Tuesday, 20 December 2016

South by Merlin Coverley

From the beaches of Tahiti to the streets of Buenos Aires, from Naples to New Orleans, Merlin Coverley’s wide-ranging study throws light on the ways in which the idea of the South, in all its forms, has come to exert such a powerful hold on our collective imagination (from the cover of South).

Coverley tackles this vast subject eloquently, breaking his book into six chapter (The Idea of South, Goethe’s Law, In the South Seas, Magic South, The Polar South and South of the River), in order to examine the concept of the South from a philosophical, geographical, cultural and literary perspective so as to demonstrate the complexity and fascination it holds for us. I shall be writing about ‘The Idea of the South’ (the introduction) and ‘South of the River’ here.

The Idea of the South

Being a cultural theorist the concept of ‘the south’ is particularly interesting to me (as are the other points of the compass, since they are often set in binaries and have values attached to them when set in opposition – for example the North/South divide in Britain). Coverley begins the introduction by showing us a 17th century map of the south pole and then describes the work by the artist Andy Goldsworthy entitled Touching North (1989) (see below). Touching North was situated at the North Pole, with the four individual parts of the sculpture facing each other and also outwards, with holes in the centre providing them with an opening which enabled them a space accessible from anywhere and everywhere. Coverley says that the sculpture “demonstrates how the directions of the compass may effectively be rendered meaningless: emerge through any of the four arches and one finds oneself heading south” (page 9). Thus Coverley launches the reader into the ambiguity of the term ‘south’ and in the introduction begins to explain how it developed.

South of the River

Having spent most of my working life in London the idea of north and south of the Thames means something for me, especially since I worked and lived only in the north of London during my time there. Coverley begins the final chapter by discussing Angela Carter’s novel Wise Children (1991) and how the protagonists live on “the bastard side of Old Father Thames” (Angela Carter), in other words ‘the south’. Coverley explains that he has lived in south London on and off for about twenty years and notes that this division is now “less distinct, as the process of gentrification refashions the city into the one we inhabit today” (page 224). I must say, this was also my experience. Having moved to London in the mid-1980s (at the beginning of the property boom) and having left in 2002, there was certainly a smoothing out in regards to what was considered, when I first arrived, to be “broad concentrations of wealth and power in the North at odds with the poverty and lack of political representation to be found in the South” (page 224). The urban development and rising property value throughout the capital during the time I was living there, eventually made this distinction redundant.

Coverley also mentions one of my favourite books about London Soft City (Jonathan Raban 1974) and quotes Raban talking about how when one lives in the north of London, visiting someone in the south can seem like a real trek when it involves crossing the river. So this is about the perception of the distance – broken by the river as a boundary - rather than the actual mileage.

Coverley’s latest book will have a wide appeal. I’ve only included a few of my own observations here (this is not a proper book review), but in the rest of the book he examines imaginary places such as Atlantis and books like Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition (1970), and the concept of ‘the noble savage’ to the works of Iain Sinclair (let’s not forget Coverley is a psychogeographer).

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Tina Richardson - Publications

Books and Book Chapters
'Creating a Situation in the City: Embodied Spaces, Intertextual Sites and the Act of Crossing Boundaries', The Routledge Companion to Urban Media and Communication, eds. Zlatan Krajina and Deborah Stevenson, Routledge (2019)
'Psy(co)motion: Anti-Production and Détournement in Affective Musical Cartographies', Non-Representational Theory and the Creative Arts, eds. Candice Boyd and Christian Edwardes, Palgrave MacMillan (2019)
Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography, eds. Tina Richardson (London: Rowman and Littlefield International) 2015.

Academic Journal Articles
‘How to (de)Construct a Place Setting in Three Easy Steps’, Academic Letters, September 2021
'The Global Scapes of Postmodernity: A Proposed Model for "Global Cultural Flow" in Fashion Education', Fashion Theory, Published online 12 Nov 2019 and 25, 6 (2021).
'Space, Gaze and Power: A Foucauldian Methodology for Fashion Advertising Analysis', Fashion Theory, 23, 1 (2019) and 25, 2 (2021).
Hiding the Bodies: Socio-Geographic Repression in Higher Educational Space’, Space and Culture (5 Jan 2018)
Assembling the Assemblage: Developing Schizocartography in Support of an Urban Semiology’, Humanities, 6, 3 (2017), 47.
A Schizocartography of the University of Leeds: Cognitively Mapping the Campus’, disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory, 23, 1 (2014), 140-162.
'A Schizocartography of a Redbrick', Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and Extraurban Studies, 1, 1 (2011), 119-128.
'Using Schizocartography as a Method of Critiquing the 'University of Excellence'', Reimagining the University, 1, 1 (2011), 12-21.
'Book Review: Urban Space as a Medium for Democracy', Parallax, 17, 3 (2011), 113-115. 'Introducing Schizocartography: Challenging Anti-Production - Schizocartography as Method and Practice', Society of Cartographers Bulletin, 44 (2010), 31-38.

