58. Tina Richardson, ed., Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography

by breavman99

walking inside out

Tina Richardson’s anthology Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography is one of the many books to which Phil Smith refers in Walking’s New Movements, his important discussion of walking as an aesthetic and political practice. I’m not a psychogeographer, but anyone who engages in what Smith calls “non-functional” walking needs to come to terms with psychogeography in some way, and this collection has helped me to begin doing that. I won’t be discussing every essay in the anthology here, just the ones I found useful or interesting (mainly the theoretical ones, although the reports of various dérives are helpful as well, since I’ve never deliberately engaged in that practice). But I can tell you that there is a lot of interesting work about walking in this book–even the essays I don’t talk about in this post.

In her introduction, Richardson suggests that psychogeography is simply an invitation to walk without a map in an unfamiliar space:

Psychogeography does not have to be complicated. Anyone can do it. . . . All you need is a curious nature and a comfortable pair of shoes. There are no rules to doing psychogeography—this is its beauty. However, it is this that makes it hard to pin down in any formalized way. It is also this ‘unruly’ character (disruptive, unsystematic, random) that makes for much discussion about its meaning and purpose, today more than at any other time. (1)

Her book, she continues, proposes to “open up the space that can be defined as psychogeography, providing examples and encouraging debate” (1). She acknowledges—as one must—the origins of the term in the writing of the Situationist International (SI), particularly the work of Guy Debord, and defines the practice as the “study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals” (1-2). Contemporary psychogeography, however, is heterogenous, even international: “The bricolage nature of psychogeography means that its influence for a specific group or individual will be vastly different from that of another” (3). Both definitions of the practice and the practices themselves will be different, so “[i]t might be better to think of the historic influences of urban walking practices as being a kind of toolbox for contemporary psychogeographers” (3). All of the authors in this book practice urban walking as a way to respond to the environment actively, rather than passively, although their methods differ; this book therefore “illustrates the variety of approaches and outputs of the walking practice” (4). Richardson notes that the book brings together pyschogeographers who come from creative or literary backgrounds with academics, but cautions that most psychogeographers are not academics, and that writing by urban walkers often is disseminated in forms that lack value in an academic setting, such as zines and blogs (4-5). 

Richardson notes that, in his book Cityscapes: Cultural Readings in the Material and Symbolic City, Ben Highmore uses the term “thickness”—following anthropologist Clifford Geertz?—“to describe a depth of description attached to cultural spaces” as well as the complexity of the city and subjective responses to its spaces (5). Highmore and others use the terms “affect” and “aesthetics” to refer to the psychological and individual reactions of walkers to spaces and environments, issues which are the “bread and butter” of psychogeography, its output (5). The emphasis on subjectivity can mean that psychogeographical writing can “appear to be at odds with academic writing,” and that sometimes “a space has to be carved out within academia to accommodate new types of writing and enable disruptive ‘situations’ to arise, challenging well-established conventions and provoking discussion” (5). That range of writing styles is reflected in Walking Inside Out.

This anthology, Richardson contends, “is designed to reflect the broad field of urban (also suburban and at times rural) walking in Britain today and to promote discussion on whatever it is we might see psychogeography as being and becoming,” and she encourages readers “to define their own form of psychogeography or use one of the many definitions included herein and to debate the merits of psychogeography and how we might put it to use in the twenty-first century” (5). Facilitating that debate is the purpose of the book (5). She acknowledges that urban walking and psychogeography are not synonyms: “some psychogeographers do countertourist activities, which stray into more rural areas. Also, one might do a walk that crosses urban, suburban, or rural boundaries, so can we fairly say that we are not doing psychogeography at the point we cross these nebulous lines?” (6). Nick Papadimitriou, for example, in his book Scarp, focuses on the English county that used to be called Middlesex, which is urban and suburban but also includes Greater London’s Green Belt (6). Papadimitriou was inspired by Gordon S. Maxwell’s The Fringe of London: Being Some Ventures and Adventures in Topography (6). W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn is another instance, a psychogeographical book covering the country of Suffolk (7). Despite those examples, the question of whether psychogeography can be conducted in rural areas continues to be raised. Richardson thinks it can. She notes that Howard F. Stein’s book Developmental Time, Cultural Space: Studies in Psychogeography and the book he edited with William G. Niederland, Maps from the Mind: Readings in Psychogeography, suggest that psychogeography is a Freudian look at space, a consideration of the inner life of the individual and an examination at what connects people to place and how geography, urban or rural, make people who they are (6). Besides, there is little untouched “nature” left in rural spaces in the UK; it’s what geographers call “second nature”—land that has been worked on by humans (6-7). “While the term psychogeography has generally been applied to urbia and can be a convenient way to differentiate the walking from that carried out in the countryside, its urban and rural deconstruction is just one of the qualities that adds to its undefinable character,” she concludes (7).

Psychogeography is interdisciplinary and can draw from many sources, including the work of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, whose theories of micro-politics and bio-politics are a useful critique of the body in space, which “anyone interested in walking and power might find helpful in applying to walking practices” (7). Other examples include human geographer Bradley Garret’s book Explore Everything: Place-Hacking in the City (2013), philosopher Frédéric Gros’s A Philosophy of Walking (2014), sound artist David Prescott-Steed’s The Psychogeography of Urban Architecture (2013), Phil Smith’s On Walking . . . and Stalking Sebald (2014), and Michel de Certeau’s essay “Walking in the City” (7-8). Richardson suggests that Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space “supplies with terms that enable us to analyse urban space and the practices that are involved in it” (8), and that geographer David Harvey’s homage to Raymond Williams, “Space as a Keyword” is important: 

Harvey breaks down space into absolute, relative and relational. Both Lefebvre’s and Harvey’s frameworks allow for methods of categorizing space that highlight a place that can appear at once dominant or rigid but also subjective or fluid, allowing room for negotiation or even appropriation. And one of the ways these challenges to space can take place is through the performative act of walking. (8-9)

She also includes a list of bloggers on walking and psychogeography, which is worth following up on (9).

Richardson then provides a a short history of contemporary psychogeography in the UK (9), beginning with Iain Sinclair, the most high-profile British psychogeographer (9). Sinclair’s writing is often criticized as nostalgic, but she notes that nostalgia was recognized by the Situationists, who argued that charming ruins were not charming (10). Richardson is particularly interested in the literary tradition of psychogeography: J.G. Ballard, Sinclair, films by Chris Petit and Patrick Keiller (12-13), and visual artists such as Richard Long, Wrights & Sites, and arts collective C.Cred, particularly their work Counter Cartographies, a series of walks in London (13-14). Many psychogeographical groups have emerged since the 1990s, publishing their work in zines and reports (14). She discusses Papadimitriou’s notion of  “deep topography,” a way of finding the overlooked without becoming “touristic” (15). 

While “deep topography” “highlights the political dialectic of the other as being outside, located in urban space,” Richardson continues, “it should be noted that the other is also an issue for the inside of psychogeography, both from the perspective of the gender bias toward male psychogeographers and the imposition of power in space itself as it is directed at the urban walker, whatever his or her gender” (15). Indeed, psychogeography is a masculine tradition, perhaps linked to colonization of space and discovery of New World, “a domination of space that creates an order out of chaos that is oriented in the lack of an anthropological understanding of other cultures” (15). For that reason, walker and writer Laura Oldfield Ford doesn’t like her work being described as psychogeography—she is not a middle-aged man playing at being a colonial explorer (15). However, other women do consider their urban walking to be a form of psychogeography (15)—including Richardson herself. She gives many examples of women psychogeographers, including Michèle Bernstein, Debord’s wife, who was a rare woman member of the Situationists (16), and notes that both men and women are subject to power structures if they don’t fit the model of a certain type of citizen (16). Acknowledging those power structures is a central aspect of psychogeography: “Psychogeographers have to decide what boundaries they are prepared to cross, legal or physical, in order to find their ‘story’” (17).

