significantly changed over time; while it has been dispersed with the spread of urban space itself, it has changed even in those compact spaces remaining in contemporary cities. The crowd continues to exist as a landscape, tough it does neither collect nor hide as a room could do. This is due to the radical transformations of the public spaces determined by the introduction of mobile devices capable of digital reproduction that affect the relational space and modify the rules of proxemics. Anonymity is no longer the hallmark of contemporary cities; the unspoken, implicit agreement according to which inhabitants of a metropolis ignore each other in public spaces - that is what Simmel named blasé attitude - is now over. Not only the system of implicit rules shaping proxemics has changed, but there is a voluntary mobilization at the bottom that provides social control, even in the absence of community. Social control does not have an exclusively top-down dynamic; it would be totally ineffective if it did not also have an exquisitely horizontal dynamic reproducing itself in public spaces among strangers. Such form of social control is very different from that typical of a neighbourhood or a village, as well as from that of a community. We keep distance and remain strangers, though we maintain the complicity of mutual scrutiny and monitoring, and as in Koolhaas’s writings about the “Junkspace”, this is because “sometimes an entire junkspace comes unstuck through the non-conformity of one of its members” (Koolhaas, 2001: 75). The spaces in which the market becomes spectacle - in his famous passage on the fetishism of commodities, Marx used to call it the place where the tables move upside down and dance - have changed their statute. For example, with the emergence of a security paradigm, the centrality of control over users’ needs in commercial areas was uncovered. What initially appeared to be external control, driven by reasons apparently linked to marketing research and to the prevention of robbery or other types of crime, it is now constitutive of commercial areas, and for more serious reasons as in the case of terrorism. In this situation, commercial areas have become bio-political places. The situation has become so paradoxical that the transit in the streets, squares and commercial areas must be finalised and must take place under the pretext of consumption. Moreover, the categories of both leisure and working time in the liquid and risk society fade and the strategies of use of urban spaces and movement depending on this time organization have been transformed. For example, there is no longer any leisure time being part of the organized time of life according to the three eight: eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work and eight hours of free time. Flexible work entails availability any day, activation at all times for work requests, a condition that does not allow you to abandon yourself to the phantasmagoria of the city and the dreamy state of a flâneur. Despite the great differences between these two practices, as we said earlier, both flânerie and drifts are explorations conducted in hyper-compact spaces and inadequate to urban dispersion sites. As we will see later on, the day after tomorrow we will conduct a psychogeographical drift in the hyper-compact area of Venice. However, it is also important to know which ones would be the consequences of an implementation of a psychogeographical drift in the dispersed spaces of Veneto region.
Taking into consideration the modern opposition between the city and the countryside, one could say that drift and flânerie were the playful and constructive practices par excellence of the city, while the “romantic walk” taking place in the countryside - so despised by the Situationists as to considering it “depressing” - was and remains the best practice of the rural space. Nowadays, as the traditional opposition between city and countryside has become obsolete and the articulations of the territory have gained higher levels of complexity, it would be necessary to ask ourselves which exploratory actions one could currently experience. Dérive and flânerie are likely to be narrowed down to repertoire-practices that may no longer consistently describe the contemporary city if they are not transferred also in territories of urban dispersion. It is therefore necessary to experiment new exploration practices using discontinuous rhythms in accordance with the discontinuous spaces of sprawl cities. I mean practices that would alternate different mobility strategies, with speed and slowness that would run across full and empty spaces, low and high-density living spaces, smooth spaces and striated spaces, with a new awareness of what the urban is.
