Sunday, 14 December 2014

Outsider Psychogeography

From Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography


This is the final section of the above upcoming book. Please click here for the other sections, The Walker and the Landscape, Memory, Historicity, Time, Power and Place, Practicing Psychogeography/Psychogeographical Practices.


Psychogeography has always had to deal with its detractors, from the criticisms aimed at the SI’s hankering for a lost past to the contemporary disapproval levelled at it in its current incarnations. This is especially prevalent today with the proliferation of online forums, blogs and zines. For example a post entitled ‘How Could Psychogeography Come to This’ appeared in June 2012 on the blog Cosmopolitan Scum which criticised the psychogeography carried out on the London Olympic site in 2012.

Some disciplines can be very welcoming to psychogeography, but this is not necessarily the case in all academic fields. When attempting to justify one’s own practice in what may be a somewhat ‘hostile’ environment, it is easy to come across as apologetic or overly defensive. While the vagueness of the term ‘psychogeography’ enables it to be an inter/transdisciplinary tool, as a field in itself (if we choose to call it that) it is considered unscientific, even if some of the practices employed within it might be used in a scientific way elsewhere and might appear under a different label. For instance, the Recitoire project run by the Grenoble Computer Science Lab, looks at qualitative surveys which involve citizens in their local urban planning projects. While this is not labelled as psychogeography at all, nor is the term used in their documentation, the comparisons are apparent.

The two essays which represent this section reflect the work of two academics who use psychogeography in their own field. They both draw on walking-based literature and philosophy and demonstrate how psychogeography can be used as an interdisciplinary tool which can be incorporated in a discipline in which it might not usually be considered. Chapter contributions for this section are from Alexander John Bridger and Andrea Capstick.

Related Info:
Walking Inside Out – book cover and abstract.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Practicing Psychogeography/Psychogeographical Practices

From Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography


This is the fourth section of the above upcoming book. Please click here for the other sections, The Walker and the Landscape, Memory, Historicity, Time and Power and Place.

Debord wrote The Theory of the Dérive in 1959, setting out instructions on how to drift through the city in such a way where the participants are in tension between a relaxed state of being open to what may arise on the walk, and a conscious awareness in regard to the controlling force of urban décor. Recommending it as a group practice (even specifying the number of participants), suggesting the duration of the walk and discussing the logistics of the area under observation, we can see the genesis of a methodology unfolding in Debord’s text. He tentatively describes psychogeography as a methodology under development at the time of writing his essay and tells the reader how the dérive can be used as a springboard to further the purposes of the Situationists’ wider project, later laid out in Basic Programme of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism (1961).

Formulating a methodology for philosophical (or scientific) inquiry is often necessary for an academic in order to propose potential work and to validate the results of findings. There are a number of situations where this might be required, for instance: when presenting one’s work to a particular body (such as an ethics committee) in order to validate a prospective research proposal.

The three essays in this section represent the scholarly work of three individuals from three different fields: performance, urban planning and cultural studies. The authors have developed a methodology for their walking-based practices and named the methodology in order to distinguish their form of walking from other psychogeographical practices. These essays show the development and evolution of a methodology over time, the fleshing out of a process for a specific project, and the practical aspects of applying a methodology to walking-based research.

Contributions are from Phil Smith, Victoria Henshaw and Tina Richardson.

Related Info:
Walking Inside Out – book cover and abstract.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Power and Place

From Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography


This is the third section of the above upcoming book. Please click here for the first section, The Walker and the Urban Landscape, and the second, Memory, Historicity, Time.

The psychogeographical project, as it was for the Situationist International (SI), was to tear down the spectacle and reorder space so as to express the needs and desires of the community. They did this in a number of ways, such as through their Unitary Urbanism project which involved redesigning city architecture. But in a practical way this was carried out through their dérives. By formulating chance routes through the city, the Situationists challenged the domineering nature of urban décor and offered a new approach to the city. By, literally, chopping out the areas of the city they disliked – for instance, areas dominated by the spectacle or under redevelopment – they reformed sections of existing city maps into quarters of their own choosing. These quarters reflected their own urban preferences and they added ambiances to them to express what they wished for them to represent in their new city, for example, Happy Quarter. The new maps, the Guides Psychogeographiques or the Naked City maps, suggested a new way of moving through urban space that was counter to the capitalist dominated city and encouraged people to reconnect with a city they were increasingly being pushed out of through bureaucracy and urban planning.

While there have been a number of psychogeographical movements since the disbandment of the Situationists in 1972, as there are today, it is the SI that holds a prominent place in our memory when discussing political urban walking practices. The chapters here offer a historical overview of the activist project of the SI in terms of psychogeography, alongside a subjective account of running an urban walking group in the 21st century. These essays are very different to each other in form and writing style and reflect the heterogeneity of psychogeographic writing today. Chapter contributions for this section are by Christopher Collier and Morag Rose.

