Saturday, 17 December 2011

Exploring Psychogeography


I enjoyed Radio 3’s programme on psychogeography the other day, though if you are going to delve into its origins in Situationism in Paris, you really ought to find a presenter with enough French to pronounce his subjects’ names properly (Guy Debord, not Des Bords). And from 1960s Paris we moved on to 1990s London, with interesting interviews with such recent practitioners as Iain Sinclair and Will Self. If this is a literary movement that eventuates in the intriguing concept of ‘magical Marxism’, then Morrisians certainly ought to know about it, and I shall investigate that term further and report back.

But I also found myself wondering whether the powerful reimaginings of city space we already have in the utopian tradition, such as Morris’s transfigured London in News from Nowhere or Callenbach’s new San Francisco in Ecotopia, aren’t themselves exercises in psychogeography. Surely only a ‘punk walker’ on an unusually intense dérive (or drift) could re-experience the House of Commons as a Morrisian Dung Market?

And I got very excited about one particular psychogeographical practice which seems to suggest a whole new hermeneutics for utopian writings. The Situationists, it appears, used to attempt such bizarre experiments as navigating Paris with a map of the Berlin Underground, defamiliarising their home city rewardingly in the process. So could we not cross utopian wires in a loosely analogous way? Suppose we read News from Nowhere as if it were Marge Piercy’s Woman at the Edge of Time (in which case Ellen might be a time traveller from the future), or insert bits of News from Nowhere and H.G. Wells’s A Modern Utopia into each other, as if they are aspects of a single complex utopian vision? The reading experiments that ensue would probably cover the whole spectrum of psychogeography itself, from the powerfully illuminating to the completely wacky!

6 comments:

ianmac55 said...

Hi Tony,

Thanks for that. I'll have to listen on iPlayer to the programme you mentioned but, last night, there was a quirkly reference to psychogeography on Eddie Mair's "PM" news programme. Also, does this mean that I'll have to get down from the loft my copy of Debord's "The Society Of The Spectacle"? (If I've remembered the author's name correctly!)

Cheers,

Ian

Tony Pinkney said...

Thanks, Ian, hope you enjoyed the broadcast. I guess the Occupy movement is asking us to think about city space in new ways too, so perhaps that also might be considered psychogeographical in some sense. We have a lively Lancaster Occupy camp - do you have one in Northampton? Best, Tony

ianmac55 said...

No Occupy camp in Northampton. We can, however, take inspiration from Naseby battlefield - just ten miles away - and from Charles Bradlaugh, the 19th century radical MP for the town, who is commemorated by a prominent statue, by the name of a pub converted from a closed shoe factory, and by a large local green space - "Bradlaugh Fields". I know that both William Morris and Charles Bradlaugh spoke up the road at the Leicester Secular Society. What was Morris's take on Bradlaugh's brand of radicalism?

mo said...

Hi Tony, still don't get what psychogeography is but if it involves travel I'm all for it!

Best wishes for a happy and productive New Year!

Morris forever! mo

ianmac55 said...

Hi Tony,

I hope you enjoy this reference.

Edward Burne-Jones and the Occupy Movement

I am reading the Fiona MacCarthy’s new biography of Edward Burne-Jones, “The Last Pre-Raphaelite”. At the end of the chapter describing the artist’s work for the apse of St Paul’s Within-the-Walls in Rome, she writes (p359) ...

When in 1891 the proposal was made that Burne-Jones should design mosaics for the four semi-domes below the big central dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, he was slightly tempted but finally refused. St Paul’s was a building that “crushed and depressed” him both aesthetically and politically. He loathed its architectural pomp and emptiness and its status as the place of worship of the stock-exchange, the bankers, the commercial world of London that Burne-Jones despised and loathed. It was nonsense, he decided, to put mosaics there, useless to try to do anything with so unpromising, corrupt and unsympathetic a building – “but let it chill the soul of man and gently prepare him for the next glacial cataclysm”. So he rejected the commission, which was finally carried out by W B Richmond. “I couldn’t face it,” he said later, “and yet I love mosaics better than anything else in the world.”

Cheers,

Ian

Tony Pinkney said...

Great quote, Ian, many thanks. Didn't realise that Burne-Jones could be so radical! Sadly, the Lancaster Occupy tents in town seem to have disappeared, will investigate.