Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and nights. But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge. You would know in words that which you have always known in thought. You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.
The Prophet

Urban dreams

Part I

Desire was everywhere when we stepped of the plane at Charles de Gaulle. We nipped and yelped, scurrying into the city wearing rags and muddied bags, dragging tripods down the walls of Métro tunnels like Freddy Krueger. The thirst, after weeks of depraved scholarship, endless perverted workdays and inert meetings over coffee, had concretised into the force of a tsunami. The wave broke at times around tall objects, splitting and climbing for a moment before splashing down again in a liquid slump of ecstasy. At other junctions, it snaked into infrastructural gaps too small for bodies. We followed the water to find the glitches in the system, trying out various keys and tools for which the original intended purpose was never understood, lost artefacts from another time, rediscovered by our nomadic band of forgotten disciples. We bled and drank, crawling into our sleeping bags when we could smell the bread baking, the delicious olfactory beacon warning us the City of Light had switched on for the day.

Depraved

Everyday life is a life lived on the level of surging affects, impacts suffered or barely avoided. It takes everything we have. But it also spawns a series of little somethings dreamed up in the course of things. Exploited, those affects, glitches, errors in lines of code, paired to the desires to find them, become the preeminent domain of the urban explorer, the skateboarder, the street artist and all children while they are still conscious, before society rapes them into submission, huddled in the corner of an overcrowded classroom where they are forced to recite the national anthem over and over again.

Desire wasn’t purchased, nor did we try to sell it. At the same time, it was a profitable endeavour, an investment in the communication of the incommunicable, a necessary departure from direct economic production. Urbanity is codified by a set of rules which creates spirals of economic ‘prosperity’, where relentless velocity must be maintained to preserve the perpetual accumulation of wealth, resources and labour. The result is a system which reproduces itself in ceaseless iterations like a demonic fractal art project, even (or even especially) when those accumulations are superfluous or unnecessary, until it pops.

Juxtapositions

The result? An endless stacked stratigraphy of miscommunications, abortions and aberrations, interminable confusion about what could and should have been, sparkling smiles as the successful accumulation is directed into personal coffers, suicide from bridges where it does not. What sprawls all around us everyday, whether we are in London, Milan, Paris or Los Angeles is a capitalist monstrosity that regrows heads as you slice them off. Our only advantage against this unkillable and utterly beautiful beast is its immensity, for it is this very horrific attribute that allows us to run underneath unnoticed while it spews poison in the Siene.

Endlessly fractal

Part II

“Ah! Paris! What a beautiful city, don’t you think?”
“I don’t give a shit, what I wanted to do was ride the Métro.”
-Zazie dans le métro

Rails

At its best, capitalism encourages a kind of generalised schizophrenia, a shatteringly intense fracturing of subjectivity. On the other hand, to survive it has to contain these effects through oppressive fictions like the nuclear family and psychiatry, which attempt to ‘reterritorialise’ desire: to put it safely back inside the home and to keep it there. Night after night in Paris, on this trip and others, we took the secret desires from home and mind into streets and practice. While the Marxists sit in Starbucks with their coffees crying for the overthrow of the system and the anarchists fight each other in squats, condemning comrades as sexists and fascists, we create desire. We are coercive machines that produce breaks and mobilise flows, nude in sewers, hanging from cranes, in love with the endless accelerations of material layering that keep cracking open underneath the weight of 6,869,652,772 human bodies.

We are the result of inevitable urbanic schizophrenia. While the dragon spews its poison, wagged by its own tail, we urinate on its leg, chuckling as our playfulness conjoins deterritorialised resources and temporarily appropriates the surplus from their reterritorialised conjunctions in nice little packages of pixels to print and mount illegally in the New York Metro. To each moment, we cling with all our heart, knowing it is unique and irreplaceable – and yet we wouldn’t lift a finger to prevent it from being annihilated.

Insert human here

As Dsankt told me while we wobbled toward each other in some subterranean dungeon, until you get over that initial dereliction fetish and prepare to let all things come and go, you haven’t found it yet. So as each sparkling moment expands toward the implosion we all know is coming, we feed the system. And when the engorged stomach lining finally tears, we will climb inside it’s dead body like Luke Skywalker penetrating his gutted Ton-ton and become enlightened.

Glitch

Each epoch not only dreams the next, but also, in dreaming, strives toward the moment of waking. It bears its end in itself and unfolds it with ruse. In the convulsions of the commodity economy we begin to recognize the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled. Now that it’s all over and I am back here stewing in my own filth writing this PhD thesis in a nostalgic dispassionate embrace, only one thing is certain: the spiral will start churning again; the unstoppable desire to take our love to the streets will build, little seeds of speculation will begin to sprout, phone calls will be made. And we will go again to slide into urbanity’s womb and fertilise unfathomable nightmares born from the passion of those tiny glimpses we are all so apt to ignore. We will play, in this form and others, in imaginative permutations of superhumanity that don’t yet exist, again and again, until we are dead.

When it's over

_______________________________

A thousand blessings to Marc Explo, our tireless host. Thank you also to Winch and Otter for your brotherly companionship all weekend and to Olivier, Kat, Dsankt and Mrs. Dsankt for the wonderful dinner and champagne, delightful conversation and company as we climbed through sewage to get to a bridge.

