Monday, 5 October 2015

Extracts from Walking Inside Out – Power and Place

This is the third of a series of blogs that includes extracts from Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. This section is entitled ‘Power and Place’ and begins with a summary of that section followed by extracts from the individual chapters/authors. Please click here for the other extracts: ‘Memory, Historicity, Time’ and ‘Outsider Psychogeography'.

The psychogeographical project, as it was for the Situationists, was to tear down the spectacle and reorder space so as to express the needs and desires of the community. They did this in a number of ways, such as through their Unitary Urbanism project which involved redesigning city architecture. But in a practical way this was carried out through their dérives. By formulating chance routes through the city, the Situationists challenged the domineering nature of urban décor and offered a new approach to the city. By, literally, chopping out the areas of the city they disliked – for instance, areas dominated by the spectacle or under redevelopment – they reformed sections of existing city maps into quarters of their own choosing. These quarters reflected their own urban preferences and they added ambiances to them to express what they would represent in their new city, for example, Happy Quarter. The new maps, the Guides Psychogeographiques or the Naked City maps, suggested a new way of moving through urban space that was counter to the capitalist dominated city and encouraged people to reconnect with a city they were increasingly being pushed out of through bureaucracy and urban planning.

For many contemporary psychogeographers, even those who would not consider themselves to be activists, the imposed boundaries that appear in urban space represent power structures that are critiqued as part of their practice. It is the critical act of walking in urban space that enables one to understand first-hand how power operates on the body-politic in subtle and enduring ways. While there have been a number of psychogeographical movements since the disbandment of the Situationists in 1972, as there still are today, it is the SI that holds a prominent place in our memory when discussing political urban walking practices. The chapters here offer a historical overview of the activist project of the SI in relation to psychogeography, alongside a subjective account of running an urban walking group in the 21st century. These essays are very different to each other in form and writing style and reflect the heterogeneity of psychogeographic writing today.

Psychogeography Adrift: Negotiating Critical Inheritance in a Changed Context
by Christopher Collier

‘Psychogeography’ was codified in the mid-20th century to explore the effects of spatiotemporal situations on subjectivity and enjoyed a resurgence in the UK during the 1990s. It has seen further renewal within contemporary culture, particularly in conjunction with the development of its own tentative canon as a literary subgenre. Debate on the ‘recuperation’ of psychogeography has occurred between various practitioners, partially coloured by the polemical approach of the practice’s early avant-garde propagators.

I propose that both sides of such a debate are somewhat problematic: firstly, the ‘literary’ conception of psychogeography, as an artistic tradition, not only tends to disavow its radical Marxist heritage, but also fails to account for the conditions of its 1990s re-emergence, fundamentally based as they were in social praxis and politicised material culture.

Secondly however, to decry psychogeography’s fundamentally ‘literary’ or ‘artistic’ dimension as recuperation is also unsatisfactory, implying a fall, or troubling deviation from definitive, political origins. Such notions of recuperation deploy a neat, stagist narrative, at odds with the manner of psychogeography’s emergence and proliferation. Focusing on psychogeography as a primarily critical practice that has been recuperated potentially fails to acknowledge its immanent, open and pre-figurative dimensions. It also glosses over a number of developments since the 1950s and thus risks trapping psychogeography in the ideology critiques of a former age.

By briefly re-examining the conditions of psychogeography’s renewal in the 1990s, looking at its embeddedness in contemporaneous social praxis, I argue that psychogeography is literary, but in an iterative, excessive sense - as what one might tentatively call ‘infra-literary’, that is ‘literature’ as a material, social activity and a condition of possibility for collective subjectivation and resistance. By using this term ‘infra-literary’, I mean to imply the submerged, amorphous, material basis of communication networks and everyday resistance that as Stevphen Shukaitis notes, is already apparent in former Situationist Raoul Vaneigem’s description of “an infra-language”, around which “declarations of power dance wildly” when they cannot grasp or define its contents (Shukaitis 2009, 194; Vaneigem n.d., 24). This, Shukaitis implies, corresponds with the conception of ‘infrapolitics’ articulated by James Scott (Scott 1990) and Robin D.G. Kelly (Kelley 2002): “[T]he partially hidden public sphere […] a space that is somewhat encoded or otherwise made less comprehensible and legible to the view of those in power” (Shukaitis 2009, 209). What I intend is not literature in the sense of a necessarily individualised, commercially or academically published discourse, but something more akin to a literary ‘dark matter’, to appropriate Gregory Sholette’s metaphor, an underground potentiality, an undercommons, related to what Stewart Home—deploying the Russian term for clandestine, self-published literature—labels ‘samizdat’ (Sholette 2011; Home 1991, 102). I propose this practice has functioned as the material cultural and social basis that nourishes psychogeography’s more visible literary or artistic ‘tradition’.

Confessions of an Anarcho-Flâneuse or Psychogeography the Mancunian Way
by Morag Rose

This chapter explores my experiences as a founder member, and continued participant in, The Loiterers Resistance Movement (LRM) a Manchester based psychogeographical collective. The first time I heard the word 'psychogeography' I had a minor epiphany, because it seemed to me to give a shape (albeit an amorphous one) to something I could feel on the streets but not quite define. It was 2006 and I was involved in running an autonomous, anarchist social centre which we constructed in a disused warehouse in Manchester, as an attempt to create a non-commercial alternative space in the rapidly expanding neo-liberal city. Around this time I drew a Venn diagram to explain my conception of psychogeography.

I still believe this to be a good illustration of contemporary psychogeography’s seductive interdisciplinary qualities, although it misses the vital all-encompassing circle of embodied experience. By this I mean the multi-sensual interaction produced through walking and its capacity to generate a relationship between self, space and left-behind traces; the reason why I believe walking has terrific power as a kinaesthetic learning tool. At the time The LRM was founded I was somewhat disillusioned and burnt out from conventional activism, and frustrated by what I felt was the limited impact of shouting (and indeed writing) about spatial justice and inequality. I wanted to explore the use of psychogeography as a participatory tool to disseminate radical theories and stimulate critical debate. It was crucial to me that Loitering was a form of stealth politics that hid its intention under ludic joy, inspired in part by the imperfect avant-garde neo-Marxism of the Situationists. It is important to acknowledge here other Loiterers have different influences, motivations and memories. Early members included artists, activists, academics and a heterogeneous treasury of moochers who were curious about their environment. We wanted to be as open and welcoming as possible and our fluid structure still reflects this; people float in and out and define their own level of commitment. Some see Loitering purely as an aesthetic or social activity and indeed the convivial atmosphere during the post-dérive debrief, almost always in the pub amidst a cacophony of shared experiences, is very enticing. Many new, enduring and often unexpected alliances have formed during our walks. For me, psychogeography primarily offered a form of public engagement with radical theory that was fun, irreverent and active, a praxis developed out of a desire to find appealing methods to critique the hegemonic view of the city.

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