Will Self – Psychogeography.

This has been a very digestible talk by Will Self. On the run up to assignment 2, it has helped me to understand some of the discourse of the deeper topographical subject of psychogeography.  My notes are below.



Will self started his lecture by reading from his book.

‘A Frozen Moment.’


– He reads about the experience of being an immigrant amongst other immigrants at a US airport – one was a Korean.

– He notes his environment with preposterous characters in the back room where immigrants were being grilled and events evolved. Will Self is interviewed because an ancient narcotic charge is revealed – he is to be sent back to England.

– While being interrogated, the other immigrants are admitted to USA.

And he is also admitted within a couple of hours after his US heritage is considered by immigration.

– His observations of these characters, the room’s furniture and quirky patriotic conversations about dual nationality with an official who tells him that his is either an apple or a pear.

Speaks about identity and how bureaucracy defines that.

Self moved on to talking about the context of the introductory narrative that is part of a project called ‘Walking to New York’.  This walk was from his home to LHR. He then flew to Manhattan and walked through the airport. Why? Boring and pointless? He in fact found it to be a liberating experience. In terms of space, the body is still attuned to perceive space – his body told him that he had been walking for two days.

Self then explains ‘AOtechnical’(sic) – physical form of transport and how mechanical transport was only experienced for the first time 170 years ago. We have already forgotten that our body defines a sense of place. We live in the world which is now defined by the technical – even to a Luddite.

Described in detail is his visual experience of a trip to SFC where he flew into the city and had no concept of N or S – nor where he was in topographic relation to anything else. He perceives that we all now live within micro environments.

Historically Self lives/ lived in the unified conurbation of London – a blob with 8 million people. He describes the Thames and where he lived all his life at one point and his daily interaction with it generally. He had a sudden day off and realised that he hadn’t ever seen the mouth of the Thames – he then realised that he didn’t have any understanding of the geography of where he lived. Is this because of ancient hunter /gatherer patterns of behaviour of existing in micro worlds?

He then drove to the mouth of the Thames to develop his sense of geography. We are certainly now living in micro-environments fuelled by cheap air travel and not exploring our own wider spaces.

He spoke about how cars don’t provide the freedom that people perceive. There is too much traffic in urban areas. Freedom in a car is an illusion.  Trip to Scotland (400 miles) was at 35mph.

Virtual micro-environments via computer internets without internal relations. Describes looking at Vatican on computer without knowing where the river is etc.

He doesn’t want to live in that atomised world. He does this by walking – we must get back to walking. He blew his micro experience of SFC by not getting in the cab. Self describes the actions of hiring a cab as the vehicle itself and also the brain of the driver.  In London things are evolving  – the immigrant minicab drivers use sat nav. They must know the postal code or they won’t know where they are.

By taking a bus and not a cab forced him to walk through new areas. By changing to old ways, he is now fully orientated with SFC.

Debord and Situationists are mentioned as Marxist intellectual revolutionaries. He recommends one Book ‘Society of the Spectacle’. Debord mentioned that the ‘late capitalist society’ (he believed capitalism was on its last legs) created an illusion of a micro world – we don’t know where we are. He felt that powers liked us to live in micro climates that meant limited knowledge of place and space.

Debord lived in Paris that was designed for civil oppression due to roads designed to allow troops and artillery fire.  Debord picked up on flaneur – unmediated by technical means.

Describes walking to London airport from central London, which is 17 miles. You only need to walk 2 miles of that on a public road. This changes modern perceptions of space.

One audience member disagreed on issues about car driving but Self responded by saying that negotiating different routes but making an effort to get away from the car paradigm. The car is an A to B means of travel. Self also says that the glass of the car is through a screen – cut off from the world. Cars should be a device for freedom but it is hard to hang on to that idea – especially in urban landscape.

He writes fiction and in some way psychogeography has defined his work. A novel is a micro world and we don’t think that there isn’t a multi layered continued world.

Self is asked about the weather and if it had changed his relationship. He finds depressing weather very depressing and even more when out and about. He wants weather variation.

Ultimate goal. It’s a discipline that transacts other genres. Architecture, literature, urban etc. Romantics succeeded well. They defined what is beautiful and sublime and how to approach the world. They took an empty frame with them. That is what we do when on the plane etc. Psychogeography redefines beauty. Not everything can be beautiful but we can accept what is around us. It is socially levelling.

2 thoughts on “Will Self – Psychogeography.

  1. I hate not walking – mainly because as I walk I see things to photograph. I can’t do that in the car, not without risking traffic accidents; and on my bike (which I do love) it’s even more frustrating because I see so much I want to photograph but the reason I am generally on my bike is because I’m in a hurry. And have a child in the seat behind so can’t just jump off and photograph things, which in any case will have changed by the time I park, dismount etc. So yes, walking is by far the best way to get about! I shall watch this when I have a moment. I love Will Self.


    • This has really tapped in to something that I have always done….. Just without a camera…… Especially in my previous career exploring Shepherd’s Bush dark corners at night. How this translates to a rural location when psycogeography largely refers to urban edge lands, I am yet to decide but I a sure that the edges of villages have a narrative to reveal. For me, it will have to be many relatively short walks but I am completely into this. I am now reading Martin Coverley’s book on the topic.


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