Looking for recommendations in this genre.
There isn't really a definition of what psychogeography even is, sometimes it's conflated with urban flaneury but I think it can include a lot of natural history writing and certainly some writing on climbing and mountaineering.
I'd go for something like 'writing about place with the main location being the authors mind.'
There's a couple of books I've enjoyed that fit the bill: Strange Labyrinth by Will Ashon, Weird Old Albion by Justin Hopper and Under the Rock by Ben Myers. Will Self and Rebecca Solnit are clearly psychogeographers. Roger Deakin's writing is about him as much the places he writes about, I put down J A Bakers book on the Peregrine as it seemed to be more about him than the bird - I might try it again as a work of psychogeography.
Any other writing you know that fits the bill - I've got a few candidates in mind from the climbing world but interested on other peoples take on it?
I guess it depends what you mean from those very consciously writing that way (mixing with biography) to almost unconsciously in a way that takes a geographical record to a higher level. I know plenty nearer the first category but fewer nearer the second in mountain culture, although Nan Sheperd's The Living Mountain immediately sprang to mind:
Although I don't think the brilliant Iain Sinclair much likes the term psychogeography, plenty of his stuff should fit the bill - eg Lights Out for the Territory, Edge of the Orison.
I was quite taken by the notion of psychogeography when I first came across it, hoping for an analytic or critical approach to writing about spaces and landscape, but was rather disillusioned when it seemed to reduce to, as you say, urban flaneury. You're already putting your finger on one of the key problems with it when you say there isn't really a definition. It seems to be whatever the writer wants. I read Merlin Coverley's book 'Psychogeography (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2006) in pursuit of some understanding but was underwhelmed by what seemed to be a rather random agglomeration of writers with broadly similar subject interests.
When I was looking up Coverley's publication details just now I came across this rather acidic review of a new edition. As well as tearing lumps out of Coverley it heavily criticises various aspects of the psychogeography trend as a whole, with some interesting sideswipes at eg. Will Self. (It's worth reading the article just for that if you want to see some heavy-duty author abuse...).
But don't let that put you off - psychogeography is still an interesting rabbit-hole to go down.
I would agree with Iain Sinclair - London Orbital and would add in several of Robert McFarland's books. An oddity from years ago is Andrew Sinclair's Gog which hs magic realist elements too.
Ha yes some top quality bitching in the linked review!
I've no problem with the lack of definition and probably shouldn't even refer to it as a genre. The urban strand might be a critique of hostile architecture and pseudo-public spaces or just exploration of the 'places in between'. You could almost lump about 50 percent of the nature writing movement in with it.
I'm going to just use psychogeographical as an adjective.
I've found a couple of leads; The Rings of Saturn by W G Sebald comes up often, though it's a novel. And the Loiterers Resistance Movement sound like an excellent bunch.
He’s often cited as a psychogeographer, eg here:
“I'm going to just use psychogeographical as an adjective.”
Good approach I think.
Loiterers Resistance Movement do sound ok. Would be a good band name.
Makes sense, pretty much everything I can remember reading by him makes a feature of the novels location, as much as the narrative. I had never heard the term until Self's Psychogeography, which I've just googled was published 2007! Time flies huh
Is this not a dumb new name for just considering the relationship between self and place.
It's often the landscapes and urban spaces that stick in your head the longest with Ballard. I can't remember exactly what happens in The Drowned World or The Crystal World but the landscapes are vividly etched on my mind.
Edit: this bit from the Crystal World exemplifies:
"“By day fantastic birds fly through the petrified forest, and jeweled crocodiles glitter like heraldic salamanders on the banks of the crystalline river, and where by night the illuminated man races among the trees, his arms like golden cartwheels and his head like a spectral crown.”"
I'm going to tentatively punt Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek in the natural world category.
