The Problem with Psychogeography.

Meanwhile, in 1950’s Paris, Guy Debord and his merry band of Situationists were creating a new way of connecting with the urban sprawl; of making sense of it; protesting against capitalism, commercialism and modernity for modernity’s sake. They called it psychogeography and defined it as:

“the study of the influence of geographical environment on the mind or behaviour”.  

And it’s main tool, the ‘dérive’ as “a mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences.” Or as Ralph Rumney, artist and expelled member of the Situationist group, eloquently précised it: ​

‘Walking around a lot and thinking about it.’​

There are a couple of problems here. I had planned my study around the concept of psychogeography and dérive, the more I researched the more I realised that what I was doing was psychogeography and dérive in name only. It was a borrowed term only had superficial links to the original concept. ​

Dérive was intended as a revolutionary strategy that sought to protest and ridicule the corporate consumerist and capitalist status quo. It was designed as a method of decompartmentalising Paris. The compartmentalisation of Paris, that is the destruction of neighbourhoods in favour of capitalist friendly ‘zones’ – for example industrial zone, housing zone, tourist zone, retail zone and so on – was of particular concern in the dérive, in its unplanned random make up, break through these artificial barriers apparently sticking it to the man in the process.​

Unfortunately, modern psychogeographers use the walk, the drift, the dérive, not as an end in itself but as a springboard; a source of inspiration for creative activities. ​

This is not dérive. ​

The aim is for dérivistes to drop their everyday activities and ‘let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.’ Landscapes and open spaces do not allow for the kind of rapid transit expected to make a psychogeographic study work. It became apparent that psychogeography was an expression of the cultural zeitgeist. Or at least the zeitgeist as experienced from the perspective of a Marxist in 1950’s Paris. 

All the work I had done as psychogeography – and the majority of the work claiming that name – was – and is – misnamed; a misunderstanding of the practice. I’m not alone in this. The myth of psychogeography has had a much longer active participation time than psychogeography under the Situationists did. The work I do started out under the banner of ‘modern psychogeography’ but after much soul searching has found a home in a niche between three recent offshoots of psychogeography, namely mythogeography, deep topography and schizocartography. More about those later.

The big problem I was having was that psychogeography relies very much on the where and the reaction to where. Applying it to nowhere or applying it to void is largely futile. When you apply an indefinite practice to theoretical absence, can only really end up with incoherent babbling. You can’t really place definitives and definites on imprecise, shifting states. 

It reminded me of a line in Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy when Vroomfondel and Majikthise, as representatives of the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and Other Thinking Persons threaten to strike unless their demands are met:​ ‘We demand,’ they said, ‘rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.’

And that’s just silly.

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