This project began with my dissertation entitled, “Hackney: My place or yours? Psychogeography of North London”. My dissertation, which was divided into three sections, with an introduction and conclusion, acts as the point of inspiration for ‘footsteps of Hackney’ and the 1/4 mile of illustration.
Guy Debord first sought to give definition to the term psychogeography when he said it was, “the study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals”1. Merlin Coverley calls psychogeography, “the point at which psychology and geography collide” and goes on to describe it as, “a means of exploring the behavioral impact of urban space”2. When Debord put forward his definition of psychogeography, he did so with great zest and political vigor; but the ideas of exploring the relationship of people with space has long been the subject of many literary, visual and academic works 3. Coverley provides us with a most welcome introduction to the world of psychogeography, and truly brings out the idea that though Debord defined it, it was always present (dormant or otherwise) throughout history, and the thing that linked each idea was the notion of walking 4. But walking has undoubtedly become a more difficult matter for every pedestrian as the promotion of circulation and passive gaze become the common spirit of the modern city 5. So, to learn to walk, and interact with the city around us seems to become more of an act of subversion; it allows each of us to challenge the official representation of the city as we take the roads less traveled and explores the overlooked areas 6.
The act of walking being one of subversion links quite nicely with the spirit of political radicalism that goes hand in hand with Debord’s psychogeography. So, we can walk to explore, we walk to be independent from established routes and the everyday hustle that causes us to travel expected, mapped out routes. We can walk out of a sense of playfulness, but most importantly for me, we can walk to avoid the everyday surroundings that cause us to slip into a life of monotony, something that Merlin Coverley describes as, “the process of ‘banalisation’”7.
My journey, my exploration, my very reimagining of my urban landscape begins most fittingly with an area that is laced with the deep and interwoven history of psychogeography, Stoke Newington in Hackney London, home of Daniel Defoe and which features in one of Iain Sinclair’s most recent psychogeographic works, Hackney That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report. I have taken it upon myself to follow a certain methodology when going about my derivé, my psychogeography. I started out with the steadfast aim of creating some form of map , a mental, emotional or somewhat physical of Hackney and instead I have come to map Hackney onto myself 8. I have often wondered about the word self and where it begins and ends. A person’s life can be mapped out, psychogeographically, from one area to the next and from one feeling to another without giving much thought to what it all means.
This piece of work seeks to embark on a journey that aims to hold on to that very temporal nature of space as it was my original aim to simply take off, from my place of work or study at random times in the day splitting my method of transport between foot and bus taking in and digesting everything that surrounded me; and so this journey began to flow into one more solid piece from day, to night and into the dawn. Each part works separately, or as a whole, in any order- like my journey.
1 Guy Debord, ‘Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography’, in Ken Knabb (Ed.), Situationst International Anthology (Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981) p.5
2 Merlin Coverely, Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2010) p.10
3 Merlin Coverely, Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2010) p.11
4 Merlin Coverely, Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2010) p.12
5 Merlin Coverely, Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2010) p.12
6 Merlin Coverely, Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2010) p.12
7 Merlin Coverely, Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2010) p.13
8 Like Doreen Massey, I was intrigued by the idea of maps: “I love maps- they are one of the reason I became ‘a geographer’. They carry you away; they set you dreaming. Yet it may well be none the less that our usual notion of maps has helped to pacify, to take the life out of, how most of us most commonly think about space. Maybe our current, ‘normal’ Western maps have been one more element in that long effort at the taming of the spatial”. Doreen Massey, For Space (London: Sage, 2005) p.106