Psychogeographers seek the truths of the city, and while such truths are multiple, there are some “universal qualities that are representative of many psychogeographers” (17). For example, their connection with terrain is more focused than casual strollers, and they become both critics of the space under observation while simultaneously experiencing it in a sensorial way; according to Richardson, “[t]he space becomes momentarily transformed through this relationship. The psychogeographer recognizes that they are part of this process, and it is their presence that enables this recognition to occur” (17-18). The form and purpose of the critique of topology and topography will depend on individual walker—possibly connecting with the space through a text, possibly philosophical or theoretical scrutiny of particular objects, or a political assessment of power structures, or a challenge to those power structures, but all of these approaches involve viewing in a new way what is often seen as natural or normal or ordinary (18). Richardson emphasizes the importance of political engagement: “If a psychogeographer is not revealing the hidden topographical layers of social history or questioning the physical manifestation of some capitalist edifice or other, is psychogeography actually taking place?” she asks (18). One isn’t a psychogeographer because one walks, she contends; one walks because one is a psychogeographer. The psychogeographer’s subjectivity and the reasons for walking are central to the practice (19).

“The beauty of the inexact art that is psychogeography, appearing in the innumerable forms that it has historically taken and continues to display, attests to the durability and relevance of it today. It can be crafted, manipulated and even reappropriated to suit your particular needs,” Richardson concludes:

It can be carried out fundamentally, creatively, or ironically. And it can be picked up and put down like a handy implement that helps you metaphorically whittle away the parts of the urban space of which you disapprove, rather like the SI did with their maps. Psychogeography is continually being reworked, reflected upon and reimagined. It has the ability to absorb the urban space it occupies, situating itself sociopolitically and creatively employing innumerable ways to express itself. (25)

The essays she has collected reflect the range of possibilities inherent in the term “psychogeography.”

In the book’s first section, “The Walker and the Urban Landscape,” Roy Bayfield’s “Longshore Drift: Approaching Liverpool from Another Place” is a report of a walk along the River Mersey from Antony Gormley’s statues Another Place to Edge Hill University research site—in other words, from art to science (32). Bayfield likes the term “Aeolian research,” the notion of being directed by Aeolus, the god of winds, and this notion becomes one of the central themes of his dérive (33). He begins by contemplating the Gormley statues: there are 100 figures, modelled on the artist’s body, facing out to sea, installed over two miles of beach (34). These statues enable multiple readings: they are considered to be a tourist draw and a boost to the local economy and image of Liverpool (34), and their original intended location, the mouth of the Elbe River, a busy shipping area, suggests an undercutting of transcendent or romantic readings the figures might otherwise invite (35). He also notes the playful subversions of the sculptures he has seen—some end up wearing scarves, glasses, hats—and that all of them are slowing rusting away, succumbing to time (35-36).

“Drifting along the beach, we scanned the ground looking for signs”—in other words, like other psychogeographers, the walk is also a reading of objects on the beach for hidden or mythological significance (36). The city seems to fade away, but then it reappears in ruined form: a beach made of bricks and carved stone windows and lintels, rubble dating back to 1942, when bomb-damage debris was dumped there, a practice which continued until the 1970s (37-38). Bayfield suggests that the location felt like Doreen Massey’s description of space as “the sphere of dynamic simultaneity” (qtd. 38) and “included shifting, emergent relations with elements of the environment, with passersby, with each other; the focusing of perception involved in our psychogeographic practice invoking a kind of estrangement, as if we were literally passing through ‘holes,’ walking through ‘disconnections’” (38). He experiences a similar sense of complexity at the Devil’s Hole on Formby Sands, a large, a raised crater created by the wind but that originated in the explosion of a German bomb in 1940 or 1941 (38-39). Finally, he meets the science students, who are surveying the sand, part of a project to create a 3-D model of the coast to help monitor the way it changes over time (39). Science, as “documentation, quantification, the creation of an objective record,” is the reverse of the Gormley sculptures, which set out to explore the human relationship with nature (39).

Months later, Bayfield is drawn back to the area, but this time he walks into rather than out of the city (39). There is litter everywhere: “For some reason the footpaths, towpaths and disused railways via which I had entered towns and cities always seemed to be covered in litter, the lesser-used pedestrian routes acting as a manifestation of an urban subconscious” (40). He passes dock buildings: warehouses, factories, and silos, which feel : “distant from the beach of subjectivity” where the Gormley statues are installed (40). He sees hills of recycled metal, a poster of a Francis Bacon painting of a sitting figure screaming, and a dead pigeon: “Despite these dystopian props, I found this locale quite jolly, perhaps because it reminded me of the south coast port town where I grew up,” he writes, partly because he found “something exhilarating about the vast piles of raw materials, the sense of movement, of the ingredients that had sustained my half-century as a baby boom-born consumer” (41). Finally, he enters an area under redevelopment where there are other walkers and glass office towers (41-42). “My playful drifts had certainly been in search of vision, of sidestepping dominant narratives of place without seeking specific counternarratives, just an embodied, partial, momentary view of what was there, trying, at least, to drop some layers of privileged subjectivity and thus ‘see from the peripheries,’” he contends, paraphrasing Donna Haraway’s 1991 book Simians, Cyborgs, and Women (42). In a nearby pub, he considers what he had observed: “Endless movement. Coastlines and rivers shift, bombs fall, towers rise into the sky, cargo moves, metal eyes rust. Zones are established, boundaries set and breached in an ongoing process of interpenetration. Sand, dust and debris blow alongshore in planetary time. Signs and meanings coalesce and evaporate” (43)—ideas that pick up on his Aeolian theme. When I finished Bayfield’s essay, I thought, “so that’s a dérive—or at least one version of a dérive, a primarily individual exploration of space, whereas I had thought dérives were always supposed to be conducted by groups. 

