Image: cityscape from Wong Kar Wai's beautiful 2046 (2004).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pensées sur l'art du déplacement

While working on chapter 3 (yes, still) last night, I was surprised to find myself heading off on a digression on the activity known variably as parkour or l'art du déplacement (or, similarly but not quite the same, free running) in relationship to discussion of Breaking and Entering. (There is a typically solid article on parkour on wikipedia for you to go and look into that is better than any fast summary I'd draft up. There's also many videos available on youtube - see this, for an example- and on

The realization dawned on me that the fact that the film's teenaged character of Miro who uses his skills as a traceur to stage brilliant B+Es wasn't just a small plot embellishment in a film about relationships in contemporary London. Rather, it is its own discrete discourse within the film about one character's (challenging) relationship to London. I'm kind of shocked I hadn't realized before. Parkour is, in the words of its founder, David Belle, about "gaining ground." He means gaining ground in a chase or emergency, as in catching up to or getting away from someone, of course, but I think there is a nice way of thinking about parkour in relation to the theories of Michel de Certeau (The Practice of Everyday Life) and, in particular, his thoughts on the use of the city in relation to the walker. If de Certeau sees the walker as reclaiming the city from the panoptic power that seeks to programme or control boundaries and flow on the city's streets, traceur(e)s must be seen as extending this potential, literally, into another dimension. Gaining ground indeed, they go over walls, over buildings even. They do so for training, but they also do so for play and, in all this, they are redefining the acceptable use of the built spaces of the city, remapping what is permissible in the urban space.

Quite amazing and, I guess, inspiring: if traceur(e)s can throw themselves through holes in walls and climb buildings, I can turn out a few hundred tight pages, right?

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