Monday, 15 August 2011

Psychogeography - An Aspect

Psychogeography: a beginners guide. Unfold a street map of London, place a glass, rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw round it’s edge. Pick up the map, go out into the city, and walk the circle, keeping as close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go, in whatever medium you favour: film, photograph, manuscript, tape. Catch the textual run-off of the street; the graffiti, the branded litter, the snatches of conversation. Cut for sign. Log the data-stream. Be alert to the happenstance of metaphors, watch for visual rhymes, coincidences, analogies, family resemblances, the changing moods of the street. Complete the circle, and the record ends. Walking makes for content; footage for footage.

Robert MacFarlane, A Road of One’s Own.

 The term psychogeography first entered the general consciousness through the writings of Guy Debord and the Lettrist group in 1950’s Paris. Debord defined the meaning of this term as ‘the study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’. But Debord’s grand ideas would never really see fruition with him or the Lettrist, as the movement was soon to merge with numerous other post war avant-garde groups to form the Situationist International, a far more serious and politically conscious group.

In actual fact it appears that Debord was not the first psychogeographer. The idea itself seems to have existed for hundreds of years, with such luminaries as Defoe, De Quincey, Baudelaire, Breton, Machen, Poe and Aragon all practicing this obscure art-form to some degree or other.

 The fields from Islington to Marybone,
To Primrose Hill and Saint John’s Wood:
Were builded over the pillars of gold,
And Jerusalems pillars stood.

Jerusalem, William Blake.

But to find the true genesis of the idea of psychogeography you have to look to the arch-visionary William Blake. It was in his poems about London that you really find the first seeds been sown. The likes of the epic Jerusalem, with the line ’My streets are my Ideas of Imagination’ - a poem which goes on to give the exact location of the new Jerusalem within the city’s boundries, or London which describes his wanderings through the city's eighteenth century streets. But it is his longest published poem - Milton: A Poem that really taps into the psychogeographical vain; towards the end of book one Milton appears and returns to earth as a comet, on landing in Lambeth he enters Blake’s foot. From this point onwards Blake is allowed to treat the ordinary world as perceived by the five sense as a sandal formed of ‘precious stones and gold’ that he can now wear. Blake ties the sandal and, guided by Los, walks with it into the City of Art, inspired by the spirit of poetic creativity.


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