In an interview with Lee Rourke, Merlin Coverley talks about how he came to write his book Psychogeography; that he wasn’t interested in the subject so much as ‘certain writers’. Coverley explains that he learned about it via Iain Sinclair who, he feels, is responsible for the current popularity of psychogeography.
And it’s certainly true that Sinclair’s Lights out for the Territory stands at the heart of a psychogeographical revival. The people featured in the book include Will Self, Bill Drummond, Stewart Home, Alan Moore, Peter Ackroyd, Patrick Keiller and JG Ballard. But, while Sinclair has a political rage that Debord would sympathise with, Sinclair’s psychogeography is more of a literary movement than a political one.
Sinclair started his long rambles in the capital when he first arrived in London: “Walking was a means of editing a city of free-floating fragments.” He began to interpret the capital, learning its history and reading its hidden patterns. Like Coverley, Sinclair was not directly inspired by the Situationists: ” I had no idea, back then, that rogue Parisian intellectuals had already branded these strategies and given them a provocative title: psychogeography.”
Debord was, in many ways, a poor father to psychogeography, leaving a lot of his work incomplete. He also ignores a lot of his predecessors (most notably the Surrealists) Rebecca Solnit writes in her history of walking, Wanderlust, “that flaneury seemed to Debord a radical new idea all his own is somewhat comic.”
While he would have hated what psychogeography became, Debord didn’t leave much to work with. In his interview with Rourke, Coverley says that his problem with Debord is “that when you look at the writings, the manifestos, the lists, the plans — it stalls… People are primed with Debordian ideas and sent out into the field and seem to come back with nothing.”
What would it matter if Sinclair was taken as the founder of psychogeography? If Sinclair had used another thinker as a point of departure, the situationists could have have remained as a minor influence on Sinclair’s new genre. Debord cut out many of his direct predecessors: what we would lose if we had a history of psychogeography without Debord?