Sunday, June 06, 2004


Psychogeography — as noted by Guy Debord, is a concept with "a rather pleasing vagueness".
In 1955, he defined it as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals ". [An introduction to a critique of urban geography, 1955]. This has been echoed much later by Michel de Certeau in his characterisation of patterns established in ostensibly unpurposeful walking in the city: "a symbolic order of the unconscious". [The practice of everyday life, 1988].

Certeau's invertion of Debord's geographical determinism is arguably more appropriate for a concept that relies on intellectual and emotional free play. Before Debord, another situationist, Ivan Chtcheglov had declared "It must be sought in the magical locales of fairy tales and surrealist writings: castles, endless walls, little forgotten bars, mammoth caverns, casino mirrors. " [Formulary for a new urbanism,1953]. This blurring of the magical with the mundane is the very substance of fiction.

Psychogeography, as understood here, is the active search for, and celebration of, chance and coincidence, concurrently with the divination of patterns and repetitions thrown up by the [meeting/collision] of the chaos and structures of cities, personal histories and interpretations. It is based on the technique of the "dérive", an informed and aware wandering, with continuous observation, through varied environments. It can be sought and can lead anywhere.
Approaches to the concept vary with the concerns of the individual persuing it. Chtcheglov, for instance, received his inspiration from the paintings of de Chirico to postulate a surreal and magical city of the future. Here the inhabitants would continuously drift with a conscious desire for complete disorientation. Psychogeography can challenge the distinction (or rather, enhance the blurring) between the imaginary and the material (City of Alchemists), it can expose and undermine power relations as they are manifest in space - (as performed by the London Psychogeographical Association and Luther Blissett). Some contemporary psychogeographers rely more on psychological analysis/self analysis (using the city as an emotional mnemnonic: for example, Richard Sennett), some rely more on left-communist political theory, some on conspiracy theory (imposing connections on otherwise unrelated spatial, social and political phenomena), some on geomancy. The dérive has also be used as an intellectual device for creative/lateral problem solving Metaphoric Rocks, an exploration of the possiblities of "critical tourism"). Equally a psychogeographic report these days could be themed around whatever the "navigator" was thinking about at the time — sex, football, chocolate cake, the scavenging of computer parts or a multitude of these (Visitors Guide to London).

Since the late 1970s psychogeographic analysis has become one of the cornerstones of postmodern geography and one of the hallmarks of postmodern writing on the city. The technique of the dérive is paralleled by the readers's drift through cyberspace using hypertext. The internet is thus an ideal medium for both the documenting of a psychogeographical project, whilst also opening up fresh multivalent navigable spaces to perpetuate the continuous drift called for by Chtcheglov in 1953.

Extracted from Monocular Times

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?