PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY by Will Self, illustrated by Ralph Steadman (Bloomsbury), 255 pages, $34.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Psychogeography, according to Guy Debord, who coined the term in 1955, refers to the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.
Put simply, psychogeography is any playfully inventive method of reconnecting directly with contemporary cities.
Novelist Will Self and cartoonist Ralph Steadman produce an ongoing series of columns for The Independent for which Self undertook a few epic walks. One of them took him directly from his house in South London to Heathrow Airport, by plane over the great pond into JFK and from there on foot directly into Manhattan.
This is a feat of psychogeography par excellence, disentangling the interrelationship of psyche and location one footstep at a time. It's also an attempt to break of out of what Self calls "micro worlds," those tiny bubbles of mechanized transport that shield us from the actual realities of the larger urban terrain.
In walking, we destroy the planned complacencies of prescribed routes and transport, reinventing the city with our bodies. The real question of psychogeography, it turns out, is "Where am I really?"
Nobody approaches Self when he chooses to unleash his idiosyncratic verbal arsenal on the the split between his British and Jewish American soul, especially as he encounters American customs officers quivering with patriotism or hoofs it through the wastelands of Brooklyn, where his great-grandfather the rabbi once presided.
His New York essay segues into other journeys that range from Varanasi to Iowa to Scotland to the French Riviera.
There are few people alive better suited for such a project. Steadman's caricatures are famous, and few writers are handier than Self with a bizarre metaphor or helpful reference to jar us into rethinking the cozy insularity of late capitalism.
Walk to your local bookstore to buy a copy, and take a notebook with you.