Yeah - AIUI it was specifically about trying to understand the ways that the urban built environment can have an oppressive or liberatory impact on the people who live there. These days the term is used much more loosely - that MRB article has a quote about it being "boiled down to the Time Out Book of London Walks", which is pretty much on point - although given that the original Situationists had approximately no interest in making their ideas accessible or understandable in lay terms, that's hardly surprising.
The Formulary for a New Urbanism is still a fun read if you like that sort of thing, though:
The hacienda must be built!
Thanks! Every now and then I have a go at reading Situationist stuff. My eyes have passed over The Society of the Spectacle and The Revolution of Everyday Life but I'm not sure how much sank in. On the Poverty of Student Life is good though, and I'm a fan of the late Larry Law's Spectacular Times.
Sebald is magnificent. 'Rings of Saturn' is one of the best books I've ever read and 'Austerlitz' is also amazing. I can't recommend them strongly enough, although he does seem to be one of those writers that you either totally love or are completely turned off by.
'London Orbital' is good but Sinclair's writing style can be a bit turgid, I'm not sure I got to the end of it.
> I would agree with Iain Sinclair - London Orbital and would add in several of Robert McFarland's books. An oddity from years ago is Andrew Sinclair's Gog which hs magic realist elements too.
Gog! That's a book I've not thought about for a long time, but I remember really enjoying it when I read it about 40 years ago, and I agree it's definitely in scope, possibly a bit of an overlap with "British Weird". And in that category, I think Arthur Machen's "Hill of Dreams" is great too.
I think there's a bit of a tendency to assume that "Psychogeography" is confined to Iain Sinclair and his mates. I liked London Orbital, Lights out for the Territory is an entertaining collection, the Last London is a good polemic. One interesting thing about Sinclair is that he clearly is not at all at home outside the city, as his (probably not very fictional) novel "Landor's Tower", set around the Black Mountains/Hay-on-Wye, shows.
From the climbing world, I think you'd definitely class M John Harrison as being allied to psychogeography in this sense; "The sunken land begins to rise again" especially.
> Is this not a dumb new name for just considering the relationship between self and place.
it could be. The Will Ashton book was the one that got me thinking, I really loved it. Not just about his own relationship with place, the place being Epping Forest in this case. It also features other residents such as Jacob Epstein and Penny Rimbaud.
> I'm going to tentatively punt Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek in the natural world category.
Sounds interesting I'll add that to the list. There is a school of writing about really getting to know a small piece of land, quite a few recent ones.
I like the sound of British weird. Would Alan Garner's Thursbitch fit into that category. That book weirded me out for ages.
> Sounds interesting I'll add that to the list. There is a school of writing about really getting to know a small piece of land, quite a few recent ones.
Do you know the Tim Robinson books about Aran and Connemara? Very much in that category.
Spot on, i'd forgotten about those, the one about the coast of Aran Mor is absolutely brilliant. I haven't read any of his Connemara works. His maps are works of art.
Robert MacFarlane and Barry Lopez come to mind.
MacFarlane's book The Old Ways might be a good entry point. For Lopez try Crossing Open Ground.
> There isn't really a definition of what psychogeography even is, sometimes it's conflated with urban flaneury...
You write as if this is a bad thing!
Peter Ackroyd's London: A Biography is my psychogeography but might be your urban flaneury.
I've never heard of the genre and I'm not sure I understand the definition. Is it just writing about places and how people are affected by places/interact with them? Somebody mentioned Nan Shepherd up-thread which made me think that was the case.
If that's what you mean then I'd recommend Wendell Berry. Either his many collections of essays or any of the Port William series of novels. He's probably the author who has had the biggest influence on me and the one I keep returning to.
I did a year of English Lit at uni before ditching it and one of our set texts was The Norton Anthology of Poetry. I read through most of it and one of the poems 'Accidents of Birth' by William Meredith had an epigraph by Berry that really caught me. This was pre-internet and I didn't really know how to find out more about him other than searching bookshops. This I did with no joy until I spent a year in Canada where I found one of his essay collections (Recollected Essays) and some of the Port William novels. Not long after, the internet came along and I was able to find more of his works.
