Thursday, 3 September 2015

Let’s Talk About What People Don’t Like About Psychogeography – Part 4


The Spoon Bending…

This is the final part of the blog looking at psychogeography’s detractors. Please click here for part 1, part 2 and part 3.

What has been written about the urban spaces we occupy influences how we see those spaces to begin with: “there is no city that is simply outside the network of texts that circulate and shape our experience of the city” (Highmore 2005, 141). However, if we look at the reverse of this then we can also influence how our city is perceived through our explorations and writing of it. Our cities are in a continual state of flux, despite the appearance of some stability. Have you noticed how you see new hoardings appear, then later the building work begins behind the hoarding, then upon completion the hoardings are removed and the new building appears in its fullness? In a very short space of time you will have forgotten what was previously in its place. The space will become stable again. This stability is an illusion which is a side-effect or urban planning. Psychogeographers are one of the groups of writers who remark on the changing nature of space and contribute to the history of these places, the very spaces on our doorstep.

Possibly because of the prominence of the creative-writing/creative non-fiction background of many urban walkers historically, psychogeography has often been highlighted for not being critical enough of itself – although I believe this is unjustified. I would like to defend this strand of psychogeography and say I do not think this is necessarily the job of these writers any more than it would be for travel writers to critique their own field. However, for those of us in academia who are interested in psychogeography from a theoretical and/or methodological perspective, this is our job. One of the comments on the The Great Wen: A London Blog attached to the post mentioned previously, written by ‘Jason’, says: “Psychogeography has about as much rigour as spoon bending but I’ve always had a weakness for it” (cited in Watts 2014). So, let's change that perception.

It is difficult to get to the bottom of what some of these generic criticisms of psychogeography actually mean. In these instances I always want to ask the rhetorical question: ‘Which type of psychogeography are you talking about?’. However, I have to assume by their question that these individual’s think that all psychogeography is the same, since there is no nuance in their remark (although Jason does seem to actually like psychogeography despite this). It is quite apparent from researching psychogeography (especially that of the Situationists), that it has, and continues to be, critically assessed. I hope Walking Inside Out demonstrates that psychogeography can be rigorous when applied methodologically and it can also be aligned with relevant theories in order to be used to explore urban space by those in and outside academia.

Related Links:
The New Psychogeography
STEPZ

Bibliography:
Highmore, Ben. Cityscapes: Cultural Readings in the Material and Symbolic City. Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Watts, Peter. "New London Writing, or What the Fuck Is Psychogeography Anyway?": The Great Wen, 2014.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Let’s Talk About What People Don’t Like About Psychogeography – Part 3


The Situation...

Please click here for part 1 and part 2 of the blog.

Despite these criticisms (which I do actually consider to be constructive to discussion, even if the actual criticisms themselves are negative ones), I believe psychogeography brings something useful forth. In particular it draws attention to overlooked places (often these liminal spaces criticised by Owen Hatherley). In a series of articles in the Guardian newspaper in 2009 called 'Secret Britain' Sinclair explains the affect of stumbling across these types of places:
These sites, come upon by accident, prick our imagination, provoke reverie. Questing for one story, we blunder into another: we must train ourselves to expect the unexpected. The thing hidden behind a high wall is still part of our true 'legacy', but buildings and sites sometimes have to wait to achieve a haunting dereliction, to become legitimate targets for vulgar curiosity. That's how the Secret Britain guide philosophy works: when you don't see it, it is still there. And when you do, it is on the point of disappearance. (2009, 5).
As the ‘Secret Britain’ article demonstrates, the homogenising effect of neoliberal space coupled with signs that prohibit action and entry at every turn, discourage our questioning of how urban space got to be the way it is. One needs to de-familiarise these spaces for them to be seen clearly for the first time. David Prescott-Steed discusses this de-familiarisation in regard to the dérive, although what he says applies to any critical form of urban walking: “de-familiarisation not only fosters critical thinking but, furthermore, finds it manifest in the form of a creative negotiation” (2013, 75). He explains why the dérive has been useful as part of his own practice. In connecting critical thinking to the physiological act of walking he believes this makes “theory actionable” through “praxis” (2013, 72) and it is formed through “the application of a theory to everyday activities” (2013, 81). This is somewhat echoed when Rebecca Solnit says: “Walking the streets is what links up reading the map with living one’s life” (2002, 176).

One of the most engaging things about psychogeography, or even urban walking in its broadest sense, is that anyone can do it. Since most of us in Britain live in urban space, 82.4% as of the 2011 census (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 2013, 1), all we have to do is open the door and step into it.

