Conceptualizing ‘Our City’

An abstract for a paper delivered on a panel at the 30th annual 2 Days of Canada Conference: The Concept of Vancouver.

Co-panelists for the “Activist Cultures in Vancouver” session were Markus Reisenleitner and Heather Smyth.


A blurry snapshot of an issue of the Georgia Straight, c. 1968. Note city Alderman Harry Rankin’s critique of urban development on same page as publicity for Intermedia.

A friend gifted me a well-traveled copy of Jeff Derksen’s tract, How High is the City, How Deep Is Our Love? (Fillip Editions, 2011). At the time, I was thinking through Roy Kiyooka’s description of “Our City” in Transcanada Letters (Talonbooks, 1975), which shares an epistolary model of imagined community with Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems. This paper will explore an echo I perceive in Derksen’s call to action for imagining the city through a renewal of neo-avant-garde critical practices and Kiyooka’s description of an imaginary city conjured through the affective accumulation of “poly-morphously peverse” identity shifts. Derksen’s text reflects upon the dialectic arising between the affective relationships generated through the lived experience of a city and the fixed identity categories imposed when our desires are solicited by the governing discourse of urban planning. The inhabitants of Kiyooka’s city have collectively adopted pseudonyms and alter-egos, which, he muses, are part of their shared practice of accessing a “so called real-self” in association with the psychedelic, multisensory and collaborative environment of Vancouver’s Intermedia Society (1967-1972).

Neither a return through restorative nostalgia, nor a projection towards an avant-garde for a future art city, this paper will pay attention to how these past and present calls for mutable identities respond to a continuous process of urban development in Vancouver. Historical context includes a discussion of the final few issues of Tish and the Georgia Straight newspaper, as well as the conflict between Leftist discourses that coincides with the dissolution of Intermedia Society.

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