Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Extracts from Walking Inside Out – The Walker and the Urban Landscape

This is the fifth and final of a series of blogs that includes extracts from Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. This section is entitled ‘The Walker and the urban Landscape’ 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’, ‘Outsider Psychogeography’, ‘Power and Place’ and ‘Practicing Psychogeography.

The solitary walker situated within the landscape is not a modern phenomenon, even if the term psychogeography is. The cover of Terry Eagleton’s The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1990) shows Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog) (1818) by Caspar David Friederich. It depicts a man in a frock coat standing on a craggy rock with his back towards us, contemplating the buffeting sea below. He carries a walking stick, telling us that he is a walker and has not just pulled up in his Landau where his coachman awaits his return. The wanderer is elevated above the sea of which he looks down and is separated from. What this image depicts is the privileged position of this figure in the landscape. Not just because of his elevated position on the rocks, but because he is male, middle-class, Western and white (his red hair is blowing in the wind, the colour punctuating the image). Our protagonist represents both the 18th century coloniser and the stereotype of a classical psychogeographer.

However, in the 21st century psychogeography takes up multiple positions. From the perspective of the background, gender and age of the individual urban walker, to their relationship with urban space itself. Today the walker feels some sort of direct connection to the space s/he explores, even if that is from a critical position. It is no longer about the tourist’s gaze, but a reflexive response where both the walker and the space s/he moves about in is momentarily changed. This section looks at the different perspectives a walking critic might take and provides three different urban spaces in order to demonstrate the variety of places available for interpretation. Taking the perspective of two walkers, and providing one analysis of the writing of a walker, these essays draw upon the place of the contemporary psychogeographer in the everyday landscape.

Incongruous Steps Towards a Legal Psychogeography
by Luke Bennett

In Scarp: in search of London’s outer limits (2012), Nick Papadimitriou conjures with many dissonant ideas, images and registers. In this short essay I will dissect two of his strange conjunctions, and in doing so consider through them the prospects for extending contemporary British psychogeography’s embrace of the incongruous – the out of place, the absurd and the out of keeping – beyond psychogeography’s usually aesthetically inclined preoccupation with liminality, and into the mundane sphere of law’s everyday manifestations within the built environment. Papadimitriou takes us – early on in his traverse along the escarpment of what is now the lost county of Middlesex – to ‘Suicide Corner’, a stretch of the A41 snaking out its path North West of London. He recounts for us a succession of fatal car crashes, and of the people, creatures and other matter caught up in each event that occurred there. In doing so he draws forth isolated incidents, from the pages of long forgotten local newspapers and memory, activating these incidental archives in order to show a reverberation of these events within the landscape itself. At one point in his rumination Papadimitriou figures an anonymous “civil engineer working for the transport ministry” who “through eyeing the scraggy wood just to the north of the farmhouse, sees only camber, curve and how best to extend the planned M1 extension over this high ground from its present terminus” (Papadimitriou 2012, 20).

Papadimitriou captures in this passage how the task-orientated gaze of the engineer sees the topography as a set of logistical challenges, a puzzle to solve as he works through in his mind’s eye the most feasible path for his roadway. Papadimitriou’s description seeks to show how all other sensory inputs are blocked (or discarded) as irrelevant to this man’s purpose. He is standing there for a reason. He is harvesting the landscape for what he needs today.

Longshore Drift: Approaching Liverpool from Another Place
by Roy Bayfield

There was a single silver hair resting between the pages of the free Metro newspaper I found on the seat of the train to Waterloo (Merseyside) station, the starting point for the walk. It was quite early but the Northern Line train had already been back and forth a few times between the Lancashire market town of Ormskirk and the centre of Liverpool, an artery for a half-hour commute – the strand of hair, with its burden of time, could have belonged to anyone. The cover of the Metro that day was a wraparound advertisement for Merseyrail, asking the question: “want to know more about you and me?” (Metro, 2013). Inside, a short article stated that “ONE in six of us is so averse to walking that we rarely venture 500m (1,600ft) from the car” (ibid., 9). Signs were starting to manifest.

I changed trains at Sandhills and travelled to Waterloo, not quite reaching the city before heading out to its edge. At the station I had my first sighting of an image of Antony Gormley’s Another Place sculptures, aka the Iron Men, on a fading print over the stairs from the platform up to street level. It would be the first of many – sightings of two dimensional digital ghosts outnumbering the three-dimensional metal figures of the actual installation. As well as the Gormley image (a lone metal figure staring out to sea) there were other images of people sited around the stairs: pictograms depicting various ways to exit the station – climbing stairs, using the lift in a wheelchair, or pushing a pushchair. Outside the station, a map of the area included a sponsor logo based on a Gormley figure rendered into silhouetted pictogram form; I now knew that (wherever else I was) I was in the territory of the Crosby and Waterloo Business Village Partnership and that an Iron Man was their avatar. From pre-walk research I also knew myself to be in Merseyside...

Walking the dog. (For those who don’t know how to do it.)
by Ian Marchant

I’m a sort-of-travel writer. I’ve published three sort-of-travel books. Sort-of-travel books are usually shelved with the actual travel books. I get shelved in ‘travel’, and so does Iain Sinclair, the granddaddy of both British psychogeography and sort-of-travel writers, and so do Will Self’s psychogeographical writings. I am on the same shelves as the psychogeographers, but I’m not of their number. Psychogeography is not what I do. My stuff is too full of people, or too full of rambling anecdotes about my nocturial adventures. This would be forgivable maybe, if I was from a city. Or even interested in cities.

Whoever has tried to define what psychogeography is, however wildly they might disagree about everything else, they all agree that it is something that can only be done in cities, on foot, and with a pinch of Theory. Theory, fair enough, hands up, (or Theory Lite, anyway) but I don’t do cities.

I live in a little town called Presteigne. My wife and I go shopping in Hereford, our nearest city, 25 miles away. The Cathedral is worth a visit, and the best place for lunch is All Saints. Our engagement with Hereford is entirely bourgeois. I work two days in a week at Birmingham City University, in a respectably edgy part of the city, partway between Villa Park and The Hawthorns. It’s a two hour drive due east of Presteigne, and I never get out of the car until I’m in the University Car Park, and I never go off campus.

Other than Birmingham and Hereford, the main cities I go to are small French provincial ones, on holiday with my wife. We visit the cathedral and have lunch in a bistro. When I go to London I go to meetings, and afterwards I bimble around the bookshops and then maybe go to a show, or a talk. I have neither the time nor the inclination to go yomping round abandoned multi-storey car parks.

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