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Introduction to Psychogeography

3rd October 2010

Yesterday I had my first experience of psychogeography, going on a dérive with the rather more experienced Barbara Melville. The subject has been tapping on my consciousness for a while. It appeals on a number of levels: a fascination with odd maps; normal writer’s nosiness; a tendency to perceive the environment and communicate in a spatial way; and a general interest in any long word which consists of two others rammed together.

Getting a precise definition of psychogeography is a quest in itself. It seems to have originated with the French Situationists. I’ve heard diverse accounts of their intentions. On one hand they were interested in the psychological effects that cities had on their inhabitants. By seeking to understand them through investigation and direct experience, they hoped to come to some greater comprehension of environmental factors and urban planning, and perhaps make recommendations which would shape the design of the cities of the future.

On the other hand they were interested in getting crazy drunk and going out to look for hookers.

One of the great things about psychogeography is that you can pretty much do what you want, and in fact it’s a mistake to plan it too much. On Saturday we went in search of an open-air theatre and ended up exploring areas of domestic affluence sliced through by major roads and parkland leading out of the city. What sticks with me are the details: striking contrasts between original buildings and “harmonious” redevelopment; friendly versus unfriendly suburbs; a bus that never arrived; a carefully arranged rectangle of trees; and a strange stash concealed down a path that seemed to have an exaggerated importance.

Some part of me wants to be hardcore about this stuff, deliberately visiting areas which feel threatening, or keeping a rigid focus on one terribly specific aspect of the environment. But perhaps that would be missing the point.

You will be hearing more about this for sure.