Saturday, January 1, 2022

What is Psychogeography?

For some time, I've been intrigued by psychogeography. A couple of weeks ago, I received a letter from the Rorschach Theater on H St, NE, saying that they had been doing some psychogeography theater. I signed up (and paid) to figure out what they are up to and just received in the mail this box as part of a series of boxes: 

I haven't yet experienced this project, but I wanted to explain why I find psychogeography interesting (and certain practices problematic), which is based completely on a very useful book, Merlin Coverley's Psychogeography:

1) Psychogeography generally involves walking in a city.

2) Psychogeography is a method of exploring cities in new ways. For example, one might take a drinking glass and draw a circle around its base on a city map and then follow, as best one can, the circle through the city. One could also throw dice to make walking decisions. Alternatively, one can take "a drift," in which one follows one's subconscious to figure out new connections, places, "zones of distinct psychic atmospheres," etc.

3) Psychogeography is a perspective that views the city as a mystery, which requires secret knowledge to understand. On the one hand, one might follow Peter Ackroyd and see the city as having an ancient, eternal nature understood through hidden signs, codes, etc. On the other hand, one might observe the movements of working class groups through the city as they map their own labyrinthine, secret city (like in Edward P. Jones' Lost in the City). 
4)  Psychogeography is a perspective in opposition to the homogeneous city, the city of gentrification and standardization that makes all cities the same, as well as different also in the same ways. This view allows us to sense the marvelous city and how opaque areas of or certain past activities in the city remain around us in a kind of layering, a palimpsest. 
5) Psychogeography might be a way to take the city from developers, real estate agents, and others who seek to erase the city, displace the working classes, and create a "Great Blight of Dullness." One might follow Stewart Home and usurp the claims of these real estate actors, leave secret codes for others, and take and transform the city. 
6) Psychogeography can be imperialistic. For example, some psychogeography groups call themselves astronauts. If one walks through DC viewing oneself as an astronaut, then one might see other people as foreign beings, potentially dangerous aliens, and definitely not as neighbors or as people with a "right to the city." One can follow other traditions of psychogeography to hopefully avoid this; these traditions are discussed in Merlin Coverley's great book Psychogeography

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