Bayfield’s urban walk is the opposite of the one described by Ian Marchant in “Walking the Dog (For Those Who Don’t Know How to Do It).” Marchant claims he’s not a psychogeographer: his writing is “too full of people or too full of rambling anecdotes about my nocturial adventures,” and he’s not interested in cities (47). He lives in Presteigne, a a little town in Wales, and he was born and raised in the countryside, in a house on the boundary of the South Downs National Park (48). “Cities are not my bag,” he states (48), acknowledging that if he didn’t have a dog, he would never walk anywhere: “I’m a countryman and we get about by car, except when visiting friends from the city insist on ‘going for a walk’” (48). Nor is Presteigne much of a site for psychogeographical exploration (48). There is a social housing estate, and the town’s aluminum casting factory closed the previous year and was torn down, causing high unemployment, and while young people move away and are replaced by retirees and local farmers are desperately poor, he’s not interested in the town’s dark side (48-49): 

I don’t walk that way. That isn’t my story to tell. Maybe it was once, but it isn’t now. Now I’m a writer, a broadcaster, a university lecturer, and when I walk the dog, I want a straightforwardly pleasant walk, one on which I’m highly likely to meet friends but unlikely to come across broken glass, which might incur vet’s bills. I am as far from Guy Debord or Sinclair and Self or Stewart Home and the magico-Marxists as it is possible to be. (49)

Marchant does like Nick Papadimitriou’s notion of “deep topography,” an intimate rather than alienated relationship with landscape, however: “A reinvention of topography sounds called for to me” (49). But he admits that he likes the countryside because it’s beautiful, and the razed factory and rural poor aren’t the only story that can be told about it: “White, middle-aged, middle-class people have a story to tell, too. Concentrating on the dark underbelly of country life is a means of urbanizing the countryside. White, middle-aged, middle-class people like me live in the countryside because it is nice” (49). Still, if he can’t be a psychogeographer, he would like his approach to be deep topography, if that means “an intimate rather than an alienated relationship with landscape” (49), so he is going to write what he knows: his daily walk with his dog through Presteigne (49). However, Marchant decides to borrow one element from the early Debordist psychotravellers: he gets high before going for his walk (50). He notes that Debord came up with the term psychogeography after smoking hashish and getting lost in a park, and that Debord’s first dérive through Paris happened when he was very drunk (50): “The point is still, it seems to me, that landscape is altered by consciousness, and that by altering our consciousness, we alter the landscape” (50). I’m not convinced that altering his consciousness has much of an effect on Marchant’s walk: he describes the houses and buildings he passes and their historical significance, but he always notes whether or not his dog relieves herself in front of them. Nor does he entirely avoid the town’s dark side: he notes that there are many immigrants living in the community, and that some residents hate them (54). Still, his focus is on the positive: he knows many people in the community, and any walk down the high street becomes a series of long conversations (55-56), and he suggests that Presteigne resembles J.R.R Tolkien’s Hobbiton and that he’s happy to stay there; then he heads home for a cup of tea (58).

I skipped an essay on Papadimitriou’s Scarp—I’ll read that book first—and arrived at Alastair Bonnett’s “Walking through Memory: Critical Nostalgia and the City.” Bonnett suggests that his purpose is to explore “how nostalgia for the city shapes the way we use it and think about its future”—in other words, “how fond memories and a sense of loss among ex-residents shape their movement within and relationship to the city” (75). He argues that psychogeography was born with a sense of loss for the city: the Situationists’ relationship with Paris was “framed and informed by the confluence of revolutionary and nostalgic sentiment”—a sense that the “intimate and organic Paris of the bohemian and working-class community” was “under assault by the forces of banalization and modernization,” as the inner-city working-class population was uprooted and massive housing developments constructed on the outside of the city and ancient markets demolished. (75-76) All of this “signalled to the Situationists the dawn of a homogenized, passionless and historically brainwashed city” (76). Bonnett also argues that, in Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Raoul Vaneigem’s writing, what is articulated is “a nostalgia for the authentic attachments and political memories contained in buildings and streets that have witnessed past conflicts,” a mourning for the loss of “popular memory” (76); the suppression of the street was the Situationists’ favourite illustration of the extinction of popular memory (76). “The SI’s attachment to the Paris of intimate streets and their search for more authentic and passionate relationships to place were reflected in their footloose (and foot-based) geographical praxis,” Bonnett suggests (76), and their intense desire for a passionate connection to the city a produce of “the anger and melancholy of loss” (77). Nostalgia, then, “played a creative and productive role in shaping the Situationists’ hostile attitude toward late modernity and the ‘society of the spectacle’” (77).

Bonnett’s research among older people who have left the city of Newcastle but live nearby is a comparator with the Situationist psychogeographers: one is an example of avant-garde radicalism, the other of conservatism (77). They should have nothing in common, but “both employ and deploy images of the past to offer a critical perspective on the banalizing and inauthentic nature of urban modernization, and they both privilege passion and popular memory over mere aesthetics and walking, and intimate scales of urban attachment over modernist grand plans” (78). Through interviews and getting subjects to draw mental maps of the city, marking places and routes they liked and those they avoided on maps of the city (78-79), Bonnett learned what his research participants were nostalgic about. But first, some context for the research:

Over the past fifty years, Newcastle has been through several periods of widespread demolition and rebuild, although the retail centre remains largely Georgian. However, around this small core, there has been intensive redevelopment in the east and west central parts of the city. (78)

That redevelopment has included the construction of a large shopping centre, a highway, and two universities (78). “Conservationism had a relatively low profile until the early 1980s,” he continues. “Since then, a number of conservation-led policies and initiatives have emerged, although they have mostly focused on the retail core” (79). Nevertheless, the redevelopment process has seen working-class neighbourhoods demolished and replaced and their residents displaced, a process that continues, as “the city remains a site of near-continuous large-scale redevelopment, and what remains of the old urban fabric continues to be eroded through either ‘facadization’ or demolition” (79).

What were participants nostalgic for? They missed “the lively bustle of family-run and otherwise unique shops,” including old-fashioned pubs (79). They sensed that the city had lost something of its individuality, and their anger at such losses tempered by hope that local authorities becoming more sensitive to the value of the past (80-82). “Nostalgia shaped respondents’ use of the city through their use of routes and places that they turned to and returned to because of a sense of attachment to the old city,” Bonnett argues, and “this attachment was not an instrumental form; rather, it offers an enactment of a loving relationship to the city” (82). That love, he contends, is a theme found in Situationist psychogeography: “the need for a passionate, loving relationship with place” (83). Indeed, his participants spoke of “a critical but passionate relationship” with Newcastle (84). According to Bonnett, “it has become possible to see the nostalgic content of radical politics as a chronic dilemma rather than a form of ethical and political failure” (84):

The Situationists and the avant-garde world they inhabited, with its certainties and self-confidence, are gone. But the paradoxes of their nostalgic radicalism remain. These are being worked through in a variety of different ways. An openness to the power of the past is a characteristic of the neo-psychogeographical groups that developed magico-Marxism in the 1990s . . . as well as literary psychogeography (best exemplified in the work of Iain Sinclair) and the ‘urban explorers’ of the late 2000s and 2010s. Yet the same period is also seeing more far-reaching reassessments of nostalgia, reappraisals that both question and connect conservatism and ultraradicalism. Nostalgia is being interrogated as an inherent and productive aspect of the modern imagination. . . . The a priori categorization of nostalgia as irremediably passive, conservative, or uncreative may still be commonplace, but it is starting to look like a dated and simplistic view of the world. With these developments comes the possibility of bringing previously disconnected communities of psychogeographical knowledge into dialogue, at least into a comparative analysis. (84-85)

The  “intimate, street-based engagement with the city they love,” he concludes, offers “a set of challenges and practices that suggest a different and unfamiliar (at least within the literature on psychogeography) kind of psychogeographical paradigm,” one “based not on avant-garde discordancy and extremism but on everyday experience and ordinary needs. Perhaps for these very reasons it is an enduring commitment” (85).

