Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Psychogeography Franchise

The British psychogeographer and writer Iain Sinclair is known for highlighting the problems of psychogeography, at one time calling it "psychotic" geography and describing it as a type of "franchise". (Fortean Times 2002) Historically it has often been considered to be the pursuit of middle-aged men, fortunate enough to have the luxury of time and money, who wander through urban space formulating a commentary on it, as was the case with the flaneur. However, in contemporary times, and perhaps in part because it has become a method and practice for art, there are many more women who partake in it and could perhaps classify themselves as psychogeographers. Probably the most high profile female psychogeographer in recent history is the Situationist Michèle Bernstein.

British psychogeography, in particular, has been criticised for being nostalgic, with Sinclair being cited as one of the main proponents of an approach where "loss and redemption are explored and negotiated". (Bonnett 2009: 54) Alistair Bonnett's recent article 'The Dilemmas of Radical Nostalgia in British Psychogeography' explores these notions alongside a consideration that this strand often sits next to a radical activist lineage of psychogeography in Britain.

For the purposes of my own project I mostly use the definition of psychogeography as it is set out by the Situationists. Psychogeography is: “The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” (Situationist International 1996: 69) However, I think it is pertinent to note that another form of psychogeography was given the same name by Howard F. Stein. In his book Developmental Time, Cultural Space: Studies in Psychogeography (1987) Stein does not see psychogeography as a nebulous or cryptic response to space at all, but something that is ever-present in the individual. Approaching it from a psychoanalytical angle, Stein sees psychogeography as referring to "people's shared psychological representation or 'map' of the natural and social world". (1987: 3) In his edited text with William G. Niederland Maps from the Mind: Readings in Psychogeography (1989) it is described thus:
Psychogeography is the study of how issues, experiences, and processes that result from growing up in a male or female body [...] become symbolized and played out in the wider social and natural worlds, which serve as 'screens' for these inner dramas. (1989: xvii)

Psychogeography for Stein and Niederland takes a Freudian look at space, in considering the inner life of the individual and, therefore, their gender. This form of psychogeographic study aims to look at what connects someone to place and how geography makes a person who they are. It is possible that this form of psychogeography pre-dates that of the Situationists, as the introduction to Maps from the Mind states that Niederland developed it in the 1950s when looking at river symbolism. (1989: xxix) Joel Greenberg uses Niederland's definition of psychogeography in his oedipally named essay 'Psychogeography: A Freudian Look at the Search for Mother Earth...or, How I loved My Mother, Hated My Father and Discovered America' (1978) which looks at exploration and cartography. Greenberg looks at "the unconscious libidinal components linked to geographical pursuits", why the ego projects imagery onto the outside world and how geography appears in representative form. (1978: 90) This type of psychogeography is not the direction I take. I include it here to show the 'grey areas' in the different types of psychogeography. Also because the work of Niederland and Stein has authority in its own field in academia, and to not acknowledge it would be to provide an incomplete picture of what psychogeography is considered to be.

Merlin Coverley talks about how psychogeography resists definitions, and while this could be considered its downfall, it could also be part of its enduring nature: it can be picked up like a flexible tool and re-shaped to suit the individual practitioner. The downside of it is that practically anyone on a causal stroll through town could describe themselves as a psychogeographer, and while this is not really a problem for many individuals involved in this field, it is another criticism levelled at it. In order for psychogeography not to be an elitist pursuit, I prefer to be generous in the use of the term. However, one urban walk does not a psychogeographer make and I would also attach the premise that the walk needs to have certain qualities for it to be of a psychogeographic nature, for example, it needs to be an intentional act that elicits an aesthetic response of some sort in its critique of that space. Coverley describes it as "cutting across established routes and exploring those marginal and forgotten areas often overlooked by the city's inhabitants" (2006: 12) and I think this would be a good way of describing what many contemporary psychogeographers do, including the Situationists (it is also true of the psychogeography I carry out, on my own and with Leeds Psychogeography Group). It would be at least partly correct to say psychogeographers "seek to reveal the true nature that lies beneath the flux of the every day" (Coverley 2006: 13); however, this sentiment is problematic, as it implies that there is a truth underlying postmodern space that can be revealed, and this is not the case; there is no single truth present under the surface, nevertheless, the act itself does allow one to reveal social histories which might otherwise remain hidden.

