This article first appeared in the autumn 2020 edition of Dazed Magazine. If you like what you read, help fund my creative work and Buy me a Coffee.
Guy Debord and his mates did not think about coronavirus. A global epidemic was not on top of the Situationists’ list of enemies to destroy. In fact, those 20th-century types took it for granted that you could go outside (and smoke inside). The assumption was that the terrain of struggle, fighting the baddies, was all outdoors. Cobblestones not only make handy
weapons, they also free the earth below the more you pick them up. Beneath the Streets, The Beach and all that, shaping the streets one riot at a time.
Psychogeography as a practice means different things to different people, but exploration, freedom and the urban always feature. La dérive, French
for drift, was Debord’s term for playfully moving through space and seeing the city scape through fresh eyes. About jolting the pedestrian experience into a new, heightened awareness. I’ve long been a fan of this approach to life and the built environment. I love walking through a city and ending up in random places looking at structures and minutiae from new angles. But these days I think: it was all right for them, free thinkers of late, but how the fuck do I go on a dérive under lockdown in my mum’s house in the suburbs? I was up for this challenge, but it wasn’t going to be easy.
I decided that the overgrown garden would be the wrong territory – its impending bramble scratches would detract from the drifting state I needed to conjure. But it would also be cheating. A dérive had to be urban, full of lines, hard surfaces and shadows. There had to be textures of the man-made variety. Dérives are supposed to be just that, drifty, but for a proper lockdown experience, I had to set the parameters of travel within four walls. Surely I could relieve my pandemic anxiety, my fear of what everyday life would look like in the aftermath, by injecting a little wonder into my everyday locked- down, hemmed-in experience? Who needs a rave when you can trip out on the low-pile living room carpet? It’s fractal, right?
If I stare hard enough, I can make it experimental. I was going to make this lonely claustrophobia magical – just you wait, world. I’m a fucking survivor.
At first, the fear of failure and self-ridicule stopped me from diving in. Besides, I’m pretty observant; I notice everything. I’m living in a house I know well and, since I’ve spent so much time inside recently, how would I make it fresh without taking any drugs? By this point I realised I was procrastinating and just needed to do it. I decided I would give myself a good few hours of dériving, so my phone had to be switched off and hidden under the bed. Sunday – after breakfast – I was going to drift.
The moment came, and I was ready for my granola-filled self to let go. I started where I was: the tea towel my breakfast bowl was on. I studied it carefully, ran my finger over its creases. I noticed the coffee stain that won’t come out in the wash, and the lettering in an Elizabethan font: radicalteatowel.com. I traced the edges with my nail and then, suddenly, I flipped over the corner with one quick flick: 100% Cotton. Wash Max 40. Made in the UK. Satisfied by my first excavation, I dropped to the floor next to the dining room table. Here, crouching by a varnished leg, I inspected the carpet beneath me. It’s of a nondescript colour – fuck, what do you call this? It’s kind of reddy, kind of orangey, kind of browny, but too pale to call brick. I put my nose to the floor. I pulled back up. Some threads were lighter than others, which gave it the overall effect from a distance. I extracted a bit of rock salt and flicked it from my path. I was going under the table.
I shoved the 1970s chair on wheels out of the way and got on my back, pulling myself under. The atmosphere was dark and cool. I could hear the neighbours watering their voluptuous hanging baskets through the open garden door, but I felt a world away from them. I reached both hands up and felt the underside. The wood was rough, no – I traced my fingers in circles to check – smooth, just unfinished. Distinctly underside. Functional, but not presentable. I pressed my palms up against the long metal beam that formed the extension mechanism. It was nice and cool. Very satisfying. I stroked it some more, until I spotted some writing from the corner of my eye. I scooted back. WTF was this? Printed in that weird cargo stencil font was 954-306-3 ACCOLADE 12 BY DREXEL 260 – curious! I moved my head to the left a bit and saw blue crayon scribbles over the writing. I felt a pang.
A hand flew to my heart. I must have done that when I was four years old.
Enough sentimentality – it was time to move on. I edged myself back out and crawled over to the radiator, Gollum-style. I pressed my cheek against its cool metal ridges. I rolled my forehead over it, pressing my hands against it and pulling my face back slowly, taking in that rusty, dusty smell and slowly opening my eyes. I was horrified. It’s a disgusting lemon yellow. How had I never noticed? I shifted focus to the adjacent wallpaper, inoffensively white. I reached over and felt the bumps of its random lattice, like a million stone henges piled on top of each other. My fingers travelled upwards, my arms followed, then my whole body was pressed against the wall. My eyes popped open. Could anyone see me? No, the net curtains were drawn – phew. I took a quarter-turn to my right to face the glass-paned door to the hallway. It was frosted and peppered with little petit-pois sized balls. I started counting them from the top, letting my finger bounce from ball to ball. One, two, three, four…
One thousand and sixty-four! I collapsed on to the floor, in some experimental dance move. On my back, exhausted, I checked my watch. Forty-five minutes! And I’d not travelled more than a couple of metres. I decided to call it quits, at least for the day. A smell of barbecued sausages had wafted in and I was hungry again. I sat up feeling satisfied. What I just did is art. I just made pottering avant-garde. Between this and online
yoga, I may never need to leave the house again. My work here is done. Until the next time.