Thursday, 21 April 2016

The allée Guy Debord: real or imaginary?

On the very edge of Paris where the city segues into Aubervilliers, Google Maps tells us that there is an allée Guy Debord. In the location itself – a recent footpath running between an isolated shopping mall and an arm of the canal Saint Denis – nothing is written and no buildings use the address. If a name exists only on a map, does it really exist at all? It’s a situation that the theorist, writer, filmmaker might well have appreciated.
It is the function of conventional maps to provide a certain abstract, geometric 'truth' about the urban environment. A route goes from one point to another, has a certain measurable length, and – perhaps most importantly of all – has a name or number that helps identify it in the real environment.

But what if this name cannot be found in the real environment? After looking fruitlessly around the site for a roadsign, I began to suspect map hackers. After all, what better name than Guy Debord to electronically paste onto an unnamed path in a banal new development? Indeed, the path remains unnamed on OpenStreetMap. The minutes of an Aubervilliers council planning meeting though do suggest that the name is genuine.   

A curious situation in a curious place. The path seems to be both in Aubervilliers and Paris, although currently the Paris stretch is an enclave that can only be accessed through Aubervilliers. This will soon change though once the shiny new red bridge across the canal opens (in 2015 according to the signs on the perimeter fences).

As far as I can work out, this path is the only map reference for Guy Debord, the only street or site in the world that has as yet been given his name. I doubt he would have approved, even if he was passionate about maps. Rather than use them for guidance though, Debord instead chopped them up, reworking their finality to express other experiences of the city.

Created at the end of the 1950s, Debord's new form of cartography was called psychogeographical mapping. His deconstructed chunks of Paris were supposed to demonstrate an existential truth, showing how people really interacted with the city (the arrows showed Debord's sentiments of attraction and repulsion towards these different blocks as he 'drifted' through the city).

Few people in Paris will be attracted to the allée Guy Debord. The Millénaire shopping centre that was the reason for the creation of the path is now five years old, but remains ghostlike. This though seems of little importance for an address that is more of a concept, a borderline stuck somewhere in an urban unreality. Perhaps we could all cut out the path and paste it at will across the world.


Terry said...

I always love your posts! Did you know (I'm sure you do) that sometimes a map-maker will insert a fictitious site on their map, to keep track of whether other map-makers are stealing their work? If a fictitious place shows up on a new map, the person who created the original map will know their work has been pirated! Pretty incriminating proof, I think!

Norman said...

Enjoyed the article and was all ready to write a comment. However, I read the comment from Terry and he had already said it. So let us say I second Terry

Piap said...

Great and original article about Paris! Your site title is not only attractive, it also sticks to your article themes about an unknown Paris, that even Parisianers do not know :)

Thbz said...

An association (Socialistes Aubervilliers) is located in allée Guy-Debord...

Adam said...

Thanks Thbz. Seems there are a few companies listed on the address (n°s 1, 3, 5...). Looking at Google maps again, there is a new development at the top end of the allée that I didn't get to (it's currently blocked on the canal side), so that must be where they are based. I wonder if there is also a street sign there somewhere?
That said, you can see the new buildings on the aerial view of Google maps, but when you zoom into the 3D view, it becomes just an empty wasteland again!

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