Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Setting Up a World

Phenomenology and Cultural Amnesia in General Orders No.9

In this article, Tina Richardson reviews General Orders No.9, written and directed by Robert Persons and released in 2009, and reflects on the geography of loss and forgetting:

On its website, General Orders No. 9 describes itself thus: “An experimental documentary that contemplates the signs of loss and change in the American South as potent metaphors of personal and collective destiny”. As a psychogeographer, the word ‘loss’ is not lost on me, since a wealth of psychogeographical accounts and related literary texts exist on this very subject. Written and directed by Robert Persons, the award-winning General Orders No. 9 would make for a very neat analysis along the lines of nostalgia, haunting and memory – quite possibly one of a deconstruction.

Despite this ‘call’ to me from General Orders No. 9 to write about these themes directly, I will be exploring them rather more indirectly through the concept of centring, in particular under the rubric of cultural forgetting such that it is concerned with ideas around concealing and revealing. By comparing the idea of ‘man’s progress’ (in regards to its impact on ‘nature’) with Martin Heidegger’s example of the Greek temple in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’, I will discuss how this forgetting operates through an ideological ‘naturalness’ that enables humans to operate with a high degree of amnesia when it comes to environmental impact.

In his essay Heidegger states that the temple reveals little in terms of its content – it is what it represents that is important because ‘god is present in the temple’ (2000: 89). It is this understanding, and the power invested in the temple by the people, that designates its authority. The temple’s centre of power forms the nexus for the connections and relationships which guide the lives of the people and frame their future. In Persons’ film, this centre appears as the Courthouse in the centre of the Town, which is in the centre of the County, which is in the centre of the State of Georgia in the United States:” Here there is a sense of order. From above and below, from within and without. This shall be the centre of the world. The pillar of heaven” (Persons 2009).
Heidegger’s temple serves many functions. It constitutes the law, society and culture, it is the central point of socio-cultural connections, and it is also the originator of truth and knowledge. The temple “makes visible the invisible” (2000: 89). As Heidegger explains, the early morning light lands on the temple marking the beginning of the day to the people. The form and order of their world is thus defined and the citizens go about their day within this pre-given framework. Later, the sunset signals the closing down of the world, and the people return home having made meaning and sense out of their day. So, too, the people of the Town are guided by the clock tower on the Courthouse, which informs their day, being a reminder of where they are and where they should be. The Courthouse represents order and form, and the Town’s citizens make meaning from this in the same way that the Greeks made meaning from their lived experiences via the temple. The temple/Courthouse “clears and illuminates” (ibid.) by providing delineated physical and existential boundaries, and a well-recognised centre: “The Courthouse is the man and the County is the world [and] the roads of the County meet like the spokes of a wheel and it appears as a world entire” (Persons 2009). This is what Heidegger calls “setting up a world” (2000: 91).
But, this all changes with the development of the new interstate, which scythes its way through the County, coming within half-a-mile of the Courthouse: “The interstate does not serve, it possesses. It has the power to make the land invisible to our attention” (Persons 2009). The City eventually appears at the locus of three interstates, becoming “an image that suggests a centre…but it is a false centre” (Persons 2009). The City has displaced the Courthouse. Yet, the City is unrepresentable and cannot be made sense of in any way that provides meaning to the citizens. The lack of a physical centre has the effect of decentring the postmodern individual, leaving them open to a fluidity that exposes them to unpredictable networks and flows. The film’s narrator (William Davidson – his voice spookily reminiscent of Captain Willard, played by Martin Sheen, in Apocalypse Now) explains to us that he searches for “Some level of communion, some sign of belonging, the realisation of one’s part to the City’s whole” (Persons 2009). This new temple no longer “gives to things their look and to men their outlook on themselves” (Heidegger 2000: 89). Heidegger’s god has now “fled from the temple” (ibid.). The temple is ruined: “You’re not a witness to the ruin. You are the ruin. You are to be witnessed” (Persons 2009).

