‘losing oneself in a city'

One of the ideas within the surrealist strand  of modernism that resonates is the idea of  ‘losing oneself in a city’. This  can be framed as a craving for the unknown, the unfamiliar, or the strange in both oneself and one’s surroundings. It is a seeking to dissolve the boundary between self and other, as well as melting which might differentiate the body from its urban environment. It is a sense of abandonment and a relinquishing of rational cognition.

This deportment reaches back to the European surrealists who encouraged a wandering haphazardly in the city to allow the eruption of unconscious images into consciously perceived space. The ‘aim’ of surrealist idea  of  'errance' was to puncture the surface of what was consciously ‘seen’ to allow dreamlike revelations to emerge in the cracks and fissures between the different layers of reality.

Emma Cocker in Desiring to be Led Astray in Papers of Surrealism (Issue 6 Autumn 2007)  says:

In one sense errance can be understood as part of a tradition of spatial navigation and urban geography; an act of wandering through the newly bourgeoning city space that follows in the footsteps of Charles Baudelaire’s flâneur; Edgar Allan Poe’s The Man of the Crowd (1850), or is echoed in the writing of Walter Benjamin, whose reflections on the city have subsequently informed a critical interpretation of surrealist practice ...  Such practices have been framed by a later discourse that asserts the critical value of the pedestrian experience of the city, as both a politically resistant and playfully disruptive gesture. For Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life (1984), walking is read as a tactic for challenging the dominance of the map or grid.

This sense of errance as  aimless wandering was developed by the Situationists with their idea of the dérive (drift or drifting) that reflected the pedestrian’s experience, that of the everyday user of the city. Users could for themselves experience, ‘the sudden change of atmosphere in a street, the sharp division of a city into one of distinct psychological climates.

One popular interpretation of this by contemporary photographers is night photogrpahy which involves nocturnal wandering. This urban nightwalking  can be seen as specific model of errance, through which to de-stabilise or blur the line between self and one’s environment.  This is an example of contemporary photographers  using 'wandering' as a critical tool through which to explore temporary, multiple and contrary readings of place.