Monday, 28 December 2020

The Alternative Conclusion to Walking Inside Out


A few weeks ago I posted the 'official' version of the conclusion of Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography (Rowman and Littlefield International 2015). However, if you would like a copy of the first version, the one that wasn't published, you can get a copy here. It deals specifically with the detractors of psychogeography. For those of you who don't want to download and read the full alternative conclusion, below is an extract:

Conclusion: Psychogeography PLC

by Tina Richardson

So as to keep up-to-date with any current media-related references to psychogeography, from time to time I type into my search engine ‘psychogeography’ followed by the month and year. In April 2014 I did the same and an article in the The Guardian paired psychogeography with the name of a Britpop singer: ‘Damon Albarn and the Heavy Seas Review – Rich in Personal Psychogeography’ (2014). If Coverley thought ‘the game was up’ following Self’s articles in The Independent, I wonder what this says about psychogeography today? Even though it could be easy to be cynical about its current populist and mutable use, this is not a particularly constructive approach to take towards psychogeography. Rather than seeing it as a co-opting of the term, or an aligning of some individuals to something ‘trendy’ that we feel they have little connection to, we might see this as a compliment.

In the introduction I mentioned how Sinclair has often been placed in the position of defender of the field of psychogeography. Psychogeography has plenty of detractors and, while this could be seen as a negative reflection of it, I prefer to see it as promoting valuable discussion. It also enables an academic engagement with critics who are often outside academia. While I do not see myself as the current ‘union rep’ of psychogeography, I would like to look at some of the comments by some critics and work through the issues they have raised, since they are a reflection of what individuals think about psychogeography in Britain today and are, therefore, part of the project at hand.

Sinclair has expressed his own concerns about the term, however these are often decontextualized by others into snappy quotes and at times represent a specific strand of psychogeography that he may be commenting on, or even another period of time in its development. For instance his references to it being a ‘franchise’ in the The Fortean Times are referring to an aspect of 1990s psychogeography: “There was a kind of strategy to this rebranding, I was quite happy to run with it as a franchise, as a way of talking about doing the things I'd always done and providing a useful description that could be discussed in public. It became a bit of a monster on the back of that” (Pilkington and Baker 2002, 3). [cont...] Please, click here for the full conclusion.

Friday, 4 December 2020

Christmas Alone? Six Tips and a Brilliant Mnemonic!

Please note: I wrote/posted this back in 2016, but am reposting it as I think it may be even more pertinent this year!

Your Singleton Xmas - Help is at Hand

I am becoming an expert at spending Xmas on my own, having spent 7 out of the last 11 alone, so I feel pretty well qualified to add my ideas to those available online. This blog is not directed at the elderly (there are many of those posts and articles already), but rather more to those who out of choice, because of 'family problems', geographical incompatibility or lack of opportunity spend Xmas on their own. It is also not about what to do to prevent yourself being alone, as this is also well covered elsewhere.

I spent my first Xmas on my own in 2006 and it was infinitely better than the previous one in 2005. 2006 was actually the best Xmas in a long time. While the Singleton Xmases since then have varied from 'OK' to 'good', I have developed a strategy over time, which I continue to work on and improve.

Here are my tips, framed in a mnemonic which is also a tip in its own right: FRIDGE!

If you have no family, are estranged from them, or they live in another part of the world, make your own family! Your family can consist of just you. At least you like ‘you’, you know what ‘you’ like, and you will be nice to ‘you’. If you are lucky enough to have a bobbins (for ‘bobbins’ read ‘pet’) then you are very fortunate as they are your family. Wrap a present from your bobbins to yourself and vice versa. Have a little present opening ceremony where they enjoy the wrapping paper much more than the present you bought them, and you really enjoy the present they gave you because you helped them buy it. If, like me, you got their present from them to you in September, then you may even be lucky enough to have forgotten what it was and it will still be a surprise on Xmas day! Jean-Paul, the existential degu, bought me a book on Soviet Bus Stops this year, but it took me a while to remember!

Follow old rituals and create new ones. Xmas is all about rituals: the rituals of the religious aspect of Christmas (if you follow a Christian-based religion), cultural rituals, rituals from your childhood, and so on. If some of the rituals from childhood are problematic, then drop them. If they don’t work this year, then don’t do them again. But, you can create new ones, and if they work they can become part of your 'Singleton Xmas' if you wish to employ them again in the future. I dress as if I am spending Xmas with others, I always have a Snowball while I’m putting my slap on, I put carols on on the radio first thing, and I always have melon for breakfast!

