Everyone has their own theory about the methods and purposes of psychogeography, is it magic or unknown science, but the one thing that people are sure about is that it involves walking. Psychogeography may be a form of literary or artistic fiction about a crowd-sourced index and map of various cities. It is not intended for the sole-benefit of the researcher, although it may well be, but for a larger audience. In this it can be distinguished from religious or spiritual walks; pilgrimages, walking meditations or the Aboriginal walkabout as these are done for the spiritual benefit to the walker.
There are different types of psychogeography.
There is the psychogeography of the Situationalists; the dérive, and all that programatic pseudo-scientific shambolic stuff at the start. Not forgetting all the other wanders of the city that had come before them, especially in those Paris streets.
The psychogeography of Stewart Homes (London Psychogeographical Association and the Manchester Area Psychogeographic) where the Situationalists philosophy is mixed with the magical geomancy of lay lines and architectural conspiracy theories.
The psychogeography of Will Self with his long distance traverses of the urban landscape of London, New York, Los Angeles… As Will Self explains:
“most of the pychogeographic fraternity (and, dispiritingly, we are a fraternity: middle-aged men in Gore-Tex, armed with notebooks and cameras… ) are really only local historians with an attitude problem. Indeed real, professional local historians view us as insufferably bogus and travelling – if anywhere at all – right up ourselves.” (Will Self Psychogeography Bloomsbury, 2007, p.12)
All this walking may not be as bogus for historian as Will Self implies; Charlie Ward writes on his blog:
“when I finished a Masters Degree and realised that I was a historian, I’ve noticed the foibles that characterise the guild. One of these is the habit of ‘taking the air’ in locations at which past events occurred. While I remain coy about these activities, I was buoyed to read in Mark McKenna’s excellent biography An Eye for Eternity ,that Australia’s pre-eminent historian, Manning Clark, was a committed practitioner of this eccentric science. According to McKenna, Clark spent days driving across the outback on trips punctuated by the historian pacing about like a bush parson, divining the temper of times gone by.”
My own version of psychogeography are predicated on research and strays into both the territory of local historians and even archeologists. When I asked my friend Geoff Irvin, a real, professional archeologist about describing my activities as “a surface archeological survey” was an abuse of term, he scoffed at the much abused idea of surface archeology and told me to abuse away.
My predilection for amateur local history comes from mother’s side of the family; my mother’s main interests are Chinese immigration to Australia and graveyards in Central Victoria. My maternal grandfather, Harold S. Williams wrote a series of history articles, “Shades of the Past” for the Mainichi newspaper during the years 1953 to 1957 along with a couple of books. He was a bit of flâneur, reporting on the local history, observing the coffee shops and other minutia of life in Osaka, sometimes with a revolver in his pocket. So I suppose that I’m carrying on a family tradition.
I have now been writing this blog for six years. Travelling around Melbourne: walking riding my bicycle, taking trains and trams. I am not a pedestrian purist, like Will Self, for me psychogeography can be conducted by other forms of transport, although for accurate observations being on foot (or on a bicycle because it is easy to stop and start) is best.
Perhaps we need another term, other crazy ‘psychogeography’, or perhaps the activity has already divided in specialist areas of interest: ghost signs, paint spotting (looking for graffiti), legend tripping and urban exploration.