Friday, 31 August 2012

Psychogeography: Part1

So what is psychogeography? I first came across the term when reading Ian Sinclair some years ago, but the Writing Britain exhibition at the British Library gave the term some further temporal contextualisation, in terms of British traditions of landscape writing, rural as well as urban. (Try to have a look at “Writing Britain, Wastelands to Wonderlands” by Christina Hardyment, published by the British Library.) Two books by Merlin Coverley were especially helpful in this regard and I would heartily recommend “The Art of Wandering, The Writer as Walker” and “Psychogeography” to anyone. Indeed, the following synopsis owes a lot to Mr. Coverley: so, once more, what is pyschogeography?
The school of thought and activity is usually associated with the Paris Situationists, or the 19th century flaneur, or Thomas de Quincey, Ian Sinclair, J.G.Ballard, Will Self, Peter Ackroyd, Robert Macfarlane, Stewart Home (“avant-bard”), et al. It is a set of ideas that loosely revolve around the proposition that movement through space, through either aimless wandering or purposeful walking, can enable one to re-connect with the past beneath one’s feet. In a sense, time immemorial and time out of mind can become time within mind; time can be experienced as synchronic rather than diachronic.
Guy Debord defined pyschogeography as “The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” It is a practice that is usually associated with cityscapes, but Merlin Coverley’s approach can be conveniently and completely applied to the tone, intention, practice and vibe of our Stroud research. Coverley's comments in his 2010 book, “…the predominant characteristics of pyschogeographical ideas – urban wandering, the imaginative reworking of the city, the otherworldly sense of spirit of place, the unexpected insights and juxtapositions created by aimless drifting, the new ways of experiencing familiar surroundings…” are  what our projects will be all about, all be it, in and around a mill town in the Cotswolds.

Friday, 17 August 2012

What do we mean by "Radical History"?

My second posting on this blog will clarify what I mean by radical history. I use the term to describe both the content and the form of the story we intend to tell about our area’s past. The content will focus upon places in our local landscape that have a radical history, in a sort of upside down view of “Heritage”. Christopher Hill wrote of a world turned upside down; that is how we intend to write of our heritage. Places and stories that are often forgotten or ignored will be brought back to life; conventional narratives and explanations will be questioned. I remember the excitement of reading E.P. Thompson’s "Making of the English Working Class” on my 21st birthday and have never forgotten his wish that the lives of ordinary people should be rescued from “the enormous condescension of posterity.” That’s what we will be doing in terms of places, people and posterity.
I will now address what I mean by a radical approach: this has a number of varying meanings. One meaning is in terms of collaboration: the history that is written will be produced by a group of people in a number of different ways, using different media, rather than by anyone “voyaging alone on strange seas of thought”. Secondly, our approach will go beyond the usual analysis of primary and secondary historical sources; we shall also use imagination, together with artistic and literary responses to both the past and the landscape. We shall boldly go beyond the sources of evidence, as well as the split infinitive, with lateral as well as linear thought – we shall be both Newtonian as well as Keatsian historians. There will be, in short, a rewriting of historical protocol.
 This leads to our third emphasis: pyschogeography. I know that many of you will be thoroughly acquainted with this concept. I also know that many, at best, will think it a questionable notion. I am also aware that many will not have the slightest idea what this term implies. If it’s any consolation, I think I am probably in all three camps most or all of the time. But this confusion may give me an advantage in explaining this term for what teachers used to describe as “a mixed-ability audience”; this is what I/we will do on the next posting; we will define “pyschogeography” at some length and with some easily comprehensible detail. The posting after that synopsis will start to apply such a psychogeographical approach to our first choice of study: the whereabouts and meanings of our local springs.