Indulge yourself. You have all the time to do this – one full 24 hr period at least. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. You can make crafty things for yourself (e.g. crackers), or make some foodstuffs (e.g. mince pies or delicious pickles). Make yourself a ‘proper’ Xmas meal and serve with a cracker and Xmas serviette. Get some gorgeous food in – stuff that you wouldn’t buy every day – such as truckles (a recent ritual I have added to my list). I like them as ‘objects’ and I also like their waxy covering. You can buy a few truckles quite cheaply. Much better than buying a mahoosive cheese selection and making yourself ill through gorging.

This is a tricky one. I have tried over-drinking and under-drinking and can tell you, quite honestly, that under-drinking is better when you are on your own. Also, you will be more likely to actually remember the day itself. Either pace yourself (one ‘alcoholic’ followed by one ‘soft’) or stop drinking after a certain time. My strategy is to not start before 11.oo and to stop drinking when I start eating my Xmas lunch. I also then never get a hangover and can do it all over again on Boxing Day! Don’t forget to treat yourself to something nice that you don’t have often, so that it becomes a treat and part of your new ritual.

We have already covered giving to yourself and your bobbins in terms of gifts. But I also mean here ‘forgiving’. I don’t mean you have to forgive others, although it may be the case and may be helpful to you (although it may not be). What I mean is be kind to yourself. Just because you are on your own doesn’t mean you are: a ‘bad’ person, are unworthy, are friendless or are unloved. It is just one day and you can make it anything from tolerable to great by being kind to yourself.

I do think effort is one of the most important things in my top tips, even though it is at the bottom of the list. I always get up early. I love the silence early on Xmas day, it reminds me of Charlton Heston in The Omega Man: it’s like the world ended overnight and you are the only one alive. Joking apart, languishing in bed will just put off the inevitable. Best get up early and prepare the veggies and then there is time to watch one of your favourite films or a boxset. White Christmas has been on my list previously, but this year I am going to watch Doctor Doolittle and West Side Story.

Well, I hope this has been helpful, folks. Over and out, and good luck on your Singleton Xmas.

If in doubt, don’t forget: FRIDGE!

Childline: 0800 1111
Samaritans: 116 123
Domestic Violence Hotline: 0808 2000 247
Mind: 0300 123 3393
Age UK: 0800 169 6565
RSPCA: 0300 1234 999

I would just like to add that I have very kind friends who I have spent Xmas with in this time-frame and which I really enjoyed. I also spent a great Xmas with a friend at my home in 2014.

Please feel free to comment.

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Merlin Coverley's 'Hauntology'


Merlin Coverley's latest book - Hauntology: Ghosts of Futures Past - has just been published by Oldcastle Books (2020), and I am lucky enough to have a review copy. This isn't going to be a 'traditional' review. Rather more, in providing some extracts and discussion, I am going to highlight a couple of my favourite theories from the book. If you would like a straightforward review, you can go to The Indiependent or Horrified Magazine, but I will also include the blurb from the back cover, so that you get an overview of this non-fiction text and can see where the theories I will be discussing fit into the overall book. I just want to add, though, that despite the fact I am looking at two of the key theories elucidated in the book, this is a book for anyone interested in: the past, the occult, psychogeographical literature, popular culture, ghost stories, folk horror, nostalgia, and so on, and not just for academics:

Ghosts and spectres, the eerie and the occult. Why is contemporary culture so preoccupied by the supernatural, so captivated by the revenants of an earlier age, so haunted? The concept of Hauntology has evolved since first emerging in the 1990s, and has now entered the cultural mainstream as a shorthand for our new-found obsession with the recent past. But where does this term come from and what exactly does it mean?

This book seeks to answer these questions by examining the history of our fascination with the uncanny from the golden age of the Victorian ghost story to the present day. From Dickens to Derrida, MR James to Mark Fisher; from the rise of Spiritualism to the folk horror revival, Hauntology traces our continuing engagement with these esoteric ideas. Moving between the literary and the theoretical, the visual and the political, Hauntology explores our nostalgia for the cultural artefacts of a past from which we seem unable to break free.

DERRIDA'S HAUNTOLOGY: Utopian Futures and Enduring Spirits

Coverley's opening launches with a proposed answer to the question above in regard to our fascination with the past. He says that our "preoccup[ation]...can be found through the examination of what one critic has described recently as 'perhaps the most important, political-philosophical concept we have right now': hauntology''. Quoting Thomas Wyman, here, Coverley then leads us to the inventor of that theory, Jacques Derrida, explaining its explication through Derrida's text The Spectres of Marx (1993). While the theory of hauntology was formulated by Derrida as a way of examining the enduring nature of Marx's work, today it has become common parlance in certain circles and is about how the past constantly reappears in our present through its various cultural manifestations, but also in regard to the political ramifications of the past and how they come back to haunt us. A perfect contemporary example of this is the populist political figurehead and the current draw, amongst many, towards more authoritarian political stances. On this point, I like the way Coverley highlights the utopian aspect of hauntology when he states: "Derrida used hauntology, his science of ghosts, to demonstrate that...the spectre of Marx, like all ghosts which have yet to be laid to rest, would return, repeatedly, disrupting the present and continuing to remind us of another possible future". Something we should all hope for after the 2020 we have had, which has both politically and medically invoked the ghosts of the past!

