The Language in Parkour

As difficult as the article was, De Certeau made an interesting point that spoke to me. He  asserts that “walking in the city” is a revolutionary act that not only allows you to view the city from a “bird’s eye view,” but to also make tactical, directional, and aesthetic choices in order to both personalize and internalize every aspect that a city has to offer. I have always been interested in the art of Parkour and its relationship to urban culture. The jaw dropping acrobatic skills, despite their visible rough edge and potential death sentence, create this dance, a symphony, of movement and outright rebellion against the social normalcy. The grace, precision, and fluidity of the movements show themselves to be both efficient and a product of the natural world surrounding the city. Like water the bodies manipulate the environment around them. They like the H2O of rivers and oceans hold the power to change and reform. As much as I hate to admit, I am, at this very moment, watching the awesome television show American Ninja Warrior, and to my amazement the majority of the contestants are Parkour experts. This once back alley product of a teenage boy’s fantasies has become a world-wide sensation.  

But my interest in this particular blog post is not about the growing phenomena, but it is an attempt to connect this physical act with language. I tried to find a definition of the word Parkour, its origins, anything that would lead me on a discovery of the linguistic significance of the actual word. In my quest to discover said information, I ran across an article that not only gave some much needed background about Parkour and its creator, but it also described Parkour as an “urban rather than a pastoral pursuit.” Although this may seem a bit obvious, I think that it is very interesting to describe this medium as an art form that is solely a product of the city. I mean this may sound a bit weird but I’ve never really thought in these terms. After reading this article I think that certain types of spaces foster cultures that are both distinct and specialized to that space. That is to say that Parkour is distinctly a creation or construction generated out of the city’s underbelly, and although small town or pastoral communities can partake in this art form, it can only be viewed as an imitation of the original or a temporary fad for those outside communities.

Early on in class we talked about the language of the city, and we saw examples of this through several mediums (photography, poetry, newspapers, etc). As far as the word Parkour is concerned it is a mysterious word. I’ve spent the last hour and a half trying to find a historical basis for the word. The only thing that I found is that Parkour is the “cousin to the French parcours, which means ‘route.’” I think that the establishment of revolutionary methods of communicating, like making up new words or using conventional literary strategies in unconventional ways, directly reflects the need and desire to be both individualized and independent within the city structure. This idea was very oozing throughout the Simmel work. Parkour is characterized by the bodies jumping, tumbling, and discovering their ways through unpaved paths. Ironically, the word itself is characterized by the same set of rules.



Filed under Continuing Class Discussion, Creative Responses, Links

2 responses to “The Language in Parkour

  1. Cool exploration of the linguistic origins of parkour. I only know one critical article that’s about parkour in part.
    What do you think about the political implications of parkour? Does it make sense to you to think about it as a way of rebelling against the set pathways of the city?

  2. tinyopinions

    I like the connection of the word “parkour” and the possible connection to the French word for “route”. People who practice parkour are creating new routes for themselves as they move through the city. Unlike the flaneur, the parkour practicer must be hyper-vigilant (like the detective) in order to plan the next move – whether it’s jumping across roofs or flipping over park benches. I can definitely see how this art form is a product of the city, as the city itself is turned into a jungle gym of sorts and the act of parkour brings out the gawker in most people. I know I am always fascinated when I see people flip off walls. Do you do parkour? (What do you call a parkour practicer? … a parkourist?)

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