Week 7: Psychogeography / Inner and Outer Journeys

psychogeography[1]This week we’ll be reading and thinking about psychogeography with a view to writing your next project [Project 5].  As a form or style or genre of writing it is, as with many of the forms we’ve explored so far, hard to define but it is characterized by the writer taking a solitary walk through a particualr environment. It is often a journey taken on the edge of places or that explore places on retreat or in decline. With this in mind much psychogeography is concerned with documenting loss or change. The 18th cnetrury poet John Clare is often cited as setting the precedent for this kind of writing – famous for his celebratory representations of the English Country side when enclosure legislation threatened an end to country life as was then known with its freedom to roam. More recently Will Self and Iain Sinclair have both – and with idiosyncraatic colour – made this style of writing a central part of their writing and intellectual practice.

Please read and watch the following and be prepared to come with responses and ideas for your own exploration of this for next class.

Sinclair on ‘motiveless walking’

Sinclair ‘On London’ extract

Sinclair ‘London Orbital’ ‘look inside’ chapter 1

Self – South Downs Way [extract]

The uses of Psychogeography – Self

What is Psychography?

Psychogeography has its soots in situationism of which Guy Debord was a key member Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”[. If you haven’t already read Perspective for Conscious Alterations of Everyday Life [see Week 2]  [Highmore Everyday Life reader] then do!

Watch [at least] some of this film:

There is a translation of French Voice Over available by following the link to a blog on the You Tube page. it’s very interesting to observe the way the camera’s eyes sees. With the v/o processes specific ideas and interpretations about ‘the seen’.

And for another fascinating filmic response to psychogeographical approaches to ‘landscape and journey writing have a look at Andrew Kottings Gallivant [UK 1995]. if you have a look at Sinclair’s web site you’ll see they’ve worjed together quite a bit.


2 thoughts on “Week 7: Psychogeography / Inner and Outer Journeys

  1. A Psychogeographic Journey

    Mill Road. Once a quiet country lane. Named after a windmill that used to stand on the corner of Covent Garden. No windmill now. Destroyed in a storm in 1840. A run-down Sally Anne shop stands in the gap it left behind.

    Mid-19th century, a belligerent university opposes a central railway. Decisions made. And a tucked away station is born to the east side of town. Followed by rapid development Mill Road exploded. 1801, population 252; 1831, pop 6,651; 1861, pop 11,848; 1891, pop 25,091 …

    Mill Road. A spine. Ribs branching off. Leading to some of the most expensive houses in Cambridge. Tiny Victorian shoe boxes. No parking. No gardens. But a train commuters haven for getting to London in less than fifty minutes. Busy, bustling, overburdened with traffic. Polluted and blighted by foreigners on hired bikes. A gateway out of the city centre. To some, a narrow, frustrating street to be endured. To others, home.

    Mill Road begins with a majestic swimming pool, a wood and glass creation, the shimmering swimmers inside, on display, on parade, oblivious to the shoppers and skateboarders outside. The route from the swimming pool towards the railway bridge is straight, and yet the walk feels disjointed, disorganised, a dance among strangers as you side-step, swerve, slide and walk on.

    A cacophony of conversations, all accents, all languages, spiralling above the constant hum, beeps and shrieks of traffic; the yell of an agitated pedestrian; the tring of a bicycle bell; the obscenities from an irate taxi driver.

    The original shops have over the years been replaced. The iron mongers, the Fine Fair, the greengrocer and kineme; now convenience stores, fast food, a drycleaners and a pool hall. But the food outlets are varied, something to tempt most taste buds. Malaysian. Subway. Chinese. Pizza Hut. Indonesian. Costa Coffee. Indian. Tesco. And CB1. Our very own internet cafe. The first one in Cambridge. Frequented by the academic reading the cheap books that are for sale; the geek tapping into free wifi; the at-home mum, drawn in by the sticky warmth and home-made cakes.

    Opposite is Ditchburn Place. Once a workhouse, now an old people’s home, having been an infirmary and a maternity home in previous lives. An old Victorian affair that lives on and on; a disjointed journey from the infirm to the newborn to the grave …

    The Victorian mansions that once housed the bourgeoisie, are dusty and grey, converted into grubby flats, casting shadows upon the narrow street. Tatty curtains hang at the still majestic bay windows. The tiled front yards are littered with old newspapers, empty boxes, cans, bottles, traffic cones. I count the bins but stop when I reach over one hundred. Every house has three; one blue, one black, one green. Each servicing a different rubbishy purpose. So many bins. So many options. Yet, the rubbish continues to accumulate on and around them. Never in.
    Further up the road a sea of white robes swarm before me. Friday. Young Muslim men dressed for afternoon prayer heading towards the mosque where a crowd has already gathered, animated, handsome and proud. A short distance away, the brooding Baptist church, its shallow brick wall playing host to a very different crowd. The homeless, the drunk, the unlucky. Metaphorically sticking their grubby fingers up at the sanctity of religion. A curious juxtaposition of pure and seedy, abstinence and excess.

    A pool of puke glistens on the pavement. A man tries to hide in the shadows of the church as he relieves himself. A woman sways, eyes bruised and unfocused. “Big Issue” slurs from her puffy sore lips. “No thank you”, I mutter, head down. Walk on. Walk on.

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