peoples party ii

"AND NOW WE'RE LIVING IN THE SKY": PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY & PULP

Yesterday I threatened to tell you about psychogeography, so this is me following through.

It’s difficult to explain psychogeography, cos it’s a mixed bag, and that bag is probably full of rats and they’re all squabbling and tearing each other’s faces off: part art movement, part philosophy, part mystic cult. Originally it’s French, which I’m sure surprises no one. In its most basic form, it is in some sense the study of the effect of the geographic environment on the behaviour of individuals, but it’s also– not that. It’s also an impossible-to-describe school of creation that believes that cities are living things, that when you drop your morning fag end on the pavement, maybe it burns her cement flesh a little. It’s urban fantasy without requiring magic: that was there already. Part religion, part Marxist radicalism, all mad as the proverbial butcher’s dog. In British form, it’s old-fashioned high-pagan talking-to-the-gods-of-the-river shit: Arthur Machen riding on the underground and seeing leylines in the places where most of us see junctions; Blackwood and James bickering over scatomancy, the pigeon shit around Nelson’s column either predicting the end of the world or rain next Tuesday. It’s beautiful and weird and I wrote my master’s thesis about it. As you can well imagine I AM GREAT FUN AT PARTIES.

We don’t really have time to go into this in great detail, so let’s just get this crash-course car-crash on the road and cover the top three things I think you need to know about. Then back to ol’ Jarv.

i. The Situationist International

A collection of hellbeasts, revolutionaries, mental performance artists, and people you overall probably wouldn’t let babysit your houseplant never mind your children, the Situationist International was founded in Paris in the 1950s and sought to try and find authentic and meaningful experience under late capitalism. (Although obviously their ideal endpoint, AS EVERYONE’S SHOULD BE, was toppling capitalism.) Co-founder Guy Debord and father of psychogeography was an amazing madman who deliberately had one of his published books covered in sandpaper so it would destroy every book around it. Space was yours, proletarian, and and as such yours to reclaim. Soon Paris would be covered in slogans they inspired: paving stones ripped from the very streets, ornate buildings on fire. NO REPLASTERING, THE STRUCTURE IS ROTTEN. Unlike me, I’m sure these people were GREAT at parties.

ii. Dérive

An unplanned, random, ‘fuck Google Maps’ journey through an urban landscape, in order to find something new and real and transformative. If psychogeography is a religion, the dérive is the act of worship. Open your eyes; take out your headphones; go down the dark alley or into the shop with the dusty windows. Relearn your world and make it yours. YES I KNOW HOW THIS SOUNDS BUT I REALLY MEAN IT.

iii. The Flâneur

Walk through a city, but slowly, aimlessly, looking good in the latest fashion. Become a connoisseur of the street. Extolled by Baudelaire and documented by Walter Benjamin, the flâneur is the high priest of psychogeography: an urban explorer who may well be exploring an environment he’s seen every day since practically the minute he was born.  Part of it is the walking: it must not be quick or with a destination already intended; part of it is in the mind: LOOK LOOK LOOK. Public space belongs to the public who are in that space. The city is all the elements of life. STROLL, COMRADE, THE WORLD IS YOURS.

Right. There are more than a few of you, I suspect, who are now saying ‘What the fuck? If I wanted to learn something I would be paying attention in class instead of reading this website/reading an actual book/not listening to some BONKERS NORTHERN BIRD go on about French wank on the internet’. These are all valid points, but I promise you, this is all relevant. If you don’t feel like you’re quite there yet, you’ll get there. I promise. I leave no man behind. Except the terrible man from yesterday. I left him in a ditch.

(Not really.)

(Yes really.)

It’s relevant, I promise, cos did you know JARVIS COCKER WROTE A SONG ABOUT SHAGGING A CITY? He did, and that’s where we’re going next.


Psychogeography is a massive topic, and not one I can really hope to do any justice in a post of this length. I recommend Merlin Coverley’s book if you would like a better theoretical framework, and absolutely NOTHING by Will Self, that up-himself tosser. Also look up Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, the Matthew Swift series, House of Leaves, anything ever written by Alan Moore, the Transmetropolitan series, Cowboy Bebop (yes, really), seminal post-Gothic novel Gormenghast, Blade Runner, 2046, and the BBC version of Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, which is the single best evocation of space I have ever seen on camera and possibly the best soundtrack to match

Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project is the single greatest work of literature I have ever read, but it is prohibitively expensive and almost incomprehensibly strange. 

A soundtrack for the many lives of Mary Sue Poots, 0-8-4, Skye.

{listen to the full soundtrack}

{disc 1: the rebel}

i. we are not good people | bloc party, ii. rebel girl | bikini kill, iii. problem | natalia kills, iv. the phoenix | fall out boy, v. miss nothing | the pretty reckless, vi. black sheep | metric, vii. rebellion (lies) arcade fire, viii. the rising tide | the killers

{disc 2: the daughter}

i. the weight of living part i | bastille, ii. timber/counting stars | sam tsui, iii. hermit the frog | marina and the diamonds, iv. i’m not your hero | tegan and sara, v. disparate youth | santigold, vi. when i was younger | liz lawrence, vii. daddy’s girl | natalia kills, viii. breezeblocks | alt-j ∆

{disc 3: the alien}

i. dark doo wop | ms mr, ii. little house | the fray, iii. if i had a heart | fever ray, iv. numb | marina and the diamonds, v. bad intentions | digital daggers, vi. starlight | muse, vii. eyes on fire | blue foundation, viii. aliens exist | blink-182