Friday, 30 December 2016

Myth Today: Truth and Triumph in a Trump World

Figure 1: Truth/Trump

“What is a myth, today” Roland Barthes asks in the opening line to his essay ‘Myth Today’ (2000: 109). Writing in the 1950s it seems questionable that he could have foreseen a presidential election result like that of the United States of America on 9 November 2016, however his essay presents us with its possibility in regards to how language operates: neatly explained in Barthes’ own second level of connotation, the myth: “myth is a type of speech” he answers (ibid.). For those studying the speech act, Donald Trump’s win has provided much food for thought in regards to truth (and reality), and the election campaign has renewed interest in the concept of post-truth, even spawning its own hashtag: #post-truth.

As for the election win itself, not that we can separate the win from the speech acts, in ‘Dominici, or the Triumph of Literature’ Barthes discusses the problems in regards to the lack of a commonality in a shared language when it comes to hierarchy. Reporting on the murder trial of Gaston Dominic in 1952, Barthes explains the difference between those in power (in this case the Presiding Judge), and ‘the other’ (the accused), when it comes to language (2000: 43-44). He also lists some of the ad hominem terms that were used in the trial to describe the accused and explains that this is how language triumphs in a system of inequality: “this ‘universal’ language comes just at the right time to lend a new strength to the psychology of the masters: it allows it always to take other men as objects, to describe and condemn at one stroke” (2000: 45).

Trump’s language has been thoroughly analysed in the media and in academic texts, well before the few months leading up to the election. I do not plan to include a discourse analysis of what he has said, since this has been well-covered elsewhere. What I would like to do is open a discussion on the idea of truth, as it sits within Barthes concept of myth, in an attempt to understand how the denigrating language Trump used towards particular groups had little negative effect on his popularity, nor the outcome of the election. To pick just three examples, Trump is well-quoted for his pride in “grabbing women by the pussy” (Fishwick 2016), for accusing Mexican immigrants of “bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists” (Neate 2015), and for his anti-Muslim/anti-immigration sentiment: "I'm putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, if I win, they're going back" (Basu 2015).

Figure 2: Roland Barthes' Semiological Structure of the Myth

Explaining how the sign on the denotative level of signification (language) becomes the signifier on the connotative level (myth) (2000: 115), Barthes states that myth “is not defined by the object of its message, but by the way in which it utter its message…Every object in the world can pass from a closed, silent, existence to an oral state, open to appropriation by society, for there is no law, whether natural or not, which forbids talking about things” (2000: 109). Trump’s speech acts have been dispersed and devoured through what Barthes calls “a type of social usage” (ibid.) and I believe that what at one time we found unacceptable, is being given currency at a time when some groups in society feel that they have been failed by the government over a protracted time. Upon repeated use these messages become normalised, they become “filled with a situation” (Barthes 2000: 119). If today we look at the title ‘President-elect Trump’ as a sign, we cannot now separate this phrase from what he said, or from his triumphant win. This is what makes up the concept of the sign, it “reconstitutes a chain of causes and effects, motives and intentions” (ibid.). Value has been attached to what Trump said by some quarters (seemingly, mostly, the disenfranchised white working class), because, despite the content of his rhetoric he still won. This means the myth has been legitimised:
Myth is a value, truth is no guarantee for it; nothing prevents it from being a perpetual alibi: it is enough that its signifier has two sides for it always to have an 'elsewhere' at its disposal. The meaning is always there to present the form; the form is always there to outdistance the meaning. And there never is any contradiction, conflict, or split between the meaning and the form: they are never at the same place (Barthes 2000: 123).
What I think many of us were amazed by was Trump’s blatant use of sexist and racist descriptors (what is known as “unapologetic racism”). He made no attempt to conceal the way he felt about his particular minority group du jour. Not only did he have a complete disregard to political correctness, but also felt no compunction in openly speaking his mind without the use of ‘filters’. He attached no importance to what is known as “preference falsification” (Timur Kuran): the act of not saying what you really think due to social pressure. This has the function of giving...
racists new heart by suggesting that many more people share their beliefs than they might hitherto have believed. Trump’s electoral success tells them that at the least racism is not a politically disqualifying problem for presidential candidates any more, and that perhaps for many voters it is a plus rather than a minus. Second, it tells them that if they themselves publicly express their racism, they are less likely to be socially punished than they previously believed (Farrell 2016).
It is in this way that the myth becomes codified: “the fundamental character of the mythical concept is to be appropriated” (Barthes 2000: 119). What Barthes means here, though, is how the first level of the sign is taken up into the second level, thus turning it into myth. However, it is also this shift that puts it into circulation and brings it to light: the myth does not conceal anything, rather “its function is to distort, not to make disappear” (2000: 121). The myth, once promulgated, becomes personalised by those who take it up and support Trump. They see themselves as the victim in a dynamic which can conveniently create a scapegoat of any number of minority groups. The supporters of Trump recognise themselves in the myth presented to them: “it is I whom it has come to seek. It is turned towards me, I am subjected to its intentional force” (Barthes 2000: 124).