Similar practices could have their origins in those walks across the country in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the experience of spreading urbanisation was ground-breaking. In the “Rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire”, written between 1776 and 1778 and published posthumously, Jean-Jacques Rousseau tells how he believed, during a walk in the woods, he had found a shelter ignored by the whole universe, convinced he was the first mortal who had ever penetrated there and how confused and shocked he was when he discovered that twenty feet from there, there was a sock factory. He writes: “Who would expect to find a factory inside a precipice? Only Switzerland in the world has such a mixture of wild nature and human industry. All of Switzerland is nothing more than a large city whose streets, wider and longer than that of Saint-Antoine in Paris, are covered with forests, cut by mountains, and whose scattered and isolated houses do not communicate with each other, other than with English gardens” (Rousseau, 1976-1978:110). Corboz, often quoting a similar passage from Rousseau from 1763, expresses the same concept: “The whole Switzerland is like a big city” (Corboz, 1998: 215). So, as soon as the eighteenth century it was possible to experience a spreading urbanisation. In the new urban context, it is not always possible to walk, the sprawled spaces of the city are too dilated, but this does not mean that it is necessary to give up the search for the unities of ambiance. The sprawl city can be explored not only by walking but also by using a sort of “stop-and-go crossing”, with different means like bicycles, motorbikes, cars, and public transports. This practice of mobility should force the resistance of sprawl and horizontal cities, by percolating in its empty spaces exploring not only the smooth and striated spaces, but also that space that Deleuze and Guattari sometimes call “holey space”. A - provocative (but not too much) - proposal to encourage the playful-constructive exploration of spreading urbanization could be represented by the abolition of the private ownership of cars. The spaces of spreading urbanization are extensive and porous; so, if one is willing to perceive the “shock” typical of psychogeographical drifts when transiting throughout two unities of ambiance, speed would need to be increased. The car is the perfect mean to explore this passage from one unity of ambiance to another throughout the territories of sprawl. Many projects concerning the introduction of electric cars foresee forms of car-sharing. These types of public or private services should not be underestimated for mobility in spread cities. However, the very radical idea of abolishing the private ownership of cars is not new, as it belongs to many science-fiction novels, though a proper theorisation can be traced in an unknown book, written in 1995 – a prophetic and amazing book - by Oscar Marchisio under the title “Car-Net”. Marchisio considered the whole set of cars as “an under-utilized mobility system” that should have been expropriated for collective use as if it were a production mean. The solution he proposed entailed the use of electric cars and the abolition of their private property: you can take the one closest to you and the one you like the most, and then leave it wherever you want. Though it sounded like a boutade, nowadays it might be considered as the worker’s version of current forms of car-sharing. For the future, this solution - simply a radicalization of public or private car sharing - does not seem so unfeasible, especially through informal practices similar to that of the white bicycles of the provos in the 1960s in Amsterdam.
As for a possible reinterpretation of the flânerie, in commercial areas of dispersion territories, it should be recognized that then there would be no room for certain correspondences between the intimate and the market space that so exalted the flâneur. If you want to experience the variety and the unusual typical of Parisian passages, this would not be possible within current shopping centres. The phantasmagoria of the “passages” was completely different from that of a commercial area with Ikea, Decathlon, McDonald, Leroy Merlin, Auchan, etc. This does not mean that it is uninteresting to explore shopping centres, but the attitude should be completely different. The “stop-and-go crossing” in spreading urbanization would be a good exploratory practice if we also took into account that the co-locution between passers-by recedes towards the background while it is more likely to have architecture come to the fore. The typical distracted fruition of compact city architecture as described by Benjamin makes no sense in spreading urbanization. In the spaces of sprawled cities, there may be two cases: either an integral refusal of the perceptive fruition of the architectural space, for which we end up experiencing with alienation the empty and the undifferentiated, or open ourselves to a more attentive and selective fruition of the modal oscillations of architecture, that is a continuous change of details. In these territories, not only must you equip yourself with different means, by foot, by bicycle, by car, by scooter, etc. - means that, unlike current public transport, allow greater flexibility - but different means would correspond to different ways of perceptive fruition. When walking, it is possible to focus on small details; by bicycle, it is possible to focus on the landscape, while by car or scooter it is possible to detect changes in space density and better perceive the alternation of empty and full. The succession of advertising signs along the streets as well as the alternation of sheds, houses, mall, motorway, box, playgrounds, multiplex imposes its own rhythm and its imagination. In fact, what changes in the exploration of the compact city and the sprawled city is above all a question of rhythm and imagination. If what expects us are metropolis that will interclude areas that once would have been called countryside, therefore articulated at different levels of density, the exploration actions corresponding to them will be polyrhythmic, able to infiltrate even there where space proves to be more selective and impermeable.
We will now introduce what is a drift and discuss this in more details in order to explain what we will do the day after tomorrow.