Academic Editorships
Editor: Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography. London: Rowman and Littlefield International (2015).
Co-editor: Parallax: Contours of Learning: On Spivak (Taylor and Francis), Volume 17, Issue 3 (2011)
Co-editor: Parallax: Enthusiasm (Taylor and Francis), Volume 17, Issue 2 (2011).
Associate editor: Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and Extraurban Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2 (2011).
Associate editor: Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and Extraurban Studies, Volume 1, Issue 3 (2011).

PhD Thesis
'The Unseen University: A Schizocartography of the Redbrick University Campus' (2014 University of Leeds)

Arts and Culture Publications
'Arriving and Dériving in Birmingham', Journal of Urban Photography, 2018
‘Interview: A Psychogeography Bucket List’, Foxhole Magazine, Spring/Summer 2015, 54-57. Concrete, Crows and Calluses 2013 (Leeds: Particulations Press)

Arts and Culture Editorships
Co-editor: Stepz II: Between the Rollerama and the Junk Yard, Exhibition Edition (Summer 2016). Editor: TwentySix Psychogeography Stations. Darrant Hinisco. Leeds: Urban Gerbil Publications (2015).
Editor: Stepz I: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine, (Summer 2015).

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Listening Lines - The Samaritans

Yesterday a friend on Facebook posted a reminder about how difficult it can be for some people at Xmas time, and he put up the phone number for the Samaritans. From the UK you can call from any phone on: 116 123.

This post sparked an interesting discussion about the Samaritans, and I added that one of my family members was a Samaritan for 20 years and that there was a book of poetry called Listening Lines (Arrival Press 1995) that was written by volunteers and edited by Suzy Goodall. This is the poem of hers that was included, but there are many other touching ones in there, too. This poem was about a young homeless man living in King's Lynn, who visited Trixie at the Samaritans regularly, to talk to someone who cared, to sit in a warm room for a short while and drink a hot cup of tea:


He comes again,
Same life, same story,
Same despair.

Happy now,
No more strife.
He takes his life.


Monday, 5 December 2016

Psychogeography News - December 2016

Roy Bayfield’s new book, Desire Paths, is now available (Triarchy Press). Paul Scraton’s Ghosts on the Shore has just been published by Influx Press. Nairn’s Towns is a collection of Ian Nairn’s writings, introduced by Owen Hatherley.

The City
White Noise is an art-based blog about people and the city. This is Andrea Gibbons website on the relationship between the country and the city: Writing Cities. Here is a post called A New Map of Berlin about cycling in Berlin.

Walking Related Posts and Blogs
Slow Travel Berlin has a post by Paul Sullivan on Walking in the City and Walking Through London’s History is a new project by students at Goldsmith’s (run by John Price).

Situationist Stuff
Derek Hales is giving a talk in Halifax on Dec 12 on Ralph Rumney and psychogeography. You can read a post entitled Salvaging Situationism: Race and Space by Andrea Gibbons here.

My Stuff
In November I was interviewed on Radio Fabrik in Salzburg for the Geographical Imaginations project by Kevin S. Fox - you can listen to the podcast here: Psychogeography 101. Here is an up-to-dated list of the guest posts on Particulations.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Psychogeography 101 - Geographical Imaginations Interview

In October the cultural geographer Kevin S. Fox interviewed me about psychogeography for his project Geographical Imaginations:
As an inquiry-based project, we ask questions and explore themes through dialogues with different texts and voices. Inevitably, our explorations return to simple, yet complex, questions…The main focus of the project is an hour-long radio essay program broadcast monthly from Radio Fabrik in Salzburg, Austria. In each episode we make brief expeditions into “the geographies of everything and nothing.” We reflect upon our relationships with the worlds we inhabit and co-create. 
Here’s the abstract for the interview:
In Psychogeography 101 we discuss contemporary urban exploration practices with cultural theorist and psychogeographer Tina Richardson. After tracing back to the mid-twentieth century work of the Situationist International, we outline what doing psychogeography looks like today and how it could—and should—be part of the practice of anyone seeking a better understanding of their own geographical imagination.
You can listen to a podcast of the edited interview that went out live on Radio Fabrik on 26th November, here: Episode 25: Psychogeography 101

Monday, 14 November 2016

Place-Hacking in Wonderland

Daresbury Hall in Better Times
(all other images provided by the author)

By Anonymous

There is a gap in the fence, my senses heighten. I feel fully alive as I plunge into the unknown on the other side...

Ruin porn, dereliction, decay, urban exploration and place-hacking have always interested me. It is hard to explain why, exactly, and up until this year this consisted of an occasional look at related photos and videos on the internet. I was interested enough to read the book Explore Everything by Bradley L. Garrett but was nevertheless an armchair urban explorer. I knew no-one else in the field, nor any groups in the area, and had no equipment apart from a torch, camera, and mobile phone, with no plans on the horizon.

