By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield
Public Health England has launched a new campaign “Active 10” to encourage adults to go for a brisk walk for just 10 minutes a day to help improve health and well being. Living Streets have been campaigning for walking cities and encouraging safe walks to school, and Chris Boardman has recently been appointed to become Greater Manchester’s first ever cycling and walking commissioner.
Walking is good for you and the environment. It can also be fun but “pedestrian” has a double meaning, and can be seen to be a bit, well, dull. In a recent article for Transactions, Alastair Bonnett shows us walking can also be magical. He follows an “enchanted path” to explore the work of psycheographers. Psychogeographers use walking to explore and critically engage with the urban landscape; psychogeography provides opportunities for “an uncovering of the city’s possibilities and a desire to listen to its occulded knowledge” (Bonnett 2017: 478).
A psychogeographer does not take the simple route from A to B. They wander, drift and derive. They may use playful techniques to choose the direction of their walk, for example throwing dice or following a line drawn on a map. Their journey began with the radical avant-garde of twentieth century Europe; The Situationist, Surrealists and Lettrists. Bonnett describes their walking as going “against the grain, avoiding and confronting routines and creating new patterns and situations” (2017:474). Psychogeographers concentrate on where they are walking to uncover hidden voices, and power structures that shape modern cities.
Bonnett paints a picture of psychogeographers casting spells and changing the landscape as they walk. He concentrates on three different writers who employ magic in different ways to remap and rewrite London. Nick Papadimitriou has a close, personal, mystical relationship with the Scarp in North West London. John Rogers often uses humour to uncover his alternative city whilst the work of Gareth Rees conjures poetic phantasmagoria from wasteland and evokes the ghostly in the everyday. His dreamwork is an activism, magic with a political intent.
The writers Bonnett focuses on are all doing fascinating and excellent work. However it is also worth noting that contemporary British psychogeography is more diverse than a focus on three men walking in London might suggest. In her excellent overview Tina Richardson identifies what she calls an emerging “new psychogeography” which is, amongst other things, heterogeneous, critical, strategic, and somantic. It can be seen in the work of Jane Samuels, whose work illustrates this blog, Phil Smith a mythogeographer and counter-tourist, and many members of The Walking Artists Network. If you fancy finding out more The Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography convenes in Huddersfield this September for three days of talking and walking. You would also be very welcome to join me and The Loiterers Resistance Movement in
Manchester as we embark on a psychogeographical wander on the first Sunday of every month, celebrating creative mischief and search for magic in the Mancunian rain.
As Bonnett shows us, Psychogeography is a practice that combines art, activism, academia, and more. Magical modernism takes many enchanting paths and I encourage you to explore them.
Bainbridge-Man (2017) Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman is announced as Greater Manchester’s new cycling and walking commissioner Manchester Evening News 28 July 2017 http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/olympic-cyclist-chris-boardman-announced-13397128
Bonnett A (2017) The Enchanted Path: Magic and Modernism in Psychogeographical Walking Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 42 pp 472-484. doi:10.1111/tran.12177
Richardson T (2015) ed Walking Inside Out; Contemporary British Psychogeography London: Rowman and Littlefield