Psychogeography is defined as the exploration of physical space and in turn, its impact on individuals, their actions as well as internal state of being. When I consider the city of London, immediately ideas of consumerism and crowding occur. In rush hour, all people are driven by a sense of purpose; the streets are motorways for the pedestrian, as a through route. Mapping, is then a crucial idea but this only gives us a 2d representation of a space that consist of people, history and stories to be told. With this idea it is as though the city can be seen as text that can be read, analysed & understood. However it is only through reading critically that we can understand what is hidden.
The task we were set was to use the map and make it redundant in it’s usual purpose of controlling ways of moving and seeing. We were to partake in acts of flanerie to become lost within the city. The Flaneur ambles and wanders, becoming part of the crowd in order to learn of its ways and critique it. This rekindled an idea I had seen within The Great Gatsby, where the narrator observes the people and ways of New York City with a voyeuristic perspective. He comments:
‘I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.’ (Fitzgerald,1994 )
When I set off on my journey I had no idea what I would find and how I would feel observing crowds with this new awareness. The first task to draw a route with a usual object led me to the Shepherds Bush area. With this distorted route I had to reimagine the map and how to use it within my journey. So many ideas arose but mostly I was engaged by the action of stillness. Often stopping to check my route, I noticed the only other stilled bodies were the few I observed on the desolate benches. The fact that these exist randomly placed within the landscape of the pavement, a highway of movement is fascinating. It’s purpose becomes almost irrelevant when no one ever stops or when they do, others are unsettled by this motionless body. As I realised this I decided to sit and observe the inhabitants of the space quickly passing by. I could tell others were uncomfortable. What was I ‘waiting’ for and how long would I sit there? Children seem to posses this style of the flaneur, to drag behind and look around. When accompanied by an adult, you see them being hurried because that is what we universally accept as the way to move within the city. Walking thoughtfully we found our way diverged into a green park area, where these children had stopped to engage with a moving sculpture. I realised the importance in taking time as this example set, had prompted our small group to stop and relish these experience we had gathered in more playful way. Benjamin notes: ‘ An intoxication comes over the man who walks long and aimlessly through the streets. With each step, the walk takes on greater moment” (Benjamin 417).
For the second task, my journey took me to very unexpected areas and I did actually get very lost. I found every time I looked back to my map of Venice in order to navigate the London streets that I wandered, the architecture of the city claimed my sense of direction even more. Having gotten lost on the bus before, the sensation was familiar however, although loosing my way was the plan, I still felt that sense of nervousness. Off the bus I tired further to navigate my way however I also felt myself being shifted by the bustle of crowd, especially as the streets filled with the 5’o’clock rush. Within the crowd I surprisingly found myself thrilled by moving as one with the mass of people, but as others looked forward I looked discreetly towards them. Although that sounds strange, it was revelatory to see how the individual exists within such a large space and the unawareness with which so many people move.
“The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the middle of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite” (Baudelaire 9).
After these exercise I found myself surprisingly close to my sister’s home in North London. When I turned up she asked why I had taken such a long route when I knew I could have made the same journey in a fraction of the time. Although this was entirely true I realised how not only is the way we move organized but also with the concept of time, which plays a fundamental role in experiencing the city. This concept disregards individuals and freedom as the journey is reduced to the shortest time spans and arriving and departing in accordance with this structure. If this is the only driving purpose, there is, as I observed, so much we are ignorant to. Our entire experience is no longer individual but lost within the larger homogenized system.
Benjamin,W. (1999) The Arcades Project. London: Belknap Press.
Fitzgerald, F. (1994) The Great Gatsby. London: Penguin Popular Classics.
Shepherds Bush Map [Online image]. Available at : <http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/s/shepherds_bush/index.shtml> [Accessed 13 Oct 13]