Adventures start somewhere and mine started when an article in the local newspaper caught my eye. A cannabis farm had been discovered and busted at the derelict Daresbury Hall. I knew that Daresbury was a quiet area, and it was a sunny spring afternoon, so I put on my boots and went for a walk to see what I could find.

Daresbury is a typical Cheshire village situated in rural green belt just south of Warrington. It has one main lane with another leading off towards Hatton. It has a few houses, a primary school, a pub called The Ring O' Bells and red telephone boxes. It also has a connection with Lewis Carroll at All Saints Church, which has turned the area into a kind of heritage theme park, with a visitor centre at the church, a wonderland mosaic and a weather vane at the school, a Lewis Carroll walk around the fields, plus plenty of Cheshire cats.

Walking past the church towards Hatton, I see a fence covered in signs warning of security and guard dogs, which first alerts you to Daresbury Hall's grounds. It seems to be an unwritten law among urban explorers not to give too much away, or reveal how to gain access to a site so as not to antagonise the owners and have the way blocked. All I can say is that it was easy to get in. I had not planned to go in, but seeing an opportunity I just decided to go for it and was soon running across the no-man’s-land of the lawn and into cover.

After waiting for a few moments it looked like I had not been seen. I had the place to myself and so I came out of hiding, walking past the derelict out-buildings to the abandoned swimming pool at the back.

I spent a good two hours exploring the interior, not knowing what was in the next room or around the next corner. There was a lot of graffiti on the walls ranging from the disturbing to the childish: it looked like the place was regularly visited by the local teenagers as well as explorers. I later found out that the hall was used for zombie apocalypse events.

What was the appeal? Was it the ruin porn photography? Was it the trespassing - beating the system and getting in? Or being in a liminal place, a place with heightened awareness of time and transition, touched with an underlying melancholy? I was also exploring my own thoughts as I walked around.

A couple of weeks later another article appeared in the local newspaper. A mysterious fire had gutted the hall and it also had a planning application for development - it was a listed building.

A new kind of exploration has now taken over as the locals fly drones over the area...

Desire Paths by Roy Bayfield

Desire Paths: Real Walks to Nonreal Places by Roy Bayfield

Roy Bayfield really walks in Desire Paths. But not only does he really walk, we accompany him on these “real walks to nonreal places”. This book is no theorising, speculating and proselytising text about walking by someone who views it from a distance. It is walking in the most practical, material and embodied way that only a true urban walkers can speak of. And Bayfield takes us on his journey. Describing himself as an autobiogeographer, we drift with him through the personal and three-dimensional landscape of his voyages in the physical, spiritual, virtual and human realms. This book is for both those already involved in urban walking and for the novice. For those who are new to it, its format is especially designed to open your eyes to the features of the landscape, and at the same time provide you with experimental walking exercises.

You can purchase, and find out more about, Bayfield's new book here: Triarchy Press.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

A Deleuzoguattarian Dialogue on Becoming-Woman – A Mini-Play

[characters: 1 x female and 1 x male]

[standing side by side, both Female and Male face the audience]

M:       I am a man.

F:        I am becoming-woman.

[M turns to F]

M:       But you are woman.

[F turns to M]

F:        No, I am becoming-woman. My becoming produces itself. I am always becoming, never reaching an end.


[both M and F face forward]

M:       I am male.

F:        You are molar.

[M turns to F]

M:       What do you mean I am molar?

[F turns to M]

F:        You occupy the centre. This is your position. You cannot become if you solely remain there.


[both M and F face forward]

M:       OK. I am molar.

F:        I am molecular.

[M turns to F]

M:       What do you mean you are molecular?

[F turns to M]

F:        I emit particles. I can be-between, pass through, go across. I can be everywhere.

M:       [sighs, irritated]


[both M and F facing each other]

M:       OK. I am molar and you are molecular.

F:        I am in a privileged position in relation to becoming.

M:       I want to become too. How do I become?

F:        Becoming-woman is the key to all becomings.

M:       But, I have a male body.

F:        You have a male body in the organic sense. Becoming-woman can be your becoming too.

M:       How?

F:        You can utilise your intensities, produce molecules and take flight!

M:       But, I am sexually male.

F:        Sexuality is the production of a thousand sexes, which are so many uncontrollable becomings. Sexuality is becoming-woman. Sexuality proceeds by way of the becoming-woman of the man.

M:       You’re really starting to piss me off!

[M wanders off, pauses, turns and faces F]

M:       If I want to become-woman what will help me in this process?

F:        You need a body without organs.