Figure 3: What Did Trump Say? What Words Are Associated With Him?

Barthes explains how this works in a similar way to how Louis Althusser describes interpellation: “it comes and seeks me out in order to oblige me to acknowledge the body of intentions which have motivated it and arranged it there as the signal of an individual history, as a confidence and complicity: it is a real call” (2000: 125). The Trump supporter has recognised the call and is interpellated as subject to the cause. The message is received as a kind of obviousness, presented as the natural order of things: “A conjuring trick has taken place; it has turned reality inside out, it has emptied it of history and has filled it with nature” (2000: 142).

In regards to what most of us would see as lies from Trump, for the myth this is not quite the whole story: “Myth hides nothing and flaunts nothing: it distorts; myth is neither lie nor a confession: it is an inflexion” (Barthes 2000: 129). Barthes sees the myth as a type of “compromise” that has the ability to escape any kind of linguistic contradiction that could result from its exposure, any attempt to “liquidate the concept” will simply “naturalize it” (2000: 125). Myth “transforms history into nature” (ibid.) and we know this is how it operates as history is our evidence of this, because myth “is not read as a motive, but as a reason” (ibid.). Barthes goes on to explain that it does not even matter if later on people realise that something is a myth, because “its action is assumed to be stronger than the rational explanations which may later belie it” (2000: 130) and we saw this when female Trump supporters were interviewed about his sexist comments: most did not change their minds about supporting him. Nevertheless what is important to remember is that “We are all potential Dominicis”, even those who voted for Trump, because we can all be “deprived of language, or worse, rigged out in that of our accusers, humiliated and condemned by it. To rob a man of his language in the very name of language: this is the first step in all legal murders” (2000: 46).

Donald Trump won the election because of what he said, not despite it – this much is true. For those that voted for him, and for his other supporters and soon-to-be presidential ‘team’, the content of Trump’s speech-acts operated on them through connotation, the second-level of semiology, the myth. Trump utilised the myth to set himself up as the cult leader par excellence. His self-appointed place as saviour of the side-lined has made him a ‘perfect’ leader in a post-truth world.

Barthes, Roland. 2000. Mythologies, trans. by Annette Lavers (London: Vintage).
Basu, Tanya, ‘Trump Says He’ll Send Refugees back to Syria if Elected’, Time, (30 September 2015), <> [accessed 23 November 2016]
Farrell, Henry, ‘Trump’s Election Has Undermined ‘Political Correctness’. That Might Actually Be a Problem’, The Washington Post, (19 November 2016), [accessed 23 November 2016]
Fishwick, Carmen, ‘Can You Be a Feminist and Vote for Donald Trump? Yes You Can’, The Guardian, (17 November 2016), [accessed 21 November 2016]
Neate, Rupert, ‘Donald Trump Doubles Down on Mexico ‘rapists’ Comment Despite Outrage’, The Guardian, (2 July 2015), [accessed 21 November 2016]

Image Credits:
1 Designed by the author.

2 Created by the author based on Roland Barthes own model in Myth Today.
3 Compiled and designed by the author.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

South by Merlin Coverley

From the beaches of Tahiti to the streets of Buenos Aires, from Naples to New Orleans, Merlin Coverley’s wide-ranging study throws light on the ways in which the idea of the South, in all its forms, has come to exert such a powerful hold on our collective imagination (from the cover of South).

