On Walking or Psychogeography

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by Fraser Hibbitt

I started walking because there was nothing else to do. Walking, I had found, was one way to disperse those sobering complaints of everyday tasks, leaving blind, welcoming curiosity in its wake. It is to our detriment that an adventure should lie somewhere over the hills and not by our very door. Adventure is a thing of suggestion, a suggestion to the curious, and need not have a destination. Indeed, the adventure of a walk lies not so much in the destination but the actual journeying, seducing us in a mystery of opportunity along the way. I cannot say I have always found this suggestive spirit whilst walking, yet I have been thankful for times lest bent on reaching any destination.

Now, what I mean here by walking is a walk in a city. The city seethes with movement and living in a city is to be surrounded by suggestion. Streets become known after the usual way is trodden, local areas become veritably known and we return for their wares. I know the quickest way to the shop. If I need to go to the shop, it seems odd, practically, to take an hour to get there when I can reach the shop in a quarter of that time, though I may discover something worth the extra exertion.

Psychogeography from the Kevin Greenland blog

We walk by countless spots of significance that must fail to be recorded, and this isn’t to be telling of only historical significance. What I mean is also the minute significances of whoever claims a memory to that spot; a kiss, a confrontation, the shakings of sadness. It is pointless to enumerate further because we can gather the essence of this feeling by one word, namely, presence.

Presence and chance drift through the streets as one is reminding oneself where they are going and why; a shame, at times, it is to have to recall such things. To be interested, not in our vague needs, but in the chance and presence of the streets disperses these tasks we feel indifferent to; the artists of Surrealism, as an experimental group interested in the unconscious mind, took to the streets for random encounters precipitated through aimless walking. This blind automatism fed a vision of creative, unrestrained, living for them; all that induced by a mere walk.

Whatever one wishes to think about Surrealism, its hard to deny this lovely idea. We can do away with Freudianism of it and take to the streets with unperturbed eyes, playing with our environment in mutual entertainment. It matters little, then, for the aimless walker to ‘get at’ anything, but only to be aware that we cannot ‘get at’ anything; we are struck only by impressions and emotion. The American novelist Henry James once said that ‘the whole of anything is never told’; truly, we enter scenes half-knowing our lines, only knowing there is a present whole situation which we neither have the time nor means to get at. The idle walker floats between the scene and the audience, curious and affected. What can we make of it, the early morning queues at the coffee shops; the train-call; feet moving with the rhythm dedicated to a destination in mind?

One turn of the feet leads us to the quieter street, away from the bus-ridden main roads, where the bakers have loaded their shelves; small businesses unlock the doors, set up their signs and wait for the odd passer-by. Each hour upturns any order we might assume to find. And now comes the night. Certainly, the streets lined this morning are not the same ones which now strike us, oddly lit, by the streetlamps. A lively man walks merrily from a bar, gregarious and endearing. If I had seen him in the morning, now I would be sure he was a different man, and all by the way in which he walks.

If anything, the city is as mysteriously human as the fellow next to you; time condensed into a body in which we fumble around over for connection. And so, just as the vast inheritance which we feel exists within us, the city is inherited from a history which has left these stamps, some more obvious than others. Cities are disparaging and exciting for the same reason, namely that they overwhelm us with their sheer magnitude. This is why we make our city our own in some way, colouring it quite with our person; to allay the bulk, to understand our place amongst the crowd.

We have had dramatic events in that street or the next over. I have walked the same route, recalling thoughts of a former me, wondering. We think we know it because we know where things are. However the streets may be made for practicality, the experience of the day is not. An odd stack of books and objects left out in front of a house strikes us as some memory resounding from our childhood. Whole areas speak their own strange language which we can choose to hear or not. I am reminded of the famous opium eater Thomas De Quincey lost in the streets of London suddenly becoming terrified by the ‘knotty problem of alleys’ believing himself to have found a new, hitherto unmarked, space of London.

Carl Kruse Blog - Psychogeography 2

Psychogeography from the Kevin Greenland blog

It is true, in some ways, our personal revelations of a space are not placed on a physical map. Life, that cannot be accounted for, springs forth in some local bakery or on some small green, unexpectedly. It also falls into degradation; shops run out of business and are demolished, and the shattering noises from a construction site seems to be on the part of a commitment to renewal, without regard to how we personally feel. Empty buildings, no doubt haunting, echo abandonment – perhaps we are the better for being able to conjure up this emotion; the park nearby fosters the hope of a clear mind. The numerous people frustrate and excite us, take us in and exclude us. Our insulated world then, of place and emotion, is expanded, and perhaps destabilised, by the act of answering the suggestions of the streets.

I have been dancing around the word which often accompanies this subject: Psychogeography. A lovely concept, coined by the philosopher Guy Debord, of the ‘drift’ around the city in order to examine city space and its effect on human emotion. And it is playfulness which is at the heart of this enterprise. The drift functions as this lingering conversation between oneself and their environment; how we relate, are dependent on, the spaces of our immediate surroundings.

This conversation can confine us, but it can also surprise us by welcoming a new, nuanced, phrase in understanding how we relate to our environment. It can offer us a comfortable reminder that we are not only a thing of repetitious task and commitment, but also a thing of playful inventiveness pregnant with a vastness of emotional responses. The narrative can be much the same if we wish it to be, and we can be primed for the next intervention, but just once instead of the usual pre-empting smile, we may take the adventurous invitation to roam awhile with nothing much to do.


Carl Kruse

Carl Kruse Blog homepage click here.
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Another wonderful article by Fraser Hibbitt, this time on Coleridge, here.

6 thoughts on “On Walking or Psychogeography

  1. I loved this article and can think of no better tonic than to put on your shoes, open the door and head out walking, especially with no aim or goal.

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