Coverley also evokes - actually under the rubric of hauntology, he rather invokes - Mark Fisher's work (see Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology & Lost Futures) in regard to his discussion on "temporal currents". For Fisher, hauntology operates when phenomenon that is "not yet" present "haunts the present from the future". It is also the case that something that "no longer" exists "haunts the present from the past". Both these spectres are evident in the present via "repetition or anticipation". Coverley explains that this "ghost...comes from the past to manifest itself in the present and yet...belongs to neither". This is where Derrida's interest in the ghost as a deconstructive mechanism becomes apparent, the spectre being both "absent and present". Later in the book, Coverley revisits Derrida's hauntology in more depth by examining the paradox functioning in these types of binary oppositions - e.g. absence/presence - that intrigued Derrida so much. Coverley says the ghost is "both inside and outside of time, both beyond and of history" and one of the themes that recurs in his discussion of Derrida's hauntology is 'the return', which leads me neatly on to a discussion of the uncanny in regard to Coverley's book.

FREUD'S UNCANNY: The Return of the Father

For Freud the uncanny (The Uncanny 1899) is something which - to put very simply - is both familiar and unfamiliar, homely and unhomely (heimlich and unheimlich in the German). Because of its definition, it is clear why Derrida was so interested in Freud's uncanny: there is a contradiction at the heart of its very being. For Coverley (and he does allude to the knottiness of the term), the uncanny is used in the sense that it represents for Freud "death, dead bodies, revenants, spirits and ghosts" (Freud's words). Coverley explains that Freud is uncomfortable with using the language of the spectre due to his academic standing. However, we can see how the ghost (in the form of the returning 'thing', the repressed) is actually a fundamental part of psychoanalysis, as both a phenomena located in the unconscious and in terms of the psychoanalytic process itself: returning, repeating, and so on. Whether it is the compulsion to repeat (the returning trauma) or the revisiting of that trauma within the consulting room of the psychoanalyst. Coverley explains: "the repetition and doubling [are] to be found at the heart of Freud's concept [and] are replayed through the returns the re-enactments of the historical past". 

The section that follows the above in Coverley's book takes a look at Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Derrida 1995), in relation to literature. For those literature boffins who read this blog, Coverley discusses M R James, Robert McFarlane and H P Lovecraft in this section. I think this is a neat inclusion of Archive Fever here by Coverley, where he examines the death drive in relation to the literature he discusses. But I would also like to add to that the ghosts that appear at the outset of Archive Fever, Derrida's inspiration for the book, and there are two. In Archive Fever Derrida writes of how the private event of Freud’s circumcision becomes public when its trace becomes part of the archive which is the Freud Museum. An inscription appears in the archive in the form of a bible that Freud’s father has re-covered in new leather and re-gifts to him. Freud's father presents it to his son on his birthday. For Derrida this private inscription is both the note from Freud’s father, and Freud’s circumcision. I would argue, too, that both these (in their ghostly manifestation) are ever-present, ever-absent...spectres...the haunting of which appear in the trace that is left by what was...

You can order Coverley's book here!

I have also written about the uncanny on this blog before (in relation to psychogeography), so if you are interested, click on the following:

Taking an Urban Walk With Freud

Uncanny Effects and Perambulatory Weirdness

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Conclusion of Walking Inside Out

When I author-edited Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography (Rowman and Littlefield International 2015) back in 2014, I wrote two conclusions. The first one was, in the most part, a reply to the critics of psychogeography. Below is an extract from the second draft, the one that was published (please click here to download the whole chapter), which I am making available for the first time. I will post the original draft in the next blog post. 

Conclusion: The New Psychogeography

Tina Richardson

Resurgence and Revival

In an interview in Fortean Times in 2002, Sinclair was asked what his involvement was in the revival of psychogeography during the 1990s, he replied: “In a classic sense I don’t think I had anything to do with it. But the whole term has been dusted down and reinvented and re-used by people like Stewart Home and the London Psychogeographical Association” (cited in Pilkington and Baker 2002, 3). Of this period in psychogeography, Sinclair explains that “there was a kind of strategy to this rebranding, I was quite happy to run with it as a franchise, as a way of talking about doing the things I'd always done and providing a useful description that could be discussed in public. It became a bit of a monster on the back of that” (ibid.). He goes on to explain that by the time he was using the term it was “more like a psychotic geographer…a raging bull journey against the energies of the city” (ibid.).

