There are many ways to use the concept, but at its base, a dérive (or "drift") is a kind of intentionally unplanned wandering in which one pays attention to the influence of the geography on their psyche. The dérive is an embodied approach to "psychogeography."
There are radical political subtexts to this kind of wandering that were intended by its originators, the surrealists and the situationists. It is a way to realize how your environment is exerting forces on your consciousness, and it can also be a tool to re-contextualize your environment, rewire your mind so that it reacts to your environment in the manner of your choosing.
Put differently, the dérive is a tool for re-enchanting your day-to-day environment. And I say "re-enchanting" because it is already and always being enchanted by various cultural actors.
The basic process for the dérive, as I currently imagine it, has two sides. There is the passive side, and there is the active side.
On the passive side of a dérive, you allow yourself to enter a slight trance state. Remain aware enough to be physically safe. Take in your surroundings with all of your senses. Meditate upon them as though they were a piece of installation art or perhaps a constructed ritual space intended to alter your consciousness. Your environment has been designed to make you move in a particular way, feel a particular way, think about particular things.
Slowly move throughout the area, paying attention to negative and positive space. Textures, symbols. You are free flowing and everything you set your gaze upon is a message. Allow the space to move you. Where is it guiding you? How is the urban body conducting your motion?
Continue this process for as long as you please. Allow yourself to explore very small and very large areas. The tiniest details can be just as powerful as the tallest skyscrapers. See a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower.
Performing this passive side of a dérive repeatedly in the same area will deepen your relationship with it. Unfortunately, if you practice this in an urban or suburban environment, as is typically assumed, you are likely to find many undesirable influences on your consciousness, hence the political undertones.
The active side of the dérive involves training yourself to have different associations with the various aspects of your environment.
Enter into a passive dérive. When you come across a phenomenon you wish to have a new reaction to, move with the phenomenon. Think and feel and sense with the phenomenon until you can come up with new associations that make sense to you, and are also more desirable. I use butoh for this part of the process, but many techniques are viable, as long as they do not ignore your somatic (bodily) experience.
When you experience this phenomenon, attempt to recall the new intended reaction and associations. Various ritual techniques (dances, decks of cards, mantras, smells, etc.) will help you reinforce your new associations.
This process will happen quicker if you perform ritual work with the new phenomenon. Repeatedly visualize the phenomenon while embodying the associations and reactions. Eventually, the new responses will be second nature.
Now, once you have done this with many of the phenomena in your environment, like sidewalks, and lawns, and street lights, and sprinklers, you will find that the psychogeography of your environment has changed. That is, the psychological impact of your environment is increasingly governed by your self-determined mental programming.
If you have imprinted yourself with a framework of associations with mystical import, you will be able to perform dérives where the environment speaks with you symbolically, and you can speak back by moving through the environment and directing your attention in intentional ways.
You will also be able to construct astral/mental/whatever locations using your newfound associations that you can explore via active imagination, ecstatic dance, dream work, and so on. The connections between the entries in the second part of the book should help you construct this location within you.
It is important to realize that you could re-imprint your reactions to your environment for other purposes as well. Being able to do "shamanic walks" in my 21st century environment was a goal of mine.
How do you want your environment to affect you? Do not blindly imprint yourself with my, or anyone else's, associations. Take responsibility for your own psychogeography and be open to changing it as you grow wiser.
This essay has been edited from my book, Sub/Urban Butoh Fu: A CYOA Chaos Magick Grimoire and Oracle, which presents a specific system for reimprinting your psychogeography, performing divinatory walks in a suburban setting, and choreographing ecstatic dance rituals.
- The City Is a Labyrinth: A Walking Guide for Urban Animists, Sarah Kate Istra Winter
- Psychogeography, Merlin Coverly