To start, it is time to provide the official definition of drift. In his essay “Theory of the Dérive”, Debord defines the psychogeographical drift “as a technique for hastily passing through varied environments”. In the first issue of the International Situationist in 1958, the drift is defined as: “An experimental mode behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique for hastily passing through varied environments. Also used, more particularly, to designate the duration of a prolonged exercise of such an experiment”. This definition is broad enough as to include either random drifts dominated by chance or lucid drifts dominated by an attentive search for unities of ambiance, but not so much as to embrace either “walking as aesthetic practice” or the romantic walk. Walking as aesthetic practice is to be excluded because the drift is not limited to the taste of beauty, to a calm contemplation of the urban environment. According to the Lettrists, all the houses are considered beautiful, though certainly not by their shape: this consideration is not an aesthetic one, but rather a desire for discovery and adventure. The romantic walk is partly excluded for the same reasons, and also because the drift is linked to the conditions of urban society and considers the walk in the countryside to be depressing. Rather, drift aspires to be the technique for a science that has the study of passions as its object. However, what it is in fact can be outlined from the opening of the Lettrists’ definition: the concept of “a mode of experimental behaviour” which indicates a playful-constructive behaviour, which is Lettrists’ anthropologically immediate experience of their desired civilization, though only in some limited cultural features. What really seemed to worry the Lettrists was to grasp life in the most authentic and genuine possible way and to give themselves certain rules to achieve this goal, not to produce pieces of art or performances. The art of their time was no longer the highest expression in which truth was granted existence. It is no coincidence that the Lettrists seem more interested in psychogeography as well as in the construction of situations – that is in two sciences - rather than in creating artworks, such as their meta-graphics. It is clear that they had no hope for reaching objectivity and dominating the scientific method, not even as Marxists. So, their actual practices could not at all respond to their aspiration for science and they were not so far from what all the young people of their time wanted: to live intensely in the new post-war context. What remains is to acknowledge at least their anthropological experience, which clearly concerned all the youth of their time, of which the Lettrists were formidable interpreters.
We will now see some types of drifts.
The first one we will discuss is the random drift.
It corresponds to a drift where the chance still plays a predominant role. With it, you get lost and, contrarily to the “disorienting drift” - as we will see -, you get lost in unknown places. Against the rhetoric of getting lost, the random drift allows to find surprising unknown places without intentionally looking for them – chance is its interesting prerogative. All of Guy Debord’s efforts in refining psychogeographical practice are against random drift, aimed at eliminating the role of chance. This was due to his belief that the urban explorer would have been more exposed to the emotional flows of power attraction than to those of passion. Instead, it must be said that because the chance is opposed to the dominant rationality of ordinary urban trajectories (a deviation due to a strike of which there was no knowledge, an unauthorized political procession, etc.), it can lead to discover other spaces than someone’s usual mental map. The chance must be seen as a principle of freedom: it exists and at times it is a powerful ally against those who plan the order of the world. Some think that in order to be materialists, it is enough to be determinists, and that to be determinists it is enough to reject chance. Our conception of psychogeographical drift is materialist, yet it also sustains random drifts.
It is the closest one to the official definition of psychogeography written by Debord in 1955. Contrary to the random one, the lucid drift is a rational practice of urban exploration. Its main objective is to resist the pressures of the urban emotional flows of power attraction that corrupt us towards trivial trajectories, they push us to intentionally define the unity of ambiance and to reduce the appropriate play as much as possible in order to increase the possibility of intentional choices of pathways. In the lucid drift, the unconscious must not be supported because it would mean to favour mind conditioning. Only a rational choice is incompatible with the logical form of “urban motion-control of forms of life”. In the ‘90ies, this logical form was defined by us as an abstract traffic policeman. It is an imaginary character, a rhetorical figure, which is ubiquitous and at the same time nowhere, that we could define as the sum of the actions that organize the metropolitan flows. In this sense, the lucid drift is the least passive among all drifts. It has the ambition to map the city in a playful-scientific way. It is important to underline the peculiar scientific aspect also in the very beginning of psychogeography. It should not be forgotten that when it was born in the fifties it was a time in which science was extremely popular, also in everyday news and in magazines full of curiosities such as the prediction of the ball movement inside a pinball machine. For example, among the famous magazines, there was “La science et la vie” in France; the very well known “Popular Mechanics” in the United States; and magazines such as “Scienza e Vita” and “La Scienza Illustrata” in Italy enlightened the eyes of adults and children on the real and imaginative perspectives of techno-scientific progress. Psychogeography has indigestion with this kind of “popular” science. In this climate, the Lettrist developed psychogeography, while Isaac Asimov, in the Trilogy of the Foundations, invents the psychohistory: a science that can predict the future by means of probabilistic mathematics and statistics.