M:       Now you’re just being ridiculous!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

#PresidentTrump - A Simulated Hold-Up

“Illusion is no longer possible, because the real is no longer possible” Jean Baudrillard

On 9th November 2016 Donald Trump became President Elect of the United States of America. This was a hold-up. A protracted hold-up, admittedly, one that took a few years. It wasn’t a hold-up in the sense that immediately springs to mind, rather it was a simulated hold-up like that described by Jean Baudrillard in ‘Simulacra and Simulations’. This is what happened:

In the “strategy of the real” Baudrillard explains how when you simulate something the structures around that event are such that, not recognising the event is not real, they put into play the relevant apparatus that validate the event. This adds to the realistic appearance of the event. Baudrillard gives an example of a simulated hold-up to explain his theory. He asks this: “it would be interesting to see whether the repressive apparatus would react more violently to a simulated hold up than a real one?” He explains that, since all the signs of a hold-up look real - even if you use a fake gun – you will be treated by those around you as if the whole process is real. You may be shot, a bank customer may become ill, etc: “you will unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real”. But this is what is important to Baudrillard: “a real hold up only upsets the order of things, the right property, whereas a simulated hold up interferes with the very principle of reality”.

At the beginning of the presidential race – in fact, even before then, in the 2000 campaign nomination – Trump’s simulated hold-up began. However, he kept finding himself propelled into the real: he was never really rumbled. I am sure this was as much a surprise to him as it was to the rest of us. I am not saying he didn’t believe in each individual moment what he was saying. I am saying that because there was no other place for this simulation to function, it had to be seen as real. Since the order of power politics is only a second-order simulacra, the third level simulation is viewed as a representation that fits within the model it is represented in, not that in which it was formed.

It was actually the case that Donald Trump’s presidential election was “inscribed in advance” because of being written in the order of simulation. What Trump said became a “set of signs dedicated exclusively to their recurrence as signs, and no longer to their ‘real’ goal at all” (Baudrillard). It worked precisely because it was a simulation.

Baudrillard says that “transgression and violence are less serious” than the simulated hold-up “for they only contest the distribution of the real. Simulation is infinitely more dangerous since it always suggests, over and above its object, that law and order themselves might really be nothing more than a simulation”.

Related links: 
A Hysterical Simulacra
Donald Trump’s Lunatic Fringe

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Psychogeography News - November 2016

Click here for Adam Scovell’s response to the Brutalist architecture of the Smithson’s and here there is a Guardian article on the resurgence in the popularity of Brutalist architecture. This article discusses the poor designs of buildings in regards to mental health and here you can read a BBC article on Southampton’s concrete buildings.
City Life
This article is about the street cats of Istanbul and how the community collectively care for them. You can read an extract from The Lonely City by Olivia Laing – ‘The Dark Side of the City’. Urban Dreams (and Nightmares) is a one day event in Leeds on 19th November. Here is information on Birmingham on Film: Paradise Lost by Andy Howlett.
Ruin Porn/Lust
A Leeds exhibition on Yorkshire’s abandoned buildings. And the singer, Lonelady, whose music is inspired by psychogeography: “ruins are my idea of fun”.
Adam Scovell interviews John Rogers on ‘London Overground and Psychogeography’. And Walker a 2012 film by Tsai Ming-liang.
Book Reviews
Here are my own review-essays on the following books: The Atlas of Improbable Places by Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield, Vanishing Streetsby J M Tyree and Elsewhere journal.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Driftmine Articles

Driftmine was an online “multi-authored publication interested in the psychological, psychosocial or psychogeographical aspects of politics, society and culture. It is interested in what the political has to do with the psychological, and how anxiety, shame, and love (or its absence) influence the way our society is”. The project has now reached its end so I am just posting a new link to my own articles that were originally published there:

Heterotopias of Compensation: Travis Elborough’s a Walk in the Park
Published 19 July 2016
This review-essay takes a Foucauldian look at the park by looking at it through the lens of the heterotopia. Click here for the full article.

Setting Up a World: Phenomenology and Cultural Amnesia in General Orders No.9
Published 18 May 2016
By using the theory of Heidegger this review-essay examines specific tropes in the film that relate to cultural forgetting. Click here for the full article.

When is a Ley Line Not a Ley Line?
Published 4 June 2015
This article looks at the phenomenon of the perambulatory hinge. Comparing it to the ley line, the author uses examples in Birmingham to discuss this psychogeographical concept. Click here for the full article.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

What is presupposed actualization?

presuppose 1 to believe that a particular thing is true before there is any proof of it 2 to make something necessary if a particular thing is to be shown to be true or false 
actualize 1 to make something real or actual 2 to portray or represent something realistically – actualization 
Bloomsbury Concise English Dictionary

Presupposed actualization (PA) is the desire, ability and will to create potential realities. It works via the consciousness (and unconscious) of those involved in a particular project or programme who have a shared investment in its outcome. While operating seemingly abstractly via the psyche of the individuals, PA’s effects mean that those most invested in the programme already exist in the future space of the (to be) realised project, whether this is unconscious or not. This means that, in a sense, the completed project already exists.

