Bicycle Diaries: PsychoGeography

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5.12.07

PsychoGeography

global walkabout


Londoner, columnist, and author, Will Self, has become one of the leading - and one of the few - practitioners of a science called psychogeography. In the 1960s, the French Situationists coined the term to describe a radical method of mapping cities. Through aimless walks, they would recover what was unnoticed in the urban landscape, performing a phrenology of all its bumps and dollops. Self has revived the science and put his own stamp on it. He espouses walks from Point A to a ridiculously distant Point B as a method of reclaiming the in-between landscapes, and of hurtling himself into a pre-industrial sense of time.

A year ago, the author of Great Apes sucked the life out of a cigarette and - careful not to wake the children - crept down the stairs in his house. Then he plunged out into the gloaming to begin his long walk from London to Manhattan.

Officially, of course, such a feat is impossible, given the ocean that separates them. But Self had discovered the secret of concatenating one city onto another, at least in his own mind. He would hike for hours through the exurbs of London until he reached Heathrow; next he would scramble up an oily embankment and scoot around a chain-link fence to dash straight into the airport terminal; then he would sleep on the plane, for all purposes erasing the flight from memory.

Then, once he reached JFK Airport, he would sneak along a service road, hoping not to be apprehended as a terrorist, and begin the long trek to the Lower East Side. Will Self, the son of a Yank and a Brit, was about to sew two cities into one imaginary metropolis.

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