Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Extracts From Walking Inside Out - Memory, Historicity, Time

This is the first of a series of blogs that includes extracts from Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. This section is entitled ‘Memory, Historicity, Time’ and begins with a summary of that section followed by extracts from the individual chapters/authors.

Our relationship with the city is intrinsically tied up with our knowledge and memory of it. If a particular city is somewhere we know - from today or from our past - we are unable to separate our psychological responses to it from the materiality of the place itself. This, in fact, is psychogeography and is what makes us all psychogeographers to a degree. A sense of place connects us to a geographic region in a specific way that becomes apparent when we start to explore the emotions attached to particular urban pockets that spark something in us. It might be a memory from our adolescence, such as an independent record shop in our hometown where we purchased our first piece of vinyl, or a more recent memory we have of the experience of moving to a new town or city and the differing aesthetics of that place compared to our last home.

These memories are not separate from our self, they inform and form us. The experience of the everyday that is played out in space - walking to the train station, going to the supermarket, taking the dog for a walk – make up a significant part of our day. These practices are imprinted on our psyches over time, forming our relationship with space and at the same time are laid down in our memory of that place, creating our attachment to it. What is particularly pertinent to our memory of place is that it is subjective and partial – it cannot be anything other. It is this that lends itself to the multifarious and often contradictory accounts of specific spaces.

In this section contributions range from qualitative research on memory and place, to personal accounts which interweave fact and fiction. They express the variety of styles of writing on place, but also the effects of time and memory in the way that they become part of our own histories.

Walking Through Memory: Critical Nostalgia and the City
by Alastair Bonnett

This chapter explores how nostalgia for the city shapes the way we use it and think about its future. I will be examining how fond memories and a sense of loss amongst ex-residents shape their movement within and relationship to the city. Building on recent reappraisals of the role of nostalgia in psychogeography I point out overlaps and connections between avant-garde psychogeography and the supposedly conservative and backward-looking sensibilities of ex-urban residents. . .

The image of ex-residents of the city as “escapees” offers one of the most influential stereotypes of counter-urbanisation (for example, Osbaldiston 2010; Salt 2004). Yet the 26 interviews this chapter draws on suggests we should expand our vision of ex-residents towards a more complex picture of continuing engagement. It also allows us to begin mapping individuals’ memories of the city upon their contemporary use of the city. Our interviews were carried out with long-term ex-residents of Tyneside (an urban area comprised of the four Metropolitan Boroughs of Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Gateshead) are the now living along the Tyne valley to a distance of 22 miles (the principal towns in the study are Prudhoe, Corbridge and Hexham). “Long-term ex-residents” were defined as those who lived in Tyneside for over 10 years and left Tyneside over 10 years ago.

Our interview technique directed interviewees to talk about their early memories and then their contemporary use of the city. Each interview began with the request: “Tell me about your earliest memory of Tyneside”, eliciting a variety of rich accounts and pictures of the city. . .

The Art of Wandering: Arthur Machen’s London Science
by Merlin Coverley

In the summer of 2013, I was amongst a small group of fellow writers and enthusiasts who gathered in Caerleon in South Wales to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Arthur Machen. Here, in Machen’s birthplace, surrounded by the enchanted landscape that inspired him so greatly, we discussed his experiences of both Wales and his adopted city, London, and sought to account for the enduring impact of his work. For in recent years Machen has enjoyed something of a comeback; his many works, for so long out of print, have gradually been reissued, and his unique voice has found a new audience. And, as his inclusion in a series of essays such as this would suggest, this renewed interest has resulted to a large degree from his having been adopted, retrospectively, into the psychogeographical tradition, that community of writers and thinkers which enables a diversity of figures to come together, finding common ground where perhaps none might have been sought previously. It is Machen’s role within this tradition and his continued relevance to contemporary debates surrounding psychogeography that shall be the subject of this essay. . .

By 1936 when ‘N’ was first published, Arthur Machen was 73 years old and the books which had established his reputation, such as it now was, were long behind him: The Great God Pan (1894); The Three Impostors (1894); The Hill of Dreams (1907). This final period of Machen’s long career has since elicited little critical attention, and yet ‘N’ is perhaps his strangest and most revealing story. The title is intriguing, for while its meaning is impossible to establish with any degree of certainty, it may well refer simply to the area in which it is set, Stoke Newington being represented by the single letter N, the postal district for North London at this time. In this sense then, the story is almost, but not quite, the perfect backdrop to Machen’s search for the north-west passage, instead revealing a route to the north-east, but in any event a more romantically inclined title, to my mind, than its contemporary equivalent, N16. . .

Wooden Stones
by Gareth E. Rees

It’s the sea air, as I stand by the ruined pier, which brings me the first whiff of Mike’s memory. The instant the salt hits my nostrils I’m transported to that morning when he was found by a dog walker, laid gently on the rocks beneath the castle at low tide. It didn’t happen here in Hastings, though. You’d have to travel 900 miles north up the British coast to St Andrews in Fife, and nineteen years back in time, to see me beside the castle, staring in horror at what lay below. Mike was still wearing his tweed jacket, jeans and leather soled shoes. But his glasses were gone. It looked as if he was curled up asleep.

He was buried in a cemetery on the outskirts of Edinburgh among myriad rows of glittering marble on the brow of a vast manicured lawn, high above the city. Months later I left Scotland for a job writing radio adverts in Cardiff. A few years after that I migrated to London, where I lived for fifteen years, morphing into a middle-aged man with a wife and kids. I’ve been back to Edinburgh several times, but never to that cemetery. I never thought about why. Not until I came to live by the sea once again.

Not until I discovered the wooden stones. . .

Selective Amnesia and Spectral Recollection in the Bloodlands
by Phil Wood

Why I should spend my time walking around places that most people would choose to avoid has never been entirely clear to me. My parents suggest the experience of falling unnoticed into a subterranean coal cellar as a toddler, and spending several hours there, has burned itself into my subconscious. My childhood playgrounds were old colliery spoil heaps, slowly slipping back into nature, and I can recall the uncanny thrill of my first illicit entry to an abandoned building – the recently closed mine near my home at Lepton Edge in the British town of Huddersfield. Doubtless there is also the eerie experience of seeing the film Stalker (Tarkovsky 1979) at an impressionable age. Whatever, I can endorse Iain Sinclair’s view that the act of walking, or purposeful drift, is the route to revelation.

Yet it also seems, in my case at least, to be the places of past or recent tumult, where the silt has been stirred and agitated, that the greatest spectral potential lies. Thus, in Britain, it is no surprise I should be drawn to the remnants of the industrial revolution and its long tail (Edensor 2005; Hill 2013). But for decades I have been drawn also to the east of Europe – particularly the regions dubbed the Bloodlands (Snyder 2012) - where past and present still co-exist in a more dynamic and occasionally dangerous relationship. And, whilst industrial ruination proliferates (Pusca 2010; Schönle 2006), there are other sources of tumult too. In Britain most boundaries are defined by the sea, and ethnic identities have remained fairly stable for centuries whereas a 20th century resident of Lviv in western Ukraine, for example, might feasibly have been a subject of five different national jurisdictions without once having moved house (Snyder 2003). They would also have witnessed mass deportations of neighbours and other atrocious acts, many of which remain psychologically and politically unresolved, leaving behind unexorcised ghosts. . .

Please click here for more extracts: Outsider Psychogeography

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