2/28/2008

Psychogeography and its Discontents

I recently discussed with Simon from Ballardian, the limits of the term psychogeography. Is it possible to even use the term anymore? Certainly there is little amongst the current crop of psychogeographic literature that correlates to what the Situationists meant by the word, which might better have been named psychogeometry.

The so-called ressurector of the practice, Iain Sinclair (who doesn’t really claim to be a true practitioner anyway) is more concerned with the arcane titbits of Hackney’s hidden cervices than anything else, while Will Self (who, judging by his book’s title, does claim to be a practitioner) and his pontifications on landcape architecture and sojourns to Barcelona, published in the Independent on Sunday and British Airways Magazine, are not psychogeography in either sprit or content. Anarchists like Stuart Home have dragged into the movement occultist elements that Debord would not recognize, while JG Ballard has been reluctantly dragged in himself by various lazy journalists.

The question I faced in founding a Melbourne Psychogeographic Society was, with so many disparate elements, does it make any sense to use the term anymore? After all, the word was never even meant to mean anything anyway, Debord ascribing its coinage to “an illiterate”. I chose the thesaurus-tastic term ‘cognitive topography’ for this blog, but for all of my concerns of its tainted or contradictory associations, the word psychogeography remains a usefully recognisable term in a way that 'cognitive topography' and other neologisms are not.

I was relieved then to find the question solved, insightfully as ever, by Iain Sinclair in a recently published interview:

‘I’ve been doing what everybody else has been doing for years, but now there’s a convenient label, a franchise, "psychogeography". It goes back to De Quincey, theRomantics, you wander this landscape without necessarily having preconceived notions, follow your impulses and drift into the street. Sometimes this is looked on as a derangement of the senses, a hallucinogenic high, a drug vision transposed onto the town. Sometimes it becomes Situationism or Psychogeography or this Baudelairean dandy looking at reflection in windows. Sometimes it’s Walter Benjamin. It is still the same human impulse to get out, to align yourself with what is out there and to treat the city as a kind of book or library, an open gallery, exploded museum. All of these things are true and it means covering the city from night to day and it means noticing the meat markets and slaughterhouses, the pubs, going underground to sewers and cellars and up into church towers. The theory and description is redundant as far as I’m concerned, you can apply whatever franchising slogans to the same impulse in whatever historical period’.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

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I read an article that about psychogeography that you may found interesting......In "Formulary for a New Urbanism," Chtcheglov had written "Architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space, of modulating reality, of engendering dreams". Similarly, the Situationists found contemporary architecture both physically and ideologically restrictive, combining with outside cultural influence, effectively creating an undertow, and forcing oneself into a certain system of interaction with their environment: "Cities have a psychogeographical relief, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes which strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones"

pk said...

Smooth Sinclair as ever: but I have to say that after reding Rose-red Hackney just now, it all has a much more trainspottery air to it than I'd realised. Is 'derive' really just French for 'anorak'? Are there any female psychogeographers? Certainly Sinclair's long suffering wife didn't appear to be having any of it.....

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