On the face of it this seems like an interesting concept – the interaction of our geographical location with our feelings and emotions. As the course notes observe it is a term that was coined by Guy Debord a french Marxist theorist, but has its routes in the earlier idea of the flaneur – an individual (almost exclusively male I think) who wandered the city streets being led by his feelings, observing city life and, as far as I can tell, doing nothing useful!
The idea is sufficiently interesting that I obtained a copy of Coverley’s Psychogeography which sadly I found rather heavy going. As presented psychogeography is a metrocentric activity which Debord saddled with the task of providing at least a partial basis for the development of a “new urban environment that both reflects and facilitates the desires of its inhabitants”. In this context the flaneur of early literature became the explorer who identified the psychogeographical terrain of the city – the go and no-go areas – with a view to redefining this terrain. However, as Coverley notes: “Considered solely on its merits as a practical tool at the vanguard of the revolutionary movement, psychogeography must be considered an abject failure.”
This seems entirely unsurprising – the concept is at best nebulous and Debord’s definition was left deliberately vague – but in spite of this I still find some resonance with the idea. Where I struggle is with the ongoing obsession with the city – as if those living outside of London and Paris have no relationship with their geography. The only allusion that Coverley makes to this is to reference those who have made links with daft new-age ideas about ley-lines. But this surely misses the point – why is it only London and Paris that offer pyschogeographic terrains?
As a teenager I wandered the village lanes during the school holidays – turning left or right on a whim – simply observing the countryside. I had favourite locations, and places I seldom went because they felt, frankly, sinister or threatening. I still do it on occasion. Does that not count as flaneury? And if not why not? Sadly this book does not give me an answer – but if you want to understand the historic background to the concept and don’t mind a testing read it’s a pretty good place to start.
Coverley, M., 2012. Pocket Essentials: Psychogeography. Kindle ed. Harpenden: Oldcastle Books.