Phil Wood begins “Selective Amnesia and Spectral Recollection in the Bloodlands” with a personal mystery: “Why I should spend my time walking around places that most people would choose to avoid has never been entirely clear to me” (89). Nevertheless, he does believe, following Sinclair, that “the act of walking, or purposeful drift, is the route to revelation” (89). He also believes that “the greatest spectral potential” lies in “the places of past or recent tumult,” so in the UK he is drawn to remnants of the Industrial Revolution,” and to eastern Europe, the places Timothy Snyder calls “the Bloodlands,” places “where past and present still coexist in a more dynamic and occasionally dangerous relationship” (89-90). Wood describes his essay as 

an account of my unaccompanied walks, imaginings and hauntings through the cities of Odessa and Lviv in Ukraine. I have chosen them specifically because each has experienced trauma, absence and loos and is in some sense a “wounded city” . . . and yet each has amnesia and has been quite selective in what it has remembered and forgotten or even removed from the record, making for a disjointed and only partial therapy. (90)

Wood’s influences include Sinclair, Sebald, and Papadimitriou, and he is encouraged by Sebald’s statement about looking for invisible connections that determine our lives (90). He also notes that “Walter Benjamin was the first to teach me that ‘progress’ is a dubious notion and that life and history rarely unfold in an orderly fashion” (90), and that Jacques Derrida’s book Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International leads to  “a deeper understanding of the spectral” (90). Derrida coined the term “hauntology” “to suggest that the present can only exist with respect to the past” (90). After 1989, Derrida “asserted that wilful forgetfulness of negligence of recent traumas would return to haunt the new regimes, providing the impetus for future turbulence” (90-91). Derrida’s book is Wood’s main theoretical touchstone.

Wood goes on to describe his walks in Odessa and Lviv. In Odessa, he begins in the area around his hotel a scrubby woodland with hidden ruins, Soviet construction, a place intended for pleasure, with a bandstand, benches, fountains (91). He imagines visiting a spa there and meeting people—an imagining that is a form of appropriation, and not something I would ever engage in: in fact, much of his report is a construction of the lives of imaginary war veterans, spectres he thinks he senses but actually (let’s be honest) simply imagines. This is a side of psychogeography I find troubling. The area is apparently called “Arkadiya” (92)—an irony in contemporary Odessa—and when Wood realizes that homeless, destitute people live in the ruins, and he leaves, “not wishing to impose myself as a gawping intruder in their world” (94). 

The war and the disappearance of the city’s Jews are the trauma the city conceals. In Odessa, many Jews fled with the retreating Soviet army; the ones who stayed weren’t murdered by the Nazis, but by the Romanian troops that occupied Odessa (95). Wood notes that Jews were denounced by their Gentile neighbours, who went on to loot their property (95). This is an aspect of Odessa’s history not acknowledged today in either Romania or Odessa; the city’s only Holocaust memorial, on a busy street, is poorly maintained, and its inscription only reminds visitors of the crimes committed by the Nazis, not by the Romanians or Odessans; in fact, it’s a memorial to the Ukrainians who tried to save Jews; “A little like the postwar Germany as described by Sebald . . . which collectively failed to talk about its own trauma and complicity, there is much that Odessa has yet to address” (95).

Wood leaves Odessa for Lviv, where his walk follows a long curve from the original Old Town Square, through Pidzamche, back through the west side of town to Kropyvnytskogo Square (96). Today, he writes, the city is “largely monoethnic and monolingual,” but in the past, it was multicultural. “This uniformity reflects a terrible decade of liquidation and forced deportation from which virtually no section of Lviv’s citizenry was immune”: the Nazis murdered Jews, the Soviets murdered and deported ethnic Poles and Ukrainians, and there was also “a particularly vicious local war between Poles and Ukrainians”—the Poles who survived were deported to Poland in the late 1940s, while Ukrainians living within the new borders of Poland were deported, and many came to Lviv (96). “But you’d be forgiven for not knowing any of this, as there really are few public or officially sponsored acknowledgements that Lviv ever was anything but a bastion of Ukrainian national purity,” Wood writes (96). If you look carefully, however, you can see “ghost signs,” in German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, on the buildings (96). Wood wandered around, alone, wondering about the histories of the buildings (97). He discusses a statue commemorating warlord Stepan Bandera, “a genocidal psychopath and dictator manqué,” and he’s shocked that “a city that claims to embrace the values of liberal cosmopolitan Europe” should erect such “an ugly, gloating edifice” (99-100). Perhaps, though, in a city whose memory has been stolen such glorification is not surprising, he continues: “where leaders to not take responsibility and information is not freely available, the human mind has an ability to fill the void with nonsense,” such as the results of a 2000 survey in Lviv which asked residents about the percentage of the city’s population that were Jewish: people thought 18.7 percent, but in fact the true figure was 0.2 percent (100). “The failure to recognise death as death produces the uncanny,” he concludes. “When the dead are not properly buried and mourned, they turn into the undead” (100). But, he asks, “Who, after all, am I to reproach anyone on whose truth and which reality to adopt?” (100-101).

The notion of a geographical unconscious is interesting and potentially fruitful, but as I was asked during a seminar paper on the East German writer Christa Wolf’s novel Patterns of Childhood and Gabriele Schwab’s book Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma, where is that unconscious located? I had no answer: from a strictly Freudian perspective, that unconscious must be metaphorical, but most writers who expand the term beyond Freud’s location of it in the individual psyche don’t treat it as a metaphor.

I skipped an essay on Arthur Machen and another about walking in graveyards and arrived at “Psychogeography Adrift: Negotiating Critical Inheritance in a Changed Context,” by Christopher Collier, which addresses the debate on the political “recuperation” of psychogeography. Collier disagrees with both sides of this debate: “the ‘literary’ conception of psychogeography as an artistic tradition not only tends to disavow its radical Marxist heritage but also fails to account for the conditions of its 1990s reemergence, fundamentally based as they were in social praxis and politicized material culture,” and those who deny psychogeography’s “‘literary’ or ‘artistic’ dimension as recuperation,” “implying a fall or troubling deviation from definitive political origins,” miss the practice’s “emergence and proliferation” (131). “Focusing on psychogeography as a primarily critical practice that has been recuperated potentially fails to acknowledge its immanent, open and prefigurative dimensions,” ignores developments since the 1950s, and “risks trapping psychogeography in the ideology critiques of a former age” (131). Collier’s argument is that “psychogeography is literary but in an iterative, excessive sense—as what one might tentatively call ‘infraliterary,’ that is ‘literature’ as a material, social activity and a condition of possibility for collective subjectivation and resistance” (132). By “infraliterary,” Collier is suggesting “the submerged, amorphous, material basis of communication networks and everyday resistance,” using the term “samizdat” as a metaphor (132). That kind of psychogeographical writing “has functioned as the material cultural and social basis that nourishes psychogeography’s more visible literary or artistic ‘tradition’” (132). According to Collier, “the material form of psychogeographic praxis destabilizes fixed ontologies of enclosure and recuperation, in a sense exceeding ontological questions, whether of origin or of nature, in favour of strategic, de- and recompositional ones. Paradoxically, this might entail looking at origins and definitions if only to disprove their legitimacy” (132). 