Providing the citizens believed that the temple still contained their god this process of revealing and hiding of the world continued to remake the world anew every day. They needed to be content in their forgetting of the fact that they were actually the builders of the temple in the first place, and were the ones responsible for placing their god there. G. Spencer Brown, a mathematician and expert in boundary algebra, explains: “Thus the world, when ever it appears as a physical universe, must always seem to us, its representatives, to be playing a kind of hide-and-seek with itself. What is revealed will be concealed, but what is concealed will again be revealed” (1972: 106). And it is through this concept of hide-and-seek that cultural amnesia takes place.

The temple had been created by the people for their gods, but in that very act of creation, in that singularity that denoted a new moment in history (and saw representation as symbolising knowledge), man had forgotten that he was the creator of the temple. In a bizarre kind of mass forgetting the temple as representation was forgotten and instead formed the ground upon which man based his life, it became “the naming power of the word” (Heidegger 2000: 91). The temple became the primary position from which all other positions were related (logos), so did the Courthouse. It is through this naturalising process of ideology (Louis Althusser) that the Greeks collectively forgot they were the creators of their temple and thus relocated their power there. Heidegger says that with the “temple-work” the material (the concrete phenomenological matter) does not disappear but causes itself to appear as if for the very first time in the opening of the world (2000: 91). This concretisation of ideology in the temple itself is continually reproduced in every moment. The temple in its “setting forth” (ibid.) out of the material of its manufacture emerges from a ground position. The Greek people, and the citizens of the Town, simply (and self-reflexively) glanced at the symbol of their respective temples, thus actualising their self-created ideology and completing the circle of praxis.

But, this is a double forgetting. The citizens also created the City.
Spencer Brown explains how this takes place: “we somehow cleverly obscured this knowledge from ourselves, in order that we might navigate ourselves through a journey of rediscovery, consisting in series of justifications and proofs with the purpose of again rendering, to ourselves, irrefutable evidence of what we already knew” (1972: 106). This self-reflection is echoed in the film when the narrator says:” At some point we accept that everything – your ideas, your certainty, even what you think is right – they are all deceptions of greater or lesser degree” (Persons 2009). So, we have a glimmer of a revealing that comes to us in moments of clarity, when the game of hide-and-seek with the world becomes a game of existential hide-and-seek: “we somehow cleverly obscured this knowledge from ourselves through a journey of rediscovery, consisting in a series of justifications and proofs with the purpose of again rendering, to ourselves, irrefutable evidence of what we already knew” (Spencer Brown 1972: 106).
But, the lens then closes, the light dims and the world’s course becomes, yet again, inevitable. The realisation of what we have done to the world is pushed aside and we return to that place of security, the knowable centre: “there is only one thing. Nothing else matters. This is the one thing. The County is at the centre of the State. The Town is at the centre of the County. The Courthouse is at the centre of the Town” (Persons 2009).

The film ends.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Collyhurst Calling: 20 Million Years in the Making

By Stephen Marland

The road rises as you leave the billiard table-top topography of Central Manchester, east towards rising hills and the falling valleys of the Irk and Medlock. Your confinement in the tight, huddled streets and architectural canyons, opens to a distant vista of the Pennines, slowly your world seems different, wider.

You are in Collyhurst.

Listen, the whisper of zephyr on silica, hammer on cold steel chisel, there’s music in the air!

Geologists use the term Collyhurst Sandstone for the soft red sandstone, which occurs in North West England. It is a sedimentary rock, created from desert sands blown into dune formations during the Early Permian period, when the area was within the desert belts to the north of the equator.

Historically the area provided much of the stone which built Manchester. The native stone proving easy to work and transport, before the arrival of the canal and rail links that fired the industrial revolution. The rock, however, is not very resistant to erosion and disintegrates relatively quickly, much of that which was built is now well weathered or gone.

We are in a state of permanent, post-Permian impermanence.

The Collyhurst Quarry, no longer worked, was to become a pleasure gardens, the dark abyss illuminated by lantern, music, dance and the illicit romance of the night.

Mr Tinker named his idyll Elysian Gardens, after the place in Greek mythology where the souls of the heroic and the virtuous were laid to rest, and later Vauxhall Gardens, as in London's renowned place of recreation. His gardens were adorned by 3,000 coloured lights and those who paid 1s 6d to enter in the early 1800s were treated to a night which was at once intelligent, rural and delightful.

The band did not play on.

