A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


The Situationist International (SI) was an international organization of social revolutionaries, the exclusive membership of which was made up of avant-garde artists, intellectuals, and political theorists, active from its formation in 1957 to its dissolution in 1972 . . .

The intellectual foundations of the Situationist International were derived primarily from anti-authoritarian Marxism and the avant-garde art movements of the early 20th century, particularly Dada and Surrealism  . . .

The situationists asserted that the misery of social alienation and commodity fetishism were no longer limited to the fundamental components of capitalist society, but had now in advanced capitalism spread themselves to every aspect of life and culture. They resolutely rejected the idea that advanced capitalism's apparent successes — such as technological advancement, increased income and increased leisure — could ever outweigh the social dysfunction and degradation of everyday life that it simultaneously inflicted . . .

The situationists believed that the shift from individual expression through directly-lived experiences, or the first-hand fulfilment of authentic desires, to individual expression by proxy through the exchange or consumption of commodities, or passive second-hand alienation, inflicted significant and far-reaching damage to the quality of human life for both individuals and society. Another important concept of situationist theory was the primary means of counteracting the spectacle [the mass media]: the construction of situations, moments of life deliberately constructed for the purpose of reawakening and pursuing authentic desires, experiencing the feeling of life and adventure, and the liberation of everyday life . . .


The notion of psychogeography was first developed by these situationists. Psychogeography was defined by situationist theorist Guy Debord as the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographic environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.

It has also been described as 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.  

Wikipedia also states that in psychogeography, a dérive (French: 'drift') is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travellers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience. Debord defines the dérive as a mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences.

This technique of consciously random urban exploration, by someone in the crowd but not part of the crowd, is employed by Baudelaire's Parisian flâneur, for instance; and by Julian Green in his captivating book Paris — which describes Green's very personal, backstreet wanderings through the French capital. It can also be evidenced in the writings of philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin, and more recently in the books of Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair.

It occurs to me that many of my walks contain psychogeographic aspects, and I aim to be more aware of this in future. I'd like to read further about this fascinating subject, with its radical, multi-layered, spontaneous approach to walking.


Bouncing Bertie said...

Interesting topic. Thanks for the background info.
Cheers, Gail.

Amanda Summer said...

This is fascinating stuff.

I've been reading about mindfulness lately and this reminds me of that. Also brings the term geomorphism to mind - which I translate as having a connection with a specific place on earth.

Anonymous said...

I, too, would like to read further about it. However, I've never been sure whether psychogeography is a fascinating concept or just higher b****cks for writing about walking around.

This uncertainty springs partly from the distrust I feel (its grown as I've got older) for prose I can't understand. I used to think writers of the incomprehensible and high falutin' were cleverer than me. I now think if someone can't write prose I can understand he or she might just be more stupid than me (which has nothing to do, of course, with whether or not I would agree with them or not if I could but understand them).

My point of view is probably best summed up by the fact that Will Self (I'm currently, despite the above, wading though "Umbrella") manages to simultaneously attract, intrigue and almost (but not quite)annoy me.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for all these comments.

Dominic, I think difficult prose which can't (or at least can't immediately) be understood may be either (a) poorly written or (b) adequately or well written but difficult because of our lack of knowledge or terms of reference or, well, just because it's difficult! The difference is usually clear.

The Wikipedia article I quoted in my post is not terribly well expressed, I think — often the case with Wikipedia entries, which may sacrifice clear meaning for necessary brevity, or unintentionally obfuscate because the (unknown) writer is, well, just not that good at expressing things.