Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Circuitous Route : Slice Three

Continuing the meaty bits (or the stale bread bits) of my recent talk, "The Circuitous Route : Chance, Information and Geography" .......

It is time to reflect on the question, "how did I become a psychogeographer?". The answer - given what I have said so far - is, of course, "by chance".
Indeed until a few weeks ago I had no idea I was a psychogeographer as I had no idea the movement existed. And then one day I was describing my Ten Square project to a friend and he declared, "What you are doing is psychogeography, there is a whole group of people who meet in Leeds to discuss various aspects of psychogeography, I must tell them about you". I am thus the Grandma Moses of psychogeography : the equivalent of the little old lady happily splashing away with her paint and brushes and in blissful ignorance that what she is producing is what others will call art. My friend told the Leeds Psychogeography Group about this Grandma Moses living out in Huddersfield and you very kindly invited me to come along and tell you about my work. 

Of course the first thing I did was to look "psychogeography" up in Wikipedia. Wiki provides us with two definitions, the first is the classic 1955 definition by Guy Debord : "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals". The definition might have been a bit heavy, but at least it let me know that psychogeography existed and I wasn't the subject of a complex practical joke, Psychogeography, I discovered, wasn't quite as esoteric as I had imagined : one British newspaper had featured a regular column on psychogeography by the celebrated writer Will Self. But it was the second definition that held my attention : "a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities ... just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape". "Mama", I shouted to myself, "I have come home"

Shortly after I started my News From Nowhere Blog in 2006 I was stood in the Fish and Chip shop one day when I noticed that they had a Mission Statement pinned to the wall. It proclaimed : "It is our aim to serve our customers with the very best freshly-fried and nutritious fish and chips, prepared from locally sourced products and served by attentive, courteous and well-qualified staff". I quickly decided that if a fish and chip shop could have a Mission Statement. a blog should have one as well and soon came up with "Never to go in a straight line when a circuitous route is available". I have tried to remain true to my mission in the four years I have been blogging, avoiding getting to the point with the nimble skill of a Victorian cutpurse. The discovery that what my old school-teacher called "Alan's inability to stick to the point and reach a conclusion" could be the proud badge of a psychogeographer, was a happy discovering indeed.

So in the knowledge that I am a fully-paid up member of the Chartered Institute of Psychogeographers, let is move on to the third of my ten squares ...


  1. A breath of fresh air, this Sunday morning, Alan. I wonder where you will go today? Not where you planned to, that's for sure!

  2. Martin : I was tempted to send a message to the Group half an hour before I was due to speak saying "Chance has taken me elsewhere, regret I will not be able to attend"

  3. My mission statement is, why use one word when ten will do.

  4. Hmmmm... That second definition sounds like my photo safaris; I certainly take a different view than the average citizen walking down the street. And when I see a side path wandering off the main trail, naturally I just have to follow it.

    I love your Grandma Moses analogy; that's classic! Hey, here in the states we've even defined a new genre to incorporate her type of art - folk art. It's even a category in the annual grant presentations from the National Endowment for the Arts, and includes anything deemed art by whatever judging panel as long as the art is created by someone with no formal artistic training. Opens the definition of "art" up a bit, doesn't it?

  5. I very much like that second definition! It gives credence to the haphazard nature of my blog; based around photos which are taken of anything I chance to see or anywhere I chance to be.

    The desire to take photos has certainly taken me off my normal beaten path and taught me loads about places I would previously have considered I knew reasonably well!

  6. The Grandma Moses? OK..we must see you in a hat like hers! haha.

    I'm so glad you gave us this very interesting and written in a style that only you could give it! :)

  7. Psychogeographer? I'm delighted to learn of this specialty.

  8. I can't claim to be a psychogeographer, but as far as "inability to stick to the point and reach a conclusion" goes, it certainly sounds like the guy who writes my blogs!


Harry Moore, Sammy Davis Junior, And Me

  I'm a great believer in pointlessness. To have the luxury of allowing your mind to wander down thought paths with the freedom and irre...