Psychogeographic Dundee

I’ve not posted anything since starting this blog due to a deluge of non-dissertation related uni work and other commitments. plus I’ve been a bit under the weather *coff coff*. This will be rectified over the coming weeks. In the meantime however I came across this that was posted on Youtube a couple of days ago that I found interesting. It’s a short video of a dérive around Dundee. I found it interesting as it is a mixture of the dérive as both exploration and performance. Some of the shots seem to be deliberately staged where others simply follow the flâneuse as she explores the city. I wonder what effect upon the choice of direction taken the act of filming had. Was the search for particular scenes something that was taken into account as the drift took place?

I’m also rather taken by the method of presentation and the editing and audio dub. Something I would like to incorporate into my dissertation if I have the time.

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North of the Wall

Thinking about it October probably isn’t the best time to be starting an investigation into the landscape of the Antonine Wall but we Scots archaeologists are made of fairly stern stuff. Well, I say Scots. I’m not Scottish but I’ve been here long enough to have acclimatised somewhat.

That said, whilst the air certainly had a bite to it we were treated to a rather spectacular autumnal day when me and my companero Ben visited the Antonine Wall in order to kick start my dissertation’s practical side. The following are a handful of photographs that I took that day. We initially started our walk at Callendar House/Park to the south of Falkirk. This is a former stately home, now museum, nestled in rather beautifully verdant grounds. Most interesting however is that it shares these grounds with a housing scheme of high rise flats. A rather jarring juxtaposition of the traditional environs of the landed gentry that is now overlooked by a working class community. This is definitely something I will be exploring in more detail as my work progresses.

Another interesting feature of the site is the way that the Wall, accompanied by the main road to the north, forms a border between the scheme, park and country house and the slightly more affluent housing. Seen here as we looked out from civilisation upon the barbarian north.

Yet another interesting juxtaposition was the conflict between the ancient empire and the British Empire. Below we see an access road that was cut directly through the Antonine Wall for the visit to Callendar house of Queen Victoria.

From Callendar House we drove to Bo’ness, by way of a fruitless search for a chip shop in Falkirk, to the Kinneil Estate. Here we had to navigate the estate grounds until we were behind the house itself where we passed James Watt‘s cottage(no roof, must have been drafty) and travelled through a magical gate into an invisible village.

All that remained of the village is one wall of its former church which, despite its abandonment, still shows signs of life. Scatters of broken green glass imply that Buckfast Tonic Wine had been being consumed there, possibly for ritual celebratory purposes. A clear sign of the continuing Christian influence in the area.

The church itself also showed signs of life. as the wall was clearly giving birth to  a tree. A vegetative second coming perhaps?

Passing by a, seemingly enchanted, pond we eventually found the Kinneil fortlet.

Looking out at the barbarian north from within the confines of the Roman Empire.

Looking in at the Empire from the free lands of the north.

Post-Antiquarian Investigations

A brief, and fairly vague, outline of my dissertation.

  1. Outline
  2. Methodology
  3. Sites
  4. Presentation/Representation of the data

I.

The aim of my work is to attempt to develop a new methodology for archaeological investigation and for the presentation and recording of the data gathered via this methodology. The methodology will take as it’s starting point the psychogeography developed by the Lettrist and Situationist Internationals in the late 1950s-early 1960s. From here it will examine different concepts and interpretations of space and place and how these relate to our experience of archaeological sites and landscapes.

Psychogeography is described, by it’s first champion Guy Debord, as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals”(Debord, 1955).

The origins of psychogeography(Debord 1967) are in the, at the time nascent, theory of the Spectacular Society that was to become a cornerstone of Situationist theory and which would influence leftist radical thought as much as it would influence the artistic world over the next half century. By studying these laws and effects it was hoped that they could find a way to unmake the capitalist city around them in an act of artistic/psychological rebellion against a landscape that was moving rapidly away from one in which humans lived their lives into becoming one in which two things happen side by side. Capital reproduced itself and humans, enraptured by the Spectacle, were both sidelined and convinced that they were central to the histrionic narrative.

Psychogeography has seen something of a resurgence over the last decade or so since it’s popularisation by members of the London Literatti such as Will Self(2007) and Ian Sinclair(2002). Their, rather defanged, version of psychogeography is a somewhat liberal reinterpretation of the work carried out by the London Psychogeographical Group throughout the 1980s and 1990s. This work saw psychogeography posited as an entirely urban phenomenon. A view that is firmly rooted in the, almost parochial, notion that capitalism is an entirely urban phenomenon. A notion similar to the idea, common amongst Londoners, that real life ends at the M25 boundary.

This is a psychogeography that sees its own roots in the Parisian flaneur haunting the arcades of pre-Housemann Paris, leching over prostitutes and revelling in urban squalor as only the privileged find themselves able to do. Something that is a far cry from the Derivés and investigations of the, council communist inspired, Situationists and Lettrists. One finds it hard to imagine Rosa Luxemburg or Anton Pannekoek engaging in such pursuits.

