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Psychogeography: Disentangling the Modern…

Psychogeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place

by Will Self

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  michelestjohn | Oct 14, 2015 |
Middle age has married itself to Will Self, but thankfully the exasperating cliche of its crisis was dealt with in his earlier incarnations. Here we have Will Self in his haughtier, more florid tones, and it is uncertain if he is having us on with the occasional gobbets of snobbish writing and tinderbox humour. The reader can expect to follow Mr Self on his "exotic" junkets, giving his own trademark perspectives in a re-imagining of travelogue writing under the thematic rubric of psychogeography (a conceptual coinage that owes at least half its due to J. G. Ballard). At times, the anecdotal bits of Self as he grapples with the usual conundrums of middle age can get a bit overbearing, but he is - in the Brit parlance - safe as houses in his entitlement to make his own authorial ego a direct product (rather than decanted through his fiction). The Steadman illustrations are staid offerings from that iconic gonzoid artist, and they mix between a recycling of his style with the occasional stunning piece portraying an artist in successive development. The usual post-dada cut-ups of anatomical illustrations feature, but Steadman seems to have moved more into colour - watercolour, at that. As accompanying images, at times the selection of subject seems a bit forced, and at other times Steadman's blistering hilarity comes through visually and in the captions provided. I would say: buy the book. You won't be disappointed. But it is one of those all too clever offerings that will not likely have re-read value. And, as usual fare for Steadman canvas, the pictures should horrify your more delicate relatives. ( )
  Ballardion | Nov 17, 2011 |
If you don't like Will Self's take on modern life, you probably won't like this. If however, like me, you do appreciate his dry wit and well crafted writing style, then you will almost certainly enjoy this collection. A seemingly random arrangement of his column in The Independent newspaper is brilliantly complemented by the always excellent Ralph Steadman's illustrations.

Self writes on all manner of subjects from the mundane to the profound. Infused with his inimitable sardonic sense of humour and mischief, these essays were for me the perfect length to get just the right flavour of whatever, or wherever, he was talking about or exploring. In places as diverse as Rio de Janeiro, The Orkney Isles, India, Iowa, and English coastal nuclear power stations, he takes you with him as he uncovers little nuggets of the 21st century world we live in.

The extra length introductory essay - Walking To New York - is a real treat as Self travels the usually unconsidered hinterlands of south and west London on his way to first Heathrow Airport, and then from JFK across Long Island over to Manhattan. A very unusual and enjoyable read. ( )
  Polaris- | Nov 14, 2011 |
Started well but lapsed into random territory about half way through. Stedman's illustrations are gold, however. Still, the idea of psychogeography is important because walking with political radicalism is needed bad in an age where the screen dominates. As I see it, just *pay attention* wherever you are, every day. I like walking. Just a pity I didn't know about this when I was in New York and walked from the Bronx to the Staten Island Ferry. I did walk a lot of Manhattan, enough to raise the eyebrows of locals. You have to work harder in my home town of Sydney to keep things interesting--Maroubra to Manly in the next month. ( )
  voz | Aug 27, 2011 |
I used to take long walks through the city—all the way from the downtown core to the suburbs and beyond, some 40 km away. It’s something I couldn’t well explain. I’d get up early some morning after a big snowfall and feel the urge to see the city in the morning’s first light, still buried under the gentle cover of untrammeled snow. I’d bundle up and walk to the nearest coffee shop and, with a steaming cup of coffee in hand, I’d just keep walking. I’d walk through the dilapidated slums where young gang lookouts would eye me suspiciously. I’d walk through ethnic neighborhoods, already bustling with the signs of glum activity well before the crack of dawn: hunched figures clearing the snow from pathways and grim looking shopkeepers calmly smoking under a portico. I’d pass through the trendy districts, where young people gather, and through once-trendy districts that were now forgotten, with their fashionable restaurants long ago boarded-up or turned into dive bars and sex shops. For long stretches I would walk beside freeways through the unremitting desert landscape of strip malls and car dealerships. I couldn’t explain it, but there was something the cars whizzing by, busily on their way to their destination, were missing, seeing the city through their windows in a 80 km/h blur, what Self describes as "wind-screen-based realities”.

It is this difficult to describe quality of experiencing urban environments that Psychogeography seems to be all about. The term psychogeography has been around since the 1950’s, apparently, and its concern is how we experience and inhabit the physical environment. It is geography that is not so concerned with mapping physical space as mapping the inner space of public places.The book, a collection of essays by Will Self originally published for the Independent, is definitely not for everyone. Even self styled flâneurs may find Self too personal, scattered, and aimless, but the point of these essays, like the perambulations that inspired them, was never to get their destination quickly or by the straightest path. Self’s ramblings are well written and amusing and perfectly coupled with Ralph Steadman's tortured artwork. I think those who have taken long walks past the point the sidewalks end will find the work speaks to something vital about our modern urban condition. ( )
  death.hilarious | Mar 17, 2009 |
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A volume of essays meditates on the complex relationship between psyche and place and evaluates the ways in which human-made geography has irrevocably shaped our emotions and behaviors while detaching people from the natural world.

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