Related Info:
Walking Inside Out – book cover and abstract.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Memory, Historicity, Time

From Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography


This is the second section of the above upcoming book. Please click here for the first section: The Walker and the Landscape.

Our relationship with the city is intrinsically tied up with our knowledge and memory of it. If a particular city is somewhere we know - from today or from our past - we are unable to separate our psychological responses to it from the materiality of the place itself. This, in fact, is psychogeography and is what makes us all psychogeographers to a degree. A sense of place connects us to a geographic region in a specific way that becomes apparent when we start to explore the emotions attached to particular urban pockets that spark something in us. It might be a memory from our adolescence, such as an independent record shop in our hometown where we purchased our first piece of vinyl, or a more recent memory we have of the experience of moving to a new town or city and the differing aesthetics of that place compared to our last home.

These memories are not separate from our self, they inform and form us. The experience of the everyday that is played out in space - walking to the train station, going to the supermarket, taking the dog for a walk – make up a significant part of our day. These practices are imprinted on our psyches over time, forming our relationship with space and at the same time are laid down in our memory of that place, creating our attachment to it. What is particularly pertinent to our memory of place is that it is subjective and partial – it cannot be anything other. It is this that lends itself to the multifarious and often contradictory accounts of specific spaces.

In this section contributions range from qualitative research on memory and place, to personal accounts which interweave fact and fiction. They express the variety of styles of writing on place, but also the effects of time and memory in the way that they become part of our own histories.

Chapter contributions for this section are by Alastair Bonnett, Phil Wood, Merlin Coverley and Gareth E. Rees.

Related Info:
Walking Inside Out – book cover and abstract.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The Walker and the Urban Landscape

From Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography


The next few blogs will be introducing each section of the upcoming book (due 2015, Rowman and Littlefield International). I’ll include a short abstract and the authors who will feature in each section.

The solitary walker situated within the landscape is not a modern phenomenon, even if the term psychogeography is. The cover of Terry Eagleton’s The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1990) shows Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog) (1818) by Caspar David Friederich. It depicts a man in a frock coat standing on a craggy rock with his back towards us, contemplating the buffeting sea below. He carries a walking stick, telling us that he is a walker and has not just pulled up in his Landau where his coachman awaits his return. The wanderer is elevated above the sea of which he looks down and is separated from. What this image depicts is the privileged position of this figure in the landscape. Not just because of his elevated position on the rocks, but because he is male, middle-class, Western and white (his red hair is blowing in the wind, the colour punctuating the image). Our protagonist represents both the 18th century coloniser and the stereotype of a classical psychogeographer.

However, in the 21st century psychogeography takes up multiple positions. From the perspective of the background, gender and age of the individual urban walker, to their relationship with urban space itself. Today the walker feels some sort of direct connection to the space s/he explores, even if that is from a critical position. It is no longer about the tourist’s gaze, but a reflexive response where both the walker and the space s/he moves about in is momentarily changed. This section looks at the different perspectives a walking critic might take and provides three different urban spaces in order to demonstrate the variety of places available for interpretation. Taking the perspective of two walkers, and providing one analysis of the writing of a walker, these essays draw upon the place of the contemporary psychogeographer in the everyday landscape.

Chapter contributions for this section are by Roy Bayfield, Ian Marchant and Luke Bennett.

Related Links:
Walking Inside Out – book cover and abstract.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Walking Inside Out – Book Cover


This is the new cover for Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography, which is due to be published around autumn 2015 by Rowman and Littlefield International. Here’s a short abstract about the book, but please click here for further info: Walking Inside Out.

Abstract:
While psychogeography in its broadest sense is as a method of urban walking which responds to and critiques the terrain, there are many different approaches to it. This can be because of the way the walking is carried out or in the way the practical work is written up or analysed. This book attempts to bring the work of literary/creative psychogeographers and academics together in an edited volume that looks critically at psychogeography today. Contributions are from academics and researchers, and from those working in the area of urban walking. The voices expressed here highlight and explore the setting and climate as it is for psychogeography in the UK in the 21st Century. The essays provide current examples of contemporary psychogeographical practices, demonstrating the differences between them. Examples of the different forms of urban walking are discussed alongside different theoretical approaches. This book is aimed at scholars, students and urban walkers alike.