Even if you do not carry the walk out in any critical way, simply thinking about the physical act of walking, and the somatic sensation of thoughtfully connecting oneself with the ground, turns the walk into something entirely different from a regular stroll. Your walk has then become a form of critical psychogeography: “Walking has created paths, roads, trade routes; generated local and cross-continental senses of place; shaped cities, parks; generated maps, guidebooks, gear, and, further afield, a vast library of walking stories and poems, of pilgrimages, mountaineering expeditions, meanders, and summer picnics. The landscapes, urban and rural, gestate the stories, and the stories bring us back to the sites of this history” (Solnit 2002, 4). This quote by Solnit, reflects the complexity of the relationship between urban space and walking, in particular in regard to texts on the city. The output of walking in the form of, say, maps and stories cannot be separated from our own impressions of the city itself.

Please click here for part 4 (final part).

Related Links:
Iain Sinclair in Walking Inside Out – Extract
Lose Yourself in Melbourne – David Prescott-Steed

Bibliography:
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. "Rural Population and Migration." 2013.
Prescott-Steed, David. The Psychogeography of Urban Architecture. Boca Raton: BrownWalker Press, 2013.
Sinclair, Iain. "A World You Never Knew Existed." Secret Britain, April 2009 2009, 4-6.
Solnit, Rebecca. Wanderlust: A History of Walking. London: Verso, 2002.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The SCRIB Project

The SCRIB Project has been put in place as a response to the continuing diminishment of and encroachment on our public spaces. This is down to a number of factors which, for convenience, we could place under the rubric of ‘neoliberal policy’. What is significant is how it appears to occur under our very noses without our even noticing it, unless we happen to live or work right next to a plot under development. Even then it can go unnoticed in the sense that the hoardings in front of the development eventually become naturalised within the urban landscape. It is a kind of slow creep which is something beyond urban crawl and is actually an effect of how urban planning works in contemporary times. It is the homogenising effect of the operation of capital in the public realm.

This project is in the very early stages of development. Please refer back to this blog for further information. Thank you.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Let’s Talk About What People Don’t Like About Psychogeography – Part 2


Please click here for part 1.

The Setting...

In recent times there have been what could be described as forms of low-level snobbery that have sprung up around psychogeography. For instance, for a reason I do not particularly understand, Will Self's column-turned-books on psychogeography have been harshly judged. Many people do not consider Self to be a psychogeographer, although it is unclear why. He certainly travels urban spaces on foot and also brings a personal perspective to his walks, so this may be more to do with a dislike of his media profile as a broadcaster/writer than as a psychogeographer. Sinclair, too, does not consider Self to be a psychogeographer, but he does not consider himself to be one either – so I appreciate something else might be occurring there. This is what Sinclair said to The Guardian journalist Stuart Jeffries in 2004: “For me, it's a way of psychoanalysing the psychosis of the place in which I happen to live. I'm just exploiting it because I think it's a canny way to write about London. Now it's become the name of a column by Will Self, in which he seems to walk the South Downs with a pipe, which has got absolutely nothing to do with psychogeography. There's this awful sense that you've created a monster” (cited in Jeffries , 2004).

In the same interview the writer and co-expounder of London history, Patrick Wright, is quoted as saying of Sinclair: "I don't care about Iain's hokey-pokey malevolent stuff", however, he praises Sinclair's work overall and its critique of Thatcherism's colonisation of space in the East End (cited in Jeffries, 2004). Wright’s criticism is levelled at Sinclair’s occult writing, though, but the language, nevertheless, is derogatory. Even if there is some elitism around what criteria should be attached to someone in order to classify them as a psychogeographer, attempting to locate a definitive criteria is not easy.

There also exists disapproval directed at the broad field of psychogeography. The most recent outspoken criticisms seem to be from Owen Hatherley. For instance in Tough Crowd in 2010 he said (in relation to his, at the time, new book): "I don't want Militant Modernism to be totally associated with the psychogeography industry that's around now. There are no ley lines in my books, there's no pentagrams" (2010, 32). I do find this somewhat presumptuous: a form of psychogeography practiced by one person is invariably different from that practiced by the next. I also feel there might be a slight flavour of high-handedness against the people he is alluding to here. Also, what, exactly, does he mean by "the psychogeography industry"? If he is referring to the co-opting of psychogeography by the marketplace, this is a criticism that should be levelled at the marketplace, not psychogeographers. In The London Review of Books, he brings up the subject again when discussing Jonathan Meades' book Museums Without Walls. He says: "However, unlike Iain Sinclair or the London 'psychogeographers', with their taste for pathetic fallacies and loathing for anything remotely new, Meades does not fetishise spaces between" (2013, 27). So, it seems, psychogeographers are also being 'called to task' for their discussions on liminal spaces.

