The difficulties in analyzing the “dérive” (=drift) are connected to the surplus of semantic and historical contexts, whose mutual displacement actually provoked the praxis of the dérive itself. This semantic core of displacement can be found in the many connotations of the word “drift” (dérive), which vary according to their usage in geology (the motion of tectonic plates), maritime navigation (a ship’s passive passage along powerful currents or in floes of ice), market analysis (uncontrollable changes in the value of stock), technology (fluctuation of indicators or gauges), physics (motion of stochastic particle distributions), genetics (local mutations), perceptive psychology (micro-movements of the eyes, destabilizing images in order to bridge over gaps in the visual field), demographics (the geographical direction of migration flows). On the whole, drift implies latent, indiscernible, extra-mental displacement , arising in a wave that carries something away, sweeping it up and along, dousing its activity, engulfing it completely, in what seems to be an altogether pleasant way.
The analytical interpretation of the dérive is tainted by this hydraulic displacement of contexts. For an example, how was our action in Petersburg related to the “classical” dérive of the Situationists? And do we have the right to place our movement through the neighborhood of Narvskaya Zastava into the time-honored tradition of flaneaurism? In my view, this is where the decisive displacement occurs. Surely, this great myth of Baudelaire and Benjamin can be no more than an inspiration today, especially since it has lost any and all practical force. Flaneaurism is a notion that stems from the epoch of the early bourgeoisie. The flaneaur is a marginal figure, a penniless bohemian. He strolls through the arcades, past seductive agglomerations of goods and shop-displays, deriving his pleasure from the impossibility of consumption (“look but don’t touch”, to use the expression of Susan Buck-Morss). At some point during the 1950s/1960s, as non-repressive, stimulating structures of domination based on mass-consumption arose, the figure of the flaneaur was incorporated into the universe of capitalism. Flaneaurism became a part of consumer-behavior, which was increasingly formed by the principle of the continual possibility of making further purchases and the controllable pleasure which these purchases will supply. May be the parallel emergence of the Situationist practice of the dérive, which raises flaneurism to the level of a reflexive community game for the last time , can be understood as the fixation of the flaneaur’s death, a short-lived revival before the end, a breaking point, after which this practice was completely absorbed by the means of bio-political control. The collective character of the dérive changes matters somewhat: the phenomenon of détournement can be understood as form of displacement, a half-hearted dispersal of the drifting group replays the drama of the organic community’s atomization again and again.
If one considers the local conditions of the dérive through Narvskaya Zastave (a de-contextualized industrial ghetto outside of the historical mainstream, with melancholy ruins of Constructivist architecture), as well as the rather consumerist approach taken by its participants in visiting its inexpensive local cafés, one can hardly connect any of this to the sugary romantic sublime of the historical flaneaur’s ascetic exaltation. This why the “high” myth that legitimates our praxis is subject to latent drift in and of itself; its conceptual form is filled in by local stories (the specifics of the “free-and-easy” life-style of Petersburg’s artistic and intellectual milieu, the Russian intelligentsia’s tradition of the narodniki , of “going native” among one’s own people etc.). This projection-mechanism and its contextual update was probably the most productive part of the action, even if its geneological identity was subject to de facto suspension.
If the action was neither flaneaurism nor classical Situationist dérive, nor pure consumerism, then what was it? A multitude of drifting contexts, perhaps. It wasn’t any cynical version of social tourism (i.e. slumming): the project’s exploratory and artistic goals were quite authentic. To judge by the discussions that followed, the participants were motivated by a nearly religious search for Contact, Encounter, or Event, for the imaginary meeting of the left-wing intellectual with the invisible specter of the Worker, ascending to the Golgotha of the stopped conveyor. But when we entered the abandoned factory’s Cyclopean shop floor, instead of severe workers we found a multitude of colossal phalli (high-quality naturalistic graffiti, sprouting an interweave of 3-4 meters, climbing up the wall), whose exuberantly organic procreation rightfully animated this otherwise empty place of production. Or maybe we wanted the revelation of an Other life to catch us unawares, an Other reality of the wild capitalism of the early 1990s, which has been preserved in this neighborhood, in the midst of its slums and its collapsing buildings, forcing us to remember those chaotic years. But the promised Event never took place as a final point of assembly or coming together. Instead, there were constant displacements, transitions from one environment to another, as well as the realization of one’s own position in relation to the position of the others the impotence of changing anything here and now, in spite of the will that manifests itself in this strange, crypto-religious expectation of an Event, of Redemption… Impotence hangs over all of our confessions and exacerbates our in many ways exuberant stroll with an involuntary feeling of guilt.
Even if the flaneaur has died as an independent figure (which he may have never been) and his place has been taken by a weak drifting subject-medium, channeling manifold flows of meaning, the restlessness and unexpended energies that sent him out to wander the city’s streets have not been fully swallowed by the technologies of consumption and control. Quite on the contrary, they give rise to the condition and the immediate reasons for movement, drifting in some new generalized sense. In one of his text, Deleuze notes that many contemporary practices are constructed according to the model of “riding the waves”. This finds its most concentrated expression in newer sports, such as surfing, hang-gliding, sky-diving etc. The center of movement or energy is not to be found within the subject, who simply taps into an external flow, or to put it in broader terms, symbolic contexts and informational networks (surfing the internet, for an example). In my view, actions such as the dérive produce and dramatize this phenomenon, which appeared after the 1960s. It is this phenomenon that supplies the dérive its contemporary meanings. On the other hand, isn’t this position of the subject, whose praises are sung by theoretical apologetics, the state that we are trying to avoid? How can we activate the subject, raising it to the level of the energies and forces it has unleashed, so that it might finally really drift, leaving behind of the instances that hamper its unbounded movement?