Wednesday, June 01, 2022

My New Bookcase

Bibliography / Psychogeography Bookcase
[photographs by Bronwyn Lloyd (1/6/22)]

Bronwyn and I are inveterate vintage shoppers. The other day we were looking through the Hospice shop at Wairau Park (located just up the street from Hoyts Cinemas, enabling one to combine browsing with moviegoing in a very civilised fashion). In the past she's been a bit scornful of my tendency to return from such expeditions with a pile of scruffy old ex-library books, so I was quite surprised when she pointed out a handsome wooden bookcase in the middle of the shop.

Or, rather, there were two bookcases. One was so large and imposing that it was hard to imagine fitting it into our remaining free wallspace. However the other, smaller one had tall, wide, wooden shelves, and looked tailor-made to hold some exciting new category of books.

The last time an event of this type happened, I used the new space to centralise my previously disparate collection of ghost stories. This time I decided to tackle the tricky topic of psychogeography.

But what exactly is psychogeography? I suppose, in the final analysis, it mainly depends on the list of authors you choose to attach to the concept. I wrote some notes about it for one of our Massey postgraduate creative writing courses a few years ago, which I'll refer you to if you want to explore the theme in more depth. I'll content myself here with a brief précis:

Not to find one’s way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance — nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city — as one loses oneself in a forest — that calls for a quite different schooling. Then, signboard and street names, passers-by, roofs, kiosks, or bars must speak to the wanderer like a cracking twig under his feet in the forest.
- Walter Benjamin, A Berlin Chronicle (1932)

In many ways, psychogeography could be seen as a revival of French poet Charles Baudelaire's idea of the flâneur, the perambulating dandy, whose apparently aimless wanderings offer vital clues to the deeper meaning of modern urban environments.

Psychogeography continues to be associated principally with urban explorations - Peter Ackroyd's double-focus historical novel Hawksmoor (1985); Mike Davis's City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990); Alan Moore's graphic novel From Hell (1989-99), which postulates a Masonic "secret history" behind the Jack the Ripper murders; and Iain Sinclair's explorations of London's mythic past and present in such works as Lights out for the Territory: 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London (1997) - even Chris Trotter's chapter about an idealised dream Auckland in his alternative history of New Zealand No Left Turn (2007).

However, in his more recent book the Edge of the Orison (2005), Sinclair has extended his methodology to cover the rural haunts of nineteenth-century English nature poet John Clare, setting out to retrace the poet's famous 'Journey out of Essex' - Clare's own prose account of his 1841 escape from the asylum in which he had been incarcerated to find his lost love, Mary Joyce (unfortunately already three years dead).

Psychogeography, then, deals principally with boundary-crossings: whether those boundaries are those of genre (verse, fiction, non-fictional prose) or discipline (history, geography, travel, memoir and biography).

I suppose, in essence, that it consists of imposing a theory (generally of an occult or abstruse nature) on a landscape, more or less arbitrarily. The landscape is then interrogated to see whether or not it matches up with or confirms the theory, no matter how - intentionally - absurd it may be.

The list of notable psychogeographers included in Wikipedia's article on the subject includes the following names:

My own set of favourite psychogeographers is far shorter, though it does include a few of the same suspects:

  1. Geoffrey Ashe (1923-2022)
  2. John Clare (1793-1864)
  3. Tim Powers (1952- )
  4. W. G. Sebald (1944-2001)
  5. Iain Sinclair (1943- )

Geoffrey Ashe (2009)

Geoffrey Ashe
& the Arthurian Legend

Geoffrey Ashe actually died just a couple of months ago, on the 30th January 2022, at his home in Glastonbury. On my one and only visit there, in 1981, I was hugely impressed by the intense atmosphere projected by both the town and its environs. I had, admittedly, been reading John Cowper Powys' mammoth novel A Glastonbury Romance, and a combination of that and Geoffrey Ashe's King Arthur's Avalon made it seem like holy ground to me.

I remember dashing up Glastonbury Tor, and feeling as though the ghosts were springing out of the grass all around me. Until my father turned to make some banal remark, that is - God knows how he put up with such a sullen and pretentious teen! All I can say is that my siblings weren't much better. "Thanks for the interruption," as one of my older brothers remarked on a not dissimilar occasion.

The Arthurian legend could certainly be described as England's Dreaming (the title of Jon Savage's classic book about the Sex Pistols). There are rivals, of course: Robin Hood and his Merry Men, Langland's peasant hero Piers Plowman - but only King Arthur's aristocratic mythos combines all the different strands of Celtic, Roman, Saxon, and Norman culture into one bizarre cauldron of stories.