Not only are there different definitions of psychogeography, some of which have been discussed, but there are alternative names for different forms of psychogeography, and some of the differences are quite subtle. Papadimitriou calls his own type of urban walking "deep topography":
What is deep topography? It's not a programme. It's an acknowledgement of the magnitude of response to landscape. Something that I don't see in most accounts that I read of landscape. I find there's two ways that descriptions of landscape go. One of them puts the person who is experiencing at the centre; and it always seems a little narcissistic to me: 'I respond to this', 'I spotted that'. It's more about them than about the landscape. And the other way it goes, it tends to be greened or touristed, one of the two. So there's either an attempt to place the landscape within the framework of mainstream green philosophy, or else it goes the other way, which is it just becomes touristic: 'The field are really nice in April'. That sort of thing. (Papadimitriou 2009)
The London Perambulator is predominantly about Papadimitriou and his deep topography. There is also a well known form of walking known as mythogeography, subscribed to by a number of artists, writers and academics who are part of a fluid collective. On the Mythogeography website there is a page which differentiates mythogeography from psychogeography. It says:
In the UK the concept of psychogeography was detached from activist meaning and reconfigured as a literary practice in the work of writers like Iain Sinclair and also gathered some occult trappings during this time from Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd and others.
Mythogeography describes a way of thinking about and visiting places where multiple meanings have been squeezed into a single and restricted meaning (for example, heritage, tourist or leisure sites tend to be presented as just that, when they may also have been homes, jam factories, battlegrounds, lovers' lanes, farms, cemeteries and madhouses). Mythogeography emphasises the multiple nature of places and suggests multiple ways of celebrating, expressing and weaving those places and their multiple meanings.
Mythogeography is influenced by, and draws on, psychogeography – seeking to reconnect with some of its original political edge as well as with its more recent additions. (Mythogeography 2011)
This definition of mythogeography attempts to return to the more activist form of psychogeography proposed by the Situationists, while at the same time allowing for multiple meanings to reveal themselves through those spaces.

Psychogeophysics analyses the effects of geography and place on the individual. Walking is one of the means for carrying out this semi-scientific-based research. Mostly examining the city from an ecological perspective, it uses measuring and mapping devices when creating 'situations'.

Because of the historic problems attached to the term psychogeography, and in order to differentiate my own style of psychogeography from the many other existing forms, I have formulated my own term: schizocartography.

I have developed schizocartography from Félix Guattari's terms “schizoanalysis” and "schizoanalytic cartography". While the term “schizoanalysis” is derived from “schizophrenia” (as discussed in depth in the Capitalism and Schizophrenia collaborative series of Guattari and Gilles Deleuze), it does not promote mental illness; rather, “schizo” is used as a way of offering up the possibility of multiple voices, and alternative world-views, amongst other factors. Schizocartography enables alternative existential modes for individuals in order to challenge dominant representations and power structures. This provides an opportunity for multiple ways of operating in space and reading the environment; it critiques the conventional ways of viewing, interpreting and mapping space. This is my definition of 'schizocartography':
Schizocartography offers a method of cartography that both questions dominant power structures while at the same time enabling subjective voices to appear from underlying postmodern topography. Schizocartography is at once the process and output of a psychogeography of particular spaces that have been co-opted by various capitalist-oriented operations, routines or procedures. It attempts to reveal the aesthetic and ideological contradictions that appear in urban space while simultaneously reclaiming the subjectivity of individuals by enabling new modes of creative expression. Schizocartography challenges anti-production, the homogenizing character of overriding forms that work towards silencing heterogeneous voices.


Bonnett, Alistair. 'The Dilemmas of Radical Nostalgia in British Psychogeography', Theory, Culture and Society, 26, 1 (2009), 45-70.
Coverley, Merlin. 2006. Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials).
Greenberg, Joel. 'Psychogeography: A Freudian Look at the Search for Mother Earth...or, How I loved My Mother, Hated My Father and Discovered America', Science News, 113, 6 (1978), 90-91.
Mythogeography, 'Not Psychogeography', Mythogeography, (2011), [accessed 08 July 2011]
Sinclair, Iain, 'City Brain: A Meeting With the Pioneer Psychogeographer', Fortean Times, (2002), [accessed 08 July 2011]
Situationist International. 1996. Theory of the Dérive and Other Situationist Writings on the City, ed. by Libero Andreotti and Xavier Costa (Barcelona: Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona).
Stein, Howard F. 1987. Developmental Time, Cultural Space: Studies in Psychogeography (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press).
Stein, Howard F. and William G. Niederland. 1989. 'Editors' Introduction', Maps from the Mind: Readings in Psychogeography, ed. by Howard F. Stein and William G. Niederland (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press) pp. xvii-xxix.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Ghostly Figures That Look Suspiciously Like Ray Davies