PA is not the same as belief or will, even though it utilises them in order to reach its fruition. Rather, it is the projection of the finalised product as it appears in mind and how this vision unconsciously operates via discourse in order to make it a reality. The repeating of tropes (for example: how they appear in what Foucault calls ‘statements’), the physical act of inscribing words and images that support the mission at hand, and the circulation of significant motifs in the wider community, all unconsciously create schemas that help to concretise the outcome. In an Althusserian sense we can describe this as being material in that the procedures that underpin the discourse exist in an apparatus that creates subjects specific to the cause. The ideology is driven through the material practices of communicating, operating on the subjects reflexively, and on the future proactively, such that the result is manifest in advance.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Guilty Pleasures MixCD Series: Part 3 – Work/Labour

Work Your Body: Between the Factory and the Pay Check

Please click here for CD 1: Manchester and CD 2: Animals.

This is the third mixCD in the series and takes a look and work and labour within the third stage of capitalism or late capitalism (Frederic Jameson). It includes music from the 1970s up till today: for example, we have The Strawbs Part of the Union (1973) and also Jungle’s Busy Earning (2014).

Like the animal CD, previously, this one is of an ‘activist’ nature and it comes with an insert which says:
Work Your Body is inspired by an intervention by Ally Standing and Gavin Rogers that took place at the Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography in 2016. Their performance, on the street in Huddersfield (UK), was a response to Dr. Alex Bridger’s walk which questioned the Northern Powerhouse. Rogers and Standing suggested that in postmodernity ‘professionals’, who were no longer able to use up excess energy by working in jobs that required manual labour, worked their bodies in other ways, such as at the gym.
In his book Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) Jameson explains that in postmodernity people are abstracted from reality because of how capital operates. He believes we need a cognitive map to help us negotiate this new terrain and give us access to the reality that we cannot reach through the mediated representations that are directed to us. Standing and Rogers' intervention cleverly brings this to our attention. Louis Althusser describes our ideologically oriented subjectivity as being “the representation of the subject’s Imaginary relationship to his or her Real conditions of existence” and their intervention momentarily lifted this veil.

Co-incidentally, the day that I wrote this post, Nicolas Bourriaud’s new book Exform (2016) landed on my doormat. This book is inspired by the work of Althusser and on the matter at hand he says:
Free time belongs to the universe of what production has discarded – except when it can be channelled towards leisure that generates new profits…Today, the proletarian is defined as the consumer-of-the-world, pure and simple; his original patch of land – which Fordist-era factories provided so that he would employ free time in a useful manner – has assumed the immense dimensions of the ‘world of leisure’.
While this only represents part of the story of Standing and Rogers intervention – the defunct proletariat turned user of commodities, rather than the producer of them – it does not theoretically take care of the expending of energy which their intervention suggests replaces the physicality of factory work. However, this article in The Guardian looks at how we may be able to make even more profit out of gym users by actually turning them into simultaneous consumer-labourers through the kinetic energy produced from their bodies: The fat-burning and energy-producing gyms. This means the subject is no longer replacing their need to expend energy in the gym, post-industrialisation, but is instead being profited from twice: gym-user-cum-labourer. Hurrah for capitalism!

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Adam’s Adjunct: A Review of Spare Rib

Spare Rib Magazine - Today and Yesterday
by Anna Chism

I have just acquired my first copy of Spare Rib (1972-1993) - the January 1988 edition. There were quite a few available on the well-known online auction site, but I chose this one because 1987 was the year I moved to London and I thought the content would resonate with me since it was a significant life event and my memories of that time would hopefully be well-entrenched. This post, as well as taking an overall look at the magazine, will compare some of the events mentioned with what is taking place socio-politically today.

No surprise that the ‘Images of ‘87’ include Margaret Thatcher, but they also include Toni Morrison and Martina Navratilova. Black and lesbian women are really well-represented in this section which covers 3 double-page spreads. It also includes Dianne Abbot, with the caption "Britain’s first Black woman MP".

Some things never change. Despite David Cameron’s promise of more housing (after Thatcher’s decimation of the public housing system in the 1980s, which it has never recovered from), it has become apparent that the numbers do not add up. In terms of the real numbers of houses, the current promise for more affordable housing actually includes the quantity that had already previously been promised. Also, the dismantling of the council tenant housing system continues.

This edition of Spare Rib also includes an article on a new computer game called Jack the Ripper. The writer was concerned that the horrific graphics would attract the ‘video nasty’ clientele and the article includes a quote from an organisation known as Women Against Violence Against Women: “a lot of people are making money out of the murders of six, mutilated, working-class women”. Zoom ahead 27 years and you have the new Jack the Ripper Museum in London, doing the very same. I remember the controversy at the time of its proposal and I signed one of the online petitions. Apparently the architect was duped over its use when he was involved in its design. He says the plan was sold to him as a museum of women’s history and described it as “salacious, misogynist rubbish” (Andrew Waugh). So, I think we can safely say some things never change, but also that the founder of the museum, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, is a salacious misogynist despite previously being - unbelievably - a regional Head of Diversity at Google!

