Psychogeography

Psychogeography 

 

I am standing as far east as I can and still be in America, gazing from Truro’s ocean beach across the Atlantic directly toward Spain.

It’s November, the month of transition from sultry summer to chill winter, from long days to long nights, from life to death. It’s the month of which essayist Joseph Addison, loyal subject of the restored Stuart monarchs, said: "The gloomy month of November, when the people of England hang and drown themselves."

And I am asking myself, “Can any place be new?”

In mid-Twentieth Century Paris, the Situationist movement attacked city planning as organized social isolation because it was concerned primarily with the smooth flow of automobile traffic.

Situationist Guy Debord called for research into the effects of urban and natural environments on emotions and behavior. He termed this area of inquiry “psychogeography.” It wasn’t long before his adherents adopted the practice of going on long, aimless walks--literally translated from the French derive as “driftings”--to experience the psychological states and thoughts generated during their ramblings.

In 2007 British journalist Will Self wrote Psychogeography, which has been called a “meditation on the vexed relationship between psyche and place.”

For Self, writing at a time when everything everywhere looks increasingly the same, walking is a way to see the world anew--often in striking ways.

Perhaps this is why his peregrinations took him beyond the cityscape, to the "Empty Quarters" outside urban boundaries and off paved paths. For him, these are the true frontiers, the last places left to discover and explore.

Which leads to my question, “Can any place be new?”

To try to find out, I’ve started to walk Cape Cod’s great Outer Beach from the old Coast Guard station in Eastham to Race Point Light at Provincetown. It’s the same route traveled by Henry David Thoreau in 1849.

This just might be the longest stretch of uninterrupted sand and surf in the world--25-miles. On my left are sheer dunes that spike up to 140 feet and on my right 3,000 miles of deep Atlantic Ocean. “There is no other landscape like it anywhere,” Robert Finch wrote in his introduction to the 1949 edition of Thoreau’s Cape Cod.

What do I hope to accomplish with this adventure? It has to be more than tramping across 25 miles of geography. Will I grow, change, gain some new wisdom? Maybe it will be something as simple as falling in love with the real Cape Cod after living here for almost 20 years – just as one falls in love with a mate in a different way after many years together, when the chemistry has calmed and one finds new affection for the reality–not just the appearance.

I know a book will emerge from this. I already have the working title: Beach Tramp. I won’t be writing so much about what I see as about what I feel. My hope is that the ideas and emotions that emerge during this long walk will be more engaging than the walk itself.

Perhaps there is another, more transcendent reason why I choose to do this in the autumn of my life, as days dwindle down. Henry Rollins, the hard-to-categorize punk legend, occasional actor, writer and broadcast host, said it for me: “The month of November makes me feel that life is passing more quickly. In an effort to slow it down, I try to fill the hours more meaningfully.”

 

In my next blog, “Thanksgiving at Hope Lodge”


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