Will Self/Ralph Steadman | PsychoGeography

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For the most part, PsychoGeography is a smart, enjoyable read with intense words and passionate graphics. Self’s stories are usually quite interesting and Steadman’s work is top notch.

 

 

PsychoGeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place
by Will Self, Illustrated by Ralph Steadman
256 Pages; Bloomsbury USA
 

 

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We are a staunch tribe of arrivalists. Often we are a people who are concerned not with the trip but with the arrival. How many trips do you make only to  realize, on arrival, that the journey was a blur? If  we make that same trip on foot or by bike, a new and unfamiliar world opens. With that new world flows new emotions and, in some cases, memories long buried.

The theory behind psychogeography is that geography has specific effects on the emotions and behavior of individuals. Psychogeography is the study of those effects. For instance, what happens when you decide to walk from your central London home to Heathrow Airport? Then, after your flight arrives in the U.S., what would you see and feel on the walk from JFK to Midtown Manhattan? This is the central story and concept of PsychoGeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place by Will Self with illustrations by Ralph Steadman.

These theories have been around for half a century but have found new life in popular (mostly English) writing and filmmaking. Its popularity is such that Self, author of several renowned novels and story collections, writes a weekly column in The Independent which allows him to express his feelings on topics that vary from slight to heavy. The book is a compilation of those articles. His jaunts around various locales (up to 100 miles) afford him both health and fodder for his writing. Self readily admits that this was a habit he picked up to aid in his recovery from the addictions and excesses he suffered in the ’90s (most famously being fired from his newspaper job for being caught on the Prime Minister’s plane with heroin). Self’s writing is charming…like the ramblings of a thoroughly lucid mad man.

Self’s observation are often sharp—whether commenting on trains, modern Dublin or our favorite terrorist on the run (Osama, he claims, is probably living in Reigate which is near Surrey, England). Self’s style is pithy with a will to share what is on his mind at the moment. This style is assuredly enforced by having to publish on a weekly basis and which, like his walks, leads to subjects that seem, sometimes, to come from left field. His ability to react and comment are admirable and eloquent. Only a few times did I find myself thinking, “Great, but why?”

Most touching in the writings and central to Self’s walking trip to New York is his search to understand his long dead mother. In making the trip from suburban England to New York City, the author strips away some of the dense layers and complicated feelings of his distant and ever-moving mother. He traces her path and sees the building where she grew up and where she lived in New York City. His realization is summed up in a line that could easily be hung on the book as a whole: “I’d walked all this way, only to discover that I’d never left home at all.” The journey, Self posits, is within, our travels clues to our inner longings.

His partner on this project is acclaimed English illustrator Ralph Steadman. Steadman, who is forever linked with his former partner Hunter S. Thompson, sets Self’s volatile prose on fire. His combination of found art and jagged caricatures brings life to the observations. No matter how good the Self pieces, many times I found myself saying, “Ah, that’s it,” after seeing the illustration.

For the most part, PsychoGeography is a smart, enjoyable read with intense words and passionate graphics. Self’s stories are usually quite interesting and Steadman’s work is top notch. My only criticism of this book would be size. Steadman’s art is best on a vast canvas provided by an oversized edition such as you would get with some tribute to the royal family or other coffee table book. I almost felt sorry for some of Steadman’s creations which had to leap pages with bits falling in the gutters. Small quibble, though. | Jim Dunn

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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