I have started to write in my new journal; I like this new set of lined ten by eight virginal papers, bound in a pale aquamarine. “Write your thoughts down every day…” the introductory notes instruct helpfully. My excuse is that I haven’t started the course; I have told my tutor that I wanted a break over the summer to ‘play’ with photography, so my despoiling entries have been and are sporadic. I am away with family for about three weeks from the end of term and have determined to make some photographs with film, and, as the course notes suggest, have fun! But the ‘pull’ of course draws me to consider the book lists, the first assignment requirements, the need to ready myself. So I have Will Self’s Psycho Geography to read.
I have skim read the course and have taken note of the first and second assignments and these actions accompanied by Self’s words start to develop nascent thoughts.
Reading Psycho Geography and wandering around not wondering what it might be, this first assignment; where it might go. I’m worried that this first assignment will define the path to travel – it provides an anchor, the ‘idea’ from which the conversation with my tutor will develop – so best to have an idea of where I might want to travel from, if not where I to travel to.
At page 130, I realize that all the places Self has written about I have also been. What I failed to recognize initially was his general reflections of those places. Self’s descriptions became ‘other’ places, though by visiting them with his ‘peregrinations’ I found myself back in those places and finding that my ‘self’ is as much a ‘self’ ‘ish view as his is. Meaning that my comprehension of the place that Self visited and subsequently remembered, might coincide, such as the terror felt in Rio, or be completely at odds as in my vertigo at the summit of the Empire State building.
I had started to wonder what the point of the book was, there was no great insight into any of the places Self walked to, around or from. No Thesiger or Durrell he; an ‘other’ who strove to become ‘un-other’ in order perhaps to provide ‘otherness’ to others. Self’s self determination was to provide a visceral reaction to those places, which he happened upon perhaps by chance, but mostly by determination. It takes a determination to set forth from the security of a four star hotel in Sao Paulo to wander the streets in search of a book to read – I was lucky, I had ‘Great Expectations’ as my companion whilst there. And when I did sally-forth bookless, I found myself in Santiago, the other side of the Andes in the months after Pinochet had seen fit to ‘relinquish’ power and cede it to democracy, though without letting go of the military. Chile was safe, Thatcher’s government had continued to be outwardly hospitable post the altercations in the Islas Malvinas, and Santiago had a sense of a Mediterranean city but without all that chaos. Children wore school uniforms and walked in in crocodile lines allowing strangers to pass by whilst swerving their corporeal presence obligingly; much as Pinochet did when clinging to power and Thatcher did after inviting him to stay-over in Surrey.
And so I now have a better idea about Self’s Psycho ramblings, they are ruminations on the notion of reaction to a place, the sense of how one feels when in an ‘other’ place. I used to spend a lot of time in Sweden and wondered at the strength of society, how, as compared to the UK, the societal constructs meted out care to it’s community. It was after I stopped going to Sweden that I came to realize that what I had observed was that of an ‘other’ an ‘outsider’. Self’s continued outsidering matched my views of a hundred countries or more that I have visited, or more equally a hundred or more cities, towns and villages I have visited in this country, or perhaps just as validly, the myriad of places I have visited here at home. And why these first two images say vastly different things to me, and then, perhaps to other people.
To suggest therefore that have I visited all those places that Self wandered is as equally false as it is true. And of course I also have stories to recount, from those places that when remembered revitalise what it meant to me to be ‘there’, somewhere other than in the surroundings I have called home for nearly thirty years. Of more immediacy is Fabricius’ account in the course notes where she talks about visiting a place – the Regents canal – repeating the visiting, contemplating and trying to comprehend what her reactions meant about the place; trying to construct a platform to engage the viewer with the sense of humanity that she sensed. Fabricius invested in a place, a nine mile space, a linear space that could only be comprehended as a virtual existence. Whereas Self, and my remembered experiences are mediated not by the observed space but by the generosity of time. As a flaneur Self leaves too little to chance, his is a determined ramble, from home to NYC via the jet stream and having in his pockets a guide to where he wants to end up, less dérive and more drive. To know where I want to go though in this course is not a luxury I can own at present, my thoughts and concerns are more about knowing from where to set sail. The longest journey is started by a single stride and I thank goodness I haven’t started the course yet!