Psychogeography is a long Humpty Dumpty word that seems to mean whatever you want it to mean. It is a very trendy concept as publishers have discovered to their profit.
Roughly speaking, most people agree that it is something to do with the effect that a place has on the emotions. So any time you go for a walk, take a journey by a method of mechanical propulsion, travel with your mind you are doing psyhogeography if you are reacting to the ‘scenery’. Or the building. Or the ruin. Or the tunnel. The pure psychogeographer will always walk. Walking in the tradition of psychogeography going back to Daniel Defoe is akin to holiness, but in the Humpty Dumpty world we make of the concept what we will, and what we agree upon for more than ten minutes. Still, walking itself is a category of its own and well worth keeping so, although like all concepts it will bleed into others and make a mess.
One cherished aspect of psychogeography for its adherents is its vagueness. Vaguness is in vogue among concept dissolvers. have a look here at some thoughts on the subject, though the site hasn’t been updated for a while.
Of course you could be skeptical and point out that if you are feeling bad anyway, you’ll project that onto what is around you. The miserable, brilliant poet Philip Larkin ended his poem I Remember, I Remember like this:
I suppose it’s not the place’s fault,’ I said.
‘Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.’
Sexual intercourse was only invented in 1963 according to Larkin, and the idea of psychogeography did not exist in his time at all, even though people were moving about on their feet or trains etc. If the word had existed he would have been very cynical about it. But he was cynical about most things.
With that simple distancing from a whole-hearted companionship with psychogeographers, read on to be stimulated. Those extracts marked * are taken from Merlin Coverley’s short book, Psychogeography which is packed full of nuggets to pinch and/or converse about, blog, write your own book.
Unfold a street map of London, place a glass, rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw round its edge. Pick up the map, go out into the city, and walk the circle, keeping as close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go, in whatever medium you favour: film, photography, manuscript, tape. Catch the textual run-off of the streets; the graffiti, the branded litter, the snatches of conversation. Cut for sign. Log the data-stream. Be alert to the happenstance of metaphors, watch for visual rhymes, coincidences, analogies, family resemblance, the changing moods of the street. Complete the circle, and the record ends. Walking makes for content; footage for footage.
(taken from: Robert MacFarlane: A Road of One’s Own, Times Literary Supplement, Oct 07, 2005) *
‘I’ve taken to long-distance walking as a means of dissolving the mechanised matrix which compresses the space-time continuum, and decouples human from physical geography’ Will Self quoted in Mediaballs, Private Eye, 2005 *
“I’ve taken to long-distance walking as a means of dissolving the mechanised matrix which compresses the space-time continuum, and decouples human from physical geography. So this isn’t walking for leisure — that would be merely frivolous, or even for exercise — which would be tedious. No, to underscore the seriousness of my project I like a walk which takes me to a meeting or an assignment; that way I can drag other people into my eotechnical world view. ‘How was your journey?’ they say. ‘Not bad,’ I reply. ‘Take long?’ they enquire. ‘About ten hours,’ I admit. ‘I walked here.’ My interlocutor goggles at me; if he took ten hours to get here, they’re undoubtedly thinking, will the meeting have to go on for twenty? As Emile Durkheim so sagely observed, a society’s space-time perceptions are a function of its social rhythm and its territory. So, by walking to the business meeting I have disrupted it just as surely as if I’d appeared stark naked with a peacock’s tail fanning out from my buttocks while mouthing Symbolist poetry.”
― Will Self, Psychogeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place
“Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking
“To walk is to lack a place. It is the indefinite process of being absent and in search of a proper. The moving about that the city mutliplies and concentrates makes the city itself an immense social
experience of lacking a place — an experience that is, to be sure, broken up into countless tiny deportations (displacements and walks), compensated for by the relationships and intersections of these exoduses that intertwine and create an urban fabric, and placed under the sign of what ought to be, ultimately, the place but is only a name, the City…a universe of rented spaces haunted by a nowhere or by dreamed-of places.”
― Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life