As Witold von Ratingen says in his history of psychogeography, Loitering with Intent, British psychogeography has divided into three groups:
– the ‘materialists’, based on the Situationists and largely concerned with using psychogeography as a tool to influence the political or economic spheres: ‘a platform for social critique’.
– the occultists
– the mythogeographers, who take a site-specific approach, often concerned with personal or somewhat mythical history.
Julian’s workshop was a prime example of the ‘occultist’ strand. As a ‘muggle’, I went with some trepidation! Treadwells promised us ” the art of transforming one’s experience of everyday world into something rich and strange. Julian Vayne will teach several occult methods for encountering the spirits of place, and a range of techniques for re-enchanting your own landscape. The day will include inner exercises, talks, a short walk, interactive workings and simple ritual.”
There were 15 of us. Three of us were quasi-academics schooled in the Situationist/ ‘materialist’ strand (me included, I suppose) and at least three people seemed to have had no encounter with either psychogeography or occultism before. To my relief I found no wild-eyed sorcerers. (I think there were a few sorcerers, but they were not wild-eyed.) There was little reference to psychedelic drugs and none to Crowley, and no goats were sacrificed.
What struck me most of all was the similarities between what Julian was doing and what the King’s-based Strand Strollers do.
The techniques used during walks are much the same, for example
– look for simulacra e.g. faces in clouds etc.
– use a periscope to change your perspectives
– take it in turns to close your eyes and be led by a partner
– find ‘points of intervention’ where you are, in order to expand your own sense of agency.
– look at reflections, effects of waters
– follow at edges, boundaries
– follow a particular colour
– treat things you see as though they were exhibits in a museum
– say hello to things (or the spirit of the thing) e.g. trees, to acknowledge them and make a link with them.
– walk in a different way, eg holding your hands strangely
– carry an object, hold a touch stone, or make a noise as you walk. (Mobile phones are useful here: any amount of talking gibberish is immediately acceptable if you are holding a phone near your mouth.)
In each case the idea is to interfere with the normal way you walk, quieten your internal dialogue, and listen to what the space can tell you.
There were some superficial differences: before our walk, we all lay on the floor for a guided meditation. Then we held hands and performed a ritual invocation (if that’s the correct term – but this was just four synchronised breaths and what seemed very like saying grace before a meal.) As we started we were ‘smudged’ with incense.
Then we set off on a walk around London: Russell Square, Red Lion Square, round the British Museum. This felt almost the same as derives I have done before, but Julian asked us to treat the walk with a degree of reverence, as a pilgrimage. In other words pay attention, don’t chatter, bracket loose thoughts. (So I did not take photographs until others started to do so.)
We made a few slightly self-conscious gestures, like holding hands in a circle in a public park. These attracted little attention from the public, but created a sense of agency, as though you were imposing your own agenda on the place for a moment. Julian pointed out that making small changes can have a greater effect than you imagine. This all felt very similar to some conceptual art.
The main difference however is that Julian emphasised working on ourselves – ‘be amazed at the magic of everyday. Pay enough attention that when the miraculous happens, you notice it.’ Create yourself by creating a deeper relationship with landscape. The extent and depth of your relationships with people and things is what defines and increases you.
By contrast the ‘materialist’ strand tries to redefine our economic or political consciousness – to see past the ‘society of the spectacle’ and work on our political consciousness.
The first approach may create wonder, the second anger or cynicism. Or you could say that the first is self-delusion, the second is ‘critical’ and mature. I suppose, if you are a Marxist, ultimately they arrive at the same thing?
You pays your money, you takes your choice. Or you incorporates the best of both. Thank you, Julian.