It is a type of drift that represents an advanced and intensive technique of psychogeography. It is a practice of deconditioning that produces the necessary premises to perceive a known place with an attention and sensitivity different from the usual ones. The disorienting drift allows you to grasp those details that are unable to be perceived with neither the random nor the lucid ones. In the disorienting drift, what the everyday behaviour usually ignores or places into the background suddenly surfaces in the conscience. This drift is similar to the random one but, unlike the latter, it is practiced in circumscribed places, assiduously frequented and/or already repeatedly explored through lucid drift. Deconditioning represents a perceptive modification that hones the senses due to a change of stimuli to which one is daily exposed. It can be produced with different techniques of body and senses – such as personal techniques of meditation and disorientation of the body - and in the Lettrist experience the use of alcohol and drugs were also included. The disorienting drift allows for hunting for unities of ambiance without crediting the first impression. Indeed, the senses may often be deceived: as it happens with the optical illusion of the stereogram, when you look into the image, you would not be able to see the landscape unless you wait long and hone your senses. Unfortunately, civilized people cannot credit the first impression too much, as it requires a mind deconditioning which is also always a form of de-domestication.
It is realized by standing still in one place with the scope to perceive the diachronic changes of a unity of ambiance with its changes during a whole day, a week or a season. It is practiced by observing the diversity of passers-by at any different time as well as by examining changes in architecture through the modifications of the luminosity, the weather, etc. A unity of ambiance changes its internal state during the day: from day to night for example. But not only: it changes from weekdays to weekends or holidays. The change of seasons is an important aspect affecting and transforming the impression we get about a unity of ambiance. In this game of perceptive changes, for example objects such as the open or closed shutters of the shops (in the night /day, festive / weekday variations) change radically the ambiance. Also, changing temperatures (cold, warm, etc.) produce an impact and generate different nuances for the same unity of ambiance. Moreover, in the static drift, the persistent and diachronic (and patient) observation of a place best allows to discover the non-confessable secrets of a unity of ambiance.
This is not to be confused with the stochastic one, which is typical of Surrealists. In this case, the automatism is not guaranteed by the unconscious as in the stochastic one, but by the use of psycho-geographical algorithms, that is through closed packets of indications to be scrupulously followed. One example is the algorithm: “turn the first one on the left, then the second on the right, still the second on the left….” and so on and so forth. By using these predetermined algorithms, it is possible to conduct a drift different from both the random and the disorienting. It differs from the former, because we are not dragged by the emotional flows of either power attraction or passion. With this type of drift, we are introducing a kind of very demanding countercurrent walking, which sometimes forces one to go against her/his own emotions or to test her/his own vocations of counter-power. It also differs from the disorienting drift because it is much more confusing; the difference is that the automatic drift completely lacks of a scope. The automatic drift produces pathways out of any control and it is the most dangerous because there is no possibility of choice. Experienced for the first time by the psychogeographers of Social Fiction, it is to be practiced with extreme caution.
It is a micro-conflictive declination of the lucid drift, in which the typical free games of psychogeography are aimed at producing subliminal disorder and involving anyone caught up in the pathway, instead of exclusively involving urban explorers. To this purpose, the spontaneous dis-ordinations of the abstract traffic policeman can be exploited by forcing his paradoxical power (for example, in the change of meaning of the street signs, with the scope to propagate disturbing but senseless messages). We could exploit the language of advertising billboards with unclear and ambiguous detournaments, and change their meanings also in this case, so that they are distractedly received through the subconscious rather than through any immediate understanding. Furthermore, it would be possible to exploit the language of commodities by distributing hidden self-produced fake products in the shopping centres, with a realistic exchange value and use nonsense value. If you would like to know more about some of these techniques, we would suggest you to further look at the experience of the Roman Disordering Group. The goal of the disordering drift is to force the emotional pressure of the city not necessarily by using agit-prop or direct messages, but by oblique touching on individuals’ unconscious.
Friday, we will practice a psychogeographical drift abstracting ourselves from the historical and architectural context of Venice. It will not be necessary to focus on such context, because our main interest will be the identification of the dominant emotion of the unities of ambiance of the places that we will go across. First of all, the use of devices (I-phones and smartphones) to orient ourselves will not be allowed, so anyone will need to switch them off. Only the psychogeographical guide, Alessandra, will be in charge of using one. You are required to bring with you the following: a city map, a paper notebook, pens and coloured markers. Alessandra and I have created and traced a pathway, so the drift will be lucid kind, but there might be possibly improvisations or intentional moments of disorientation. During the drift, a number of stops is foreseen, precisely 6. So, we will often stop along the way to take note of the unity of ambiance we will have just passed through. Furthermore, we must now introduce our notion of psychoanalysis of the territory, as it is one of the possibilities of space interpretation and can be useful to you.