Coverley tackles this vast subject eloquently, breaking his book into six chapter (The Idea of South, Goethe’s Law, In the South Seas, Magic South, The Polar South and South of the River), in order to examine the concept of the South from a philosophical, geographical, cultural and literary perspective so as to demonstrate the complexity and fascination it holds for us. I shall be writing about ‘The Idea of the South’ (the introduction) and ‘South of the River’ here.

The Idea of the South

Being a cultural theorist the concept of ‘the south’ is particularly interesting to me (as are the other points of the compass, since they are often set in binaries and have values attached to them when set in opposition – for example the North/South divide in Britain). Coverley begins the introduction by showing us a 17th century map of the south pole and then describes the work by the artist Andy Goldsworthy entitled Touching North (1989) (see below). Touching North was situated at the North Pole, with the four individual parts of the sculpture facing each other and also outwards, with holes in the centre providing them with an opening which enabled them a space accessible from anywhere and everywhere. Coverley says that the sculpture “demonstrates how the directions of the compass may effectively be rendered meaningless: emerge through any of the four arches and one finds oneself heading south” (page 9). Thus Coverley launches the reader into the ambiguity of the term ‘south’ and in the introduction begins to explain how it developed.

South of the River

Having spent most of my working life in London the idea of north and south of the Thames means something for me, especially since I worked and lived only in the north of London during my time there. Coverley begins the final chapter by discussing Angela Carter’s novel Wise Children (1991) and how the protagonists live on “the bastard side of Old Father Thames” (Angela Carter), in other words ‘the south’. Coverley explains that he has lived in south London on and off for about twenty years and notes that this division is now “less distinct, as the process of gentrification refashions the city into the one we inhabit today” (page 224). I must say, this was also my experience. Having moved to London in the mid-1980s (at the beginning of the property boom) and having left in 2002, there was certainly a smoothing out in regards to what was considered, when I first arrived, to be “broad concentrations of wealth and power in the North at odds with the poverty and lack of political representation to be found in the South” (page 224). The urban development and rising property value throughout the capital during the time I was living there, eventually made this distinction redundant.

Coverley also mentions one of my favourite books about London Soft City (Jonathan Raban 1974) and quotes Raban talking about how when one lives in the north of London, visiting someone in the south can seem like a real trek when it involves crossing the river. So this is about the perception of the distance – broken by the river as a boundary - rather than the actual mileage.

Coverley’s latest book will have a wide appeal. I’ve only included a few of my own observations here (this is not a proper book review), but in the rest of the book he examines imaginary places such as Atlantis and books like Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition (1970), and the concept of ‘the noble savage’ to the works of Iain Sinclair (let’s not forget Coverley is a psychogeographer).

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Tina Richardson - Publications

Books and Book Chapters
‘Psy(co)motion: Anti-Production and Détournement in Affective Musical Cartographies' (Bloomsbury Academic) Non-representational Theory and the Creative Arts, eds. Candice Boyd and Christian Edwardes [upcoming book chapter]
Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. Editor: Tina Richardson (London: Rowman and Littlefield International) 2015.

Academic Journal Articles
‘Hiding the Bodies: Land Procurement and Socio-Geographic Repression in Higher Educational Space’, Space and Culture [upcoming journal article]
A Schizocartography of the University of Leeds: Cognitively Mapping the Campus’, disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory, 23, 1 (2014), 140-162.
'A Schizocartography of a Redbrick', Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and Extraurban Studies, 1, 1 (2011), 119-128.
'Using Schizocartography as a Method of Critiquing the 'University of Excellence'', Reimagining the University, 1, 1 (2011), 12-21.
'Book Review: Urban Space as a Medium for Democracy', Parallax, 17, 3 (2011), 113-115. 'Introducing Schizocartography: Challenging Anti-Production - Schizocartography as Method and Practice', Society of Cartographers Bulletin, 44 (2010), 31-38.