Here's a selection of some of the literature on the topic I've collected over the years. First, from Geoffrey Ashe's own eclectic bibliography (you can find out more about him from my blogpost on the subject):

  1. King Arthur’s Avalon: The Story of Glastonbury. 1957. Fontana Books. London: Collins, 1973.
  2. From Caesar to Arthur. London: Collins, 1960.
  3. Land to the West: St Brendan’s Voyage to America. London: Collins, 1962.
  4. All About King Arthur. 1969. London: Carousel Books, 1973.
  5. Camelot and the Vision of Albion. 1971. St. Albans, Herts: Panther, 1975.
  6. The Finger and the Moon. 1973. St. Albans, Herts: Panther, 1975.
  7. The Virgin. 1976. Paladin. Frogmore, St Albans, Herts: Granada Publishing Limited, 1977.
  8. The Ancient Wisdom. 1977. Abacus. London: Sphere Books, 1979.
  9. Avalonian Quest. 1982. London: Fontana Paperbacks, 1984.
  10. The Discovery of King Arthur. With Debrett’s Peerage. London: Guild Publishing, 1985.
  11. The Landscape of King Arthur. With Photographs by Simon McBride. London: Webb & Bower (Publishers) Limited, in association with Michael Joseph Limited, 1987.
  12. Mythology of the British Isles. 1990. London: Methuen London, 1992.
I've added a few other books to the bookcase to contextualise Ashe's curious imaginings. He was a strange combination of scholar and visionary, and - at least until the 'psychogeographer' label came along - it was hard to work out which of these aspects was the most dominant:
  1. Alcock, Leslie. Arthur’s Britain: History and Archaeology, AD 367-634. 1971. A Pelican Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.
  2. Ashe, Geoffrey, ed. The Quest for Arthur’s Britain. With Leslie Alcock, C. A Ralegh Radford, & Philip Rahtz. 1968. London: Paladin, 1973.
  3. Barber, Richard. Legends of King Arthur. The Boydell Press. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer Ltd., 2001.
  4. Barber, Richard. The Holy Grail: The History of a Legend. 2004. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2005.
  5. Bord, Janet & Colin. Mysterious Britain. 1972. A Paladin Book. Frogmore, St Albans: Granada Publishing Ltd., 1975.
  6. Chambers, E. K. Arthur of Britain. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, Ltd., 1927.
  7. Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. 1966. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976.
  8. Gerald of Wales. The History and Topography of Ireland. Trans. John J. O’Meara. 1951. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.
  9. Cambrensis, Giraldus. The Itinerary through Wales and The Description of Wales. Trans. Sir Richard Colt Hoare. 1806. Introduction by W. Llewellyn Williams. 1908. Everyman’s Library. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. / New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc., n.d.
  10. Treharne, R. F. The Glastonbury Legends. 1967. Abacus. London: Sphere Books, Ltd., 1975.
  11. Watkins, Alfred. The Old Straight Track. 1925. London: Abacus, 1976.
  12. Weston, Jessie L. From Ritual to Romance. 1920. New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957.

Joanna Gillan: Glastonbury Tor (2022)

William Henry Hunt: Unknown Man (perhaps John Clare?) (1820s)

John Clare
& the Power of Pastoral

I've written a couple of posts about John Clare already. The first was an attempt to parallel his poetic practice with that of his near-contemporary Charles Baudelaire. The second was more narrowly focussed on the peculiarities of his bibliography.

He's one of those poets you either get or you don't. His 'madness' (i.e. inability to conform) has made him a troublesome figure for readers and literary scholars alike. In his lifetime his poems were normalised and repunctuated for him by his publisher. After his death the same service has been performed by a series of editors.

But then, the same could be said of almost all the poets of his era. Wordsworth himself punctuated oddly and sporadically, expecting his printers to deal with such accidentals. Even W. B. Yeats was notoriously vague about both spelling and 'stops'.

But Clare is in a class of his own. His output was vast and disorderly - especially the later poems from the asylum years. What makes him an appropriate figure to include here is the immense precision of his observation and knowledge of natural history. His landscapes and creatures are not the symbolic nightingales and skylarks of a Keats or a Shelley, but genuine living beings for whom he had both compassion and empathy.

