By Jim Miller
Back in 2011, over at the OB Rag, I did a column where I had some fun applying the idea of psychogeography to our fair city and played with the notion of the dérive observing that, “The purpose of dérive is to detourn the calculated space of the city, to turn it around and reclaim its lost meanings. The Situationists wanted to see how certain neighborhoods, streets, buildings, or other spaces ‘resonated’ with states of mind or desires. They wanted, as Sadie Plant reminds us, to ‘seek out reasons for movement other than those for which an environment was designed.’”
I then offered “A few general principles to remember”:
1. The randomness of a dérive is fundamentally different from a stroll—disorient yourself.
2. You can use public transit or taxis but you may not drive.
3. The average length of a dérive is one day, considered as the time between two periods of sleep. Free yourself from the prison of measured time.
4. The spatial field can be delimited or vague—a block, a neighborhood, a series of spaces connected by bus, bike, trolley or taxi. Follow your desire.
5. Study the terrain.
6. Build in “possible rendezvous” with someone whose identity you cannot possibly know. This will require starting up conversations with strangers in the places you choose and random passersby as you move.
7. As Debord notes: “a loose lifestyle and even certain amusements considered dubious have always been enjoyed by our entourage—slipping by night into houses undergoing demolition, hitchhiking nonstop and without destination” along with “wandering subterranean catacombs forbidden the public.” Etc.
8. Keep in mind that the goal of the dérive is to break down the distances that separate regions or zones of the city “that may have little relation with the physical distance between them.”
9. You can drift alone or with a few fellow travelers, but not too many.
10. Replace travel as an adjunct to work with travel for pleasure.
11. Extend the terrain of play.
To this earlier work, I would like to add a few, more concrete suggestions that might aid you, dear reader, in getting lost.
1) Be sure to include a canyon, find three distinct types of birds, disorient your senses as you please, include one unrecognized historical site about to be ruined, nap in a fancy hotel lobby, sneak into a luxurious swimming pool, feed the ducks despite the prohibitions, ask someone for change and (if you get it) give it away to someone else. Find the water’s edge.
2) Read Baudelaire on a bench by the Marston house, stroll through three separate public gardens, cross a bridge of any sort, walk into a restaurant and look pensive before walking back out, take the first bus you see and ride until you aren’t sure where you are, drink wine from the bottle in a public park. Find a panoramic vista point. Sing.
3) Start with sex in a motel room next to storage place. Sweetly bid your partner adieu, walk until your feet hurt, get coffee somewhere that’s not Starbucks and read the singles ads in the back of the free paper, ask out loud if anyone by the name of the person in the first ad you see is there in the coffee house, let the answer dictate your next step. Have a donut. Find the end of a pier, jump in the water to be baptized anew.
4) Ride the trolley to San Ysidro, cross the border, take a cab to the sports book, bet on a dog race based on the names, and (if you win) buy a stranger a meal. If you lose, leave and flag down a cab, ask the driver to take you to someplace extraordinary, find a gallery, listen to music, read Bolaño’s Savage Detectives in a hazy bar, have a taco at dawn watching the smoke rise from the grill ascending its way into the heavens. Find the statue honoring the San Patricios.
5) Begin by raving about the Wobblies at the corner of 5th and E, find your way down under the streets in the Gaslamp, enjoy a forgotten chamber beneath the city, nap during a City Council meeting, hop the Ferry to Coronado, take it back, cross a footbridge, walk up a hill, ride a bus east up University, board another going the other way down El Cajon. Get off and find an old diner that hasn’t been gentrified. Have a coffee. Listen to the music in your head.
6) Hitchhike to the Desert Tower, look at the Salton Sea in the distance, get a ride from a biker all the way to Octotillo, then hop in the back of a pick-up truck headed toward Salvation Mountain, knock on the door of the first RV you see in the flats, search for some scrap metal, make your way to the docks in Bombay Beach, take a boat across the sea, have a beer at the 19th Hole in Salton City. Wander the badlands till you have a vision. Have pie in Julian, sleep it off in the cemetery, sneak into the mine. Return to La Jolla and tell the seals all about it. If they don’t bark, return to the desert with your desire burning hotter than the summer sun.
This column is part of Jim Miller’s “summer chronicles” series based on the Brazilian model. In that literary tradition, a chronicle allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes. The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.