I’d like to include some of the quotes of the previous year. Below are a section of my favourite ones, plus my commentary:

“I have never squealed or complained, not once” Margaret Thatcher

Maybe not, but there were definitely tears as you left No. 10!

“Come on, any woman would be thrilled to be a sex symbol and me at forty” Edwina Currie


“In my experience men have had their clothes off a lot quicker than I did. In films it’s usually the reverse” Cybil Shepherd

You tell ‘em Cyb!

“I got the impression that she doesn’t do a lot of ironing” Dr Barnardo’s worker after chatting to the Princess of Wales

Well, ironing is not the preserve of women, but we get your point Dr Barnardo’s worker!

Monday, 17 October 2016

Vanishing Streets: Journeys in London

J M Tyree’s Vanishing Streets: Journeys in London (Stanford University Press 2016) is a view of London’s streets through the double lens of a film theorist and an American who first came to Britain to study at Cambridge in the 1990s. Referencing films such as Lindsay Anderson’s The White Bus (1967), Patrick Keiller’s London (1994) and Neil Jordan’s The End of the Affair (1999), the book also includes references to the work of writers that many psychogeographers are familiar with, such as Iain Sinclair’s Downriver (1991) and W G Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn (1995).

The book also includes images of the not-so-obvious that tend to interest the urban walker. So rather than the touristic images of a lovely London set out for the visitor, we have photos of retail parks and graffitied underpasses (if at any point we are in doubt that Tyree may not be ‘keeping it real’ for the reader).

Tyree takes us from Crystal Palace to Clissold Park, Wood Green to Waterloo on his explorations of London, which as well as the mode of walking, include the use of train and bus. In addition to his references to film and literature, we also get a good sense of the person behind the text through his autobiographical allusions and those that orient him culturally, such as through nods to music or football.

While Tyree does not proclaim himself to be a psychogeographer, the chapter entitled ‘Suggested Itinerary’, a letter from someone asking for advice on a visitor’s walk in London, says otherwise. It begins:
Your questions about what to see in London as a first-time American tourist are difficult for me to answer. I’m certain most visitors don’t want to browse one-pound paperbacks and odd dishware in charity shops, or walk along the industrial remnants of the docks at night leading to the Thames Flood Barrier, or visit the Victorian sewage works that saved Tottenham from cholera…

Friday, 14 October 2016

Elsewhere Journal: Mapping Desire

Elsewhere: A Journal of Place is now on its fourth edition. The journal is beautifully designed. I have a hard copy - a hard copy version of a journal is a rare thing in academia, where we mostly access journals online. Many academic journal are not particularly aesthetically pleasing, often having an uninspiring cover, a ‘traditional’ layout and little in terms of images. Not only does Elsewhere have a lovely cover, but there are beautiful images throughout (see below) and the journal is richly illustrated in both black and white, and full colour.

This particular edition concentrates on mapping and includes geographical places such as Wales, Australia and Madeira. Subjects comprise: post-industrial inner London, community mapping, walking in the post Eastern-bloc city and an interview with a cartographer. The introduction to this edition states:
Maps can be political tools, drawing boundaries to be debated across contested territory. In mapping the land they can offer the promise of riches in the natural resources that are waiting to be exploited, as well helping us understand better a landscape and the communities that call it home. At the same time, this knowledge can threaten the social and economic systems that already exist, threatening communities and creating conflict. Maps are not neutral, and their distortions or omissions can have profound consequences. (Paul Scraton and Julie Stone)
This final sentence draws to mind Mark Monmonier’s famous book on cartography: How to Lie With Maps (1991). It opens, thus: “Not only is it easy to lie with maps, it is essential".While I’m not a cartographer, maps and map-making are a fundamental part of psychogeography, so they have been of interest to me for as long as I have been in academia. I have made my own maps (and had them published), ran emotional mapping workshops and given lectures on maps. While not a cartographer, I am a schizocartographer. Schizocartography is underpinned by the concept of desire that is a key theme of the work of the psychoanalyst turned philosopher Félix Guattari. So, I am especially interested in forms of subjective mapping (cognitive, vernacular, emotional), such as the article in this edition of Elsewhere entitled ‘Community mapping and nation building: Papua, Indonesia’. This is what the author says:
The act of mapping is tacit acknowledgement of the reality of modern systems, and the relenting need to define, categorise, administer and manage…The necessity for mapping is borne from a world that tells entire communities that what they know of themselves and their surroundings is not enough, is not real, not in any way that counts. (Ho Ming So Denduangrudee)
This is a salient reminder of the modernist cartographic project, its history and its effects. But, the various forms of vernacular mapping that are employed as a counter movement are both enabling and offer hope.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Guilty Pleasures MixCD Series: Part 2 - Animals

Get Me Out: Between the Zoo and the Research Project

For part 1 of this series of blog posts, please click here: Part 1 - Manchester.