The Psychogeographer in the Urban Landscape

In a series of articles in the Guardian in 2009 called 'Secret Britain' the British psychogeographer Iain Sinclair explains the effect/affect of stumbling across 'hidden' places in the urban terrain:
These sites, come upon by accident, prick our imagination, provoke reverie. Questing for one story, we blunder into another: we must train ourselves to expect the unexpected. The thing hidden behind a high wall is still part of our true 'legacy', but buildings and sites sometimes have to wait to achieve a haunting dereliction, to be come legitimate targets for vulgar curiosity. That's how the Secret Britain guide philosophy works: when you don't see it, it is still there. And when you do, it is on the point of disappearance. (2009: 5).

And it is these sites that most contemporary psychogeographers write about and show in their films. The writing often takes the form of a personal account which is interspersed with historical or literary references - a subjective response to a particular place that "provoke[s] reverie" (or other psychic responses), combined with an interest in pursuing a particular historical direction engendered by that affective reaction. These accounts are what give the best 'flavour' of what psychogeography is, much more than any theoretical analysis or discussion can. So, I shall include a few paragraphs from some writers and will also comment on some psychogeographic films.

One of the chapters in Will Self's Psychogeography recounts a walk around the nuclear plant known as Sizewell, in the UK:
Sizewell again. This patch of Suffolk coastline, psychically irradiated by the untold ergs of electricity generated by the two nuclear power stations, exerts a strange hold on me. I far prefer it to the environs of Southwold, further up the coast, which have become overwritten by scribes as various as P.D. James and W.G. Sebald. I lived inland of here for a couple of years in the mid-1990s but was forced to evacuate when the wife of the one local acquaintance I'd made invited me to 'drop by' her gift shop in Saxmunden. I was on the phone to the self-drive van hire company that very evening. (2007: 141)

Self is known for his caustic wit and it is this type of subjective response to place that seems to be permitted in textual representations of psychogeographic walks. Below is the transcription from part of one of the films that Nick Papadimitriou and John Rogers made together about one of Papadimitriou's walks. Papadimitriou's geographic concentration is the English county that used to be called Middlesex. What was left of the county Middlesex (after the forming of the county council system in the 1800s) was taken up by Greater London and other counties before World War II. However, it is still considered a geographic area, so it remains so in that sense. Papadimitriou investigates the urban detail at its fundamental microbe-like level, almost down to the very molecules that make up the urban décor, as you will see when we look at him examining a concrete post. This film is called Deep Topography with Nick Papadimitriou. At about 53 seconds into the film we see Papadimitriou standing facing the camera with his right hand on a concrete post. There are a couple of trees to Papadimitriou's right, a road behind him; at the far side of the road we can see a building and a car. We are in Golders Green in North London. The concrete post reaches approximately the level of Papadimitriou's chest. From its appearance it looks like it is made from a mix of concrete which also contains shingle. The post is old, part of it is worn away, we can see its inner metal skeleton has been exposed. Rogers says: “Tell me about this post Nick”. This is Papadimitriou's reply:
I don't know anything about this post, but I like it and I think that, you know, I'm basically a religious writer and if I were to invent a religion this would be the type of object that people would kneel to. I think it's a kind of storage vat of regional memories, and they are contained inside it like a sort of, [pause] they radiate out slowly. Sometimes when I am in certain frames of mind, particularly on very hot days around the North Circular, I can feel time radiating off of pre-moulded concrete lintels and I've kind of developed a way of accessing them. And, I think what these things store are conglomerate images, eras passing, people's hairstyles, ghostly figures that look suspiciously like Ray Davies [pause] or his brother Dave Davies. I love this, this machining. It's fantastic isn't it?
Papadimitriou's connection with this concrete post, whilst highly imaginative and also cultural, philosophical and existential, is also extremely tactile. Papadimitriou sees the post as, somehow, storing “conglomerate images” and he explains how it has seen the change of fashion (hairstyles) and popular music (the Davies brothers from the band The Kinks), and that this history has become stored in the very matter of the concrete.