At the point of writing this conclusion, well over ten years on from Sinclair’s comment above, what has psychogeography become in the second decade into the 21st century? And, is the current resurgence just a continuation of the one Sinclair mentions (the one of the London Psychogeographical Association), or has it morphed into something else?[i] James D. Sidaway says of human geography and its related fields that “increasing attention is being dedicated to the social relations of emotion and action under the label of ‘affect’” (2009, 1092). If there is a current focus on the affective response to space then this could be connected to what is called placiality (Edward Casey). Postmodern space has become so complex in its palimpsest form that our reaction to it has reached a kind of critical mass whereby we feel compelled to attempt to articulate our response to the terrain. This is also reflected in cultural theory on space/place of the late 20th century (such as that of Henri Lefebvre and Gaston Bachelard), as discussed by Stephen Hardy in ‘Placiality: The Renewal of the Significance of Place in Modern Cultural Theory’ (2000). In 1984 Michel Foucault stated that “[t]he present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space” (2001, 237), but of today’s epoch we can confidently say that it is one of ‘place’. The concept of place is now finding its way into popular/everyday vocabulary. In December 2014 a BBC Radio 4 programme entitled Sense of Place was broadcast. It included an interview with Joanne Parker who, on the concept of place, said: “one person’s place is very much another person’s space…landscape is first and foremost a way of creating belongingness and tying us together” (2014).

Writing at the same time as Sidaway, Bonnett says that “British psychogeography should be understood as a site of struggle over the politics of loss within radical imagination” (2009, 46). Our desire to not only explore the social history of a particular space, but also to express it in a personal and affective way that responds to the aesthetics of that place as it is for us, is one that comes about through description via our imagination, an individual expression which is different for everyone, in other words a psychogeographically articulated response. Bonnett says amuch broader group of people are now interested and involved in psychogeography, many of whom have no interest in the Situationists. It may be argued that this is a form of depolitization or that psychogeography has outgrown the limited and exclusionary world of the revolutionary avant-garde” (2013). If this is the case, then the sharing of psychogeographical accounts from whatever perspective (activist or otherwise) have been enabled through contemporary technology, with websites, blogs, social networking and aided by new ‘geo apps’.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have granted individuals access to data and aided them in creating representations of space/place in a totally different way, as the hobby of geocaching attests to (geocaching involves individuals locating secreted packages, with clues to their location loaded online, via GPS). Even navigating the internet itself has been compared to exploring urban space (see ‘Psychogeography, Détournement, Cyberspace’ by Amy J. Elias [2010]).[ii] Often appearing under the umbrella of neogeography, the use of the internet and mobile technologies opens up space for groups and individuals and enables them to readily share the products of their walks. For example, OpenStreetMap is open source software by the OpenStreetMap Foundation and is a collaboration by its contributors providing free geographical data and mapping. Anyone can contribute by signing-up online. The data of routes walked can be picked up by using GPS software on a smartphone, then made into maps and freely shared.[iii]

This digital and satellite way of creating maps enables a synthesis with the older peripatetic method of simply talking and writing about walks. It allows the psychogeographer to include more tools for tracking their walks, presenting their information and making it available for others to access. These maps and forms of data collection show the infinite possibility of cartographies and ways for walkers to present personal and qualitative information. They offer a large degree of control of the mapping process to the user/cartographer. The open source software that is often used for these types of collaborations to a large extent disengages the data from capitalist production and, hence, provides more freedom of expression, production and distribution. This enables their use in explorations of space, creating mapping-oriented art for pleasure or for a variety of community-based projects.

The current resurgence in walking has coincided with a renewed interest in cartography encouraged by the availability of digital tools. While these tools are often used by non-specialist users in community and arts-based projects, the contemporary psychogeographer is at once embracing and critical of the new technology, preferring to use it as one tool amongst many for creating, recording and producing output from the dérive.

In The View From the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes (2013) Keiller says that the current revival in the UK is very much Situationist oriented and is connected to the desire to explore the urban landscape with tools such as the dérive (2013, 133). While this seems to counter what Bonnet says above, this is may be more to do with a matter of perspective. Both seem to be occurring, separately and simultaneously. The objectives for walking are over-determined. Some groups and individuals are interested in the process and practice of the dérive-type walk and are not politically-oriented. Others are attempting an activist pursuit, on differing scales. And some, even though they are not overtly being interventionist, nevertheless will be intervening in the space as a side-effect of what their other intentions might be.