Clare and Clare-iana have therefore become one of the touchstones of modern pastoral writing. And the story of his posthumous rediscovery and influence is almost as fascinating as the events of his own life:

  1. The Works of John Clare. Ed. Arthur Symons. 1908. Introduction by John Goodridge. The Wordsworth Poetry Library. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1995.
  2. The Poems of John Clare. Ed. J. W. Tibble. 2 vols. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. / New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1935.
  3. Poems of John Clare’s Madness. Ed. Geoffrey Grigson. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1949.
  4. The Prose. Ed. J. W. & Anne Tibble. 1951. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.
  5. The Letters. Ed. J. W. & Anne Tibble. 1951. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.
  6. The Shepherd’s Calendar. Ed. Eric Robinson & Geoffrey Summerfield. Wood Engravings by David Gentleman. 1964. London: Oxford University Press, 1974.
  7. The Later Poems. Ed. Eric Robinson & Geoffrey Summerfield. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1964.
  8. Selected Poems. Ed. J. W. & Anne Tibble. Everyman’s Library, 563. London: J. M. Dent, 1965.
  9. The Wood is Sweet. Ed. David Powell. Introduction by Edmund Blunden. Illustrated by John O'Connor. Poems for Young Readers. London: The Bodley Head Ltd., 1966.
  10. Bird Poems. Introduction by Peter Levi. Wood-Engravings by Thomas Bewick. London: The Folio Society, 1980.
  11. John Clare’s Birds. Ed. Eric Robinson & Richard Fitter. Illustrated by Robert Gillmor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  12. John Clare: The Oxford Authors. Ed. Eric Robinson & David Powell. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
  13. The Parish: A Satire. Ed. Eric Robinson. Notes by David Powell. 1985. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.
  14. Selected Letters. Ed. Mark Storey. Oxford Letters & Memoirs. 1988. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  15. Selected Poems. Ed. Geoffrey Summerfield. 1990. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2000.
  16. John Clare By Himself. Ed. Eric Robinson & David Powell. Wood Engravings by Jon Lawrence. 1996. Fyfield Books. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2002.
For more on the subject, here are a few selections from the burgeoning library of books about him. I'd recommend, in particular, Jonathan Bate's groundbreaking biography:
  1. Tibble, J. W. & Anne. John Clare: A Life. 1932. Rev. Anne Tibble. London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1972.
  2. Storey, Edward. A Right to Song: The Life of John Clare. London: Methuen, 1982.
  3. Bate, Jonathan. John Clare: A Biography. 2003. Picador. London: Pan Macmillan, 2004.
  4. Foulds, Adam. The Quickening Maze. 2009. Vintage Books. London: Random House, 2010.
  5. Felstiner, John. Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2009.

Rob Chapman: On the Trail of John Clare (2017)

Tim Powers (2013)

Tim Powers
& the Time to Cast Away Stones

Tim Powers' novels and stories are definitely an enthusiasm of mine. They have their limitations, but their strengths are equally obvious. You'll have to take my word for it that it's not as easy as it might seem to concoct complex and believable secret histories, mixing occult and quotidian phenomena in approximately equal measure. I am, after all, the author of a number of them (my 'REM' trilogy, for instance). Powers is a master of the art.

I've discussed my favourites among his books in my blogpost here, though a few more have appeared since I wrote it: notably the Vickery and Castine trilogy, which does a great job of mythologising the Los Angeles Freeway system, among other strange and arcane matters.

Here's a list of his major works to date (give or take a few limited-edition novellas):

