The best introduction to psychogeography came from a review of Iain Sinclair’s Edge of the Orison in the Times, written by Robert Macfarlane:
Psychogeography: a beginner’s guide. Unfold a street map of London, place a glass, rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw round its edge. Pick up the map, go out into the city, and walk the circle, keeping as close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go, in whatever medium you favour: film, photograph, manuscript, tape. Catch the textual run-off of the streets: the graffiti, the branded litter, the snatches of conversation… Go out into the city, hungry for signs and portents, and see what happens. Open your mind, let the guiding metaphors of the walk find you.
The activity described is interesting. When I’ve done it, even in areas I’ve known well, I’ve discovered things. I’ve seen how an arbitrary route cuts across the usual ways of travelling through a city, revealing how the city channels its residents, how the mood of an area can change abruptly. This sort of walking is a fun if pretentious way to spend a few hours. It will appeal to certain people and bore others. But it says very little about psychogeography.
The term itself emerged from left-wing art movements in 1950s Paris, but the ideas involved have been given a longer lineage. From theoretical, political origins, Psychogeography has been linked to literary antecedents such as Thomas de Quincey, Daniel Defoe, Arthur Machen and to literary descendants like Iain Sinclair, Alan Moore and Will Self. The subject has been connected to land art, urbanism, political walking, urban exploration, travel writing, mindfulness, punk rock. It has been invented and reinvented, becoming at times cliched and banal.
There is a lot of writing about psychogeography and it sometimes overwhelms the practises. The revolutionary ambitions of the original psychogeographers have certainly been drowned out by wordy petulance. Anything one writes about a subject like psychogeography has to keep returning to the question of what it actually changes. You can walk circles around the place where you live all you like. So what?If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list