Geoff Nicholson also has levelled some pejorative comments at psychogeography, although they are aimed rather more at the Situationists (as is the case with Rebecca Solnit) and some of the experiences he has had when attending specific events, such as the New York Conflux festival, where he attended a Situationist-type walk made by drawing around a martini glass on a map and following the route, of which he concludes: “It occurred to me, not exactly for the first time, that psychogeography didn’t have much to do with the actual experience of walking. It was a nice idea, a clever idea, an art project, a conceit, but it had very little to do with any real experience of walking, And it confirmed to me, what I’d really known all along, that walking isn’t much good as a theoretical experience” (2010, 150).

Doreen Massey also directs criticism at the Situationists’ perambulations in For Space (2005): “At its worst it can resolve into the least politically convincing of situationist capers – getting laddish thrills (one presumes) from rushing down dark passages, dreaming of labyrinths and so forth. (Is this not itself another form of eroticised colonisation of the city?)” (2005, 47). This expresses the often masculine approach to a particular form of psychogeography, also the colonising aspect already discussed in the introduction. Not that I would dismiss these “capers” outright. While they might not be considered critical in any way exploring our towns and cities in a way that opens up the space to us in a productive way, and that responds to our inner desire, is a form of self-expression and could be considered a counter strategy to the dominant signifiers that abound in urban space: “It doesn’t matter what the motivation is. What matters is that in each instance a kind of motivation nevertheless exists. It is that expectation in mind that informs which route we will take and, in this way, what we will see along the way to achieving it” (Prescott-Steed 2013, 45).

Related Links:
Tough Crowd
The Situationists

Bibliography:
Jeffries, Stuart. "On the Road." The Guardian, 2014.
Hatherley, Owen. "Re-Imagining Modernism." Tough Crowd, 2010, 31-48.
Hatherley, Owen. "Joe, Jerry and Bomber Blair." The London Review of Books, 2013, 27-30.
Massey, Doreen. For Space. London and Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2005.
Nicholson, Geoff. The Lost Art of Walking. Chelmsford: Harbour Books (East) Ltd, 2010.
Prescott-Steed, David. The Psychogeography of Urban Architecture. Boca Raton: BrownWalker Press, 2013.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Let’s Talk About What People Don’t Like About Psychogeography – Part 1



The Set...

So as to keep up-to-date with any current media-related references to psychogeography, from time to time I type into my search engine ‘psychogeography’ followed by the month and year. In April 2014 I did the same and an article in the The Guardian paired psychogeography with the name of a Britpop singer: ‘Damon Albarn and the Heavy Seas Review – Rich in Personal Psychogeography’ (2014). If Coverley thought ‘the game was up’ following Self’s articles in The Independent, I wonder what this says about psychogeography today? Even though it could be easy to be cynical about its current populist and mutable use, this is not a particularly constructive approach to take towards psychogeography. Rather than seeing it as a co-opting of the term, or an aligning of some individuals to something ‘trendy’ that we feel they have little connection to, we might see this as a compliment.

In the introduction to Walking Inside Out I mentioned how Iain Sinclair has often been placed in the position of defender of the field of psychogeography. Psychogeography has plenty of detractors and, while this could be seen as a negative reflection of it, I prefer to see it as promoting valuable discussion. It also enables an academic engagement with critics who are often outside academia. While I do not see myself as the current ‘union rep’ of psychogeography, I would like to look at some of the comments by some critics and work through the issues they have raised, since they are a reflection of what individuals think about psychogeography in Britain today and are, therefore, part of the project at hand.

Sinclair has expressed his own concerns about the term, however these are often decontextualized by others into snappy quotes ripe for media comment and at times represent a specific strand of psychogeography that he may be commenting on, or even based on another period of time in its development. For instance his references to it being a ‘franchise’ in the The Fortean Times are referring to an aspect of 1990s psychogeography: “There was a kind of strategy to this rebranding, I was quite happy to run with it as a franchise, as a way of talking about doing the things I'd always done and providing a useful description that could be discussed in public. It became a bit of a monster on the back of that” (Pilkington and Baker 2002, 3). I am not sure if this reflects the practice as it is in the 'noughties', at least not for the practitioners themselves and certainly not for the contributors included here. Nevertheless, the term 'franchise' alludes to the co-opting of it, such as its capitalisation as a 'product', which is a valid issue. While I believe the benefits of psychogeography far outweigh its negative effects, attempting to prevent its co-optation are difficult and ongoing, perhaps impossible (but this goes for culture in general - hence, the 'culture industry'). In postmodernity everything is potentially 'up for grabs' by consumer society.