Now landscaped and badged as ‘Sandhills’, something of a misplaced, forlorn inner-city country park. Care worn cast metal arches proclaim the name at every entrance, announcing an event that never really seems to happen. The Lottery funded movement of earth forms gentle yet steep curves of close cut grass, crossed with paths, simply lacks focus. To walk it is to embrace the man-made void, made whole again in the near distant buildings of the city centre, to imagine the mass movement of mass, by river rafts along the Irk Valley. The artifice of the space is overwhelming and all-embracing 280 million years in the making, through geological time to today, in an instant, but where are we going?

The area is literally built on shifting sands, one can’t help but be minded of those wind-blown Permian deserts.

Collyhurst was once at the very centre of industrial Manchester. Large tracts of social housing were built in the area, for a settled workforce and community that fuelled and fed that City’s steady beating heart.

That industry and heart are now elsewhere, the Sixties estates and their inhabitants however, prevail – the people that prospered during the 'good times' are just about hanging on. I talked with passersby who told the familiar tale of the young leaving the area, for fresher fields.

They just don’t think this is a good area to live.

Related links:
Eastford Square

Saturday, 21 May 2016

It’s a Sociologist’s Paradise: Tripping in Manchester

Yesterday, May 20th 2016, myself and Birmingham artist Ally Standing carried out a research-trip-cum-dérive in Manchester in preparation for our upcoming exhibition entry at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. We will be submitting a special exhibition edition of STEPZ - please click here to find out about the pilot edition from 2015 - with accompanying artwork. STEPZ: Between The Rollerama and the Junk Yard will be available at the exhibition (and online) and is a psychogeography zine inspired by Manchester, Northern Psychogeography and the work of John Cooper Clarke. Below are some of my favourite photos from our day in Manchester.

The above was spotted by Ally on top of The Old Nag’s Head. It’s quite freaky to see, even when you know it is only a mannequin dummy. What can she see from her vantage point? And, how did she climb up there with those high-heels on?

Wet rising ‘cupboards’ are everywhere. So are dry risings (or risers). You see them inside of buildings and, here, outside of buildings. But, have we ever really asked what they are? Well they are valves and networks providing access to water.

This image was on the side of a building. The photo looks a bit 1980s and her outfit looks rather Lene Lovich inspired. The image has been inset into what perhaps was a proper window at some time. We saw a lot of window-tax filled-in windows.

Here Ally is admiring Richard Ashcroft’s suit. This building had graffiti on all the shutters and framed music-related posters all along this side of it. I didn’t make a note of what the building was, but it could have been a music venue.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Online Cultural Theory Lectures by Doctor Hat

Below is a series of lectures available on YouTube which all take place in the famous Freud Disco Study. The lectures are predominantly of a cultural theory and psychogeography nature and cover areas such as: subjectivity, semiology, psychoanalysis, cartography, urban walking, ideology, etc. You can view an introduction here or click on the links below to take you to more information and to the online lecture itself:

Introduction to the Lecture Series
Are You Interpellated?
What is Myth?
What Does the Map Represent?

Introduction to the Lecture Series

Are You Interpellated?

Abstract: A lecture on the theory of ideology by Louis Althusser. By providing examples from popular culture and psychogeography, this lecture explores the concept of interpellation as discussed by Althusser in 'Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses'.

Audience: Undergraduate students in the area of cultural studies, psychogeography, politics, psychology, media and philosophy. Anyone interested in: neo-Marxist approaches, how ideology operates on individuals and how subjectivity is socio-politically formed.

What’s covered: ideology, interpellation, structuralism, the State, civic life, the family, subjectivity, psychogeography, popular culture (film).

What is Myth?

Abstract: A lecture on Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. Concentrating on his essay ‘Myth Today’, this lecture introduces Barthes’ second-order semiological system and demonstrates how to carry out a semiological analysis.

Audience: Undergraduate students in the area of cultural studies, literature, media and philosophy. Anyone interested in advertising, language or literature.

What’s covered: semiotics, language, myth, ideology, popular culture, structuralism.

What Does the Map Represent

Abstract: A lecture on mapping that critiques the modernist cartographic project. Themes explored are: the centred subject, inside/outside, map/territory and reality versus representation. This lecture compares the traditional analysis of maps with the psychoanalytical approach to dream analysis.