Here's the quote which set me off on my search: "The approach of a man’s life out of the past is history, and the approach of time out of the future is mystery. Their meeting is the present, and it is consciousness, the only time life is alive. The endless wonder of this meeting is what causes the mind, in its inward liberty of a frozen morning, to turn back and question and remember. The world is full of places. Why is it that I am here?"
I can't say for sure but I suspect Berry would dislike the tag of psychogeography!
Yes I think your definition is as close as it gets.
I read Berry's World Ending fire anthology and loved his voice and the things he was saying about custodianship of land.
Definitely not written as a bad thing. I went to uni in London in the 80's and walked everywhere. So much of the place was run down then, I barely recognise it today.
Thanks. I think MacFarlene's writing gets better and better. I wasn't a huge fan of Mountains of the Mind but The Old Ways and Underland are very good.
I've only read Arctic Dreams by Lopez and found it hard going in places but beautifully written, I'll add Crossing open ground to the list.
> Maybe Richard Maybe's Weeds, or Roger Deakin's Waterlog?
I enjoyed Weeds but probably not psychogeography. I've never got round to reading Nature Cure, I definitely should.
Also did Ackroyd write something about the lost rivers of London or was that someone else?
> Also did Ackroyd write something about the lost rivers of London or was that someone else?
Have you read the novel Hawksmoor by Ackroyd? It often gets mentioned in connection with Psychogeography, although that strikes me as rather stretching the term. Whatever, it's a fine novel, possibly his best. Many years ago my brother and I made our own little psychogeographical London journey linking together all the Hawksmoor churches. It's a worthwhile trip. The churches also play a key role in Alan Moore's stunning graphic novel From Hell. Ackroyd's novel was inspired by Iain Sinclair's very fine poem Lud Heat, which is certainly worth reading as a psychogeographical text if you can find a copy.
M John Harrison's brilliant 1989 novel 'Climbers' is not 'psychogeography', but is good on the weird and uncanny atmospheres of some climbing places, largely unloved quarries on the urban fringes of Northern cities. Other books of his like 'The Sunken Land Will Rise Again' delve into psychogeography. I don't really know his sci-fi.
Peter Goulding's recent 'Slatehead', on the Dinorwig quarries, links climbing with the experience of a place and its buried history in an interesting way. Some of Jim Perrin's writing does the same.
Not quite sure it fits the bill, but Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem is an interesting way into London
I absolutely loved ‘Climbers’ and he’s bang on with the Lancs quarries. I struggled a bit with ‘The Sunken Land’, which I did think about in the context of this thread. It’s sat bookmarked and part read over there currently, looking at me a bit funny. Possibly says more about my current attention span than the book though?
I believe the writing of Peter Matthiessen fits the bill - in his book The Snow Leopard.
The writing describes a journey the author made trekking into a distant region of northern Nepal - Dolpo as I recall - to get sightings of and study the shy leopard. It otherwise analysed his own reflections on loss of a partner and the reflective spartan existence of the Bhuddist people (esp monks) of the Dolpo valley.
Not light reading, but I was moved by it.
> I'd go for something like 'writing about place with the main location being the authors mind.' - I've got a few candidates in mind from the climbing world but interested on other peoples take on it?
One candidate from the climbing world who fits your personal definition quite well is the great iconoclast and stylist Ed Drummond. Some of his prose entwines superb evocations of climbing or travel with introspection and memory. A fine example of this is A Grace Period, where a Himalayan expedition provides the terrain for reflections on his troubled marriage and family life. It's a marvellous piece of writing.
Very good call, hopefully I can dig that out again if it's in Dream of White Horses.
> I believe the writing of Peter Matthiessen fits the bill - in his book The Snow Leopard.
Lots of info and ideas here https://www.4wcop.org/
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