I bought the Independent this weekend for the Eric Rohmer DVD’s and naturally came across Will Self’s column in the magazine. I have heard of it before but not paid any attention. I always assumed the title to be a bit of a joke, a comment on the over/mis-use of the term by a man who knows what it really means. But as I read yesterday’s cloumn, a meditation on “Travelling light”, the inappropriateness of the title irked me. Self was sailing too close to genuinely psychogeographical waters, questioning notions of and approaches to travel. What was Self playing with here?
I’d seen him jibe Iain Sinclair for his perceived mis-use of the Debordian idea of “The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment (whether consciously organised or not) on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”. (Guy Debord, ‘Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography’ 1955) for Sinclair’s brew of earth mysteries and East End esoterica. Mr Self had even squared the two ideas of psychogeography in his review of Sinclair’s masterful ‘London Orbital’ (along with ‘Lights Out for the Territory’ and Stewart Home’s LPA newsletters held up as the canonical texts of Anglo-Celtic psychogeography). He’d quite neatly defined what he thought the Situationists were up to when he wrote:
“The situationists of Left Bank Paris undertook their derives in an altogether aimless fashion. These urban rambles, guided by Guy Debord, a pisshead mystical Marxist intellectual manque (presumably holding up a cheap bottle of wine, the way a London tour guide lofts an umbrella), were aimed at deconstructing the urban space. The cities – according to these filthy flaneurs – had become merely factories for the production of soullessness, and it was their duty, by lying about drunk on the Ile de France, to liberate Paris from its collective obsession with work, consumption and industrialised mass “leisure”.
And he brilliantly summarises what Sinclair was up to:
“But across the Channel and 40 years on, Sinclair has made of psychogeography an altogether more productive, if decidedly less millenarian, field of study. While Ackroyd is a shameless antiquarian, a John Stow de nos jours who stomps through time and space kicking up the fossilised imprints of styles and modes, Sinclair, on the other hand, has at least a half-belief in full temporal simultaneity. “
So what exactly is Will Self up to with this column? Where does his PsychoGeography fit in to all this? Surely he’s not throwing his lot in with the crew who produce such aberrations as the Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel and the Time Out book of London Walks.