Psychogeography, as a term, carries with it a lot of baggage, including the traces of the Situationists on psychogeography, which are “like radiation,” proving “stubborn, powerful and sometimes unpredictable” (132-33). The popularity of psychogeography causes some to argue that “it has been ‘recuperated’—defused and diffused into the ‘spectacle’ of capitalist cultural discourse and commodity production,” and therefore “stripped of critical power” (133). According to that argument, psychogeography should be dead—but it isn’t (133). “So which is it: dead or alive?” he asks. “Again one is presented with this constant doubling and instability; psychogeography continually seems to present as dialectical, yet remains forever troubled by its own destabilization, the dialectic made unstable by the radioactive traces that haunt it” (134). Collier proposes that 

the apparently vital problem of psychogeography’s pulse contains within it the answer, and this answer is the deferral to a different register and in many ways a more profound problem. The register is that of the political, and the problem becomes no longer the binary one of whether psychogeography is dead or alive, recuperated or true to some foundational purity, or even whether art can kill the Situationist International. . . . The question is better posed as whether psychogeography—this playful concept defined by a game designer and a self-proclaimed strategist—can be strategically operative, or, instead, whether it must concede game over. (134)

He argues that, for Debord, psychogeography “a dialectical sublation of . . .the surrealists. There was thus no total break between surrealism and the SI; the difference was one of strategic orientation”—“through a revolutionary praxis” it would be taken to the streets with the goal of transforming them—so its origins are neither and both literary and nonliterary: “Paradoxically, therefore, those seeking to return to an originary, ‘radical’ and purely political psychogeography can only end up disproving the very possibility” (136). In other words, psychogeography “has always been ‘literary’ but also excessive and irreducible” (136); it is both praxis but also “its literary articulation can be understood as the material conditions of its citability, complicating any simple dichotomy between words and practice, original and copy” (136).

Next, Collier turns to psychogeography’s “infraliterary” literature. “Psychogeography maintains a radical potentiality, precisely through a proliferation of infraliterary citations and iterations that keep it open to strategic reconfiguration and recomposition,” he writes (138). Its reemergence in the 1990s was “part of a proliferating infraliterature” (138). That renewal would not have happened without the possibilities for oppositional politics that grew within “the international Mail Art movement and a burgeoning alternative press between the 1970s and 1990s” (138). Situationist ideas were disseminated in punk and post-punk social networks and independent publications (139). He also notes the importance of Stewart Home and his collaborator Fabian Tompsett in uniting and deconstructing the various strands of the Situationists’ legacy (140). They reinterpreted the practice “through intentionally convoluted occultist narratives, provocatively wedded to a humorous appropriation of revolutionary tropes and language,” resulting in “magico-Marxism,” a term coined by Alastair Bonnett, a “‘mythopoeisis’” that “was a ‘satirical deconstruction’ of both esoteric conspiracies and a dogmatic adherence to leftist political ontologies and grandiose, teleological posturising” that echoed Robert Anton Wilson and “guerilla ontology,” another influence on 1990s psychogeography (141).

However, Collier writes, “[t]he underground that sustained the 1990s psychogeographic revival is now more or less decomposed” (143). “The problem becomes, therefore, not how to reinvent or revive psychogeography,” he concludes, “but rather how to maintain and sustain the increasingly fragmented and enclosed social and material base from which not just psychogeography but a variety of other, perhaps more urgent, political recompositions might emerge” (143). New formations and ideas will be created, in other words; prepare to be surprised.

In “Confessions of an Anarcho-Flâneuse, or Psychogeography the Mancunian Way,” Morag Rose describes her experience in the Loiterers Resistance Movement (LRM), a Manchester-based psychogeography collective (147). Rose believes in “the multisensual interaction produced through walking and its capacity to generate a relationship between self, space and left-behind traces: the reason I believe walking has terrific power as a kinaesthetic learning tool” (147). When the LRM was founded, she was burned out by conventional activism and “wanted to explore the use of psychogeography as a participatory tool to disseminate radical theories and stimulate critical debate” (147-48). She believed in loitering “as a form of stealth politics that hid its intention under ludic joy, inspired in part by the imperfect avant-garde neo-Marxism of the Situationists” (148). For Rose, “psychogeography primarily offered a form of public engagement with radical theory that was fun, irreverent and active, a praxis developed out of a desire to find appealing methods to critique the hegemonic view of the city” (148). “More than any lecture or printed text, I believe walking as a methodology offers powerful impact and relevance, affording us a deeper appreciation of the nuances of our city,” she contends (149-50), arguing that it’s important “to blur the boundaries between activists, academics and artists” (150) This is “a key strength of the Situationist International’s philosophy and fundamental to a politicized psychogeography,” which she takes from Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life (150).

Rose rejects the label “flâneur,” “because a working-class, queer, disabled woman does not have the affordances of Benjamin’s privileged subject,” but she has adopted some of the flâneur’s habits, particularly slowness (149).“Walking and playing should not be radical, but they can become so in a city designed for commerce and speed,” she writes (149). Moreover, she writes,

I have a deep desire to democratize the practice of the dérive and reclaim it from the occult and for all classes and genders; an activist class or an artistic elite is as damaging as a cabinet full of millionaires. An uncomfortable undercurrent of misogyny and neocolonialism lurks within much psychogeography and has since its inception. (150)

The LRM is a challenge to that misogyny and neocolonialsm and provides a walkable alternative (150). Their dérives are a nonhierarchical process, coproduced by participants, movement directed by consensus (151). 

Rose’s own walking influences include walkwalkwalk, Lottie Childs, Laura Oldfield Ford, and Phil Smith (151). She believes that the dérive “can create a temporary autonomous zone, a space of inspiration, imagination and emergent possibilities” (152). She uses a variety of ways to facilitate dérives, “including algorithmic walks, transposing maps, throwing dice, concentrating on specific senses and the use of what Phil Smith calls ‘catapults’ as stimuli” (152). She has also practiced other more formally ludic interventions, such as the game of CCTV bingo (152). The purpose of such games is “to provoke mindfulness and ask questions rather than simply condemn” (152); they are intended to be playful rather than pedagogical (152). 

“Like many psychogeographers,” Rose states, “we tend to gravitate to edgelands and liminal spaces, to seek out blurry and forgotten places where cobbles peek out from under tarmac and buddleia (surely every postindustrial city’s patron plant) bloom triumphantly after breaking through concrete and rust” (154). Again with the buddleia: Smith writes about it in Walking’s New Movement, and I’m missing some vital aspect of that plant’s meaning in the UK. “Even on Market Street (Manchester’s core retail area), we found strange corners of buildings, hidden spaces, runic signs and mythological animals,” she writes. “We also find an abundance of revanchist architecture: newly erected walls to stop homeless people from taking shelter, subtle fortresses secured by design and street furniture too uncomfortable to sleep on” (154). Such discoveries are a way of revealing power structures. They interrogate the everyday, conjure the individual into view, and ask how we can make things better (154). This, for Rose, is “the very essence of loitering” (154).

Rose also engages in subverting heritage walks: “Our approach is to make clear that history is permeable, plural and open to contestation” (154). For example, a walk about women in the history of Manchester arose out of frustration at the lack of women in public narratives about the city, including in heritage tours (154):

We issued a public call for nominations of remarkable twentieth-century women and for advocates to celebrate them” in a special issue of a local arts and culture magazine; they selected ten women, unknown to a general audience, curated a tour based on their work, visiting locations chosen for their symbolic value because “in most cases there was no obvious memorial or anchor point. (154-55)

“By emphasizing resonance, memory, absence and affect,” she continues, “the tour complicated received notions of heritage trails by revealing history to be a subjective and affective construction” (155). Such a multifaceted approach echoes “the conception of space in the writing of Doreen Massey,” one of the featured heroines (155). That walk has been repeated several times through popular demand, “each iteration incorporating suggestions and stories from previous participants until it has evolved into something akin to an immersive theatrical performance’ (155). Other walks are embellished with memories provoked by encounters, “comic observations, retelling/appropriating ‘official’ narratives, streams of consciousness and vernacular folklore,” including reports of Manchester’s canal monster, “something amazing, uncanny and unknowable lurking tantalizingly beneath the surface. We treat each tale respectfully; they influence future explorations and help construct our contribution to Manchester’s palimpsest” (155). I find the notion of subverting history tours fascinating, because such tours are very rare in Canada—or at least in Regina—and they tend to be organized only as special events, such as during the annual Jane’s Walks festival. For them to be so commonplace that they need to be subverted is something I’ve never experienced.

