I was saying yesterday that nothing was striking me online. Nothing was crying out to be blogged. Today, a brief glimpse at Dangerous Minds has opened up a whole avenue of connections and pathways fired up in my head, skipping across synapses all the way down my spine, along my arms, out to my fingers. Now i have 12 tabs open for research, waiting to be integrated into this post.
Jason Louv, I’m coming for you man.
At first the thought was just the skeleton of paragraph, a lynchpin to build other words around, the introduction to this post. I was thinking “This post is going to take hours to write, hours that should be spent on my novel.” and my sense of humour being what it is i thought it would make a good introduction to make out that I was really angry, that i now had no choice but to write the post, and that it was all your fault.
But then something happened. Whilst I was thinking this lynchpin-paragraph-thought I was tamping coffee into my filter to be made into beautiful, gorgeous espresso. The only tamp i have is the crappy plastic tamp/scoop combo that came with the machine. My mind was not completely on the task at hand and I tamped too hard, pressure perhaps off centre slightly. The crappy plastic tampscoop snapped, the filter leaped from its holder, plumitting floorwards, arcs of finely ground coffee cutting parabolas through the air.
A mess, Mr Louv. A fucking mess. And now my tampscoop is just a tamp. I could of cried.
As far as i can tell this is actually your fault.
So now I’m really coming for you. I reckon i can scrape the money together for a plane ticket. I have a friend in cali, not sure where, in the south. Maybe an hour outside LA. That’s where you live, right? LA? Can’t be that big a city. I’m gonna find you and then i’m gonna drag your arse back here to ayrshire to clean my fucking kitchen.
Okay, maybe I haven’t thought this through very well. Maybe I’ll just clean my own kitchen. To be honest, it was already a bit of a state before this whole debacle started.
This post doesn’t really start with Jason Louv. This post really starts with Matt Dalby. I don’t know why he keeps popping up, I really don’t, but it was he that first introduced me to the concept of Psychogeography and taught me the name of Iain Sinclair. Appropriately enough I remember exactly where we were when he did.
We were walking through the Hayes in Cardiff. The Hayes is the home of the oldest record store in the world. It was established in 1894 and is still going today. Fiercely independant and full of musical gems, anybody who professes to loving music shops there. I love that little record store. Shortly before I left Cardiff The Hayes was undergoing some serious gentrification which meant the rent was being jacked up way high. Higher than Spillers Records could afford. The shop was in danger of closing. The people rallied around. Protests were signed and demos held. I kept my fingers crossed. As far as i can tell it all worked out.
He took his cues from Charles Baudelaire’s concept of the flâneur which, in Debord’s redefining of the concept became The Dérive. The difference between the two, with my lightly skirmishing eyes, is difficult to conceptualise but it may be political. Or personal. Or maybe the personal is the political. Anyway Debord defined psychogeography thusly:
Although it has been stated more recently as:
“a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities…just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.“
The point is to dig, you dig? Not just to consume your environment as you would a billboard, going from point A to point B, but to let it in a way consume you, going from point A to some point that does not yet exist as a point.
In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones. – ‘Theory of the Derive‘
The Derive and the concepts of Psychogeography are a great way to get to know a place. For the artist or writer I would say they are indispensible tools. I remember at the time, when Matt told me about them and Iain Sinclair, that I intended to do alot of research into the subject. I don’t think I did. In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve really dug deep into the subjects, at least in any kind of specific way.
So, they drifted into the unconscious to fester and lay root.
A bunch of years later. 3? 4? I’m done with film school and unemployed. Matt has moved to manchester. I spend my days drifting through Cardiff, drawn to certain nexii. Friend’s houses, parks, libraries. In fact, I’m not drifting, I’m skating.
I’ve skateboarded from a young age. I was never very good at it. Far too clumsy with a poor sense of balance the world of tricks was something that mainly eluded me. But, god, did I love to skate. To roll along on a summers day was a special kind of bliss. To pull off a pop-shuvit or an ollie was, despite being the most basic of tricks, a great satisfaction. I actually miss it terribly and on the verge of starting up again.
Between all this drifting and rolling along i’m writing. I’m thinking. I’m reading. I’m making notes. I have an idea for a feature film. I have some pages I’d written, mainly dialogue, from years back, but lost in the ether. The idea still dribbles around my mind quite regularly, waiting to be born. One of the main characters is the city of cardiff itself.
It’s a semi-autobiographical movie. It features quite heavily some drifting around cardiff. Actually, it’s more missioning than drifiting – going from place to place with a purpose in mind. To be honest, the film is really a topic for another blog post, so let’s not get too caught up on it. I’m trying to stay on topic here.