While psychogeography in its broadest sense is as a method of urban walking which responds to and critiques the terrain, there are many different approaches to it. This can be because of the way the walking is carried out or in the way the practical work is written up or analysed. This book attempts to bring the work of literary/creative psychogeographers and academics together in an edited volume that looks critically at psychogeography today. Contributions are from academics and researchers, and from those working in the area of urban walking. The voices expressed here highlight and explore the setting and climate as it is for psychogeography in the UK in the 21st Century. The essays provide current examples of contemporary psychogeographical practices, demonstrating the differences between them. Examples of the different forms of urban walking are discussed alongside different theoretical approaches. This book is aimed at scholars, students and urban walkers alike.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The New Psychogeography - Update


I had originally planned to do a series of blogs following on from my first blog on The New Psychogeography, but since then I’ve decided to make the whole final chapter of Walking Inside Out about the new psychogeography instead of turning these blogs into an article. The first blog sparked a lot of discussion online, a considerable amount of hits and, also, the related slides from the Huddersfield lecture, that this all stems from, has been downloaded a number of times on academia.edu.

So instead, I am posting some of the original section on the new psychogeography from the first draft of the introduction to the book. I’m afraid you will have to wait for the book to be published to see the full concluding chapter which will now be dedicated to ‘The New Psychogeography’. I really appreciate all the input and discussion, etc – thank you.

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In 2002 Iain Sinclair said of psychogeography that "the next step is to bury it completely! Let it go and let it re-emerge. I think it needs 15 years to gain some new energy, as I think this energy is rapidly running out" (cited in Pilkington and Baker 2002, 7). Since we are now fast-approaching the end of Sinclair's 15 year embargo, perhaps this is a salient moment to begin to discuss psychogeography again in a critical way, and take a serious look at the work being carried out in the field. I hope this text contributes to this discussion. At the same time I appreciate criticisms of the academisation of psychogeography might be levelled at this volume, but since I am oriented in academia and my field is psychogeography, it is impossible to do the work itself without being caught in this trap. Sinclair further comments on this problem when discussing the work Stewart Home did with the London Psychogeographical Association: “Stewart Home says that the LPA deliberately mystified and irrationalised their psychogeograhical ideas in order to prevent them from being academicised in the future. But they inevitably will be because Stewart himself is a sort of rogue academic, so it's self-contradictory in some ways. By doing it, it becomes part of this machinery in talks and interviews.” (cited in Pilkington and Baker 2002, 3).

But, nevertheless, Sinclair is in praise of walking itself despite his concerns with the term psychogeography. One thing that many walkers are preoccupied with, from activists to The Ramblers, is not just the marginalisation of our public spaces, but the marginalisation of the very act of walking itself. As Sinclair says in an interview in the Ramblers own publication: "We're at the bottom of the food chain and the day will come when we'll have the equivalent of bike lanes: a narrow suicide strip chucked in among the traffic. We'll have to have ghost walkers, like the white ghost bikes you see to commemorate dead cyclists" (2012, 98). So, it seems, psychogeographers perhaps do have more in common than can be expressed in their differences.

In The Art of Wandering: The Writer as Walker (2012) Merlin Coverley includes a chapter on ‘The Return of the Walker’. Situating the preceding 30 years within a literary tradition that is also reflected in the creative arts, he finishes his closing chapter with Nick Papadimitriou, whose rise in popularity followed Coverley’s previous book. Walking Inside Out presents the work of some of the contemporary literary psychogeographers alongside those working in academia, thus bridging the gap which means these texts are commonly presented to different audiences, but also demonstrating the inherent value to academia of the ‘creative’ psychogeographical account. On May 1 2014 the BBC online news magazine published an article by Finlo Rohrer ‘The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking’, which is posed rather more as a question than a statement and alludes to the number of recently published books in the field. While his article was not about psychogeographer per se, it provided walking tips to the novice, some of which supported and some of which countered psychogeographical practices in the broadest sense. But despite this, it is an encouragement to walk and one of the tips that is common to ‘purposeless walking’ and psychogeography is to “walk mindfully” (Rohrer 2014). This mindfulness will be apparent from the chapters of the book.

The beauty of the inexact art that is psychogeography, appearing in the innumerable forms that it has and continues to, attests to the durability and relevance of it still. It can be crafted, manipulated and even re-appropriated to suit your particular needs. It can be carried out fundamentally, creatively or ironically. And it can be picked up and put down like a handy tool that helps you metaphorically whittle away the parts of urban space of which you disapprove, rather like the SI did with their maps. Psychogeography is continually being reworked, reflected upon and reimagined. It has the ability to absorb the urban space in which it occupies, situate itself socio-politically and creatively employ innumerable tools in order to express itself.

Bibliography:
Pilkington, Mark and Phil Baker. "City Brain." Fortean Times, 2002.
Rohrer, Finlo. "The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking." In BBC News Magazine, 2014.
Sinclair, Iain. "My Perfect Day: Iain Sinclair." Walk: Magazine of the Ramblers, 2012, 98.