“The dérive offers a creative response to Massey’s ‘chance of space,’” Rose argues, 

by temporarily rewriting the city, revealing its multiplicities and complicating the power relationships implicit in conventional cartography. Objectively knowing the city remains an impossiblity; the dérive champions’ localized attempts to (re)map the territory afford creative acts of self-determination reminiscent of de Certeau’s . . . small resistances. (156)

However, Rose sees “a structural conundrum” in the LRM’s dérives: “Is the organized dérive an oxymoron? To acknowledge the drift and announce its starting point is surely to lose an element of unconciousness, and so the pure dérive must be a mythological creature” (156). However, if the dérive has “become detached from the overt political intent of the SI, this is a positive,” she continues. “Free from didactic and revolutionary polemic, it enables personal epiphanies and imaginative working more suited to our postmodernesque age” (156). According to Rose, her work “demonstrates the accessibility of psychogeography, which still remains an esoteric methodology with a reputation for being arcane and difficult. I believe this is a fallacy based on misunderstandings,” particularly because some of the Situationists’ writings “appear abstracted and impenetrable” (157). She advocates a psychogeography that is accessible to everyone and “truly becomes part of Vanegiem’s Revolution of Everyday Life” (158). 

Despite sexism of psychogeography and flânerie, women embrace both, particularly in communal walks, which break down social barriers and elicit sensations and conversations that can be far reaching (158). “I suspect participants become so embedded in their affective experience, so entangled with the city, that the disinterested, haughty label of the flâneur is not appropriate for either gender,” she writes.“The flâneur and the flâneuse are best seen as archetypes, conduits, inspirations and provocations rather than literal figures” (158). In fact, her methodology “challenges the authority and exclusivity of the privileged flâneur” (158) and demonstrates that “the female walker does not only exist for the benefit of the male gaze” (159).

Rose identifies five key characteristics of a dérive: it should be spontaneous but mindful; it should be participatory, and everyone has a collective responsibility to look after themselves and each other; it is noncommercial; it aims to interrupt the banal and discover the magic in the ordinary; and it is supposed to be pleasurable and fun (159). Such walking “emphasizes the embodied and gendered nature of experience, providing a vehicle to promote an interdisciplinary, expanded psychogeography” (160). The dérive is a mental and physical tool that can trigger imaginations and inspire new ideas to break the hegemony of Debord’s spectacle (161). “If we consider psychogeography as an evolving practice rather than a theory (and surely, due to its embodied nature, we must), then the reality is infinitely richer, more diverse, accessible and inclusive, and its potentialities are more breathtakingly beautiful than the established canon would lead us to believe,” Rose concludes: 

It is in the plurality, the minor epiphanies, that we find possibilities to create a truly revolutionary spatial awareness. The potential for diverse groups of people to engage in experimental walking should be developed as it affords the opportunity to rupture the banal and disrupt the monopoly of capitalism, (re)connecting with space, (re)mapping according to personal affect and (re)creating with multitudinous new stories. (161)

Like Smith, then, Rose sees tremendous possibilities for radical politics in the simple act of walking.

In Phil Smith’s essay, “Psychogeography and Mythogeography: Currents in Radical Walking,” he acknowledges that “[t]he mythogeography project was not planned”: it came out of a shift in the work of Wrights & Sites, “from making site-specific performances to making interventions in everyday life” (165). “What it then became is more a result of emerging opportunities for dispersal than of any coherent strategy,” he continues: mythogeography became “an interwoven set of terms, theory-tales and praxis-narratives made available as far as resources allow to that assemblage of ambulatory and ‘resistant’ practitioners who escape the more popular and literary summaries of psychogeography” (165). According to Smith,

Mythogeography is a theorization of multiplicity and mobility that hangs on the texture, grit and emotion of individual journeys. Its promotion of its own ideas stems partly form a painful awareness of how quickly actions can melt into air and partly from a grudging admiration for those, like the postmodern performers Forced Entertainment . .  who have created a critical-theoretical scaffolding around their own activities (getting their retaliation in first). (165)

Walking became the central practice of Wrights & Sites in response to tensions around the use of theatricality in their site-based performances. They began inviting guests on day-long journeys around Exeter, generating rewalkings of routes and forays into “the rural hinterland,” mapping projects,” walking-video experiments, misguided tours and other “ambulatory events” (166). Their handbooks, An Exeter Mis-Guide and A Mis-Guide to Anywhere, and “A manifesto for a New Walking Culture,” sold all over the world and “fed into a growing practice of ambulatory arts” (166). (Check out the prices used copies of those books are demanding on Amazon and Abebooks–if that’s a sign of importance, these books are very important.) 

From the beginning, the members of Wrights & Sites were aware of psychogeography, or at Smith was; the first use of the term “mythogeographical” was “almost certainly a misremembering of psychogeographical” (166). They wanted to distinguish themselves from “certain hegemonic aspects of the SI” and “the functional role assigned to ‘drifting’ in their project” (166). The key elements of mythogeography include “attention to a multiplicity of layers, equal status given to the subjective and the fanciful as to the public and the political, and the walk itself as a making and changing of meanings rather than as a service function for a later process of change or representation” (167). By 2006, the group’s anxiety about “creating a distinguishable identity had waned,” and they started studying psychogeographical practices, which became much closer to their core practice (167). Their formulation of mythogeography changed; it “specifically addressed the play of ideology, adding apparently missing layers of contestation between the ‘geographical environment,’ ‘emotions,’ and ‘behaviours’ engaged by existing psychogeographical practices. These missing layers were addressed as the ‘myths’ of a place and then engaged playfully, parodistically, destructively, or deconstructively” (167). “Our misguided tours were devoted to engaging, dismantling and remaking the ‘myths’ of their routes,” Smith writes, “a seeking for mythogeographical terrain that intertwined with our aspiration to re-create the experience of place” (167-68). At the same time, mythogeography allows for solo, pilgrimage walks, including Smith’s ambulations “following the 1910 route of an acorn-planting engineer,” which is described in his Mythogeography book, “and the other the ‘route’ of W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn,” which “provided the overarching structure” for his book On Walking (168).

According to Smith, the mythogeography project grew within Wrights & Sites, but it has since escaped that group, and it now has “a useful flexibility when it comes to dispersal but also, in common with other neopsychogeographies, a susceptibility to theoretical dissolution. There is no detailed theoretical account of, or practice manual for, systematic psychogeographical praxis,”  he continues, and with the exception of McKenzie Wark’s writing on the subject, “vivid excavations of a meshwork of practices, relationships and ideas form the milieu of the LI and SI,” “it is often difficult to find the contexts through which to understand the dérive” (168). Mythogeography, he continues, 

was informed by its originators’ awareness not only of the inadequacy of documentation to capture affect and liveness . . . and of documentation’s poisonous transformation of actions and experiences into critical artefacts, but also of the alternative possibility of a repertoire of actions . . . supported less by descriptions of practice than by practice as recycling and by toolkits and handbooks. (168)

Smith’s 2010 book, Mythogeography, “attempts to lure its users into a performative reading in order to inculcate them into mythogeographical thinking as much as thinking about mythogeography”; his intention was to create a book “that would be an initiatory and educative ordeal as granular and structural as the drifts themselves” (169). 