This form of neo-chorography falls far short of the promises of the psychogeography imagined by Debord et al. What psychogeography offers instead is an ideologically honest approach to examining landscapes, both urban and rural, modern and ‘historical’, that can help us understand the ways, subtle and overt, that these landscapes interact with individuals and groups in contemporary society. It can help us understand the ideological uses to which our surroundings are set against us yet this understanding can also help us realise the actuality of the modern condition within Spectacular Society.

The psychogeography that I wish to undertake as part of my dissertation is far closer in form that originally envisioned by

Chtcheglov(1953/1958) and Debord(1955). In that it is ideologically rooted in the Marxism/Anarchism of the Situationists and their ideological descendants and concerned with exploring the neo-liminal spaces created by the intersections of the capitalist Spectacle and vital proletarian activity. The conflict between competing spaces within a single place(de Certeau, 1988)where actual activity is markedly different, if not completely opposed, to the activities that are proscribed for a given location.

In part this is inspired by a complete rejection of the notion of authenticity in the experience of an archaeological site as discussed by Christopher Tilley(1993) with regards megaliths in urban and rural settings. Here Tilley mentions that megaliths ‘do not work’ in an urban setting and that the only way to experience them authentically is in a rural setting.

The reason for this rejection is that authenticity is a bourgeois notion used to delimit the possible uses and experiences of a place. It restricts the manner in which spaces can be created for ideological purposes in order to maintain control over the social sphere through the appearance of control over the spatial arena. Hence the reaction of the British state to social phenomena such as new travellers, free festivals, urban and rural raves and parties and any other proletarian seizure and use of places on the margins of state control. These proletarian seizures of place threaten the Spectacular Society by positing new and conflicting spaces which have the potential to smash the Spectacle itself.

It may seem that this has little to do with archaeology yet this notion of authenticity has an effect on both archaeological approaches to sites and in the world beyond the discipline. Beyond the discipline it has been used by heritage groups, the National Trust in England for example, to restrict certain social groups access to heritage sites. Tourism and education/research being the only authentic uses imaginable for a heritage site from the traditional perspective of the heritage industry.

Within the discipline notions of authenticity inform approaches to archaeology that seek to only see a site as being of a particular period rather than as part of an ongoing narrative that pre-dates the initial formation of the site and which runs right through to the present moment. Whilst this crude approach is on the wane, beaten back somewhat by the developments of post-processualism and interpretive archaeology from the 1980s onwards, the use of psychogeography to add a whole new layer of information to that gathered about a site or landscape promises to take archaeology forward in a more holistic and radically democratic direction.

As well as applying the principles of psychogeography to archaeological research, within the framework of a wider situationist inspired social analysis, I intend to develop a new means of recording and presenting archaeological data to society and to allow people to contribute their own research and experiences to the recording of a site/landscape. This will mean that we develop as full a picture of a place as possible and can begin to understand the multiplicity of spaces that exist and have existed there.

II.

Psychogeographers need to be concerned with all the elements of a site or landscape. Not just the points on a map or the extant remains of earlier human endeavours. All inclusions within a given landscape should be taken note of and studied in order to understand how it is that we, 21st century humans, encounter these remnants, shadows of the ancestors.

Sight

Sight is the foremost of the senses for a 21st century British person. How does the landscape ‘look’, what elements catch the eye. It doesn’t matter if they are modern or ‘ancient’. How do they add to the experience of a site. Do not stray into a Tilly-esque condemnation of things that do not conform to my own biases as being intrusive or meaning that certain aspects of the site/landscape ‘do not work’ because of their proximity to modern humanity.

What aspects of the site are more/less visible due to the effects of the natural lighting? Is it overcast? How does this affect the effect that the landscape has on the psychogeographer? Does the lighting draw one towards a certain location or does it make another direction less noticeable/attractive?

Sound

What are the ambient noises of the area? Can animals be heard? Are they domestic? Wild? Livestock? What direction is the noise coming from? near or far?

What about the sound of people? Can voices be heard? Singing? Shouting? Crying? Children or adults, or both? Snippets of conversations overheard should be recorded as they are now a part of this landscape.

Can vehicles be heard? Are they distant or far? Does the landscape affect the passage of sound making the near sound far and vice versa?

What of industry? the sounds of labour and toil? Do they form part of the soundscape of the landscape?

Taste

Maybe not… http://cathedrallicking.wordpress.com/about/

Texture

Texture is a multi-sensual experience. Sight, sound and touch can all be affected by textures. Is there an overall texture to the Wall itself? Something that is the same in Falkirk as in Bo’Ness?

