Abstract

Abstract:

This essay argues that the Situationist International (1957–72) and its early concepts of psychogeography (a city's sensorial impact on its residents), dérive (drift), and détournement (rerouting, recontextualization) can enliven our thinking about recent politically charged events—namely, a performance of Katori Hall's Our Lady of Kibeho at the Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City on December 4, 2014, and a spontaneous Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstration on August 14, 2014. Constellating or connecting these sites is the experience of the city under capitalism: Paris for the situationists (1950s and '60s), and a gentrified and redeveloped midtown Manhattan (1980s–2010s) for Hall's Kibeho and the BLM demonstration. For the situationists, postwar capitalism—or the "spectacle"—induced habits of passive consumption and alienation. Le Corbusier–style urban planning exacerbated this alienation and destroyed the liveliness of Parisian streets. By contrast, the situationist drift was a creative pedestrian practice responding to the emotional currents of the city—a negation of the passivity on which consumerism depends. The iconic situationist map, "The Naked City," uniquely records the effects of situationist drifts even as it wittily détourns the title of a famous film noir. Turning to New York, the essay discusses the cleanup of Forty-second Street and Times Square through development and gentrification, tools of what Neil Smith calls a "revanchist" city, one that puts corporate profits over the needs of its working poor and indigent citizens. Yet, developers were granted zoning exemptions to build higher and wider if they included theatres in their plans. The Signature Center, part of the MiMa apartment tower on Forty-second and Tenth Avenue, is a fortuitous part of this complex development story. This became clear, the essay suggests, when, at the third curtain call for Our Lady of Kibeho, the actors boldly raised their arms in the "hands up/don't shoot" gesture, thus linking their artistic effort to the antiracist, anticapitalist politics of the BLM movement—indeed, to the spontaneous BLM march up Broadway to Times Square and back down to Forty-second Street that took place four months earlier. Those marchers, the essay suggests, reactivated the city by behaving like situationist drifters, dodging around police barriers and tourist buses and bringing midtown Manhattan and a tourist-filled Times Square to a standstill. If a situationist-style map were to be made, the Signature Center and Times Square would become linked across time as revolutionary hubs of resistance. In sum, situationist theory and practice speaks across the decades, providing playful tools for imagining and enacting political resistance.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 349-367
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-20
Open Access
No
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