This subjective response to space will become a large part of the psychogeographic walks used in my own project and will tie in to the theory of Félix Guattari that looks at the subjective processes that can become a challenge to dominant modes of power - his Molecular Revolution texts in particular. Below is another example of Papadimitriou's which demonstrates how an individual can respond to a space in a different way to the 'intended' one. At a showing of The London Perambulator at the Curzon in Soho, London, the literature made available to the audience includes a note from Papadimitriou:
I imagine sometimes that I am on a powerful and yet undiscovered hallucinogen, one that dissolves the ego-boundaries so effectively that subject and object fuse, so that, were I to ingest this substance while visiting Watford, I would in some way pass into and become the town centre. It would be a transtemporal, multiplex, experience; a monad amidst conflagrations of men and women; young girls' eyes at Chicken Hut; your story, one among many as you surged through the Studham for work at your tattoo parlour. (2010)

In Lights Out for the Territory (1997) Sinclair traces a number of routes across London, showing us its darker side and at the same time historically connecting people and place. The extract below provides an example of how individuals - in this case a published writer and psychogeographer - who do not fit the model of a certain 'type' in the capital, can become persona non grata:
And so it was, on the fine and pleasant afternoon of Saturday 8th April, 1995, that I found myself trying to walk in through the front entrance of the Barbican Arts Complex and being treated like a bogside bomb-carrier. The sensation is not uncommon in the new City. It's how they want you to feel, uncomfortable: the stranger in town. They want you to carry a card, with a photograph and a number, that defines you as some sort of non-person lowlife. (2003: 99)

The Barbican Exhibition Hall is located in the heart of the finance district in London and during the 1990s British security was becoming very constricted because of the IRA bombings in the capital at that time. This is a common side-effect of being a psychogeographer, being treated suspiciously because a definitive label cannot be attached to you. In The Fringe of London: Being Some Ventures and Adventures in Topography (1925) Gordon S. Maxwell, a walker and writer, includes his experiences of how he is received by others when they ask what he does 'for a living'. On meeting a "commercial traveller" in an inn, the travelling salesman assumed that he was of the same profession, yet wondered where he kept his samples. Maxwell explained that his samples were too large to carry with him because he was a topographer. The other, commenting on the art of cutting trees into the shapes of animals, confused it with topiary. (1925: 27-28)

Prohibitive signs that appear in the environment are a form of urban phenomenon that can be intriguing to psychogeographers. In his essay on walking around Bromley-by-Bow in London, Dougald Hine explains how the signs that forbid action are the ones that predominate: "Spaces are defined by the games we can't play, the activities which won't be tolerated." (2011) He then remarks: "Where are the suggestive signs, I wonder - the signs which invite you to try something you might not otherwise have thought of? [...] Even the sign at Prospect Park which reads 'Play Here' feels like a command, rather than an invitation. (ibid.)

Psychogeographers have to decide what boundaries they are prepared to cross, legal or physical, in order to find their 'story'. Maxwell states: "The true rambler must never be afraid of committing the crime of trespass; fair words are a better help than fast legs." (1925: 22) However, this was 1925, when society was far simpler in structure and crimes, such as trespass, may have not even been reported. Maxwell goes on to say:
On the whole, people are courteous, when they know your errand is harmless [...] I have known an Ordnance Survey map works wonders if prominently displayed. You are sometimes then mistaken for a Government surveyor by a farm labourer - a mistake which is often useful. (ibid.)