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11 Responses to “Reterritorialising Urbanity”

  1. Tweets that mention Place Hacking » Blog Archive » Reterritorializing Urbanity -- Topsy.com Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nicolas Roussel, James Field, Etienne DELAY, tehwinch, Bradley L. Garrett and others. Bradley L. Garrett said: Today on Place Hacking, we reterritorialize urbanity in Paris: http://t.co/xnvXfpB #urbanexploration #infiltration #paris #cranes #metro [...]

  2. Brian Rosa Says:

    New York METRO??? Dude you've been away from the motherland for too long. Nice post, though!

  3. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Oh my god you're right. Well at least I didn't call it the tube.

    Thanks for reading it bro, you're probably the only one that will suffer through it!

  4. dicky Says:

    Interesting read, quality Pics and an amazing place!

    Look forward to the next installment :P

  5. Patch Says:

    I thought that "abandoned" app was some kind of sick joke, I cringed so hard I nearly inadvertently turned myself inside out when I realized it was real. Very much looking forward to my turn to climb inside Paris in a couple of months time.

  6. danwhit Says:

    Hi Brad,

    Enjoyed the post, and as always the pics were fantastic, especially the first two. But I was struck in particular by the following excerpt:

    'only one thing is certain: the spiral will start churning again; the unstoppable desire to take our love to the streets will build, little seeds of speculation will begin to sprout, phone calls will be made. And we will go again to slide into urbanity’s womb and fertilise unfathomable nightmares born from the passion of those tiny glimpses we are all so apt to ignore.'

    Without wishing to over-analyse, it's the explicit rendering of the city as female, and of your own actions as conquering and inseminating the unborn foetus of 'unfathomable nightmares' that I think I'm concerned by. Is that what urban exploration is really about, a bunch of guys dashing out to assert their masculine prowess over a passive, unknowing female subject? Not knowing much about it, I was intrigued by this. Can you explain a little more about your choice of this rhetorical strategy?

  7. Goblinmerchant Says:

    Dan,

    Thank you for the insightful comment. My language was, as usual, a bit impenetrable (no pun intended) and I probably did not get my point (as far as there was one) across very clearly. Your question begins to open up the gender issues involved around my research, something I will write about on the blog soon.

    I have been thinking a lot lately about the problematic ratio of women to men involved in the practice (it's about 20/80) and have spoken to some of my project participants about it. While urban explorers have been accused of being sexist, I think that language is far too strong – there is nothing explicit in the exclusion of female participation and the women who are involved tend to be very highly regarded.

    However, the heavy emphasis that the community places on personal responsibility also means that people in the network expect women to take responsibility for not being involved – that is they refuse to 'invite' women simply to offset the imbalance.

    The problem then seems to be a more intangible one about the way the community has already formed (without any overt consensus), the root of the movement being founded upon a selfish desire to ‘take’ what we want from the environment in terms of both pictures and experiences, as long as it hurts no one else.

    This is, again, pitched in terms of taking personal responsibility, regardless of the illegalities or feelings involved around our explorations. What was created is a community atmosphere that is nightmarish in its competitiveness, utterly entrepreneurial, that most women, and many men, find abhorrent. This is the nightmare I refer to. It is an atmosphere that I relish in, being male and competitive. As a result, I have trouble seeing it from the other side and that obviously comes through when I write from the heart.

    Then again, I am a man and refuse to apologise for that. Men of our generation have carried our original sin far enough. I do agree though we must be careful to temper our masculinity where it oversteps our own happiness and starts affecting others negatively. Perhaps rendering the city female does so.

    Hope that makes some sort of sense. A thousand thanks for your insightful comment – I will keep trying to push myself in other directions, painful as it may be!

    -Brad

  8. danwhit Says:

    Thanks for clarifying Brad – interesting thoughts, and it'll be interesting to see how it all plays out in the thesis. Clearly, this is something you've given a good amount of thought to already.

    For what it's worth, I wouldn't describe your writing as impenetrable – I enjoy it, and wouldn't bother reading to the end if I didn't. Also, I'd never ask for men to apologise simply for being male. I'm just interested in the ways we rhetorically construct our social worlds, and how things like gender/racial/class heirarchies of power take place within these constructions…

    Dan

  9. Winch Says:

    Dan, I enjoyed reading your thoughts about identifying the city as a female body. It's an interesting metaphor which seems to work. Perhaps the absence of women (particularly in the subterrannean side of exploring) does allow the males participating to see paralells with sexual activity.

    On the other hand, could the women who involve themselves with ascending tall structures be accused of seeking phallic structures to conquer? It's food for thought I guess!

  10. Place Hacking » Blog Archive » Hacking The London Underground Says:

    [...] is nothing less than a rejection of our enforced pact with capital in the process of questing for sites of urban tenderness, flippantly exploiting those capital investments. In these spatial reintepretations, bonds, desires [...]

  11. 2011 – The Top Twenty. « The Creme « The Winchester Says:

    [...] with views across to central Paris, this was the perfect way to start a trip which descended into a pure assualt on the urban environments of Paris, with Sewers, Metro, RER tunnels and subterrannean construction. [...]

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