29 December 2012

The Star Factory

I heard Iain Sinclair on BBC Radio 4 lately given his personal view of the term psychogeography. Basically, psychogeography was whatever you wanted it to be. This got me wondering if there is an official definition of the term. As a concept, it has been around longer than one might expect. It seems to have its roots in 1950’s France. The theorist, writer and filmmaker Guy Debord said psychogeography was: "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals."

This concern with precision and laws is not usually found among those who would define psychogeography today. The contemporary trend is it towards playfulness, inventiveness. Most are happy to accept as psychogeography almost any creative effort that makes us look at our surroundings afresh. One writer suggests that to play psychogeographer you could open up a street map … “place a glass, rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw round its edge. Pick up the map, go out in the city, and walk the circle, keeping as close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go, in whatever medium you favour.”

Oregon - Orient - Orkey - Palestine - Paris.
Whatever the definition, Ciaran Carson’s book The Star Factory is a psychogeography of Belfast. One observation I particularly enjoy in the book is about the index of street names accompanying a map or atlas. Carson points out some of the strange juxtapositions that indexing creates for Belfast. Places far apart in the solid material of the city are thrown together and new connections spark in the mind “like the way we could hear the roar of the crowd at an international fixture in far-off Windsor Park.”

Carson goes on:
... streets named after places form exotic junctures not to be found on the map of the Empire: Balkan and Ballarat, Cambria and Cambrigde, Carlisle and Carlow, Lisbon and Lisburn, and so on, though Madras and Madrid, till we eventually arrive, by way of Yukon, at the isles of Zetland, whereupon we fall off the margins of the city.