Academic Editorships
Editor: Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. London: Rowman and Littlefield International (2015).
Co-editor: Parallax: Contours of Learning: On Spivak (Taylor and Francis), Volume 17, Issue 3 (2011)
Co-editor: Parallax: Enthusiasm (Taylor and Francis), Volume 17, Issue 2 (2011).
Associate editor: Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and Extraurban Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2 (2011).
Associate editor: Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and Extraurban Studies, Volume 1, Issue 3 (2011).

PhD Thesis
'The Unseen University: A Schizocartography of the Redbrick University Campus' (2014 University of Leeds)

Arts and Culture Publications
‘Heterotopias of Compensation: Travis Elborough’s A Walk in the Park’, Driftmine, July 2016.
‘Setting Up a World: Phenomenology and Cultural Amnesia in General Orders No.9’, Driftmine, May 2016.
‘Interview: A Psychogeography Bucket List’, Stepz: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine, (Particulations Press).
‘When is a Ley Line not a Ley Line? When it is a Perambulatory Hinge’, Driftmine, June 2015.
‘Interview: A Psychogeography Bucket List’, Foxhole Magazine, Spring/Summer 2015, 54-57. Concrete, Crows and Calluses 2013 (Leeds: Particulations Press)
'Kirkstall Valley Sub-Dub or the Prozac Walk' and 'The Cootie-Catcher Dérive or A Walk With Some Really Interesting Dutch Chaps', [Psychogeographic Field Reports] (January 2012).
[please note is now closed, but all my articles and book/film reviews that were published on that site can be accessed in full here]

Arts and Culture Editorships
Co-editor: Stepz II: Between the Rollerama and the Junk Yard, Exhibition Edition (Summer 2016). Editor: TwentySix Psychogeography Stations. Darrant Hinisco. Leeds: Urban Gerbil Publications (2015).
Editor: Stepz I: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine, Pilot Edition (Summer 2015).

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Listening Lines - The Samaritans

Yesterday a friend on Facebook posted a reminder about how difficult it can be for some people at Xmas time, and he put up the phone number for the Samaritans. From the UK you can call from any phone on: 116 123.

This post sparked an interesting discussion about the Samaritans, and I added that one of my family members was a Samaritan for 20 years and that there was a book of poetry called Listening Lines (Arrival Press 1995) that was written by volunteers and edited by Suzy Goodall. This is the poem of hers that was included, but there are many other touching ones in there, too. This poem was about a young homeless man living in King's Lynn, who visited Trixie at the Samaritans regularly, to talk to someone who cared, to sit in a warm room for a short while and drink a hot cup of tea:


He comes again,
Same life, same story,
Same despair.

Happy now,
No more strife.
He takes his life.


Monday, 5 December 2016

Psychogeography News - December 2016

Roy Bayfield’s new book, Desire Paths, is now available (Triarchy Press). Paul Scraton’s Ghosts on the Shore has just been published by Influx Press. Nairn’s Towns is a collection of Ian Nairn’s writings, introduced by Owen Hatherley.

The City
White Noise is an art-based blog about people and the city. This is Andrea Gibbons website on the relationship between the country and the city: Writing Cities. Here is a post called A New Map of Berlin about cycling in Berlin.

Walking Related Posts and Blogs
Slow Travel Berlin has a post by Paul Sullivan on Walking in the City and Walking Through London’s History is a new project by students at Goldsmith’s (run by John Price).

Situationist Stuff
Derek Hales is giving a talk in Halifax on Dec 12 on Ralph Rumney and psychogeography. You can read a post entitled Salvaging Situationism: Race and Space by Andrea Gibbons here.

My Stuff
In November I was interviewed on Radio Fabrik in Salzburg for the Geographical Imaginations project by Kevin S. Fox - you can listen to the podcast here: Psychogeography 101. Here is an up-to-dated list of the guest posts on Particulations.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Christmas Alone? Six Tips and a Brilliant Mnemonic!

Your Singleton Xmas - Help is at Hand

I am becoming an expert at spending Xmas on my own, having spent 7 out of the last 11 alone, so I feel pretty well qualified to add my ideas to those available online. This blog is not directed at the elderly (there are many of those posts and articles already), but rather more to those who out of choice, because of 'family problems', geographical incompatibility or lack of opportunity spend Xmas on their own. It is also not about what to do to prevent yourself being alone, as this is also well covered elsewhere.

