Tuesday 30 September 2008

The Road to Nowhere

(Cité Fenelon, 75009)
At the end of this very short street is the definition of frustration for a psychogeographist - a bricked up passage.

Psychogeography intrigues me, even though I'm not entirely convinced by the rather pretentious concept. Taken back to its very basic level, it can be defined as "an aimless walk", although there are of course more political and social connotations. One of the initial definers of the concept, Guy Debord, argued that cities are designed to imprison their inhabitants into routines based around work and other social obligations, and that the 'dérive' or drift is the only way to break out of the cycle and reappropriate our living environments.

It is interesting for a Paris-based blogger that the concept should originate here (through Guy Debord and the situationsists in the 1950s) but not completely inexplicable. Paris, with its wide Haussmann designed boulevards, is the definition of a managed city. The boulevards were created to direct traffic flow and to prevent insurrection, and at many places around the city they either replaced or cut through routes that had been used since the city first came into existence.

Which takes me back to the Cité Fenelon. Walking up Rue Milton, I glance down along the Cité Fenelon and see the bricked up passage. Although it is flanked on one side by a modern development, the cobblestone Cité Fenelon is clearly an ancient passage, but today it is just a short cul-de-sac. Although there is probably little mystery as to where the passage led (today we can just consult Google maps), I'm more interested in why it was taken out of existence.

Tunnels and passageways have always been significant constructions, provoking at once fascination and fear. They provide an entrance to something without us being aware of what is on the other side, but one that is bricked up is even more interesting as we do not even know what is inside. Fear comes from the darkness that often defines these constructions, but also perhaps from sexual connotations or from some kind of universal birth trauma. When such a passageway is blocked through human intervention in a city we feel frustration that we are being forced to take an alternative route, but perhaps also frustration that we cannot enter the passageway or tunnel itself.

Much as I would like this passageway to exist still, I can only imagine that it has been absorbed back into the building that housed it. There are other examples of similar passages in the area, such as the rather cut-throat Impasse Briare and it is possible that it was a smaller version of this impasse. When and why this occurred will perhaps always remain a mystery to me, but our imagination of what may be around us when it is dark is always more interesting than the reality of what we can see when the lights are on.

1 comment:

PeterParis said...

It's often in the closed passages like this that you can find the old, original, cobblestones! I often thought I should make a theme on my blog about these cobblestones. Thay have certainly a lot to "tell"!

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