  1. Powers of Two: The Skies Discrowned & An Epitaph in Rust. 1976, 1986, 1989. Framingham, MA: The NESFA Press, 2004.
  2. The Drawing of the Dark. 1979. London: Granada, 1981.
  3. The Anubis Gates. 1983. London: Triad Grafton Books, 1986.
  4. Dinner at Deviant's Palace. 1985. London: Grafton Books, 1987.
  5. On Stranger Tides. 1987. New York: Ace Books, 1988.
  6. The Stress of Her Regard. 1989. London: HarperCollins, 1991.
  7. Last Call. Fault Lines, 1. 1993. New York: Avon Books, 1996.
  8. Expiration Date. Fault Lines, 2. London: HarperCollins, 1995.
  9. Earthquake Weather. Fault Lines, 3. 1997. London: Orbit, 1998.
  10. Declare. 2001. New York: HarperTorch, 2002.
  11. Strange Itineraries and Other Stories. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2005.
  12. Three Days to Never. 2006. William Morrow. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.
  13. The Bible Repairman and Other Stories. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2011.
  14. Hide Me Among the Graves. 2012. Corvus. London: Atlantic Books Ltd., 2013.
  15. Medusa's Web. 2015. Corvus. London: Atlantic Books Ltd., 2016.
  16. Down and Out in Purgatory: The Collected Stories of Tim Powers. Preface by David Drake. Introduction by Tony Daniel. 2017. Riverdale, NY: Baen, 2019.
  17. Alternate Routes. Vickery & Castine, 1. A Baen Books Original. Riverdale, NY: Baen, 2018.
  18. Forced Perspectives. Vickery & Castine, 2. A Baen Books Original. Riverdale, NY: Baen, 2020.
  19. Stolen Skies. Vickery & Castine, 3. A Baen Books Original. Riverdale, NY: Baen, 2022.
The critical literature on him is limited, consisting mainly of interviews and reviews in various journals. He isn't discussed directly in the K. K. Ruthven book cited below, but many of its contentions bear interestingly on his work:
  1. [Katz, Brad. “An Interview with Tim Powers (21/2/96).” Brow Magazine 1996.]
  2. Ruthven, K. K. Faking Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Karen Robinson: Los Angeles Freeway System Map (2013)

Basso Cannarsa: W. G. Sebald (2019)

W. G. Sebald
& the Natural History of Destruction

W. G. Sebald is another one of those writers who seems unfairly singled out by fate for a brief flowering and then eternal night ("cum semel occidit brevis lux, / nox est perpetua una dormienda", [when once the brief light has set, / an eternal night must be slept], as Catullus put it in his much-quoted Elegy V). Hence, perhaps, the succession of books which has appeared since his death - perhaps in the hope of continuing his writing career from beyond the grave.

I've written more about this in my blogpost here, along with a few notes in a more recent post on The Imaginary Museum.

Is he a psychogeographer? It seems as good a description as any for his genre-defying works, part fiction, part non-fiction, part travel literature, part history lesson: in particular Vertigo and The Rings of Saturn, but also such eclectic essay collections as the recently translated A Place in the Country.

That's how I choose to regard him, at any rate, though I'm happy to hear all the reasons why I'm wrong from some more earnest commentator.

  1. After Nature. 1988. Trans. Michael Hamburger. 2002. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2003.
  2. Vertigo. 1990. Trans. Michael Hulse. London: Harvill Press, 1999.
  3. The Emigrants. 1993. Trans. Michael Hulse. 1996. London: Vintage, 2002.
  4. The Rings of Saturn. 1995. Trans. Michael Hulse. 1998. London: Vintage, 2002.
  5. A Place in the Country: On Gottfried Keller, Johann Peter Hebel, Robert Walser and Others. 1998. Trans. Jo Catling. 2013. London: Penguin, 2014.
  6. On the Natural History of Destruction: With Essays on Alfred Andersch, Jean Améry and Peter Weiss. 1999. Trans. Anthea Bell. 2003. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2004.
  7. Austerlitz. 2001. Trans. Anthea Bell. 2001. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2002.
  8. Campo Santo. Ed. Sven Meyer. 2003. Trans. Anthea Bell. 2005. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2006.
  9. [with Jan Peter Tripp]. Unrecounted: 33 Texts and 33 Etchings. 2003. Trans. Michael Hamburger. Hamish Hamilton. London: Penguin, 2004.
  10. Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems, 1964-2001. 2008. Trans. Iain Galbraith. Hamish Hamilton. London: Penguin, 2011.
Carol Angier's biography speaks to the underlying anxieties of Sebald's life and times, and the curious ways in which this manifested itself in his work. As in her previous book about Primo Levi, she does have certain hobby-horses which appear continually, but no-one could complain of any lack of contextual documentation for her views.
  1. Angier, Carol. Speak, Silence: In Search of W. G. Sebald. London: Bloomsbury Circus, 2021.

Barbara L Hui: Mapping Literature (2014)

Iain Sinclair (2013)

Iain Sinclair
& the Secret History of London

Iain Sinclair is certainly the most self-consciously psychogeographical of all the authors mentioned here. He began as a poet, then moved to writing novels, and then on to stranger works of cross-genre travel / history / art & film criticism. It's mostly these latter which have won him a cult audience.