I spent my first Xmas on my own in 2006 and it was infinitely better than the previous one in 2005. 2006 was actually the best Xmas in a long time. While the Singleton Xmases since then have varied from 'OK' to 'good', I have developed a strategy over time, which I continue to work on and improve.

Here are my tips, framed in a mnemonic which is also a tip in its own right: FRIDGE!

If you have no family, are estranged from them, or they live in another part of the world, make your own family! Your family can consist of just you. At least you like ‘you’, you know what ‘you’ like, and you will be nice to ‘you’. If you are lucky enough to have a bobbins (for ‘bobbins’ read ‘pet’) then you are very fortunate as they are your family. Wrap a present from your bobbins to yourself and vice versa. Have a little present opening ceremony where they enjoy the wrapping paper much more than the present you bought them, and you really enjoy the present they gave you because you helped them buy it. If, like me, you got their present from them to you in September, then you may even be lucky enough to have forgotten what it was and it will still be a surprise on Xmas day! Jean-Paul, the existential degu, bought me a book on Soviet Bus Stops this year, but it took me a while to remember!

Follow old rituals and create new ones. Xmas is all about rituals: the rituals of the religious aspect of Christmas (if you follow a Christian-based religion), cultural rituals, rituals from your childhood, and so on. If some of the rituals from childhood are problematic, then drop them. If they don’t work this year, then don’t do them again. But, you can create new ones, and if they work they can become part of your 'Singleton Xmas' if you wish to employ them again in the future. I dress as if I am spending Xmas with others, I always have a Snowball while I’m putting my slap on, I put carols on on the radio first thing, and I always have melon for breakfast!

Indulge yourself. You have all the time to do this – one full 24 hr period at least. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. You can make crafty things for yourself (e.g. crackers), or make some foodstuffs (e.g. mince pies or delicious pickles). Make yourself a ‘proper’ Xmas meal and serve with a cracker and Xmas serviette. Get some gorgeous food in – stuff that you wouldn’t buy every day – such as truckles (a recent ritual I have added to my list). I like them as ‘objects’ and I also like their waxy covering. You can buy a few truckles quite cheaply. Much better than buying a mahoosive cheese selection and making yourself ill through gorging.

This is a tricky one. I have tried over-drinking and under-drinking and can tell you, quite honestly, that under-drinking is better when you are on your own. Also, you will be more likely to actually remember the day itself. Either pace yourself (one ‘alcoholic’ followed by one ‘soft’) or stop drinking after a certain time. My strategy is to not start before 11.oo and to stop drinking when I start eating my Xmas lunch. I also then never get a hangover and can do it all over again on Boxing Day! Don’t forget to treat yourself to something nice that you don’t have often, so that it becomes a treat and part of your new ritual.

We have already covered giving to yourself and your bobbins in terms of gifts. But I also mean here ‘forgiving’. I don’t mean you have to forgive others, although it may be the case and may be helpful to you (although it may not be). What I mean is be kind to yourself. Just because you are on your own doesn’t mean you are: a ‘bad’ person, are unworthy, are friendless or are unloved. It is just one day and you can make it anything from tolerable to great by being kind to yourself.

I do think effort is one of the most important things in my top tips, even though it is at the bottom of the list. I always get up early. I love the silence early on Xmas day, it reminds me of Charlton Heston in The Omega Man: it’s like the world ended overnight and you are the only one alive. Joking apart, languishing in bed will just put off the inevitable. Best get up early and prepare the veggies and then there is time to watch one of your favourite films or a boxset. White Christmas has been on my list previously, but this year I am going to watch Doctor Doolittle and West Side Story.

Well, I hope this has been helpful, folks. Over and out, and good luck on your Singleton Xmas.

If in doubt, don’t forget: FRIDGE!

Childline: 0800 1111
Samaritans: 116 123
Domestic Violence Hotline: 0808 2000 247
Mind: 0300 123 3393
Age UK: 0800 169 6565
RSPCA: 0300 1234 999

I would just like to add that I have very kind friends who I have spent Xmas with in this time-frame and which I really enjoyed. I also spent a great Xmas with a friend at my home in 2014.

Please feel free to comment.