I didn’t plan on a series of Guilty Pleasures CDs when creating the first one, but when I got to thinking about the subject for this CD – animals – I decided to keep the brand style of the Manchester one. This meant the layout would need stay the same and also the text. So, Get Me Out needed a subtitle that sounded something like ‘Between the Rollerama and the Junk Yard” and I chose “Between the Zoo and the Research Project”. This then meant that the CD was going to be animal activist in origin and the tagline at the bottom of the cover needed to incorporate ‘guilty pleasure’ somehow. Hence began the radical bent (and the ironic tone) of my Guilty Pleasures Series.

I alluded to the kitsch nature of Sean Rowley’s Guilty Pleasures series in part 1 of the blog and said I would talk more about it here. Theodor Adorno describes kitsch as being ideological. This ideology appears as a momentary revisiting of the past in the form of what Adorno calls “musical small change” (2002: 503). They are fetishised elements that get circulated (in the case of Guilty Pleasures these elements are the old songs themselves). The tracks from the past become uprooted, re-contextualised and re-circulated. They are dished up to the music fan of the day without their historical roots being made apparent. This is what Richard Leppert says about kitsch music:
Kitsch invokes a past which is nostalgically remembered; as such kitsch is a means by which to forget – but less to forget the past than the present. Kitsch offers consolation, not so as to change everything but to make the anything of the here and now slightly more tolerable. (2002: 361)
Leppert describes this past/present that is forgotten as “selectively (mis)remembered”, and he explains that kitsch, for Adorno, is problematic because its relationship to history is not direct and therefore the truth of history is not spoken (2002: 363).

My being a fan of Rowley’s Guilty Pleasures series has been complicated by my own critique of it. The research I have carried out on kitsch has been illuminated by Adorno’s critique of popular music in general - also Sigmund Freud’s theories on guilt, pleasure, and so on (more about Freud in the next blog). However, I believe my own series of CDs, in the context they are presented, probably get around many of these problems. Urban Gerbil’s Guilty Pleasures is a) re-presenting of the music in a radical format b) using the ‘guilty pleasures’ label in an sardonic and reflexive way and c) is designed to make the listener think about the subject-matter presented to them via the packaging and the specially selected tracks.

The next blog will be about work and labour.

Leppert, Richard. 2002. ‘Commentary’, Essays on Music, trans. by Susan H. Gillespie (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press) pp. 327-372.
Adorno, Theodor W. 2002. 'Kitsch', Essays on Music, trans. by Susan H. Gillespie (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press) pp. 501-505.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Guilty Pleasures MixCD Series: Part 1 - Manchester

STEPZ II: Between the Rollerama and the Junkyard

This is the new Urban Gerbil Publications mixCD series. The previous series – psy(co)motion – was a collection that was inspired by psychogeography. After five CDs I felt that psy(co)motion had reached its limit (in regards to my own music collection, but also for other reasons) and I needed to await the emergence of the next theme which would come about through something that inspired me. I’m afraid you will not be able to find out about psy(co)motion at this time, as it will be featured in an academic book on creative geographies which I will be writing a chapter for. However, I can tell you more about Guilty Pleasures.

Guilty Pleasures began with a CD that was inspired by the work Ally Standing and myself did for the 'Loitering With Intent Exhibition' at the People’s History Museum in Manchester (summer 2016). We created a zine and artwork based on the city of Manchester, psychogeography and the work of John Cooper Clarke. Entitled STEPZ II: Between the Rollerama and the Junk Yard our exhibition submission inspired a CD of the same name. As well as music by Mancunian artists, the CD also included poems read out by the authors who contributed to the zine (see tracks 03, 07 and 11 below by Steve Kettle, G N Deans and Sophie Sparham).

I became interested in the music genre Guilty Pleasures (now a global brand) a few years ago and have written a number of essays and blogs on the subject from both a Freudian and Adornian perspective. Created by the DJ Sean Rowley, the brand inspired compilation CDs and club nights in the UK and abroad (I have attended the Leeds club nights in the past and I also own some of the CDs). As a music style it is interested in music that the listener likes but that is considered to have low cultural value: music that might be considered ‘uncool’ ('bad taste' would be a kitsch description - more on kitsch in the next post). In its initial incarnation Rowley’s Guilty Pleasures reflected the singer-songwriter music of the 1970s and early 1980s. It then evolved into practically any type of music from that period up to today, very often music that would be described as ‘cheese’. According to the Guilty Pleasures website:
Sean Rowley began the night in the 150 capacity Hammersmith Working Men’s Club in 2004 and, discovering he was not alone in his love for ELO and Hall & Oates, moved the night to the Islington Academy where it resided for 2005 culminating in a Christmas party which saw Charlotte Church and Terry Hall take to the stage to sing.
The sleeve covers of Rowley’s CDs usually show females in ‘seductive’ poses. So, it was really choosing the image for the STEPZ II CD that made me think of the Guilty Pleasures CDs produced by Rowley. The image on my CD cover above is actually a photo I took while doing research in Manchester with Ally Standing prior to submitting our work to the exhibition. I decided to use it because it was roughly twice the proportion of one side of a CD, which meant I could then fold it back and it would become the whole image for both sides of the CD sleeve. It was actually a large poster that fitted inside a filled-in window in Manchester city centre (see below).