You are 21 and you will be divided into a number of groups, each one consisting of three people, with a total of 7 psychogeographical groups. To this purpose, you can start imagining your fellow adventurers in the drift among your colleagues, and immediately set up your group. Each group will choose its own psychogeographical name, which you will communicate us together with your personal names. As mentioned, each group will bring a single map, a single paper notebook, pens, and coloured markers. The reason why you will be divided into groups of three, no more than three and not less than three, is due to the ideal number mentioned by Debord himself. The number three is justified by the fact that the drift should be considered as an intersubjective experience, which is realized differently from other forms of solitary or mass walking as in the political processions. Intersubjectivity means that, when it comes to identifying the dominant emotion of a unity of ambiance, you will be invited to exchange opinions within the group and then enter into a relationship with the others. Since the psychogeographical game is intended to have the final result to be objective - even if, let us remember, it is only a game - to reach this goal objectively, the presence of a third person is always necessary: the latter plays a role of mediation between opinions and cross-checking the consistency of the statements. Let us underline, this function is interchangeable, not just from time to time, but also within each stop. Therefore, it will not always be the same person mediating and verifying opinions. This relational system of exchange between three people is the minimum requirement to play the objectivity of the atmospheres of a place. To detect the unity of ambiance, you will have to make a perception effort by using all the senses, paying attention above all to the interaction between the space considered as a whole, rather than only single architectures, and the people who cross it. It will also be a matter of observing passers-by: their looks, their way of walking, their way of dressing, their ways of relating with you. As for the space considered as a whole, it will be necessary to pay attention not only to the architecture, but also and especially to the writings on the walls, the signs of shops and bars, the signs of the doors and the intercoms of the houses, etc. You should carefully consider whether the space is a campo, whether a calle is narrow or wide, if there is a canal to the side or if there are stairs, every now and then look up and see the city skyline where possible. Pay attention also to the sounds and the voices (for example if we are in a market or a student hangout try to understand what they say), pay attention also to the smells and the temperature. All this will help you assess the dominant emotion of the unity of ambiance when crossing one and in the stopover.
The drift will also imply a form of psychoanalysis of the territory. If you ever perceive the absence of emotions in a place – it is in fact a possibility - please be aware that that place might be identified as traumatized. Obviously, there are emotions, but they are frozen in the deep space and therefore difficult to perceive. When a place seems traumatized to you, we ask you to report it on the map and designate it with the grey colour, writing some lines about why, in your opinion, it is the case of an emotional absence. In the map, therefore, you are required to identify which one is, in your opinion, the dominant emotion or if there was no emotion (trauma), by marking it with the corresponding colour that we will indicate through a legend. This code identifies with a colour each emotion that we have previously selected to be able to manage our first drift together more easily. At each stop, and for every colour that you will mark on the map for each unity of ambiance, you are asked to write also some notes about the outcome of your exchange of opinions, to explain the reasons why you made this choice. The spectrum of emotions is very wide but we have reduced it to 8 + 1 – 8 different emotions plus 1 the absence of emotion, which is the traumatized space. The emotions that can be identified during the drift will be:
1. melancholy / sadness BLUE
2. agitation / irritation / anxiety PURPLE
3. strange / bizarre YELLOW
4. presence of trauma GREY
5. serenity / calmness GREEN
6. love RED
7. excitement / passion BLACK
8. cheerfulness ORANGE
9. happiness / joy PINK
The meeting point will be in Calle Sechera 637 at 10,30 the day after tomorrow, Friday 18 May. The drift will last two hours, then you will return by the shortest route to the starting point. Please keep the maps, because it will be a heuristically important experience, as we are challenging a very famous theoretical school called the “phenomenology of ambiance”. This school claims ambiance to be objective, and not for playing, regardless of the perception of the subject. The ambiance is considered as a cloud in which individuals can enter and exit as if it were there in any case independently of people themselves. It is true that if an ambiance were objective, we could design it, but it would become a dictatorship of emotions, we could design ambiance to condition people’s moods, but fortunately the subject has its own irreducibility and is not so easy to be influenced. We believe that the real experience of ambiance is an intersubjective and non-objective experience. We can in any case design ambiance, but it is to be considered that it is possible to modify them through our own presence. We called this a challenge. In particular, it is most likely not all the 7 groups will use the same colours for the same places or the same observations: this would make it possible to demonstrate that an ambiance is not perceivable in the same way for everyone. Through the strategy of creating a three-individuals group, we preserve the possibility to design the unity of ambiance despite them probably not being objective. These unities of ambiance may be more fragile, but they will not be able to determine a dictatorship of emotions.