Saturday, 17 December 2011
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!