Something Short & Pithy

Dave recently mentioned something called “psychogeography” on his blog. I’d never heard of it, so I looked it up. The French invented it.

It’s based on the premise that geographic surroundings affect the human psyche and you observe this human interpretation of urban landscapes through dérive, (walking without a goal).

The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance which is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the ground); the appealing or repelling character of certain places.

One or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there’. The original idea was to re-discover the city in terms of moods and atmospheres.

There have been psychogeography societies all over Europe since the 1950s. Members call themselves flâneurs.

There’s also some sort of sexual element to this, but I haven’t quite figured that part out yet. Something about voluptuous architecture and/or erotic landscaping… I’ll have to get back to you.

There’s a psychogeography society in Toronto and one in Montreal and an e-psychogeography blog. I think we need one of these sexy flâneur groups in Ottawa.

Do you dérive? Have you observed distinct psychic/erotic atmospheres in your aimless strolls around your city?


9 responses to “Something Short & Pithy

  1. a) Sexy Flaneur Group – I once thought I was witnessing a flaneur group in downtown Hamilton, but it just turned out to be some guys over from the men’s shelter doing a little panhandling at the mall.

    b) Voluptuous Architecture – The shelf holding the Honey Crullers at Tim Horton’s, for example.

    c) Erotic Landscaping – I once heard of a woman who was arrested for trimming her hedge in public.

    d) Seriously, though – I have had occasion to walk without a goal, but unfortunately I had less than two bucks in my pocket at the time, and was picked up for vagrancy.

  2. I can’t recall any sexy/erotic atmospheres during my walkabouts here in Toronto, but I’m all for something like that in Ottawa (whenever I get there, that is) because I just like the sound of it.

  3. JB – Now you’re getting into the spirit of things. Maybe a few tunnels and obelisks? In Europe/UK they have singles pg meets – it’s very popular

    Chris – It would be a fun thing to do. I think the idea is that you have to just wander without really studying anything and without any expectations and see how different areas “feel”.

  4. I have read about these walking tours of the “underbelly”. The one under the Gardiner looked especially interesting?

  5. Well, I’m not sure about psychic/erotic atmospheres, but I can definitely “feel” the ambience of different neighborhoods, their architecture, even the way the light looks. For some strange reason, I prefer my neighborhood because of the “light”. A few blocks away the light is different. I can “feel” it.

  6. i get different feelings walking around Ottawa all the time – centretown side streets make me feel all airy and romantic, bank street makes me feel all street and tough, more suburban areas like barrhaven and riverside south induce a little bit of anxiety in me….

  7. violetsky – do they have to be “underbelly tours”? Let me know if you do one.

    Josie – I think that’s exactly the sort of thing they mean. Also, things like wood, stone, concrete, glass all give off a different psychic feel, don’t they?

    Meanie – Yes the suburbs wind around and around and sometimes you think you’ll never get out and all the houses look the same and no one’s on the streets to ask directions. (breath…breath)