Tag Archives: Will Self

Pygmalion’s Nightmare

What would happen if, like in the story of Pygmalion, Melbourne’s public sculptures were to come to life? It is a story from Yell Olé, a Melbourne underground comic from the mid-90s, by Bernard Caleo and Brendan Tolley.

J.E. Boehm, St George and the dragon, 1876

The statues are resentful for their spirits having been “locked in city buildings for reasons generations old.” The figure from the art deco Manchester Unity Building is the first to rampage through the city. Later he is chased down by the two warriors on horseback from outside of the State Library, the unlikely combination of St George and Joan of Arc.

I won’t tell you about the story’s outcome but point out that Will Self conjures a similar scene for London’s in his novel, The Book of Dave (2006). This is not an accusation of plagiarism but an example of convergent evolution out of similar urban environments. Probably there are more stories set in different cities have been told by other people. For this is a psychogeographical exercise of imagination animating statues by their totemic spirits through comic-book metaphysics.

My current version of this scenario in Melbourne is no picnic in the park. There are more sculptures. The atmosphere is more partisan and far more brutal spurred on by the animosity of the culture wars. Callum Morton’s Hotel would be booked out by dolls, miniatures, and teddy bears in town to watch the fight. Yellow angular shards would grow at various angles around the city, like alien mineral deposits from the planet DCM.

On one side a strange assortment of creatures; amongst them the Cowardly Lion of Fitzroy (Eicholtz’s Courage) and the big black rabbit (Floyd’s Signature Work) from the Docklands. Their best defence is the dogs of this war, FIDO and Larry LaTrobe; FIDO is huge. Although Larry is far smaller, as his studded collar would suggest, he is far more vicious.

On the other side is a cavalry unit of equestrian statues, metal men with suitcases staggering down Burke Street Mall like zombies. World War One servicemen, the many golems in the service of the imaginal throne of the eternal empire rampage through Melbourne as if it were Cairo. Bronze explorers unable to navigate the cities streets get lost in the suburbs randomly claiming properties on behalf of the King. Intoxicated statues of former State Premiers punching it out in Treasury Gardens after drinking with Robbie Burns and General Gordon’s statues.

And just when you thought the fight was over Bunjil, along with the Genie from Queen Victoria Gardens, fly in to save the day.

Bruce Armstrong, Eagle, 2002, Docklands

Melbourne Psychogeography Regrets

Like the flâneurs (Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Charles Dickens in London and Gerard Nerval in Paris) psychogeography is pretty much the exclusive purview of a privileged minority of men. Psychogeography (along with the associated activities of urban exploration, surface archeology, ghost-signs, and paint-spotting) is unfairly dominated by white, middle-class, middle-aged men — including myself. From Will Self to the conservative politician Micheal Portillo’s tv program Abandoned Buildings or Tony Robinson walking somewhere else — at the professional level there are no women.

The activity of walking around the city unfairly excludes both women and other people (especially the original owners of the land) simply because they are not always as safe as I am. This is not a desirable situation. I don’t wish to exclude anyone and I would be happy if there was a much greater diversity of psychogeographers. Hence this statement of regret, that I’ve written on behalf of all Melbourne psychogeographers.

I want to write: women reclaim the night and explore the city… Indigenous people tell your own stories of it because it this always was and is your land… but that might not be wise… Indeed (if memory serves me correctly, because I am searching for the source) in the original phase of psychogeography the North African members of the Situationalists who were not legally allowed to explore Paris at night because of a curfew.

We need less cars and more people out on the streets, or even, at the front of their homes would be an improvement. Instead in home renovation after home renovation we have the architectural retreat to the backyard in the suburbs. We need more active witnesses, or ‘neighbours’ as they used to be called, and not passive recording on CCTV (see my blog post on CCTV).

In considering all the practicalities of walking around (insert a quote from Will Self here, something on his gore-tex underwear), the historical research, the documentation and photographs …. We have been forgetting to re-imagine the city. Renaming buildings and inventing readymade sculptures were amongst my first psychogeographical activities; there was the Dalek Headquarters in South Melbourne with its blue panopticon eye surveilling the city, the Cylons in Box Hill … Exercising the imagination is the start of the process.

We have to imagine a city where all people are equally safe, a place where being in public is safer than being in private, because only then can we make such a place a reality.


My Melbourne Writers Festival

People have been asking me how my book, Sculptures of Melbourne is doing since it was released in May.  I am still working on promoting it, as well as, writing bog posts, pitching for articles and applying for writers awards, the last two without much luck except for a couple of reposts in The Daily Review.

Sculptures of Melbourne cover

I do have a few more events and other things coming up to promote Sculptures of Melbourne. On Sunday there is my sculpture walk for the Melbourne Writers Festival (you can book for on the festival website).

I can’t believe that I am in the Melbourne Writers Festival with my first book. My neighbour Jane, who has written several books and a fun blog about her job on Melbourne’s railways (Station Stories), is green with envy.

The festival liked the idea of a sculpture walk, everyone likes the idea of walking. Last week I was working a sculpture walking map for Walks Victoria. It is almost finished; just a few more photos to upload. Anyone can map out a walk on their website and I notice that there are a couple of street art walks (I am doing my walk for an exchange for publicity).

During the Melbourne Writers Festival I hope that I run into the great pedestrian and writer, Will Self, who is also appearing at the festival. The ultimate horror of an intoxicated fan and first time author who wants to tell him that the solution to his, and J. G. Ballard’s, problem with ending their sci-fi novels is that they should be writing their stories as role-playing scenarios. Actually I’d probably just tell him about Nick Gadd’s superb psychogeography blog, Melbourne Circle. (Don’t worry Will I’m not a stalker.)

Anyway, fantasy conversations aside, Melbourne Books has done a fantastic, unbelievable job at promoting my book. I’ve had the experience of going into a bookshops and not being able to find my book because it has been so prominently displayed.

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, Melbourne

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, a stop on my walk.


Psychogeography

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.

Bionic Ear Lane

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 than 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.


%d bloggers like this: