Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Your City, part 1

- the technical aspects

Psychogeography consists of drifting-exploring and mythologisation-reenchantment, and if you will of detailed empirical studies. Mythologising your city is a basic poetic task and a task which is usually carried on spontaneously anyway, but emphatically the surrealist tradition holds a few emphases and distinctions which makes its view particular.
    Spontaneous mythologisation has two parts: One is the acknowledgment of historical charging: places of anecdotes about one's predecessors. The other is the rememberance of autobiographical charging: places of anecdotes about oneself.
    These are used by everybody, but there is a huge difference as to how selectively and sensibly they are used.
    A third mechanism, also in general use, but more sensible in its essence, is the exerting of geographical sensibleness itself: recognising places where it feels like something is going to happen, something weird or fantastic or horrible or just unknown, or might be happening if you're only looking the other way, or might have happened and is bristling with eagerness to tell about it.
    But first, let's go back to historical charging. Historical charging is dependent on documentation, and on population size, and on accumulation of madmen, intellectuals, revolutionaries, artists, philosophers etc. The general pattern (with abundant exceptions) would be that small cities often have very little of it, metropolises often have an overabundance, which may even be overwhelming and/or numbing. It is also a matter of the length of the history record itself; so that European cities have more than American cities, south European cities more than north European cities, etc. Length of documented history often goes hand in hand with age of physical artifactual elements too, and as everybody knows, as a rule of thumb old architecture more easily speaks to us than younger, and crude old city planning allows for more excitement than modern city planning. Of course, in some places this means that an "old town", a historical city center with remaining old buildings and street plan, will seem like a thick pastry with immediate atmosphere, layers of anecdotes, and often enough more like a museum than a real environment. This is the trivial level of historical charging.
    Autobiographical charging and sensibility are far less varying than historical charging between sites in terms of absolute conditions; it is of course more a question of where one has been hanging around to make some interesting experiences (of course, very often there is a sharp difference between where one spends most time and where one gets the more interesting experiences).
    Concerning both, from the surrealist viewpoint, selectivity and sensibility are crucial terms. There is no point in becoming a tourist guide. The importance of a thorough historical-geographical investigation is not in listing all the places where something as occurred as items on a list or fetishes, but making them available as suggestions of sites to look for atmospheres and connections. It is not a question of recognising places where things have happened because of the things that have happened there, only because of what objective potential of the place those anecdotes are revealing, what still unrealised parts they suggest, what local charging and what contrast to utilistic use and to surrounding areas it has. What manifest atmosphere of potentiality a place has, as revealed by its anecdotes. Thus it is about the actual spirit of the actual places. Selectivity is not primarily up to your own opinions.
    But, it must be emphasised, it is also a part of your own assuming a prehistory, placing yourself in a tradition. When you actively do that, the places that your precursors have rummaged become an integrated part of your own psychogeographical landscape. In smaller cities, there might be just one or two examples of local poets, revolutionary sects, imaginative criminals and old wizards to build on. There it seems important to investigate every such instance of odd/nonconform usage of the place and its sense of place. In larger cities, there is often the experience of an old surrealist group and perhaps some other objectively affiliated movement to assimilate, various old insurrections, romanticists, symbolists, occultists, alchemists, utopists, etc etc. There is easily lore available for a full "alternative" version of the official history. On top of this, many people with quasireligious and/or unrestrainedly nerdy interests readily allow themselves to get trapped in amazement at the simple fact that freemasonry, occultism, utopianism, various brands of christian, jewish and islamic mysticism all have played a major part in the imaginary structures of those intellectuals or rich guys who have thought out the city planning. In order not to get overwhelmed, it is important to choose particular threads that attach to the associative tentacles of one's own projects, enquiries and sensibilities. This quantitative overload then is a major problem in Paris and Prague, a bit of a problem in London and Berlin, hardly a problem in Stockholm and New York, not at all a problem in Helsinki and Leeds.
    But then there is the third aspect mentioned, that of geographical sensibility, which is the more important. Beyond the spontaneous occasional recognition of this, surrealists have developed methods of actively investigating this and also of experimentally invoking it. This is the strategy of surrealist walking, and of various games involving spatial movement. This is a vast field and a series of essays in itself.

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