Audience: Undergraduate students in the area of cultural studies, cartography, postmodern geography, history and psychoanalysis. Anyone interested in maps in general.

What’s covered: cartography, ideology, dream analysis, representation, praxis, Sigmund Freud, Claudio Minca, world fairs.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Abominable Snowman Theory

By Julian Isaacs

Yeti. Yet-i. Yet, in English also means still, whilst the French for yet is encore, which also means again.

Cixous addressed women writing in white ink, the yeti leaves an abominable white footprint in white snow. It is a carbon footprint of a yet to be rewritten text, but the copy is white on white.

This is apperceptively impaired downhill skiing, over glacial lakes, fleeing an avalanche of cognisance, until we take sanctuary in an igloo walled by the abominable footprint and can read again. Waiting, as for Godot, for a St. Bernard with a small barrel of comprehension round its neck.

Mortality is just immortality, without the i-m or I'm and thus holds its own cold glamour. An ice pick, as Trotsky found out to his cost, is both a means of survival on the mountain, and a lethal weapon. A lot can go wrong between the base camp and the superstructure: let us remain conscious that Althusser strangled his wife and went mad. Murder as one of the colder arts: creative writers' darlings, Marxist theorists and Communist leaders are all ripe for the cull. The Andes are a postDada variorum edition of T. H. White, the sword in the crevasse.

The higher we go, the colder we get; the wider, the more evasive the white footprint we search. The higher we go, the harder we search; the search holds an Icarian allure.

The defining feature of the abominable snowman is we only ever see his footprint, his trace. The footprint is like a casting from which the statue has escaped. It is a false palimpsest, not even a slow reveal, a no-reveal. Casting, of course, also means selecting a character to play a part. The author is lost, missing in action, and he has chosen us as readers or interpreters, whilst lumbering away mischievously leaving us little to go on. We have to validate this hollow frame to read it as a clue, a glossary of the unwritten.

Let us examine the semantemes in validate: inside a refrigerated vale of tears are the id and the at, the what and the where.

We now come to the difference between the abominable snowman and the cryogenic analyses. In the latter, the meaning has been frozen within the text and must be thawed to be deciphered, or at least read. In the yeti approach, the text must stay frozen to taste the meaning. It is closer to palaeontology than it is to the ready meal. We have entered the liminal hypothermic territory of post-cryogenics.

So, the yeti. We can stand in his footprint, but not walk in his footprints. Yeti. Yet-i. Yet I is already or yet there, still and again there. I is not, pace Rimbaud, an other, but many others. One man's Regan is another man's Cordelia, and this can change with the casting; our critiquing of a text is contingent upon the level of subjectivity mirrored therein. Ascent is vital: the sublime awe of the base camp hides the potential horror of the peak: one foot wrong and wonder becomes bewilderment.

The beauty of this critical approach is its simple, pious purity; the Lacanian purity of the not yet I.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Psychogeography News - May 2016

The Flâneur – Walking in the City
A recent BBC Radio 4 programme, available here: Laurie Taylor presents a themed programme which explores the history and meaning of the urban stroller, past and present.

Urban Phenomenon
Great images of Shoreham Cement Works by Scott Wright. The Psychogeographer’s Landmark London Stone. A book review on Raw Concrete by Barnabas Calder. A blog about water towers.

Glastonbury Psychogeography
This new book by Paul Weston is a unique blending of Psychogeography and Psychic Questing, providing some remarkable perspectives on the historical mythic landscape of Glastonbury and its powerful genius loci. The works of great visionaries provide a context for the modern experiences of the author. Available here.

Unforgetting Women Architects
An article by Despina Stratigakos about the reasons why we forget women architects. Click here.

The Great Walk
This super film by Clive Austin is now available on youtube where it has been serialised. You can get find the first part here and you can read more about it on my blog.

My Stuff
Particulations blog guest posts: I have a series of psychogeography-related guest posts on my own blog at the moment, you can see a list here. All new ones will be added to the top of the list. Also, here is a link to the Urban Gerbil Back Catalogue.

The Wirral Park Roundabout Mystery

by Paul Weston

Adapted from material in Glastonbury Psychogeography.