One of the characters skates. It gets him where he wants to go faster than walking and it entertains him when bored. I figure there has to be some kind of semi-academic book on skateboarding so I go looking for it. I find it in one of the Cardiff University libraries.
I couldn’t get the book out so part of my day would be to go to the library and make notes from this book. I still have those notes. Fuck, I’m looking at them right now. Not as many as i would if liked cuz I got caught up on Jung in my head and began making notes on him instead. I shall put these quotes up here at some point. In the meantime check out the google books page for extracts from the text.
My point, within the context of this article, is that psychogeography and skateboarding are intrinsically linked. The skater views and interacts with the urban landscape in a way which reconstructs its purpose. Whereas the derive is about letting the city guide you to places beyond destinations, skateboarding is about taking destinations and aggressively co-opting them for your own means. When you skate you feel the city. Its bumps and contours, its steps and spaces, in a way that most people will never know. From my notes on my notes:
Skate spots are found, appropriated and co-opted. Taken out of their original context and re-imagined within the skater-deck-object nexus. This makes skateboarding almost a critique of capitalist-consumerism, a subversion of the dominant ideological reading of terrain – removing it from one, anti-human/nature/pro-commerce/societal context and integrating it into a more bodynaturecentric one.
and an actual quote from the book:
Skateboarders were here acting in a manner akin to anarchist communities, in that they tended to work with nature (found terrains) and to be spontaineous in their actions. Skaters, again like anarchist communities, also preffered to rapidly replace this spontaneity with the socio-spatial tactic of colonization whenever possible, such that established skateboard locations… generated their own names, boundaries, access conditions and internal culture (p.51)
I found these ideas very exciting, especially within the context of my Cardiff film. Being semi-autobiographical I had already made a caricature of myself one of the protaganonists and armed him with a skateboard. Now I found validation for doing so, opening up the film to further ideas by which it could be influenced. Psychogeography had made itself known through my creative ideas without looking at it directly.
Iain Sinclair was born in Cardiff and thus we come full circle… When he lived there I’m sure it was a very different place from how i remember it. Although he was born there it is not his home. London is his home and it is as part of the London avantgarde poetry scene of the 60s and 70s that began to make his name. With his poetry, films and novels he continues to this day to be known as “the capital’s visionary laureate”
Psychogeography is a talismanic term that Sinclair understands to have been cannibalised from French situationism. “For me, it’s a way of psychoanalysing the psychosis of the place in which I happen to live. I’m just exploiting it because I think it’s a canny way to write about London. Now it’s become the name of a column by Will Self, in which he seems to walk the South Downs with a pipe, which has got absolutely nothing to do with psychogeography. There’s this awful sense that you’ve created a monster.“
And thusly we come to the article which started this whole mess….
In London, from the first, I walked. As a film student, newly arrived in the early Sixties, I copied the poet John Clare on his feverish escape from Matthew Allen’s asylum in Epping Forest, when he navigated by lying down to sleep with his head to the north. Skull as compass: all the secret fluids and internal memory-oceans aligned by force of desire. Clare returned, as he thought, to Mary, his first love, his muse; to his heart-place, Helpston, beyond Peterborough, on the edge of the dark fens. My drag was cinema, Bergman seasons in Hampstead, Howard Hawks in Stockwell. Or art: the astonishing Francis Bacon gathering at the old Tate, at Millbank, former prison and panopticon. Bacon’s melting apes were robed like cardinals. Naked men, stitched from photographs, wrestled in glass cages.
Motiveless walking processed the unanchored images that infiltrated dreams of the shadow-belt on either side of the Northern Line. I lodged in West Norwood, a house on a hill, like the one I had left behind in Wales. I wandered through mysterious suburbs to the rooms above the butcher’s shop in Electric Avenue, Brixton, where the school was based. Street markets, I discovered, were a significant part of the substance of this place. Walking was a means of editing a city of free-floating fragments. I composed, privately, epic poems conflating the gilded Byzantium of W.B. Yeats with the slap and strut of Mickey Spillane’s California. London was an impossible relativity of historical periods and superimposed topographies.
(“An introduction to Lights Out for the Territory by its author, Iain Sinclair, who loves east London but not the forthcoming Olympic Games. The book traces nine walks across the capital.” via Dangerous Minds & Arthur magazine)
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip. There are plenty of links to click filled with interesting, exciting and heavy ideas to sink your teeth into. Writing it has pretty much swallowed the productive segment of my day and I now have a whole bunch of stuff to read my way through.