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The New Nonsense
12-04-2007, 04:30 PM
Recently I read a book by Merlin Coverley titled, PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY. Quite a fascinating book. Coverley traces the history of the term and what it's come to mean today. Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as the "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals." The term is most often applied to literature, and some early psychogeographical authors would include Willaim Blake, Arthur Machen, and Thomas de Quincy. Some contemporary examples would be: J. G. Ballard, Iain Sinclair, Peter Akroyd, Walter Benjamin, Will Self, and Alan Moore.

In their writing they re-draw the topography of familiar environments (often cities like London or Paris) by defining them by aesthetic, emotional, or psychical traits and features rather than the standard physical ones. By doing so they impart a sense of "otherness" to the familiar, and make every-day streets seem alien and bizarre -- an etherial overlay to a district or neighborhood. When wandering with a psychogeograhical eye, either in a literary context or physically, one is often able to sense the genus loci or 'spirit of a place'.

This sort of thing can also be felt while taking walking tours of places that served as inspiration for fictional stories. For example, in places like Lovecraft's 'Federal Hill' district in Providence, RI one feels a sense of magic and a thrill of otherness when standing before the actual house that served as the inspiration for Lovecraft's "The Shunned House". Reality and fiction seem to overlap.

Another psychogeographical theory is more occult in nature: that of ley lines or energy currents in the earth as proposed by Alfred Watkins in 1921. He theorized there are certain places that are naturally strange, and some sensitive types can pick up on the unusual currents. This concept was furthered by Iain Sinclair in his novel Lud Heat (1985) where he supposedly demonstrates that London's six Hawksmoor churches, rather like Alfred Watkins’ ley lines, were deliberately aligned with one another for occult signification in the shape of pentagrams.

Of course Ligotti never uses real locations by name in his work; however, the does create a certain palpable atmosphere that can be applied to or experienced through similar real-life locations. There have been plenty of times I've walked though an abandoned industrial district or discovered a boarded up old theater in a forgotten part of town and thought (or remarked out loud), "This is like right out of a Ligotti story!" Familiarity with his work gives locations such as these an otherworldly glamour. During these moments one almost expects something strange to occur. It's truly one of the wonders of masterful writing and imagination.