[i] In an online article in June 2014 on The Quietus ‘‘A Living Memory’: Iain Sinclair on Life at 70’ describes the term ‘psychogeography’ as having “threatened to become an albatross around his neck” (Burrows 2014).

[ii] The flexibility of psychogeography enables it to be extended into many field, such as tourism, as can be seen in Charles McIntyres book Tourism and Retail: The Psychogeography of Liminal Consumption (2012).

[iii] For those who are interested in technology and its uses in psychogeography, the geographer and psychogeographer Tim Waters provides examples of his own work in this field on his blog

Friday, 21 August 2020

A Psychogeography Bucket List

In early 2015 Anna Chism interviewed the British psychogeographer, Dr. Tina Richardson, ahead of the release of her edited volume Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography . This interview was featured in both STEPZ and Foxhole Magazine (vol. 1)

By Anna Chism
I eventually find Tina’s house just off the Leeds Ring Road. With a pub, bowls club, wooded area and dog-walking field opposite, it is a geographical combination of suburban-rural. I imagine it is an interesting space for a psychogeographer to reside. She has lived in this part of North Leeds for the past three years in a post-Victorian terraced house along with her elderly companion, ex-hippy turned nun, Sister Moonshine.
Tina could not be described as a reluctant interviewee, giving interviews to anyone who will give her a minute of their time. As part of the current revival of psychogeography she is one of the ‘the new psychogeographers’, the moment whereby psychogeography is becoming increasingly self-conscious and reflexive.
Tina welcomes me into her study – a room full of books and objet d’art resembling a pretentious kitsch version of Freud’s office-cum-consultant-room – and we settle by the window with our rooibos. I throw my coat over a fluorescent green plaster-of-Paris version of Rodin’s David and congratulate her on the record-breaking numbers of pre-orders of her new volume. And we begin.
AC: Tina, tell me the top three places in the world you would like to carry out a psychogeography-related project.
TR: At the moment – and this list would possibly be different if you asked me in a year’s time – it would be Dubai, Camp Bastion and Wymondham College.
AC: Well, I’ve heard of the first two, but where the heck is Wymondham College and what makes it a place ripe for psychogeography?
TR: It’s actually a secondary school in Norfolk not far from Norwich and it used to be a military hospital up until it became a grammar school in 1951. It’s a publicly funded boarding school and has a noteworthy campus format, and needless to say, an interesting history, which actually includes Anglo Saxon finds. At one time the pupils slept in Nissan huts left there by the British Forces and even up until the 1980s attended classes in the huts. Only one Nissan hut remains now, as part of the school’s heritage.
AC: What angle would you take if you had the opportunity to work on the campus?
TR: Well, while it would be easy for me to use the same methodology I did for my PhD – a schizocartography of a campus space (in that instance the University of Leeds) – I think Wymondham College lends itself better to one of hauntology. For instance, part of the original hospital has a mortuary, but more significantly than that are the anecdotal stories that have become memes promulgated by the pupils themselves. These ghostly stories about the college are passed on to all the new pupils by the older ones, often carried out in performative way at night and on specific dates each year.
AC: Tell me what it is about Dubai that takes your urban fancy?
TR: Ever since I’ve been a psychogeographer I’ve been interested in Dubai. I used to teach a class on it and used it as an example of a postmodern space. In a way it is a post-postmodern space. If Los Angeles represents the postmodern city par excellence, then Dubai represents the next phase of urban development, whatever the name for that might be. Dubai needs its own school of urbanism and theory like Chicago and Los Angeles had. This potential school would look at a dynamics of urbanism whereby actual physical space is created from ‘nothing’, either vertically, as in Blade Runner and The Fifth Element, or horizontally, for example like Dubai, from the sea, by creating islands of sand.
AC: What kind of problems might you anticipate if you were to carry out psychogeography in Dubai?
TR: I’m not sure what it is like for a woman to walk in Dubai. It is not a pedestrian-friendly city by all accounts. I did a project in Los Angeles – the city of cars – and that was interesting in a place where perambulation is a rare form of moving about the city. However, in regard to Dubai, my interest is in the spaces that have been formed out of the sea, such as the Palm Islands. These islands can be seen from space. They have changed the lie of the land on a very fundamental level and in an amazingly creative way.
AC: Thanks, Tina. Now for your final space. Surely you’ve missed the psychogeographical boat of Camp Bastion?
TR: Yes, I’m afraid that’s true. Ideally I would have loved to have done a project during the peak of its decommissioning, but it is coming to an end now. Camp Bastion is returning to the desert from whence it sprung, a bit like Dubai but in reverse. Camp Bastion was a city as well as a military airbase. It required a project in itself in the dismantling of it – actually costing six times more than that of its creation. It’s a unique space and it is this that makes it intriguing to me. Before Camp Bastion, Chernobyl was on my bucket list, but Chernobyl has been worked and re-worked a lot in recent times.
AC: How would you have made your case for doing a project in Camp Bastion?
TR: Well, I wouldn’t have passed the security checks even if there was the remotest chance they’d have allowed a 'civvy' on the camp. They would have taken one look at my website and thought ‘There is no way we are letting that lefty subversive anywhere near this base’!
AC: What other places are on your bucket list?
TR: Portmeirion, Fordlandia and Celebration would all be interesting places to explore, and for similar reasons, and are definitely on my list.
AC: Before we finish, can I ask you what you are working on now?
TR: I’m currently scheduling talks for the promotion of the book and working on the autumn edition of Stepz.