Contours

How is the land shaped? Does it bring towards the Wall or repel you? A border even now. Does the landscape around the Wall want you to stick to the line of the Wall or does it invite exploration in its own right?

Directions

What of sign posting? How is the site controlled through the use of sign posting? Do official notices and directions serve purposes beyond merely informing people?

Zones of Conflict

Is there evidence of ‘non-authentic’ use of the site? What other purposes does the site fulfil? How are these evident?

Spaces and Places

How many different spaces does each place fill?

“A place (lieu) is the order (of whatever kind) in accord with which elements are distributed in relationships of coexistence. It thus excludes the possibility of two things being in the same location (place). The law of the ‘proper’ rules in the place: the elements taken into consideration are besideone another, each situated in its own ‘proper’ and distinct locations, a location it defines. A place is thus an instantaneous configuration of positions. It implies an indication of stability.

A spaceexists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities, and time variables. Thus space is composed of intersections of mobile elements. It is in a sense actuated by the ensemble of movements deployed within it. Space occurs as the effect produced by the operations that orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs or contractual proximities. On this view, in relations to place, space is like the word when it is spoken, that is, when it is caught in the ambiguity of an actualization, transformed into a term dependant upon many different conventions, situated as the act of a present (or of a time), and modified by the transformations caused by successive contexts. In contradistinction to the place, it has thus none of the univocity or stability of a ‘proper’.

In short, space is a practiced place. Thus the street geometrically defined by urban planning is transformed into a space by walkers. In the same way, an act of reading is the space produced by the practice of a particular place: a written text, i.e., a place constituted by a system of signs.”

~De Certeau – The Practice of Everyday Life

This is the most important part of the investigation and should be the focus of all above aspects of the methodology.

III.

The sites chosen for this work are the Antonine Wall and the Caledonian Canal. Both are sites of supposedly distinct periods. Imperial Rome and the, equally imperial, British Industrial Revolution.

There are different reasons for selecting these two sites that are both academic and practical. The practical reasons are firstly that the Antonine Wall is easily accessible from Glasgow by public transport. On a students income this is important. The practical reason for choosing the Caledonian Canal is that I am already participating in a survey run by Scottish Canals and RCAHMS of the archaeology/built heritage of the canal.

The academic reasons for selecting these sites are quite distinct from one another. The wall was initially constructed as a border between the civilised world of the Roman Empire and the barbarians of northern Britain. It served the function of controlling the flow of people between the Empire and the ‘other’. Not unlike similar, more contemporary, structures such as the Berlin Wall or the Gaza Wall. As such I am investigating whether ghosts of this original function as still evident today. Initial investigations have shown that this may be the case.

The sheer length of the Wall is another reason for it’s selection. The Wall passes through so many distinct places that it has the potential for the creation of many and varying spaces along its length. Initial investigations will take place at the stretch of the wall between Falkirk and Bo’ness. Later in the year there will also, possibly, be investigations of stretches nearer Glasgow.

The Caledonian Canal was selected as it also has the potential for a multitude of spaces. The primary reason however was that I will be gathering traditional survey data for the Royal Commission which will allow me to contrast data as presented on Canmore with data gathered from a psychogeograpical perspective. This will allow me to demonstrate the depth of information that can be gathered psychogeographically and how this contributes to a greater understanding of the site/landscape.

At least one survey report from each site will be included in my final work with others made available online.

IV.

The sort of data that will be gathered through a psychogeographical approach does not lend itself well to a simple textual monograph. Instead it is likely to involve photography, video, audio recordings and drawings as well as short notes and hurried impressions of the site/landscape. For this reason I will be developing a new mapping concept that will allow for sites to be displayed in a manner that allows for psychological and temporal connections between spaces and places to be displayed. For this I will need to develop a web based application that can allow the data presented to be manipulated in three dimensions on the screen and to allow access to the fourth dimension, time.

As I have neither the time nor resources to fully develop this application I will instead include a paper based description and map in my final work. This will allow for the idea to be further developed when time and resources are more available.

The application itself will be written in HTML5 and will take advantages of the latest developments in web technology to allow for maximum accessibility and user contribution/interaction. It will allow user generated content to sit alongside information from academic resources such as site reports.

The aim is to move archaeological landscape mapping to move beyond the mere geospatial setting of sites towards locating them in their full human context.

What Time is Archaeology?

Kicking out the archaeological jams.

De Certeau, M. 1988 The Practice of Everyday Life

Chtcheglov, I. 1958 Formulaire pour un urbanisme nouveau in Internationale Situationniste #1 (Paris, June 1958)

Debord, G. 1955 Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography

Debord, G. 1967 La Société du Spectacle.

Self, W. 2007 Psychogeography

Sinclair, I. 2002 London Orbital

Tilley, C. 1993 Art, Architecture, Landscape[Neolithic Sweden] in Landscape Politics and Perspectives. Bender, B. ed.