In Salvage magazine, Andrea Gibbons writes about Abdelhafid Khatib of the Algerian section of the Situationist International, who was one of the few people of color involved in the group. Not coincidentally, Khatib's written contributions to the SI canon—in particular, his work on race and psychogeography—were largely neglected by not only historians, but also by Debord and other dominant members of the SI. Gibbons suggests that this refusal to take Khatib seriously helps explain Situationism's glaring failure to confront race and colonialism:
I find no explanation of Khatib’s – or Dahou’s – absence from Debord’s elliptical and Vaneigem’s vituperous memoirs. Perhaps Khatib remains alive and remembered to Algerians. Perhaps he remains alive in Arabic, or in martyrdom, or in prisons. Perhaps there are more traces of him in French that have not yet been translated and through which I have not struggled: perhaps that explains his absence from the multitude of works available on the Situationist International.
Still, this all tastes to me of betrayal. It signifies an absence both of material solidarity and theoretical rigour. It represents a movement once again claiming such surety in what it was doing, and yet as desperately unengaged with the reality of the city as lived by migrants and workers as it was with the cataclysmic anticolonial struggles toppling government after government and bringing France to its knees. Its members closed their eyes to it.
This troubles me; but the ongoing and continuous nonchalant references to this closing of eyes, and this editorial note on police harassment, a continued inability to honour Khatib by intellectually grappling with the reality, troubles me even more. Especially given its contrast with the Situationists’ open and vocal defense of Trocchi, imprisoned for drugs in New York, rather than in Paris for his nationality and the colour of his skin while in pursuit of Situationist aims. Surely it must mean something that the principal documented attempt at psychogeography was cut short by a curfew and imprisonment of a comrade simply for being an Arab. Surely we must care, even if they didn’t.
I wish they had taken hold of the opportunity, bailed or broken Khatib out as comrades should do, and rethought what understanding psychogeography – in Khatib’s words ‘the study of the laws and precise effects of a consciously or unconsciously elaborated geographical environment acting directly on affective behavior’ – could be. Explored with more integrity ‘the science fiction of urbanism’, to understand a city in some ways multiplied and enriched, in others limited and controlled, through difference. Attempted to see through different eyes, understand what a different skin might experience. Above all, to understand that the built environment does not stand above these things, but is coconstitutive of them. With Lefebvre they edged towards this, but not in a way that held meaning to Abdelhafid Khatib’s experience. The point of it all was to understand the now, in order to build something new. How could they escape the oppressions of the old if they could not even see them?
Image: An illustration that accompanied Abdelhafid Khatib's "Descriptive Essay on the Psychogeography of Les Halles," published in Internationale Situationniste in 1958.