Wearyall Hill is the location that serves as the foundation for the Glastonbury mythos. Joseph of Arimathea allegedly landed there and planted his staff in the ground, which sprouted as the Holy Thorn, whose descendent made world news when decapitated in 2010. From one end it is possible to contemplate perhaps the best panoramic view of Glastonbury, taking in the Tor, Chalice Hill, and Abbey Ruins. The opposite direction provides a radically different perspective.

The A361 runs along one side of the hill, meeting the A39 at the Wirral Park Roundabout, which sports a distinctive megalithic-style stone at its centre. Alongside the mythic hill and standing stone, the roundabout is a super-modern non-place nexus. Clustering around it are two chain hotels, Premier Inn and Travel Lodge, a supermarket, fast-food outlets, a petrol station, garden centre, and so on. There has proved to be tension in the proximity of the sacred and profane.

In May 1996 I started working for IMCO Plastics in a factory near the roundabout. I walked back and forth there every working day for nearly four years. This meant walking along one side of the foot of Wearyall Hill and passing the roundabout. I tried to pay attention to any subtle nuances that might have distinguished one day from another.

In summer 1996 McDonalds opened a branch near the garage on the roundabout. Many of my co-workers were happy about this and there was quite an exodus during lunchbreaks over the road. I was aware that the presence of the multinational giant on the threshold of Glastonbury was making a few people twitchy. How long before the centre of town was invaded by globalised franchises who were governed by money and statistics and a bigger picture in which local character and concerns were irrelevant?

A few months went by and the McDonalds lunchbreak had become normal for a number of IMCO workers. One morning a shock awaited me. As the roundabout came into sight so too did the realisation that where McDonalds had been was now a burnt out smoking shell of a building. This was an incredible thing to see. I resisted the immediate feeling that arose to whoop and holler and punch the sky. Maybe some injuries or even fatalities had ensued in the conflagration? I soon came to hear that nobody had been injured. The fire had indeed been the result of arson. Nobody was ever prosecuted for it. McDonalds have never attempted to return that close to Glastonbury.

If we take the roundabout as a Psychogeographical zone then the McDonalds arson partakes of the spirit of politics and protest of the French source material and also Iain Sinclair’s increasing despair over the globalisation and modernisation of London and what that has cost in human and cultural terms.

In 1998 a terrible tragedy occurred. There was an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in the area. A dozen people went down with it. Three actually died. Only a few potential sources were identified. A water tower at IMCO was investigated and pronounced guilty. How on earth had the victims contracted it? They had all been to the outdoor section of B&Q’s garden centre, immediately adjacent to and overlooked by the tower. The store was right on the edge of the roundabout.

The McDonalds arson and the toxic tragedy were two of the most powerful events to occur in Glastonbury in that decade. They seemed to mark out the vicinity of the roundabout as damned odd and worth pondering upon.

If the nineties was the era of Ronald McSatan then the noughties saw the arrival of the state of Tescopoly. The monster supermarket carved out a huge share of the market and opened new branches everywhere with strategies that allowed it to enter into local community infrastructure whilst established businesses in the vicinity failed.

IMCO changed its name to Avalon Plastics and built new premises very near to the old. The pestilential buildings were demolished and Tesco parachuted one of their identikit stores on to the site. I found this to be entirely apt. The neon-lit sign on the roof dominates the sky at night around town. It has been joined by the illuminated visage of Colonel Sanders as Kentucky Fried Chicken succeeded where McDonalds failed and established an outlet on the roundabout. I continue to watch the area with interest.

Glastonbury Psychogeography is available on Amazon UK.

Paul Weston is the author of Glastonbury Psychogeography, Mysterium Artorius, Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus, Avalonian Aeon, and The Glastonbury Zodiac and Earth Mysteries UFOlogy. Having majored in Comparative Religion for a Combined Arts Degree (which involved a dissertation on Nazi occultism later incorporated into one of his books), he eventually became completely absorbed into the Glastonbury matrix and was fortunate to be closely involved in the Psychic Questing work of Andrew Collins. A frequent lecturer, his other main influences include Colin Wilson, Dion Fortune, Mother Meera, John Cowper Powys, Osho, Psychogeography, Gurdjieff, Anthony Robbins, and UFOlogy.