He may lack the immediate visibility of a Peter Ackroyd or an Alan Moore, but his oeuvre could be argued to be at least as influential. I haven't yet written about him at length, as there are a number of his books I'd like to read first, but I have compiled an approximate bibliography for him among the others included here

Here's a small selection from the poetry and fiction he's published to date:

  1. Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge. 1975 & 1979. Introduction by Michael Moorcock. Vintage. London: Random House, 1995.
  2. Flesh Eggs & Scalp Metal: Selected Poems, 1970-1987. A Paladin Paperback Original. London: Grafton Books, 1989.
  3. Downriver (Or, The Vessels of Wrath): A Narrative in Twelve Tales. 1991. Vintage. London: Random House, 1995.
  4. Radon Daughters. 1994. Vintage. London: Random House, 1995.
  5. Dining on Stones (or, The Middle Ground). 2004. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2005.
The non-fiction works listed below are where his greatest strengths lie, I would argue. Unfortunately I don't own a copy of his ground-breaking London Orbital: A Walk Around the M25 (2002) but I have read it with great interest, and indeed used a chapter from it as one of the readings in my Massey Travel Writing course.
  1. Lights Out for the Territories: 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London. London: Granta Books, 1997.
  2. Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare's 'Journey Out of Essex'. 2005. London: Penguin, 2006.

Karen Robinson: On the Road (2004)

Here and there on this blog you can find some of my own attempts at a psychogeography of my own whereabouts, in the form of the two (hopefully ongoing) series "The Intrepid Ghost-Hunters" and "The Mysteries of ...":
  1. The Intrepid Ghost-Hunters (1): Waitomo Caves (13/11/2012)
  2. The Intrepid Ghost-Hunters (2): Thames & Te Aroha (13/8/2013)
  3. The Intrepid Ghost-Hunters (3): Home Turf (5/8/2015)
  4. The Mysteries of Ashburton (25/1/2019)
  5. The Mysteries of Rotorua (28/4/2019)
  6. The Mysteries of Auckland: H. P. Lovecraft (12/4/2021)
  7. The Mysteries of Auckland: Jules Verne (4/7/2021)

In any case, it's nice to see all these books gathered together for the first time. I can feel them already starting to talk among themselves. I doubt very much that this is the last that I'll have to say on the topic, either.

Robert Macfarlane: Psychogeography (2019)

1 comment:

Richard said...

Very good Jack. I was influenced by I think it was a book with essays and poetry and either was or included Flash Eggs and Scalp Metal and I used parts of it in my longish poem 'Chains' although I transformed it a bit. I started one of his novels but couldn't engage with it as such. I have a few of his books. No Time Powers. Except when quite young, a child, I took very little interest in the Grail legend* etc. Sebald I 'discovered' in a book of essays by Doctorow. I recall mentioning his name to you and you laughed saying that Martin Edmond was a bit annoyed at being compared to him. I've read a few books by him. One is an amazing travel through South East England etc. He also did a great thing, quite short, about being in Wales, or Ireland, and going out at night with a light and he describes the beautiful butterflies and or moths. I have one book by Powers, T. 'Anubis...' Haven't read it.

*Perhaps I should and perhaps even read Jessie Weston's book. Eliot was influenced of course by Tristan und Isolde. I like Wagner's Ring Cycle...great music and total work for me. But have never been slightly moved by 'Isolde'.

Psychogeography is an interesting idea. I had read quite a bit re Clare. I more recently was reading the 'Shepherd's Calender' Clare is more concentrated on detail than Shelley etc but Shelley, against all odds, created some great poems by sheer force and flood of his sounds and images, accurate or not.

But Clare needs to be read as a kind of anti-dote to diffuseness etc. Clare is an important case. He comes from an area near where my mother came from, Northamtonshire, although it is now in another county. So, as Taylor (no relation!) kept some of his local dialect and later editors did restore things to the original ('Shepherd's Calendar') it adds to his writing. Clare and I know you like Edward Thomas are poets worth noting. Like R S Thomas also versus Dylan Thomas.

I'm running out of room for books and probably time to read many of them, but I will look at some of those writers.

As I got interested in philosophic things (more so than when I studied it to stage three at University, or a bit more in some areas, I wanted to approach Derrida et al and also various associated thinkers in whose writings 'aporias' are found (actually I want to read more of Derrida, abstruse as he is, but from a position of being able, as I do, to add anna as I read, indeed Plato's work is almost one long Aporia! (It is hard to dodge).

But I am greatly enjoying Rousseau's 'Confessions' (having read his 'Social Contract' and two other essays). His Confessions I find quite fascinating.

All the best!