Blog post

Going adrift in Limehouse with McKenzie Wark

Leo Goretti28 September 2011

According to the Situationist theorist Guy Debord, a dérive is "a mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances." Who would be a better companion for such an unplanned, quixotic metropolitan escapade than McKenzie Wark? In a long audio interview with Sean Gittins, originally broadcast on Resonance 104.4 FM, the author of The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International roams around the area of Limehouse, in the London borough of Tower Hamlets.

An important trade hub in the heady days of the Industrial revolution, in the early post-war period the area turned into a deprived, crime-ridden suburb. It was thus that the 4th Conference of the Situationist International met there, in 1960. Nowadays, the landscape of Limehouse has been reshaped anew. Giant glass skyscrapers, home to financial corporations, sit next to "areas of poverty, algae-covered canals and old style tower blocks."

As Gittins and Wark discuss, the stark contrast typical of the Limehouse scenery is "inextricably linked to the city and wider political economy." Limehouse is a place where one can see how crucial the idea—and the performance—of "spectacle" is for today's capitalism:

That the Situationists in 1960 met at a place which was to become a central site of the "spectacle" goes beyond mere serendipity. As they sat debating the Spectacle at the 4th Situationist International, having chosen an area renowned in society for its criminals, it's almost as if they knew what was to come.

After an hour and a half of walking, almost predictably yet unexpectedly, we find ourselves at the centre of towering banks in Canary Wharf. It seems to be a fitting place to end our dérive. Screens of market data on the sides of buildings show the markets are in the middle of another catastrophic day. Nobody seems bothered.

Visit the New Statesman to read the article.

Filed under: broadcast, interviews