Before leaving the house, to head back to Leeds Railway Station, Tina successfully managed to cajole me into being the nth donor for the GoFundMe page for medical costs for the elderly Sister Moonshine and, irritatingly, insisted on walking me to Horsforth train station, pointing out all the "architectural phalluses" on the way!

Saturday, 4 July 2020

'Presupposed actualization and the discourse of architectural development plans' by Fenella Brandenberg

Let Me Tell You a Story: Presupposed actualization and the discourse of architectural development plans.

By Fenella Brandenburg.

Please click here for free downloadable copy of this essay.

Abstract of essay:
This essay discusses how architectural development plans form a narrative that tells a story of the future space being proposed. This story, embedded in a discourse that is circulated by those in authority in regard to the project’s manifestation, has two main effects. Firstly, it changes the subjectivity of those involved in the decision-making process and, secondly, the ideological structure surrounding the development makes the anticipated project, in the minds of those involved, exist in advance. These effects are known as presupposed actualization. By providing an example of a development project carried out in the UK in the 1960s - and by using theories around narratology, ideology, discourse and representation – the author demonstrates how this comes about through the telling of a story and because of the material actions undertaken by those invested in the project.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Axis of Exploration and Failure in the Search for a Situationist "Great Strike"

Reappropriated Map by Tina Richardson 2011

Please click here for the animated map (about 30 seconds long):
Axis of Exploration and Failure...

The above animated map is appropriated from the Situationist map by Guy Debord called Axis of Exploration and Failure in the Search for a Situationist "Great Passage" (1957). My map is based on the education-related strikes in 2011, in particular at the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University of that year. My own image takes sections from various University of Leeds maps and it includes a photo I took of the J30 strike in June 2011.

Here is how Tom McDonough describes Debord's original map in The Situationists and the City:
...a novel sort of map, or perhaps we might better say a work that stands halfway between the realms of art and cartography...This was one of a series called 'psychogeographic' maps he made of Paris at that moment, maps intended to chart "the specific effects of the geographic milieu, consciously planned or not, acting on the affective comportment of individuals." It in fact records one particular expedition...undertaken three years earlier by Debord and Chtcheglov (seen in their photograph at the top left) across their favored neighborhoods on the Left Bank, pictured in four collaged aerial photographs linked by arrows signalling various possible routes of entry and egress from one 'ambiance' to another. At the bottom right we find a poetic emblem of this voyage, a reproduction of Claude Lorrain's Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula of 1641 [see below]...The three elements together - along with the work's title, which characteristically unites a rather dry, technical description with the fanciful reference to the 'great' (that is, northwest) passage sought by explorers from Christopher Columbus forward in their quest for a more direct route to the east - produce an idiosyncratic plan of the city, one that privileges psychology as much as topography.
Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula by Claude Lorrain 1641

Below is the Situationists map. Apologies for the poor quality, I have scanned it in from McDonough's book, the original, of which, was already not a good rendition.

Axis of Exploration and Failure in the Search for a Situationist "Great Passage"
by Guy Debord 1957

Monday, 4 May 2020

#Post-Truth – Trump, Truth and Treachery in the Post Post-Modern

There was an interesting article in The Conversation yesterday: The surprising origins of post truth – and how it was spawned by the liberal left. It’s interesting to me because it could be described as coming under the general rubric of cultural studies, not least for the reference to Jean-Francois Lyotard’s book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, a key text in cultural theory. I won’t go into the article in depth - which starts by stating that post-truth is the international word of the year - as you can read it yourself. What I would like to do is include some extra cultural theory to support/expand on what the author, Andrew Calcutt, says and draw a few concepts together that are related to truth - reality, language and evil – and list them next to their respective theorists.

