Psychogeography: A Brief DIY Guide

“The streets of London have their map; but our passions are uncharted. What are you going to meet if you turn this corner?” Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room.

You Can Go Your Own Way
Rooted in the 1950s, Guy Debord’s ‘Situationists’ are still considered the most influential group in the field of psychogeography. But ‘group’ is the operative word, as they contended the study should be experienced in the dérive or drift tradition, conducting journeys involving, three, four, or more people. However, engaging as part of a collective can often create conflict, as individuals, by their very nature, will all seek a different ‘take’. One of the main thrusts of ‘Soul City Wandering – A London Pilgrimage’ is to inspire travellers to immerse in their journeys individually. To create a personal experience, perhaps stretching to a likeminded couple. It’s about taking control of your environment, not ‘ours’.

Notwithstanding, it belongs to everybody, so below are some examples and ideas for devising your own psycho-geographic walks or journeys in London. There are no set rules. Just use some reverie and imagination to encounter places, people or events on your travels.

Minding Your Manors
If you want to get deep-down and dirty with psychogeography, the outer suburbs of London are a rich hunting ground. If that hinterland is yours, use it. The poet John Betjeman was a trail-blazer here. He followed a north-west passage via a tube ride from Baker Street to Amersham, romanticizing the mundane London suburbs in his 1973 documentary Metro-Land.

Going Underground
Beneath the pavement, sunk in the earth, hollow drains lined with yellow light forever conveyed them this way and that, and large letters upon enamel plates represented in the underworld the parks, squares, and circuses of the upper.” Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room.

For a less-strenous London activity, you can utilize the famous tube network as rapid transit between psycho-geographic points. For years, revellers have used the tube system to create themed large-scale pub crawls. Great fun, but at the same time the journeys they are undertaking have an element of the profound.

London’s tube system in itself can make for an atmospheric jaunt along its psychological arteries. You can literally submerge yourself in the netherworld of the city, discerning the make-up, disposition and vibes of the temporary troglodytes as they wait on platforms on Saturday evenings or Monday mornings.

Soul Searching
Going just a little deeper, you could explore London’s pockets of soul as a singular theme. You could do this over a period of time and put it to practical use, such as searching out tranquil sanctuaries for lunch-breaks.

Think Dimensionally
Look up! The new design approach to London’s city skyscrapers have generated an expansive new plateau to explore, with sky gardens, rooftop restaurants and viewing platforms. If little else, it may give you a different perspective on life.

Pilgrim’s Progress
Recreate a psycho-geographic journey of the past, perhaps of a figure you find inspirational. It might help you to interpret their influence on you.

Salute Your Commute
Don’t look on your journey to work as dull. Celebrate it. Look for anything that could help you take back control of your environment. Can you play with street names? Can you forge an interpretation of colours? Can you recognize serendipity with numbers?

Of course, experiences don’t necessarily have to be conducted on an individual basis, neither do they have to involve high levels of ‘Situationist’ esotericism. If you wish a more ‘popular’ event as part of a collective, take a ‘psy-geo-lite’ approach and focus on the cultural mainstream. For an example, see ‘Ghosts of Swinging London’ in Soul City Wandering – A London Pilgrimage‘. This is a crawl around the Soho pubs once frequented by rock ’n’ roll legends of the ’60s, unearthing the lost music venues, and listening to a fitting soundtrack along the way.

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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