Here’s a nice follow-on from the Raoul Vaneigem interview, posted earlier this week: British author/poet/journalist Iain Sinclair on what he’s discovered through the years from “motiveless walking” in London. From the Telegraph:
In London, from the first, I walked. As a film student, newly arrived in the early Sixties, I copied the poet John Clare on his feverish escape from Matthew Allen’s asylum in Epping Forest, when he navigated by lying down to sleep with his head to the north. Skull as compass: all the secret fluids and internal memory-oceans aligned by force of desire. Clare returned, as he thought, to Mary, his first love, his muse; to his heart-place, Helpston, beyond Peterborough, on the edge of the dark fens. My drag was cinema, Bergman seasons in Hampstead, Howard Hawks in Stockwell. Or art: the astonishing Francis Bacon gathering at the old Tate, at Millbank, former prison and panopticon. Bacon’s melting apes were robed like cardinals. Naked men, stitched from photographs, wrestled in glass cages.
Motiveless walking processed the unanchored images that infiltrated dreams of the shadow-belt on either side of the Northern Line. I lodged in West Norwood, a house on a hill, like the one I had left behind in Wales. I wandered through mysterious suburbs to the rooms above the butcher’s shop in Electric Avenue, Brixton, where the school was based. Street markets, I discovered, were a significant part of the substance of this place. Walking was a means of editing a city of free-floating fragments. I composed, privately, epic poems conflating the gilded Byzantium of W.B. Yeats with the slap and strut of Mickey Spillane’s California. London was an impossible relativity of historical periods and superimposed topographies.
After Dublin, where I enjoyed four years of apprentice exile, I came to Hackney: perched, settled, stayed. The modestly impoverished zone had the virtue of being unknown, even to itself. Submerging into a novel territory, as a casual labourer, I found both time and means to pursue my obsession with alignments, reforgotten writers, lost rivers, Hawksmoor churches, crime clusters. Street signs and spray-can slogans were a code to be broken. I had no idea, back then, that rogue Parisian intellectuals had already branded these strategies and given them a provocative title: psychogeography.
30 years later, assembling a collection of essays on London, which I called Lights Out for the Territory (after Mark Twain), I realised that, unconsciously, I had been operating, all along, as a disenfranchised psychogeographer. I stalked a defining urban narrative by sleepwalking through downriver reaches, sniffing after faded traces of Thomas De Quincey – and challenging the post-architectural infill of Docklands, the empty hubris of the Millennium Dome, with ritual expeditions that doubled as curses. Compulsive digressions disavowed the bullet-point banalities of developers and promoters. I wrote about pit bulls and satellite dishes. I attended the funeral of that mythical east London gangster Ronnie Kray: the godfather of the ghosted memoir, of mendacious boasts disguised as confessions. The pulp model for self-serving political autobiographies. I looked down on the glittering Thames from Lord Archer’s penthouse. London was revealed as a city of hidden connections and weird coincidences.
I had stumbled on a model for future projects: the walk as a narrative, as a moving film made from static images. This was a method of preparing the writer for an act of occult possession: in the way that William Blake was captured by the spirit of John Milton in the form of a star striking his heel. Considerations of the present Olympic Park in the Lower Lea Valley would begin by employing the Lights Out for the Territory template…
Read on at the Telegraph…