Everyday Space, Psychogeographical Flow: Revisiting May ‘68 Avant-garde Urbanism

By Jessica Elaine Reilly.

Published by Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

“That which changes our way of seeing the street is more important than that which changes our way of seeing the painting”—Guy Debord. Guy Debord’s writings, both independently and within the Situationist International, remain a plea for the reclaiming of public urban space. Debord’s analysis of contemporary society reveals an increasingly accurate depiction of the impact of the globalized and integrated spectacle (when state and economy become indistinguishable) upon the public sphere, which has continued to alter the meaning of public space in urban centres. The tactics of Debord and the Situationist International were a Marxist-inspired response to the monotony of the mediated metropolis, as well as a mourning of the physical destruction to their beloved Paris streets caused by the architectural devastation of Haussmann and Le Corbusier. In the practices of psychogeography, the Situationists envisioned the city as a space of utopian possibility (despite their own discomfort with the term): a city that would be built upon displacement, fragmentation, humour, desire, and play. Examining the similarities between Henri Lefebvre’s theorizing of space, urbanization, and everyday life and the actions of the Situationists in the years approaching the events of May ‘68, my paper will explore the Situationist City as a case study of subversive urban praxis that intended to retrieve public space from the grasp of the spectacle by envisioning the everyday as an art without works, in which art and life would become unified. Focusing on Simon Sadler’s historical account of the Situationist City (1998), my paper will question whether Lefebvre’s thought and Debord’s practice offered failing urban avant-garde gestures to create a city that was never realized or whether the Situationist City functioned as a space of critical utopia that inspired a movement in the streets of Paris towards a revolution of everyday life.

Keywords: Guy Debord, Situationist International, Public Space, Cities, Psychogeography, Henri Lefebvre, Citizenship

Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp.83-92. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 729.457KB).

Jessica Elaine Reilly

PhD Candidate, The Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada

Jessica Elaine Reilly is a PhD Candidate at The Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. Her research focuses upon critiques of everyday life in French social theory, avant-garde aesthetics, and the intersections between capitalism, political uprisings, and the commodification of public space.