Smith discusses the increase in psychogeographic activity of various kinds, but notes, “[t]he downside of stripping psychogeography from détournement and construction of situations has been depoliticization. The upside has been its freeing from functionalism—servicing future events—in favour of a dispersed autonomy and agency” (171). Psychogeography ought to bring together the subjective and the objective: “the subjective act of psychogeographical drifting and the objective, Situationist action of place making could and should be one and the same thing. One side of the equation need not retreat into a hard politics of objectless, relational distributions and activisms while the other immerses itself in affect, subjectivity and aesthetics” (172). Instead, he calls for “new, more intimate and more intangible terrains with which to integrate . . . radical walking’s entanglements with anti-spectacular interiority-battlefields and affect-impregnated anti-identity terrains”—“anywheres,” in other words (172). One example is his GeoQuest project, described in Counter-Tourism: The Handbook (173-74). However, Smith criticizes his writing on that project: the volunteers involved 

were already assembling their own groups of friends and using my tactics on drift-like wanders and reperforming my misguided tours. They were quite capable of organizing themselves once equipped with tactics. Second, I realized that what was so vital and exemplary about the GeoQuest was its transition from its various parts to an “art of living,” not the imposition of that “art of living” as a structure. . . . what was needed for a transition to an “art of living,” or any other assemblage emerging from the “and and and” of tactics, were more and more tactics and an advocacy for setting these tactics in motion about each other in hypersensitized, limited nomadism. (175)

“At last,” he continues, “practicing what I had preached in Mythogeography—the deferring of any synthesis of tactics into organization—I stopped searching for ways to organize others and concentrated on dispersing tactics and theorizations of resistant walking, leaving users and participants to decide on their own forms of organization” (175). 

GeoQuest was exemplary in one other way: “The characteristics that helped it make a qualitative transition conform to some important general trends emerging within radical walking in Britain: the influence of newcomers, the multiplicity of practices and approaches, geographical dispersal, tension between mobility and place, and the return of ‘art’” (175). The participation of women in radical walking, he continues, is its most significant force at the moment in the UK. While there is “a growing multiplicity of resistant ambulatory practices in Britain,” but “there is also now a far greater range of impressively written nonliterary sources for the walker to consult” (175-76). Radical walking is also seeing a geographical dispersion outside London (176). However, Smith argues that despite this dispersion, there is little evidence of walking being connected to place, which, as a Deleuzian, he considers a good thing: “While many aesthetic, disrupted, or radical walkers (the difficulty in finding a suitable collective term is a welcome one) pay close attention to the fine details and textures of their terrains, among such walkers there is more often a sense of connections, mobilities and trajectories than of identities bound exclusively to locations” (176). Mythogeography does not require a choice between the speed of the mobilities paradigm—he cites John Urry here—and located, bounded places; instead, it practices “both a disruption from everyday life and a disruption of that disruption . . . embracing a limited nomadism as well as an obsessive site-specificity that can place a disruptive torque on seamless flows of information and objects” (176). The telltale signs of Deleuze and Guattari are everywhere in that last sentence. I do wonder, though, why an intimate knowledge of place is so often considered a bad thing by psychogeographers. Is it not sufficiently postmodern or something? I really don’t get it.

Smith also sees a return of art to radical walking, although he suggests that 

there is a problem for those following the classic formulation of détournement, in which two moribund art products are combined, destroying both but producing a new, vivid third artefact: the law of diminishing returns. Where do the skills or materials continue to come from to create that third artefact if they are broken or rejected in the process? (176)

The work of Wrights & Sites provides one answer to that question: a movement away from theatre, although they “retained and deployed” their dramaturgical skills (176). There needs to be more poetry in psychogeography:

Transforming ambulatory experiences into dispersals of usable tactics or inspirational representations requires a détourning of arts based on a facility with their techniques, using the anachronism of the aesthetic (just like the specificity of place or the slowness of walking) to create a distorting defamiliarization that disrupts and reveals the routine processes of the ideological noosphere, springing open the bonnet of the techno-linguistic machine while at the same time celebrating and enjoying something like the original symbolist deregulations and reassemblages of language and meaning. (177)

The aesthetic will have a political impact, Smith suggests, although the second half of that sentence is difficult for me to understand. “Such is the ‘rapid transit’ of forms, images and ideas that little of any substance—let alone radical traditions—can be preserved for very long,” he continues:

Fuzzy activity will mostly have to do. We can trust nothing and so have to trust ‘everything’ and ‘anywhere,’ plunging both pleasurably and fearfully into the ‘and and and’ of multiple narratives and trajectories, stitching together new subjectivities and traditions in ruins in a reparative and depressive interweaving . . . under cover of our individualities, paranoias and disruptive anachronisms. (177)

Why such interweaving needs to be depressive as well as reparative is not clear to me; perhaps the clue is in the text by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick that Smith cites in his concluding paragraph. There’s only one way to find out.

In “Developing Schizocartography: Formulating a Theoretical Methodology for a Walking Practice,” Tina Richardson describes her practice, which she calls “schizocartography”: “By applying Félix Guattari’s theoretical critique to the practice of psychogeography, I formulated the term schizocartography from his terms schizoanalysis and schizoanalytic cartography” (181). In combination with psychogeography, schizoanalysis enables “alternative existential modes for individuals in order to challenge dominant representations and power structures as they appear in urban space,” providing an opportunity “for multiple ways of operating in and reviewing the environment” and critiquing “the conventional ways of viewing, interpreting and mapping space” (181). The purpose of Richardson’s is to explain schizocartography, distinguish it from the Guattari’s work and the walking practices of the Situationists, and describe its methodology by providing examples (181-82). 

First, however, she provides a lengthy definition of schizocartography:

Schizocartography offers a method of cartography that questions dominant power structures and at the same time enables subjective voices to appear from underlying postmodern topography. Schizocartography is the process and output of a psychogeography of particular spaces that have been co-opted by various capitalist-oriented operations, routines or procedures. It attempts to reveal the aesthetic and ideological contradictions that appear in urban space while simultaneously reclaiming the subjectivity of individuals by enabling new modes of creative expression. Schizocartography challenges antiproduction, the homogenizing character of overriding forms that work toward silencing heterogenous voices. (182)

Schizocartography also “challenges the ossified symbols of hierarchical structures through the act of crossing the barriers (concrete or abstract) of a particular terrain, which enables “a process whereby something other is accessed, something that might normally be hidden behind the veneer of the dominant spectacle of urban space” (182). It is “the observation and the critique of a particular space,” and “includes the archival, historical and theoretical analysis attributed to that space and the form of output that this research might take” (182). It resembles a drift through the space, “the psyches of those involved in the walk,” as well as the literature on the space (182), and it “culminates in a form of expression that is offered as an alternative to more dominant histories of a place, highlighting ideological processes that might be in operation within the terrain” (182). It is an ongoing process demonstrating “that place is complex and fluid, with an identity that is heterogenous and an unconscious that can be excavated” (182), and it challenges the status quo and questions capitalist subjectivity (182). And it is rooted in the act of walking, in which “the body can trace a new map, one that escapes the rigid hierarchies of an imposed order” (182).

