Wanderings in Psychogeography: Exploring Landscapes of History, Biography, Memory, Culture, Nature, Poetry, Surreality, Fantasy, and Madness

In his seminal “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography” (1955) Situationist founder Guy Debord called for a new field of inquiry, to be known as “psychogeography,” established to study “the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”

Despite this apparent attempt at concrete definition, the field of psychogeography has eluded the methodological and theoretical formalization common in other disciplines – it is, at heart, an undisciplined discipline – being more frequently associated with what even Debord himself referred to as “a rather pleasing vagueness.” (Indeed, one suspects a tongue-in-cheek smirk behind Debord’s insistence on a “precise” and “specific” approach – the gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.)

Equally important, although the Situationists may have been the first to recognize and name it, the practice of psychogeographical inquiry can be traced back though centuries of historical precedents and influences found in travelogues, real and invented biographies, opium-induced confessions, playful and surreal works of art, and other literary, poetic, and geographical flights of fanciful reality (and realistic fantasy).

Similarly, the past 60 years have seen further flourishing (albeit perhaps “underground flourishing,” reminiscent of the growth pattern of psychotropic subterranean fungi...) in the field from novelists, poets, and essayists (Ackroyd, Ballard, Sebald, Self, Sinclair), as well as geographers and planners (including DUSP’s own Kevin Lynch, who explored mental maps of urban spaces), photographers, filmmakers, anarchist communitarians, guerrilla artists, landscape painters, musicians, game designers, and others.

As a result, the quest to define “psychogeography” may in fact be a form of psychogeographical wandering itself – possibly futile, but nonetheless fun, fascinating, and rife with hidden meanings. (Or perhaps it is just one big inside joke....)

Through this seminar-style class we will explore the history, present, and future of psychogeography, hoping to map the center and the edges of this elusive field and to pioneer potential new directions and applications for the principles we discover (or invent) along the way. Class will meet once/week to discuss classic and more recent texts – including novels, essays, poems, reviews, films, and other works of creative nonfiction and speculative fiction. Students will also undertake their own psychogeographic wanderings and complete a final “carto-imagino-synthetic” project to document, describe, map, and otherwise “make sense of place” through these techniques.

Prerequisites: Permission of Instructor