Michel Foucault: Truth, Discourse and Language
For Foucault statements, appearing as speech acts, are not about truth versus falsity, rather they designate a field of discourse that “emerges in its materiality, appears with a status, enters various networks and various fields of use, is subjected to transferences and modifications, is integrated into operations and strategies in which its identity is maintained or effaced” (2005, 118). Statements exist within a designated field, thus utilising relevant forces which dictate the validity of a given utterance. Foucault explains how the statement is partly concealed in its very deployment. ‘Truth’ is not a function of the words and sentences themselves, but the whole network of factors which form that specific utterance in the propagation of a specific statement. The statement exists through a form of appropriation and it is legitimised through the utilisation of the forces that exist, in an event-like state, around it. For Foucault “a true discourse engenders or ‘manufactures’ something that does not yet exist, that is, ‘fictions’ it” (1980, 193). In regard to the Trump presidency, we can see the power of statement and how it operates within a discourse of power, like all statements do. However, what is key to what I have written here in regards to Foucault is this manufacturing of something new, which also relates to my last post on the subject of Trump: #PresidentTrump – A Simulated Hold-Up. So, how does the concept of truth sit with another postmodern theorist, Baudrillard…

Jean Baudrillard: Evil, Language and the Sign
In The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact, Baudrillard says “It is impossible to destroy the system by a contradiction-based logic or by reversing the balance of forces – in short, by a direct, dialectical revolution affecting the economic or political infrastructure. Everything that produces contradiction or a balance of forces or energy in general merely feeds back into the system and drives it on” (2005, 4) and I believe we witnessed this process unfolding in the US presidential election. But what of truth? The people were witness to lies in the Trump election (and BRexit). These lies did not seem to matter as much as some of us expected they might – especially in the academic community (although we will always have a respective theory to why these things happen, depending on our own specialism). Well, it’s all tied up in semiology for Baudrillard. Baudrillard asks the question: “What becomes of the arbitrary nature of the sign when the referent ceases to be the referent?” (2005, 68). He goes on to explain: “The sign, ceasing to be a sign, becomes once again a thing among things. That is to say, a thing of total necessity or absolute contingency…For the sign is a scene, the scene of representation, of seduction, of language: in language signs seduce once another beyond meaning [and] the disappearance of this scene clears the way for a principle of obscenity, a pornographic materialization of everything” (2005, 68-69). In regards to good and evil, Baudrillard explains that the disintegration of the sign reduces these terms to “happiness and misfortune” (2005, 139). In the media many have said that it was the misfortune felt by the, mostly, white working class in the US that led to Trump’s win. This leads me on to the next set of terms, not by a cultural theorist, interestingly, but in a book that the article reminded me of: The People of the Lie.

M. Scott Peck: Stress, Evil and the Cult Leader
In his book about human evil, the psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck explains that this is what happens to individuals in times of stress: “The problem is that the role of the follower is the role of the child. The individual adult as individual is master of his own ship, director of his destiny. But when he assumes the role of follower he hands over to the leader his power: his authority over himself as decision-maker. He becomes psychologically dependent on the leader as a child is dependent on its parents. In this way there is profound tendency for the average individual to emotionally regress as soon as he becomes a group member” (from ‘Group Dynamics: Dependency and Narcissism’ in The People of the Lie) (1998, 223). The grandiose narcissist Trump is the cult leader par excellence. His self-appointed place as saviour of the vulnerable/misunderstood/side-lined makes him a ‘perfect’ leader in a #post-truth world!

Baudrillard, Jean. The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2005.
Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Press, 1980.
Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London and NewYork: Routledge, 2005.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Coronavirus Kairos: #1 Time

This post is the first under the umbrella of Coronavirus Kairos. These entries will look at various cultural, sociological and/or political aspects of living in the time of Covid 19, taking a predominantly philosophical approach to a number of themes that affect our lives. I hope you enjoy them.


Many individuals are noticing a change of temporal perception during lockdown. Some of these 'feelings' around the passing of time are also somewhat contradictory: one can feel that time has slowed down while in the moment, but when looking back over a period of days, or weeks, time can also seem contracted.

A recent article in Aeon, entitled 'Time alone (chosen or not) can be a chance to hit the reset button', by a psychologist, examines solitude and the effects of it on our emotions, offering a term called 'dispositional autonomy' that is presented as being more significant than that of the introvert versus extravert dichotomy in dictating whether, as individuals, we cope better with extended time in solitude.

While today's psychologists might take a specific and very contemporary look at the effects of time in lockdown, philosophers and scientists have been discussing and measuring time for millenia, with various terms being invented to describe it. In Classical Greek philosophy two specific terms can be associated with time: kairos and chronos. Kairos is tied to action, which have an effect in regard to being applied to a specific set of circumstances. Chronos is concerned with the order of time (its sequential nature) and is seen as being consistent and external to individual interpretation.

