“What happens when the map starts to decay?”: Michael du Plessis Visits Writers in Community

By Joseph Navarro

Michael Du Plessis was a guest lecturer in the Writers in Community course at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics on October 29, 2013. His workshop was centered around the semester’s central theme of mapping through writing. For Du Plessis, the act of mapping is a quest in understanding the exactitude of science. He began with a question: “Is the story of the map the empire or the people?” This is an important question which would set the stage for his lecture on the work of Guy Debord, the Situationists, the theory of the Spectacle, and the act of Derive.

The workshop began with three writing prompts. The first was to describe a place. This was followed by describing a contrasting or similar space. The third move was to write a new place into being, utilizing the previous two places as a reference. The act was a layering or overlaying of two composite spaces, in attempt to create a new place or simply to understand the elements of the original. I first wrote about my undergraduate institution in Tallahassee, Florida and then wrote about the Naropa campus. The act of constructing a campus within the framework of a Tallahassee-Boulder union was liberating. There were no longer municipal demarcations or campus boundaries. My imagination was left to its own devices in constructing an amalgamation of place memories.

The dismantling of our traditional understanding of order within the city and state is central to the ideas of the Situationists. Du Plessis noted this understanding in his emphasis on observing disjunction within the aforementioned writing project. He asked these questions: “What happens when the map starts to decay?” and as this reductive process begins, “Is it possible to invent space outside of this decay?” Ultimately, in this day and age, the maxim “space is premium” rules the day. We need only reference the sub-prime mortgage crisis and how this pilfering of space lead to a global economic collapse.

Du Plessis implored the writers in the class to think about themselves in relation to the space around. The act of Derive or Psychogeography is an application designed to enhance this philosophical outlook. Derive is based in Walter Benjamin’s interpretation of the works of Charles Baudelaire. Both Benjamin and Baudelaire were fascinated by the flaneur, or stroller, of 19th century France. For the two, the act of getting lost in a walk was a liberating feet. The Situationist’s and Guy Debord would take this notion a step further in holding walking as a means of occupying space. All of these theorists shared the idea that there is a dialogic connection between the psychology perpetrated by a place upon a people and vice versa. We find this resistance to prefabricated civil engineering in the work of the Surrealists and their emphasis on wandering in order to find new experiences. There is an anthropological basis of this liberation through strolling within the Khoisan people of South Africa. Anne McClintock has explored this occupation of space, developing the term Anachronistic Space. Contemporary sports and art forms like skateboarding and graffiti have captured Du Plessis quest for understanding the dynamic of space.

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Joseph Navarro is an MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.