15: Only literary walks leave traces

Or, perhaps, this is a walking movement. It is notable that the new psychogeography picks up on the Derive rather than some of the other aspects that Debord was interested in, such as mapping, politics or scientific observation.

In his Introduction to a critique of urban geography, Debord wrote “The adjective psychogeographical, retaining a rather pleasing vagueness, can thus be applied to the findings arrived at by this type of investigation, to their influence on human feelings, and even more generally to any situation or conduct that seems to reflect the same spirit of discovery.”

The Situationists never got down to specifics and the record of psychogeographical actions are sparse. Coverley describes one such account, Abdelhafid Khatib’s Attempt at a psychogeographical description of Les Halles, referring to its “mundane descriptions” and how it owes “more to a particularly unreadable form of travel guide”.

It makes sense that psychogeography has become a brand for a certain type of literary walking rather than a political movement of its own: activities that don’t leave an artistic or literary trace cannot be added to the psychogeographical canon. When Sinclair discusses tagging and graffiti in Lights out for the Territory, these anonymous acts are subsumed into literary psychogeography.

In the essay ‘Kafka and His Precursors’, Borges made the point that, following Kafka’s writing, a series of distinct earlier authors come to have a resemblance: “if Kafka had never written a line, we would not perceive this quality”. Debord’s work has led to something similar, and Coverley’s book on Psychogeography draws in authors such as Daniel Defoe, Robert Luis Stevenson, William Blake, Charles Baudelaire and (of course) Thomas de Quincey.

Once a pattern like this is seen, it is hard to ignore. Perhaps there is another path that could be taken through psychogeography, drawing from Land Art and people such as Richard Long; or through protestors such as Reclaim the Streets and Occupy. A psychogeography that cannot be enjoyed from an armchair. Maybe the traces are there to be drawn upon.

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