By forcing an arbitrariness of route, and insisting on pedestrianism, the dériveur was, in theory, brought to experience astonishment upon the terrain of familiarity, and was made more sensitive to the hidden histories and encrypted events of the city. — Robert MacFarlane, “Psychogeography: a beginner’s guide”
Everybody must get stoned. — Bob Dylan, “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”
It has been something of a surreal game over the past 10 years to walk around the Mission and play “guess what that was” with friends who used to live here. Mostly it’s a nostalgia trip and it gets old fast (unless you’re into nostalgia). It can also get very depressing.
To break out of the doldrums, I decided to play a new game: psychogeography.
Psychogeography has its roots in the writing/walking traditions of French and British literature. Writers such as Defoe, Blake, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Benjamin and Ian Sinclair prominently figure in its history. However the word and modern practice are usually associated with Guy Debord and the Situationist International, an avant-garde group he led between 1957 and 1972.
To Debord, psychogeography is “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” The primary method of study is called the “dérive” or “drift.” From MacFarlane:
Debord and the Situationists were looking for ways to explode the herd-think of the urban masses, and to disrupt their choreographed obedience to the sign-making habits of capitalism. To these ends, they developed the idea of the “dérive” or “drift”: the randomly motivated walk, which – in Debord’s well-known definition – was “a mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances”.
Today, the study of psychogeography, either through drifts, or other methods, has found a niche market in the system it critiques (“the Dolce and Gabbana of the pedestrian underground,” says “Barnaby Snap of Helsinki”). At least one app already exists to serve a new generation of psychogeographers. Unfortunately, the appropriately titled “Drift” turns the experience into an inappropriate scavenger hunt.
I’ve been drifting around the Mission for two or three months. Usually I follow a simple algorithm like 2nd right, 2nd right, first left, repeat. There are countless ways to drift, but the programmed arbitrariness is essential. Especially if the “goal” is to “get lost” in your own neighborhood.
Generally on a drift, I will take photos, videos, collect audio, dictate random thoughts at random checkpoints. The photos in “Mission Drift #12” comprise a report on a drift (Debord was said to be obsessed with drift reports) through the area bordered by Mission, Folsom, 22nd and 26th streets, beginning at 24th and Mission.
Mission Local will be posting drifts as the spirit moves. I know there are other drifters circulating through the Mission on roughly the same wavelength. Send in your drift reports so we can compare notes.