These two terms could be considered to be connected through another term, telos, which means 'end' and 'goal'. For G.W.F Hegel telos was attached to history inasmuch as it progresses in a temporal fashion, phenomenologically influenced by the becoming of all the factors that underpin its flow towards this endpoint, its purpose. Of course, for Hegel, this is always influenced by the immanence of spirit as an expression of God. We can see here how kairos, as an action, can be attributed to historical moments in time, with chronos being the bedrock in which these take place - the underlying directional structure that propels time 'forwards'. In our current "corona time" (as I like to call it) we could view telos as being the historical place covid 19 has - and more importantly, will eventually have retrospectively - in the timeframe of a greater history, as yet not unfolded. Kairos could be the actions we take in this period that will affect that history.

Another useful time-related phenomenological term is one formulated by Edmund Husserl: "standing streaming". Standing streaming is concerned with the "living present". This term, I feel, is more relevant to how we are all coping with "corona time", thus: "It does not flow through time; it is, rather, that time flows through, or wells up, within, it - the absolute, living source-point of all constitution" (Smith 2003: 98). Here we can see articulated how living in the moment feels. It is the experience of the lived experience, in a sense, inasmuch as it is specifically individual, with a sense of self that becomes the linchpin of that experience. I like to think of standing streaming as being the 'I' that recognises the 'I' in the moment, however, I am not absolutely sure if Husserl sees it that way. Actually, there is probably a better model that would describe that effect, which is second-order observation (a term associated with autopoieses, which is about observing oneself observing something - see Maturana and Varela). I think second order observation coulod very useful for some people at this moment. It may help us watch our own thought as if we are an observer, providing some much needed critical distance if we are feeling anxious.

I would like to just take a look at one more approach to time. In Difference and Repetition Gilles Deleuze sets out his own definitions of the past, present and future (I find this book really difficult, The Logic of Sense is a walk in the park in comparison). For Deleuze the event is a process of becoming and differentiation. It is also not something that takes place between the past and future - which is how we would normally consider it and, even, experience it. It is, rather the the processual nature of becoming inasmuch as a 'happening' does not culminate in an event as such, it is always in flow (I hope I have go this right). "The event is not what is rather inside what occurs, the purely expressed. It signals and awaits us (Deleuze 2004: 170). For Deleuze, everything is present!

Deleuze, G. 2004. The Logic of Sense. Continuum.
Smith, A.D. 2003. Husserl and the Cartesian Meditations. Routledge.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Creating a Situation in the City

I have a chapter in the new The Routledge Companion to Urban Media and Communication edited by Zlatan Krajina and Deborah Stevenson (2019). The chapter is entitled 'Creating a Situation in the City: Embodied Spaces and the Act of Crossing Boundaries'. You can read more about the book here, and below is an extract from my own chapter which introduces a variety of urban interventions and walking practices:

This chapter will discuss the history of what appears under the general term of ‘urban critique’ in its many incarnations, such as modern day psychogeography, place-hacking, DIY urbanism, guerrilla urbanism and urban exploration. By examining the act of placing one’s body into the space under examination, we can begin to understand the dynamics that operate on us when crossing the material boundaries that appear in space, but also the symbolic ones that might be culturally formed in our psyche (such as ideas about who and who might not be allowed in certain spaces). Urban space is a mediated space that enables a form of reflexivity to take place when the individual engages with it in a critical way. The aesthetic and affective response that a person or group generates through the embodied process of the urban encounter, momentarily changes the space to fit the subjectivity of those placing it under scrutiny. While this process can be undertaken and expressed in multiple ways depending on the approach undertaken, what is consistent across these alternative methods is a challenge to the taken-for-granted view that urban space is simply a neutral space that happens to appear as ‘the built environment’ – something that is immovable, and yet also innocuous.

Urban critique, in whatever its form, provides an opportunity for the city to be examined at the micro level, through what Michel De Certeau describes as “spatial practices” which take the form of modes of resistance to an imposed way of life as it appears in “lived space” (1988: 96). These spatial practices allow one to question, and even challenge, the usual ‘rules of the highway’, such how we cross the road at a zebra or pelican crossing, or do not drive on the pavement.

By providing examples of the different forms of contemporary urban critique in regards to forming - what can be described as - situations, the discussion will focus on how some people actively seek to question the way urban space is manifest, ask why it appears the way it does and whether we are able to challenge its, seemingly, fixed materiality. This chapter will provide an overview of these approaches and their mediated relationship with the practices of everyday life in mediated cities...