Psychogeography sets out ways, often radical ways, that allows one to investigate and experience their environments and their place within them, on their own terms.
It focuses on Urban Wandering: ‘the imaginative reworking of the city, the otherworldly sense of spirit of place, the unexpected insights and juxtapositions created by aimless drifting, the new ways of experiencing familiar surroundings.’
Behind the curtain
The basic idea here is that our environments are manifestations of our commercial late-capitalist cultures, and as such, our spaces are policed by those designs, and are set up to keep us blinkered.
Even if we ignore the anti-capitalist sentiment here, much can still be learned.
We travel through our towns, cities and estates in the same ways, following the same routes, day after day after week after year; and because of this we miss out on so much of the spirit of place that is often just around the corner, just out of reach, just beyond our everyday.
Aimlessly walking, according to the psychogeographers, helps to break down these barriers and understand place in new distinctive ways.
It’s also a way of investigating how power is dispersed, what this means to have a sense of place and how it might be challenged.
the essential emptiness of modern life is obscured behind an elaborate and spectacular array of commodities and our immersion in this world of rampant consumerism leaves us disconnected from the history and community that might give our lives meaning […] Amidst the barrage of media imagery to which we are subjected, our emotional response is blunted and we become unable to engage directly with our surroundings without the mediated images of television and advertising.
So, we are what we are told and identity is formed, at least in part, from our sense of place; however, our sense of place is mediated by the agendas of postmodern life.
Becoming a drifter
Coverley argues, ‘the city must be rebuilt upon new principles that replace our mundane and sterile experiences’ and the way this can be done is through Urban Wandering, what Debord called “Derive” or “drift.”
The drifter becomes one who ‘remakes the city in accordance with his own imagination […] that seeks to overthrow the established order of the day.’
This acts as a combat against becoming passive victims of hyper-reality.
Michel de Certeau discusses this too, arguing that drifting:
transforms the bewitching world by which one was “possessed” into a text that lies before one’s eyes. It allows one to read it, to be a solar eye, looking down like a god.
The image of the seer or the godlike figure is important; signifying undoing the spell of the urban environment.
De Certeau continues:
the voyeur-god created by this fiction […] must disentangle himself from the murky intertwining daily behaviors and make himself alien to them.
The pedestrian can be creative, making stories of place through acts of rebellious movements.
“Drifting” is an instinctual and subjective approach to looking into one’s sense of place, space and history, drawing one’s own conclusions on how these affect community.
The drifter becomes one who pushes back at the regimented order of space and place.
The poet, Ian Duhig, challenges the need for signposts within literature and mythmaking:
I want to put a word in for pointless travelling without landmarks […] it can be a messy process but poetry is messy and there are invaluable things to be found in the dark that you could not discover in any other way […] you have wonder and surprise to gain and nothing to lose but your certainties.
There are spaces within our everyday worlds that are also overlooked and misunderstood.
An engagement with the overlooked can enhance our understanding of our environments.
When John Rodgers spoke about his film The London Perambulator he said:
I think these places need to be celebrated and I think we need to challenge these traditional ideas of heritage because they’re misplaced and it’s lazy. In any town they all sort of go, “oh look at this building, it’s Georgian” but most people that live in those places don’t ever have any engagement with those buildings where as they do have an engagement with some sort of p*ss stenched bus stop on the A40 which has so much narrative in it and so much heritage within its framework that we should celebrate them more.
How I wander
My drifting has engaged with this part-rational-part-instinctual wandering. I wander, taking photographs and notes, attempting to allow a drifting of thought too.
I deliberately seek out liminal spaces to form poetry through the joining of personal memories, engagement with history, observation of moods, and documenting the landscape.
I recently took a walk down the disused railway lines between Dudley and Stourbridge.
On these lines there is a sense of history and industrial heritage – both physical and non-physical – as well as there being the modern world of housing estates, shops and businesses on its edges.
Nature has reclaimed the space – it is its own unique and miniature wilderness.
The emotions I felt on this walk were dominated by a sense of spacelessness and timelessness – I was simultaneously investigating a site of history, within the present, whilst being aware that our possible futures would likely share a similar vista.
I felt unseen and safe as well as lost, alienated and alone.
It was this haunting blend of time, space and emotion that I developed my own creative response.
On my aimless wandering, without usual or normal purpose, I become engrossed with “the in-between” – the liminal position, on the threshold of the real and the imagined.