In February 2014, on his blog The Great Wen: A London Blog, Peter Watts uploaded the post ‘New London Writing, or What the Fuck is Psychogeography Anyway?’. The title of the post implies that this is simply going to be a completely negative critique of the practice, where actually it is not unsympathetic and raises an important issue about property developers: “By my experience, then, psychogeography is used as much to shift property as it is to expand and combine the frontiers of space and mind, which is perhaps inevitable in London, where any amount of folklore and fauna only has any value if it can be seen to have a positive effect on land price” (Watts 2014). This, however, is a criticism levelled at the selling and procurement of real estate, and not one directed at psychogeographers or the work they do. Some of the potential problems in regards to capitalising on psychogeography include: unethical organisations aligning themselves with psychogeographers under the guise of appearing to address community-living issues, businesses adding it to their profile in the same way they do with corporate social responsibility, and the hijacking of it by capital by applying it to consumer products in order to exploit its commercial potential. However, I think it is still not popular enough for it to be re-appropriated to any real degree at this time. Also its, sometimes, political and/or often activist association might repel many (although this did not deter capital from co-opting the potential commerciality of punk). Alastair Bonnett says: “A much broader group of people are now interested and involved in psychogeography, many of whom have no interest in the Situationists. It may be argued that this is a form of depolitization of that psychogeography has outgrown the limited and exclusionary world of the revolutionary avant-garde” (2013).

While the elusiveness of the categorisation of psychogeography lends it to being a useful tool for the urban walker, this might also work against its co-opting within neoliberal discourse because it is so difficult to qualify (although the opposite might also be the case, its vagueness makes it pliable and, hence, appropriable). It is also possible that a 'bandwagon' of spurious psychogeographers could lead to the de-valuing of the term 'psychogeography', although this does go against the basic principles of the critique of the spectacle (as it would have been for the Situationists). However, none of these scenarios would be difficult to critically evaluate in a given setting providing you understand the political implications and marketing potential of media-hyped trends...

Please click here for part 2.

Related Links:
Iain Sinclair
Schizocartography
STEPZ: Psychogeography Zine

Bibliography:
Bonnett, Alastair. "Psychogeography." In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Geography, 2013.
Pilkington, Mark and Phil Baker. "City Brain." Fortean Times, 2002.
Watts, Peter. "New London Writing, or What the Fuck Is Psychogeography Anyway?": The Great Wen, 2014.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

A Psychoactive Trip Down Memory Lane Via Letsby Avenue


This is the first online review of Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography edited by Tina Richardson. The review is written by Jim Lawrence:

So being a psychogeographer (if you so choose to call yourself while you drift through the urban extended phenotype) is being a pavement Pope of Discord or a street-corner preacher in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an ambulatory ludibrium, a conceptual art joke, a psychoactive trip down Memory Lane via Letsby Avenue, a twerk beneath the cold glare of the CCTV’s lens, looning about in the city’s open spaces, an art praxis mashing up dancing and strolling, vogueing and rambling, joie de vivre in stout walking-boots. It is sole music.

Mervyn Coverley’s classic primer Psychogeography, published in 2006, is the essential guide to the history of psychogeography from its precursors in the 19th century via the Lettrists and the Situationist International to currents of drift in the 1990s (Stewart Home, the London Psychogeographical Association) and the literary meanderings of Papadimitriou, Ackroyd, Sinclair and Self. It’s a book you need to read if you want to get an understanding of how psychogeography got to where it was, generally standing about and not doing very much on some lost conceptual street corner, at the time of its publication. But what has been happening in the subsequent near-decade? Evidently it was time for a new overview of where psychogeography is going now and in the future; where Coverley’s book left off, a new and equally essential account of today’s psychogeographical doers and thinkers would have to take up the story. Read more.

Related links - click below for:
Contents
Chapters

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Psychogeography Crossword #1 - Answers

Here are the answers for Psychogeography Crossword #1:

Across
4. Watkins
5. Keiller
7. Other
8. Wandering
9. Hackney
11. Smellscapes
15. Alice
16. Vague

Down
1. Desire
2. Marshman
3. Urbexer
6. Emotional
10. Topography
12. Mytho
13. Concrete