Learn psychogeography with the bizarre London Circle Walk

Guy Debord (center), annoying the dozen participants at the third conference of the Situationist International in Munich, April 1959. (Credit(Giorgio Maffei/Electa/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

Do not search for “psychogeography”. Again and again you will come across Guy Debord, the Marxist theoretician who coined the term in 1955; the Situationist International, the avant-garde movement that tried to popularize the concept; and mandatory jargon like stroller, derive and robinsonade.

Persist in your research and you’ll fall down a rabbit hole of mid-century French social, political, and philosophical theory, from which it’s safe to say no one escapes completely unscathed. Rather, think of it simply as what the term itself promises: the crossroads of psychology and geography.

But don’t confuse it with geopsychology – another concept at the same crossroads, but at another corner, so to speak. Geopsychology studies the strong and fixed connections between landscape and personality, while psychogeography is more concerned with the fluidity of moods and impressions.

What is psychogeography?

Psychogeography explores how landscape affects the mind and how the mind reflects the landscape. This landscape is often the built environment of a city. The method of investigation is often, quite simply, a random walk.

Practice, not theory, is the best way to find out what psychogeography is. The crucial element is the “randomness” of your walk. It must be deliberately aimless. It’s a delicate balancing act, and there are few better examples of this than the forthcoming London Circle Walk.

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The London Circle Walk is a route that traces, at best, the buildings and streets of the city, a perfect circle around the center of the British capital. On September 10, Michael Brunström, co-creator of the Walk, will lead a group along its route, starting at 10 a.m. in the middle of Tower Bridge.

“This is a challenging all day adventure as the course is over 20 miles,” he wrote on the boardwalk. Facebook page. “Don’t forget to bring proper shoes and raincoats, and provisions to keep you going. We’ll be stopping for lunch somewhere in Kensington.

Estimated at around nine hours, the circular walk will end in the early evening where it began, at Tower Bridge. Like many of the world’s greatest (and silliest) ideas, the London Circle Walk was born in a pub.

The London Circle Walk closely. Its exact route is subject to change, due to subtle but constant changes in the layout of London itself. The dot ed in the middle represents the equestrian statue of Charles I. (Credit: Tingtinglongtingtingfala / Michael Brunström. Graphic processing: Ruland Kolen)

“(Tim Wilson and I) were several pints into the conversation, and for some unknown reason we were talking about the work of earth artist Richard Long, who took art into pioneering conceptual realms by calling a walk “art” , and who is particularly known for the circles and straight lines he traced over stretches of countryside, both in the United Kingdom and on the plains of Canada, Mongolia and Bolivia”, writing Mr Brunstrom.

“What would happen, we wondered, if we were to apply a compass to a map of London? How many zigzags would you have to do to walk as close as possible to an imaginary circle on the ground? What would we find along the way? »

A curious cartographic artefact

And the rest, as they say, is psychogeographical history. The Circle of London was born. It is a curious cartographic artifact, mixing chance and predetermination. It is centered on the equestrian statue of Charles I, which sits on a traffic island south of Trafalgar Square.

Dwarfed by Nelson’s Column, the king’s bronze likeness easily goes unnoticed. However, the monument occupies a capital position. Several roads start from this point, three of which are of major importance: the Mall (towards Buckingham Palace), the Strand (towards the city) and Whitehall (towards Parliament). This convergence of royal, commercial and political power has long been considered the center of London, and not just symbolically. A plaque on the location informs visitors that ‘London miles are measured from [this] to place.”

The real the midpoint of Greater London is 1 mile to the southeast, at Greet House on Frazier Street, near Lambeth North tube station – at least according to This article – but as a kind of ground zero, King Charles (or his horse’s behind) will do just fine, at least for psychogeography purposes.

“A celebration of geography and walking.” (Credit: @Sarah_Hants / Twitter)

The radius of the circle, meanwhile, was chosen as best suited to the places to cross the Thames, namely Tower Bridge to the east and Albert Bridge to the west. Since its ‘invention’ many years ago, Michael and fellow inventor Tim have walked the route many times, agreeing that for both aesthetic and practical reasons clockwise is the best direction, and Tower Bridge the ideal point to start and end the circumambulation. .

“It is fascinating to observe what happens when an abstract geometric shape is superimposed on an urban landscape,” says Brunström. “(Y)ou are forced to think of cities in a different way, following a route that no one would normally take. As a walker, you are both bound by the constraints of the route (no deviation from the circle n is allowed!) and freed from these too beaten paths that others have traced.

An almost “ritual” journey

“The journey almost takes on a ritual dimension. You can’t help but become aware of time and space, watching the linear passage of the sun across the sky as you take a symbolic tour yourself of a cyclical universe encoded in the microcosm.

The London Circle Walk samples a wide range of diverse areas of London including but not limited to: Old Kent Road, New Covent Garden in Nine Elms, Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park, Queen’s Gate in Kensington Gardens, Paddington Station, the Marylebone Flyover, Regent’s Canal, London Central Mosque, the heart of Camden Town and Petticoat Lane.

London Circle Walkers pass through some of London’s poorest neighborhoods, as well as some of the wealthiest. The promenade also includes “a bus garage, a museum, a university, a giraffe enclosure, a hospital, a high security police station, a theatre… It is made of concrete, water, grass, brick of glass, tree, steel. , and the earth. He spends at least 50 pubs. And below street level lie generations of souls amidst fields, streets, and homes that are long gone, not to mention even older geology and hydrology.

The route keeps the perfect roundness of its ideal form as closely as possible, which means that it “passes tantalizingly close to great known monuments, which it blithely ignores”.

In some places, shortcuts are possible. They bring walkers closer to the geometric circle, but “all (these shortcuts) involve an element of audacity and/or illegality: renting a boat to cross the pleasure lake of Battersea Park; bribe a security guard to let you out through the emergency exit at the back of the Natural History Museum; bring a ladder to break into London Zoo. A team of parkour enthusiasts could reduce the total distance to miles.

It is unclear whether this would still conform to the principles of psychogeography as defined by Debord and practiced by the Situationists. But it seems a lot more fun than one of their meetings.

Morning breaks above the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park, one of the accidental landmarks on the way to the London Circle Walk. (Credit:George Johnson, CC BY-SA 4.0)

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