Once I had chosen the cover for the CD, I then added the cheeky text at the bottom of the CD: “MANCHESTER: Your guilty pleasure!” and that was the beginning of the series. The next CD I produced was about animals, and you can read about that in the next blog along with some theory on kitsch.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Atlas of Improbable Places: A Fantastic Voyage into the Body-Politic

While the dictionary states that ‘improbable’ means “Not likely to be true or happen. Unexpected and apparently inauthentic”, the Improbability Principle states that “extremely improbable events are commonplace” (David Hand – statistician). So what does Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield’s Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Corners tell us about “the obscure and bizarre, the beautiful and estranged” places contained therein? Well, perhaps there are more improbable places than we knew existed. Elborough (writer) and Horsfield (cartographer) educate us in improbable places through their atlas, categorising these unusual, surprising and secretive phenomenon under headings such as architectural oddities, floating worlds and deserted destinations.

Covering a multitude of types of places, from off-grid or hidden spaces to underground or abandoned settlements, the book takes us on a fantastic voyage through its beautiful pages of stylishly formatted text, maps and photos. Every place discussed has a map, grid reference, description and image. We have photos ranging from the words of God to spooky doll heads, showing all sorts of places like underground railways and lost kingdoms.

While it’s difficult to pick my favourite one out of the fifty-one described, I’m going to discuss Concrete City because I have an interest in towns that are especially built for workers, such as Fordlândia (Henry Ford’s prefabricated town from the early part of the 20th century).

‘Concrete City: Garden City of the Anthracite Region’ is in Pennsylvania, US (see above image). Elborough explains that Concrete City was built in 1911 by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western rail/mining project. It is both a new town and also part of the garden city movement created by Ebenezer Howard. The workers’ town was set for demolition in 1924, following a litany of issues relating to damp, poor sanitation and so on. However, it proved hard to destroy despite much dynamite and still remains today, now recognised as having cultural value. You can see some more images of Concrete City here.

What in particular interests me about places like Concrete City and Fordlândia is that they arise as a response to the understanding that taking care of your workers is beneficial in terms of profit. Both these new towns arose in the period of post-Victorian industrialisation. We are still in the second stage of capitalism at this time, what some theorists describe as “the family wage economy”, where the husband’s income supports the whole family. We haven’t yet reached the post-World War II consumer economy where women are more widely employed, start to leave the confines of the home and are considered consumers in their own right.

In terms of a cultural theoretical critique of these townships, one can’t help but see the downside of this being one of control of the body-politic. Power structures are materially embedded and the housing provided by 'the company' exerts more control over the worker than would be the case if the properties were not owned by the same organisation that the labourers work for. I wonder if there was also perhaps some of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon at work here, too. In Concrete City the oblong layout of the houses means they are all looking in towards a centre, and hence at each other (self surveillance). Actually, this takes us to another of the improbable places in the book, Presidio Modelo a former prison in Cuba. Its circular buildings epitomise the panopticon (see the model of the panopticon below).

For Michel Foucault, the body-politic is: “a set of material elements and techniques that serve as weapons, relays, communications routes and supports for the power and knowledge relations that invest human bodies and subjugate them by turning them into objects of knowledge” (1991: 28). Foucault explains that thinking of power and knowledge as separate from each other and that they exist in detached domains is a mistake. In fact “power produces knowledge” (1991: 27). He explains: “there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does no presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.” (ibid.). This reciprocal power/knowledge process involves the knowing subject, the known object and also the modes used in the procurement of that knowledge. This works in regards to knowledge of the individual, in particular the body.

You can see how this applies to the prison system, but I believe it applies to these types of new towns, too. This is what Foucault describes as “political anatomy” (1991: 28). However, he makes it clear that this is a procedure that does not decontextualise the subject, or the body: it is the analysis of a process - the body-politic - which means the individual cannot be removed from this activity and examined on their own in terms of power. They are only known in regards to this power dynamic and not in their own right. Although, we can never be known ‘in our own right’ as we always exist in apparatuses that exert power through ideology (Louis Althusser): for instance, even within the private place of the family.

Foucault, Michel. 1991. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. by Alan Sheridan (London: Penguin Books).