Richardson’s notion of schizocartography has its origins in Guattari’s institutional critique of psychiatry and his ambition to destructure consciousness and overconfident rationality; his analysis is deconstructive, she suggests, because it refuses triadic or binary oppositions: “[i]t is concerned with ‘the other’ to dominant voices and constructions and explores the heterogeneity that is often sidelined in arrangements of hierarchical power” (182-83). She suggests that Guattari’s assessment of psychiatry lends itself to critiques of other hierarchies and institutions (183). In conjunction with psychogeography, his analysis “allows one to critique outward-facing physical structures in the form of buildings that belong to them and the urban settings in which they arise” (183). Guattari’s book, Molecular Revolution in Brazil, coauthored with Suely Rolnik, is especially significant for schizocartography (183), but both that book and the earlier Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics involve geospatial aspects—of institutions and of a country: “these two texts analyse dominant structures, discuss the effect of capitalism on individuals and also provide examples of how people find a way to operate outside (or alongside) these overriding forms” (183). 

These concepts, along with urban walking, make up schizocartography (183). That urban walking is based on psychogeography, as defined by the Situationists, as “the subjective impact that urban architecture had on the lives of those living and working there” (184). For Richardson, Guattari’s writing is relevant to psychogeography because of its critique of capitalism as a form of consciousness that takes consumption as the norm (184)—a critique related to that of the Situationists. Capitalism as a form of consciousness also has geographical effects, and they tend to remove alternative choices from urban spaces; therefore, “a historical and archival analysis is often required to reveal the history of a place in its present conglomeration because urban space often obfuscates heterogeneity” (185). According to Richardson, inserting the body into the space, by walking, “enables one to disclose a social history that may not be apparent on a cursory viewing of that space, nor be accessible in the more readily available literature on that place” (185).

The concept of desire is also present in both Guattari and the Situationists: desires are rerouted back into capitalist process of consumption (185). So too are aesthetics and affect important psychological responses in Guattari and the Situationists. However, Richardson is using the term “aesthetics” “in the psychic sense in regards to the response the individual has to a cultural object—in this context, that of urban space,” which might be unconscious, but is affective (186). It’s not about the appreciation of beauty, but about sensory events and our reactions to them (186). She also defines the way “affect” is used in psychology (and by Deleuze and Guattari): it is not just emotion or mood, but an instinctual reaction to an interactive process (186). “I use the terms affect and aesthetics (often interchangeably) as a way to promote the heterogeneity of subjectivities, a central theme of my practice,” she writes (186). Guattari uses affect and aesthetics to promote the heterogeneity of subjectivities, which is a central theme of schizocartography (187).

Richardson argues that, for the Situationists, dérives became moments (temporal) or situations (spatio-temporal): their project “was about seizing a moment in time and space and attempting to change its aesthetics for a short time by diverting it away from the project of capital” (187-88). By surveying space through walking, a narrative would be generated. However, as a method of urban walking, schizocartography doesn’t limit itself to the dérive: other formats might include participant questionnaries, mapping exercises, or exploring a place looking for something specific (188). “None of these requires the chance quality that the dérive demands,” Richardson notes, “but they do involve the presence of the body in space, subjective reactions to place, or a search for something that may reveal ‘the other’ of a place” (188). The détournement was another Situationist tactic. The détournement is “a way of continually reworking the past in order to resituate it in the form of the new,” a process that can be used for any political or artistic goal (188). According to Richardson, “[t]he relationship between détournement and the schizoanalysis of Guattari is apparent in Guattari’s questioning of overriding forms and how they can become reappropriated, enabling a reformulation (a reterritorialization) to occur that appears as a translation of certain structures” (188). Guattari’s schizoanalysis allows other forms of representation to become available (188). Another concept of Guattari’s that is integral to schizocartography is transfersality, “a particular form of communication that forms a bridge that takes unconventional routes between systems” (189). In  in Félix Guattari: An Abberrant Introduction, Gary Genosko discusses urban walking as “an alternative form of articulation, providing one with a different self to that which is expected by the dominant powers in the capitalistic city” (189). “Desire finds a route through transversality,” Richardson writes, “allowing it to be released from overriding social forms that attempt to regulate the subjectivity of the individual and their behaviour within a given setting” (190-91).

In her conclusion, Richardson wonders if schizocartography is a methodology, and asserts that she doesn’t want it to be understood in such a rigid way (191):

Schizocartography enables the topophilic relationship between space and its inhabitants to become a creative process whereby those spaces can be rewritten,” but “it does not propose to be the authority on a particular place under observation,” nor does it “offer a process that goes further than an archival exploration by offering a psychogeography of place that can add something that might be undiscovered, were it not for the act of placing the physical body in space as a critical tool. (191)

Schizocartography “is a series of tracings in the form of readings and writings of place” that “appear as a reframing that attempts to contest the dominant semiotic of a situation” (192). 

I skimmed the final three essays (on sensory walks, walking and dementia, and psychogeography’s potential role in psychology) and arrived at Richardson’s conclusion, which begins with a quotation from Iain Sinclair about psychogeography as a brand or a franchise (241). That comment leads her to ask, “What has psychogeography become?” (241). She notes that more psychogeographers are using digital tools and cartography (242-43), but suggests they are “at once embracing and critical of the new technology, preferring to use it as one tool among many for creating, recording and producing output from the dérive” (243). 

According to Richardson, “the psychogeographical process is immersive, processual and nondialectical”; it’s not about “the gaze,” because “[t]he walker is both the subject and the object, is seen and seeing” (248). It is important to question one’s own place in the setting of the walk, she continues—a point that is very important to my practice. She also notes that photography can be a problem if it is voyeuristic or scopophilic (248-49). “It is important that the very act of walking and carrying out research does not situate the other as subaltern,” she writes.” And while it may be difficult to find a satisfactory solution to this problem, articulating the concerns as part of the practice one is carrying out goes some way toward raising it as an issue. Part of what makes up the qualities of the new psychogeography is that it is neither touristic nor colonial” (249). I wish that articulating those concerns were enough; my sense is that one needs to find an answer to the questions raised by those issues.

Turning a walk into something more psychogeographical need not be difficult or complex; it might mean asking why a particular urban object came to be placed where it is or why the sidewalk-to-road ratio is the size it is: “Your walk has then become a form of critical psychogeography. When you set out on a walk with this approach, there is also a sense of anticipation of the possibilities that may appear as the fruit of the labour of your walk” (251). “Call it psychogeography,” she concludes. “Don’t call it psychogeography. Walk. Don’t walk. Either way, the ‘franchise’ endures” (251).

What was valuable in this book? I found the range of practices that exist side-by-side under the rubric “psychogeography” was interesting. I found Smith’s explication of mythogeography important, because it clarifies what he means by that term. The accounts of dérives were useful in clarifying what a dérive might actually look like. Bonnett’s discussion of nostalgia encourages me to read his other work on that subject. But perhaps Richardson’s suggestion that one needs to question one’s place walking in a specific location is the most important thing I took from this book. That is a question I continue to ask myself, and I hope I manage to come up with a satisfactory answer.

Work Cited

Richardson, Tina, ed. Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography, Rowman & Littlechild, 2015.