Guy Debord exhibition in UCC and Psychogeography in Ciaran Carson’s Poetry.

           Guy Debord, 1953

UCC library currently features on exhibition on Guy Debord, “a visionary and artist who saw the future, the future where we now live – a world of mass media and the narcissistic menace of a global obsession with the image.” The title of the exhibition, ‘Diagrams of Revolution’ greets the visitor upon entry, with Debord’s dates nearby, 1931-1994. He is declared a “cultural, political critic, radical theoretician, filmmaker and provocateur”.

Debord’s main work was to counter what he saw as “the deadening hand of consumerism”. In order to do this, he saw the need for play, for urban wanderings, experimental life–styles, détournement and getting lost within the space of the city. A number of theories spring up from this, detailed below.

Debord’s concepts:

  • Détournement will abandon old ideas and re-appropriate them.
  • The dérive goes where it will, responding to psychological states.
  • The Society of the Spectacle is a critique of contemporary consumer culture and commodity fetishism. It was a revolt against what he saw as “the creeping mediatisation of society” which he believed crushed individual creativity.
  • Psychogeography redraws urban, capitalist, planned environments according to individual or collective actions and sentiments, in opposition to the official layout and plans thereof (definition from exhibition).
Guide Psychogeographique de Paris: Discours sur les passions de l’amour. Debord.

Some of the major works referred to in the exhibition:

  • Guide psychogéographique de Paris, discours sur les passions de l’amour (1920).
  • Manifeste pour une construction de situations (1953).
  • Psychogeography ‘The Naked City’ (1957).

John Wylie’s article titled “Landscape, Absence and the Geographies of love” explores the idea of the trace which signals the presence of absence which underlies Debord’s concepts. Within this, he argues that landscape can contain things we don’t see as in, the memory of place “all the traces of presence of those now absent…show, synchronously, the absence of presence and the presence of absence”. Psychogeography is a practice born out of Debord’s ideas and those of situationists.

Among the information available at the exhibition, I found the fact that he admired Swift and Joyce particularly interesting and presents scope for further research (potentially another blog entry!)

Image from Cork French Film Festival.

For the second half of this blog post, I’d like to examine concepts of psychogeography in Ciaran Carson’s poem ‘Smithfield Market’. In the clip below, Carson talks about Smithfield Market as he knew it, before launching into a reading of his poem:

This poem details the city as a map of the city. The market is a locus of memory and the poem offers connections between the past and the present, showing how they exist simultaneously. Important to consider in this regard, is how the space of the city is produced by layers of history. It is not just one city, but multiple cities. Carson cycles to find his old home, but it no longer exists. His memory has overlaid it and embedded it within the fabric of the place, making it impossible to disentangle the two, therefore forming a spectral city or a dream city. This is a détournement, the integration of the past and present into a superior construction of a space based on the traces of things that have happened.

The long lines of the poem, the punctuation and enjambement lead to an overarching impression of fragmentation which verbally creates a labyrinth. The image of the labyrinth is a trope in the works of Carson, symbolising how something which appears at aerial view as organised and coherent, is at a ‘lived’ level, disorienting and disordered. There are interruptions in the forms of colons, breaks of line and abrupt changes from descriptive passages to metaphorical. The market, destroyed in the conflict, is characterised by “shadowed aisles and inlets”, “cul-de-sacs” and “alcoves”. The fact that there are “no entrances and no exits”, posits this as a claustrophobic, insular space. Psychogeography is about unities of ambiance, linking psychological states to particular areas. With this in mind, the psychological states translated in the poem, are confusion, tension, frustration and fear; epitomising the tone of the city in the wake of conflict.

Carson becomes lost in the city he once knew, enacting the motions of Debord’s dérive. He is mapping the city on the basis of his memories and psychological states, following the path of least resistance – drifting, the very definition of dérive. Related to this is the concept of the Flâneur, or urban explorer, detailed in my blog post on Paul Durcan.

To find out more about Débord click here or to read about the exhibition: here. It is running until March 31st 2015.

A dérive app has been created to ‘get you lost’ in a city, and to share your experiences with others.

Also, there is in fact a community of Cork psychogeographers who record their thoughts and feelings about areas of the city if anyone is so inclined!

Works Cited

– “Department of French.” Guy Debord Exhibition. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://www.ucc.ie/en/french/guydebordexhibition/>.

– Guy Debord. Digital image. Web. <http://www.aliartun.com/conimages/guy_debord.jpg>.

– Wylie, John. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Vol. 34: Blackwell, Ser. 3. Online Library. May 2009. Web. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-5661.2009.00351.x/abstract>.

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