This innocent comment is starkly contrasted to Sinclair's experience outside the Barbican. Nowadays a map in the hands of someone whose appearance might be deemed suspicious, could be the sign of a potential 'terrorist' threat. Maurice Beresford's text on the University of Leeds Walks Round Red Brick (1980) also includes similar experiences to that of Sinclair and Maxwell, and interestingly, since his walks took place in the 1970s, could be situated somewhere in between the other two, both historically and culturally. Beresford explains how one day when discovered hiding in the shrubbery of a private garden by a research fellow, his explanation for being there was dismissed by the other. The fellow exclaimed: "You're no professor, you're a thief!" (1980: 104)

Beresford, Maurice. 1980. Walks Round Red Brick (Leeds: University of Leeds Press).
Hine, Dougald, 'Dériving Scarcity', Dougald Hine, (2011), [accessed 08 July 2011]
Gordon S., Maxwell. 1925. The Fringe of London: Being Some Ventures and Adventures in Topography (London: Cecil Palmer).
Self, Will. 2007. Psychogeography (London: Bloomsbury).
Sinclair, Iain. 2003. Lights Out for the Territory (London: Penguin).
Sinclair, Iain. 'A world you never knew existed', 'Secret Britain', The Guardian, April 2009, pp. 4-6.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Knitting a New Holbeck

On Saturday July 9th 2011 Simon Bradley and myself went for a walk around Holbeck. The first thing I photographed was this lovely little guerilla knitting sculpture, which I nearly missed. I like it because it's quite subtle and also I wonder what the long term effects of water running over it will be. Will it calcify like those teddies that people hang up in caves for visiting tourists.

Holbeck is now part of a regeneration scheme in the Leeds area. Below is one of the lovely old Victorian buildings that still remains in the area, the old library. Simon and I think it is probably an office now. Thankfully from the outside you wouldn't know it was. Even the old sign remains above the door: Ex Libris:

The above image was stencilled on the pavement of the bridge that you can see in the photo of the library. And the following reliefs were on the wall near Ingram Road Primary School. The date is 1904.

This lovely tree stump sculpture is on the grounds of a nearby church, which I think is now a community centre for Holbeck. It has an Arts and Crafts Movement feel about it, but I'm sure it is new. Below is the underpass nearby. As underpasses go, I've seen much worse. And, note, no graffiti - unusual:

Related Links:
Holbeck on Wikipedia
1963 Aerial View of Holbeck on Leodis

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Giant Ghost Sheep Eats Unsuspecting Tourists in Norfolk Coastal Town

I took this superimposed image with my Lomo Diana F+ on a recent trip to Hunstanton in Norfolk. The giant sheep statue stands outside a cafe in St Edmunds Terrace. The results exceeded my expectation as it is difficult to get the exposure right on both images.

For my 'proper' work on the schizocartography of Hunstanton, please click here: Reading the Arcades/Reading the Promenades

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Situation at the University

Click here for film: The Situation at the University

"Our central purpose is the construction of situations, i.e. the concrete construction of temporary settings of life and their transformations into a higher passionate nature. We must develop an intervention, directed by the complicated factors of two great components in perpetual interaction: the material setting of life and the behaviours that it incites and that overturn it." Guy Debord (Situationist International) 1957

Note: The walk was run by Gerry Turvey, with assistance by myself: two walks took place, each one led by one of us. This map reflects the walk led by Tina. It was a random exercise in urban exploration (developed from an idea by the German choreographer Thomas Lehman). It required a small group of people, a willingness to have fun, and a sense of imagination: a series of timed walks, followed by short interventions of fantasy from participants. Most of the participants were from Leeds Psychogeography Group and/or the University of Leeds.

Related Links:
The Semiotic University (a map of the same walk)
The Overdeterimation of the Space of the University (theoretical analysis of urban space at the university)
The Sound of the Sixties (psychogeographical film, inlcuding brutalist architecture)

Friday, 1 July 2011

J30: The City is on Strike

"The invocation of the idea that 'there is no alternative', and the recommendation to 'work smarter, not harder' shows how capitalist realism sets the tone for labor disputes in post-Fordism." Mark Fisher

This was the scene outside The Leeds Metropolitan University yesterday. This woman, below, representing the UCU (University and College Union), was happy for me to take a photo of her and her placard:

This is a paragraph from the PCS literature that was handed out:
Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, along with our counterparts in education unions, have made the difficult decision to take industrial action as it is the only way of standing up to the government's unprecedented attacks on public sector workers.

Below is one of the leaflets I was given by protesters:

Related Links:
The Scene of Teaching
J30 Strike Organisation
Public and Commercial Services Union
University and College Union

Fisher, Mark. 2009. Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? (Winchester: Zero Books).