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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, September 07, 2009
    Simulacra and small epiphanies in the new Edinburgh
     
    Rather late but in Borders at the weekend, during a lull in bed-linen purchasing I at last located the issue of Product which features Gordon McGregor's very readable essay on psychogeography, The Paths of Least Resistance.

    Mister Roy noted in his review of the article ages ago, that this piece, published in 'Scotland's finest arts and politics magazine', 'offers a welcome north-of-the-border perspective, as a lot of writing about psychogeography stays trapped in a kind of Dunhill packet 'London - Paris - New York' axis.' Which is partly true, though this particular pre-history of contemporary psychogeography ends with the Situationists and inevitably features various Parisien flaneurs. Although R.L. Stevenson gets a welcome inclusion it's inescapable that his Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is set in
    London. Iain Sinclair and his capital-city contemporaries are studiously ignored here, but there is mention of two of his oft-quoted inspirations, Blake and De Quincey.

    McGregor uses his 'beginners guide' to psychogeogaphy as a jumping-off point for an extended reflection on the present problematic state of Edinburgh where 'the urban agenda' has done what it is also done in London and Manchester: 'fallen foul of ... rapacious over-development ... development that values such ineffable values as charm and character only in as far as they can be quantified.'

    Interesting to compare and contrast the Lettrist Ivan Chtcheglov's 'playful' Formulary for a new Urbanism where his dream city is divided into various arrondissemements named as The Happy Quarter, The Useful Quarter, The Sinister Quarter, and so on, with a central Edinburgh which is suffering 'from an ailment just as corrosive to the imagination as the flux marking its outer limits':
    As one approaches the heritage core of the city one passes through an event horizon beyond which the city is not so much lived-in as curated. The carapaces of heritage buildings now play host to an industry whose function is to celebrate a stereotyped version of the past, such that the city becomes a simulacra of its original self; a museum to false memory in which even the citizens become tourists.
    McGregor identifies the stroller and the deriviste as being among those who can still contribute to a revolution in everyday life.
    Scratch under the surface and we may discover a substrata of older narratives, of quietly resonant corners which hide away and hope to be forgotten. There, among the marginalia of city life, the abandoned warehouses and half-deserted streets may yet form the backdrop to certain revelatory moments, certain small epiphanies.